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Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

PATTON WOULD HAVE UNDERSTOOD – PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on April 20, 2012 at 12:00 am

War is very simple, direct and ruthless.  It takes a simple, direct and ruthless man to wage war.

–General George S. Patton

The Los Angeles Times published two photos on April 18 that show 82nd Airborne soldiers posing with the remains of suicide bombers in Afghanistan.

The uproar has been immediate, predictable–and laden with moralistic hypocrisy.

In my last posting, I discussed two essential truths about war that have gotten lost or been totally ignored:

First, soldiering is by its nature a brutal business–starting in boot camp.

Second, atrocities in wartime are nothing new–including for U.S. forces.

In this concluding post, I’ll offer three more important truths about armed conflict–and the soldiers who wage it.

Third, the Taliban’s record of human rights abuses leaves them–or their supporters–no moral right to complain about “atrocities.”

  • When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, they turned soccer stadiums into execution plazas for mass beheadings or shootings.

  • Taliban “fighters” have proven their “courage” by throwing acid into the faces of women who dared to attend school.
  • In 1998, the United Nations accused the Taliban of denying emergency food by the UN’s World Food Programme to 160,000 hungry and starving people “for political and military reasons.”
  • On August 8, 1989, the Taliban attacked Mazar-i-Sharif. Of 1,500 defenders only 100 survived the engagement. Talibanists began shooting people in the street, then moved on to mass rapes of women. Thousands of people were locked in containers and left to suffocate.
  • In areas they controlled, the Taliban forbade women to leave their homes unless accompanied by a male relative and wearing the burqa–a traditional dress covering the entire body. Those who disobeyed were publicly beaten.
  • In 1999, hundreds of men, women and children were executed when the town of Bamyan was overrun.. Houses were razed and some survivors were used for forced labor.

Fourth, all soldiers–including those of the United States–distinguish between legitimate enemy soldiers and “guerrillas” who violate the most basic rules of war.

  • During the American Civil War, soldiers of both Southern and Northern armies despised “guerrillas” who raped women and murdered defenseless men.  General Robert E. Lee, whose Army of Northern Virginia repeatedly threatened to capture Washington, D.C.,  was allowed to surrender with honor.

General Robert E. Lee

  • Missouri guerrilla  William “Bloody Bill” Anderson–whose outfit included future outlaws Jesse and Frank James–was detested for his litany of atrocities.  He was hunted down, shot, and exhibited to photographers by gleeful Union soldiers.  His body was paraded through the streets of Richmond, Missouri.

Guerrilla William “Bloody Bill” Anderson

  • Taliban fighters are not considered legitimate soldiers–by the American military or that of any other country. They do not abide by the Geneva Convention–and as designated terrorists, are especially feared and despised.
  • During World War II, British and German soldiers fought a relatively “clean” war in North Africa–with strictly-observed truces and exchanges of wounded and dead.  German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel–who fought with chivalry–was almost as revered by the British “Tommies” as by his own men.

Field Marshal Erwin “The Desert Fox” Rommel

  • In the South Pacific, Americans enraged by Japanese treachery (often pretending to surrender, then launching murderous ambushes) quickly decided on a “take-no-prisoners” policy.  To drive home this message, Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey ordered a huge billboard erected on a hillside.  Easily visible to passing ships, it read:

Fifth, those who provoke war do not have a right to dictate how their opponents should defend themselves.

  • In 1815, just before the Battle of New Orleans, General Andrew Jackson ordered American snipers to harass invading British forces–and especially to take out officers. The British commander angrily protested this “barbarism.” Jackson sent back a message of his own: “You have invaded our country and we will defend ourselves as we see fit.”

General Andrew Jackson

  • Israelis have learned to deter Palestinian suicide-bombers by the use of police dogs. Muslims consider dogs defiled—and defiling—creatures. Islamic terrorists fear that blowing up themselves near a dog risks mingling their blood with that of the dead or wounded animal—thus forfeiting their opportunity to enter Paradise and claim those 72 willing virgins.

  • After 9/11, American Intelligence quickly determined that Osama bin Laden–then living in Afghanistan–had masterminded the attacks. The Bush administration demanded that the Taliban surrender him. They refused–and American forces began attacking Afghanistan in October, 2001.
  • By early November, Muslims throughout the Islamic world demanded that the U.S. halt its attacks on Taliban forces out of “respect” for Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. In short: Islamic “holy warriors” could launch attacks that murdered thousands of innocent men, women and children. But “infidels” were supposed to defend themselves according to Islamic rules. The United States wisely refused to bow to this Islamic version of “political correctness.”

* * * * *

Wars aren’t waged–or won–by men armed with teacups.  When facing the tanks of a Heinz Guderian or Erwin Rommel, you need a George S. Patton or Douglas MacArthur–not a Shirley Temple.

If American political and military leaders aren’t willing to wage war as ruthlessly as their enemies, they shouldn’t wage it at all. 

And if they aren’t willing to fully support the soldiers they send into harm’s way, they should resign from office–and make room for those who will.

PATTON WOULD HAVE UNDERSTOOD – PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Law on April 19, 2012 at 12:02 am

Paratroopers for the 82nd Airborne Division arrived at a police station in Afghanistan’s Zabol province in February, 2010.  Afghan police had recovered the mangled remains of a suicide bomber.

The soldiers’ mission: If possible, take his fingerprints for identification.

The soldiers inspected the body parts–and then posed for photos next to Afghan police.  Some troopers held the corpse’s severed legs, while others squatted beside the limbs.  Still other soldiers grinned into the camera.

Several months later, the same platoon was ordered to investigate the remains of three Afghans who police said had accidentally blown themselves up.

After obtaining fingerprints, the soldiers posed next to the remains, again grinning and mugging for photographs.

Two troopers posed holding a dead man’s hand with the middle finger raised. A soldier leaned over the bearded corpse while clutching the man’s hand.

Two years later, all hell has broken loose.

A soldier from the division gave the Los Angeles Times 18 photos of soldiers posing with corpses.  He said the photos depicted a breakdown in leadership and discipline that he believed compromised the safety of the troops.

The Army immediately launched a criminal investigation of the soldiers shown in the photos.

“It is a violation of Army standards to pose with corpses for photographs outside of officially sanctioned purposes,” said George Wright, an Army spokesman. “Such actions fall short of what we expect of our uniformed service members in deployed areas.”

A contest soon erupted between military officials and politicians–to determine who could prove the most holier-than-thou.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the soldiers’ behavior “reprehensible,” and said President Obama wanted a full investigation.

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta said the behavior depicted in the photos “absolutely violates both our regulations and, more importantly, our core values. This is not who we are…. If rules and regulations were found to have been violated, then those individuals will be held accountable.”

U.S. General John Allen, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, and American Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who were alerted that the photos were coming, condemned the actions even before the photos were published online.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who served in Vietnam and was a prisoner of war, said the photos do not represent the behavior of the majority of American troops.

Americans weren’t the only ones to express outrage at the photos.  So did Afghans.

“We condemn Americans posing with dead bodies or body parts,” said Najla Dehqan Nezhad, a member of parliament from the western province of Herat.

Suicide bombers cause hundreds of Afghan civilian deaths every year–and are thus widely despised. But in this religiously backwards country, the taboo against desecration of the dead remains strong.

Such holier-than-thou rhetoric ignores five important truths about war:

First, soldiering is by its nature a brutal business–starting in boot camp.

  • The purpose of boot camp is to “break down” the restraints of pacifism and individuality and turn “boys” into “fighting men.” This must be done in weeks, so the process is shockingly brutal.

  • Recruits are repeatedly taught such maxims as “Ambushes are murder–and murder is fun.”
  • Denigrating the enemy is a time-honored habit in all armies–including those of the United States.
  • During the Indian wars, soldiers called Indians “Red niggers.” In World War II–the “Good War”–America’s servicemen fought “Japs” and “Krauts.”  During the Vietnam war, Vietnamese became “dinks” and “gooks.”  Today our servicemen and women refer (unofficially) to their Islamic enemies as “ragheads” or “sand niggers.”
  • Soldiers who aren’t toughened by boot camp are by the battlefield. As General George S. Patton famously warned: “When you put your hand into a bunch of goo, that a moment before was your best friend’s face, you’ll  know what to do.”

General George S. Patton

Second, atrocities in wartime are nothing new–including for U.S. forces.

  • During the Mexican War, Texas Rangers accompanying the U.S. Army acted as commandos–and exacted brutal reprisals against Mexicans engaging in terrorist acts.  Mexicans referred to them as “devil Texans.”
  • Throughout the army’s wars against the Indians, soldiers and scouts–such as William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody and James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok–routinely took scalps as trophies.

William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody

  • During World War II, Marines posted in the Pacific rarely took prisoners. The reason: Japanese soldiers often pretended to surrender–and thus lured American troops into ambushes.
  • During World War II, GIs fighting in the European theater generally shot fanatical Waffen-SS soldiers–including those who tried to surrender.  This was especially true during the Battle of the Bulge, when English-speaking Germans wearing American uniforms created panic among Allied forces.
  • During Vietnam, some “grunts” made necklaces of ears taken from dead Vietcong. Vietnam Correspondent Michael Herr, in his book Dispatches, relates the story of a grunt who was “building his own gook” from actual body parts.

SECRETS OF THE SECRET SERVICE

In Bureaucracy, Law Enforcement, Politics on April 18, 2012 at 1:00 am

Secret Service (SS) agents are expected to take a bullet–if necessary–for the President.  But at least 11 such agents may have put the equivalent of a bullet through their careers.

That’s how many agents have been put on on administrative leave amid allegations they brought prostitutes back to their hotel rooms in Cartagena, Colombia.

They did so while arranging security for President Barack Obama’s April 14-15 visit to the city for the Summit of the Americas.

The agents’ top secret security clearances have been revoked and they have been barred from entering Secret Service facilities worldwide.

And the scandal threatens to become a major Congressional investigation.

“Well, what we’re concerned about is that failure today can lead to blackmail five, 10, 20 years from now,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California, appearing on the April 16 edition of “CBS This Morning.”

“If you look at how you get somebody to do something wrong, you do it incrementally–something small, something bigger, something bigger,” said Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

In the world of espionage, using women to ensnare blackmail victims is called a “honey trap.”  The CIA, KGB, Mossad, and MI5 intelligence agencies have all employed this technique.

Issa ssid that his committee “will look over the shoulder of the inspector general” as he investigates the scandal.

If Issa wants to introduce serious reforms to the Secret Service, there is an excellent place for him to start:  In the President’s Secret Service, a 2009 book by the respected author Ronald Kessler.

Product Details

Kessler praised the courage and integrity of Secret Service agents as a whole.  But he warned that the agency was risking the safety of many of its protectees, including President Obama.

He was particularly critical of SS management for such practices as:

  • Shutting off weapon-scanning magnetometers at rallies for Presidential candidates–and even for Presidents George W. Bush and Obama.  During a speech Bush gave at Tbilisi, Georgia in 2005, an assailant threw a live hand grenade–which failed to explode–at him.
  • Despite 9/11, 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.
  • While Congress has greatly expanded the duties of this agency, Secret Service management has not asked for equivalent 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, developed in the 1960s) compared to those used by other law enforcement agencies and the potential assassins they face (such as the M4–with greater range and armor-piercing capabilities).
  • The Service 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.
  • The Secret Service inflates its own arrest statistics by claiming credit for arrests made by local police.
  • 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, Congressional members would see they can and do make mistakes like anyone else.

Kessler closes his book with the warning: “Without….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.”

And the effects will be not only momentary but long-term.  As Kessler writes:

“By definition, an assassination threatens democracy.

“If Abraham Lincoln had not been assassinated, Andrew Johnson, his successor, would not have been able to undermine Lincoln’s efforts to reunite the nation and give more rights to blacks during the Reconstruction period.

“If John F. Kennedy had not been assassinated, Lyndon Johnson likely never would have become President.  If Robert F. Kennedy had not been killed and had won the presidency, Richard Nixon might never have been elected.”

RESTORING TRUST IN THE TREASURY – PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 17, 2012 at 12:00 am

The Treasury Department fears that widespread public anger at some of its major economic programs–such as the bank bailout–will deter government officials from intervening in future crises.

So warned an April 13 story in the Huffington Post under the headline: “Treasury Tries to Bail Out Public Image of Bailout.”

As a result, the Treasury Department hopes to regain the public’s trust by issuing a series of economic charts.

Unfortunately, the Treasury’s chart-topping effort will go for nothing.

Emotionally-charged matters–such as child molestation or government bailouts to the rich–don’t lend themselves to “appeals to reason.”

But a different approach might well salvage some public faith in the Treasury Department’s judgment: Greed-test CEOs for future government loans.

After all, drug-testing welfare recipients has become the new mantra for Republicans.

Some bills have even targeted people who seek unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence that the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to CEOs of the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

In 2008, Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, testified before Congress about the origins of the Wall Street “meltdown.”

He admitted that he was “shocked” at the breakdown in U.S. credit markets and said he was “partially” wrong to resist regulation of some securities.

“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder’s equity–myself especially–are in a state of shocked disbelief,” said Greenspan, who had ruled the Fed from 1987 to 2006.

As a disciple of the right-wing philosopher, Ayan Rand, Greenspan had fiercely held to her belief that “The Market” was a divine institution. As such, “it” alone knew what was best for the nation’s economic prosperity.

“Enlightened self-interest,” he believed, would guarantee that those who dedicated their lives to making money would not allow mere greed to steer them–and the country–into disaster.

As he saw it, any attempt to regulate greed-based appetites could only harm that divine institution.

Greenspan proved wrong. And the nation will be literally paying for such misguided confidence in profit-addicted men for decades to come.

So if Republicans want to protect the “poor, oppressed taxpayer,” they should demand background investigations for those whose addiction truly threatens the economic future of this country.

That is–the men (and occasionally women) who run the nation’s most important financial institutions, such as banks, insurance and mortgage companies.

Thus, in the future, all CEOs–and their topmost executives–of financial institutions seeking Federal bailouts should be required to:

  • Undergo “full field investigations” by the FBI and IRS.
  • Submit full financial disclosure forms concerning not only themselves but all members of their immediate families.
  • Be subject to Federal prosecution for perjury if they provide false information or conceal evidence of criminal violations.
  • Periodically submit themselves for additional background investigation.
  • Be subject to arrest, indictment and prosecution if the background investigation turns up evidence of criminal activity.

In addition:

  • If a bailout-seeking financial institution refuses to comply with these criteria, it should be refused the loan.
  • If a CEO and/or other top officials are judged ineligible for a loan, the company should be asked to replace those executives with others who might qualify.
  • Those alternative executives should be subject to the same background investigation requirements as just outlined.
  • If the institution refuses to replace those executives found ineligible, the Government should refuse the loan.
  • If the Government is forced to take over a troubled financial institution, its CEO and top executives should be replaced with applicants who have passed the required security screening.

The United States has a long and embarrassing history in worshipping wealth for its own sake. Part of this can be traced to the old Calvinistic doctrine that wealth is a proof of salvation, since it shows evidence of God’s favor.

Another reason for this worship of mammon is the belief that someone who is wealthy is automatically endowed with wisdom and integrity.

Following these beliefs to their ultimate conclusion will transform the United States into a plutocracy–a government of the wealthy, by the wealthy, for the wealthy.

Every day we see fresh evidence of the destruction wrought by the unchecked greed of wealthy, powerful men.

When they–and their paid shills in Congress–demand, “De-regulate business,” it’s essential to remember what this really means.

It means: “Let criminals be criminals.”

RESTORING TRUST IN THE TREASURY – PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on April 16, 2012 at 12:00 am

The Treasury Department fears that widespread public anger at some of its major economic programs–such as the bank bailout–will deter government officials from intervening in future crises.

So warned an April 13 story in the Huffington Post under the headline: “Treasury Tries to Bail Out Public Image of Bailout.”

The story noted that the public had fused the $700 billion Wall Street bailout with the $787 billion stimulus–and had fiercely attacked the latter.

As a result, the Treasury Department hopes to regain the public’s trust by issuing a series of economic charts.

The story continuued:

“The new Treasury charts are intended to underscore the severity of the economic dip, the fact that the recovery has been happening faster than many people realize, the lower-than-expected costs of the financial stability programs, and the long way the country has to go as it still lives in the shadow of the recession.”

Unfortunately, the Treasury’s chart-topping effort will go for nothing.

Emotionally-charged matters–such as child molestation or government bailouts to the rich–don’t lend themselves to “appeals to reason.”

It was the Wall Street bailout that ignited the Tea Party movement.  And Tea Partiers won’t stop demanding the firing of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner just because his agency draws up a few pie-charts.

Yet the Treaasury Department might yet salvage at least some part of the public trust.

The solution: Greed-testing for CEO’s.

Throughout the past year Republican lawmakers have pursued welfare drug-testing in Congress and more than 30 states.

Some bills have even targeted people who claim unemployment insurance and food stamps, despite scanty evidence the poor and jobless are disproportionately on drugs.

The concept of background screening is actually sound. But Republicans are aiming it at the wrong end of the economic spectrum.

Since 2008, the government has handed out billions of dollars in bailouts to the wealthiest corporations in the country.

The reason: To rescue the economy from the calamity produced by the criminal greed and recklessness of those same corporations.

For example:

  • The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) has invested $118.5 billion in restoring liquidity to the financial markets.
  • Federal Reserve rescue efforts: $1.5 trillion invested.
  • Federal stimulus programs designed to save or create jobs and jumpstart the economy from recession. $577.8 billion invested.
  • American International Group: Multifaceted bailout to help insurers through restructuring, minimize the need to post collateral and get rid of toxic assets. $127.4 billion invested.
  • FDIC bank takeovers: Cost to FDIC fund that insures losses depositors suffer when a bank fails. $45.4 billion billion invested.
  • Other financial initiatives designed to rescue the financial sector. $366.4 billion invested.
  • Other housing initiatives designed to rescue the housing market and prevent foreclosures. $130.6 billion invested.

Total of federal monies invested: $3 trillion.

It’s important to note that these figures–supplied by the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Congressional Budget Ooffice and the White House–date from November 16, 2009.

And it’s equally important to remember that welfare recipients did not

  • hold CEO positions at any of the banks so far bailed out;
  • run such insurance companies as American International Group (AIG);
  • administer the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, known as Freddie Mac;
  • command the Federal National Mortgage Association, known as Fannie Mae.

The 2010 documentary “Inside Job” chronicles the events leading to the 2008 global financial crisis. One of its most insightful moments occurs at a party held by then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

“We can’t control our greed,” the CEO of a large bank admits to his fellow guests.

“You should regulate us more.”

Greed is defined as an excessive desire for wealth or goods. At its worst, greed trumps rationality, judgment and concern about the damage it may cause.

Greed begins in the neurochemistry of the brain. A neurotransmitter called dopamine fuels our greed. The higher the dopamine levels in the brain, the greater the pleasure we experience.

Cocaine, for example, directly increases dopamine levels. So does money.

Harvard researcher Hans Breiter has found, via magnetic resonance imaging studies, that the craving for money activates the same regions of the brain as the lust for sex, cocaine or any other pleasure-inducer.

Dopamine is most reliably activated by an experience we haven’t had before. We crave recreating that experience.

But snorting the same amount of cocaine, or earning the same sum of money, does not cause dopamine levels to increase. So the pleasure-seeker must increase the amount of stimuli to keep enjoying the euphoria.

In time, this incessant craving for pleasure becomes an addiction. And feeding that addiction–with ever more money–becomes the overriding goal.

Thus, the infamous line–”Greed is good”–in the 1987 film, “Wall Street,” turns out to be both false and deadly for all concerned.

But the situation need not remain this way.

THUGS ON BIKES: Q & A

In Bureaucracy, Law, Social commentary on April 12, 2012 at 11:00 am

I built a bike piece by piece over the course of a year, I’ve read all the rules and regulations for my state, and one day I hope to participate in the community driven event called Critical Mass. Does that make me a thug?

You seem like you wrote this angry, why are you being so prejudice against people on bikes? Your article makes me think you like would rather bikes be outlawed.

Why are you so mad at an entire community based on specific actions of a few?

* * * * *

In response to my April 11 posting, “Thugs on Bikes,” a reader sent me the above email.  Since his sentiments may be shared by others, I will respond accordingly:

I once owned a bike and enjoyed riding it–on the street. It’s a great way to exercise and travel faster than you can on foot–without having to own or maintain an expensive car.

In addition, there are bike trails–in San Francisco and other cities–where people can pedal away without risk to themselves or others.

If the goal of Critical Mass is to propularize bicycling, then it has failed miserably.

Forcing untold numbers of people–in buses, in cars and on foot–to wait endlessly for a needless procession by hundreds of arrogant, self-indulgent bikers arouses only frustration and anger.

And why are these people waiting endlessly?

Because:

  1. pedestrians fear getting hurt by legions of oncoming bikes, and
  2. drivers fear causing injury or death to bikers and facing lawsuits as a result.

It would be one thing if one or more bicyclists had to carry out an emergency ride for, say, medical or police help.

No one could begrudge their taking shortcuts, especially at the risk of their own lives.

It would also be acceptable if even large numbers of bikers held a race within a designated area–such as happens at the Daytona 500.

But you don’t see racing car drivers turning the streets of major cities into Death Race 2000 marathons, where the lives of other drivers and pedestrians are placed at risk.

Of course, you don’t have to wait for a Critical Mass rally to have your life placed in danger by bikers.

You have only to step onto a sidewalk and have a bicycle whiz by, missing you by inches, to realize you just stared death in the face.

And you did it for no other reason than a biker decided it was better to risk pedestrian lives on a sidewalk than to risk his own riding on the street.

I take the view: “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” And my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins as well.

I don’t believe that all bikers break the law or act thuggishly. But I believe that far too many of them do.

And when this happens they should be held legally accountable–before they bring injury or death to one or more pedestrians or afterward if they do cause such harm.

Yes, I am angry at those bikers who take stupid risks with the lives of others–and their own.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come close to serious injury or worse at the wheel of a biker racing along a sidewalk.

But I am just as angry at city officials who deliberately ignore what is happening daily on the sidewalks of this city and refuse to enforce the laws already on the books.

In short: It isn’t necessary–or even desirable–to outlaw bikes.

But it is essential to put a stop to the potentially lethal behavior of bike outlaws.

THUGS ON BIKES

In Bureaucracy, Law, Social commentary on April 11, 2012 at 12:00 am

San Bruno resident Sutchi Hui, 71, was visiting San Francisco when Death found him.

No doubt he felt safe before it snatched him away–just before 8 a.m. on March 29.

After all, he was walking through a crosswalk in the affluent Castro District, one of the city’s safest areas.

It was there that bicyclist Chris Bucchere plowed into him.

Bucchere was also hospitalized for injuries in the crash.  Later that day, he appears to have posted his thoughts about the accident to the Mission Cycling AM Riders Google group.

According to the post, Bucchere was about to cross Market Street when the traffic light ahead of him turned yellow.

“I was already way too committed to stop,” the post states.

“The light turned red as I was cruising through the middle of the intersection and then, almost instantly, the southern crosswalk on Market and Castro filled up with people coming from both directions….

“I couldn’t see a line through the crowd and I couldn’t stop, so I laid it down and just plowed through the crowded crosswalk in the least-populated place I could find.”

The author says he lost consciousness and awoke five minutes later.  Someone told him that a 71-year-old injured pedestrian had been taken to the  hospital.

“I remember seeing a RIVER of blood on the asphalt, but it wasn’t mine,” the  author writes. “I really hope he ends up OK.”

The author dedicates the post to his helmet, which “died in heroic fashion today as my head slammed into the tarmac…. May she die knowing that because she committed the ultimate sacrifice, her rider can live on and ride on. Can I  get an amen? Amen.”

Prosecutors for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office are treating the post as having been written by Bucchere, said Omid Talai, the agency’s spokesman.

Whether they indict Bucchere, prosecutors shouldn’t be surprised that Hui died as he did.  The wonder is that far more San Francisco pedestrians don’t meet the same fate.

In July, 2011, bicyclist Randolph Ang, 23, ran a red light on the Embarcadero–and slammed into 68-year-old Dionette Cherney.  She later died of her injuries.

In March, Ang pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter, as part of an agreement with prosecutors.

Although Ang faced up to a year in county jail, a judge sentenced him to three years’ probation and 500 hours of community service, and ordered him to pay $15,375 in restitution to the Cherney family.

That’s what the life of a pedestrian is worth in San Francisco.

According to the website of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition:

“Pedestrians Always Have the Right of Way.  In the crosswalk or not, bike riders and drivers are required to yield to pedestrians.”

“Stay on the Streets.  It’s illegal and unsafe to ride on the sidewalk if you are over the age of 13.”

So much for the official version.  In reality, pedestrians risk their lives whenever they use the sidewalk–especially on tourist-crowded Market Street.

And if you’re wondering what role the police have to play in enforcing the bike laws, the answer is: None.

At best, a San Francisco cop might stop a law-breaking bicyclist and give him a citation.  This amounts to a bicycle traffic ticket.  The bike isn’t confiscated.

Most cops patrol in patrol cars.  If they see a bicyclist whizzing down a sidewalk, they aren’t going to cut him off and slap handcuffs on him.

If police show no interest in protecting pedestrians, it’s due in large part because the mayor and Board of Supervisors clearly favor the rights of law-breaking bicyclists over those of law-abiding pedestrians and drivers.

The greatest proof of this comes on the last Friday of every month. It’s called Critical Mass.

In this event, hundreds of bicyclists deliberately–at the height of evening rush hour–overwhelm the streets of downtown San Francisco, bringing vehicular and pedestrian traffic to a halt.

Founded in 1992 in San Francisco, the purpose of Critical Mass is not formally stated.  But it is clear to anyone who isn’t an egotistical thug: To protest against those who use cars and public transit–and intimidate their riders and pedestrians alike.

Critical Mass riders often use a tactic known as “corking” to maintain the cohesion of the group: A few riders block traffic from side roads so that the mass can race through red lights without interruption.

Cars, buses and pedestrians are expected to wait patiently for however long these self-indulgent thugs-on-bikes flood the streets.

In March, 2010, reports in local media claimed that Police Chief George Gascon was considering shutting down Critical Mass.

Two years later, the bike-thuggies continue to tie up traffic and threaten the safety of any pedestrians stupid enough to think they have a legal right to stroll sidewalks and cross streets.

As former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy once said: “Every society gets the kind of government it deserves–and the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

FUEHRERS AND CEO’S: CHARACTER IS DESTINY

In Bureaucracy, History on April 10, 2012 at 12:00 am

Would-be CEOs and Fuehrers, listen up: Character is destiny.

Case in point: The ultimate Fuehrer and CEO, Adolf Hitler.

Ever since he shot himself in his underground Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, historians have fiercely debated:  Was der Fuehrer a military genius or an imbecile?

With literally thousands of titles to choose, the average reader may feel overwhelmed.  But if you’re looking for an understandable, overall view of Hitler’s generalship, an excellent choice would be How Hitler Could Have Won World War II by Bevin Alexander.

How Hitler Could Have Won World War II

Among “the fatal errors that led to Nazi defeat” (as proclaimed on the book jacket) were:

  • Wasting hundreds of Luftwaffe pilots, fighters and bombers in a half-hearted attempt to conquer England.
  • Ignoring the pleas of generals like Erwin Rommel to conquer Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia–thus giving Germany control of most of the world’s oil.
  • Attacking his ally, the Soviet Union, while still at war with Great Britain.
  • Needlessly turning millions of Russians into enemies rather than allies by his brutal and murderous policies.
  • Declaring war on the United States after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  (Had he not done so, Americans would have focused all their attention on conquering Japan.)
  • Refusing to negotiate a separate peace with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin–thus granting Germany a large portion of captured Russian territory in exchange for letting Stalin remain in power.
  • Insisting on a “not one step back” military “strategy” that led to the unnecessary surrounding, capture and/or deaths of hundreds of thousands of German servicemen.

As the war turned increasingly against him, Hitler became ever more rigid in his thinking.  He demanded absolute control over the smallest details of his forces.  This, in turn, led to astounding and needless losses in German soldiers.

One such incident was immortalized in the 1962 movie, The Longest Day, about the Allied invasion of France known as D-Day.

On June 6, 1944, Rommel ordered the panzer tanks to drive the Allies from the Normandy beaches.  But these could not be released except on direct order of the Fuehrer. 

As Hitler’s chief of staff, General Alfred Jodl, informed Rommel: The Fuehrer was asleep–and, no, he, Jodl, would not wake him.

By the time Hitler awoke and issued the order, it was too late.

Nor could he accept responsibility for the policies that were clearly leading Germany to certain defeat.  Hitler blamed his generals, accused them of cowardice, and relieved many of the best ones from command.

Among those sacked was Heinz Guderian, creator of the German panzer corps–and thus responsible for its highly effective “blitzkrieg” campaign against France in 1940.

Another was Erich von Manstein, designer of the strategy that defeated France in six weeks–something Germany couldn’t do during the four years of World War 1.

Finally, on April 29, 1945–with the Russians only blocks from his underground bunker in Berlin–Hitler dictated his “Last Political Testament.”  Once again, he refused to accept responsibility for unleashing a war that would ultimately consume 50 million lives:

“It is untrue that I or anyone else in Germany wanted war in 1939.  It was desired and instigated exclusively by those international statesmen who either were of Jewish origin or worked for Jewish interests.”

Hitler had launched the war with a lie–that Poland had attacked Germany, rather than vice versa.  And he closed the war–and his life–with a final lie.

All of which, once again, brings us back to Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of political science.

In his classic book, The Discourses, he wrote at length on the best ways to maintain liberty within a republic.  In Book Three, Chapter 31, Machiavelli declares: “Great Men and Powerful Republics Preserve an Equal Dignity and Courage in Prosperity and Adversity.”

It is a chapter that Adolf Hitler would have done well to read.

“…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.  

“Thence it comes that princes of this character think more of flying in adversity than of defending themselves, like men who, having made a bad use of prosperity, are wholly unprepared for any defense against reverses.”

Stay alert to signs of such character flaws among your own business colleagues–and especially your superiors.  They are the warning signs of a future catastrophe.

GIVING ADVICE – SAFELY

In History, Politics, Self-Help on April 9, 2012 at 10:30 am

On the rare occasion when most people think of Niccolo Machiavelli, the image of the devil comes to mind.

Niccolo Machiavelli

In fact, “The Old Nick” became an English term used to describe Satan and slander Machiavelli at the same time.

The truth, however, is more complex. Machiavelli was a passionate Republican, who spent most of his adult life in the service of his beloved city-state, Florence.

The years he spent as a diplomat were tumultuous ones for Italy–with men like Pope Julius II and Caesare Borgia vying for power and plunging Italy into one bloodbath after another.

Machiavelli is best-known for his writing of The Prince, a pamphlet on the arts of gaining and holding power. Its admirers have included Benito Mussolini and Joseph Stalin.

But his longer and more thoughtful work is The Discourses, in which he offers advice on how to maintain liberty within a republic. Among its admirers were many of the men who framed the Constitution of the United States.

Also contrary to what most people believe about Machiavelli, he did not advocate evil for its own sake. Rather, he recognized that sometimes there is no perfect–or perfectly good–solution to a problem.

Sometimes it’s necessary to take stern–even brutal–action to stop an evil (such as a riot) before it becomes widespread.

His counsel remains as relevant today as it did during his lifetime (1469 – 1527)–especially for politicians.

But plenty of ordinary citizens can also benefit from the advice he has to offer–such as those who are asked to give advice to more powerful superiors.

Machiavelli warns there is danger in urging rulers to take a particular course of action:

“For men only judge of matters by the result, all the blame of failure is charged upon him who first advised it, while in case of success he receives commendations. But the reward never equals the punishment.”

This puts would-be counselors in a difficult position: “If they do not advise what seems to them for the good of the republic or the prince, regardless of the consequences to themselves, then they fail of their duty.

“And if they do advise it, then it is at the risk of their position and their lives, for all men are blind in this, that they judge of good or evil counsels only by the results.”

Thus, Machiavelli warns that an advisor should “take things moderately, and not to undertake to advocate any enterprise with too much zeal, but to give one’s advice calmly and modestly.”

The person who asked for the advice  may follow it, or not, as of his own choice, and not because he was led or forced into it by the advisor.

Above all, the advisor must avoid the danger of urging a course of action that runs “contrary to the wishes of the many.”

“For the danger arises when your advice has caused the many to be contravened. In that case, when the result is unfortunate, they all concur in your destruction.”

Or, as President John F. Kennedy famously said after the disastrous invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April, 1961: “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.”

By “not advocating any enterprise with too much zeal,” the advisor gains two advantages:

“The first is, you avoid all danger.

“And the second consists in the great credit which you will have if, after having modestly advised a certain course, your counsel is rejected, and the adoption of a different course results unfortunately.”

Finally, the time to give advice is before a catastrophe occurs, not after. Machiavelli gives a vivid example of what can happen if this rule is ignored.

King Perseus of Macedon had gone to war with Paulus Aemilius–and suffered a humiliating defeat. Fleeing the battlefield with a handful of his men, he later bewailed the disaster that had overtaken him.

Suddenly, one of his lieutenants began to lecture Perseus on the many errors he had committed, which had led to his ruin.

“Traitor,” raged the king, turning upon him, “you have waited until now to tell me all this, when there is no longer any time to remedy it—” And Perseus slew him with his own hands.

Niccolo Machiavelli sums up the lesson as this:

“Thus was this man punished for having been silent when he should have spoken, and for having spoken when he should have been silent.”

Be careful that you don’t make the same mistake.

A TAXING PROBLEM

In Bureaucracy, Business, Law, Self-Help on April 4, 2012 at 2:00 am

Several years ago, a private investigations agency found itself in serious trouble with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

One of its employees had suddenly quit the company–leaving behind a major financial disaster.

That employee–whom I’ll call Pete–had been tasked with sending payroll tax records to the IRS.  The company’s owner, Bill, assumed he had carried out his assignment.

Until he learned from the IRS that they had never received the records.

Consider the potential consequences:

  • Failing to timely and properly pay federal payroll taxes results in an automatic penalty of 2% to 10%.
  • Similar state and local penalties apply.
  • Failing to properly file monthly or quarterly returns may result in additional penalties.
  • Failing to file W-2 Forms results in an automatic penalty of up to $50 per form not timely filed.
  • A particularly severe penalty applies where federal income tax withholding and Social Security taxes are not paid to the IRS.
  • The penalty of up to 100% of the amount not paid can be assessed against the employer entity as well as any person (such as a corporate officer) having control or custody of the funds from which payment should have been made.

No doubt about it–Bill was facing serious trouble.

What to do?

When Bill told me of the calamity he was facing, I gave him my best advice: Immediately contest the IRS charge that he had been delinquent in providing the records.

I urged him to carefully explain to the IRS–in writing–what had happened.

Knowing that I had a B.A. in Communications and had worked as a newspaper reporter, Bill asked me to write a letter to the IRS on his behalf.  I agreed.

First, I interviewed him at length to make certain I fully understood the circumstances leading up to his present crisis.

Then I sat down and typed up a letter–on office letterhead stationery–to the IRS.

I offered a straightforward presentation of what had happened: Pete, the number-two man in the company, had been entrusted with submitting payroll tax records to the IRS.

Apparently nursing a grudge against the company, he had, in fact, done nothing of the sort.

Instead, he had dumped the records in a box and stashed this in a locked filing cabinet.

Then he had given notice and left the company.  Later, an investigation of his office computer revealed that it had often been used to access pornography.

I emphasized that Bill’s company had previously had an unblemished record for meeting its payroll tax obligations on time.  And I stated that the newly-found records had been sent to the IRS by registered mail.

Finally, I stated that Bill was prepared to fully meet his financial obligations to the IRS.  But I asked that he not be penalized for the irresponsible actions of a single, malcontented employee.

The result?  Bill ended up paying only those monies that he legally owed.  He was not forced to pay a penalty.

So what are the lessons to be learned from this episode?

  • In dealing with an agency as powerful as the IRS, don’t ignore its letters and/or phone calls. 
  • You have nothing to gain by pretending it will go away.  It won’t.
  • If you owe money, don’t deny it. 
  • Remain calm, even if you feel angry or afraid. 
  • Don’t use profanity or insults. 
  • Don’t try to play tough-guy with the IRS.  Even the Mafia fears this agency.

  • If you have a legitimate reason for having missed a payment, say so. 
  • Remember that everything you say to the IRS–verbally or in writing–is considered evidence given under oath. 
  • If you lie and get caught, you’ll face perjury charges as well as those for failing to comply with tax laws.
  • Offer to fully pay any monies that you legally owe.
  • If these amount to more than you can meet in a single payment, say so.  Ask the agency to set up a plan by which you can pay it off in installments.
  • If the agency balks at cooperating with you, contact a veteran tax accountant or attorney.
  • The best accountants or attorneys for dealing with the IRS are former agents now working in private practice.  They not only know the tax laws; they know the best ways to short-circuit an IRS audit and/or penalties.
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