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A DARK, UNSEEN ROOM

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on April 1, 2015 at 12:11 am

Adolf Hitler had a warning for the Indiana legislators who passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

A warning they should have heeded–but didn’t.

It all started on June 22, 1941.

On that date, Hitler ordered his powerful Wehrmacht to invade the Soviet Union.

Less than two years earlier, in August, 1939, he had signed a “non-aggression” pact with his longtime arch-enemy, Joseph Stalin.

Since then, his army had conquered Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France.

Adolf Hitler with his generals

Now, he believed, it was time to “settle accounts” with the Soviet Union.

Only there could Germany obtain the “living space” it “needed” for its expanding population.

So at 3 a.m. on June 22, 1941, Hitler once again launched an invasion.

At first, Hitler–no doubt like the Indiana legislators–felt giddy with excitement.

Turning to Alfred Jodl, his chief of operations of the Wehrmacht, he said: “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

German soldiers marching through Russia

But soon afterward–almost as if he had just looked into the future and seen that he had none–he told an aide: “At the beginning of each campaign, one pushes a door into a dark, unseen room.  One can never know what is hiding inside.

That certainly proved true for Hitler.

Within four years, he was dead and his once-powerful army was reduced to a disorganized rabble.

And now the law of unintended consequences–what can happen when you “push a door into a dark, unseen room”–may be coming true for Indiana.

On March 26, its governor, Mike Pence, signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

This will allow any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

Officially, its intent is to prevent the government from forcing business owners to act in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs.

Unofficially, its intent is to appease the hatred of gays and lesbians by the religious Right, a key constituency of the Republican party.

In short, a bakery that doesn’t want to make a cake to be used at a gay wedding or a restaurant that doesn’t want to serve lesbian patrons will have the legal right to refuse to do so.

The bill was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Republican-controlled state legislature.  And signed into law by a Republican governor.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence 

“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Mike Pence said in a statement on the day he signed the bill.

“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action.”

Bill-signing ceremonies are usually highly public events.  Governors–and presidents–normally want their constituents to see them creating new legislation.

Yet for all his praise for the bill, Pence signed it in a ceremony closed to the public and the press.  The media were asked to leave even the waiting area of the governor’s office.

It’s almost as if Pence sensed–like Hitler–that he was about to push open “a door into a dark, unseen room.” And this may well be the case.

Through that door may soon march the First Church of Cannabis.

The day after Pence signed the Act, church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that he had filed paperwork with the office of the Indiana Secretary of State.

Its registration had been approved–and Levin was ecstatic: “Now we begin to accomplish our goals of Love, Understanding, and Good Health.

“Donate $100 or more and become a GREEN ANGEL.

“Donate $500 or more and become a GOLD ANGEL.

“Donate $1000 or more and become a CHURCH POOHBA.”

Click here: Whoops: Indiana’s Anti-Gay ‘Religious Freedom’ Act Opens the Door For the First Church of Cannabis | Alternet

And Levin had a personal comment for the governor who had made it all possible:

“Dear Mikey Pence…

“DUDE!.. keep crapping all over the state.. and I will plant a seed of LOVE, UNDERSTANDING and COMPASSION in each pile you leave.. and it will grow into a big skunky cannabis tree. Crap away Mikey.. Crap Away…”

No doubt many Indiana legislators are furious that their effort to attack gays may have brought legal marijuana to their highly conservative state.

But worse may be to come.

Since 9/11, Right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have warned that Muslims are trying to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on America.

And now Indiana’s legislators, in elevating religion above the law, may have pushed upon that door “into a dark, unseen room.”

Ironically, this may not be so far removed from the goals of the Republican party as many think. Both the party and adherents of Sharia agree:

  • Women should have fewer rights than men.
  • Abortion should be illegal.
  • There should be no separation between church and state.
  • Religion should be taught in school.
  • Religious doctrine trumps science.
  • Government should be based on religious doctrine.
  • Homosexuality should be outlawed.

What will happen when some Muslims in Indiana claim their right–guaranteed in Islamic religious law–to have as many as four wives?

And when they claim that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects that right?

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy nightmare.

YOU WILL LOVE IT–OR ELSE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on March 31, 2015 at 2:48 am

During the 12-year insanity of the Third Reich, Nazs labeled their acts of savagery as “self-defense.”

But any nation that dared to defend itself against Nazi assault was instantly charged with “naked aggression.”

This remains the mindset and practice of American Right-wingers.

The latest example: The enactment of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana.

Indiana Governor Mike Pence 

Officially, the Act allows any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

But its opponents argue that it will unleash widespread discrimination against gays and lesbians.  And they’re now threatening or organizing boycotts of Indiana.

Among those companies and organizations publicly opposing the law:

  • Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
  • Apple Inc.
  • Yelp!
  • The National Basketball Association
  • Twitter
  • Angie’s List
  • The Disciples of Christ
  • Eli Lilly and Co.

So, in the end, economic pressures may force the Right-wingers who seek to legalize discrimination to back off.

Exactly this happened in 2012.

Karen Handel, vice president of public affairs for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, fashioned what she believed was a politically viable plan for Komen to pull its grant monies from Planned Parenthood (PP).

A fanatical anti-abortionist, she didn’t care that this money went entirely for breast cancer screenings for poor women.  She careed only that about 3% of all PP revenues went toward providing abortion services.

The official version, as put out by Handel and the top brass of Komen, went: “We’ve halted grants to Planned Parenthood because it’s under investigation by Congress for misuse of funds.”

Unfortunately for Komen, the public instantly saw through the lie.

Any crank in Congress can start an “investigation” into anything.

And PP was “under investigation” by just such a crank: Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Stearns, a fanatical anti-abortionist, claimed he wanted to determine whether PP had spent public money on abortions over the last decade.

But Stearns didn’t hesitate to slander the patriotism of thousands of 9/11 “first responders”–the police, firefighters, construction workers and others who risked their lives to save their fellow Americans.

“First responders” at work at World Trade Center

He did so by demanding that they submit their names, birthplaces, addresses, government ID numbers and other personal data to the FBI to prove they were not terrorists. 

Only then could they receive federally-subsidized medical care for injuries caused by exposure to toxic dust and debris at the site.

Public outrage at Komen was immediate and overwhelming:

  •  More than 50 members of Congress signed letters asking Komen to reverse course.
  •  New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly rebuked Komen and pledged $250,000 to PP.
  • Approximately 37,000 people from all over the country signed a petition demanding Handel’s resignation.
  • PP raised nearly $3 million in contributions.

Reeling before this onslaught of criticism, Komen issued a statement: “We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants.”

Having failed in their latest assault on women’s rights, the Right’s would-be predators now portrayed themselves as victims:

  • “The last time I checked,” Handel told Right-wing Fox News, “private non-profit organizations have a right and a responsibility to be able to set the highest standards and criteria on their own without interference, let alone the level of vicious attacks and coercion that has occurred by Planned Parenthood.  It’s simply outrageous.”
  • “Planned Parenthood campaigns to destroy anyone who questions them,” charged Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List.
  • “Their attitude is that of an immature teenager with an enormous sense of entitlement.  This is just more proof that Planned Parenthood will pulverize anyone who dares to question them,” Dannenfelser said.
  • “What Planned Parenthood did to that venerable and honorable organization [Komen Foundation] is nothing less than a Mafia-style shakedown,” said Steven H. Aden, senior counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund.  The Fund bitterly opposes abortion, gay marriage, birth control and the separation of church and state.

Many conservatives correctly defended Komen’s right, as a private charitable organization, to give–or withhold–its money as it saw fit.

But these same conservatives refused to grant PP’s outraged supporters the same right:To withhold their own contributions from Komen. 

National Review’s Daniel Foster called the backlash to Komen “disgusting,” attacking PP and “the Left” for their “gangsterism.”

During the battle for Stalingrad, in 1942, a young German soldier named Wilhelm Hoffman was appalled that the Russians refused to surrender.  In his diary he wrote:

German soldiers at Stalingrad

“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 gangster methods. Stalingrad is hell . . .

What held true for German Fascists holds equally true for those in America: Oppose their efforts to enslave you–and you become a gangster.

IS THERE A HITLER IN YOUR CEO?

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on March 27, 2015 at 4:19 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the war turned increasingly against him, Hitler became ever more rigid in his thinking.

He demanded absolute control over the smallest details of his forces.  This, in turn, led to astounding and needless losses in German soldiers.

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

On June 6, 1944, Rommel ordered the panzer tanks to drive the Allies from the Normandy beaches.  But these could not be released except on direct order of theFuehrer.  As Hitler’s chief of staff, General Alfred Jodl, informed Rommel: The Fuehrer was asleep–and, no, he, Jodl, would not wake him. By the time Hitler awoke and issued the order, it was too late.

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

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

Heinz Guderian

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

Erich von Manstein

Finally, on April 29, 1945–with the Russians only blocks from his underground bunker in Berlin–Hitler dictated his “Last Political Testament.”

Once again, he refused to accept responsibility for unleashing a war that would ultimately consume 50 million lives:

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

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

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

In his classic book, The Discourses, he wrote at length on the best ways to maintain liberty within a republic.

In Book Three, Chapter 31, Machiavelli declares: “Great Men and Powerful Republics Preserve an Equal Dignity and Courage in Prosperity and Adversity.”

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

“…A truly great man is ever the same under all circumstances.  And if his fortune varies, exalting him at one moment and oppressing him at another, he himself never varies, but always preserves a firm courage, which is so closely interwoven with his character that everyone can readily see that the fickleness of fortune has no power over him.

“The conduct of weak men is very different.  Made vain and intoxicated by good fortune, they attribute their success to merits which they do not possess, and this makes them odious and insupportable to all around them. 

And when they have afterwards to meet a reverse of fortune, they quickly fall into the other extreme, and become abject and vile.  

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

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

HOW TO BE A SMARTER EXECUTIVE

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Self-Help on March 13, 2015 at 12:08 am

“The man who builds a factory,” said President Calvin Coolidge, “builds a temple.  And the man who works there worships there.”

Many American corporate executives still feel about themselves–nd their employees.  But those heady days of knee-jerk worship of CEOs and their oversize salaries and egos are over–at least, temporarily.

Americans have reluctantly learned that the robber barons who rule Wall Street arenot God’s own elect.

Even Ayn Rand disciple Allen Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman and a longtime champion of de-regulation, has admitted he totally underestimated the role greed plays in the making of financial decisions.

It’s thus time for Americans to demand wholesale reforms in the ways corporate executives are allowed to operate. And a good place to start is with the advice of Niccolo Machiavelli.

The Florentine statesman (1469-1527) wrote extensively about how bureaucracies truly work–as opposed to how people believe they do.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Consider the following from his book, The Prince, which offers instruction on how to attain and retain power:

  • IMITATE THOSE WHO HAVE ATTAINED GREATNESS: Not always being able to follow others exactly, nor attain to the excellence of those he imitates, a prudent man should always follow in the paths trodden by great men and imitate those who are most excellent….  If he does not attain to their greatness, at any rate he will get some tinge of it.
  • DON’T RELY ON LOVE:  …I conclude, therefore, with regard to being loved and feared, that men love at their own free will, but fear at the will of the prince, and that a wise prince must rely on what is in his power and not on what is in the power of others, and he must only contrive to avoid incurring hatred….
  • NEED TO BE PRACTICAL:  A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good.  And therefore it is necessary for a prince, who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.
  • CAUTION AND BOLDNESS: A [leader]…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves.  One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.  Those who wish to be only lions do not realize this.
  • SANCTIONS VS. FAVORS:  [Leaders] should let the carrying out of unfavorable duties devolve to others, and bestow favors themselves.
  • RISK AS A GIVEN: Let no [leader] believe that [he] can always follow a safe policy, rather let [he] think that all are doubtful.  This is found in the nature of things, that one never tries to avoid one difficulty without running into another, but prudence consists in being able to know the nature of the difficulties, and taking the least harmful as good.
  • A RULER’S SUBORDINATES: The first impression that one gets of a ruler and his brains is from seeing the men that he has about him.  When they are competent and loyal one can always consider him wise, as he has been able to recognize their ability and keep them faithful.
  • But when they are the reverse, one can always form an unfavorable opinion of him, because the first mistake that he makes is in making this choice.
  • EVALUATING COMPETENCE:  There are three different kinds of brains: the one understands things unassisted, the other understands things when shown by others, the third understands neither alone nor with the explanations of others.  The first kind is most excellent; the second is also excellent; but the third is useless.
  • OVERCOMING ONE’S OWN NATURE:  No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to [time and circumstances], either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him.
  • Or else because having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it; and therefore the cautious man, when it is time to act suddenly, does not know how to do so and is consequently ruined.  For if one could change one’s nature with time and circumstances, fortune would never change.
  • ENSURING LOYALTY:  A wise prince will seek means by which his subjects will always have need of his government, and then they will always be faithful to him.
  • CRUELTIES:  Well-committed may be called those…cruelties which are perpetrated once for the need of securing one’s self, and which afterward are not persisted in, but are exchanged for measures as useful to the subjects as possible.  Cruelties ill committed are those which, although at first few, increase rather than diminish with time.
  • FORTUNE: I think it may be true that fortune is the ruler of half our actions, but that she allows the other half or thereabouts to be governed by us.
  • I would compare her to an impetuous river that, when turbulent, inundates the plains, casts down trees and buildings, removes earth from this side and places it on the other; every one flees before it, and everything yields to its fury without being able to oppose it.  Still, when it is quiet, men can make provisions against it by dykes and banks, so that when it follows it will either go into a canal or its rush will not be so wild and dangerous.

LANDLORDS: AMERICA’S AYATOLLAHS: PART TWO (END)

In Business, History, Politics, Social commentary on March 12, 2015 at 1:11 am

Become a tenant at the Windermere Cay complex in Winter Garden, Florida, and you can check your First Amendment rights at the door.

Its management wants to force new tenants to sign a “social media addendum” as part of their lease.  And if they dare to post a negative online review of the building, they’ll face a fine of $10,000.

But reaction to this attempted muzzling of freedom of speech has been one the landlord probably didn’t expect.

Yelp! has been flooded with negative reviews of the complex.

Among these:

If you are that worried about negative reviews, that just makes me ask one question: What are you hiding?

* * * * *

This complex made national news by threatening a $10k fine to residents if they share a bad review or photo. This legal bullying demonstrates either an oppressive management or a complete ignorance of social media or personal freedom.

In both cases you should exercise caution if considering them and read your contracts carefully.

* * * * *

I’ve got a great business idea. When our customers complain, instead of us fixing the problem we will threaten them with blackmail by asking them for ten grand.

* * * * *

Sieg Heil Windermere!! Gestapo much???

What century do you people exist in?? I wouldn’t live here if you paid me to. You couldn’t give these units away considering your BS threats to FINE RESIDENTS TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!

WTF is wrong with you people!! Anyone who gets a paycheck from this corporate monstrosity should be fired (or quit if they have half a brain…). Whoever came up with this super clever idea of A 10K FINE should be kneecapped.

* * * * *

Well apparently anyone who lives here will get fined $10,000 for any bad reviews, and any photos posted on reviews are copyrighted to the company by terms of the lease???

This complex is about as dishonest as it gets guys. If an apartment needs a policy like this then what else do you need to know about the quality of the management here.

* * * * *

The owners of the Apartment Complex are literally anti-free speech Nazis.  Don’t move here unless you have $10k in your bank account and don’t believe in the First Amendment.

* * * * *

This apartment complex deserves 0 stars, shame on the management company for deceiving people into signing their addendum.

* * * * *

Be cautious of anywhere that fears the residents’ honest feedback so much that they forbid them from speaking out on social media.  The energy spent on creating this stupid 10K clause could have been spent on actually creating an enjoyable living experience.

Click here: Windermere Cay – Apartments – Yelp

The sudden onslaught of bad publicity obviously caught the complex by surprise.

When contacted by Ars Technica, the online magazine that had exposed this outrage, a manager disclaimed the contract:

“This addendum was put in place by a previous general partner for the community following a series of false reviews. The current general partner and property management do not support the continued use of this addendum and have voided it for all residents.”

This despite the fact that the addendum had been given to a tenant to sign just a few days before.

Not only have these strong-arm tactics yielded a tidal wave of bad publicity, such an addendum would be legally unenforceable.

For starters, it’s a blatant violation of the First Amendment, guaranteeing freedom of speech and the press.

States have taken struck down efforts by businesses to censor the written opinions of their customers.

In his 2003 decision in New York vs. Network Associates, a judge ruled that telling customers they couldn’t publish reviews of software “without prior consent” violated New York’s unfair competition law.

Americans all-too-often take their Constitutionally-protected freedoms for granted–until they travel abroad to nations ruled by dictators.  Or until they encounter would-be dictators at home.

Harrison E. Salisbury, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, faced the difficulties of censorship during his years as Moscow bureau chief for The New York Times (1949-1954).

Harrison E. Salisbury, with the Kremlin in back

Salisbury found he couldn’t rely on the Soviet government for reliable information on almost everything.  Crime statistics weren’t published–because, officially, there was no crime in the “Workers’ Paradise.”

Unable to obtain reliable economic statistics, he plotted the rise and fall of the economy by shortages and surpluses in local stores.

Above all, Salisbury faced the danger of reporting accurately on the increasing paranoia and purges of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

“The truth, I was ultimately to learn,” wrote Salisbury in his bestselling 1983 memoir, A Journey for Our Times, “is the most dangerous thing.  There are no ends to which men of power will not go to put out its eyes.”

Censorship victimizes both those who are censored and those who could profit from the truths they have to share.

Americans may be unable to bring freedom of expression to nations ruled by dictators. But they can–and should–fight to ensure that freedom of expression remains a hallmark of their own society.

LANDLORDS: AMERICA’S AYATOLLAHS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Self-Help, Social commentary on March 11, 2015 at 11:40 am

Americans have a history of fearing what foreign dictators might do to them.

During World War II they feared that the Japanese Empire might turn them into a nation of Japanese-speaking slaves.

During the Cold War, TV ads often reminded Americans that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev once said: “We will bury you.”

Today, Americans–especially those on the Right–fear Iranian Ayatollahs will force them to wear turbans and quote the Koran.

Strangely, few Americans seem to fear the ayatollahs much closer to home: Landlords.

The power of landlords 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.

Even in San Francisco–the city misnamed as a “renter’s paradise”–landlords 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 landlords.

In July, 2014, a 98-year-old San Francisco woman faced eviction from her apartment of 50 years, because the building’s owners wanted 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, sought to evict 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 resold the buildings for profit.  Many of those being evicted are low income families and seniors.

Phillips 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 said she has nowhere else to live, and she and her attorneys fought the eviction.  They did so not only through the courts but ongoing street protests.

Those efforts paid off in November, 2014. As part of the resolution of her case, Phillips released the following public statement:

Mary Elizabeth Phillips has reached an agreement with Urban Green Investments that will allow her to live in her apartment for as long as she likes, through the end of her life.

“Mrs. Phillips appreciates the support she has received from the community over the past year, and she requests that interested people please respect her privacy so that she may peacefully enjoy her home. Thank you.”

That case, at least, had a happy ending.  But tenants at an apartment complex in Winter Garden, Florida, may not prove so fortunate.

The Windermere Cay has forced new tenants to sign a “social media addendum” that threatens a fine of $10,000 if they give the complex a bad online review.  It also forces tenants to sign away their rights to any photos, reviews or other material about the apartments that are posted online.

The Windermere Cay

The addendum went viral on March 10 after at least one tenant shared it with the online magazine, Ars Technica.  It reads in part:

“In the event that this Social Media Addendum is breached by any or all of the Applicants for any reason, the Applicants shall be jointly and severally liable to pay Owner liquidated damges representing a reasonable and good faith estimate of the actual damages for such breach.

“Owner and Applicants agree that, in the event of a breach, Owner’s damages would be difficult to ascertain.

“Accordingly, Owner and each Applicant agrees that the amount of compensation due to Owner for any breach of this Social Media Addendum will be $10,000 for the first such breach, and an additional $5,000 for each subsequent breach….

“In the event of breach, the Applicants will pay the liquidated damages owed to Owner within ten (10) business days of the breach.”

In addition, there is this: “Applicant will refrain from directly or indirectly publishing or airing negative commentary regarding the Unit, Owner, property or the apartments.

“This means that Applicant shall not post negative commentary or reviews on Yelp!, Apartment Ratings, Facebook, or any other website or Internet-based publication or blog.”

The reaction to this attempted muzzling of freedom of speech has been one the landlord probably didn’t expect. Yelp! has been flooded with negative reviews of the complex.

One five-star review–obviously written tongue-in-cheek–was signed “Adolf H[itler]” and praised the complex for having “my kind of management.”

There will be more about online reaction to thie latest attempt at landlord censorship in Part Two of this series.

MACHIAVELLI WAS RIGHT: DISTRUST THE RICH

In Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on February 16, 2015 at 2:04 am

As Americans vacation their way through yet another observance of Presidents’ Day, it’s well to remember the man whose name defines modern politics.

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine statesman who has been called the father of modern political science, published his best-known work: The Prince.

Niccolo Machiavelli

Among the issues he confronted was how to preserve liberty within a republic.  And key to this was mediating the eternal struggle between the wealthy and the poor and middle class.

Machiavelli deeply distrusted the nobility because they stood above the law.  He saw them as a major source of corruption because they could buy influence through patronage, favors or nepotism.

Successful political leaders must attain the support of the nobility or general populace.  But since these groups have conflicting interests, the safest course is to choose the latter.

….He who becomes prince by help of the [wealthy] has greater difficulty in maintaining his power than he who is raised by the populace.  He is surrounded by those who think themselves his equals, and is thus unable to direct or command as he pleases. 

But one who is raised to leadership by popular favor finds himself alone, and has no one, or very few, who are not ready to obey him.   [And] it is impossible to satisfy the [wealthy] by fair dealing and without inflicting injury upon others, whereas it is very easy to satisfy the mass of the people in this way. 

For the aim of the people is more honest than that of the [wealthy], the latter desiring to oppress, and the former merely to avoid oppression.  [And] the prince can never insure himself against a hostile population on account of their numbers, but he can against the hostility of the great, as they are but few.

The worst that a prince has to expect from a hostile people is to be abandoned, but from hostile nobles he has to fear not only desertion but their active opposition.  And as they are more far seeing and more cunning, they are always in time to save themselves and take sides with the one who they expect will conquer. 

The prince is, moreover, obliged to live always with the same people, but he can easily do without the same nobility, being able to make and unmake them at any time, and improve their position or deprive them of it as he pleases.

Unfortunately, political leaders throughout the world–including the United States–have ignored this sage advice.

The results of this wholesale favoring of the wealth and powerful have been brilliantly documented in a recent investigation of tax evasion by the world’s rich.

In 2012, Tax Justice Network, which campaigns to abolish tax havens, commissioned a study of their effect on the world’s economy.

The study was entitled, “The Price of Offshore Revisited: New Estimates for ‘Missing’ Global Private Wealth, Income, Inequality and Lost Taxes.”

http://www.taxjustice.net/cms/upload/pdf/Price_of_Offshore_Revisited_120722.pdf

The research was carried out by James Henry, former chief economist at consultants McKinsey & Co.  Among its findings:

  • By 2010, at least $21 to $32 trillion of the world’s private financial wealth had been invested virtually tax-­free through more than 80 offshore secrecy jurisdictions.
  • Since the 1970s, with eager (and often aggressive and illegal) assistance from the international private banking industry, private elites in 139 countries had accumulated $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of unrecorded offshore wealth by 2010.
  • This happened while many of those countries’ public sectors were borrowing themselves into bankruptcy, suffering painful adjustment and low growth, and holding fire sales of public assets.
  • The assets of these countries are held by a small number of wealthy individuals while the debts are shouldered by the ordinary people of these countries through their governments.
  • The offshore industry is protected by pivate bankers, lawyers and accountants, who get paid handsomely to hide their clients’ assets and identities.
  • Bank regulators and central banks of most countries allow the world’s top tax havens and banks to hide the origins and ownership of assets under their supervision.
  • Although multilateral institutions like the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the IMF and the World Bank are supposedly insulated from politics, they have been highly compromised by the collective interests of Wall Street.
  • These regulatory bodies have never required financial institutions to fully report their cross-­border customer liabilities, deposits, customer assets under management or under custody.
  • Less than 100,000 people, .001% of the world’s population, now control over 30% of the world’s financial wealth.
  • Assuming that global offshore financial wealth of $21 trillion earns a total return of just 3% a year, and would have been taxed an average of 30% in the home country, this unrecorded wealth might have generated tax revenues of $189 billion per year.

Summing up this situation, the report notes: “We are up against one of society’s most well-­entrenched interest groups. After all, there’s no interest group more rich and powerful than the rich and powerful.”

Fortunately, Machiavelli has supplied a timeless remedy to this increasingly dangerous situation:

  • Assume evil among men–and most especially among those who possess the greatest concentration of wealth and power.
  • Carefully monitor their activities–the way the FBI now regularly monitors those of the Mafia and major terrorist groups.
  • Ruthlessly prosecute the treasonous crimes of the rich and powerful–and, upon their conviction, impose severe punishment.

DATA SECURITY BREACHES: “WE DON’T CARE, WE DON’T HAVE TO”

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 9, 2015 at 2:06 am

Comedian Lily Tomlin rose to fame on the 1960s comedy hit, Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, as Ernestine, the rude, sarcastic switchboard operator for Ma Bell.

She would tap into customers’ calls, interrupt them, make snide remarks about their personal lives.  And her victims included celebrities as much as run-of-the-mill customers.

Lily Tomlin as Ernestine

She introduced herself as working for “the phone company, serving everyone from presidents and kings to the scum of the earth.”

But perhaps the line for which her character is best remembered was: “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company.”

Watching Ernestine on Laugh-In was a blast for millions of TV viewers.  But facing such corporate arrogance in real-life is no laughing matter.

Clearly, too many companies take the same attitude as Ernestine: “We don’t care.  We don’t have to.”

This is especially true for companies that are supposed to safeguard their customers’ most sensitive information–such as their credit card numbers, addresses, emails and phone numbers.

An October 22, 2014 “commentary” published in Forbes magazine raised the highly disturbing question: “Cybersecurity: Does Corporate America Really Care?”

And the answer is clearly: No.

Its author is John Hering, co-founder and executive director of Lookout, which bills itself as “the world leader in mobile security for consumers and enterprises alike.”

Click here: Cybersecurity: Does corporate America really care?

October, 2014 proved a bad month for credit card-using customers of Kmart, Staples and Dairy Queen.

All these companies reported data breaches involving the theft of credit card numbers of countless numbers of customers.

All these corporations reported data breeches involving the theft of credit card numbers of countless numbers of customers.

Earlier breaches had hit Target, Home Depot and JPMorgan/Chase.

And on February 5, 2015, health insurance giant Anthem Inc. announced that hackers had breached its computer system and accessed the medical records of tens of millions of its customers and employees.

Anthem, the nation’s second-largest health insurer, said the infiltrated database held records on up to 80 million people.

Among the customers’ information accessed:

  • Names
  • Birthdates
  • Social Security numbers
  • Member ID numbers
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Email addresses and
  • Employment information.

Some of the customer data may also include details on their income.

Click here: Anthem hack exposes data on 80 million; experts warn of identity theft – LA Times

Bad as that news was, worse was to come.

A February 5 story by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Anthem stored the Social Security numbers of 80 million customers without encrypting them.

The company believes that hackers used a stolen employee password to access the database

Anthem’s alleged reason for refusing to encrypt such sensitive data: Doing so would have made it harder for the company’s employees to track health care trends or share data with state and health providers.

Anthem spokeswoman Kristin Binns blamed the data breach on employers and government agencies who “require us to maintain a member’s Social Security number in our systems so that their systems can uniquely identify their members.”

She said that Anthem encrypts personal data when it moves in or out of its database–but not where it  is stored.

This is a commonplace practice in the healthcare industry.

The FBI is now investigating the hack.

According to an anonymous source, the hackers used malware that has been used almost exclusively by Chinese cyberspies.

Naturally, China has denied any wrongdoing.  With a completely straight face, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said:

“We maintain a cooperative, open and secure cyberspace, and we hope that countries around the world will make concerted efforts to that end.”

He also said that the charge that the hackers were Chinese was “groundless.”

Click here: Health Insurer Anthem Didn’t Encrypt Stolen Data – WSJ

Meanwhile, John Herring’s complaints remain as valid today as they did last October.

“One thing is clear,” writes Hering. “CEOs need to put security on their strategic agendas alongside revenue growth and other issues given priority in boardrooms.”

Hering warns that “CEOs don’t seem to be making security a priority.”  And he offers several reasons for this:

  • The sheer number of data compromises;
  • Relatively little consumer outcry;
  • Almost no impact on the companies’ standing on Wall Street;
  • Executives may consider such breaches part of the cost of doing business.

“There’s a short-term mindset and denial of convenience in board rooms,” writes Hering.

“Top executives don’t realize their systems are vulnerable and don’t understand the risks. Sales figures and new products are top of mind; shoring up IT systems aren’t.”

There are three ways corporations can be forced to start behaving responsibly on this issue.

  1. Smart attorneys need to start filing class-action lawsuits against companies that refuse to take steps to protect their customers’ private information.  There is a name for such behavior: Criminal negligence.  And there are laws carrying serious penalties for it.
  2. There must be Federal legislation to ensure that multi-million-dollar fines are levied against such companies–and especially their CEOs–when such data breaches occur.
  3. Congress should enact legislation allowing for the prosecution of CEOs whose companies’ negligence leads to such massive data breaches.  They should be considered as accessories to crime, and, if convicted, sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

Only then will the CEO mindset of “We don’t care, we don’t have to” be replaced with: “We care, because our heads will roll if we don’t.”

THE POLITICS OF DISCRIMINATION

In Business, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 3, 2015 at 12:05 am

Christmas was fast approaching in 2014.  So Republicans in the Michgan House of Representatives decided to honor the spirit of “peace on earth, good will toward men” in their own special way.

They passed a bill legalizing religious discrimination.

“The Religious Freedom Restoration Act” passed on partisan lines–59 Republicans to 50 Democrats–on December 4, 2014.

It next goes to the Senate, and, if passed there, to Republican Governor Rick Snyder. It isn’t known if he would sign it.

The bill would allow anyone to refuse service to anyone under the claim that their “religious beliefs” had been affronted.

And the State government would be legally prevented from intervening if a person claimed that his/her “deeply-held religious beliefs” was the reason for acting–or not acting–in a certain way.

Thus:

  • An emergency room doctor could refuse service to a gay or lesbian needing medical care.
  • A pharmacist could refuse to fill a doctor’s prescription for birth control, or HIV medication.
  • A DMV clerk could refuse to give a driver’s license to someone who’s divorced.
  • A school teacher could refuse to mentor the children of a same-sex couple.
  • An employer could deny equal pay to women.

The bill seems modeled on a proposed law that the Republican House and Senate in Arizona sent to Governor Jan Brewer in 2014.

Under threat of a nationwide boycott of Arizona if the bill became law, Brewer vetoed it.

Supporters of the bill claim they aren’t seeking a license to discriminate, only to live by the tenets of their religious beliefs withouot government interference.

But opponents see it differently.  Among these is Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan.

“The idea that we need to ‘restore’ religious freedom–rights that are already enshrined in the U.S. Constitution–is a farce created by conservative lawmakers for the sole purpose of appeasing their far-right donors and the religious-right.

“This extreme bill attempts to solve a problem that does not exist, promotes discrimination and does nothing to make Michigan a better place to live,” Scott said in a statement.

This is certainly not the first time Right-wing zealots have sought to enshrine religious discrimination in law.

On September 15, 1935, the Nazis–who had taken power in Germany in 1933–introduced a series of anti-Semetic laws at their annual Nuremberg rally.

Adolf Hitler addressing a Nuremberg Rally of the Nazi Party

Under the Nuremberg laws:

  • Marriages between Jews and German citizens were forbidden.
  • Extramarital relations between Jews and German citizens were forbidden.
  • Jews were forbidden to employ female German citizens under the age of 45 as domestic workers.
  • Jews were banned from employment as attorneys, doctors or journalists.
  • Jews were forbidden to use state hospitals.
  • Jews could not be educated by the state past the age of 14.
  • Jews were forbidden to enter public libraries, parks and beaches.
  • The names of Jewish soldiers were to be expunged from war memorials.

With anti-Semitism now codified in German law, the foundations for the coming Holocaust were firmly laid. The “Religious Freedom Act” introduced in 2014 to Arizona would have:

  • Expanded the state’s definition of the exercise of religion to include both the practice and observance of religion.
  • Allowed someone to assert a legal claim of free exercise of religion regardless of whether the government is a party to the proceedings.
  • Expanded those protected under the state’s free-exercise-of-religion law to “any individual, association, partnership, corporation, church, religious assembly or institution or other business organization.”
  • Allowed any business, church or person to cite the law as a defense in any action brought by the government or individual claiming discrimination.
  • Allowed the business or person to seek an injunction once they show their actions are based on a sincere religious belief and the claim places a burden on the exercise of religion.

Advocates often cited the case of a New Mexico wedding photographer who was sued after refusing to take photos of a same-sex couople’s commitment ceremony due to the photographer’s religious beliefs.

“We are trying to protect people’s religious liberties,” said Representative Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park.

“We don’t want the government coming in and forcing someone to act against their religious sacred faith beliefs or having to sell out if you are a small-business owner.”

Arizona Representative Steve Montenegro

Republicans have introduced similar “right-to-discriminate” legislation in other states as well:

  • In Kansas, lawmakers voted to exempt individuals from providing any service that was “contrary to their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
  • That bill passed the state’s House chamber on February 11, 2014, triggering national backlash.  It stalled in the Senate didn’t advance beyond that body.
  • In January, 2014, South Dakota Republicans introduced a bill to allow businesses refuse to serve same-sex couples on the grounds that “businesses are private and that their views on sexual orientation are protected to the same extent as the views of private citizens.”
  • The bill–which was killed in February, 2014–would have made it illegal for a gay person to file a lawsuit charging discrimination.

Ironically, many Right-wingers who support the right of Christians to discriminate fear that they will become victims of religious persecution if Islamic Sharia law comes to the United States.

HOLLYWOOD: ITS OWN WORST ENEMY

In Business, History, Social commentary on January 13, 2015 at 12:55 am

The cyberhacking of Sony Pictures last December led many Americans to wonder: “Is this the end of the movie industry as we know it?”

Yet Hollywood doesn’t need cyberattackers–whether from North Korea, as the FBI alleges, or fired ex-employees of Sony, as others believe–to seek its destruction.

It has long been its own worst enemy.

On July 22, 2014, a headline in the Hollywood Reporter offered this insight into moviedom’s current woes: “Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter.”

Click here: Average Movie Ticket Price Hits $8.33 in Second Quarter

Movie Theater

It’s hard to think of an industry that’s created a better recipe for self-destruction than the movie business.

Consider the following:

According to Rentrak, a company that keeps tabs on box office profits:

  • Ticket sales to movie theaters in the U.S. and Canada are expected to sink to $3.9 billion.
  • In July, movie ticket sales were down 30%.
  • That’s a 15% decline in movie revenues when compared to those racked up during the summer of 2013.
  • For the first time in 13 years, no summer film netted $300 million in domestic ticket sales.

Among this summer’s films that disappointed movie studios:

  • “The Expendables 3″
  • “Planes:  Fire and Rescue”
  • “Amazing Spider Man 2″
  • “Sex Tape”
  • “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”
  • “Edge of Tomorrow”
  • “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
  • “How to Train Your Dragon 2″

Click here: Film Industry Has Worst Summer Since 1997

Analysts had predicted a drop-off in movie attendance owing to increased use of online streaming.  They also expected major television events like the World’s Cup to keep moviegoers indoors.

But they didn’t expect the summer of 2014 to prove the worst in ticket sales since 1997.

Actually, the wonder is that the movie business hasn’t collapsed already.

It’s hard to think of an industry more geared toward its own destruction than the movie business.

First, there’s the before-mentioned average ticket price of $8.33.  You don’t have to be an Einstein at math to multiply $8.33 by, say, a husband, wife, and two to four children.

So a couple with two children can expect to spend at least $33.32 just to get into the theater.  A couple with four children will be gouged $49.98 for a single movie’s entertainment.

And that’s not including the marked-up prices charged for candy, soda and popcorn at the concession stand.

Second, it’s almost guaranteed that even the biggest potential movie “draw” will be released on DVD or streaming within three to six months after it hits theaters.

Putting out a film on DVD so soon after its theater-release only cheapens the thrill of seeing it in a movie theater.

So if you need to save enough money each month to meet the rent and other basic needs, you’re likely to wait it out for the DVD to  hit stores.  Wait even longer than six months, and you can probably buy a cheaper used DVD.

With that, you can watch your new favorite movie as many times as you want–-without being charged bigtime every time you do so.

This is especially tempting to those with big-screen TVs, whose prices have steadily fallen and are now affordable by almost everyone.

Third, there are the TV-like commercials that overwhelm audiences waiting for the movie to start.

There used to be an unspoken agreement between theaters and moviegoers: We’ll pay a fair price to see one movie.  In return, we don’t expect to see commercials.

Naturally, that didn’t include previews of coming attractions.  These have been a widely enjoyed part of the movie experience since the 1930s.

But starting in 2003, theaters began aiming commercials at their customers before even the previews came on.  Some industry sources believe cinema advertising generates over $200 million a year in sales.

Even so, it turns movie-theaters into expensive TVs, and thus cheapens the special experience of seeing a movie in a theater.

Click here: Now showing at a theatre near you – Louisville – Business First

But for those who feel they’ve already suffered enough at the ticket booth, being forced to watch TV-style ads is simply too much.

Fourth, while some theaters provide lush seating and special help for their customers (such as closed-captioning for the deaf) many others do not.

At AMC theaters, an onscreen advisory tells you to seek help if you need it.   But your chances of finding an available usher range from slim to none at most theaters.

To sum it up: What was once thought a special experience has become a jarring assault on the pocketbook and senses.

Just as airlines are now widely considered to be “flying buses,” so, too are movie theaters fast becoming expensive TV sets for moviegoers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, theaters lured customers from small-screen TVs with film spectacles like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus.”  Or with new “you-are-there” film experiments like Cinnemascope.

“Family-friendly” movies like “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music” proved box-office champs with millions.

But now theaters have allowed their greed–for high ticket prices, quick-release DVDs and/or streaming and TV-style ads–to drive much of their audiences away.

Unless the owners of movie studios–-and movie theaters–quickly smarten up, the motion picture business may ultimately became a pale shadow of its former Technicolor self.

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