Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page


In Bureaucracy, Politics on April 21, 2010 at 4:28 pm

Too many people think that what happens among a bunch of “faceless bureaucrats” doesn’t matter. The truth is totally different: What private or public officials do–or fail to do–can have devastating consequences.

And the actions taken–or not taken–by the topmost officials at the United States Secret Service may eventually plunge the Nation into the nightmare of another Presidential assassination.

A new book on the Secret Service by the respected author Ronald Kessler warns that the agency is risking the safety of many of its protectees, including President Obama.

In the President’s Secret Service praises the courage and integrity of Secret Service agents as a whole. But it slams SS management for such practices as:

Shutting off magnetometers to screen crowds for Presidential candidates and even for Presidents Bush and Obama. It was at one such event in Tiblisi, Georgia, that a man threw a grenade at Bush—which failed to explode.

• Secret Service agents are still being trained to expect an attempt by a lone gunman—rather than a professional squad of terrorist assassins.

• The Service’s Counter Assault Teams (CATs) have generally been cut back from five or six agents to two, rendering them useless if a real attack occurred.

Salaries paid to SS agents have not kept pace with reality. Veteran SS men and women are now being offered up to four times their salary for moving to the private sector, and many are leaving the agency for that reason.

• Another reason for the high attrition rate is that while Congress has greatly expanded the duties of this agency, its top management has not asked for corresponding increases in funding and agents.

• A third reason why many agents are leaving is the widespread knowledge that it takes “juice” or connections with top management to advance one’s career.

• SS agents are being trained with weapons that are outdated (such as the MP5) compared to those used by other law enforcement agencies and the potential assassins they face (such as the M4).

The agency refuses to ask for help from other agencies to meet its manpower needs. Thus, a visiting head of state at the U.N. General Assembly will generally be assigned only three agents as protection.

The agency tells agents to grade themselves on their physical training test forms.

• Congressional members who visit the agency’s Rowley Training Center in Laurel, Maryland, are treated to rehearsed scenarios of how the agency would deal with attacks. If agents were allowed to perform these exercises without rehearsals, Congress members would see they can and do make mistakes like anyone else.

Kessler closes his book with the warning: “Without these changes, an assassination of Barack Obama or a future president is likely.

“If that happens, a new Warren Commission will be appointed to study the tragedy. It will find that the Secret Service was shockingly derelict in its duty to the American people and to its own elite corps of brave and dedicated agents.”


In Bureaucracy, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 5, 2010 at 9:03 am

Come visit San Francisco and you’ll see all the famous sights so beloved by tourists: Ghiradelli Square, the cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge. What you won’t see is one of the biggest blights facing the city: The behavior of predatory slumlords, who own both hotels and apartment buildings.

This behavior–and the City’s steadfast refusal to change it–poses a daily threat to the lives of San Francisco tenants. And it poses an equal threat to the City’s long-term ability to sustain its Number One source of revenues: The tourism industry.

To take one example: San Francisco is now facing an infestation of bedbugs. Everyone in the Department of Public Health (DPH) knows it. And everyone in DPH knows that many of the slumlords who own hotels plagued with these creatures refuse to do anything about them.

The reasons are twofold.

First, there’s a stigma attached to bedbugs that isn’t attached even to cockroaches. Roaches are filthy, but they don’t suck your blood. So when people learn that a hotel (including name-brand ones) has a bedbug infestation, they take their business elsewhere.

Second, combating bedbugs can be expensive. The most effective method involves a combination of poisons and heat treatments on a building-wide basis. Most landlords–and certainly all slumlords–don’t want to take on that sort of expense.

San Francisco depends overwhelmingly on tourism for its revenues. A city whose hotels and apartment buildings are centers of contagion of any kind is a city destined to become a tourist ghost town, not a tourist mecca.

So, how to cope with this challenge? Here’s how:

1. Greatly expand the Inspection Division at the Department of Public Health (DPH). This agency is legally charged with ensuring the health of San Francisco’s tenants–both guests and residents.

DPH should demand that a portion of those monies now directed toward entirely tourist-related issues be transferred to its Inspection Bureau. With those monies it can hire additional–and badly-needed–inspectors.

2. Greatly expand the Inspection Division at the Department of Building Inspection–and make it independent of the agency. As matters now stand, too many high-ranking DBI officials tilt toward landlords because they are landlords themselves.

3. End the culture of secrecy at DPH. The Department of Building Inspection is responsible for ensuring compliance with San Francisco building and housing codes. If a slumlord, for example, refuses to fix a tenant’s clogged bathtub drain or replace a window that’s about to fall out, the tenant calls DBI.

If a tenant wants to find out if others have lodged complaints against his landlord, he can simply go online. DBI’s complaint records are immediately accessible at its website. Copies of its Notices of Violation–ordering slumlords to correct problems– can be obtained through the mails by request.

By contrast, DPH offers nothing of this type of informational service.

4. DPH should immediately make its records publicly available via the Internet, the same way DBI now does.

5. DPH and DBI should order landlords to post their Notices of Violation in public areas of their buildings–on pain of serious legal and financial penalties for failing to do so.

When DPH or DBI orders a slumlord to take corrective action, the only person who is notified of this is the landlord.

Thus, if that slumlord refuses to comply with those directives, s/he is the only one who knows about this. Given the pressing demands on DPH and DBI, weeks or months will pass before DPH learns about this violation of its orders.

6. DPH and DBI should abandon their “gradual” approach to combating health/safety code violations in slumlord-owned apartments and hotels and hit the owner up-front with a heavy fine, payable immediately.

The landlord could recoup 75% to 80% of this money only if s/he could prove that the health threat had been totally eradicated within 30 days.

If it were not, the slumlord would then be hit with a second fine twice the size of the last one and given another 30 days to correct the problem. So a slumlord hit with a $2,000 fine in January would face a $4,000 fine in February, and a $8,000 one in March.

This would put the onus on the slumlord, not DPH.

DBI and DPH now give landlords 30 days to correct a health/safety code violation. If the slumlord claims he needs more time, he’s automatically given another 30 days–minimum–to do so. This means the tenant must live with the discomfort–if not threat–of that violation until the slumlord finally decides to correct it.

7. Inspectors for DPH and DBI should be armed with corss-jurisdiction authority. That is, if a DBI Inspector spots a health/safety violation covered by DPH, he should be able to cite the slumlord for this–and pass this information on to DPH for its own investigation. And the same would apply for Inspectors from DPH.

This would instantly turn DBI and DPH into allies, not competitors. It would also make life far easier for tenants needing help. Whether a citizen called DBI or DPH, s/he could be assured of getting the assistance s/he needed. Currently, DPH and DBI Inspectors often tell citizens, “I’m sorry, that doesn’t lie within our jurisdiction. You’ll have to call—.”

By standing up to predatory slumlords, San Francisco can achieve three goals at once:

1. Protect its residents and all-important tourist industry from predatory slumlords.
2. Create new and popular sources of revenue for its cash-strapped public services.
3. Set a shining example for other cities and states for how they can do the same.


In Bureaucracy, Law, Politics, Self-Help, Social commentary on April 5, 2010 at 12:26 am

The power of slumlords throughout the Nation calls to mind the scene in “The Untouchables” where Sean Connery’s veteran cop tells Eliot Ness: “Everybody knows where the liquor is. It’s just a question of: Who wants to cross Capone?”

This holds true even in San Francisco, the so-called “renters paradise.” The files of the City’s Department of Public Health (DPH) and Department of Building Inspection (DBI) are filled with the names of slumlords whose buildings pose real dangers to those living in them.

All that the City needs to do is find the courage to enforce its own laws protecting tenants.

By refusing to do so, the City is losing millions of dollars in revenues that it could be collecting every year from slumlords violating its health/safety laws.

Here’s the way DBI and DPH now work: A landlord is given 30 days to correct a health/safety violation. If he drags his feet on the matter, the tenant must live with that continuing problem until it’s resolved. If the landlord claims for any reason that he can’t fix the problem within one month, DBI and DPH automatically give him another month.

A slumlord has to really work at being hit with a fine—and that means letting a problem go uncorrected for three to six months. And even then the slumlord may well avoid the fine by pleading for leniency.

Many tenants have lived with rotting floors, unworking toilets, chipping lead-based paint and other outrages for not simply months but years.

The City could vastly improve life for its thousands of renters—and bring millions of desperately-needed dollars’ worth of revenues into its cash-strapped coffers—by making the following reforms:

1. Hit slumlord violators up-front with a fine—payable immediately—for at least $2,000 to $5,000 for each health/safety code violation.

2. The slumlord would be told he can reclaim most of this money only if he fully corrected the violation within 30 days.
3. If he fails to correct the problem within that time, he should be hit again with a fine that’s at least twice the amount of the first one. The fine should increase twice as much for each month the violation goes uncorrected. Thus, if it’s $2,000 in January, it should be $4,000 in February, and $8,000 in March. And so on.

4. The slumlord would be allowed to reclaim 75% to 80% of the fine levied against him. This appeal to his greed would ensure his willingness to comply with the ordered actions. The other portion would go directly into the city coffers to maintain needed services. I

5. f he failed to comply with the actions ordered, the entire fine would go into the City’s coffers.

6. Inspectors for DPH and DBI should be armed with cross-jurisdiction authority. That is, if a DBI Inspector spots a health/safety violation covered by DPH, he should be able to cite the slumlord for this—and pass this information on to DPH for its own investigation. And the same would apply for Inspectors from DPH.

7. This would instantly turn DBI and DPH into allies, not competitors—and would mean that whether a citizen called DBI or DPH, s/he could be assured of getting the assistance s/he needed. (Currently, DPH and DBI Inspectors often tell citizens, “I’m sorry, that doesn’t lie within our jurisdiction. You’ll have to call—.”)

8. DPH and DBI should have their Inspectors divisions greatly expanded. Cutting back these units is a no-win situation for San Francisco renters–and for desperately-needed City revenues.

9. Turning these agencies into revenue-producing ones would enable the City to raise desperately-needed revenues—in a highly popular way. Fining delinquent slumlords would be as unpopular as raising taxes on tobacco companies. Only slumlords and their hired lackey allies would object.

10. An additional plus: Slumlords, unlike drug-dealers, can’t move their operations from one street or city to another. Landlords aren’t going to demolish their buildings and rebuild them somewhere else. So they have to stay put.

Andrew Jackson once said: “One man with courage makes a majority.” And one city—acting with courage—can ensure protection for its tenants and general revenues for vitally-needed services.

If San Francisco can do this, so can California. And then so can the rest of the Nation.


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