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THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 29, 2022 at 12:11 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.jpg

Niccolo Machiavelli

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

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

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

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

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

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Walter Scheidel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For millions of struggling, impoverished Americans, that day cannot come soon enough.

THE CORRUPTIONS OF THE RICH: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 28, 2022 at 12:31 am

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

But when a candidate actually (and usually accidentally) tells the truth, the results can be electrifying. And sometimes devastating for the candidate.

On June 18, 2019, Democratic Presidential candidate (and momentary front-runner) Joseph Biden addressed a roomful of donors in New York. 

The former Vice President believed that his message would comfort his well-heeled audience of billionaires: Don’t worry, if I’m elected, your standard of living won’t change.

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

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Joe Biden

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

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

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

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

Biden had talked about decreasing income inequality and promoting workers’ rights. But he had also taken a moderate stance when it came to taxation.

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

“I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason why we’re in trouble,” Biden said in March, 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon.com: Robert Payne: Books, Biography, Blog, Audiobooks, Kindle

Robert Payne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Payne has proven to be an uncanny prophet.

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

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

But this situation need not remain permanent.

HEROES AND VILLAINS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 21, 2022 at 12:10 am

Next hero: Marie Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine (2016 – 2019). She had joined the Foreign Service in 1986, and served as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan (2005 – 2008) and Armenia (2008 – 2011).

In May 2019, on President Donald Trump’s orders, the State Department recalled Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine. She had earned respect from the national security community for her efforts to encourage Ukraine to tackle corruption.

But she had been criticized by Right-wing media outlets—notably Fox News Network-–and by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

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Marie Yovanovitch

CNN reported that Yovanovitch stopped Giuliani from interviewing witnesses in his search for politically damaging information against former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son, Hunter, had had business dealings in Ukraine.

On October 11, 2019, she appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA). She did so in defiance of orders by the White House and State Department to not attend.

“She was a hero even before she hit the hearing room,” wrote Charles Pierce for Esquire magazine.

“She told them to stuff their directives, she would answer a congressional subpoena like a citizen is supposed to do. And she didn’t sneak in through the basement. She walked into the Capitol through the front doors, and she didn’t do so to fck around.”

Testifying for nearly 10 hours, Yovanovitch said that Trump had removed her from her post owing to “unfounded and false claims” and “a concerted campaign against me.”

She believed that associates of Trump’s personal lawyer, Giuliani, might have thought “that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

And she warned that the State Department was being “attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees.”

Another victim on Trump’s hate-list was Chis Krebs.

During the 2016 Presidential race, Russian propaganda had played a major role in convincing millions of Americans to vote for Donald Trump. Social media platforms—especially Facebook and Twitter—were flooded with genuinely fake news to sow discord among Americans and create a pathway for Trump’s election.

And where Internet trolls left off, Russian computer hackers took over.

Trump didn’t win a majority of the popular vote. But he got enough help from Russian President Vladimir Putin to triumph in the Electoral College.

So notorious was the role played by Russian trolls and hackers in winning Trump the 2016 election that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was determined to prevent a repetition in 2020.

And point man for this was Chris Krebs.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1977, Krebs had received a B.A. in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia in 1999, and a J.D. from the George Mason University School of Law in 2007.

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Chris Krebs

Krebs had served as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Infrastructure Protection, and later worked in the private sector as Director for Cybersecurity Policy for Microsoft.

Now he was director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS.

In preparation for the 2020 Presidential election, Krebs launched a massive effort to counter lies spread by Russians—and Americans—on social media platforms. Among his duties:

  • Sharing Intelligence from agencies such as the CIA and National Security Agency with local officials about foreign efforts at election interference.
  • Ensuring that domestic voting equipment was secure.
  • Attacking domestic misinformation head-on.

As a result, Krebs was widely praised for revamping the department’s cybersecurity efforts and increasing coordination with state and local governments. 

By all accounts—except Trump’s—the November 3, 2020 election went very smoothly. 

As a result of the vast increase in election security, Trump not only failed to win the popular vote again but couldn’t get the help he expected from Putin. 

On November 17, Trump fired Chris Krebs. 

The reason: Krebs had not only countered Russian propaganda lies—he had dared to counter Trump’s as well. For example: He rejected Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud: There “is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

In a November 17 story on the CNN website, CNN reporters Kaitlan Collins and Paul LeBlanc bluntly concluded:

“[Krebs’] dismissal underscores the lengths Trump is willing to go to punish those who don’t adopt his conspiratorial view of the election.

“Since CNN and other outlets called the race for President-elect Joe Biden, Trump has refused to accept the results, instead pushing baseless conspiracies that his second term is being stolen.”

Yet, by depriving Trump of Russian help, Krebs ensured a victory for democracy.

On January 6, the House and Senate counted the Electoral Votes—and pronounced Joseph Biden the winner—bringing an end to Trump’s reign of criminality and treason.

In his 1960 poem, “Conversation With an American Writer,” the Russian poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko spoke for those Russians who had maintained their integrity in the face of Stalinist terror:

“You have courage,” they tell me.
It’s not true. I was never courageous.
I simply felt it unbecoming
to stoop to the cowardice of my colleagues.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Republicans in the United States Senate and House of Representatives in the face of Trump terror.

HEROES AND VILLAINS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 20, 2022 at 12:10 am

Next up: Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers.

Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich (September 25, 1906 – August 9, 1975)

Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky, the former military hero now falsely condemned and executed as a traitor by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

In 1938, Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) also became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) secret police sent to arrest him.

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Dimitri Shostakovich

“He had a large picture of Tukhachevsky in his room, and after the announcement that Tukhachevsky had been shot as a traitor to the homeland, Zhilayev did not take the picture down.

“I don’t know if I can explain how heroic a deed that was….As soon as the next poor soul was declared an enemy of the people, everyone destroyed in a panic everything connected with that person….

“And naturally, photographs flew into the fire first, because if someone informed on you, reported that you had a picture of an enemy of the people, it meant certain death.

“Zhilayev wasn’t afraid. When they came for him, Tukhachevsky’s prominently hung portrait amazed even the executioners.”

“What, it’s still up?” one of the secret police asked.

“The time will come,” Zhilayev replied, “when they’ll erect a monument to him.”

As, in fact, has happened. 

Meanwhile, Stalin has been universally condemned as one of history’s greatest tyrants.

Third hero—Brett Crozier, the former commanding officer of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Graduating from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1992, he received his Master’s Degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College in 2007.

From 2017 to 2018 he commanded the USS Blue Ridge. In November, 2019, he was given command of the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

On March 24, 2020, reports circulated that three members of the crew had tested positive for COVID-19. The next day the number of stricken sailors increased to eight. A few days later, it was “dozens.” The sailors reportedly became ill at sea, two weeks after a port call at Danang, Vietnam.

The initial cases were airlifted to a military hospital. The Roosevelt was ordered to Guam. After the ship docked on March 27, 2020, all 5,000 aboard were ordered to be tested for the virus. But only about 100 stricken sailors were allowed to leave the ship. The rest remained on board.

On March 30, Crozier emailed a four-page internal letter to multiple Naval officials, pleading to have the majority of the crew evacuated and quarantined on shore. Given the crowded sleeping quarters and narrow passageways of the vessel, Crozier wrote that it was impossible to follow social distancing and quarantine procedures: 

“This will require a political solution but it is the right thing to do. We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset—our Sailors….

“This is a necessary risk. Keeping over 4,000 young men and women on board the TR is an unnecessary risk and breaks faith with those Sailors entrusted to our care.”

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Brett Crozier

Crozier sent his letter via a non-secure, unclassified email to 20 to 30 recipients, as well as the captain’s immediate chain of command. He reportedly believed that his immediate supervisor would not allow him to send it.

And his superior later confirmed that he would not have allowed Crozier to send it.

On March 31, someone leaked the letter to the San Francisco Chronicle, which published it.

On April 1, the Navy ordered the aircraft carrier evacuated. A skeleton crew of 400 remained aboard to maintain the nuclear reactor, the fire-fighting equipment, and the ship’s galley. 

On April 2, Crozier was relieved of command by acting United States Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly.

By that time, about 114 crew members—out of a total of around 4,000—reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.  

As Crozier disembarked, sailors loudly saluted him with a standing ovation: “Cap-tain Cro-zier!”   

Modly claimed that Crozier’s letter “raised alarm bells unnecessarily. It undermines our efforts and the chain of command’s efforts to address this problem, and creates a panic and this perception that the Navy’s not on the job, that the government’s not on the job, and it’s just not true.”

Actually, the Trump administration had frittered away January and February, with President Donald Trump giving multiple—and misleading—press conferences. In these, he played down the dangers of COVID-19, saying that “we’re on top of it”—even as the virus spread across the country. 

“It was a betrayal. And I can tell you one other thing: because he did that he put it in the public’s forum and it is now a big controversy in Washington, DC,” continued Modly. [Italics added] 

This was the United States Navy under Donald Trump—who threw “betrayal” and “treason” at anyone who dared reveal the truth about institutional crimes and failures.

HEROES AND VILLAINS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 19, 2022 at 12:17 am

…A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances. And if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him.
The conduct of weak men is very different. Made vain and intoxicated by good fortune, they attribute their success to merits which they do not possess. And this makes them odious and insupportable to all around them. And when they have afterwards to meet a reverse of fortune, they quickly fall into the other extreme, and become abject and vile.
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Discourses

Four heroes, three villains.

Two of the heroes are Russians; three are Americans.

The villains: One Russian (actually, Georgian); two American.

First up—in order of disappearance: Mikhail Nikolayevich Tukhachevsky (pronounced too-ka-chev-sky).

Tukhachevsky (February 4, 1893 – June 12, 1937) was a major Soviet military leader and theoretician from 1918 to 1937. 

He commanded the Soviet Western Front during the Russian-Polish War (1920-21) and served as Chief of Staff of the Red Army (1925-1928).

He fought to modernize Soviet armament, as well as develop airborne, aviation and mechanized forces.  Almost singlehandedly, he created the theory of deep operations for Soviet forces.

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Mikhail Tukhachevsky

All of these innovations would reap huge dividends when the Soviet Union faced the lethal fury of Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

In 1936, Tukhachevsky warned Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin that Nazi Germany might attack without warning—and ignite a long and murderous war.

Stalin—the son of a Georgian cobbler—resented Tukhachevsky’s coming from a noble family. A monumental egomaniac, he also hated that Tukhachevesky’s fame rivaled his own.

Warned of the approaching German danger, Stalin shouted: “What are you trying to do—frighten Soviet authority?”

Joseph Stalin

The attack that Tukhachevsky warned against came five years later—on June 22, 1941, leaving at least 26 million Russians dead.

But Tukhachevsky wasn’t alive to command a defense.

The 1930s were a frightening and dangerous time to be alive in the Soviet Union. In 1934, Stalin, seeing imaginary enemies everywhere, ordered a series of purges that lasted right up to the German invasion.

An example of Stalin’s paranoia occurred one day while the dictator walked through the Kremlin corridors with Admiral Ivan Isakov. Officers of the NKVD (the predecessor to the KGB) stood guard at every corner. 

“Every time I walk down the corridors,” said Stalin, “I think: Which one of them is it? If it’s this one, he will shoot me in the back. But if I turn the corner, the next one can shoot me in the face.”

In 1937-38, the Red Army fell prey to Stalin’s paranoia.

Its victims included:

  • Three of five marshals (five-star generals);
  • Thirteen of 15 army commanders (three- and four-star generals);
  • Fifty of 57 army corps commanders; and
  • One hundred fifty-four out of 186 division commanders.

And heading the list of those marked for death was Marshal Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

Arrested on May 22, 1937, he was interrogated and tortured. As a result, he “confessed” to being a German agent plotting to overthrow Stalin and seize power. 

On his confession, which survives in the archives, his bloodstains can clearly be seen.

On June 11, 1937, the Soviet Supreme Court convened a special military tribunal to try Tukhachevsky and eight generals for treason.

It was a sham: The accused were denied defense attorneys, and could not appeal the verdict—-which was foregone: Death.

In a Russian version of poetic justice, five of the eight generals who served as Tukhachevsky’s judges were themselves later condemned and executed as traitors.

Within hours of the verdict, Tukhachevsky was summoned from his cell and shot once in the back of the head.

From 1937 until 1956, Tukhachevsky was officially declared a traitor and fifth-columnist.

Then, on February 25, 1957, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev delivered his bombshell “Secret Speech” to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In this, he denounced Stalin (who had died in 1953) as a ruthless tyrant responsible for the slaughter of millions of innocent men, women and children. He condemned Stalin for creating a “personality cult” around himself, and for so weakening the Red Army that Nazi Germany was able to easily overrun half of the Soviet Union from 1941 to 1943.

On January 31, 1957, Tukhachevsky and his co-defendants were declared innocent of all charges and were “rehabilitated.”

Today, he is once again—rightly—considered a Russian hero and military genius. And Stalin is universally—and rightly—seen as a blood-stained tyrant.

Image result for Images of Statues to Mikhail Tukhachevsky

Mikhail Tukhachevsky appears on a 1963 Soviet Union postage stamp

Next hero: Nikolai Sergeyvich Zhilayev (pronounced Zill-lay-ev)

Zhilayev (November 18, 1881 – January 20, 1938) was a Russian musicologist and the teacher of several 20th-century Russian composers. Among these: Dimitri Shostakovich.

Zhilayev, a member of the Russian Academy of Art-Sciences, taught at the Moscow Conservatory. Among his friends—to his ultimate misfortune—was Mikhail Tukhachevsky.

In 1938, he, too, became a casualty of what has become known as The Great Terror.

In his posthumously-published memoirs, Testimony, Shostakovich, his pupil and friend, described how Zhilayev faced his end with a calmness that awed even the NKVD secret police sent to arrest him. 

MACHIAVELLI’S VERDICT ON TRUMP: HE’S NO PRINCE

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 11, 2022 at 12:10 am

No shortage of pundits have sized up Donald Trump—-first as a Presidential candidate, then as the nation’s 45th President, and now as a potential Presidential candidate in 2024.  

But how does Trump measure up in the estimate of Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th-century Florentine statesman?

It is Machiavelli whose two great works on politics—The Prince and The Discourses—remain textbooks for successful politicians more than 500 years later.  

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Niccolo Machiavelli

Let’s start with Trump’s notoriety for hurling insults at virtually everyone, including:  

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

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

Here’s Machiavelli’s advice on issuing threats and 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.”

For those who expected Trump to shed his propensity for constantly picking fights once he became President, Machiavelli warned:

  • “…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 is 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.”

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Donald Trump

Machiavelli advised:

  • “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.”

On selecting good advisers, Machiavelli taught:

  • “The first impression that one gets of a ruler and his brains is from seeing the men that he has about him. 
  • “When they are competent and loyal one can always consider him wise, as he has been able to recognize their ability and keep them faithful. 
  • “But when they are the reverse, one can always form an unfavorable opinion of him, because the first mistake that he makes is in making this choice.” 

Among the advisers Trump relied on in his 2016 Presidential campaign: 

  • Founder of Latinos for Trump Marco Gutierrez told MSNBC’s Joy Reid: “My culture is a very dominant culture. And it’s imposing, and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re gonna have taco trucks every corner.” 
  • At a Tea Party for Trump rally at a Harley-Davidson dealership in Festus, Missouri, former Missouri Republican Party director Ed Martin reassured the crowd that they weren’t racist for hating Mexicans.

From the outset of his Presidential campaign, Trump polled extremely poorly among Hispanic voters. Comments like these didn’t increase his popularity.

  • Wayne Root, opening speaker and master of ceremonies at many Trump campaign events, told Virginia radio host Rob Schilling: People on public assistance and women getting birth control through Obamacare should not be allowed to vote.

Comments like this are a big turn-off among the 70% of women who have an unfavorable opinion of him–and anyone who receives Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security.

  • Trump’s spokeswoman, Katrina Pierson, claimed that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were responsible for the death of Captain Humayun Khan—who was killed by a truck-bomb in Iraq in 2004.  

Obama became President in 2009—almost five years after Khan’s death. And Clinton became Secretary of State the same year.  

When your spokeswoman becomes a nationwide laughingstock, your own credibility goes down the toilet as well.

Finally, Machiavelli offered a warning that especially applies to Trump: Unwise princes cannot be wisely advised.

  • “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.”

ACCOMPLICES TO OUR OWN DESTRUCTION: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 29, 2022 at 12:11 am

On November 3, 80 million voters elected former Vice President Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States.

President Donald Trump had often “joked” that America needed a “President-for-Life.” Now he demanded that he be awarded that title.

Trump refused to accept that verdict. 

Speaking from the White House in the early hours of November 4, he said: “Millions and millions of people voted for us tonight, and a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people and we won’t stand for it.”

For the first time in American history, a President demanded a halt to the counting of votes while the outcome of an election hung in doubt.

States ignored his demand and kept counting.

Next, Trump ordered his attorneys to file lawsuits to overturn the election results, charging electoral fraud.

He claimed:

  • Illegal aliens had been allowed to vote.
  • Trump ballots had been systematically destroyed.
  • Tampered voting machines had turned Trump votes into Biden ones.

Throughout November and December, cases were filed in Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, Minnesota and Georgia challenging the election results. More than 30 cases were withdrawn by Trump’s attorneys or dismissed by Federal judges—some of them appointed by Trump himself.

For 20 days, General Services Administrator Emily Murphy refused to release $7.3 million in transition funding and Federal resources to the President-elect’s team.

Under the law governing presidential transitions, Murphy was responsible for determining the winner based on publicly available information before the actual Electoral College vote. 

Finally, on November 23, Murphy released the transition funding and resources.

Trump invited two Republican legislative leaders from Michigan to the White House to persuade them to stop the state from certifying the vote.

Nothing changed. 

On December 5, Trump called Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and asked him to call a special legislative session to convince state legislators to select their own electors that would support him, thus overturning Biden’s win.

Kemp refused, saying he lacked the authority to do so.

Top Republicans—such as Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—refused to congratulate Biden as the winner. 

None of them branded Trump’s efforts to overturn the election as those of a tyrant.

Just as Germans did nothing to stop Adolf Hitler’s inexorable march toward war—and the destruction of millions of lives and Germany itself—so, too, did Americans seem paralyzed to end the equally self-destructive reign of the man often dubbed “Carrot Caligula.”

Gaius Caligula was “the mad emperor” of ancient Rome. Like Trump, he lived by a philosophy of “Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.”

He ruled as the most powerful man of his time—three years, 10 months and eight days. And all but the first six months of his reign were drenched in slaughter and debauchery.

There were basically three ways America’s slide into tyranny could have been stopped:

First, Congressional Republicans could have revolted against Trump’s authority and/or agenda.

They could have demanded that Trump accept the verdict of the electorate—as every other past President had.

But they didn’t.

Republicans feared that if they openly defied him, his fanatical base would turn on them in coming elections—and end their comfortable reign of power and privileges.

Second, invoking the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

This allows the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet to recommend the removal of the President in cases where he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” It also allows the House and Senate to confirm the recommendation over the President’s objection by two-thirds vote. 

The Vice President then takes over as President.

A case could easily have been made that Trump, emotionally distraught over his loss and determined to circumvent the will of the electorate, had been rendered unfit to continue in office.

This did not happen.

Most of Trump’s cabinet rightly feared him. He fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and publicly humiliated his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for more than a year until firing him in 2018. Vice President Mike Pence in particular had set new records for sycophancy. 

Third, the “Caligula solution.” Like Trump, Caligula delighted in humiliating others. His fatal mistake was taunting Cassius Chaerea, a member of his own bodyguard. Caligula considered Chaerea effeminate owing to a weak voice and mocked him with names like “Priapus” and “Venus.”

Gaius Caligula

On January 22 41 A.D. Chaerea and several other bodyguards hacked Caligula to death with swords before other guards could save him.

Trump had similarly behaved arrogantly toward his Secret Service guards. He forced them to work without pay during his 35-day government shutdown in 2018. He also forced them to accompany him to COVID-infected states—both during the Presidential campaign and afterward. Many of them had been stricken with this often lethal disease as a result. 

During Adolf Hitler’s 12-years reign of Nazi Germany, high-ranking military officers tried to kill him at least 42 times. 

The best-known of these attempts occurred on July 20, 1944, when Colonel Count Claus Shenk von Stauffenberg planted a bomb in a conference room attended by Hitler and his generals. Hitler survived only by sheer luck. 

By contrast, no similar plot was aimed at Donald Trump.

ACCOMPLICES TO OUR OWN DESTRUCTION: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 28, 2022 at 12:10 am

“Why are we letting one man systematically destroy our nation before our eyes?”       

It’s a question millions of Americans asked themselves after Donald Trump became President of the United States.

Millions of Germans asked themselves the same question throughout the six years of World War II.

In September, 1938, as Adolf Hitler threatened to go to war against France and England over Czechoslovakia, most Germans feared he would. They knew that Germany was not ready for war, despite all of their Fuhrer’s boasts about how invincible the Third Reich was.

A group of high-ranking German army officers was prepared to overthrow Hitler—provided that England and France held firm and handed him a major diplomatic reverse.

But then England and France—though more powerful than Germany—flinched at the thought of war.

They surrendered to Hitler’s demands that he be given the “Sudetenland”—the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia, inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.

Hitler’s popularity among Germans soared. He had expanded the territories of the Reich by absorbing Austria and Czechoslovakia—without a shot being fired!

The plotters in the German high command, realizing that public opinion stood overwhelmingly against them, abandoned their plans for a coup. They decided to wait for a more favorable time.

It never came.

Adolf Hitler and his generals

Less than one year after the infamous “Munich conference,” England and France were at war—and fighting for the lives of their peoples.

As for the Germans: Most of them blindly followed their Fuhrer right to the end—believing his lies (or at least wanting to believe them), serving in his legions, defending his rampant criminality.

And then, in April, 1945, with Russian armies pouring into Berlin, it was too late for conspiracies against the man who had led them to total destruction. 

Germans paid the price for their loyalty to a murderous dictator—through countless rapes, murders and the wholesale destruction of their cities. And from 1945 to 1989, Germans living in the eastern part of their country paid the price as slaves to the Soviet Union. 

Have Americans learned anything from this this warning from history about subservience to a madman? 

The answer seems to be half-yes, half-no.

In 2016, almost 63 million Americans elected Donald Trump—a racist, serial adulterer and longtime fraudster—as President.

Related image

Donald Trump

Upon taking office on January 20, 2017, Trump began undermining one public or private institution after another.

  • Repeatedly attacking the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Siding with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin against the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency which unanimously agreed that Russia had subverted the 2016 Presidential election. 
  • Firing FBI Director James Comey for investigating that subversion.
  • Giving Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey  Kislyak highly classified CIA Intelligence about an Islamic State plot to turn laptops into concealable bombs.  
  • Shutting down the Federal Government for 35 days because Democrats refused to fund his ineffective “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay. The shutdown ended due to public outrage—without Trump getting the funding amount he had demanded.
  • Trying to coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to smear former Vice President Joe Biden, who was likely to be his Democratic opponent in the 2020 Presidential election.
  • Allowing the deadly COVID-19 virus to ravage the country, infecting (to date) 14.8 million Americans and killing 282,000.
  • Attacking medical experts and governors who urged Americans to wear masks and socially distance to protect themselves from COVID-19.
  • Ordering his Right-wing followers to defy states’ orders to citizens to “stay-at-home” and wear of masks in public to halt surging COVID-19 rates.

And throughout all those outrages, House and Senate Republican majorities remained silent or vigorously supported him.

A typical example:

On June 4, 2020, during protests over the police murder of black security guard George Floyd, a curfew was imposed on Buffalo, New York. As police swept through Niagara Square, Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old peace activist with the Catholic Worker Movement, walked into their path as if attempting to speak with them.

Two officers pushed him and he fell backwards, hitting the back of his head on the pavement and losing consciousness. 

On June 9, Trump charged that Gugino was part of a radical leftist “set up.” Trump offered no evidence to back up his slander.

Typical Republican responses included:  

  • Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to say whether Trump’s tweet was appropriate.
  • Texas Senator Ted Cruz: “I don’t comment on the tweets.” 
  • Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson said he hadn’t seen the tweet—and didn’t want it read to him: “I would rather not hear it.”
  • Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander: “Voters can evaluate that. I’m not going to give a running commentary on the President’s tweets.”

On November 3, 2020, 81,255,933 Democratic voters outvoted 74,196,153 Republican voters to elect former Vice President Joseph Biden as the 46th President of the United States.

HUMANITY CAN PREVAIL WHEN VIOLENCE HAS FAILED

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on March 17, 2022 at 12:17 am

Two stories—one fictitious, the other historical.

Story #1: In the 1961 historical epic, “El Cid,” Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, known as “The Lord,” besieges the Spanish city of Valencia, which has been captured by the Moors.

Months have passed. The city’s population is starving and without hope.

Then, one day, El Cid (Charlton Heston) calls out over the city’s walls: “Soldiers and citizens of Valencia! We are not your enemy! Ben Yusof [the powerful emir who plans to conquer Spain with an invading army] is your enemy! 

“Join us! We bring you peace! We bring you freedom! We bring you bread!”

Amazon.com: El Cid Poster Movie 30x40 Charlton Heston Sophia Loren ...

Suddenly El Cid’s Spanish catapults spring into action—loaded not with stones but loaves of bread. The loaves land in the city’s streets, where starving citizens and soldiers greedily devour them. 

Then those citizens attack the bodyguards of the emir ruling Valencia—and throw the emir himself from a high wall. 

The army of El Cid marches peacefully into the city.

Story #2: In Book Three, Chapter 22 of his classic masterwork, The Discourses, Niccolo Machiavelli offers the following: “An Act of Humanity Prevailed More With the Falacians Than All the Power of Rome.”

Marcus Furius Camillus, a Roman general, was besieging the city of the Faliscians, and had surrounded it. A teacher charged with the education of the children of some of the noblest families of that city decided to ingratiate himself with Camillus by leading those children into the Roman camp. 

Presenting them to Camillus the teacher said to him, “By means of these children as hostages, you will be able to compel the city to surrender.”

Camillus not only declined the offer but went one step further. He ordered the teacher stripped and his hands tied behind his back. Then Camillus had a rod put into the hands of each of the children and directed them to whip the teacher all the way back to the city. 

Upon learning this, the citizens of Faliscia were so much touched by the humanity and integrity of Camillus, that they surrendered the place to him without any further defense. 

Summing up the meaning of this, Machiavelli writes: “This example shows that an act of humanity and benevolence will at all times have more influence over the minds of men than violence and ferocity.  It also proves that provinces and cities which no armies…could conquer, have yielded to an act of humanity, benevolence, chastity or generosity.

“…History also shows us how much the people desire to find such virtues in great men, and how much they are extolled by historians and biographers of princes….Amongst these, Xenophon takes great pains to show how many victories, how much honor and fame, Cyrus gained by his humanity and affability, and by his not having exhibited a single instance of pride, cruelty or luxuriousness, nor of any of the other vices that are apt to stain the lives of men.”

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

Niccolo Machiavelli

These stories—the first the product of a movie screenwriter’s imagination, the second recorded by a master political scientist and historian—remain highly relevant today.

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a black unemployed restaurant security guard, was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer. While Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on a city street during an arrest, Chauvin kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. 

Cities across the United States erupted in mass protests over Floyd’s death—and police killings of black victims generally. Most of these demonstrations proved peaceful.

But cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City saw stores looted, vandalized and/or burned. In response, President Donald Trump called for harsh policing, telling governors in a nationwide conference call that they must “dominate” protesters or be seen as “weak.”

To drive home his point, Trump ordered police and National Guard troops to violently remove peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square, which borders St. John’s Church near the White House.  

The purpose of the removal: To allow Trump to have a photo opportunity outside the church.

“I imposed a curfew at 7pm,” tweeted Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. “A full 25 minutes before the curfew & w/o provocation, federal police used munitions on peaceful protestors in front of the White House, an act that will make the job of @DCPoliceDept officers more difficult. Shameful!”

Contrast that with the example of Sheriff Christopher Swanson of Genesee County, Michigan. 

Walk with us!': Sheriff in Michigan shows solidarity to protestors ...

Sheriff Christopher Swanson

Confronting a mass of aroused demonstrators in Flint Township on May 30, Swanson responded: “We want to be with you all for real.”

So Swanson took his helmet off. His deputies laid their batons down.

“I want to make this a parade, not a protest. So, you tell us what you need to do.”

“Walk with us!” the protesters shouted.

“Let’s walk, let’s walk,” said Swanson. 

Cheering and applause resounded.

“Let’s go, let’s go,” Swanson said as he and the cheering crowd proceeded. “Where do you want to walk? We’ll walk all night.”

And Swanson and his fellow officers walked in sympathy with the protesters.

No rioting followed. 

INTEGRITY IN A TIME OF TYRANNY: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 4, 2022 at 12:14 am

Dictators bring out the worst in their followers.

But they also bring out the best in those who dare to oppose them.

Next hero: Marie Yovanovitch, the former United States ambassador to Ukraine (2016 – 2019). She had joined the Foreign Service in 1986, and served as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan (2005 – 2008) and Armenia (2008 – 2011).

In May 2019, on President Donald Trump’s orders, the State Department recalled Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine. She had earned respect from the national security community for her efforts to encourage Ukraine to tackle corruption.

But she had been criticized by Right-wing media outlets—notably Fox News Network—and by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.

Marie L. Yovanovitch.jpg

Marie Yovanovitch

CNN reported that Yovanovitch stopped Giuliani from interviewing witnesses in his search for politically damaging information against former Vice President Joe Biden, whose son, Hunter, had had business dealings in Ukraine.

On October 11, 2019, she appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA). She did so in defiance of orders by the White House and State Department to not attend.

“She was a hero even before she hit the hearing room,” wrote Charles Pierce for Esquire magazine.

“She told them to stuff their directives, she would answer a congressional subpoena like a citizen is supposed to do. And she didn’t sneak in through the basement. She walked into the Capitol through the front doors, and she didn’t do so to fck around.”

Testifying for nearly 10 hours, Yovanovitch said that Trump had removed her from her post owing to “unfounded and false claims” and “a concerted campaign against me.”

She believed that associates of Trump’s personal lawyer, Giuliani, might have thought “that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.”

And she warned that the State Department was being “attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees.”

Another victim on Trump’s hate-list was Chis Krebs.

During the 2016 Presidential race, Russian propaganda had played a major role in convincing millions of Americans to vote for Donald Trump. Social media platforms—especially Facebook and Twitter—were flooded with genuinely fake news to sow discord among Americans and create a pathway for Trump’s election.

And where Internet trolls left off, Russian computer hackers took over.

Trump didn’t win a majority of the popular vote. But he got enough help from Putin to triumph in the Electoral College.

So notorious was the role played by Russian trolls and hackers in winning Trump the 2016 election that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was determined to prevent a repetition in 2020.

And point man for this was Chris Krebs.

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1977, Krebs had received a B.A. in environmental sciences from the University of Virginia in 1999, and a J.D. from the George Mason University School of Law in 2007.

Chris Krebs official photo.jpg

Chris Krebs

Krebs had served as Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for Infrastructure Protection, and later worked in the private sector as Director for Cybersecurity Policy for Microsoft.

Now he was director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS.

In preparation for the 2020 Presidential election, Krebs launched a massive effort to counter lies spread by Russians—and Americans—on social media platforms. Among his duties:

  • Sharing Intelligence from agencies such as the CIA and National Security Agency with local officials about foreign efforts at election interference.
  • Ensuring that domestic voting equipment was secure.
  • Attacking domestic misinformation head-on.

As a result, Krebs was widely praised for revamping the department’s cybersecurity efforts and increasing coordination with state and local governments. 

By all accounts—except Trump’s—the November 3, 2020 election went very smoothly. 

As a result of the vast increase in election security, Trump not only failed to win the popular vote again but couldn’t get the help he expected from Putin. 

On November 17, Trump fired Chris Krebs. 

The reason: Krebs had not only countered Russian propaganda lies—he had dared to counter Trump’s as well. For example: He rejected Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud: There “is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

In a November 17 story on the CNN website, CNN reporters Kaitlan Collins and Paul LeBlanc bluntly concluded:

“[Krebs’] dismissal underscores the lengths Trump is willing to go to punish those who don’t adopt his conspiratorial view of the election.

“Since CNN and other outlets called the race for President-elect Joe Biden, Trump has refused to accept the results, instead pushing baseless conspiracies that his second term is being stolen.”

Yet, by depriving Trump of Russian help, Krebs ensured a victory for democracy.

On January 6, the House and Senate counted the Electoral Votes—and pronounced Joseph Biden the winner—bringing an end to Trump’s reign of criminality and treason.

In his 1960 poem, “Conversation With an American Writer,” the Russian poet, Yevgeney Yevtushenko spoke for those Russians who had maintained their integrity in the face of Stalinist terror:

“You have courage,” they tell me.
It’s not true. I was never courageous.
I simply felt it unbecoming
to stoop to the cowardice of my colleagues.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Republicans in the United States Senate and House of Representatives in the face of Trump terror.

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