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Archive for the ‘Social commentary’ Category

AGGRESSORS AS VICTIMS: PART TWO (END)

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

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

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

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

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

A Hamas funeral

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

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

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

German soldiers besieging Stalingrad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German prisoners taken at Stalingrad

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

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

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

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

AGGRESSORS AS VICTIMS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

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

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

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

That expectation proved to be false.

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

Adolf Hitler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israeli planes retaliated by attacking 50 targets in Gaza.

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

A Hamas rocket streaks toward Israel

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

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

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

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

Only then would Hamas be open to a ceasefire agreement.

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

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

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

German soldiers at Stalingrad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLUMLORDS–THE REAL UNTOUCHABLES: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, Social commentary, Law Enforcement, Law 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.

GREED? THY NAME IS AYN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Congress figured: What could possibly go wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

His supervisor just shrugged.

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

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

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

Among the themes explored in Weiss’ book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GO TO COLLEGE, BECOME A BABYSITTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From that report:

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

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

Click here: Underemployment of College Graduates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here: Growing Nanny Industry Is Enticing More College Graduates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO’S THE VICTIM?

In Law, Law Enforcement, Social commentary on June 30, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Joy Stewart, 22, was nearly eight months pregnant when she encountered Dennis McGuire in Preble County, Ohio, while visiting a friend.

McGuire wanted to have sex with her but Stewart refused.

Dennis McGuire

So he raped her.

No, not vaginally.  She was so pregnant he couldn’t have sex with her.

So he anally sodamized her.  With a knife.

Not surprisingly, Stewart became hysterical.  And this made him fear that he would go to jail for raping a pregnant woman.

So he choked her.  Then he stabbed her with the same knife he had used to anally rape her.

Finally, he severed her carotid artery and jugular vein. He wiped blood off his hands on her right arm and dumped her in a wooded area where she was found the next day by hikers.

Joy Stewart

The date was February 11, 1989.

When questioned by police, McGuire blamed Stewart’s kidnapping and murder on his brother-in-law.  But the accusation didn’t hold up–and DNA evidence clearly implicated McGuire.

McGuire was convicted of kidnapping, anal rape and aggravated murder on December 8, 1994.  But even while facing a grim future, McGuire managed to postpone his fate as his victim could not.

First, his attorneys appealed his conviction to the Ohio Supreme Court on June 10, 1997.  To the dismay of him and his mouthpieces, the court upheld the verdict on December 10, 1997.

By this time, McGuire had already outlived his ravished victim by eight years.

Second, his attorneys appealed to the United States Court of Appeals, for the Sixth Circuit.  During this appeal, as in the first, McGuire’s attorneys didn’t argue their client was innocent.

They simply claimed that a jury never got to hear the full details of his chaotic and abusive childhood.

As if that had been so much more horrific than the details of Joy Stewart’s rape and murder.

The case was argued on December 16, 2013, and decided on December 30.  The court upheld the death penalty verdict.

By that time, McGuire had outlived Joy Stewart by 24 years.

But McGuire’s lawyers weren’t through.

Third, they asked Ohio Governor John Kasich to spare McGuire, again citing his chaotic and abusive childhood.

Kasich rejected that request without comment.

Fourth, on January 6-7, 2014, McGuire’s lawyers argued in Federal appeals court that Ohio’s untried two-drug execution method would cause their client “agony and terror” as he struggled to breathe.

You know, like the “agony and terror” he had deliberately inflicted on Joy Stewart.

Supplies of Ohio’s former execution drug, pentobarbital, had dried up as its manufacturer put it off limits for executions.

Ohio’s Department of Rehabilitation and Correction planned to use a dose of midazolam, a sedative, combined with hydromorphone, a painkiller, to put McGuire to death.

That appeal proved unsuccessful.

Finally, on January 16, 2014, McGuire kept his long-delayed date with the executioner in a small, windowless room at the Lucasville Correctional facility.

Strapped to a gurney, McGuire gasped, snorted and snored as it took him 26 minutes to die.

“I’m going to heaven,” were his last words.

His surviving family members, of course, feel that a travesty of justice has occurred.

On January 25, they filed a lawsuit in Federal court, claiming that McGuire’s execution was “unconstitutional.”

According to the lawsuit, McGuire suffered  “repeated cycles of snorting, gurgling and arching his back, appearing to writhe in pain.  It looked and sounded as though he was suffocating.”

The McGuire family wants to ensure that such an execution never happens again.

During the execution, his adult children sobbed in dismay.  For him.  Not his ravaged and innocent victim.

The truth is that there is no execution method that would have satisfied the McGuire family.  If they had had their way, Dennis McGuire would have been released altogether.

The old saying, “Justice delayed is justice denied” remains as true–and relevant–as ever.

In order to be effective, punishment must be certain and swift.  To repeatedly postpone it–literally for decades after the perpetrator has been convicted–is to inflict further agony on the victim.

Or, in this case, the surviving family and friends of the murdered victim.

And it sends an unmistakable message to those thinking of victimizing others: “Hey, he got to live another 25 years.  Maybe I can beat the rap.”

Opponents of capital punishment have long argued that the death penalty is not a deterrant to crime.

In fact, it is.

Having finally had sentence carried out on him, Dennis McGuire will never again threaten the life of anyone.

Prisons scheduled for executions are now facing a chronic shortage of the drugs used to carry out such sentence.  The reason: Many drug-makers refuse to make them available for executions.

This has caused some states to reconsider using execution methods that were scrapped in favor of lethal injection.

Methods like

  • hanging
  • the gas chamber
  • the electric chair
  • even the firing squad.

In line with this debate should be another: Whether the lives of cold-blooded murderers are truly worth more than those of their innocent victims.

And whether those victims–and those who loved them–deserve a better break than they now receive under our legal system.

IN SAN FRANCISCO: FEED THE BUMS, NOT THE BIRDS

In Bureaucracy, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 27, 2014 at 12:20 pm

If you visit San Francisco, forget what Julie Andrews told you in Mary Poppins: Don’t “Feed the Birds.”

Getting caught doing so can net you a fine from $45 to $300.

City officials launched the campaign in 2004, fining people who fed pigeons in the Tenderloin area. Within a month, they extended the crackdown to Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown and the cable car turnaround in downtown.

Feeding birds “damages property, and it’s not good for the bird population,” said Christine Falvey, a spokeswoman for the Public Works Department at the time of the ban.

“We have a whole education campaign letting people know it’s against the law,” said Falvey.

This includes posters erected by the Department of Public Works, which read:

PigeonPlease do not feed the pigeons. There are dozens of reasons why, but mainly: feeding pigeons harms our neighborhoods and also harms the birds.

Large population of pigeons is a health hazard.
Our huge feral pigeon population is a health hazard and creates many problems in the city. Pigeon droppings dirty public spaces, do costly damage to buildings, and can spread life-threatening diseases, especially to the elderly and immune-deficient. Their nesting materials block drains and harbor parasites like bird mites. Pigeon food makes a mess and attracts rats.

Feeding pigeons promotes overbreeding.
Pigeon feeding produces overbreeding. Pigeons normally breed two or three times a year, producing two eggs per brood. Overfed city pigeons can breed up to eight times a year.

Pigeons are harmed when fed.
When you feed pigeons, you are not doing them a favor. They lose their natural ability to scavenge and survive on their own. Pigeon over population leads to overcrowded, unsanitary conditions and produces sick and injured birds. A smaller flock is healthier and does less damage.

It is illegal.
It’s against the law to feed pigeons on the streets or sidewalks of San Francisco (Sec. 486. M.P.C). Violators may be cited and fined.

You can help keep your neighborhood safe and clean and the pigeon population under control by not feeding pigeons. Keep edible garbage away from pigeons by discarding it in a securely covered garbage can. And don’t feed pets outside.

You may report pigeon feeders to the San Francisco Police Department at 415-553-0123, or by calling 3-1-1.

Please join in on the efforts to keep San Francisco clean and beautiful by NOT feeding the pigeons.

 

* * * * *

At the same time that city officials are telling residents, “Please don’t feed the pigeons,” they aren’t telling them, “Please don’t feed the bums.”

Because of its mild climate and social programs that give cash payments to just-arrived vagrants, San Francisco is often considered the homelessness capital of the United States.

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (1996–2004) actually proposed that the city create electronic cards for transients that residents could swipe with their credit cards, thus transferring money from their accounts to that of the recipient.

Brown dropped the idea when faced with the brutal truth that not many citizens–especially women–would be willing to whip out their credit card when confronted by a smelly, unshaved and possibly psychotic transient.

San Francisco spends $200 million annually on services for what are now euphemistically called “the homeless.” Yet many of the officials working with this population have another–and unofficial–term for them: DDMBs–”Druggies, Drunks, Mentals and Bums.”

Estimates of this population range from 7,000-10,000 people, of which approximately 3,000-5,000 refuse shelter.

A similar public crackdown on “bum-feeders” could go like this:

Please do not feed the bums. There are dozens of reasons why, but mainly: feeding bums harms our neighborhoods and also harms the bums.

 Our huge feral bum population is a health hazard and creates many problems in the city.

Bum droppings dirty public spaces, do costly damage to buildings, and can spread life-threatening diseases, especially to the elderly and immune-deficient.

Their stolen shopping carts and filthy possessions block sidewalks and harbor parasites like bedbugs and lice. Bum food makes a mess and attracts rats.

Feeding bums promotes overbreeding.
Bums normally travel alone, foraging for drugs and/or alcohol.

Pampered city bums flock to liquor stores and drug dens where they can indulge their vices, thus taxing city medical services to the limit.

 When you feed bums, you are not doing them a favor. They lose their natural ability to find work and support themselves and their families.

 Bum over population leads to overcrowded, unsanitary conditions and produces sick and injured bums. A smaller horde is healthier and does less damage.

 It’s against the law to feed bums on the streets or sidewalks of San Francisco. Violators may be cited and fined.

You can help keep your neighborhood safe and clean and the bum population under control by not feeding bums.

Keep edible garbage away from bums by discarding it in a securely covered garbage can. And don’t feed bums outside.

It is Illegal.  You may report bum feeders to the San Francisco Police Department at 415-553-0123, or by calling 3-1-1.

Please join in on the efforts to keep San Francisco clean and beautiful by NOT feeding the bums.

THE “ZANTI MISFITS” SOLUTION TO ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on June 26, 2014 at 9:33 am

Republican Congressional candidates like Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell have long demanded an end to illegal immigration.

In 2012, former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum made illegal immigration a major issue of his failed campaign for the Presidency.

The Republicans’ chief proposed weapon: Wholesale deportation of millions of illegal aliens from the United States.

But even if a future Republican President dared to take such a politically controversial step, could it actually succeed?

Let’s assume that the Federal Government could identify and arrest all or most of the estimated 11 to 20 million illegal aliens now living in the United States.  Then what?

Sending them back to their native countries would prove a colossal failure.

Most of America’s illegals come from neighboring Hispanic countries.  As soon as they are deported, most of them cross the Mexican border again.

Click here: Report: Most Illegal Immigrants Come From Mexico – US News

More importantly: The governments of those Central and South American countries use the United States as a dumping ground–of those citizens who might demand reforms in their political and economic institutions.

There is only one approach that could strike a meaningful blow against illegal immigration.  And it might well be called “The Zanti Option.”

Viewers of the 1960s sci-fi series, The Outer Limits, will vividly recall its 1963 episode, “The Zanti Misfits.”

In this, soldiers at an American Army base in a California ghost town nervously await first-contact with an alien race that has landed a space ship nearby.

The soldiers are warned to steer clear of the ship, and they do.  But then an escaped convict (Bruce Dern, in an early role) happens upon the scene–and the ship.

The Zantis, enraged, emerge–and soon the soldiers at the military base find themselves under attack.

The soldiers desperately fight back–with flamethrowers, machineguns or just rifle butts.  Finally the soldiers  win, wiping out the Zantis.

But now the base–and probably America–faces a wholesale invasion from the planet Zanti to avenge the deaths of their comrades.

So the soldiers wait anxiously for their next transmission from Zanti–which soon arrives.

To their surprise–and relief–it’s a message of thanks: “We will not retaliate.  We never intended to.  We knew that you could not live with such aliens in your midst.

“It was always our intention that you destroy them…We are incapable of executing our own species, but you are not.  You are practiced executioners.  We thank you.”

A future Republican President could deal with the tsunami of illegal aliens by launching what might be called “Operation Zanti.”

Rather than deport them to nearby countries–from which they would easily sneak back into the United States–the Federal Government could ship them off to more distant lands.

Like Afghanistan.  Or Iraq.

Such a policy change would:

  1. Close the Mexican revolving door, which keeps illegal immigration flowing; and
  2. Send an unmistakably blunt message to other would-be illegals: “The same fate awaits you.”

Although this might seem a far-fetched proposal, it could be easily carried out by the United States Air Force.

According to this agency’s website: “The C-5 Galaxy is one of the largest aircraft in the world and the largest airlifter in the Air Force inventory.

“The C-5 has a greater capacity than any other airlifter. It [can] carry 36 standard pallets and 81 troops simultaneously.

“[It can also carry] any of the Army’s air-transportable combat equipment, including such bulky items as the 74-ton mobile scissors bridge.

“It can also carry outsize and oversize cargo over intercontinental ranges and can take off or land in relatively short distances.”

Click here: C-5 A/B/C Galaxy and C-5M Super Galaxy > U.S. Air Force > Fact Sheet Display

Instead of stuffing these planes with cargo, they could be stuffed wall-to-wall with illegal aliens.

The United States Air Force has a proud history of successfully providing America’s soldiers–and allies–with the supplies they need.

From June 24, 1948 to May 12, 1949, only the Berlin Airlift stood between German citizens and starvation.

The Soviet Union had blocked the railway, road, and canal access to the Berlin sectors under allied control. Their goal: Force the western powers to allow the Soviet zone to supply Berlin with food, fuel, and aid.

This would have given the Soviets control over the entire city.

Air forces from the United States, England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa flew over 200,000 flights in one year, dropping more than 4,700 tons of necessities daily to the besiged Berliners.

The success of the Berlin Airlift raised American prestige and embarrassed the Soviets, who lifted the blockade.

The Berlin Airlift

A similar triumph came during the Yom Kippur War after Egypt and Syria attacked Israel without warning on October 6, 1973.

President Richard Nixon ordered “Operation Nickel Grass” to deliver urgently-needed weapons and supplies to Israel.

For 32 days, the Air Force shipped 22,325 tons of ammunition, artillery, tanks and other supplies.  These proved invaluable in saving Israel from destruction.

So the mass deportation of millions of illegal aliens lies within America’s technological capability.  Whether any American President would be willing to give that order is another matter.

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