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SELF-DEFENSE FOR TEENS AND NATIONS

In History, Law, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 30, 2014 at 11:36 am

The dictionary defines “self-defense” as: “The act of defending one’s person when physically attacked, as by countering blows or overcoming an assailant.”

Apparently, some schools and nations have a very different idea of what constitutes self-defense.

In May, A 16-year-old girl at Santa Rosa High School was suspended for fighting on campus–after she was attacked by two other girls from another school.

The May 16 fight was recorded on cell phone video by a third student.

Mia Danley, the girl’s mother. claims her daughter was jumped by two girls who had been cyber-bullying her for months.  The reason: she was dating one of their former boyfriends.

Reacting to the cellphone footage of her daughter being assaulted, shey said: “I see my baby being attacked viciously and I see her defending herself like we taught her to.”

Allen Danley, the girl’s father, showed school officials the cellphone texts that one of his daughter’s assailants sent threatening a fight.

But this made no difference to school authorities.

Santa Rosa High School has a strict no-fighting policy.  But Allan Danley pointed out to school officials that their  own student handbook states that “a student cannot be arrested or suspenced for defending themselves.”

They, in turn, claimed that his daughter didn’t cry out for help during the fight.  So she was considered a willing participant.

Click here: Parents of Santa Rosa High School Student Suspended for Fighting Say Daughter Was Defending Herself from Bullies 

Now let’s turn to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by Israel, Canada, Japan, the European Union,  Jordan, Egypt and the United States.

On July 8, it began launching hundreds of missiles at Israel.

Hamas rocket blasts toward Israel

And Israel, to stop the attacks, responded in kind.

As a result, Israel has come under repeated verbal attacks by Hamas-sympathetic nations.

The charge: Israel is being too effective at defending itself, killing more Palestinians than Hamas is able to kill Israelis.

Reuven Berko, a former soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) recently addressed this charge in a guest column in the online newsletter, the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).

A major reason for so many civilian deaths among Palestinians, writes Berko, is that Hamas turns them into human shields by hiding its missiles in heavily-populated centers.

On July 17, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Far East (UNRWA) discovered approximately 20 rockets hidden in a vacant UN school in the Gaza Strip.

“UNRWA strongly condemns the group or groups responsible for placing the weapons in one of its installations,” said the agency in an announcement.  “This is a flagrant violation of the inviolability of its premises under international law.”

UNRWA claimed that “this incident…is the first of its kind in Gaza.”   But Israel counters that this is just one of many proven instances of Hamas hiding its fighters and munitions among a heavily civilian population.

Click here: UNRWA Strongly Condemns Placement of Rockets in School | UNRWA

At the heart of Berko’s editorial is the subject of “proportionality.”

Writes Berko: “Israel is held to an impossible moral double standard.

“Israelis, proportionality advocates seem to believe, should be killed by Hamas rockets instead of following Home Front Command instructions and running to shelters, to say nothing of Israel’s blatant unfairness inprotecting its civilians with the Iron Dome aerial defense system….

“Anyone who demands that Israel agree to a life of terror governed by a continuous barrage of rockets and mortar shells on the heads of its women and children in the name of restraint and ‘proportionality’ would never agree to risk the safety of their own families in a similar situation.”

Berko points out that during World War 11, the Allies didn’t hesitate to retaliate for the Nazi blitz of London.  In February, 1945, British and American planes firebombed Dresden, killing about 25,000 people.

Nor did America feel guilty about dropping two atomic bombs on Japan, killing about 250,000 civilians.

Summing up his argument, Berko writes: “The ridiculous demand for proportionality contradicts every basic principle of warfare.

“According to American strategist Thomas Schelling, you have to strike your enemy hard enough to make it not worthwhile for him to continue….

“In the Western world, killing someone in self-defense is considered justifiable homicide.”

Click here: Guest Column: The Double Standard of Proportionality :: The Investigative Project on Terrorism

Berko could just as easily have ended his column with the words of Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman, whose Union forces cut a swath of destruction across the South in his famous “March to the Sea.”

William Tecumseh Sherman

Wrote Sherman: “Those people made war on us, defied and dared us to come south to their country, where they boasted they would kill us and do all manner of horrible things.

“We accepted their challenge, and now for them to whine and complain of the natural and necessary results is beneath contempt.”

COSTCO VS. WALMART: TWO VERSIONS OF EMPLOYER

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

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

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

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

Consider the differences between Walmart and Costco.

REVENUES:

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

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

HEALTH INSURANCE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WAGES:

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

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

CEO SALARY:

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

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

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

HOLIDAYS:

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

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

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

PROMOTINS:

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

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

STABILITY:

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

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

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

ADVERTISING:

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

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

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

* * * * *

Some things can’t be quantified.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MICHAEL CORLEONE IS SMILING: PART TWO (OF THREE)

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

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

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

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

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

Robert and John F. Kennedy

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

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

Robert S. McNamara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fidel Castro

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

Other proposals or attempts included:

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

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

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

Nikita Khrushchev

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

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

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

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

John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 gangster methods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German prisoners taken at Stalingrad

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

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

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

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

AGGRESSORS AS VICTIMS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

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

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

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

That expectation proved to be false.

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

Adolf Hitler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israeli planes retaliated by attacking 50 targets in Gaza.

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

A Hamas rocket streaks toward Israel

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

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

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

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

Only then would Hamas be open to a ceasefire agreement.

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

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

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

German soldiers at Stalingrad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SLUMLORDS–THE REAL UNTOUCHABLES: PART THREE (END)

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

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

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

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

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

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

By doing so, DBI could vastly:

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

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

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

By doing so, it can:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of slumlords calls to mind the scene in 1987′s The Untouchables, where Sean Connery’s veteran cop tells Eliot Ness: “Everybody knows where the liquor is. It’s just a question of: Who wants to cross Capone?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t believe it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of slumlords calls to mind the scene in 1987′s The Untouchables, where Sean Connery’s veteran cop tells Eliot Ness: “Everybody knows where the liquor is. It’s just a question of: Who wants to cross Capone?”

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

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

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

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

DBI could:

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

How?

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

Consider:

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

Why?

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

It’s because:

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

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

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

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

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

Among those reforms it should immediately enact:

  1. Hit slumlord violators up-front with a fine–payable immediately–for at least $2,000 to $5,000 for each health/safety-code violation.
  2. The slumlord could reclaim 75-80% of the money only if he fully corrected the violation within 30 daysThe remaining portion of the levied fine would go into the City coffers, to be shared among DBI and other City agencies.
  3. This would put the onus on the slumlord, not DBI. Appealing to his greed would ensure his willingness to comply with the ordered actions.  As matters now stand, it is DBI who must repeatedly check with the slumlord to find out if its orders have been complied with.

GREED? THY NAME IS AYN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Congress figured: What could possibly go wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

His supervisor just shrugged.

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

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

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

Among the themes explored in Weiss’ book:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GO TO COLLEGE, BECOME A BABYSITTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From that report:

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

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

Click here: Underemployment of College Graduates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here: Growing Nanny Industry Is Enticing More College Graduates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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