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WHY THE POOR SUPPORT THE RICH: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on July 31, 2014 at 3:44 pm

On July 22, 2011, the Pew Foundation, analyzing voter identification, found that the GOP had gained strength among white voters, most specifically “the young and poor.”

A seven-point Democratic advantage among whites under age 30 three years earlier had turned into an 11-point GOP advantage.

And a 15-point Democratic advantage among whites earning less than $30,000 annually had swung to a slim four-point Republican edge.

In addition:

  • The GOP gains have occurred only among white voters.
  • Republicans have made sizable gains among white voters since 2008.
  • Fifty-two percent of white voters now call themselves Republicans or lean to the GOP, compared with 39% who affiliate with the Democratic Party or lean Democratic.
  • Democrats have lost their edge among lower income white voters.
  • In 2008, Democrats had a 15 point lead among white voters with family incomes less than $30,000.  Republicans now have a four-point edge among this group.
  • The GOP’s lead among middle income white voters also has grown since 2008, and Republicans hold a substantial advantage with higher income white voters.
  • Republicans have made gains among whites with a high school education or less.
  • The GOP’s advantage over Democrats grew from one point in 2008 to 17 points in 2011 among less educated whites.
  • Republicans have made smaller gains among whites voters who have college degrees.

What is fascinating about these findings is this: The Republicans have, since 1980, pursued a policy of gutting programs aimed at helping the poor–while repeatedly creating tax-breaks for the wealthiest 1% of the population.

For Republicans, the patron saint of this “love-the-rich-screw-the-poor” ideology remains Ronald Reagan.  Reagan served as governor of California (1967-1974) and President of the United States (1981-1989).

Ronald Reagan

Among those charting Reagan’s legacy as President was former CBS Correspondent David Schoenbrun In his bestselling autobiography, America Inside Out: At Home and Abroad from Roosevelt to Reagan, he noted:

  • On January 28, 1981, keeping a pledge to his financial backers in the oil industry, Reagan abolished Federal controls on the price of oil.
  • Within a week, Exxon, Texaco and Shell raised gasoline prices and prices of home heating oil.
  • Reagan saw it as his duty to put a floor under prices, not a ceiling above them.
  • Reagan believed that when government helped business it wasn’t interfering.   Loaning money to bail out a financially incompetent Chrysler was “supporting the free enterprise system.”
  • But putting a high-profits tax on price-gouging corporations or filing anti-trust suits against them was “Communistic” and therefore intolerable.
  • Tax-breaks for wealthy businesses meant helping America become stronger.
  • But welfare for the poor or the victims of a predatory marketplace economy weakened America by sapping its morale.

“In short,” wrote Schoenbrun,”welfare for the rich is good for America.  But welfare for the poor is bad for America, even for the poor themselves, for it encourages them to be shiftless and lazy.

“Somehow, loans to the inefficient management of American corporations would not similarly encourage them in their inefficient methods.”

Republicans have sought to dismantle Social Security ever since that program began in 1935.  And Republicans have furiously opposed other programs aiding the poor and middle-class–such as Medicare, food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, Children).

In short, this is not a political party with a history of rushing to the defense of those most in need.

So the question remains: Why are so many poor Americans now flocking to its banner?

Two reasons: Racism and greed.  There are historical parallels for both.

Racism:

In 1999, historian Victor Davis Hanson noted the huge gap in wealth between the aristocratic, slave-owning minority of the pre-Civil War South and the vast majority of poor white Southerners.

“Before the war in the counties Sherman would later ruin, the top 10% of the landowners controlled 40% of the assessed wealth.”

In contrast, “more than half of those who were lucky enough to own any property at all still possessed less than 15% of the area’s valuation.”

So Hanson asked: “Why did the millions of poor whites of the Confederacy fight at all?”

He supplied the answer in his brilliant work on military history, The Soul of Battle: From Ancient Times to the Present Day, How Three Great Liberators Vanquished Tyranny.

One of those liberators was General William Tecumseh Sherman, who led 62,000 Union troops in a victorious “March to the Sea” through the Confederacy in 1864.

So why did so many poor Southern whites literally lay down their lives for the wealthy planter class, which despised them?

COSTCO VS. WALMART: TWO VERSIONS OF EMPLOYER

In Bureaucracy, Business, Social commentary on July 29, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Corporations aren’t staffed by faceless machines.  They’re staffed by men and women.

And those men and women take their marching orders from the man (usually) or woman at the top.

Thus, you can learn a great deal about a CEO–and his company–by the way his employees are treated.

Consider the differences between Walmart and Costco.

REVENUES:

Costco:  In 2011, its revenues stood at $89 billion.

Walmart: In 2011, its revenues stood at $447 billion.  But profits declined by 4.6%, to $15.7 billion.

HEALTH INSURANCE:

Costco: About 88% of Costco employees have company-supplied health insurance.  “I just think people need to make a living wage with health benefits,” Craig Jelinek, Costco’s CEO and president, told Bloomberg.  “It also puts more money back into the economy and creates a healthier country.  It’s really that simple.”

Walmart: In January, 2014, the nation’s largest private employer will deny health insurance to newly hired employees who work less than 30 hours a week.

Walmart eliminates healthcare coverage for certain workers if their average work-week falls below 30 hours–which regularly happens at the direction of company managers.

Walmart has refused to say how many of its roughly 1.4 million U.S. workers are likely to lose medical insurance under its new policy.

Many of the Walmart workers who might be dropped from the company’s health care plans earn so little that they would qualify for the expanded Medicaid program.

Of course, if they live in any of the 26 Republican-controlled states refusing to expand Medicaid coverage, they’ll wind up with nothing.

“Walmart is effectively shifting the costs of paying for its employees onto the federal government with this new plan, which is one of the problems with the way the law is structured,” said Ken Jacobs, chairman of the Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2005, Susan Chambers, Walmart’s then-Vice President of Benefits, outlined how the company could remove sick workers from payrolls and avoid paying healthcare benefits.

Three major studies–in Georgia, Massachussetts and California–found Walmart employees to be the ones most reliant on government aid.  Annually, Walmart employees cost taxpayers more than $1 billion nationwide.

WAGES:

Costco:  Pays a living wage, with its employees starting ats $11.50 per hour.  The average employee wage is $21 per hour, not including overtime.

Walmart: Most Walmart workers earn less than $20,000 a year.  According to Bloomberg News, the average Walmart Associate makes just $8.81 per hour.

CEO SALARY:

Costco: Its CEO and president, Craig Jelinek, made about $4.83 million in 2012.

Walmart: CEO Mike Duke made roughly $19.3 million in 2012.

According to CNN Money: Walmart’s CEO makes as much as 796 average employees.  Costco’s CEO makes 48 times more than the company’s median wage.

HOLIDAYS:

Costco:  Costco closed for Thanksgiving, giving its employees time to spend with their families.

Walmart: Forced its employees–on pain of being fired–to open its stores nationwide at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving.

The results: Multiple instances of fistfights, taserings and knifings among shoppers whose greed had been roused to fever pitch by Walmart advertising.

PROMOTINS:

Costco: Hires from within. More than 70% percent of its warehouse managers began their careers working the floor or the register.

Walmart:  Facing mounting criticism for its low salaries, Walmart, on October 29, announced that it would promote more than 25,000 employees by the end of January, 2014.

STABILITY:

Costco: The annual turnover rate for employees who have worked at the company for more than one year is less than six percent.  For executives, the turnover rate is less than one percent.

Walmart: Since 2008, Walmart has fired or lost 120,000 American workers, while opening more than 500 new U.S. stores.

Many workers quit to find better-paying jobs.  As a result, turnover at Walmart has been correspondingly high.

ADVERTISING:

Costco:  Doesn’t advertise or rely on a public relations staff.

Walmart: By contrast, Walmart spent $1.89 billion on self-glorifying ads in 2011.

Recently, Walmart has been forced to launch a massive PR campaign to counteract its notoriety for low pay, employment of illegal aliens, lack of health benefits and union-busting tactics.

* * * * *

Some things can’t be quantified.

Goodwill, which is created by taking care of one’s employees–paying them a living wage and providing them with medical care–is one of them.

Similarly, ill will–created by paying the lowest possible wages and forcing employees to essentially become welfare clients–is another.

And some things that can be quantified don’t necessarily make for Nirvana.

In 2012, the Forbes 400 stated that the six wealthiest heirs to the Walmart empire were collectively worth $115 billion.

Yet this has not protected the Walton family from bad publicity–such as from striking workers and news media hungry for scandal.

Nor has it shielded the Waltons from ridicule–comedians like Jay Leno routinely joke about the hordes if illegal aliens Walmart “accidentally” hires.

Americans face a stark choice between two types of corporate employer–one that protects its employees, and another that essentially preys on them.

Which direction the nation chooses to go in will largely determine its course for long-term prosperity or short-term ruin.

MICHAEL CORLEONE IS SMILING: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on July 28, 2014 at 10:39 am

John and Robert Kennedy knew what they were doing.  They waged a vicious war against Fidel Castro–a war someone had to lose.”

So writes Gus Russo in Live By the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK, published in 1998.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, Robert Kennedy–referring to the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor–had resisted demands for a “sneak attack” on Cuba by saying: “I don’t want my brother to be the Tojo of the 1960s.”

But in the fall of 1963, the Kennedys planned such an attack on Cuba just one month before the November, 1964 Presidential election.

In what is almost certainly the definitive account of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Russo reaches some startling–but highly documented–conclusions:

  • Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated Kennedy.
  • He did it alone.
  • Oswald, a former Marine, was a committed Marxist–whose hero was Castro.
  • The CIA’s ongoing campaign to overthrow and/or assassinate Castro was an open secret throughout the Gulf.
  • Oswald visited New Orleans in the spring of 1963.
  • There he learned that Castro was in the crosshairs of the CIA.
  • Oswald told his Russian-born wife, Marina: “Fidel Castro needs defenders.  I’m going to join his army of volunteers.” 
  • Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner, murdered Oswald because he was distraught over Kennedy’s death. 
  • Ruby was not part of a Mafia conspiracy to silence Oswald. 
  • Skeptics of the Warren Commission–which concluded that Oswald had acted alone–asked the wrong question: “Who killed Kennedy?” 
  • They should have asked: “Why was he killed?”
  • The answer–according to Russo: “The Kennedys’ relentless pursuit of Castro and Cuba backfired in tragedy on that terrible day in November, 1963.”

Lee Harvey Oswald

Another book well worth reading about America’s Cuban obsession during the early 1960s is American Tabloid, by James Ellroy.

Although a novel, it vividly captures the atmosphere of intrigue, danger and sleaziness that permeated that era in a way that dry, historical documents never can.

“The 50s are finished,” reads its paperback dust jacket.  “Zealous young lawyer Robert Kennedy has a red-hot jones to nail Jimmy Hoffa.  JFK has his eyes on the Oval Office.

“J. Edgar Hoover is swooping down on the Red Menace.  Howard Hughes is dodging subpoenas and digging up Kennedy dirt.  And Castro is mopping up the bloody aftermath of his new Communist nation….

“Mob bosses, politicos, snitches, psychos, fall guys and femmes fatale.  They’re mixing up a Molotov cocktail guaranteed to end the country’s innocence with a bang.”

Among the legacies of America’s twisted romance with anti-Castro Cubans:

  • Following the JFK assassination, there was a coverup–to safeguard the reputation of the United States government and that of its newly-martyred President.
  • Thus, the CIA and FBI concealed the anti-Castro assassination plots from the Warren Commission investigating Kennedy’s assassination.
  • Other participating officials in the cover-up included Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and President Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • This secrecy ignited the widespread–and false–belief that the President had died at the hands of a government conspiracy.
  • Robert Kennedy feared that his relentless pursuit of Castro might have backfired against JFK, leading Castro to “take out” the President first.
  • Fearing his own assassination if he continued Kennedy’s efforts to murder Castro, President Johnson ordered the CIA to halt its campaign to overthrow and/or assassinate the Cuban leader.
  • The huge Cuban community throughout Florida–and especially Miami–continues to exert a blackmail influence on American politics.
  • Right-wing politicians from Richard Nixon to Newt Gingrich have reaped electoral rewards by catering to the demands of this hate-obsessed voting block.
  • As a result, the United States still refuses to open diplomatic relations with Cuba–even though it has done so with such former enemies as the Soviet Union, China and Vietnam.
  • Cuban ex-patriots still hope that the United States will launch a full-scale military invasion of the island to remove Castro.
  • These alleged Cuban patriots fear to risk their own lives by returning to Cuba and launching an uprising against him.  

That crisis stemmed from our twisted obsession with Cuba, an obsession that continues today.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul is correct:

“But I think it’s time…to quit this isolation business of not talking to people. We talked to the Soviets. We talk to the Chinese. And we opened up trade, and we’re not killing each other now.

“We fought with the Vietnamese for a long time. We finally gave up, started talking to them, now we trade with them. I don’t know why…the Cuban people should be so intimidating.”

It’s time to end the half-century contamination of American politics by those Cubans who live for their hatred of Fidel Castro and those political candidates who live to exploit it.

It’s long past time to end this wag-the-dog relationship.  A population of about 1,700,000 Cubans should not be allowed to shape the domestic and foreign policy of a nation of 300 million.

Those who continue to hate–or love–Castro should be left to their own private feud.  But that is a feud they should settle on their own island, and not from the shores of the United States.

MICHAEL CORLEONE IS SMILING: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Social commentary on July 25, 2014 at 1:01 pm
On April 17, 1961, the U.S. Navy landed 1,700 CIA-trained Cuban exiles ashore at Cuba’s Bay of Pigs.

President John F. Kennedy–wanting the attack to disguise the role of the United States in the invasion–refused to commit U.S. Marines and Air Force bombers to the invasion.

Long forewarned of the coming invasion, Fidel Castro sent in his forces to decimate the invaders.

Kennedy took responsibility for the failure.  But privately he blamed Castro for refusing to be overthrown.

As a result, Kennedy and his brother, Robert–then Attorney General–created  their own covert operation to depose Castro.

Robert and John F. Kennedy

Known as the Special Group, and overseen by Robert Kennedy, it launched a secret war against the Castro regime, code-named Operation Mongoose.

“We were hysterical about Castro at about the time of the Bay of Pigs and thereafter,” Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara later testified before Congress about these efforts.  “And there was pressure from JFK and RFK to do something about Castro.”

Robert S. McNamara

Nor was everyone in the CIA enthusiastic about the “get Castro” effort.

“Everyone at CIA was surprised at Kennedy’s obsession with Fidel,” recalled Sam Halpern, who was assigned to the Cuba Project.  “They thought it was a waste of time.  We all knew [Castro] couldn’t hurt us.  Most of us at CIA initially liked Kennedy, but why go after this little guy?

“One thing is for sure: Kennedy wasn’t doing it out of national security concerns.  It was a personal thing.  The Kennedy family felt personally burnt by the Bay of Pigs and sought revenge.”

It was all-out war.  Among the tactics used:

  • Hiring Cuban gangsters to murder Cuban police officials and Soviet technicians.
  • Sabotaging mines.
  • Paying up to $100,000 per “hit” for the murder or kidnapping of Cuban officials.
  • Using biological and chemical warfare against the Cuban sugar industry.

“Bobby (Kennedy) wanted boom and bang all over the island,” recalled Halpern. “It was stupid.  The pressure from the White House was very great.”

Among that “boom and bang” were a series of assassination plots against Castro, in which the Mafia was to be a key player.

Chicago Mobster Johnny Rosselli proposed a simple plan: through its underworld connections in Cuba, the Mafia would recruit a Cuban in Castro’s entourage, such as a waiter or bodyguard, who would poison him.

The CIA’s Technical Services division produced a botulinus toxin which was then injected into Castro’s favorite brand of cigars. The CIA also produced simpler botulinus toxin pills that could be dissolved in his food or drink.

But the deputized Mafia contacts failed to deliver any of the poisons to Castro.

Fidel Castro

As Rosselli explained to the CIA, the first poisoner had been discharged from Castro’s employ before he could kill him, while a back-up agent got “cold feet.”

Other proposals or attempts included:

  • Planting colorful seashells rigged to explode at a site where Castro liked to go skindiving.
  • Trying to arrange for his being presented with a wetsuit impregnated with noxious bacteria and mould spores, or with lethal chemical agents.
  • Attempting to infect Castro’s scuba regulator with tuberculous bacilli.
  • Trying to douse his handkerchiefs, tea and coffee with other lethal bacteria.

Americans would rightly label such methods as “terrorist” if another power used them against the United States today.  And the Cuban government saw the situation exactly the same way.

So Castro appealed to Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, for assistance.

Nikita Khrushchev

Khrushchev was quick to comply:  “We must not allow the communist infant to be strangled in its crib,” he told members of his inncer circle.

By October, 1962, the Soviet Union had sent more than 40,000 soldiers, 1,300 field pieces, 700 anti-airctaft guns, 350 tanks and 150 jets to Cuba to deter another invasion.

Khrushchev also began supplying Castro with nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles–whose discovery, on October 15, 1962, ignited the single most dangerous confrontation of the Cold War.

Suddenly, the two most powerful nuclear countries–the United States and the Soviet Union–found themselves on the brink of nuclear war.

John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office

At the time, Kennedy officials claimed they couldn’t understand why Khrushchev had placed nuclear missiles in Cuba.  “Maybe Khrushchev’s gone mad” was a typical musing.

None of these officials admitted that JFK had been waging a no-holds-barred campaign to overthrow the Cuban government and assassinate its leader.

The crisis ended when, after 13 harrowing days, Khrushchev agreed to remove the missiles from Cuba.  Behind its resolution lay a  promise by the Kennedy administration to not invade Cuba.

But President Kennedy was not finished with Castro.  While continuing the campaign of sabotage throughout Cuba, the Kennedys were preparing something far bigger: A fullscale American invasion of the island.

On October 4, 1963, the Joint Chiefs of Staff submitted its latest version of the invasion plan, known as OPLAN 380-63.  Its timetable went:

  • January, 1964:  Infiltration into Cuba by Cuban exiles.
  • July 15, 1964:  U.S. conventional forces join the fray.
  • August 3, 1964:  All-out U.S. air strikes on Cuba.
  • October 1, 1964:  Full-scale invasion to install “a government friendly to the U.S.”

But then fate–in the otherwise unimpressive form of Lee Harvey Oswald–suddenly intervened.

MICHAEL CORLEONE IS SMILING: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics on July 24, 2014 at 11:51 am

On January 23, 2012, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul–all seeking the Republican nomination for President–attended a candidates’ debate in Tampa, Florida.

Gingrich, Santorum and Romney played to the huge–and influential–Cuban community in Florida, especially in Miami.

All three had carefully avoided military service.  But all three “chickenhawks” now wanted to show how eagerly they could send others into harm’s way.

Former House Speaker Gingrich spoke for all three when he said: “The policy of the United States should be aggressively to overthrow the [Castro] regime and to do everything we can to support those Cubans who want freedom.”

Only Texas Congressman Ron Paul–who had served as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force from 1963 to 1968–dared to call for normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba.

But even Paul refused to say that the “chickenhawk” bravado of his fellow Republicans ignored a great many ugly historical truths.  Among these:

  • In 1959, Fidel Castro swept triumphantly into Havana after a two-year guerrilla campaign against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.
  • Before Castro’s takeover in 1959, Cuba had been a playground for wealthy American businessmen–and Mafiosi.
  • Castro quickly nationalized Cuban businesses–especially the sugar-producing ones.
  • Gangsters who had been heavily involved in running casinos were arrested, imprisoned or unofficially deported to the United States.
  • The Mob–eager to reclaim its casino investments–agreed to help the CIA assassinate Castro.
  • Among the conspirators were such powerful mobsters as Santos Trafficante, Carlos Marcello, Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana.
  • Almost immediately, hundreds of thousands of Cubans began fleeing to America.  The first emigres were more than 215,000 Batista followers.
  • The exodus escalated, peaking at approximately 78,000 in 1962.

  • In October, 1962, Castro stopped regularly scheduled travel between the two countries, and asylum seekers began sailing from Cuba to Florida.
  • Between 1962 and 1979, hundreds of thousands of Cubans entered the United States under the Attorney General’s parole authority.
  • The overwhelming majority of Cubans who immigrated into the United States settled in Florida, whose political, economic, and cultural life they transformed.
  • By 2008, more than 1.24 million Cuban Americans were living in the United States, mostly in South Florida, where the population of Miami was about one-third Cuban.
  • Many of these Cubans viewed themselves as political exiles, rather than immigrants, hoping to return to Cuba after its communist regime fell from power.
  • The large number of Cubans in South Florida, particularly in Miami’s “Little Havana,” allowed them to preserve their culture and customs to a degree rare for immigrant groups.
  • These discontented immigrants became a potential force for politicians to court.
  • Unsurprisingly, most of their votes went to Right-wing Republicans.

John F. Kennedy was the first President to face this dilemma.

John F. Kennedy

During the closing months of the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the CIA had begun training Cuban exiles for an invasion of their former homeland.

The goal: To do what Castro had done–seek refuge in the mountains and launch a successful anti-Castro revolution.

But word of the coming invasion quickly leaked: The exiles were terrible secret-keepers.  (A joke at the CIA went: “A Cuban thinks a secret is something you tell to only 300 people.”)

Kennedy insisted the invasion must appear to be an entirely Cuban enterprise.  He refused to commit U.S. Marines and Air Force bombers.

The invasion force was quickly overwhelmed at the Bay of Pigs, with hundreds of its men taken prisoner.

Kennedy publicly took the blame for its failure: “Victory has a hundred fathers but defeat is an orphan.”  But privately he seethed, and ordered the CIA to redouble its efforts to remove Castro at all costs.

To make certain his order was carried out, he appointed his brother, Robert–then Attorney General–to oversee the CIA’s “Castro removal” program.

It’s here that America’s obsession with Cuba entered its darkest and most disgraceful period.

The CIA and the Mafia entered into an unholy alliance to assassinate Castro–each for its own benefit.

The CIA wanted to please Kennedy.  The Mafia wanted to regain its casino and brothel holdings that had made Cuba the playground of the rich in pre-Castro times.

The CIA supplied poisons and explosives to various members of the Mafia.  It was then up to the mobsters to assassinate Castro.

The available sources disagree on what actually happened.  Some believe that the Mob made a genuine effort to “whack” Fidel.

Others are convinced the mobsters simply ran a scam on the government.  They pretended to carry out their “patriotic duty” while in fact making no effort at all to penetrate Castro’s security.

The mobsters hoped to use their pose as patriots to win immunity from future prosecution.

The CIA asked John Roselli, a mobster linked to the Chicago syndicate, to go to Florida in 1961 and 1962 to organize assassination teams of Cuban exiles.  They were to infiltrate their homeland and assassinate Castro.

John Roselli

Rosselli called upon two other crime figures: Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana and Santos Trafficante, the Costra Nostra chieftain for Cuba, to help him.

Giancana, using the name “Sam Gold” in his dealings with the CIA, was being hounded by the FBI on direct orders of Attorney General Kennedy.

Sam Giancana

LOOKING INTO THE SOUL OF PUTIN

In Politics, Bureaucracy, History, Military 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.

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.

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.

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