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LOOKING INTO THE SOUL OF PUTIN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on July 23, 2014 at 10:12 am

On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 MH 17/MAS17, an international flight, took off from Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

It was scheduled to reach its destination in 11 hours and 45 minutes.  But the flight–and its 283 passengers and 15 crew–never made it.

Instead, as the plane cruised above Hrabove in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, it came under fire by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists.  A single Buk surface-to-air missile slammed into the aircraft, almost instantly killing everyone on board.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Since March, 2014, pro-Russian groups have aggressively–and often violently–tried to destabilize the Ukrainian government.

The reason: Ukraine has been showing an increasing desire to align itself with the West, especially the European Union.  And Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear his intention of preventing that.

A former KGB agent, Putin has called the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union as “a major geopolitical disaster of the [20th] century.”

According to John Bolton, a former United States ambassador to the United Nations: “It’s clear he wants to re-establish Russian hegemony within the space of the former Soviet Union. Ukraine is the biggest prize, that’s what he’s after. The occupation of the Crimea is a step in that direction.”

The most damning evidence for Russian separatists’ culpability in the airliner’s destruction came from United States military officials who cited:

  • Sensors that traced the path of the missile;
  • Shrapnel patterns in the wreckage; and
  • Voice print analysis of separatists’ conversations where they claimed credit for the strike.

Furthermore, data and photos from various social media sites all indicated that the missile had been fired by the separatists.

But the Republican Party quickly found another culprit to blame for the tragedy: President Barack Obama.

Just hours after the shootdown, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain appeared on the Sean Hannity show, which is carried on the Right-wing Fox News.

“It’s just been cowardly,” McCain said. “It’s a cowardly administration that we failed to give the Ukrainians weapons with which to defend themselves.”

McCain then told Hannity what he would do in response to the deadly crash:

“First, give the Ukrainians weapons to defend themselves and regain their territory. Second of all, move some of our troops in to areas that are being threatened by Vladimir Putin, in other countries like the Baltics and others.

“Move missile defense into the places where we got out of, like the Czech Republic and Poland and other places. And impose the harshest possible sanctions on Vladimir Putin and Russia. And that’s just for openers.”

Yet America’s frustrations with Russia generally–and Vladimir Putin in particular–long predate those of Barack Obama.

And relations between the United States and post-Soviet Russia were definitely not helped by the naivety of President George W. Bush.

In June 2001, Bush and Vladimir Putin met in Slovenia.  During the meeting a truly startling exchange occurred.

Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush

Putin, a former KGB Intelligence officer, had clearly done his homework on Bush.  When he mentioned that one of the sports Bush had played was rugby, Bush was highly impressed.

“I did play rugby,” said Bush.  “Very good briefing.”

But more was to come.

BUSH:  Let me say something about what caught my attention, Mr. President, was that your mother gave you a cross which you had blessed in Israel, the Holy Land.

PUTIN:  It’s true.

BUSH:  That amazes me, that here you were a Communist, KGB operative, and yet you were willing to wear a cross.  That speaks volumes to me, Mr. President.  May I call you Vladimir?

Putin instantly sensed that Bush judged others–even world leaders–through the lens of his own fundamentalist Christian theology.

Falling back on his KGB training, Putin seized on this apparent point of commonality to build a bond.  He told Bush that his dacha had once burned to the ground, and the only item that had been saved was that cross.

“Well, that’s the story of the cross as far as I’m concerned,” said Bush, clearly impressed.  “Things are meant to be.”

Afterward, Bush and Putin gave an outdoor news conference.

“Is this a man that Americans can trust?” Associated Press correspondent Ron Fournier asked Bush.

“Yes,” said Bush. “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue.

“I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.  I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.”

Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the End of Revolution, Updated Edition: Peter Baker, Susan Glasser: 97

Of course, no one from the Right is now willing to recall such embarrassing words.

It’s far more politically profitable to pretend that all of America’s tensions with Russia began with the election of Barack Obama.

And that those tensions will vanish once another Rightist President enters the White House.

AGGRESSORS AS VICTIMS: PART TWO (END)

In History, Military, Social commentary on July 22, 2014 at 12:07 pm

The mindset displayed by Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group, reflects that of the German Wehrmacht during the titanic battle of Stalingrad, which raged from August, 1942, to February, 1943.

This mindset was vividly captured in the diary of Wilhelm Hoffman, one of the 150,000 Germans who died in the battle.

The document reveals how a would-be conqueror can quickly turn from arrogant euphoria in triumph to self-righteous anger and self-pity when faced by unyielding opposition.

Hamas has reacted similarly.  When its rockets blasted Israel, that was in accordance with the Will of Allah.  But when the Israelis returned fire with planes and missiles, Hamas members rushed to TV cameras to shed copious tears and wail about the barbarity of their intended victims.

A Hamas funeral

Wilhelm Hoffman was a member of the elite Sixth Army, which had scored impressive victories over Poland in 1939 and France in 1940.

After Adolf Hitler launched the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, it had destroyed one Soviet army after another.  By August, 1942, it was poised to strike the city of Stalingrad and seize the Russian oil fields of the Caucuses.

Instead, it became bogged down in deadly inner-city fighting.  Then a Russian counteroffensive trapped the Sixth army and, through attrition and starvation, forced it to surrender on February 2, 1943.  It was a major turning point in World War 11.

German soldiers besieging Stalingrad

Hoffman’s diary reflects the euphoria of those early months, when yet another Nazi victory seemed in sight.  But as his fellow Germans took increasingly heavy losses, Hoffman grew resentful at the Russians’ refusal to meekly surrender.

September 13: An unlucky number.  This morning “katyushi” [multiple rocket launchers] attacks caused the company heavy losses: 27 dead and 50 wounded. 

The Russians are fighting desperately like wild beasts, don’t give themselves up, but come up close and then throw grenades.  Lieutenant Kraus was killed yesterday, and there is no company commander.

September 16Our battalion, plus tanks, is attacking the [grain storage], from which smoke is pouring–the grain in it is burning, the Russians seem to have set light to it themselves.  Barbarism.  The battalion is suffering heavy losses.

There are not nore than 60 men left in each company.  The elevator is occupied not by men but by devils that no flames or bullets can destroy.

September 18:  Fighting is still going on inside the elevator….If all the buildings of Stalingrad are defended like this then none of our soldiers will get back to Germany.

September 26:  Our regiment is involved in constant heavy fighting.  After the elevator was taken the Russians continued to defend themselves just as stubbornly.

You don’t see them at all, they have established themselves in houses and cellars and are firing on all sides, including from our rear–barbarians, they use ganster methods.

The Russians have stopped surrendering at all.  If we take any prisoners it’s because they are hopelessly wounded, and can’t move by themselves.  Stalingrad is hell.

Those who are merely wounded are lucky; they will doubtless be at home and celebrate victory with their families.

October 3:  We have entered a new area.  It was night but we saw many crosses with our helmets on top.  Have we really lost so many men?  Damn this Stalingrad!

October 14:  It has been fantastic since morning; our aeroplanes and artillery have been hammering the Russian positions for hours on end; everything in sight is being blotted from the face of the earth.

October 22:  Our regiment has failed to break into the factory.  We have lost many men; every time you move you have to jump over bodies.  You can scarcely breathe in the daytime; there is nowhere and no one to remove the bodies, so they are left there to rot.

Who would have thought three months ago that instead of the joy of victory we would have to endure such sacrifice and torture, the end of which is nowhere in sight.

October 27:  Our troops have captured the whole of the Barrikady factory, but we cannot break through to the Volga.  The Russians are not men, but some kind of cast-iron creatures; they never get tired and are not afraid to die. 

We are absolutely exhausted; our regiment now has barely the strength of a company.  The Russian artillery on the other side of the Volga won’t let you lift your head.

German prisoners taken at Stalingrad

December 11:  Three questions are obsessing every soldier and officer: 

When will the Russians stop firing and let us sleep in peace, if only for one night?  How and with what are we going to fill our empty stomachs, which, apart from the 3%-7 ozs of bread, receive virtually nothing at all?  And when will Hitler take any decisive steps to free our armies from encirclement?

December 26:  The horses have already been eaten.  I would eat a cat; they say the meat is also tasty.  The soldiers took like corpses or lunatics, looking for something to put in their mouths. 

They no longer take cover from Russian shells; they haven’t the strength to walk, run away and hide.  A curse on this war!

AGGRESSORS AS VICTIMS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In History, Military, Social commentary on July 21, 2014 at 11:43 am

On June 22, 1941, three million soldiers of Adolf Hitler’s Wehrmacht charged into the Soviet Union, destroying or capturing one Red Army after another.

The Fuehrer, ecstatic, had waited decades to launch this invasion: “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

That expectation proved to be false.

But then Hitler made a comment whose truth should still be noted:  “At the beginning of each campaign, one pushes a door into a dark, unseen room.  One can never know what is hiding inside.”

Adolf Hitler

Such proved to be the case in his campaign to destroy the Soviet Union.

By December 1941, the Wehrmacht had killed 360,000 Soviet soldiers, wounded one million, and captured two million more.  Red Army losses totaled around 3.4 million.

In six months, German troops and their allies had advanced 600 miles and occupied more than 500,000 square miles of Soviet territory.

And yet, in the end, Operation Barbarossa–the code name for the invasion–proved Hitler’s fatal mistake.

By the time Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945, Germany lay in ruins and the Wehrmacht had suffered 85% of its losses on the dreaded “Eastern front.”

Similarly, the militant group Hamas opened hostilities with Israel on July 7, apparently confident that it could defeat the awesome power of an unleashed Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

In June, 2014, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered.  Israeli authorities suspected the culprits were members of Hamas, the terrorist organization that’s long called for Israel’s destruction.

In a desperate search for the missing teens, Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians, injured 130 and arrested 500 to 600 others.

Hamas, in turn, began launching rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip, which it has controlled since June, 2007.  By July 7, 100 rockets had been fired at Israel.

Israeli planes retaliated by attacking 50 targets in Gaza.

On July 8, during a 24-hour period, Hamas fired more than 140 rockets into Israel from Gaza.  Saboteurs also tried to infiltrate Israel from the sea, but were intercepted.

A Hamas rocket streaks toward Israel

That same day–July 8, 2014–Israel launched Operation Protective Edge, a full-scale military attack on Gaza.

Hamas then announced that it considered “all Israelis”–including women, children, the elderly and disabled–to be legitimate targets.

On July 8, Hamas–acting as though it were laying down peace terms to an already defeated Israel–issued the following demands:

  1. End all attacks on Gaza;
  2. Release Palestinians arrested during the crackdown on the West Bank;
  3. Lift the blockade on Gaza; and
  4. Return to the cease-fire conditions of 2012.

Only then would Hamas be open to a ceasefire agreement.

Egypt offered a cease-fire proposal.  Israel quickly accepted it, temporarily stopping hostilities on July 15.  But Hamas claimed that it had not been consulted and rejected the agreement.

Palestinians continued to blithely launch hundreds of rockets at Israel–but went into ecstasies of grief before television cameras when one of their own was killed by Israeli return fire.

The mindset displayed by Hamas reflects that of  the Wehrmacht during the titanic battle of Stalingrad, which lasted from August, 1942, to February, 1943.

German soldiers at Stalingrad

This mindset was vividly captured in the diary of Wilhelm Hoffman, one of the 150,000 Germans who died in the battle.

The document reveals how a would-be conqueror can quickly turn from arrogant euphoria in triumph to self-righteous anger and self-pity when faced by unyielding opposition.

July 29, 1942: The company commander says the Russian troops are completely broken, and cannot hold out any longer.  To reach the Volga and take Stalingrad is not so difficult for us.  The Fuehrer knows where the Russian weak point is.  Victory is not far away.

August 10:  The Fuehrer’s orders were read out to us.  He expects victory of us.  We are all convinced that they can’t stop us.

August 12:  We are advancing toward Stalingrad along the railway line.  Yesterday Russian “katush”  [small rocket launchers] and then tanks halted our regiment.

“The Russians are throwing in their last forces,” Captain Werner explained to me.  Large-scale help is coming up to us, and the Russians will be beaten.

This morning outstanding soldiers were presented with decorations.  Will I really go back to Elsa without a decoration?  I believe that for Stalingrad the Fuehrer will decorate even me.

August 27: A continuous cannonade on all sides.  We are slowly advancing.  Less than 20 miles to go to Stalingrad.  In the daytime we can see the smoke of fires, at nighttime the bright glow.

They say that the city is on fire.  On the Fuehrer’s orders our Luftwaffe [air force] has sent it up in flames.  That’s what the Russians need, to stop them from resisting.

September 5:  Our regiment has been ordered to attack Sadovaya station–that’s nearly in Stalingrad.  Are the Russians really thinking of holding out in the city itself?

We had no peace all night from the Russian artilery and aeroplanes.  Lots of wounded are being brought by.  God protect me.

September 8:  Two days of non-stop fighting.  The Russians are defending themselves with insane stubbornness.  Our regiment has lost many men from the “katyushi” [Soviet multiple rocket launchers] which belch out terrible fire.

SLUMLORDS–THE REAL UNTOUCHABLES: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on July 18, 2014 at 6:23 am

San Francisco tenants need not be put at the mercy of greedy, arrogant slumlords.  And the agencies that are supposed to protect them need not be reduced to impotent farces.

The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI)–which is charged with guaranteeing the habitability of apartment buildings–should immediately adopt a series of long-overdue refirms.

Presently, there is no bureaucratic incentive for DBI to rigorously control the criminality of slumlords.  But this can be instilled–by making DBI merely a law-enforcing agency but a revenue-creating one.

Parts One and Two of this series outlined a series of long overdue reforms at DBI.  Here are the remaining four:

  1. Landlords should be required to bring all the units in a building up to existing building codes, and not just those in need of immediate repair.
  2. Landlords should be legally required to hire a certified-expert contractor to perform building repairs.  Many landlords insist on making such repairs despite their not being trained or experienced in doing so, thereby risking the lives of their tenants. 
  3. DBI should not view itself as a “mediation” agency between landlords and tenants.  Most landlords hate DBI and will always do so.  They believe they should be allowed to treat their tenants like serfs, raise extortionate rents anytime they desire, and maintain their buildings in whatever state  they wish.  And no efforts by DBI to persuade them of its good intentions will ever change their minds.
  4. Above all, DBI must stop viewing itself as a mere regulatory agency and start seeing itself as a law enforcement one. The FBI doesn’t ask criminals to comply with the law;  it applies whatever amount of force is needed to gain their compliance. As Niccolo Machiavelli once advised: If you can’t be loved by your enemies, then at least make yourself respected by them.

By doing so, DBI could vastly:

  • Enhance its own prestige and authority;
  • Improve living conditions for thousands of San Francisco renters; and
  • Bring millions ofdesperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers

And such reforms are equally overdue at the San Francisco District Attorney’s office.  Among these:

  • Creating a special unit to investigate and prosecute slumlords.
  • This should be modeled on existing units that attack organized crime, with slumlords targeted as major criminals.
  • Wiretaps and electronic surveillance should be routinely used.
  • Prosecutors should strive for lengthy prison terms and heavy fines.
  • Rewards should be offered to citizens who provide tips on major outrages by the city’s slumlords.

By doing so, it can:

  • Vastly enhance its own prestige and authority;
  • Improve living conditions  for thousands of San Francisco renters; and
  • Bring millions of desperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers.

But slumlord atrocities are by no means confined to San Francisco.  This is a crisis that needs to be confronted at State and Federal levels.

Many cities lack adequate funding to effectively investigate and prosecute slumlord abuses.  And even when the money exists for such efforts, the will to redress such abuses is often lacking.

Thus, legislation is essential at State and Federal levels to ensure that law-abiding tenants are protected against law-breaking slumlords.

At the core of this effort must be a revised view of slumlords.  They should be seen, investigated and prosecuted in the same way as Mafia predators.

Their crimes are not “victimless.”  And their victims are usually those who are too poor to effectively fight back.

And, like the Mafia, they easily buy public officials–including law enforcement agents–and/or hide their crimes behind teams of expensive attorneys.

At the Federal level, the Justice Department should designate a special section within the FBI to investigate and prosecute slumlord abuses.

Or this could be set up within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  • This should be modeled on existing strike force units that attack organized crime, with slumlords targeted as major criminals.
  • Court-ordered wiretaps and electronic surveillance should be routinely used.
  • Rewards should be offered to citizens who provide tips on major outrages by the city’s slumlords.
  • Prosecutors should strive for lengthy prison terms and heavy fines.
  • Slumlords’ properties should be sold at public auctions, with the monies divided among various Federal agencies.
  • The tenants living in those properties would not be evicted.  They would instead now live under a new, law-abiding landlord.

At the State level, similar tenant-protection units should be created within the Department of Justice.

The power of slumlords calls to mind the scene in 1987′s 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?”

It’s long past time for local, state and Federal governments to forcefully speak up on behalf of American tenants who cannot defend themselves against predatory slumlords.

As Robert F. Kennedy wrote: “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

SLUMLORDS–THE REAL UNTOUCHABLES: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on July 17, 2014 at 11:49 am

Slumlords would have everyone believe that San Francisco is a “renters’ paradise.”  A place where hard-working landlords are routinely taken advantage of by rent-avoiding bums who want to be constantly pampered.

On the contrary: It’s not renters who hold “untouchable” status, but slumlords themselves.

In fact, San Francisco is long overdue for serious reforms in protecting tenants.

Part One of this series outlined three overdue reforms needed at the Department of Building Inspection (DBI), San Francisco’s primary tenant-protecting agency.  Here are an additional 17:

  1. If the landlord fails to comply with the actions ordered within 30 days, the entire fine  should go into the City’s coffers–to be divided among DBI and other agencies charged with protecting San Francisco residents.
  2. In addition, he shuld be hit again with a fine that’s at least twice the amount of the first one.
  3. Inspectors for DBI should be allowed to cite landlords for violations that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health (DPH).  They can then pass the information on to DPH for its own investigation.
  4. If the DBI Inspector later discovers that the landlord has not corrected the violation within a designated time-period, DBI should be allowed to levy its own fine for his failure to do so.
  5. If DPH objects to this, DBI should propose that DPH’s own Inspectors be armed with similar cross-jurisdictional authority.  Each agency would thus have increased motivation for spotting and correcting health/safety violations that threaten the lives of San Francisco residents.
  6. This would instantly turn DBI and DPH into allies, not competitors.  And it would mean that whether a citizen called DBI or DPH, s/he could be assured of getting necessary assistance.  As matters now stand, many residents are confused by the conflicting jurisdictions of both agencies.
  7. DBI should insist that its Inspectors Division be greatly expanded.  DBI can attain this by arguing that reducing the number of Inspectors cuts (1) protection for San Francisco renters–and (2) monies that could go to the general City welfare.
  8. The Inspection Division should operate independently of DBI.  Currently,  too many high-ranking DBI officials tilt toward landlords because they are landlords themselves.
  9. DBI should create a Special Research Unit that would compile records on the worst slumlord offenders.  Thus, a slumlord with a repeat history of defying DBI NOVs could be treated more harshly than a landlord who was a first-time offender.
  10. Turning DBI into a revenue-producing one 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.
  11. 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 move them somewhere else.
  12. DBI should order landlords to post their Notices of Violation in public areas of their buildings–on pain of serious financial penalties for failing to do so. When DBI orders a slumlord to take corrective action, s/he is the only person who is notified.  Thus, if that slumlord refuses to comply with those directives, s/he is the only one who realizes it.  Tenants have a right to know if their landlord is complying with the law.
  13. DBI should launch and maintain a city-wide advertising campaign to alert residents to its services.  Everyone knows the FBI pursues bank robbers, but too many San Franciscans do not even know that DBI exists, let alone what laws it enforces.
  14. This should be an in-your-face campaign: “Do you have bedbugs in your apartment?  Has your stove stopped working?  Are you afraid to ride in your building elevator because it keeps malfunctioning?  Have you complained to your landlord and gotten nowhere?  Then call DBI at —–.  Or drop us an email at ——.”
  15. Landlords should be legally required to give each tenant a list of the major city agencies (such as DBI, Department of Public Health and the Rent Board) that exist to help tenants resolve problems with their housing. 
  16. Landlords should be legally required to rehabilitate a unit every time a new tenant moves in, or at least have it examined by a DBI inspector every two years.  A tenant can occupy a unit for ten or more years, then die or move out, and the landlord immediately rents the unit to the first person who comes along, without making any repairs or upgrades whatsoever.
  17. Landlords should be required to bring all the units in a building up to existing building codes, and not just those in need of immediate repair.
  18. Landlords should be legally required to hire a certified-expert contractor to perform building repairs.  Many landlords insist on making such repairs despite their not being trained or experienced in doing so, thereby risking the lives of their tenants. 

SLUMLORDS–THE REAL UNTOUCHABLES: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on July 16, 2014 at 9:16 am

To hear slumlords tell it, San Francisco is a “renters’ paradise,” where obnoxious, lazy, rent-evading tenants constantly take advantage of hard-working, put-upon landlords.

Don’t believe it.

A 98-year-old San Francisco woman is being evicted from her apartment of 50 years, because the building’s owners want to sell the place to take advantage of the city’s booming real estate market.

“I’ve been very happy here,” Mary Phillips told KRON 4, an independent San Francisco TV station. “I’ve always paid my rent.  I’ve never been late.”

The landlord, Urban Green Investments, is evicting her and several other tenants through the Ellis Act.  This is a 1986 California law that allows landlords evict tenants to get out of the rental business.

Urban Green Investments has bought several buildings in San Francisco, evicted their residents through the Ellis Act, and is reselling the buildings for profit.  Many of those being evicted are low income families and seniors.

Phillips has vowed to fight her eviction: “They’re going to have to take me out of here feet first,” she told KRON. “Just because of your age, don’t let people push you around.”

Phillips says she has nowhere else to live and now she and her attorneys are fighting the eviction.

Even in the city misnamed as a “renter’s paradise,” slumlords are treated like gods by the very agencies that are supposed to protect tenants against their abuses.

Many landlords are eager to kick out long-time residents in favor of new, wealthier high-tech workers moving to San Francisco.  An influx of these workers and a resulting housing shortage has proven a godsend for slumlords.

The power of slumlords calls to mind the scene in 1987′s 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?”

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

Consider the situation at the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI), which is supposed to ensure that apartment buildings are in habitable condition:

  • A landlord is automatically given 30 days to correct a health/safety violation. If he drags his feet on the matter, the tenant must live with that problem until it’s resolved.
  • If the landlord claims for any reason that he can’t fix the problem within one month, DBI doesn’t demand that he prove this.  Instead, it automatically gives him another month.
  • A slumlord has to work at being hit with a fine—by letting a problem go uncorrected for three to six months.
  • And even then, repeat slumlord offenders often avoid the fine by pleading for leniency.
  • That’s because many DBI officials are themselves landlords.

But the situation doesn’t have to remain this way.

DBI could:

  • Vastly enhance its own prestige and authority
  • Improve living conditions  for thousands of San Francisco renters, and
  • Bring millions of desperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers.

How?

By learning some valuable lessons from the “war on drugs” and applying them to regulating slumlords.

Consider:

  • At least 400,000 rape kits containing critical DNA evidence that could convict rapists sit untested in labs around the country.
  • But illegal drug kits are automatically rushed to the had of the line.

Why?

It isn’t simply because local/state/Federal lawmen universally believe that illicit drugs pose a deadly threat to the Nation’s security.

It’s because:

  • Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to “facilitate” violations of Federal anti-drug laws.
  • Local and State law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep some of the proceeds once the property has been sold.
  • Thus, financially-strapped police agencies have found that pursuing drug-law crimes is a great way to fill their own coffers.
  • Prosecutors and lawmen view the seizing of drug-related properties as crucial to eliminating the financial clout of drug-dealing operations.

It’s long past time for San Francisco agencies to apply the same attitude–and methods–toward slumlords.

Such reforms must start with the Department of Building Inspection (DBI)–the primary agency charged with protecting tenants.

Presently, there is no bureaucratic incentive for DBI to rigorously control the criminality of slumlords.  But this can be instilled–by making DBI not merely a law-enforcing agency but a revenue-creating one.

And those revenues should come from predatory slumlords who routinely violate the City’s laws protecting tenants.

Among those reforms it should immediately enact:

  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 could reclaim 75-80% of the money only if he fully corrected the violation within 30 daysThe remaining portion of the levied fine would go into the City coffers, to be shared among DBI and other City agencies.
  3. This would put the onus on the slumlord, not DBI. Appealing to his greed would ensure his willingness to comply with the ordered actions.  As matters now stand, it is DBI who must repeatedly check with the slumlord to find out if its orders have been complied with.

GENERAL SHERMAN’S ADVICE TO ISRAEL

In History, Military, Politics on July 15, 2014 at 9:19 am

Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, the great Southern general of the American Civil War (1861-1865) had a simple philosophy of war.

To end Union efforts to crush the newly-minted Confederate States of America, he urged, Southerners should quickly make its cost as high as possible.

Confederates, he believed, should take no prisoners.  Instead, they should kill every Union soldier they could lay hands on.

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson

Jackson’s views on war were shared by not only his fellow Southerners but, ironically, by one of the fiercest enemies of the Confederacy: William Tecumseh Sherman.

Sherman was the Union general who cut a swath of destruction through the South while “marching through Georgia.”

He is credited–or reviled–as the father of “total war,” thus making the suffering of civilians an integral part of any conflict.

In March, 1985, a staff officer told Sherman about Jackson’s opinion on not taking prisoners.  Asked for his reaction, Sherman said: “Perhaps he was right.

“It seems cruel, but if there were no quarter given, most men would keep out of war.  Rebellions would be few and short.”

William Tecumseh Sherman

Contrast that with the way Israel is now responding to hundreds of unprovoked rocket attacks by the Hamas terrorist group.

Since July 8, the Israeli Air Force has bombarded more than 900 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strp.

Israel claims it’s trying to avoid civilian casualties in the crowded urban landscape.  Members of the Israeli military have been telephoning Palestinian residents whose homes have been targeted, warning them to leave.

One resident, Sawsan Kawarea, claimed she received a call  from “David,” who said he was with the Israeli military.

“He asked for me by name. He said: ‘You have women and children in the house. Get out. You have five minutes before the rockets come,’” Kawarea said in an interview.

She ran outside with her children. A small rocket hit the house soon afterward. Five minutes later, a larger missile hit, destroying the house.

For years, the Israeli military has delivered such warnings via cellphone calls and small “warning rockets”–usually sent from drones.

The strategy has a nickname: “Roof knocking.”

It’s Israel’s response to longtime criticism for “collateral damage.”  That is: Civilians killed while its military takes action in the crowded Palestinian territories.

The policy allows Israel to say: We did our bes to avoid killing civilians.

But in waging Politically Correct warfare to head off criticism, Israel has made a dangerous mistake.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the 15th century Florentine statesmen, carefully studied both war and politics.  In his major work, The Discourses, he advises:

…Often individual men, and sometimes a whole city, will act so culpably against the state that as an example to others and for his own security the prince has no other remedy but to destroy it entirely. 

Honor consists in being able, and knowing when and how, to chastise evil-doers.  And a prince who fails to punish them, so that they shall not be able to do any more harm, will be regarded as either ignorant or cowardly….

Meanwhile, on the Gaza Strip: After a week of Israeli bombing more than 900 Hamas targets, Palestinian medical officials claimed that 186 people had been killed and at least 1,390 wounded.

That works out to about 26 people killed every day.

Contrast those figures with the casualties suffered by a single German city during World War 11 air raids during eight days and seven nights.

Beginning on July 24, 1943, the U.S. Air Force and the British Royal Air Force killed 42,600 civilians and wounded 37,000 in Hamburg and practically destroyed the entire city.

The bombing ignited a firestorm that incinerated more than eight square miles, baking alive many of those who sought safety in cellars and bomb shelters.

Hamburg, Germany, after Allied bombing raids

For the vaunted Israeli Air Force to have killed so few of its enemies after dropping so many bombs testifies to a massive waste of ordinance.

Clearly, the only people making good on these raids are the arms makers supplying the bombs.

If the United States had managed to kill only 26 Germans a day in World War II, America and Nazi Germany would still be at war today.

No wonder Hamas continues to fire rockets into Israel.

Machiavelli knew–and often warned–that while it was useful to avoid hatred, it was fatal to be despised.  And he also warned that humility toward insolent enemies will only encourage their hatred for you.

An Aesop’s fable well sums up the lesson Israel should have learned long ago:

A snake was stepped on by so many people he prayed to Zeus for help.  And Zeus said: “If you’d bitten the first person who stepped on you, the second would have thought twice about it.”

PC: CONCEALING THE TRUTH WITH LIES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics on July 14, 2014 at 10:37 am

On June 8, 2010, newspapers around the world headlined the latest triumph of Politically Correct language.

The Israeli government had apologized for circulating a video parodying the lyrics of Michael Jackson’s hit, “We Are the World.”  Its purpose: To mock terrorists from the Gaza flotilla smuggling arms into Gaza.

In early June, 2010, six Hamas ships set out in defiance of the Israel’s blockade of Gaza.  One of those ships, the Mavi Marmara, suffered nine casualties during a subsequent Israeli raid on the flotilla.

In the video, Israelis dressed up as activists offer their own take on the incident through song.

Among its lyrics:

We’ll make the world
Abandon reason
We’ll make them all believe that the Hamas
Is Momma Theresa
We are peaceful travelers
We’re waving our own knives
The truth will never find its way to your TV

Click here: The Flotilla Choir Presents We Con The World – YouTube

The Israeli Government Press Office distributed footage of the music video to foreign journalists on June 4, but then sent an apology to reporters just hours later, insisting it had been an accident.

“The contents of the video in no way represent the official policy of either the Government Press Office or of the State of Israel,” Israel’s Government Press Office later told CNN.

But the retraction did not stop “We Con the World” from becoming an Internet hit, getting over three million views in less than a week

By issuing such an apology the Israeli government forfeited a vital weapon in its ongoing struggle for not simply sovereignty but survival: Ridicule.

Every great tyrant has feared the laughter of his enemies. For that reason, the Roman Emperor Augustus banished the satirical poet, Ovid, from Rome and the KGB worked overtime to suppress anti-Communist jokes.

It’s clear that Israeli bureaucrats–like American ones–have caught the Political Correctness disease, where even the most criminally depraved are off-limits as targets for satire.

During most of the eight-year Presidency of Bill Clinton, the State Department applied the “rogue state” moniker to nations like Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

In a 1994 lecture, Madeleine Albright, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, defined a rogue state as one that actively tried to undermine the international system.

But in 2000, the State Department declared that it would no longer refer to such nations as “rogues.” Instead, they would now be referred to as “states of concern.”

“Rogue,” said a State Department spokesman, was inflammatory, and might hamper the efforts of the United States to reach agreements with its sworn enemies.

In short, it’s become Politically Incorrect to refer to even our sworn enemies as enemies.

As Steven Emerson, president of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) puts it: “If you can’t name your enemy, how can you defeat him?”

During World War 11, GIs–and their commanders–routinely referred to German soldiers as “krauts.”  Japense soldiers were universally referred to as “Japs.”

Throughout the Vietnam war, North Vietnamese troops were called “gooks,” “dinks” and “Charlie.”  During the 1991 Gulf War, American soldiers called Iraqi soldiers “ragheads.”

Admittedly, that’s not the sort of language to use in polite company.

But there is nothing polite about war, and it’s unrealistic to expect those whose lives could be snuffed out at any moment to be Politically Correct in talking about their enemies.

The United States has been at war with Islamic nations since September 11, 2001.  But terms such as “jihadist,” “jihadi” and “mujahedeen” are now officially forbidden by the Pentagon.

So is “Islamofascism,” a term often used to describe Islamic aggression against other countries–especially non-Muslim ones.

Similarly, the American government now seeks to impose the same Political Correctness restrictions on how to refer to daily invasions of its sovereign bordeers.

“Illegal alien” is taboo–although totally accurate.   An “alien” is defined as “a foreigner, especially one who is not a naturalized citizen of the country where they are living.”

And a foreigner who violates another country’s immigration laws is in that country illegally.

“Undocumented immigrant” is the new fashionable term to be used by all federal agents charged with enforcing our immigration laws.

Liberals feel that this sounds nicer, and won’t offend our “little brown brothers” south of the Rio Grande.

“Undocumented immigrant” makes it seem as though the mass violations of America’s national border are no big deal.  You might even think the illegal alien simply lost his legal papers while sneaking across the border.

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science, laid out the guidelines for effective propaganda.  In his notorious book, The Prince, he wrote:

…Men in general judge more by the eyes than by the hands, for every one can see, but very few have to feel.  Everyone sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are….

Apparently, many people in government are now convinced: If you don’t admit there is a problem, the problem doesn’t exist.

GREED? THY NAME IS AYN

In Bureaucracy, History, Social commentary on July 11, 2014 at 9:30 am

“Thirty years after her death, Ayn Rand’s ideas have never been more important.

“Unfettered capitalism, unregulated business, bare-bones government providing no social services, glorification of selfishness, disdain for Judeo-Christian morality—these are the tenets of Rand’s harsh philosophy.”

So reads the jacket blurb for Ayn Rand Nation: The Struggle for America’s Soul, by Gary Weiss.

“The timing of this book couldn’t be better for Americans who are trying to understand where in the hell the far-out right’s anti-worker, anti-egalitarian extremism is coming from,” asserts Jim Hightower, New York Times bestselling author of Thieves in High Places.

Ayn Rand Nation introduces us to the godmother of such Tea Party craziness as destroying Social Security and eliminating Wall Street regulation. Weiss writes with perception and wit.”

For those who believe that Rand’s philosophy is the remedy for America’s economic and social ills, a 2013 news story on 60 Minutes sounds a warning.

New England Compounding Center (NECC) pharmacy, based in Framington, Massachusetts, is under criminal investigation.  The reason: Shipping, in the fall of 2012, 17,000 vials of a steroid to be injected into the joints or spines of patients suffering chronic pain.

But instead of relieving pain, this steroid–contaminated with fungal meningitis–brought only agony and death.

The vials went out to thousands of pharmacies scattered across 23 states.

Forty-eight people have died, and 720 are still fighting horrific infections caused by the drug.

Just as Ayn Rand would have wanted, the pharmacy managed to avoid supervision by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

NECC was one of thousands of pharmacies that Congress exempted from FDA oversight.  By law, they are allowed to make custom drugs for just one patient at a time.

So Congress figured: What could possibly go wrong?

But within a few years, NECC went national–and vastly expanded the quantities of drugs produced.

“The underlying factor is that the company got greedy and overextended and we got sloppy, and something happened,” John Connolly, a lab technician for the company, told 60 Minutes, the CBS news magazine.

And, also as Rand would have wanted, the four family members who founded the pharmacy were enriched by it.  From December, 2011 through November, 2012, they received over $16 million in wages and profits.

Bankruptcy records show the family members racked up $90,000 on corporate American Express credit cards, including charges made after the company shut down in early October, 2012.

A month before the first steroid death, Connolly says he warned his supervisor: “Something’s gonna happen, something’s gonna get missed and we’re gonna get shut down.”

His supervisor just shrugged.

NECC was shut down by the authorities.  Barry Cadden, the president and lead pharmacist of the company, was subpoenaed by Congress to testify.  In true gangster fashion, he pleaded the Fifth.

He claims he doesn’t know how the contamination started.

Which brings us back to Ayn Rand–and, more specifically, Ayn Rand Nation.

Among the themes explored in Weiss’ book:

  • Atlas Shrugged–Rand’s 1957 novel–depicts a United States where many of its most productive citizens believe they’re being exploited by increasing taxation and government regulations.  So they go on strike. Their refusal to work conjures up the image of the mythological Atlas refusing to hold up the world.
  • Ayn Rand’s novels dramatically affirm such American ideals as independence, creativity, self-reliance, and especially a permanent distrust of government.
  • Rand’s 1936 novel, We the Living, is set in Soviet Russia.  Her heroine, Kira Argounova, tells a Communist: “I loathe your ideals; I admire your methods.” Rand’s followers believe in defending capitalism with the same ruthless methods of Communists.
  • In Rand’s ideal world, government controls only police, armies and law courts.  A government which performs more than these three functions is impractical, expensive and evil.

Many of those who embrace Rand substitute rage for logic: Tea Partiers are furious about the 2008 Wall Street crash, yet they blame the government for it.

(Ironically, in a way, they are right: The government can be blamed–but not for too much regulation of greed-fueled capitalists but too little.)

Weiss asserts that Tea Party members resent the social and economic realities facing the nation, but lack a coherent intellectual framework to help them focus and justify their rage.

But Objectivists–Rand’s hard-core followers–have and offer such a framework.

Thus, Tea Partiers form the ideological part of the right wing, and the clarity–and fanaticism–of their views gives them a power far out of proportion to their numbers.

Weiss believes that Rand is presenting a moral argument for laissez-faire capitalism.  This means eliminating  Social Security, Medicare, public road systems, fire departments, parks, building codes–and, above all, any type of financial regulation.

Weiss believes that Rand’s moral argument should be directly confronted–and defeated–with moral arguments calling for charity and rationality.

Given the fanaticism of Tea Partiers and the right-wing Republicans they support, success in countering Rand’s “I’ve-got-mine-and-the-hell-with-everybody-else” morality is by no means assured.

GO TO COLLEGE, BECOME A BABYSITTER

In Business, History, Law, Social commentary on July 10, 2014 at 11:41 am

Once again, June has come and gone–and, with it, an annual rite of passage for tens of thousands of college students: Graduation.

That occasion when young innocents formally leave the academic nest to make their way into the harsh realities of the work

Among those harsh realities: The average college graduate faces a debt loan of more than $29,400.

Click here: Average student loan debt: $29,400 – Dec. 4, 2013

But wait!  There’s something even more demoralizing awaiting these “heirs of tomorrow.”

The discovery that, for all the “we hire only the brightest” rhetoric by employers, having a college degree actually means little to most CEOs.

A new report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity concludes that nearly half of the nation’s recent college graduates hold jobs that don’t require a degree.

In short, many of the jobs they hold aren’t worth the price of that diploma.

From that report:

Increasing numbers of recent college graduates are ending up in relatively low-skilled jobs that, historically, have gone to those with lower levels of educational attainment. This study examines this phenomenon in some detail, concluding:

  • About 48 percent of employed U.S. college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests requires less than a four-year college education. Eleven percent of employed college graduates are in occupations requiring more than a high-school diploma but less than a bachelor’s, and 37 percent are in occupations requiring no more than a high-school diploma;
  • The proportion of overeducated workers in occupations appears to have grown substantially; in 1970, fewer than one percent of taxi drivers and two percent of firefighters had college degrees, while now more than 15 percent do in both jobs;
  • About five million college graduates are in jobs the BLS says require less than a high-school education;

Click here: Underemployment of College Graduates

But the future isn’t completely bleak–at least not for women willing to transform themselves into glorified babysitters for obscenely-rich families.

Consider a recent post on Facebook by AC Connections, which describes itself as “a nanny and household placement agency.”

Under the headline, “Growing Nanny Industry Is Enticing More College Graduates,” the ad/article begins:

“As more college graduates leave school and struggle to find work, they’re turning to the nanny industry.

“Many working moms love the idea of a highly-educated, experienced nanny providing individualized care for their children in their own homes. But it can come with a substantial price tag.

In this challenging economic climate, more college graduates are finding a little spoonful of sugar in the burgeoning nanny industry.

“These ‘modern day Mary Poppinses’ are educated, experienced, and in increasingly high demand.”

The International Nanny Association claims that the average salary is about $16 an hour. 

The ad asserts that “highly qualified and educated nannies in certain locations can make $100,000 or more each year. It’s not uncommon for nannies to start out with salaries comparable to entry-level finance careers.”

Click here: Growing Nanny Industry Is Enticing More College Graduates

Besides the money, says the ad, there are other reasons for becoming a nanny:

“Many love working with children, want a chance to use their college education, or enjoy the role of caretaker.”

“A chance to use their college education”?  As in cleaning up spills, changing diapers and feeding baby food to infants?

So if you’re a college graduate who can’t convince an employer within your chosen profession–such as pharmacy or engineering–to hire you, there’s always the Mary Poppins option.

Or some similar menial “career” that caters to the indulgences of the American plutocracy, for whom $16 an hour amounts to a Snicker’s candy bar for the fast-disappearing middle class.

It should be enough to make you hesitate before signing up for a loan to cover the average $57,000 cost of a public college education.

Or an even larger loan to cover the $132,000 cost of a private college education.

But if you’re still thinking that “employers really respect that degree,” consider this: Job recruiters spend exactly six seconds examining your resume.

According to The Ladders research, recruiters spend an average of “six seconds before they make the initial ‘fit or not fit’ decision” to interview you.

Not hire you–just meet you.  You’ll still have plenty of chances to get shot down during or after the interview.

Click here: What Recruiters Look At During The 6 Seconds They Spend On Your Resume

According to the study, when scanning a resume, recruiters looked at the following items:

  • Your name
  • Current title and company
  • Current position start and end dates
  • Previous title and company
  • Previous position start and end dates
  • Education

American employers should be legally compelled to hire as responsibly as college students are expected to pursue an education.

Until this happens, those young men and women thinking of committing a big chunk of their time and going into massive debt to pursue a college degree should think twice before doing so.

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