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“NEGOTIATING” REPUBLICANAZI STYLE: PART SIX (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 30, 2023 at 12:11 am

In 2011, Republicans threatened to destroy the Nation’s credit rating unless their budgetary demands were met.                                                         

President Barack Obama could have ended that threat via the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Unfortunately for him and the Nation, he didn’t.

Originally, RICO was aimed at the Mafia and other organized crime syndicates.  But in United States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576 (1981), the Supreme Court held that RICO applied as well to legitimate enterprises being operated in a criminal manner.

After Turkette,  RICO could also be used against corporations, political protest groups, labor unions and loosely knit-groups of people.

Georgia asks judge to toss DOJ lawsuit targeting voting law

Department of Justice

RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys. Among those crimes: Extortion. 

Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”

The RICO Act defines “a pattern of racketeering activity” as “at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years…after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.”

And if President Obama had believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with Republicans’ extortion attempts, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.

In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism. Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were now legally in place. President Obama needed only to direct the Justice Department to apply them.

  • President Obama could have directed Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate whether actions by Republican Congressman—and their Tea Party cohorts—broke Federal anti-racketeering and/or anti-terrorism laws.
  • Holder, in turn, could have ordered the FBI to conduct that investigation.
  • If the FBI found sufficient evidence that these laws had been violated, Holder could have convened criminal grand juries to indict those violators.

Those same remedies remain available to President Joseph Biden.

Criminally investigating and possibly indicting members of Congress would not violate the separation-of-powers principle. Congressmen have in the past been investigated, indicted and convicted for various criminal offenses.

Such indictments and prosecutions—-and especially convictions—would have served notice on current and future members of Congress: The lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage to gain leverage in a political settlement.

And Obama could have stood up to Republican extortionists in another way: By urging his fellow Americans to rally to him in a moment of supreme national danger.

President John F. Kennedy did just that—successfully—during the most dangerous crisis of his administration.

Addressing the Nation on October 22, 1962, Kennedy shocked his fellow citizens by revealing that the Soviet Union had installed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba.

John F. Kennedy

Kennedy outlined a series of steps he had taken to end the crisis—most notably, a blockade of Cuba. Then he sought to reassure and inspire his audience:

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

President Obama could have sent that same message to the extortionists of the Republican Party—but he refused to do so.

That does not, however, prevent President Biden from doing so. 

Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the newly-installed Speaker of the House of Representatives, has told CNN that Republicans would demand spending cuts in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling. Most likely, such cuts would come at the expense of the poorest American citizens, as this has been the standard Republican practice. 

Appearing on The PBS Newshour on January 17, Wendy Edelberg of the Hamilton Project, a liberal economic think tank, warned of potential disaster if Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling: 

“It’s playing a game with the U.S. economy and people’s lives that I think is irresponsible….

“I’m very confident that the White House and Democrats in Congress stand ready to negotiate on future tax and spending laws and changes to those laws.

“What I don’t understand is why those negotiations are linked to the debt ceiling. Maybe they’re both about borrowing, and so people have gotten confused. One is about backward-looking obligations based on previous laws, tax and spending laws that were enacted, and one is about future.”

There’s no mystery: By linking the debt ceiling to tax and spending negotiations, Republicans believe they can extort any concessions they want from President Biden.

But this doesn’t have to happen. Biden can choose to invoke criminal law against criminal extortion.  

If he does so, he will save the Nation from financial extinction.

And he will send a message to future Right-wing extortionists: The lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage to gain leverage in a political settlement.

“NEGOTIATING” REPUBLICANAZI STYLE: PART FIVE (OF SIX)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 27, 2023 at 12:10 am

In April, 2011, the United States government almost shut down over Republican demands about subsidized pap smears.

During a late-night White House meeting with President Barack Obama and key Congressional leaders, Republican House Speaker John Boehner made this threat:

His conference would not approve funding for the government if any money were allowed to flow to Planned Parenthood through Title X legislation.

Facing an April 8 deadline, negotiators worked day and night to strike a compromise—and finally reached one.

Three months later—on July 9—Republican extortionists again threatened the Nation with financial ruin and international disgrace unless their demands were met.

18,813 Handprint Stock Photos and Images - 123RF

Symbol of the Mafia “Black Hand”

President Obama had offered to make historic cuts in the federal government and the social safety net—on which millions of Americans depend for their most basic needs.

But House Speaker John Boehner rejected that offer. He could not agree to the tax increases that Democrats wanted to impose on the wealthiest 1% as part of the bargain.

As the calendar moved ever closer to the fateful date of August 2, Republican leaders continued to insist: Any deal that includes taxes “can’t pass the House.”

One senior Republican said talks would go right up to—and maybe beyond—the brink of default.

“I think we’ll be here in August,” said Republican Representative Pete Sessions, of Texas. “We are not going to leave town until a proper deal gets done.”

John Boehner

President Obama had previously insisted on extending the debt ceiling through 2012. But in mid-July, he simply asked congressional leaders to review three options with their members:

  1. The “Grand Bargain” choice—favored by Obama—would cut deficits by about $4 trillion, including spending cuts and new tax revenues.
  2. A medium-range plan would aim to reduce the deficit by about $2 trillion.
  3. The smallest option would cut between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, without increased tax revenue or any Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

And the Republican response?

Said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee: “Quite frankly, [Republican] members of Congress are getting tired of what the president won’t do and what the president wants.”

Noted political analyst Chris Matthews summed up the sheer criminality of what happened within the House of Representatives.

Chris Matthews

Speaking on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” on July 28—five days before Congress reached its August 2 deadline to raise the debt-ceiling—Matthews noted:

“The first people to bow to the demands of those threatening to blow up the economy were the Republicans in the House, the leaders. The leaders did what the followers told them to do: meet the demands, hold up the country to get their way.

“Those followers didn’t win the Senate, or the Presidency, just the House.

“But by using the House they were able to hold up the entire United States government. They threatened to blow things up economically and it worked.

“They said they were willing to do that—just to get their way—not by persuasion, not by politics, not by democratic government, but by threatening the destruction of the country’s finances.

“Right. So what’s next? The power grid? Will they next time threaten to close down the country’s electricity and communications systems?”

With the United States teetering on the brink of national bankruptcy, President Obama faced three choices:

  1.  Prosecute Republican extortionists under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act;
  2. Seek to rally the American people against a criminal threat to the financial security of the Nation;
  3. Cave in to Republican demands.

Unfortunately for Obama and the Nation, he chose Number Three.

A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Obama was easily one of the most academically gifted Presidents in United States history.

But for all this, he failed—from the onset of his Presidency—to grasp and apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science.

Quote by Machiavelli: “Necessity is what impels men to take action ...

Niccolo Machiavelli

In his classic work on politics, The Prince, Machiavelli warns:

“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…. 

“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 failed to heed this advice. And, predictably, his sworn enemies—which is what Republicans considered themselves to be—felt free to demonize and obstruct him at every turn. 

As Ernst Casier, chairman of philosophy at Hamburg University once warned:

“Those who are willing to risk everything, even death and destruction, to attain their ends will prevail over more responsible and prudent men who have more to lose and are rational, not suicidal.”

Yet Obama could have ended that threat via the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Passed by Congress in 1970, as Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1961-1968, its goal was to destroy the Mafia. 

Next up: Remedies for extortion are at hand.

“NEGOTIATING” REPUBLICANAZI STYLE: PART FOUR (OF SIX)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 26, 2023 at 12:10 am

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

During the summer of 2011, Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agreed to massively cut social programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

And while Republicans demanded that the disadvantaged tighten their belts, they rejected any raising of taxes on their foremost constituency—the wealthiest 1%.

To raise taxes on the wealthy, they insisted, would be a “jobs-killer.” It would “discourage” corporate CEOs from creating tens of thousands of jobs they supposedly wanted to create.

If Congress failed to raise the borrowing limit of the federal government by August 2, 2011, the date when the U.S. reached the limit of its borrowing abilities, America would begin defaulting on its loans. 

As Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, explained the looming economic catastrophe:

“If you don’t send out Social Security checks, I would hate to think about the credit meeting at S&P and Moody’s the next morning.

“If you’re not paying millions and millions and millions of people that range in age from 65 on up, money you promised them, you’re not a AAA,” said Buffett.

A triple-A credit rating is the highest possible rating that can be received.

Republicans knew their argument was a lie. And so did the editors of Time. The difference is, the editors of Time were willing to reveal the truth.

In its June 20, 2011  cover-story on “What U.S. Economic Recovery? Five Destructive Myths,” Rana Foroohar, the magazine’s assistant managing editor in charge of economics and business, delivered this warning:

Profit-seeking corporations can’t be relied on to ”make it all better.” 

American companies “are doing quite well,” but most American workers “are earning a lower hourly wage now than they did during the recession.”

Corporations, in short, were doing extremely well. But they didn’t spend their profits on American workers.

“There may be $2 trillion sitting on the balance sheets of American corporations globally, but firms show no signs of wanting to spend it in order to hire workers at home.”

In short: Giving even greater tax breaks to mega-corporations—the standard Republican mantra—had not persuaded them to stop “outsourcing” jobs. Nor had it convinced them to start hiring Americans.

Many American companies prefer opening factories in Brazil, China or India to doing so in the United States—and thus eliminating jobs for American workers.

While embarrassingly overpaid CEOs squander corporate wealth on themselves, millions of Americans can’t afford medical care or must depend on charity to feed their families.

Yet there is also a disconnect between the truth of this situation and the willingness of Americans to face up to that truth.

The reason, writes Foroohar: 

Republicans have convinced most Americans they can revitalize the economy by slashing “taxes on the wealthy and on cash-hoarding corporations while cutting benefits for millions of Americans.”

And she concludes: To restore prosperity America needs both tax increases and cuts in entitlement programs.

According to Mein Kampf-My Struggle”—Adolf Hitler’s autobiography and political treatise:

  1. Most people are ruled by sentiment, not reason.
  2. This sentiment is simple and consistent. It is rooted in notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood.
  3. Propaganda isn’t based on objective truth but must present only that part of the truth that makes its own side look good.
  4. People are not intelligent, and quickly forget.
  5. Confine propaganda to a few bare essentials and express these in easily-remembered stereotyped images.
  6. Persistently repeat these slogans until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.

Following these principles, Republicans have proved hugely successful at persuading millions that truth is whatever their party claims it to be at any given moment.

“Fascism,” said author Ernest Hemingway, “is a lie told by bullies.” Thus, when Republicans couldn’t attain their goals by lying, they sought to do so by force—or at least the threat of it.

Republicans have repeatedly threatened to shut down the government unless their constantly escalating demands are met.

In November, 1995, Newt Gingrich, then Speaker of the House of Representatives, carried out his threat. Gingrich unwisely admitted that he did so because President Bill Clinton had put him in the back of Air Force One during a recent trip to Israel.

The shutdown proved a disaster for Republicans. Clinton was handily re-elected in 1996 and Gingrich suddenly resigned from Congress in 1998. 

Still, the Republicans continued their policy of my-way-or-else.

In April, 2011, the United States government almost shut down over Republican demands about subsidized pap smears.

During a late-night White House meeting with President Barack Obama and key Congressional leaders, Republican House Speaker John Boehner made this threat:

His conference would not approve funding for the government if any money were allowed to flow to Planned Parenthood through Title X legislation.

Facing an April 8 deadline, negotiators worked day and night to strike a compromise—and finally reached one. 

Three months later—on July 9—Republican extortionists again threatened the Nation with financial ruin and international disgrace unless their demands were met. 

Next up: Republicans: “Stop funding pap smears for women—or we’ll shut down the government.”

“NEGOTIATING” REPUBLICANAZI STYLE: PART THREE (OF SIX)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 25, 2023 at 12:14 am

In September, 1938, seven months after seizing Austria, German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler gave another exhibition of his “negotiating” methods. This time, the target of his rage and aggression was Czechoslovakia.

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

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

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

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

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

Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chamberlain said he must immediately return to England to consult with his colleagues. Hitler appeared uneasy. But then the German translator finished the sentence: “…and then meet you again.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chamberlain returned to England a hero. Holding aloft a copy of the worthless agreement he had signed with Hitler, he told cheering crowds in London: “I believe it is peace for our time.”

Neville Chamberlain

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

Hitler—still planning more conquests—also knew better. In March, 1939, the German army occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia.

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

Hitler next turned his attention—and demands—to Poland. 

When his generals balked, warning that an invasion would trigger a war with France and Britain, Hitler quickly brushed aside their fears: “Our enemies are little worms. I saw them at Munich.”

Adolf Hitler and his generals

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

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

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

During the summer of 2011, Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agreed to massively cut social programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

And while Republicans demanded that the disadvantaged tighten their belts, they rejected any raising of taxes on their foremost constituency—the wealthiest 1%.

To raise taxes on the wealthy, they insisted, would be a “jobs-killer.” It would “discourage” corporate CEOs from creating tens of thousands of jobs they supposedly wanted to create. 

Next up: Republicans: “Everything for the rich—or we’ll destroy the country.”

“NEGOTIATING” REPUBLICANAZI STYLE: PART TWO (OF SIX)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 24, 2023 at 12:12 am

By studying the “negotiating” methods used by Adolf Hitler,  Americans generally—and Democrats in particular—can learn much about the mindset and “negotiating” style of today’s Republican party.

A classic example of Hitler’s “bargaining style” came in 1938, when he invited Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg to his mountaintop retreat in Obersalzberg, Germany. 

Hitler, an Austrian by birth, intended to annex his native land to Germany. Schuschnigg was aware of Hitler’s desire, but nevertheless felt secure in accepting the invitation. He had been assured that the question of Austrian sovereignty would not arise.

 Adolf Hitler

The meeting occurred on February 12, 1938.

Shuschnigg opened the discussion with a friendly compliment. Walking over to a large window, he admired the breathtaking view of the mountains.

HITLER: We haven’t come here to talk about the lovely view or the weather!

Austria has anyway never done anything which was of help to the German Reich….I am resolutely determined to make an end to all this business.  The German Reich is a great power.  Nobody can and nobody will interfere if it restores order on its frontiers. 

SCHUSCHNIGG: We simply have to go on living alongside one another, the little state next to the big one. We have no other choice.

And that is why I ask you to tell me what your concrete complaints are. We will do all in our power to sort things out and establish a friendly relationship, as far as it is possible to do so.

HITLER: That’s what you say, Herr Schuschnigg. And I am telling you that I intend to clear up the whole of the so-called Austrian question—one way or another. Do you think I don’t know that you are fortifying Austria’s border with the Reich? 

SCHUSCHNIGG: There can be no suggestion at all of that—

HITLER: Ridiculous explosive chambers are being built under bridges and roads—

This was a lie, and Hitler knew it was a lie. But no matter. It gave him an excuse to threaten to destroy Austria—as he was to destroy so many other nations during the next seven years. 

HITLER: I have only to give one command and all this comic stuff on the border will be blown to pieces overnight. You don’t seriously think you could hold me up, even for half an hour, do you?

Who knows—perhaps you will find me one morning in Vienna like a spring storm. Then you will go through something!  I’d like to spare the Austrians that. 

The S.A. [Hitler’s private army of Stormtroopers] and the [Condor] lLegion [which had bombed much of Spain into rubble during the three-year Spanish Civil War] would come in after the troops and nobody—not even I—could stop them from wreaking vengeance.

Schnuschigg made a cardinal mistake in dealing with Hitler: He showed fear.  And this was precisely what the Nazi dictator looked for in an opponent.

Contrary to popular belief, Hitler did not constantly rage at everyone. On the contrary: he could, when he desired, be charming, especially to women.  He used rage as a weapon, knowing that most people feel intimidated by it. 

Republicans have profited by the same strategy.

In the case of Schuschnigg, Hitler opened with insults and threats at the outset of their discussion.  Then there was a period of calm, to convince the Austrian chancellor the worst was over.

Finally, he once again attacked—this time with so much fury that Schuschnigg was terrified into submission.

With one stroke of a pen, Austria became a vassal-state to Nazi Germany.

Seven months later, in September, 1938, Hitler gave another exhibition of his “negotiating” methods. This time, the target of his rage and aggression was Czechoslovakia.

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

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

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

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cenotaph_Unveiling,_1920.jpg

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

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

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

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

Chamberlain was determined to grant Hitler’s every demand–so long as this meant avoiding a second world war.

As a political party, Democrats have generally copied this same “strategy” when dealing with Republicans. 

Next up: Hitler’s “negotiating” legacy lives on—among Republicans.

“NEGOTIATING” REPUBLICANAZI STYLE: PART ONE (OF SIX)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 23, 2023 at 12:10 am

Once again, Republicans are ruthlessly playing “chicken” with the nation’s financial security.

During the Presidency of Barack Obama, Republicans threatened to plunge the country into defaulting on its loans to force sharp budget cuts to non-military spending.

Seven years later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) praised the Republicans’ massive contribution to the national debt under President Donald Trump.

On August 2, 2019, Trump signed into law a two-year budget deal that raised spending by $320 billion over existing spending caps set in a 2011 law—and boosted military and domestic spending.

The bill also lifted the debt ceiling, which is the legal limit on the amount of debt the federal government can have. 

The bill threatened to push the budget deficit to more than $1 trillion in 2019 for only the second time since the Great Recession of 2007-2008 and add $1.7 trillion to the federal debt over a decade. 

Official White House presidential portrait. Head shot of Trump smiling in front of the U.S. flag, wearing a dark blue suit jacket with American flag lapel pin, white shirt, and light blue necktie.

Donald Trump

By January, 2021, the national debt had risen by almost $7.8 trillion during Trump’s time in office. It amounted to about $23,500 in new federal debt for every person in the country.

But now, with Democrat Joseph Biden as President, Republicans have become “fiscal conservatives.”

And they are prepared to plunge the United States into financial ruin unless Democrats once again meet their extortion demands.

The debt ceiling is the legal limit for how much debt the United States can take on as a country. Once that limit is hit, the U.S. Treasury can no longer issue bonds to raise funds to pay for everything that the government does. 

In a January 13th letter, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned congressional leaders that the United States is expected to hit the debt limit on January 19th—and urged them to raise the debt limit as soon as possible.

“Once the limit is reached, the Treasury will need to start taking certain extraordinary measures to prevent the United States from defaulting on its obligations.”

Secretary Janet Yellen portrait.jpg

Janet Yellen

Congress last raised the debt ceiling in December 2021 to more than $31.3 trillion. At the time, Democrats controlled both the House and Senate.

But the 2022 mid-term elections gave Republicans control of the House. And Republicans are threatening the nation with defaulting on its loans as Congress reopens with Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as its new Speaker. 

New York Times conservative columnist David Brooks described these Republicans on the January 6 edition of The PBS Newshour: “These are nihilists. They came here, and they’re quite open about that, especially with their friends, and they say, we just want to burn the place down.

“And so they just want to be negative, be oppositional, and then go on TV and say everyone else has screwed up. And so this is a form of nihilism that is in the Republican Party.”

Republicans, in short, are one again utilizing the same “negotiating” strategy as Nazi Germany’s Fuhrer, Adolf Hitler.

And Democrats—out of cowardice or an ignorance of history—are once again refusing to publicly make this comparison.

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

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

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

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

A classic example of Hitler’s “bargaining style” came in 1938, when he invited Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg to his mountaintop retreat in Obersalzberg, Germany. 

Hitler, an Austrian by birth, intended to annex his native land to Germany. Schuschnigg was aware of Hitler’s desire, but nevertheless felt secure in accepting the invitation. He had been assured that the question of Austrian sovereignty would not arise.

 Kurt von Schuschnigg

The meeting occurred on February 12, 1938.

Shuschnigg opened the discussion with a friendly compliment. Walking over to a large window, he admired the breathtaking view of the mountains.

HITLER: We haven’t come here to talk about the lovely view or the weather!

Austria has anyway never done anything which was of help to the German Reich….I am resolutely determined to make an end to all this business. The German Reich is a great power.  Nobody can and nobody will interfere if it restores order on its frontiers. 

SCHUSCHNIGG: I am aware of your attitude toward the Austrian question and toward Austrian history….As we Austrians see it, the whole of our history is a very essential and valuable part of German history….And Austria’s contribution is a considerable one.

HITLER: It is absolutely zero—that I can assure you!  Every national impulse has been trampled underfoot by Austria….

I could call myself an Austrian with just the same right—indeed with even more right—than you, Herr Schuschnigg. Why don’t you once try a plebiscite in Austria in which you and I run against each other? Then you would see!   

Next up: Hitler “negotiates” Austria out of existence, then turns to Czechoslovakia. 

WHEN TYRANTS’ PLANS FAIL

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 2, 2022 at 12:14 am

On February 24, Russia launched an unprovoked attack on Ukraine with missiles and artillery, striking major Ukrainian cities, including its capitol, Kiev.      

Russia 'threatening Ukraine With Destruction', Kyiv Says | Conflict News - Newzpick

Ukraine vs. Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin had every reason to believe that the conquest of Ukraine would be a cakewalk. Intent on restoring the borders of the former Soviet Union, he had swept from one successful war to the next:

  • In 1999-2000, he waged the Second Chechen War, restoring federal control of Chechnya.
  • In 2008, he invaded the Republic of Georgia, which had declared its independence as the Soviet Union began to crumble. By war’s end, Russia occupied 20% of Georgia’s territory.
  • In 2014, Putin invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched only verbal condemnations.

The reasons:

  • Fear of igniting a nuclear war; 
  • Belief that Russia was simply acting within its own sphere of influence; and/or
  • Then-President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on NATO and displays of subservience to Putin.

NATO report says Pakistan wants peace deal in Afghanistan, India against it

NATO emblem

When Russia invaded, the United States—now led by anti-Putin President Joe Biden—and its Western European allies retaliated with unprecedented economic sanctions. 

Among the resulting casualties: 

  • The ruble crashed.
  • Russia’s central bank more than doubled interest rates to 20%.
  • The European subsidiary of Russia’s biggest bank almost collapsed in a massive Depression-era run by savers. 
  • Economists predicted the Russian economy could decline by five percent. 
  • The West—especially the United States—froze at least half of the $630 billion in international reserves that Putin had amassed to stave off tough sanctions.

On the battlefield, the war bogged down for Russia:

  • Kiev remains unconquered. 
  • The Moskva, the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, was sunk on April 14 after being struck by two Ukrainian Neptune anti-ship missiles.
  • On September 21, with Russian forces bogged down or retreating, Putin announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 military reservists. All male citizens below 60 are now eligible to be drafted.
  • More than 194,000 Russian men (and their wives or girlfriends) fled to such neighboring countries as Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
  • Ukrainian forces retook the key city of Kherson in November; Russian forces, which had occupied the city since March, withdrew.

In short: The war is not going the way Putin assumed it would.

Vladimir Putin 17-11-2021 (cropped).jpg

Vladimir Putin 

Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

This is not the first time a dictator has guessed wrong about the results of his actions.

On September 1, 1939, German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler ordered his armies to invade Poland. 

Almost a year earlier—on September 29, 1938—he had bullied British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier into surrendering the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia, inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.

The Munich Agreement—which Chamberlain boasted meant “peace in our time—only whetted Hitler’s appetite for greater conquests.

It also led him to hold France and England in contempt: “Our enemies are little worms,” he said in a conference with his generals. “I saw them at Munich.”

He believed he could conquer Poland, and Chamberlain and Daladier would meekly ratify his latest acquisition. 

Adolf Hitler

So he was stunned when, on September 3, 1939, Britain and France—however reluctantly—honored their pledged word to Poland and declared war on Germany.

“What now?” Hitler furiously asked his Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Ribbentrop had no answer.

Hitler knew that Germany didn’t have the resources for a long war. He had intended to fight a series of quick, small wars, gobbling up one country at a time. Now he found himself locked in an endless war with heavyweights France and England.

In time, he would fatally add the Soviet Union and the United States to his list of enemies.

And he stayed locked into that war until he committed suicide on April 30, 1945, and the Third Reich officially collapsed on May 7.

Fast forward to March 21, 2003 and President George W. Bush’s launching of an attack on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. 

Related image

George W. Bush

The war got off to an impressive start with 1,700 air sorties and 504 Cruise missiles. 

Within roughly two weeks, American ground forces entered Baghdad, and after four days of intense fighting, the Iraqi regime fell. By April 14, the Pentagon reported that major military operations had ended.

On May 1, 2003, Bush declared that the war was won.

But then American forces became embroiled in an endless, nationwide guerrilla war. Eighteen years later, the United States was still fighting in Iraq. 

The war that Bush had deliberately provoked:

  • Took the lives of 4,484 Americans.
  • Cost the United States Treasury at least $2 trillion.
  • Created a Middle East power vacuum.
  • Allowed Iran—Iraq’s arch enemy—to eagerly fill it.
  • Frightened and repelled even America’s closest allies.
  • Killed at least 655,000 Iraqis. 
  • Frightened China and Russia into expanding the size of their militaries. 

Bush came to a better end than Adolf Hitler: He retired from office with a lavish pension and full Secret Service protection.

And Putin? 

His attack on Ukraine was reportedly motivated, in part, to ensure that Ukrainians did not join NATO. 

But his invasion has frightened Sweden and Finland into joining NATO.

And NATO is now fully revitalized to meet future Russian threats.

Thus can the worst intentions of hubristic dictators come undone.

DICTATORS AND THEIR HUBRIS–AN UPDATE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 12, 2022 at 12:10 am

On February 28, CNN’s website published the following headline: Russia faces financial meltdown as sanctions slam its economy.

The story opened:

“Russia was scrambling to prevent financial meltdown Monday as its economy was slammed by a broadside of crushing Western sanctions imposed over the weekend in response to the invasion of Ukraine.”  

That unprovoked attack opened on February 24, with missile and artillery attacks, striking major Ukrainian cities, including Kiev. 

Russia 'threatening Ukraine With Destruction', Kyiv Says | Conflict News - Newzpick

Ukraine vs. Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin believed that the conquest of Ukraine would be a cakewalk. Intent on restoring the borders of the former Soviet Union, he had swept from one successful war to the next:

  • In 1999-2000, he waged the Second Chechen War, restoring federal control of Chechnya.
  • In 2008, he invaded the Republic of Georgia, which had declared its independence as the Soviet Union began to crumble. By war’s end, Russia occupied 20% of Georgia’s territory.
  • In 2014, Putin invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. 

Meanwhile, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) launched only verbal condemnations.

The reasons:

  • Fear of igniting a nuclear war; 
  • Belief that Russia was simply acting within its own sphere of influence; and/or
  • Then-President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on NATO and displays of subservience to Putin.

NATO report says Pakistan wants peace deal in Afghanistan, India against it

NATO emblem

Russia had began massing troops on the Ukrainian border in 2021. 

When the invasion came, the United States and its Western European allies retaliated with unprecedented economic sanctions. 

Among the resulting casualties: 

  • The ruble crashed.
  • Russia’s central bank more than doubled interest rates to 20%.
  • Economists predicted the Russian economy could decline by five percent. 
  • The West—especially the United States—froze at least half of the $630 billion in international reserves that Putin had amassed to stave off tough sanctions.

Then the war bogged down for Russia:

  • In late August, Ukraine, using missile systems supplied by the United States, destroyed Russian ammunition dumps and a Russian air base in Crimea. 
  • By September, Ukrainian forces recaptured much of the northeastern Kharkiv region, including the city of Izium, which the Russians had been using as a logistics hub.
  • On September 21, Putin announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 military reservists. All male citizens below 60 are now eligible to be drafted.
  • This, in turn, led at least 194,000 Russian men to such neighboring countries as Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. 

In short: The war is not going the way Putin assumed it would.

Vladimir Putin 17-11-2021 (cropped).jpg

Vladimir Putin 

Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

This is not the first time a dictator has guessed wrong about the results of his actions.

On September 1, 1939, German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler ordered his armies to invade Poland. 

Almost a year earlier—on September 29, 1938—he had bullied British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier into surrendering the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia, inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.

The Munich Agreement whetted Hitler’s appetite for greater conquests—and fueled his contempt for England and France: “Our enemies are little worms,” he said in a conference with his generals. “I saw them at Munich.”

He believed he could conquer Poland, and Chamberlain and Daladier would meekly ratify his latest acquisition. 

Adolf Hitler

So he was stunned when, on September 3, 1939, Britain and France—however reluctantly—honored their pledged word to Poland and declared war on Germany.

“What now?” Hitler furiously asked his Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop.

Ribbentrop had no answer.

Knowing that Germany lacked the resources for a long war, Hitler had intended to fight a series of quick, small wars, gobbling up one country at a time. Now he found himself locked in an endless war with heavyweights France and England—and eventually the Soviet Union and the United States.

He stayed locked into that war until he committed suicide on April 30, 1945, and the Third Reich officially collapsed on May 7.

Fifty-eight years later, on March 21, 2003, President George W. Bush’s attacked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. 

Related image

George W. Bush

The war started impressively, with 1,700 air sorties and 504 Cruise missiles. 

Within two weeks, American ground forces entered Baghdad. After four days of intense fighting, the Iraqi regime fell. By April 14, the Pentagon reported that major military operations had ended.

On May 1, 2003, Bush declared that the war was won.

But then American forces became embroiled in an endless, nationwide guerrilla war. Eighteen years later, the United States was still fighting in Iraq. 

The war that Bush had deliberately provoked:

  • Took the lives of 4,484 Americans.
  • Cost the United States Treasury at least $2 trillion.
  • Allowed Iran—Iraq’s arch enemy—to eagerly fill it.
  • Frightened and repelled even America’s closest allies.
  • Killed at least 655,000 Iraqis. 
  • Frightened China and Russia into expanding the size of their militaries. 

And Putin? 

  • A major reason for his attack: To prevent Ukraine from joining NATO. 
  • But it has frightened Sweden and Finland into joining NATO. 
  • After four years of the Putin-appeasing Trump administration, the United States, under President Joe Biden, has aggressively supplied sophisticated weapons to Ukraine. 
  • Through a series of humiliating battlefield defeats and by enraging millions of Russians with a draft, Putin has locked himself into a no-win position. 
  • And NATO is now fully revitalized to meet future Russian threats.

Thus do the worst intentions of hubristic dictators often come undone.

SURVIVING “FACEBOOK JAIL”: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 16, 2022 at 12:10 am

Facebook likes to promote itself as a place for “more than three billion people around the world to share ideas, offer support and make a difference.”

But there are limits to the ideas that can be shared on Facebook. And while Facebook likes to boast about its “Community Standards,” these are enforced in a totally arbitrary way.

There is simply no predicting what will trigger Facebook’s ire and land a post—and its poster—in “Facebook Jail.” 

Facebook doesn’t restrict itself to banning posts that are libelous and/or harassing. Its definition of “Hate speech” is so all-encompassing it can be stretched to cover anything—including historically valid statements. 

Our Favourite Banned Facebook Memes - The Inappropriate Gift Co

In Part One I laid out the reason for my sending a letter of protest to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s longtime Chief Operating Officer.

In this part, I will offer specific steps Facebook can take to keep faith with its stated mission to be a place where people can “share ideas.” 

Noting that I had been banned from Facebook for seven days for posting “Americans are historical illiterates,” I cited the noted historian, David McCullough, and an article from the Smithsonian Institute to support my statement. 

At the 2015 National Book Festival

David McCullough 

fourandsixty, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

I then quoted my offending paragraph in full:

“Tyrants cannot be appeased by giving into their demands–it just convinces them that they can demand even more from their victims. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried that approach at Munich in September, 1938, giving Adolf Hitler a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. The reason: To prevent a war with Nazi Germany. Less than a year later, war broke out anyway.” 

This referred to yet another act of cowardice by Democrats in refusing to stand up to the aggression of the Republican Right.

There are serious historical parallels between the closing days of the German Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler—and what is happening today in the United States.

Example: In the Weimar Republic, all that stood between Hitler and total power was a frail old man—President Paul von Hindenburg. In the United States, all that stands between Donald Trump and absolute power is a frail old man: President Joe Biden.

Revelan elogios de expresidente Donald Trump a Hitler | Cuba Si

Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump

Too many Americans remain ignorant of their own history—not to mention that of other countries.

That was the point of my post. But on Facebook, it’s “Hate speech” to point out the ignorance of criminally ignorant people.

Then came my third and last point.

Third: Facebook claimed: “You can disagree with the decision if you think we got it wrong.” That implied that I would be given the opportunity to state why I believed the decision was wrong and have that objection carefully reviewed. 

But, immediately afterward, Facebook stated: “We usually offer the chance to request a review and follow up if we got decisions wrong.

“We have fewer reviewers available right now because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. We’re trying hard to prioritize reviewing content with the most potential for harm. This means we may not be able to follow up with you, though your feedback helps us do better in the future.” 

Using COVID as an excuse to avoid responsible behavior is despicable. If Facebook is  going to ban people for supposedly violating its “Community Standards,” it has a moral obligation—if not a legal one—-to give them a chance to share their side of the story.

That is how a court in a democracy behaves. Making a decision based on whim and secrecy, with no appeal possible, is the behavior of a star chamber.

Facebook jail Memes

I then noted two ways by which Facebook could avoid such disgraceful episodes in the future:

  1. Providing its users with an 800 number whereby they can interact directly with the Censorship Committee and share their reasons for posting the comment(s) they did;
  2. Providing its users with at least an Instant Messaging capability, so they can do so.

My letter to Sheryl Sandberg closed as follows: 

Im aware that Facebook is a private company and thus can do whatever it likes. But it is also—supposedly—a market for the airing of competing ideas. And to behave in the despicable manner I have described is as much a disservice to the reputation Facebook wishes to have as to those who are negatively affected by its censorship decisions. 

Frankly, I don’t expect to get an answer from Sandberg, any more than I expected one from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. 

Still, there is this:

On August 23, 1968, Russian poet Yevgeney Yevtushenko sent a telegram to Communist Party Boss Leonid Brezhnev and Premier Aleksei Kosygin, protesting their invasion of Czechoslovakia. 

No doubt, Yevtushenko didn’t expect his protest to change Soviet policy—just as I don’t expect any major changes—for the good—from Facebook.

These will come about only if:

  1. Enough Facebook users get so fed up with arbitrary bullying that they seek another social media format to speak their minds; and/or
  2. Enough members of Congress demand major changes in the way Facebook regularly makes a mockery of the First Amendment. 

Neither of these is likely to happen anytime soon.

SURVIVING “FACEBOOK JAIL”: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Politics, Social commentary on June 15, 2022 at 12:10 am

Facebook likes to promote itself as a place for “more than three billion people around the world to share ideas, offer support and make a difference.”

But there are limits to the ideas that can be shared on Facebook. And while Facebook likes to boast about its “Community Standards,” these are enforced in a totally arbitrary way.

There is simply no predicting what will trigger Facebook’s ire and land a post—and its poster—in “Facebook Jail.” 

50+ Funny Facebook Jail Memes to Avoid Being Blocked / Get Out of It

It’s true that standards against libel and harassment are absolutely essential.

Twitter has earned an unsavory reputation for refusing to take action against those guilty of one or both. As a result, the Disney company has refused to partner with this company.

But Facebook doesn’t restrict itself to banning posts that are libelous and/or harassing. Its definition of “Hate speech” is so all-encompassing it can be stretched to cover anything. 

For example: On June 3, I received the following message from Facebook: “You can’t post or comment for 7 days. This is because you previously posted something that didn’t follow our Community Standards.

“This comment goes against our standards on hate speech and inferiority, so only you and the admins of Private Liberal Group can see it.

“If your content goes against our Community Standards again, your account may be restricted or disabled.” 

Meta Platforms Headquarters Menlo Park California.jpg

Facebook / Meta headquarters in Menlo Park, California 

LPS.1, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

And just what was my comment that qualified as “hate speech”?

Facebook refused to publish the comment or news story to which I responded. So I can only assume that I was referring to yet another act of cowardice by Democrats in standing up to the Fascistic Right:

“Americans are historical illiterates, and this is just another example proving it. Tyrants cannot be appeased by giving into their demands–it just convinces them that they can demand even more from their victims. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried that approach at Munich in September, 1938, giving Adolf Hitler a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. The reason: To prevent a war with Nazi Germany. Less than a year later, war broke out anyway.”

Apparently, for Facebook, “Americans are historical illiterates” qualifies as “hate speech.”  

When Donald Trump boasted, during his 2016 campaign for President, “I love the poorly educated!” he was not alone. The leadership of Facebook apparently feels the same way. 

Making a decision based on whim and secrecy, with no appeal possible—as Facebook routinely does—is the behavior of a star chamber.

In the past, I had sent letters to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, protesting Facebook’s star chamber approach to justice. Zuckerberg’s life features two accomplishments that dwarf all others:

  1. He’s worth $71.5 billion, courtesy of Facebook’s revenues; and
  2. In multiple appearances before Congress, he’s managed to unite Right-wing Republicans and Liberal Democrats—in their rage at his perceived arrogance and stonewalling.

I didn’t expect Zuckerberg to show the courtesy of a fair-minded CEO by replying to my letters—and I wasn’t disappointed.

Mark Zuckerberg F8 2019 Keynote (32830578717) (cropped).jpg

Mark Zuckerberg

Anthony Quintano from Westminster, United States, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

So, this time, on June 3, I decided to write someone else: Sheryl Sandberg, longtime Chief Operating Officer for Facebook. (She will be stepping down from that position in the fall of 2022, She will, however, remain a member of Facebook’s board of directors.)

Early on in my letter I quickly laid out my case:  Apparently what aroused the ire of Facebook’s Censorship Committee was my statement that “Americans are historical illiterates,” and this was interpreted as “hate speech and inferiority.” Taken to its logical conclusion, only comments celebrating the ignorance of ignorant people will be considered acceptable on Facebook.

Facebook Jail Memes - Geeks + Gamers

Then I offered three reasons why I strongly objected to the decision to ban my post—and me—from Facebook:

First: What I said about Americans’ historical illiteracy was entirely accurate. No less an authority than the acclaimed historian David McCullough has said: “I think we are raising a generation of young Americans who are, to a very large degree, historically illiterate.” 

Nor is he alone. A May 5, 2015 article by the Smithsonian Institute asks: “How Much U.S. History Do Americans Actually Know?” And it answers the question: “Less Than You Think.”

Comedians have long gained laughs at Americans’ historical illiteracy. When Jay Leno hosted The Tonight Show, he often did “Jaywalking Tours” where he would ask people about seemingly well-known historical events. It was common to see people say the Civil War happened in the 1940s (instead of 1861-1865) or to believe that the Texans won at the battle of the Alamo. 

Second:  I quoted the rest of my paragraph: “Tyrants cannot be appeased by giving into their demands–it just convinces them that they can demand even more from their victims. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried that approach at Munich in September, 1938, giving Adolf Hitler a big chunk of Czechoslovakia. The reason: To prevent a war with Nazi Germany. Less than a year later, war broke out anyway.”

I challenge you—and anyone else who reads this letter—to refute one line of that paragraph.

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