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Posts Tagged ‘THE HUFFINGTON POST’

THE EVIL THAT POLITICIANS DO

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on February 1, 2016 at 12:01 am

Yes, like a toxic waste plant that spews out poison every four years, it’s Presidential primary time for the Republican party.

And its two most radical and ruthless candidates for President are flinging slime with gusto.  

Rafael “Ted” Cruz, the United States Senator from Texas, has accused his rival, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, of having “New York values.”

And during the January 14th Republican Presidential debate in South Carolina, he defined these as:

“Everyone understands that the values in New York City are socially liberal, pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and focus on money and the media.”  

Among Right-wingers, “liberal,” “pro-abortion” and “pro-gay” are the ultimate in insults.

But Donald Trump was quick to respond with an explosive charge of his own: Rafael Cruz is not an American citizen–and therefore not eligible to be President.  

What made this accusation so effective was Cruz’ having been born outside the United States–in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to an American mother and a Cuban father.

Ted Cruz, official portrait, 113th Congress.jpg

Rafael “Ted” Cruz

The U.S. Constitution specifically states that “No person except a natural born citizen…shall be eligible to the office of President.”  

Cruz has argued that because his mother was an American, he became an American citizen at birth. But courts have never ruled on the issue of what constitutes a “natural-born” citizen.  

And, at a campaign event in Nashua, New Hampshire, Trump smacked Cruz with an even more incendiary attack:  

“Ted Cruz may not be a US citizen, right? But he’s an anchor baby. No, Ted Cruz is an anchor baby in Canada. But Canada doesn’t accept anchor babies.”  

“Anchor baby” is a Politically Incorrect term for usually poor, non-white aliens entering the United States to have a child born on American soil, which grants automatic citizenship.  

And if the child is a citizen, its parents stand an excellent chance of being allowed to stay.  

Trump asserts that children born in the United States to illegal aliens are not American citizens, as they are today considered under the law.

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Donald Trump

At first, the issue of Cruz’ eligibility seemed confined to Republican politicians and those likely to vote for them. But then others outside the Right began weighing in.  

Mary McManamon, a Constitutional law professor at Widener University’s Delaware Law School, concluded in an Op-Ed for The Washington Post:

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is not a natural-born citizen and therefore is not eligible to be president or vice president of the United States.”

How did this all start? With the ultimate target of Republican hatred–Barack Obama.

Ever since Obama became a Presidential candidate in 2008, Republicans have accused him of being ineligible to hold office.

Without a political scandal (such as Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky) to fasten on, the Republican party opted for slander: Obama was born in Kenya–not Honolulu–and thus was not an American citizen.  

From this there could be only one conclusion: He would be an illegitimate President, and should be removed from office if elected.  

And this smear campaign continued after he won the 2008 election. Right-wingers like Trump insisted that Obama “prove” his citizenship fitness to hold office.  

During his first two years in office, Obama tried to ignore the charge.

But polls repeatedly showed that large segments of the country believed it. Finally, even Obama’s closest advisers warned him: You must address this and put it to rest.  

So, on April 27, 2011, the President released the long-form version of his Hawaii birth certificate.

The long-form version of President Obama’s birth certificate

For the vast majority of Americans, this settled the issue. In 2012, to the fury of Republicans, Obama won a second, four-year term.

Fast forward to the 2016 Presidential race.  

Donald Trump, seeking to destroy his foremost rival, lobs the “anchor baby” charge against Rafael Cruz. 

To most Americans, this conjures up the image of poor Mexicans flooding across the United States border to apply for welfare.

It’s a highly effective way to inflame the elderly, white voters who make up the base of the Republican party.

But it’s also guaranteed to inflame millions of Hispanic Americans–those who are here legally as well as those who are here illegally.  

The Republican party has long earned the hatred and distrust of most Hispanic Americans through its calls to “seal off the border” and deport Hispanic illegal aliens.

And, in 2012, millions of Hispanics gave President Obama a second term.  

So long as Cruz stays in the race, Trump will continue to use the “birther” issue against him. And it will continue to dog him, as it did Obama.  

But it will continue to anger most of the 55 millions Hispanics living within the United States.  

The votes of elderly whites command the attention of Republican primary candidates. But Hispanic voters will play a decisive role in the general election.

Thus, Republicans may come to regret their use of the “birther” issue as they learn the truth of Shakespeare’s line: “The evil that men do lives after them.”

THE RIGHT DEVOURS ITS OWN CHILDREN

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Politics, Social commentary on January 14, 2016 at 12:12 am

“All revolutions,” said Ernst Rohem, leader of Adolf Hitler’s brown-shirted thugs, the S.A., “devour their own children.”

Ernst Rohem

Fittingly, he said this as he sat inside a prison cell awaiting his own execution.

On June 30, 1934, Hitler had ordered a massive purge of his private army, the S.A., or Stormtroopers. The purge was carried out by Hitler’s elite army-within-an-army, the Schutzstaffel, or Protective Squads, better known as the SS.

The S.A. Brownshirts had been instrumental in securing Hitler’s rise to Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933.  They had intimidated political opponents and organized mass rallies for the Nazi Party.

But after Hitler reached the pinnacle of power, they became a liability.

Ernst Rohem, their commander, urged Hitler to disband the regular German army, the Reichswehr, and replace it with his own legions as the nation’s defense force.

Frightened by Rohem’s ambitions, the generals of the Reichswehr gave Hitler an ultimatum: Get rid of Rohem–or they would get rid of him.

So Rohem died in a hail of SS bullets–as did several hundred of his longtime S.A. cronies.

SS firing squad

At least one member of the Republican Party is now learning that an apparently useful weapon can become a liability.

Ever since Barack Obama became a Presidential candidate in 2008, Republicans have accused him of being ineligible to hold office.

Without a political scandal (such as Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky) to fasten on, the Republican Party opted for slander: Obama had been born in Kenya–and thus was not an American citizen.

From this there could be only one conclusion: That he would be an illegitimate President, and should be removed from office if elected.

And this smear campaign continued after he won the election. Right-wingers like real estate billionaire Donald Trump insisted that Obama had been born in Kenya, not Honolulu.  

During his first two years in office, Obama tried to ignore the charge.

But polls repeatedly showed that large segments of the country believed it. Finally, even Obama’s closest advisers warned him: You must address this and put it to rest.

So, on April 27, 2011, the President released the long-form of his Hawaii birth certificate.

The long-form version of President Obama’s birth certificate

For the vast majority of Americans, this settled the issue. In 2012, they re-elected Obama to a second, four-year term.

Nevertheless, for many Right-wingers, even the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate meant nothing.  

Joseph Arpaio, the Right-wing sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, claimed that his “investigators” were certain that Obama’s birth certificate was fraudulent.

Responding to Arpaio’s claims, Joshua A. Wisch, a special assistant to Hawaii’s attorney general, said: “President Obama was born in Honolulu, and his birth certificate is valid. Regarding the latest allegations from a sheriff in Arizona, they are untrue, misinformed and misconstrue Hawaii law.”

Fast forward to 2015.

Donald Trump, who had threatened to run for President in 2012, announced his candidacy on June 16. Since then, he has been the front-runner for Republican voters.

But then Texas’ United States Senator Rafael “Ted” Cruz entered the race. As radical and ruthless as Trump, he quickly became the billionaire’s most dangerous competitor.

Ted Cruz, official portrait, 113th Congress.jpg

Rafael “Ted” Cruz

What to do?

Then Trump–or someone in his campaign–had an inspiration. Why not use against Cruz the same “he’s-not-an-American” charge that had been used against Obama?

Cruz, born outside the United States, was not really a natural-born American citizen–and was thus ineligible to be President.

Cruz was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to an American mother and a Cuban father.

The U.S. Constitution states specifically that “No person except a natural born Citizen …shall be eligible to the Office of President.”

Cruz has argued that because his mother was an American, he became an American citizen at birth.

But courts have never ruled on the issue of what constitutes a “natural-born” citizen.

At first, the issue seemed confined to Republican politicians and those likely to vote for them. But then others outside the Right began investigating it.

Mary McManamon, a constitutional law professor at Widener University’s Delaware Law School, concluded in an Open Editorial for The Washington Post:

“Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is not a natural-born citizen and therefore is not eligible to be president or vice president of the United States.”

Cruz got an even bigger slap in the face from Laurence Tribe, the celebrated professor of Constitutional law at Harvard University. He has argued before the United States Supreme Court 36 times.

Writing in The Boston Globe, Tribe stated:

“…The kind of judge Cruz says he admires and would appoint to the Supreme Court is an ‘originalist,’ one who claims to be bound by the narrowly historical meaning of the Constitution’s terms at the time of their adoption.

“To his kind of judge, Cruz ironically wouldn’t be eligible, because the legal principles that prevailed in the 1780s and ’90s required that someone actually be born on US soil to be a “natural born” citizen.”  [Italics added.]

So long as Cruz stays in the race, Trump will continue to use the “birther” charge against him. And it will continue to dog him, as it did Obama.

Thus, the evil that politicians do lives after them.

THE MOTHER OF ALL NEW YEAR’S EVES

In History, Social commentary on January 4, 2016 at 12:56 am

New Year’s Eve, 2015, now lies behind us.

But for those who consciously lived through December 31, 1999, there will never be another New Year’s Eve like it.

New Year’s Eve is traditionally a time for people to reflect on the major events of the previous 12 months. Some of these are highly personal. Others have been shared by the entire country.

Some of these remembrances inevitably bring pleasure. Others bring pain.

But at the heart of every New Year’s Eve celebration is the fantasy that you get to start fresh in a matter of hours. And with that fantasy comes hope–that, this time, you can put your sorrows and failures behind you.

New Year’s Eve, 1999, was marked far more by apprehension and fear than joy.

  • Fear of Y2K–that our highly computerized, globally-interconnected world would crash when the “19″ at the start of every year was replaced with a “20″.
  • Fear of Armageddon–that Jesus, after dying 2,000 years ago, would return to destroy mankind (except for those 144,000 righteous souls He deemed worthy of salvation).
  • Fear of the Millennium itself–of ending not simply another decade and century but an entire thousand-year period of history, and thus losing our historical ties to the familiar highlights of our own (and America’s) past.

And, especially where Y2K was concerned, news commentators were quick to stoke our anxieties.

For those living on the West Coast of the United States on December 31, 1999, the day began with news reports of celebrations of the New Year in such distant countries as Australia and New Zealand.

“So far,” each of these reports ended, “there have been no reports of Y2K-related outages.”

But the underlying message was clear: Stay tuned–it could still happen. And this message kept blaring for the rest of the day and into the evening.

Long before New Year’s Eve, TV newscasters repeatedly warned that, when midnight struck on January 1, 2000, the three places you did not want to be were:

  • In an airplane.
  • In an elevator.
  • In a hospital.

Countless numbers of people in America and around the world stocked up on food, water, batteries and other essentials for surviving an emergency.

Merchants and police feared widespread rioting and violence. If Y2K didn’t set it off, then fears of a heaven-sent Apocalypse might.

In San Francisco, along Powell Street–a major center of tourism and commerce–store owners boarded up their doors and windows as New Year’s Eve approached. Many closed earlier than usual that day.

At 9 p.m. California time, a friend of mine turned off a VCR and turned on a local news station to watch celebrations–or chaos–unfold in New York City.

If the lights went off in New York at midnight Eastern time, then, in three more hours, the same would happen in California.

When he saw lights glittering in Times Square, he felt reasonably certain that Y2K would probably be a dud.

Fortunately, no Y2K disasters occurred.

Three people I know decided to throw an “End of the World” party. They didn’t believe the world was coming to an end. But they decided to throw an “absolute last blast” party as though it were.

Among the items they stockpiled for this occasion:

  1. Country pork spareribs
  2. Yams
  3. Crabs
  4. Apple cidar
  5. Black olives
  6. Fresh cranberries
  7. Avacodos
  8. Chocolate chip ice cream
  9. Lambrusco
  10. Gin and tonic water
  11. Root beer
  12. Smoked cheese
  13. Artichoke hearts
  14. Pumpkin cream mousse cake
  15. Chocolate cake
  16. Pickles
  17. Asparagus

It was definitely an unforgettable night.

New Year’s Eve 1999 is now 16 years distant. But some lessons may still be learned from it:

Each year is a journey unto itself–filled with countless joys and sorrows. Many of these joys can’t be predicted. And many of these tragedies can’t be prevented.

Learn to tell real dangers from imaginary ones. Computers are real–and sometimes they crash. Men who died 2,000 years ago do not leap out of graveyards, no matter what their disciples predict.

Don’t expect any particular year to usher in the Apocalypse. In any given year there will be wars, famines, earthquakes, riots, floods and a host of other disasters. These have always been with us–and always will be. As Abraham Lincoln once said: “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”

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Don’t expect some Great Leader to lead you to success. As Gaius Cassius says in William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”: “Men at some time are masters of their fate. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Don’t expect any particular year or event to usher in your happiness. To again quote Lincoln: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

If your life seems to make no sense to you, consider this: The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once noted: “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”

HELL IN THE RENTERS’ PARADISE: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 1, 2016 at 12:57 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.

If you doubt it, you need only review the case of slumlords Kip and Nicole Macy.  They waged a two-year war on their rent-paying tenants to force them out of their South of Market building.

The reason: The Macys wanted to get them out of their rent-controlled apartments so they could rent these out to tenants who could afford extortionate rents.

For two years, the police and district attorney’s office stood by while the Macys aimed threats, vandalism, illegal lockouts and violence at their law-abiding tenants.

The Macys have since been convicted and will be sentenced to four years and four months imprisonment.  But this case is a rarity for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office.

Meanwhile, thousands of San Francisco tenants have lived with rotting floors, nonworking toilets, chipping lead-based paint and other outrages for not simply months but years.

But 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 District Attorney’s Office should create a special unit to investigate and prosecute  slumlords.  Prosecutors should offer rewards to citizens who provide tips on major outrages by the city’s slumlords.

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

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.

In Part 2 of this series I outlined 14 such reforms.  In this concluding column, I will outline the remaining eight:

  1. 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.  Given the pressing demands on DBI, weeks or months will pass before the agency learns about this violation of its orders.  Tenants have a right to know if their landlord is complying with the law.
  2. 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.  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 ——.”
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 
  7. 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.
  8. 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. Niccolo Machiavelli said it best: If you can’t be loved by your enemies, then at least make yourself respected by them.

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.”

HELL IN THE RENTERS’ PARADISE: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 31, 2015 at 12:01 am

The “war on drugs” has some valuable lessons to teach the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) which is charged with protecting tenants against predatory landlords.

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 DBI to apply the same attitude–and methods–toward slumlords.

DBI should become 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.

By doing so, 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

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 would be told he could reclaim 75-80% of the money onlyif he fully corrected the violation within 30 days.  The 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.
  4. If the landlord failed to comply with the actions ordered within 30 days, the entire fine would go into the City’s coffers–to be dividedamong DBI and other agencies charged with protecting San Francisco residents.
  5. In addition, he would be hit again with a fine that’s at least twice the amount of the first one.
  6. Inspectors for DBI should be allowed to cite landlords for violations that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health.  They can then pass the information on to DPH for its own investigation.
  7. 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.
  8. If DPH objects to this, DBI should propose that DPH’s own Inspectorsbe 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. The Inspection Division should operate independently of DBI. Currently,  too many high-ranking DBI officials tilt toward landlords because they are landlords themselves.
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.

HELL IN THE RENTERS’ PARADISE: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on December 30, 2015 at 2:32 pm

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.

And in case you’re inclined to anyway, consider the story of Kip and Nicole Macy, two San Francisco slumlords who recently pled guilty to felony charges of residential burglary, stalking and attempted grand theft.

Kip Macy

Nicole Macy

Determined to evict rent control-protected tenants from their apartment building in the South of Market district, they unleashed a reign of terror in 2006:

  • Cut holes in the floor of one tenant’s living room with a power saw–while he was inside his unit.
  • Cut out sections of the floor joists to make the building collapse.
  • Threatened to shoot Ricardo Cartagena, their property manager, after he refused to make the cuts himself.
  • Changed the locks to Cartagena’s apartment, removed all of his belongings and destroyed them.
  • Created fictitious email accounts to appear as a tenant who had filed a civil suit against the Macys–and used these to fire the tenant’s attorney.
  • Cut the tenants’ telephone lines and shut off their electricity, gas and water.
  • Changed the locks on all the apartments without warning.
  • Mailed death threats.
  • Kicked one of their tenants in the ribs.
  • Hired workers to board up a tenant’s windows from the outside while he still lived there.
  • Falsely reported trespassers in a tenant’s apartment, leading police to hold him and a friend at gunpoint.
  • Broke into the units of three tenants and removed all their belongings.
  • Again broke into the units of the same three victims and soaked their beds, clothes and electronics with amonia.

The Macys were arrested in April, 2008, posted a combined total of $500,000 bail and then fled the country after being indicted in early 2009.

In May, 2012, Italian police arrested them and deported them back to America a year later.

Having pled guilty, they were sentenced in September, 2013, to a prison term of four years and four months.

How could such a campaign of terror go on for two years against law-abiding San Francisco tenants?

Simple.

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.

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, 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.

In my next column I will lay out how this can be done.

SOLDIERING IN AFGHANISTAN: THEN AND NOW

In History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 25, 2015 at 3:26 pm

In “Excalibur,” director John Boorman’s brilliant 1981 telling of the King Arthur legends, Merlin warns Arthur’s knights–and us: “For it is the doom of men that they forget.”

Not so Steven Pressfield, who repeatedly holds up the past as a mirror to our present.  Case in point: His 2006 novel, The Afghan Campaign.

By 2006, Americans had been fighting in Afghanistan for five years.  And today, almost ten years into the same war, there remains no clear end in sight–to our victory or withdrawal.

Pressfield’s novel, although set 2,000 years into the past, has much to teach us about what are soldiers are facing today in that same alien, unforgiving land.

Matthias, a young Greek seeking  glory and opportunity, joins the army of Alexander the Great. But the Persian Empire has fallen, and the days of conventional, set-piece battles–where you can easily tell friend from foe–are over.

Alexander next plans to conquer India, but first he must pacify its gateway–Afghanistan. Here that the Macedonians meet a new–and deadly–kind of enemy.

“Here the foe does not meet us in pitched battle,” warns Alexander. “Even when we defeat him, he will no accept our dominion. He comes back again and again. He hates us with a passion whose depth is exceeded only by his patience and his capacity for suffering.”

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Alexander the Great

Matthias learns this early.  In his first raid on an Afghan village, he’s ordered to execute a helpless prisoner.  When he hesitates, he’s brutalized until he strikes out with his sword–and botches the job.

But, soon, exposed to an unending series of atrocities–committed by himself and his comrades, as  well as the enemy–he finds himself transformed.

And he hates it.  He agonizes over the gap between the ideals he embraced when he became a soldier–and the brutalities that have drained him of everything but a grim determination to survive at any cost.

Pressfield, a former Marine himself, repeatedly contrasts how civilians see war as a kind of “glorious” child’s-play with how soldiers actually experience it.

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Steven Pressfield

He creates an extraordinary exchange between Costas, an ancient-world version of a CNN war correspondent, and Lucas, a soldier whose morality is outraged at how Costas and his ilk routinely prettify  the indescribable.

And we know the truth of this exchange immediately. For we know there are doubtless brutalities  inflicted by our troops on the enemy–and atrocities inflicted by the enemy upon them–that never make  the headlines, let alone the TV cameras.

We also know that, decades  from now, thousands of our former soldiers will carry horrific memories to their graves. These memories will remain sealed from public view, allowing their fellow but unblooded Americans to sleep peacefully, unaware of  the terrible price that others have paid on their behalf.

Like the Macedonians (who call themselves “Macks”), our own soldiers find themselves serving in an all-but-forgotten land among a populace whose values could not be more alien from our own if they came from Mars.

Instincitvely, they turn to one another–not only for physical security but to preserve their last vestiges of humanity. As the war-weary veteran, Lucas, advises:

“Never tell anyone except your mates. Only you don’t need to tell them. They know. They know you.  Better than a man knows his wife, better than he knows himself. They’re bound to you and you to them, like wolves  in  a  pack. It’s not you and them. You are them. The unit is indivisible. One dies, we all die.”

Put conversely: One lives, we all live.

Pressfield has reached into the past to reveal fundamental truths about the present that most of us could probably not accept if contained in a modern-day memoir.

These truths take on an immediate poignancy owing to our own current war in Afghanistan.  But they will remain just as relevant decades from now, when our now-young soldiers are old and retired.

This book has been described as a sequel to Pressfield’s The Virtues of War: A  Novel  of Alexander the Great, which appeared in 2004. But it isn’t.

Virtues showcased the brilliant and luminous (if increasingly dark and explosive) personality of Alexander the Great, whose Bush-like, good-vs.-evil rhetoric inspired men to hurl themselves into countless battles on his behalf.

But Afghan thrusts us directly into the flesh-and-blood realities created by that rhetoric: The horrors of men traumatized by an often unseen but always menacing enemy, and the horrors they must inflict in return if they are to survive in a hostile and alien world.

IF TRUMP IS OUR HITLER, WHO WILL BE OUR STAUFFENBERG?: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 2, 2015 at 12:17 am

On July 20, 1944, members of the Wehrmacht high command failed to assassinate Adolf Hitler with a bomb hidden in a briefcase.

But two setbacks prevented the conspirators from succeeding.

First, Hitler survived the bomb blast.

Second, the plotters failed to seize the key broadcast facilities of the Reich.

This allowed Hitler to make a late-night speech to the nation, revealing the failed plot and assuring Germans that he was alive. And he swore to flush out the “traitorous swine” who had tried to kill him.

Adolf Hitler

Mass arrests quickly followed.  Among the first victims discovered and executed was the conspiracy’s leader, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg.  Standing before a makeshift firing squad at midnight, he cried: “Long live our sacred Germany!”

At least 7,000 persons were arrested by the Gestapo. According to records of the Fuehrer Conferences on Naval Affairs, 4,980 were executed.

Had the conspiracy succeeded, history would have turned out differently:

  • If Germany had surrendered in July or August, 1944, World War II would have ended eight to nine months earlier.
  • The Russians–who didn’t reach Germany until April, 1945–could not have occupied the Eastern part of the country.
  • This would have prevented many of the future conflicts between the United States and the Soviet Union over access to West Berlin and/or West Germany.
  • Untold numbers of Holocaust victims would have survived because the extermination camps would have been shut down.

Thus, history can be altered by the appearance or disappearance of a single individual.

Which brings us back to Donald Trump.

Donald August 19 (cropped).jpg

Donald Trump

Since declaring his candidacy for the Presidency on June 16, Trump has been the first choice among the Republican base.

At first, he was dismissed as a bad joke–by Republican Presidential candidates as well as Democrats.

Surely voters would reject a bombastic, thrice-married “reality show” host who had filed for corporate bankruptcy four times.

Yet from the outset Trump dominated the field–and a series of Republican debates. The other Republican candidates watched him with envy–and desperately tried to steal some of his limelight.

Making made one inflammatory statement after another, he offended one group of potential voters after another.  Among those groups:

  • Latinos
  • Asians
  • Muslims
  • Blacks
  • The disabled
  • Women
  • Prisoners-of-War

These insults delighted his white, under-educated followers. But they alienated millions of other Americans who might have voted for him.

While some of those offended are unlikely to respond with violence, others have powerful motives–and means–for doing so. Among those groups–and the insults Trump has leveled at them:

  • Mexicans: “They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” He’s also promised to “build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”
  • Illegal aliens: Trump has threatened to forcibly deport millions of mostly Mexican and Central American residents.
  • Blacks: At a Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, he was interrupted by black activist Mercutio Southall, who repeatedly shouted: “Black lives matter!” Trump ordered his removal, and several of his supporters beat and kicked Southall. Later, Trump said: “Maybe he should have been roughed up, because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”
  • Trump retweeted an image of a masked, dark-skinned man with a handgun and a series of alleged crime statistics, including: “Blacks killed by whites – 2%”; “Whites killed by blacks – 81%.”  The image cites the “Crime Statistics Bureau – San Francisco”–an agency that doesn’t exist.
  • Muslims: Trump has boasted he would revive waterboarding of terrorist suspects. He would require Muslims to register with the Federal Government. And he would close “some mosques” if he felt they were being used by Islamic terrorists.
  • Islamic terrorists: Trump has bragged that he would “bomb the hell” out of oilfields controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS): “I would absolutely cut off their source of wealth, which is the oil.”
  • Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman:  Referring to the Mexican drug lord in a tweet, Trump wrote: “Trump…would kick his ass!” Trump hurriedly called the FBI after he received a death threat from a Twitter account associated with Guzman.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern politics, warned against hurling threats and insults: “For neither the one nor the other…diminishes the strength of the enemy.

Niccolo Machiavelli

“[Threats make] him more cautious, and [insults increase] his hatred of you, and [make] him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”

But Trump revels in insulting anyone who dares to challenge him.

In 1935, Louisiana U.S. Senator Huey Long intended to occupy the White House in 1936 and unseat then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  His “Share Our Wealth” program was hugely popular among millions in Depression-era America.

On September 8, 1935, he was shot and fatally wounded by Carl Austin Weiss, an idealistic young doctor.

His motive: Long had gerrymandered Weiss’ father-in-law, a district judge, out of his district and spread vicious rumors about his ancestry.

Writing about Long’s assassination, historian William Manchester noted: “Huey Long was one of the very few men of whom it can be said that, had he lived, American history would have been dramatically different.”

If the same fate removes Donald Trump from the 2016 Presidential race, future historians may write the same about him.

IF TRUMP IS OUR HITLER, WHO WILL BE OUR STAUFFENBERG?: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on December 1, 2015 at 12:01 am

On July 20, 1944, a one-eyed, one-armed man tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler

Colonel Claus Schenk von Stuaffenberg had served with the Wehrmacht in Poland (1939), France (1940) and the Soviet Union (1941).  And he had been seriously wounded in its service.

Colonel Claus Schenk von Stuaffenberg

Nevertheless, he now acted as the prime mover for the conspiracy among a growing number of German high command officers to arrest or assassinate Germany’s Fuehrer.

Most of the conspirators wanted to arrest Hitler and surrender to British and American forces–well before the much-feared Russians gained a foothold in Germany.

But Stauffenberg wanted him dead: A live Hitler might eventually be rescued by his Nazi colleagues.

But–how to do it?

Hitler was a closely-guarded target. He was surrounded by fanatical bodyguards who were expert marksmen. He often wore a bulletproof vest and a cap lined with three pounds of laminated steel.

Adolf Hitler

But his single greatest protection–he claimed–was an instinct for danger.  He would often suddenly change his schedule–to drop in  where he was least expected.  Or to suddenly depart an event where he was scheduled to stay a long time.

On November 9, 1939, this instinct saved his life.  He had been set to give a long speech at a Munich beer hall before the “Old Fighters” of his storm troopers.

Sixteen years earlier on that day, in 1923, Hitler had led them in a disastrous attempt to overthrow the Bavarian government.  Police had put down the effort, killing and wounding about a score of storm troopers in the process.

Hitler himself had later been arrested, tried and convicted for treason–and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment.

But instead of proving to be the end of Nazism, the “Beer Hall Putsch” turned Hitler into a national celebrity.  And it launched his career as a legitimate, ultimately successful politician.

So Hitler was expected to speak to his longtime supporters for a long time that evening. Instead, he suddenly cut short his speech and left the beer hall.

Forty-five minutes later, a bomb exploded inside a pillar–before which Hitler had been speaking.

Since then, a series of other assassination attempts had been made against Hitler.  All of them involved time-bombs. And all of the would-be assassins were members of the German General Staff.

In one case, a bomb secretly stashed aboard Hitler’s plane failed to explode.  In another, an officer who had a bomb strapped to himself unexpectedly found his scheduled meeting with Hitler called off.  He had to rush into a bathroom to defuse the bomb before it went off.

So now it was the turn of von Stauffenberg.  He would carry his bomb–hidden in a briefcase–into a “Hitler conference” packed with military officers.

But Stauffenberg didn’t intend to be a suicide bomber. He meant to direct the government that would replace that of the Nazis.

His bomb–also rigged with a time-fuse–would be left in the conference room while he found an excuse to leave. After the explosion, he would phone one of his fellow conspirators with the news.

Then, the coup–“Operation Valkyrie”–would be on.

Anti-Nazi conspirators would seize control of key posts of the government. The British and Americans would then be informed of Germany’s willingness to surrender. Provided, of course, that the Russians did not have a say in its postwar future.

The Wehrmacht and Schutzstaffel (SS) had killed millions of Russians. Many had died in combat. Others had been murdered as captives. Still more had been allowed to die by starvation and exposure to the notorious Russian winter.

So the Germans–both Nazi and anti-Nazi–knew what they could expect if soldiers of the Soviet Union reached German soil.

On July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg appeared at Hitler’s well-guarded military headquarters in East Prussia.  Like all his other outposts, Hitler had named it–appropriately enough–“Wolf’s Lair.”

“Wolf’s Lair”

Stauffenberg entered the large, concrete building while the conference was in session.  He placed his yellow briefcase next to Hitler–who was standing with his generals at a heavy oaken table.

Then Stauffenberg excused himself to take an “urgent” phone call.

At 12:42 p.m. on July 20, 1944, Stauffenberg’s briefcase bomb erupted.

But the Third Reich didn’t come to an end–because, as if miraculously, Hitler had survived.

Hitler shows off the site of the explosion

What had happened?

First, the conference location had been changed–from a wooden building to a concrete one.  The concrete absorbed much of the blast.

Second, owing to the summer’s heat, Hitler had ordered all the windows–about ten–opened to let in a breeze.  This allowed much of the force of the blast to be dispersed.

Third, and perhaps most important: Stauffenberg had carefully placed his briefcase near Hitler, who was standing next to a heavy oaken support of the conference table.

But after Stauffenberg left the room, Colonel Heinz Brandt, who stood next to Hitler, found the briefcase blocking his legs.  So he moved it–to the other side of the heavy oaken support.

When the bomb exploded, Hitler was partially shielded from its full blast.  Brandt died, as did two other officers and a stenographer.

IF TRUMP IS OUR HITLER, WHO WILL BE OUR STAUFFENBERG?: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on November 30, 2015 at 12:03 am

The ad opens with ominous music–and the face of a snarling Donald Trump.

“I would like anyone who is listening to consider some thoughts that I’ve paraphrased from the words of German pastor Martin Niemoeller.”

The voice belongs to Tom Moe, a retired colonel in the U.S. Air Force–and a former Vietnam prisoner-of-war.

It’s a video produced by the 2016 Presidential campaign for John Kasich. Kasich, the governor of Ohio, has been peddling a message of creating jobs, balancing the Federal budget and disdain for Washington, D.C.

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John Kasich

But he remains far behind in the polls, dropping 50% in support in just one month–from September to October. Meanwhile, Trump, the New York billionaire developer, is backed by 25% of Republican primary voters.

So, with nothing to lose, Kasich has decided to take off the gloves.  He’s invoked the “N” word for Republicans: Nazi.

“You might not care if Donald Trump says Muslims must register with the government, because you’re not one,” continues Moe.

“And you might not care if Donald Trump says he’s going to round up all the Hispanic immigrants, because you’re not one.

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Donald Trump

“And you might not care if Donald Trump says it’s OK to rough up black protesters, because you’re not one.

“And you might not care of Donald Trump wants to suppress journalists, because you’re not one.

“But think about this:

“If he keeps going, and he actually becomes President, he might just get around to you.  And you’d better hope that there’s someone left to help you.”

Click here: Trump’s Dangerous Rhetoric – YouTube

The above is indeed a paraphrase of a famous quote by Martin Niemoeller (1892–1984), a prominent Protestant pastor. Although he had been a U-boat commander during World War 1, he became a bitter public foe of Adolf Hitler.

A staunch anti-Communist, he had initially supported the Nazis as Germany’s only hope of salvation against the Soviet Union. But when the Nazis made the church subordinate to State authority, Niemoeller created the Pastors’ Emergency League to defend religious freedom.

Martin Niemöller (1952).jpg

Martin Niemoeller

For his opposition to the Third Reich, Niemoeller spent seven years in concentration camps. With the collapse of the Reich in 1945, he was freed–and elected President of the Protestant church in Hesse and Nassau in 1947.

During the 1960s, he was a president of the World Council of Churches.

He is best remembered for his powerful condemnation of the failure of Germans to protest the increasing oppression of the Nazis:

First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Socialists, but I was not a Socialist, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist, so I did not speak out.

Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew, so I did not speak out.

And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

Neither “Adolf Hitler” nor “Nazi Party” was mentioned during the one-minute Kassich video. But Trump is furious.

“I will sue him [Kasich] just for fun,” said Trump, if he can find anything “not truthful” within the ad.

So says the man who has called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and accused President Barack Obama of being a Muslim and born outside the United States.

The Kasich ad is by far the darkest attack so far made against Trump by any candidate–Republican or Democrat.  And it raises a disturbing question:

If Donald Trump is America’s Adolf Hitler, who will be its Claus von Stauffenberg?

Colonel Claus Schenk von Stuaffenberg was the German army officer who, on July 20, 1944, tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler.

He had served with the Wehrmacht in Poland (1939), France (1940) and the Soviet Union (1941).

While serving in Tunisa, he was seriously wounded on April 7, 1943 when Allied fighters strafed his vehicle. He lost his left eye, right hand and two fingers of his left hand after surgery.

Colonel Claus Schenk von Stuaffenberg

Nevertheless, he now acted as the prime mover for the conspiracy among a growing number of German high command officers to arrest or assassinate Germany’s Fuehrer.

For most of these officers, the motive was craven: Germany was losing the war it had launched on the world–and they feared the worst.  This was especially true now that the numerically superior forces of the Soviet Union had gone onto the offensive.

For Stauffenberg, there was another reason: His disgust at the horrors he had seen committed by his fellow Wehrmacht soldiers upon defenseless POW’s and civilians in Russia.

Thus, Stauffenberg–more than many Germans–knew firsthand the vengeance his country could expect if the “1,000 year Reich” fell.

Something must be done, he believed, to prove to the world that not all Germans–even members of the Wehrmacht–were criminals.

Most of the conspirators wanted to arrest Hitler and surrender to British and American forces–well before the much-feared Russians gained a toehold in Germany.

For Stauffenberg, arresting Hitler wasn’t enough.

Stauffenberg wanted him dead. A live Hitler might eventually be rescued by his Nazi colleagues.

But–how to do it?

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