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Posts Tagged ‘NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI’

MERCENARIES: NO FEAR OF GOD, NO LOYALTY TO MAN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 7, 2017 at 12:03 am

On October 4, four American Special Forces soldiers were ambushed and gunned down at the border of Niger and Mali.

For 12 days after the tragedy, President Donald Trump said nothing.

Then, during an October 16 press conference in the White House Rose Garden, a reporter asked him about his silence.

Donald Trump Pentagon 2017.jpg

Donald Trump

So Trump claimed—falsely—that earlier Presidents—including Barack Obama—had  never or rarely called or written family members of soldiers who died on duty.

But it was his call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson, that ignited a firestorm.

According to Florida Democratic Representative Frederica Wilson, Trump’s condolence call was brutally insensitive.  Wilson was riding in a limousine with Johnson and heard the conversation on speakerphone.

“He knew what was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway,” Wilson quoted Trump as telling the grieving widow.

But maybe Sergeant Johnson didn’t know what he was signing up for.

On October 19, Pentagon officials said that a private contractor airlifted some of the troops from the scene.

Trump had sent a private aviation contractor—instead of the U.S. military—to retrieve the bodies of the four soldiers killed in Niger.

Robyn Mack, an official for U.S. Africa Command, said Texas-based Berry Aviation was “on alert during the incident and conducted casualty evacuation and transport for US and partner forces.”

Sergeant Johnson’s body was left behind when the bodies of his three fellow soldiers were evacuated. His remains were recovered two days after the extraction by Nigerien troops. 

Even worse, his corpse had been so corrupted by heat that the Pentagon demanded a closed coffin for his burial service.

Contractor aircraft are typically not armed, though their crews may carry side-arms for personal protection.

It’s possible that lightly-armed private contractors were so eager to leave the danger area they did a slapdash search for bodies—and accidentally left Johnson’s behind.

Berry Aviation has also done Defense Department work in Afghanistan, Central African Republic and Burkina Faso. 

Since the end of the Cold War, the American military and Intelligence communities have grown increasingly dependent on private contractors. In the past, such groups were called mercenaries.

In his 2007 bestseller, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, Tim Weiner writes:

“Patriotism for profit became a $50-billion-a-year business….The [CIA] began contracting out thousands of jobs to fill the perceived void by the budget cuts that began in 1992.

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“A CIA officer could file his retirement papers, turn in his blue identification badge, go to work for a much better salary at a military contractor such as Lockheed Martin or Booz Allen Hamilton, then return to the CIA the next day, wearing a green badge….”

Much of the CIA became totally dependent on mercenaries. They appeared to work for the agency, but their loyalty was actually to their private companies. The CIA thus had two workforces-–but the private one was paid far better.

Wrote Weiner: “Legions of CIA veterans quit their posts to sell their services to the agency by writing analyses, creating cover for overseas officers, setting up communications networks, and running clandestine operations.”

One such company was Total Intelligence Solutions, founded in 2007 by Cofer Black, who had been the chief of the CIA’s counter-terrorism center on 9/11.

His partners were Robert Richer, formerly the associate deputy director of operations at the CIA, and Enrique Prado, who had been Black’s chief of counter-terror operations at the agency.

Future CIA hires followed suit: Sign up for five years, win that prized CIA “credential” and sign up for far more money with a private security company.  

This situation met with full support from Right-wing “pro-business” members of Congress and Presidents like George W. Bush.

They had long championed the private sector as inherently superior to the public one. And they saw no danger that a man dedicated to enriching himself might put greed ahead of safeguarding his country.

One of Trump’s key military advisers is Erik Prince, the former head of Blackwater. Under President George W. Bush, the now-infamous mercenary company got $1 billion to provide security for American officials and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Blackwater was also accused of abusing Iraqis and engaging in torture.

There were, however, others who could have offered a timely warning against this use of mercenaries-–had there been leaders willing to heed it.

One of these, reaching back more than 500 years ago, was the Florentine statesman, Niccolo Machiavelli, who famously warned of the dangers of relying on mercenaries.

Image result for Images of Niccolo Machiavelli

Niccolo Machiavelli

In The Prince, Machiavelli writes:

“Mercenaries…are useless and dangerous. And if a prince holds on to his state by means of mercenary armies, he will never be stable or secure. For they are disunited, ambitious, without discipline, disloyal. They are brave among friends; among enemies they are cowards.

“They have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to man, and destruction is deferred only as the attack is. For in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

Centuries after Machiavelli’s warning, Americans are realizing the bitter truth of it firsthand.

WHY FASCISTS WIN AND LIBERALS LOSE

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

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

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

John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

The Kennedy-Nixon Debate

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

Kick him in the balls, Jack.

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

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

The Obama-Romney Debate

But, surprisingly, Obama:  

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

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

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

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

But it did not have to be that way.

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

Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Republicans would have behaved accordingly.

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

General William Texumseh Sherman

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

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

MACHIAVELLI WARNED AMERICA ABOUT TRUMP

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on October 13, 2017 at 2:37 am

On July 30, 2016, Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump attacked the integrity of the parents of an Army captain who died heroically in Iraq in 2004.

For this, he took heavy fire from Democrats, veterans organizations and even his fellow Republicans.

But an even more damning assessment came from Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th-century Florentine statesman whose two great works on politics—The Prince and The Discourses—remain textbooks for successful politicians more than 500 years later.   

Niccolo Machiavelli

Throughout his campaign for President, Trump hurled insults at virtually every major segment of American society, including:  

  • Latinos
  • Asians
  • Muslims
  • Blacks
  • The Disabled
  • Women
  • Prisoners-of-War

These insults delighted his white, under-educated followers. But they alienated millions of other Americans who might have voted for him. 

 

Donald Trump

Machiavelli, on the other hand, advised leaders to refrain from gratuitous insults: 

  • “I hold it to be a proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards any one.
  • For neither the one nor the other in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy–but the one makes him more cautious, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”  

And Trump’s reaction to the criticism he’s received? 

“I can be Presidential, but if I was Presidential I would only have—about 20% of you would be here because it would be boring as hell, I will say,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Superior, Wisconsin. 

For those who expected Trump to shed his propensity for constantly picking fights, Machiavelli had a stern warning: 

  • “…If it happens that time and circumstances are favorable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful. But if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change the mode of his procedure. 
  • “No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to this, either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him, or else because, having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it… 
  • “For if one could change one’s nature with time and circumstances, fortune would never change.” 

Then there was Trump’s approach to consulting advisers:

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he consults about foreign policy, Trump replied;

“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

This totally contrasts with the advice given by Machiavelli:

  • “A prudent prince must [choose] for his counsel wise men, and [give] 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…comport himself so that every one may see that the more freely he speaks, the more he will be acceptable.”

And Machiavelli offered a related warning on the advising of rulers: Unwise princes cannot be wisely advised.   

During the fifth GOP debate in the Presidential sweepstakes, host Hugh Hewitt asked Trump this question: 

“Mr. Trump, Dr. [Ben] Carson just referenced the single most important job of the president, the command and the care of our nuclear forces. And he mentioned the triad. 

“The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out. It’s an executive order. It’s a commander-in-chief decision. 

“What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?” 

[The triad refers to America’s land-, sea- and air-based systems for delivering nuclear missiles and bombs.] 

Nuclear missile in silo

Trump’s reply: “Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible, who really knows what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important.”  

He then digressed to his having called the Iraq invasion a mistake in 2003 and 2004. Finally he came back on topic:

“But we have to be extremely vigilant and extremely careful when it comes to nuclear. Nuclear changes the whole ballgame. 

“The biggest problem we have today is nuclear–nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. I think to me, nuclear, is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

Which brings us back to Machiavelli:  

  • “…Some think that a prince who gains the reputation of being prudent [owes this to] the good counselors he has about him; they are undoubtedly deceived.
  • “It is an infallible rule that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well advised, unless by chance he leaves himself entirely in the hands of one man who rules him in everything, and happens to be a very prudent man. In this case, he may doubtless be well governed, but it would not last long, for the governor would in a short time deprive him of the state.” 

All of which would lead Niccolo Machiavelli to warn, if he could witness American politics today: “This bodes ill for your Republic.”

THE PERILS OF TWITTERING

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on October 9, 2017 at 12:04 am
If Donald Trump ever read The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman, he’s decided he doesn’t need it. And his ever-falling popularity among Americans clearly proves his mistake. 

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 21, 2017 at 12:02 am

American Presidents—like politicians everywhere–strive to be loved. There are two primary reasons for this.

First, even the vilest dictators want to believe they are good people—and that their goodness is rewarded by the love of their subjects.

Second, it’s universally recognized that a leader who’s beloved has great clout than one who isn’t. In the United States, a Presidential candidate who wins by a landslide is presumed to have a mandate to pursue his agenda—at least, for the first two years of his administration.

But those—like Barack Obama—who strive to avoid conflict often get treated with contempt and hostility by their adversaries.

Image result for Images of Barack Obama giving a speech in the Oval Office

Barack Obama

In Renegade: The Making of a President, Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s successful 2008 bid for the White House. Among his revelations:

Obama, a believer in rationality and decency, felt more comfortable in responding to attacks on his character than in attacking the character of his enemies.

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

Yet he failed to grasp and apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science:

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 prince, 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.

This explains why Obama found most of his legislative agenda stymied by Republicans.

For example: In 2014, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) sought to block David Barron, Obama’s nominee to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

Rand Paul

Paul objected to Barron’s authoring memos that justifyied the killing of an American citizen by a drone in Yemen on September 30, 2011.

The target was Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric notorious on the Internet for encouraging Muslims to attack the United States.

Paul demanded that the Justice Department release the memos Barron crafted justifying the drone policy.

Anwar al-Awlaki

Imagine how Republicans would depict Paul—or any Democratic Senator—who did the same with a Republican President: “Rand Paul: A traitor who supports terrorists. He sides with America’s sworn enemies against its own lawfully elected President.”

But Obama did nothing of the kind.

(On May 22, 2014, the Senate voted 53–45 to confirm Barron to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.)

But Presidents who seek to rule primarily by fear can encounter their own limitations. Which immediately brings to mind Donald Trump.

As both a Presidential candidate and President, Trump has repeatedly used Twitter to attack hundreds of real and imagined enemies in politics, journalism, TV and films.

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, Trump fired almost 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions that had somehow offended him.

Donald Trump

The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them.

As a Presidential candidate and President, he has shown outright hatred for President Obama. For five years, he slandered Obama as a Kenyan-born alien who had no right to hold the Presidency. 

Then, on March 4, 2017, in a series of unhinged tweets, Trump falsely accused Obama of committing an impeachable offense: Tapping his Trump Tower phones prior to the election.

As President, Trump has refused to reach beyond the narrow base of white, racist, ignorant, hate-filled, largely rural voters who elected him.

And he has bullied and insulted even White House officials and his own handpicked Cabinet officers:

  • Trump has waged a Twitter-laced feud against Jeff Sessions, his Attorney General. Sessions’ “crime”? Recusing himself from investigations into well-established ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign.
  • Trump repeatedly humiliated Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus—at one point ordering him to kill a fly that was buzzing about. On July 28, Priebus resigned.
  • Trump similarly tongue-lashed Priebus’ replacement, former Marine Corps General John Kelly. Trump has reportedly been angered by Kelly’s efforts to limit the number of advisers who have unrestricted access to him. Kelly told colleagues he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of military service—and would not tolerate it again.
  • After Trump gave sensitive Israeli intelligence to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, his national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, denied this had happened. Trump then contradicted McMaster in a tweet: “As president, I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled WH meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety.”

If Trump ever read Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, he’s clearly forgotten this passage:

Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few, increase rather than diminish with time….Whoever acts otherwise….is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon him. 

And this one:

Still, a prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred. 

Or, as Cambridge Professor of Divinity William Ralph Inge put it: “A man may build himself a throne of bayonets, but he can’t sit on it.”

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on September 20, 2017 at 12:30 am

Is it better to be loved or feared?

That was the question Florentine statesman Niccolo Machiavelli raised more than 500 years ago.

Presidents have struggled to answer this question—and have come to different conclusions.

LOVE ME, FEAR MY BROTHER

Most people felt irresistibly drawn to John F. Kennedy—even his political foes. Henry Luce, the conservative publisher of Time, once said, “He makes me feel like a whore.”

But JFK could afford to bask in the love of others—because his younger brother, Robert, was the one who inspired fear.

Robert F. Kennedy and John F. Kennedy

He had done so as Chief Counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee (1957-59), grilling Mafia bosses and corrupt union officials–most notably Teamsters President James Hoffa.

Appointed Attorney General by JFK, he unleashed the FBI on the Mafia. When the steel companies colluded in an inflationary rise in the price of steel in 1962, Bobby sicced the FBI on them.

In 1963, JFK’s cavorting with Ellen Rometsh threatened to destroy his Presidency. Rometsch, a Washington, D.C. call girl, was suspected by the FBI of being an East German spy.

With Republican Senators preparing to investigate the rumors, Bobby ordered Rometsch deported immediately (to which, as a German citizen, she was subject).

He also ordered FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to deliver a warning to the Majority and Minority leaders of the Senate: The Bureau was fully aware of the extramarital trysts of most of its members. And an investigation into the President’s sex life could easily lead into revelations of Senatorial sleaze.

Plans for a Senatorial investigation were shelved.

BEING LOVED AND FEARED

In the 1993 movie, A Bronx Tale, 17-year-old Calogero (Lillo Brancato) asks his idol, the local Mafia capo, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri): “Is it better to be loved or feared?”

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Sonny gives advice to his adopted son, Calogero

Sonny says if he had to choose, he would rather be feared. But he adds a warning straight out of Machiavelli: “The trick is not being hated. That’s why I treat my men good, but not too good.

“I give too much, then they don’t need me. I give them just enough where they need me, but they don’t hate me.”

Machiavelli, writing in The Prince, went further:

“Still a Prince should make himself feared in such a way that if he does not gain love, he at any rate avoids hatred, for fear and the absence of hatred may well go together. And [this] will always be attained by one who abstains from interfering with the property of his citizens and subjects or with their women.”

Many who quote Machiavelli in defense of being feared overlook this vital point: It’s essential to avoid becoming hated.

To establish a fearful reputation, a leader must act decisively and ruthlessly when the interests of the organization are threatened. Punitive action must be taken promptly and confidently.

One or two harsh actions of this kind can make a leader more feared than a reign of terror.

In fact, it’s actually dangerous to constantly employ cruelties or punishments. Whoever does so, warns Machiavelli, “is always obliged to stand with knife in hand, and can never depend on his subjects, because they, owing to continually fresh injuries, are unable to depend upon him.”

The 20th century President who came closest to realizing Machiavelli’s “loved and feared” prince in himself was Ronald Reagan.

Always smiling, quick with a one-liner (especially at press conferences), seemingly unflappable, he projected a constantly optimistic view of his country and its citizens.

Ronald Reagan

In his acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican National Convention he declared: “[The Democrats] say that the United States has had its days in the sun, that our nation has passed its zenith.… My fellow citizens, I utterly reject that view.”

And Americans enthusiastically responded to that view, twice electing him President (1980 and 1984).

But there was a steely, ruthless side to Reagan that appeared when he felt crossed.

On August 3, 1981, nearly 13,000 air traffic controllers walked out after contract talks with the Federal Aviation Administration collapsed. As a result, some 7,000 flights across the country were canceled on that day at the peak of the summer travel season.

Reagan branded the strike illegal. He threatened to fire any controller who failed to return to work within 48 hours.

On August 5, Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who hadn’t returned to work. The mass firing slowed commercial air travel, but it did not cripple the system as the strikers had forecast.

Reagan’s action stunned the American labor movement. Reagan was the only American President to have belonged to a union, the Screen Actors Guild. He had even been president of this–from 1947 to 1954.

There were no more strikes by Federal workers during Reagan’s tenure in office.

Similarly, Libya’s dictator, Moammar Kadaffi, learned that Reagan was not a man to cross.

On April 5, 1986, Libyan agents bombed a nightclub in West Berlin, killing three people, one a U.S. serviceman. The United States quickly learned that Libyan agents in East Germany were behind the attack.

On April 15, acting on Reagan’s orders, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps bombers struck at several sites in Tripoli and Benghazi. Reportedly, Kaddafi himself narrowly missed becoming a casualty.

There were no more acts of Libyan terrorism against Americans for the rest of Reagan’s term.

THE LIMITS OF LOVE AND FEAR: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Social commentary, Uncategorized on September 19, 2017 at 12:07 am

It’s probably the most-quoted passage of Niccolo Machiavelli’s infamous book, The Prince:

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

“For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain. As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote, but when it approaches, they revolt.

“And the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined. For the friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and nobility of spirit is bought but not secured, and at a pinch is not to be expended in your service. 

“And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared. For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose. But fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

So—which is better: To be feared or loved?

In the 1993 film, A Bronx Tale, 17-year-old Calogero (Lillo Brancato) poses that question to his idol, the local Mafia capo, Sonny (Chazz Palminteri).

“That’s a good question,” Sonny replies. “It’s nice to be both, but it’s very difficult. But if I had my choice, I would rather be feared.

“Fear lasts longer than love. Friendships that are bought with money mean nothing. You see how it is around here. I make a joke, everybody laughs. I know I’m funny, but I’m not that funny. It’s fear that keeps them loyal to me.”

Presidents face the same dilemma as Mafia capos—and resolve it in their own ways.

LOVE ME BECAUSE I NEED TO BE LOVED

Bill Clinton believed that he could win over his self-appointed Republican enemies through his sheer charm.

Part of this lay in self-confidence: He had won the 1992 and 1996 elections by convincing voters that “I feel your pain.”

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Bill Clinton

And part of it lay in his need to be loved. He once said that if he were in a room with 100 people and 99 of them liked him but one didn’t, he would spend all his time with that one person, trying to win him over.

But while he could charm voters, he could not bring himself to retaliate against his sworn Republican enemies.

On April 19, 1995, Right-wing terrorist Timothy McVeigh drove a truck–packed with 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and nitromethane–to the front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

The explosion killed 168 people, including 19 children in the day care center on the second floor, and injured 684 others.

Suddenly, Republicans were frightened. Since the end of World War II, they had vilified the very Federal Government they belonged to. They had deliberately courted the Right-wing militia groups responsible for the bombing.

So Republicans feared Clinton would now turn their decades of hate against them.

They need not have worried. On April 23, Clinton presided over a memorial service for the victims of the bombing. He gave a moving eulogy—without condemning the hate-filled Republican rhetoric that had at least indirectly led to the slaughter.

Clinton further sought to endear himself to Republicans by:

  • Adopting NAFTA—the Republican-sponsored North American Free Trade Act, which later proved so devastating to American workers;
  • Siding with Republicans against poor Americans on welfare; and
  • Championing the gutting of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law, which barred investment banks from commercial banking activities.

The result: Republicans believed Clinton was weak–and could be rolled.

In 1998, House Republicans moved to impeach him over a sex scandal with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. But his Presidency survived when the Senate refused to convict.

LOVE ME BECAUSE I’LL HURT YOU IF YOU DON’T

Lyndon Johnson wanted desperately to be loved.

Once, he complained to Dean Acheson, the former Secretary of State under Harry S. Truman, about the ingratitude of American voters. He had passed far more legislation than his predecessor, John F. Kennedy, and yet Kennedy remained beloved, while he, Johnson, was not.

Why was that? Johnson demanded.

“You are not a very likable man,” said Acheson truthfully.

Image result for Images of Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson

Johnson tried to make his subordinates love him. He would humiliate a man, then give him an expensive gift—such a Cadillac. It was his way of binding the man to him.

He was on a first-name basis with J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the FBI. He didn’t hesitate to request—and get—raw FBI files on his political opponents.

On at least one occasion, he told members of his Cabinet: No one would dare walk out on his administration—because if they did, two men would follow their ass to the end of the earth: Mr. J. Edgar Hoover and the head of the Internal Revenue Service.

TWEETING AWAY HIS DIGNITY

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on July 4, 2017 at 12:30 am

If Donald Trump ever read The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman, he’s decided he doesn’t need it. And his ever-falling popularity among Americans clearly proves his mistake.

First published in 1532, The Prince lays bare the qualities needed by a successful political leader. At the top of this list must be creating and preserving a sense of his own dignity. Thus, he must appear to be a combination of mercy, faith, integrity, humanity and religion. 

As Machiavelli puts it:

A prince must take great care that nothing goes out of his mouth which is not full of the above-named five qualities, and he should seem to be all mercy, faith, integrity, humanity and religion. 

Since taking office on January 20, Trump has violated Machiavelli’s injunction on integrity with a vengeance. He has been caught in repeated falsehoods–so many, in fact, that the New York Times gave over its June 23 front page to a story headlined: “Trump’s Lies.” 

According to the Times, Trump “told public falsehoods or lies every day for his first 40 days.”

“There is simply no precedent,” went the Times‘ opinion piece, “for an American president to spend so much time telling untruths. Every president has shaded the truth or told occasional whoppers.

“No other president—of either party—has behaved as Trump is behaving. He is trying to create an atmosphere in which reality is irrelevant.”

Donald Trump Pentagon 2017.jpg

Donald Trump

Machiavelli also advises:

[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude….

It’s hard to convey those qualities in a series of 140-character rants on Twitter. Yet, from the start of his Presidency, Trump has put his ambitions, excuses and rants on social media.

As CNN Political Analyst Julian Zelizer outlined in a July 3 article:

“Putting aside the specific content of the recent blasts from the Oval smart phone, the President’s ongoing Twitter storms make all leaders uneasy. The heads of government in most nations prefer a certain amount of predictability and decorum from other heads of state.

“To have one of the most powerful people in the room being someone who is willing to send out explosive and controversial statements through social media, including nasty personal attacks or an edited video of him physically assaulting the media, does not make others….feel very confident about how he will handle deliberations with them.” 

Trump’s apologists have fiercely defended his tweetstorms, claiming they allow him to bypass the media and “communicate directly with the American people.”

On June 29, Trump attacked the physical appearance of Mika Brzezinski, a frequent journalistic critic on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, his deputy press secretary, excused it: “The president has been attacked mercilessly on personal accounts by members on that program. And I think he’s been very clear that when he gets attacked he’s going to hit back.”

On July 2, Trump tweeted a video showing him punching a wrestler–with a CNN logo imposed over his face.

The tweet brought Trump widespread criticism. Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the video was a “threat of physical violence against journalists” and “beneath the office of the presidency.” 

Trump’s mania for tweeting has often led him to contradict statements by his administration’s highest officials. 

In early June, Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with Qater because of its alleged support for terrorism in the Persian Gulf. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson publicly said that the United States hoped to mediate an end to the dispute. 

But the next day, Trump tweeted: “During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar—look!”

Machiavelli urged rulers to safeguard their reputations:

Niccolo Machiavelli

…A prince must show himself a lover of merit, give preferment to the able, and honor those who excel in every art.

Besides this, he ought, at convenient seasons of the year, to keep the people occupied with festivals and shows….mingle with them from time to time, and give them an example of his humanity and munificence, always upholding, however, the majesty of his dignity, which must never be allowed to fail in anything whatever. 

Rulers who disregard this advice do so at their peril:

A prince need trouble little about conspiracies when the people are well disposed.  But when they are hostile and hold him in hatred, then he must fear everything and everybody…. 

…[The Roman Emperor Commodus], being of a cruel and bestial disposition, in order to…exercise his rapacity on the people, he sought to favor the soldiers and render them licentious. 

On the other hand, by not maintaining his dignity, by often descending into the theater to fight with gladiators and committing other contemptible actions…he became despicable in the eyes of the soldiers. And being hated on the one hand and despised on the other, he was conspired against and killed. 

Donald Trump has repeatedly violated these lessons. It remains to be seen if he will pay a price for doing so.

THE COSTS OF TIMIDITY: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 30, 2017 at 12:03 am

During the summer of 2011, Republicans threatened to destroy the Nation’s credit rating unless Democrats agreed to massively cut social programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

President Barack Obama could have countered this extortion through the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act.

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 counter 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 so defined: “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.” 

U.S. Department of Justice

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

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. 

The indictment of large numbers of Republican extortionists would have substantially changed the course of American history while Obama held office.

Instead of raising huge sums of money for re-election battles, those Representatives and Senators would have been forced to raise monies for their legal defense. And while some might have been convicted, others almost certainly would have been.

This would have substantially depleted the ranks of Obama’s sworn enemies—and given him far greater opportunities to enact his legislative agenda.

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.

A Cuban Missile Crisis Speech

But 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—by explaining to the American people: 

  • Republicans have adopted the same my-way-or-else “negotiating” stance as Adolf Hitler.
  • Like the Nazis, they are determined to gain absolute power—or destroy the Nation they claim to love.
  • They raised the debt ceiling seven times during the eight-year Presidency of George W. Bush.
  • But now that a Democrat holds the White House, raising the debt ceiling is unacceptable.
  • Despite Republican lies, we cannot revitalize the economy by slashing taxes on the wealthy and on cash-hoarding corporations while cutting benefits for millions of average Americans.
  • We will need both tax increases and sensible entitlement cuts to regain our economic strength.

And he could have ended his speech with a direct call to action by the American people:

Image result for Images of Barack Obama giving a speech in the Oval Office

President Barack Obama addressing the Nation

We stand on the edge of economic disaster. Therefore, I am asking each of you to stand up for America tonight–by demanding the recall of the entire membership of the Republican Party.

“This is the moment when each of us must decide—whether we will survive as a Republic, or allow ruthless political fanatics to destroy what has lasted and thrived for more than 200 years.”

Instead, Obama caved in to Republican extortion demands.

In September, 1939, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier sold out their ally, Czechoslovakia, to Adolf Hitler at the infamous Munich Conference. 

As Winston Churchill aptly predicted: “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.”

To paraphrase Churchill: President Obama had to choose between confrontation and timidity. He chose timidity. He got contempt and obstruction in return. 

Five years later, the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency informed Obama that Russian Intelligence agents were actively working to ensure Donald Trump’s election as President. 

Obama did not publicly release this information–nor indict Trump campaign staffers who were colluding with those agents. 

Thus, Trump won the election–and gained the power to destroy Obama’s Presidential legacy.

MACHIAVELLI VS. TRUMP ON THREATS AND INSULTS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 13, 2017 at 12:20 am

Hear that sound?

It’s the sound of Niccolo Machiavelli laughing at President Donald J. Trump.

Machiavelli (1469 – 1527) was an Italian Renaissance historian, diplomat and writer. Two of his books continue to profoundly influence modern politics: The Prince and The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy.

The Prince has often been damned as a dictator’s guide on how to gain and hold power.  But The Discourses outlines how citizens in a republic can maintain their liberty.

Niccolo Machiavelli

In Chapter 26 of The Discourses, he advises:

I hold it to be a proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards any one, for neither the one nor the other in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy—but the one makes him more cautious, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.

If Trump has read Machiavelli, he’s utterly forgotten the Florentine statesman’s advice. Or he decided long ago that it simply didn’t apply to him.

Consider his treatment of James Comey, the former FBI director whom the President fired on May 9.

James B. Comey

In a move that Joseph Stalin would have admired, Trump gave no warning of his intentions.

Instead, he sent Keith Schiller, his longtime bodyguard and henchman, to the FBI with a letter announcing Comey’s dismissal.

Trump had three reasons for firing Comey:

  1. Comey had refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. Trump had made this “request” during a private dinner at the White House in January. After refusing to make that pledge, Comey told Trump that he would always be honest with him. But that didn’t satisfy Trump’s demand that the head of the FBI act as his personal secret police chief.
  2. Trump had tried to coerce him into dropping the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, for his secret ties to Russia and Turkey. Comey had similarly resisted that demand.
  3. Comey had recently asked the Justice Department to fund an expanded FBI investigation into contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents. 

On May 10–the day after firing Comey–Trump met in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Donald Trump Pentagon 2017.jpg

Donald Trump

Kislyak is reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. He has been closely linked with Jeff Sessions, now Attorney General, and fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.

“I just fired the head of the FBI,” Trump told the two dignitaries. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Two days later, on May 12, Trump tweeted a threat to the fired FBI director: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.” 

It clearly didn’t occur to Trump that Comey might have created his own record of their exchanges. Or that he might choose to publicly release it.

But shortly afterward, that’s exactly what he did. 

News stories surfaced that Comey had written memos to himself immediately after his private meetings with Trump. He had also told close aides that Trump was trying to pressure him into dropping the Russia investigation. 

The news stories led to another result Trump had not anticipated: Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein yielded to demands from Democrats and appointed former FBI Director Robert Meuller III as a Special Prosecutor to investigate Trump’s Russian ties.

A Special Prosecutor (now euphemistically called an “Independent Counsel”) holds virtually unlimited power and discretion.

In 1993, Kenneth Starr was appointed Special Prosecutor to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in “Whitewater.” This was a failed Arkansas land deal that had happened while Clinton was still governor there. It had nothing to do with his role as President.

Starr never turned up anything incriminating about Whitewater. But he discovered that Clinton had gotten oral sex in the Oval Office from a lust-hungry intern named Monica Lewinsky.

Clinton’s lying about these incidents before a Federal grand jury led to his impeachment by a Republican-dominated House of Representatives. But he avoided removal when the Senate refused to convict him by a vote of 55 to 45.

Finally, Trump’s implying that he had illegally taped his conversations with Comey was yet another dangerous mistake, with four possible outcomes:

  1. If Trump has such tapes, they can and will be subpoenaed by the Special Prosecutor and the House and Senate committees investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
  2. If Trump has such tapes and refuses to turn them over, he can be charged with obstruction of justice–and impeached for that reason alone.
  3. If he has burned or erased such tapes, that, too, counts as obstruction of justice.
  4. If he doesn’t have such tapes, he will be revealed as a maker of empty threats.

This last outcome wouldn’t get him impeached. But it would make him a national laughingstock.

As Machiavelli also warns: Unwise princes cannot be wisely advised.

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