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Posts Tagged ‘THE NEW REPUBLIC’

WHAT REPUBLICANS HAVE LEARNED FROM NAZI GERMANY

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on February 3, 2023 at 12:15 am

On June 17, 2021, CNN headlined a story on its website: “Here’s Why Fighting the Affordable Care Act Means So Much to Republicans.”            

It opened: “For the third time in the last nine years — and this time by a convincing 7-2 vote—the Supreme Court knocked out a Republican effort to invalidate” the Act.”        

The Justices said that the challengers of the law did not have legal “standing” to bring the case.

Opponents of the law were not harmed by the provisions they were challenging, the Justices ruled. The reason: Congressional Republicans had eliminated the penalty for failing to buy health insurance.

U.S. Supreme Court building-m.jpg

The Supreme Court

The law now provides access to healthcare for 31 million Americans, who could not otherwise afford coverage.

In addition, the Act:

  • Eliminates the “pre-existing condition” excuse insurance companies had used to deny coverage to those who most needed it.
  • Provides a range of no-cost preventive services.
  • Allows children to stay on their parents’ insurance up to age 26.
  • Expands the Medicaid program that insures lower-income people access to health insurance markets offering subsidized plans.

Why have Republicans pursued its demise so relentlessly? 

The story outlined the reasons that sound good

“For the GOP base, the ACA is about a view of the country that the government is the answer to all of our problems.

“It’s also tied into their lingering distaste for former President Barack Obama, whose name is literally melded with the law.

“And a belief that the media treated Obama’s ‘if you like your plan, you can keep your plan’ lie and the disastrous rollout (and repeated crashes) of the website allowing people to sign up for a plan with kid gloves because, well, bias.”

Let’s take a quick look at each of these points.

  • Millions of Right-wingers hate the Federal Government and openly call for its overthrow. This they vividly demonstrated on January 6, 2021 when they tried to illegally retain Donald Trump as President. They hoped to prevent the selection of Joe Biden as the legitimately-elected President of the United States by storming the Capitol Building.
  • Racism forms a major component of the GOP’s appeal to older, white, Right-wing voters. So having the name of the first black President unofficially stamped on the law (“Obamacare”) serves as a constant spur to their hatred.

Obama standing with his arms folded and smiling.

Barack Obama

  • Obama’s promise that “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan”: The promise backfired because the law stated that those who already had medical insurance could keep their plans—so long as those plans met the requirements of the new healthcare law. If their plans didn’t meet those requirements, they would have to obtain coverage that did

Now for the real reason Republicans have furiously tried to destroy the Act—one that the writer did not mention.

And like so much else in the Republican agenda, it is rooted in the goals and methods of the Third Reich.

On June 22, 1941, German Fuhrer Adolf Hitler sent three million soldiers smashing into the Soviet Union. During the first six months—June to December, 1941—German armies lured huge Soviet forces into gigantic “cauldron battles,” surrounding and exterminating them. 

An estimated 5.7 million Russians became prisoners of the Wehrmacht. The Germans found themselves surprised and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of them. But their mandate demanded that they keep marching ever forward.

So they simply imprisoned their captives behind barbed wire and wasted no food or medical care on them. Between starvation, illness and the brutal Russian cold, at least 3.5 million POWs died in custody.

Soviet prisoners of war behind barbed wire at Falstad Camp May 8th 1945. The picture is probably taken after the Norwegian prisoners left the camp. (Photographer: Unknown / The Falstad Centre)

Soviet POW’s

Republicans have learned a valuable lesson from this: If you simply deprive those you detest of food, clothing, shelter—and medical care—you don’t need gas chambers or firing squads. Or even rigged vote-counts. 

This is, of course, a truth that Republicans refuse to admit—even as they pursue this goal.

On January 11, Iowa House Republicans introduced a bill to drastically eliminate the types of food available to people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, SNAP provides food assistance to more than 41 million people with low or no income.

Under the proposed restrictions, the following staples would be forbidden:

  • Fresh meats
  • Flour
  • Butter
  • Cooking oil
  • Frozen prepared foods
  • Baked, refried or chili beans 
  • Sliced, cubed or crumbled cheese 
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Canned vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Soup

In lieu of fresh meats, Iowans would only be allowed to buy canned tuna or salmon.

Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley—who sponsored the bill–complained that the money allocated toward food security could be better spent on “other priorities.” 

Those “other priorities” ignore the sharp rise in grocery prices owing to the conflict in Ukraine, climate change, the deadliest bird flu in American history, transportation costs and alleged supply chain disruptions.

Iowa isn’t alone in targeting SNAP. The GOP is doing so at a national level. 

Most Americans—owing to naivety or historical ignorance—cannot accept that their politicians can be as evil as those in other nations.

Those who need food or medical care had better learn this truth quickly.

2022: A BAD YEAR FOR DICTATORS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 2, 2023 at 12:10 am

The year 2022 proved a disastrous one for dictators.                                              

The first of these profiled in this two-part series was Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

But the United States is not immune to those with dictatorial ambitions. Easily the most dangerous of these is former President Donald Trump.

But after escaping justice for decades, he now stands in danger of its catching up with him.

  • Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg won a resounding verdict against two Trump Organization companies for criminal tax fraud. Their executives had falsified business records in a 15-year scheme to defraud tax authorities by failing to report and pay taxes on compensation for top executives.
  • New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Trump and the Trump Organization for engaging in years of financial fraud to obtain a wide range of economic benefits. Also named in the suit: His children Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump.
  • E. Jean Carroll sued Trump for defamation in 2019 after he accused her of lying when she alleged he raped her in a New York City department store dressing room in the ’90s. Shielded from lawsuits during his Presidency, he lost that immunity when he left office.
  • In 2022, Carroll sued Trump again under the Adult Survivors Act, a newly-passed New York state law that re-opens the statute of limitations for sexual abuse claims in the state.
  • Altogether, Trump is now a defendant in 17 lawsuits at the local, state and Federal level.

Dictator #3: Elon Musk

Elon Musk had made himself the wealthiest man on the planet through his ownership of Tesla, the premier electric car company. But it wasn’t enough for him.

In October, he bought Twitter for $44 billion.

Immediately afterward, he careened from one self-inflicted crisis to another. Among these:

  • Laying off about half of Twitter’s 7,500 staffers.
  • Giving an ultimatum to the remaining staff that they must do “extremely hardcore” work or leave—causing about 1,000 employees to head for the exits.
  • Firing employees who openly disagreed with him.

An image of Musk smiling in a suit, sans tie

Elon Musk

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

  • Frequently and arbitrarily changing Twitter’s rules and banning people who violated them—including several tech journalists. 
  • Allowing Right-wingers to engage in misinformation, conspiracy theories and hate speech, and restoring permanently banned accounts—such as Donald Trump’s.  

As a result:

  • According to Media Matters for America, Twitter lost half of its top 100 advertisers, which spent $750 million on ads in 2022.
  • Several current and former employees sued Twitter for violating the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988 for Musk’s failing to provide a 60-day notice prior to mass firings.
  • As Twitter’s fortunes have increasingly declined, several Twitter alternatives have appeared. One of these is Mastodon, with 2.5 million members. Another is Tribel. Both emphasize their freedom from Right-wing hate speech and conspiracy theories.

Dictator #4: Mark Zuckerberg

Since he created Facebook in 2004, Zuckerberg has ruled as its unchallenged dictator. But his all-consuming drive for absolute control over not only Facebook but other domains has led to a series of highly publicized scandals.

According to the company’s profile on Wikipedia:

“Facebook has often been criticized over issues such as user privacy (as with the Cambridge Analytica data scandal), political manipulation (as with the 2016 U.S. elections) and mass surveillance….

“Facebook has also been subject to criticism over psychological effects such as addiction and low self-esteem, and various controversies over content such as fake news, conspiracy theories, copyright infringement, and hate speech. Commentators have accused Facebook of willingly facilitating the spread of such content as well as exaggerating its number of users to appeal to advertisers.”

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

Mark Zuckerberg 

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

In 2021-22, retribution began catching up with Zuckerberg’s empire.

  • Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee, disclosed tens of thousands of Facebook’s internal documents to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Wall Street Journal in 2021. She testified before Congress that Facebook promotes conflict to increase its readership and keep them reading—and buying. 
  • Haugen’s revelations included that since at least 2019, Facebook had studied the negative impact that its photo and video sharing social networking service, Instagram, had on teenage girls. Yet the company did nothing to mitigate the harms and publicly denied that was the case.
  • In response to Haugen’s testimony, Congress promised legislation and drafted several bills to address Facebook’s power.
  • In April, 2021, Apple launched a new alert system to warn its users how Facebook was tracking their browsing habits. Facebook’s advertising profits have fallen, because a lack of data makes it hard to target people using iPhones.
  • Zuckerberg has spent at least $38 billion to expand his empire and create an immersive, virtual “Metaverse.”  So far, however, the gamble has not paid off.
  • TikTok has siphoned off a large part of Facebook’s original audience.  
  • “I think Facebook is not going to do well as long as [Zuckerberg]’s there,” said Bill George, a senior fellow at Harvard Business School. “He’s likely one of the reasons so many people are turning away from the company. He’s really lost his way.” 

“Look to the end,” Solon the Athenian warned King Croesus of Lydia. “Often enough, God gives a man a glimpse of happiness and then utterly ruins him.”

2022: A BAD YEAR FOR DICTATORS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 1, 2023 at 12:15 am

The year 2022 was not a good one for dictators.     

Four of them—one Russian, three American—suffered humiliating defeats. If these didn’t herald their coming overthrow, they certainly erased these dictators’ pretense at invincibility.           

Dictator #1: Russian President Vladimir Putin     

When he attacked Ukraine with 200,000 soldiers on February 24, Putin had every reason to believe that his unprovoked war would be a cakewalk. 

Intent on restoring the borders of the former Soviet Union, he had swept from one successful war to the next: 

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

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

The reasons:

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

The assault on Ukraine opened with missiles and artillery, striking major Ukrainian cities, including its capitol, Kiev.      

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

Vladimir Putin

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

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

Among the resulting casualties: 

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

Meanwhile, on the battlefield, fierce Ukrainian resistance staggered the Russians: 

  • Kiev remained unconquered. 
  • In late August, using missile systems supplied by the United States, Ukrainian forces destroyed Russian ammunition dumps and a Russian air base in Crimea.
  • In September, Ukraine reclaimed 3,090 square miles of northeastern territory from Russian forces.
  • On September 21, with Russian forces bogged down or retreating, Putin announced the partial mobilization of 300,000 military reservists. All male citizens below 60 are now eligible to be drafted.   
  • Ukrainian forces retook the key city of Kherson in November; Russian forces, which had occupied the city since March, withdrew.  

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

Ukraine vs. Russia

  • On December 11, Putin’s infamous mercenary army, the Wagner Group, suffered “significant losses” after its Luhansk headquarters was hit during a Ukraine artillery strike.
  • Tensions have flared between the regular Russian army and Wagner Group, with each blaming the other for continuing defeats.
  • Unable to win on the battlefield, Putin has turned to terroristic bombings and drone attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure to break the will of the populace. Defiant Ukrainians continue to hunker down in makeshift shelters against cold and hunger.
  • Putin has been plagued by widespread reports that he’s suffering from cancer, Parkinson’s or some other disabling malady. Most embarrassing of all: A report that, going down a flight of stairs, he tripped and soiled himself upon landing at the bottom.
  • Most importantly: Putin’s attack on Ukraine triggered the danger he most feared: A hardening of the NATO alliance against Russia. 

Dictator #2: Donald Trump

The United States has its own share of would-be dictators. Of these, the most dangerous was former President Donald Trump.

For decades, Trump escaped justice for a litany of infamies—including those committed while he was President.  Among these:

  • Giving highly classified CIA Intelligence to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 
  • Using his position as President to further enrich himself, in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
  • Firing FBI Director James Comey for refusing to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump—and continuing to investigate Russian subversion of the 2016 election. 
  • Shutting down the Federal Government on December 22, 2018, because Democrats refused to fund his useless “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 for 35 days.

Related image

Donald Trump

  • Allowing the deadly COVID-19 virus to ravage the country, killing 400,000 Americans by the time he left office.
  • Attacking medical experts and governors who urged Americans to wear masks and socially distance to protect themselves against COVID-19.
  • Illegally trying to pressure state legislatures and governors to stop the certification of the vote that had made Joe Biden the President-elect.
  • Inciting his followers to attack the Capitol Building where Senators and Representatives were meeting to count the Electoral Votes won by himself and Joe Biden. His objective: Stop the count, which he knew would prove him the loser.

In 2022, Trump found the law finally closing in on him:

  • Attorney General Merrick Garland launched an investigation into his illegally taking—before he left the White House—11 boxes of highly classified documents. If found guilty for obstruction of justice, mishandling government records and violating the Espionage Act, Trump could go to prison for decades.   
  • After waiting 22 months, Garland finally appointed a Special Counsel to determine if Trump incited a treasonous riot against the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 to prevent Congressional members from determining the winner of the 2020 Presidential election.  

“DON’T CALL US–JUST SEND US YOUR MONEY”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Social commentary on January 31, 2023 at 12:10 am

It’s hardly a national security secret: Corporations don’t want to talk to their customers.        

Their love is reserved exclusively for their customers’ wallets.            

Don’t believe it? 

In mid-January I called Verizon Communications to report a disgraceful experience at one of its stores. Fifteen minutes later, with no one deigning to pick up the phone, I hung up.

I decided that Verizon’s CEO, Hans Vestberg, should know how irresponsibly his company was operating. So I sought an email address for him on Verizon’s website.

Naturally, the website refused to provide such an address.

Fortunately, its corporate headquarters address was available.

Hans Vestberg 2018.jpg

Hans Vestberg 

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

So that’s where I sent my letter. Its contents:

On January 13, I had a thoroughly despicable experience while visiting your store at [EXCISED].

I currently have an Alcotel flip-phone provided by your company and wanted to upgrade this to a better-quality one. Through Verizon’s Instant Messaging service on Twitter, one of your customer service reps had recommended the Kyocera DuraXV Estreme Prepaid phone.

But when I entered your store one of your representatives told me:

  1. That phone had been discontinued; and
  2. I should get the latest model of this.

The rep said one of these was available. But when I asked to see it, he held up a box with a picture of the phone on it and said he couldn’t open the box until I bought it.

I told him I wouldn’t pay for something I couldn’t even see before I bought it. When I’m thinking of buying a book I want to see how well-written it is before I make a purchase.

I said: “If I just wanted to look at a photo I could have done this on my computer.”

He said that I might be able to see one at Best Buy because the Verizon store I was visiting doesn’t have a display model of the kind of phone I wanted. But they had plenty of iPhones—which of course cost far more—on display.

The rep then tried to pressure me into buying an iPhone, saying it would be cheaper than the one I was interested in.

I told him I wanted a simple phone, without a lot of needless bells and whistles. In addition, the size of a flip phone better fits my hand than does an iPhone.

Verizon Building (8156005279).jpg

Verizon’s headquarters in New York City 

Eden, Janine and Jim from New York City, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons

He told me that the phone I wanted could be bought for about $7 a month, which would stretch to about 36 months. I  asked him if I could pay it off in larger sums, so I could get the purchase out of the way more quickly.

He said no, and to my surprise explained why: It was Verizon’s way to ensure the customer stayed with the company for at least that length of time.

In short: Verizon doesn’t count on its superior technology and service to retain consumer loyalty.

The rep said I should have phoned the office before coming in, so someone could tell me they didn’t have on display any phones I wanted to see.

I replied that in the past I had phoned that office—and found they didn’t deign to answer their phones.

Again to my surprise, he admitted that that was actually the store’s policy.

To which I replied: “So you sell phones—but you don’t deign to answer your own phones.”

Needless to say, I left without buying anything.

On January 25, I got a call from a secretary at Verizon.

She wanted to let me know that CEO Vestberg had gotten my letter.

First, she apologized for the difficulties I had encountered.

Then she sympathized with my desire to see an expensive cell phone before I actually bought it. She said that her mother felt exactly the same way when she wanted to buy something.

But when I asked her what Verizon intended to do to correct these outrages, she offered nothing

Clearly she expected me to be fully satisfied with a pro-forma apology—and nothing else.

I explained that an apology is an admission of failure—and without an effort to correct that failure, the “apology” means nothing.

The secretary simply offered her original apology on behalf of Verizon.

“Thank you for calling,” I said, and hung up.  

That same week, a friend of mine named Dave had a similar disappointing encounter with Comcast. He wanted to file a change of address with the company.

Comcast Logo.svg

And, like me, he found it impossible to reach anyone by phone.

So he got onto Comcast’s website on Twitter—and left a message: “Why is it so hard to get someone at your stores to answer the phone? Have you considered hiring a few operators?”

About five minutes later, Dave got a call—from Comcast. 

Apparently the company monitors Twitter 24/7, but doesn’t feel the need to hire enough operators to man its phone banks.

So Dave finally got to make his change-of-address. 

Moral: If you can embarrass a company on Twitter, Yelp! or other social media website, chances are it will treat you with the respect it should have shown in the first place.

“NEGOTIATING” REPUBLICANAZI STYLE: PART SIX (END)

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

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

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

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

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

Georgia asks judge to toss DOJ lawsuit targeting voting law

Department of Justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those same remedies remain available to President Joseph Biden.

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

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

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

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

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

John F. Kennedy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18,813 Handprint Stock Photos and Images - 123RF

Symbol of the Mafia “Black Hand”

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

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

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

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

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

John Boehner

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

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

And the Republican response?

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

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

Chris Matthews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niccolo Machiavelli

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

“From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. 

“The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved…. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up: Remedies for extortion are at hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reason, writes Foroohar: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neville Chamberlain

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

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

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

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

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

Adolf Hitler and his generals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Adolf Hitler

The meeting occurred on February 12, 1938.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicans have profited by the same strategy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secretary Janet Yellen portrait.jpg

Janet Yellen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Kurt von Schuschnigg

The meeting occurred on February 12, 1938.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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