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COMBATING SLUMLORDS: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 24, 2016 at 12:28 am

The San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) has long been outmaneuvered by predatory, law-breaking landlords.

And San Francisco renters–many of them elderly, poor and/or disabled–have been the victims of landlord greed, neglect and/or harassment.

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Among the reforms that DBI should immediately enact:

  • Hit slumlord violators with a fine–payable immediately–for at least $2,000 to $5,000 for each health/safety-code violation.The slumlord would be told he could reclaim 75-80% of the money only if 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.
  • 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.  
  • 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 divided among DBI and other agencies charged with protecting San Francisco residents.  
  • In addition. he would be hit again with a fine at least twice the amount of the first one.  
  • Inspectors for DBI should be allowed to cite landlords for violations that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health (DPH). They could then pass the information to DPH for its own investigation.  
  • If the DBI inspector later discovered that the landlord had not corrected the violation within a designated time-period, DBI should be allowed to levy its own fine for his failure to do so.
  • 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.

  • 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 the necessary assistance. As matters now stand, many residents are confused by the conflicting jurisdictions of both agencies.  
  • 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.
  • The Inspection Division should operate independently of DBI. Currently,  too many high-ranking DBI officials tilt toward landlords because they are landlords themselves.
  • DBI should create a Special Research Unit to 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.
  • Turning DBI into a revenue-producing agency 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.  
  • DBI should legally require landlords to rehabilitate a unit every time a new tenant moves in, or 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.
  • Slumlords, unlike drug-dealers, can’t move their buildings from one street or city to another. If they want to make money in San Francisco, they will have to submit to the jurisdiction of landlord-regulating agencies.  
  • DBI should require 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 correction, s/he is the only one who is notified.  If that slumlord refuses to comply with that directive, s/he is the only one who knows 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–so they can promptly notify inform DBI if a violation is occurring. 

  • Landlords should be legally required to give each tenant a list of the major city agencies (such as DBI, the Rent Board and the Department of Public Health) that exist to help tenants solve problems with their housing.
  • DBI should launch–and maintain–a citywide advertising campaign to alert residents about its services. Everyone knows the FBI pursues bank robbers. But too many San Franciscans don’t 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’s always malfunctioning? Have you complained to your landlord and gotten the runaround? Then call DBI at—- Or drop us an email at_____.”

COMBATING SLUMLORDS: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 23, 2016 at 12:04 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.

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?”  

Everybody in San Francisco knows who the slumlords are. But the District Attorney’s Office hasn’t criminally prosecuted a slumlord in decades. 

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 charged with ensuring that apartment buildings are in habitable condition.  

Under San Francisco law:

  • 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.  

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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.

BOYS WILL BE BOYS–WITH BOMBS

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 22, 2016 at 12:04 am

Americans are suckers for children.  

Even if many of them might come wrapped in suicide vests.

On September 2, 2015, the body of a three-year old Syrian boy named Alan Kurdi washed ashore on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey.

He and his family had boarded a small rubber boat to reach Europe amid the carnage of the Syrian civil war. The boat capsized. 

The resulting photo flashed around the world and triggered international demands by humanitarian organizations that the West “do something.”

Drowned Alan Kurdi lies on a Turkish beach

Only eight days later, on September 10, 2015, the Obama administration announced that it would take in at least 10,000 displaced Syrian refugees over the next year.

That was in addition to the 2,000 Islamic refugees the United States had already accepted.

Almost one year later–on August 17, 2016–another photo captured the world’s attention.

It depicted a five-year-old Syrian boy named Omran Daqneesh sitting in an ambulance. Covered head to toe in dust, his face bloodied, he seemed dazed. He had been pulled out of a building hit by an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria.  

Once again, demands arose among liberal interventionists, especially in the United States: “We must do something.”

All of which overlooks the increasing threat posed to the United States by Islamic terrorism.

According to U.S. Census data, America legally welcomes about 100,000 Muslim immigrants each year. This represents the fastest growing segment of immigrants coming to the United States.

The Pew Research Center estimates there are 2.5 million Islamics in the United States. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) puts the figure at seven million.

The Troubling Math of Muslim Migration | National Review Online

Meanwhile, the FBI is being overwhelmed by the demands of countering Islamic terrorism against the United States.

On July 8, 2015, FBI director James Comey testified before Congress about the increasing burdens his agency faces in combating terrorism.

“We are stopping these things [Islamic terror plots] so far through tremendous hard work, the use of sources, the use of online undercovers.

“But it is incredibly difficult.  I cannot see my [agency’s] stopping these [plots] indefinitely.”

The FBI has only 35,000 agents and analysts–against seven million potential suspects. And only a portion of those agents and analysts are charged with investigating terrorism.  

And even children, for all their supposed innocence, are not to be ignored as potential weapons of Islamic terrorist organizations.  

On August 20, a suicide bomber aged between 12 and 14 attacked a Kurdish wedding party in Gaziantep, Turkey, killing at least 51 people.

Preliminary evidence indicates that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was behind the attack. 

Palestinian child suicide bomber

America may well become a similar target for child suicide bombers.

How did all of this come to be?

On March 15, 2011, protests broke out in Syria, with demonstrators demanding political reforms and the ouster of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

These protests, met with government repression, continued to grow into a wholesale civil war. 

By April 23, 2016, the United Nations estimated that 400,000 Syrians had so far died in the conflict. 

Put another way:

  • More than 400,000 potential or actual Islamic terrorists will never again pose a threat to the United States or Western Europe.  
  • Additional thousands are certain to follow their example.
  • And the United States cannot be held in any way responsible for it.

But Americans and Europeans have chosen to see these positives as negatives.

The United Nations refugee Agency, UNHCR, estimates that 366,402 refugees and migrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2015.

And while the West has thrown open its doors to fleeing Syrians, the reaction of neighboring Islamic nations has been entirely different.

This was brutally but accurately depicted in a cartoon of wealthy Arab rulers looking on indifferently at the body of Alan Kurdi.

While European nations are being swamped by hundreds of thousands of these uninvited “guests,” the Arab world’s wealthiest nations are doing almost nothing for Syria’s refugees.

According to Amnesty International, the “six Gulf countries–Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain–have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees.”

These nations are far closer to Syria than are Europe and the United States. And they contain some of the Arab world’s largest military budgets and its highest standards of living.

Note the contradiction: Democratic, non-Islamic countries are exposing themselves to increasing numbers of potential–if not actual–Islamic terrorists.

Meanwhile, the Arab world–awash in petrodollars and land–is closing its own doors to Syrian refugees

The Arab world’s wealthiest nations are doing next to nothing for Syria’s refugees – The Washington Post

* * * * *

During the 1980s, the United States waged a cold war against Islamic nations. Their acts of anti-American terrorism were seen as simply crimes, and not acts of war.

The September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center changed that. For the last 15 years, the United States military has actively fought Islamics in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. And now Syria.

To be admitting huge numbers of a population with which the United States is now waging all-out war is worse than stupid. It is a guarantee of national suicide.

SECURITY THEATER IS NOT SECURITY

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Self-Help, Social commentary on August 19, 2016 at 12:08 am

Starting in 2016, traveling by air in the United States got more complicated.  But not necessarily safer.

In 2005, Congress passed the Real ID Act as a counter-terrorism measure. Its goal was to set security standards for government-issued IDs.

The Act started to be introduced in late 2013. Now in the last phase of its implementation, its enforcers have decided that some states haven’t complied with its requirements.

As a result, driver’s licenses from those states will no longer suffice to pass through airport security. And that includes domestic flights as well as international ones.

Those states:  New York, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Louisiana and American Samoa.

The reason: Licenses issued by those states don’t contain enough identifying information to pass muster with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

So how are residents of these states supposed to cope? The Federal Government is advising them to get a passport.

Your old New York driver’s license may make it harder for you to fly in 2016 | syracuse.com

And this, in turn, carries an illogic all its own. As one soon-to-be affected New York traveler outlined:

“To get a passport I’ll first need to get a certified copy of my birth certificate.

“And to get a copy of my birth certificate I need only to submit a copy of my driver’s license. A copy, no face-to-face, is-that-really you?

“So a New York driver’s license isn’t good enough for flying but it is good enough to get a birth certificate, which gets me a passport, which allows me to fly.”

Got all that?

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Sample state ID card that’s acceptable under the Real ID Act

So much of what passes for security is actually security theater.  It doesn’t actually make us safer, but it makes us feel safer.  

And it makes us feel the government is keeping us safe, even when it isn’t.

For example: In the months after 9/11, National Guard troops were stationed in American airports. They certainly looked impressive.  

But passengers would have felt far less reassured had they known the assault rifles they carried had no bullets.

Or take the checking of photo IDs that has become routine to enter State and Federal office buildings.

What exactly does this tell the security guard?

If you’re John Dillinger or Osama bin Laden, it tells him: “This is a very wanted man.”  

But if you’re John Q. Public, who’s not notorious as a bank robber or terrorist, showing him your ID tells him nothing.

But people watching the guard performing this ritual assume: “The security guard must know what he’s looking for. So we have to be safer for his checking those IDs.”

In fact, most security guards have little training and even less experience. Many of them don’t carry firearms and lack self-defense skills.

According to Salary.com: The median annual Security Guard salary is $29,204, as of July 29, 2016, with a range usually between $25,857 and $33,522.  

Repeated showings of security theater can be seen every weekday at the San Francisco Federal Building, at 450 Golden Gate Avenue.

To enter, you must show a driver’s license or State ID card.

Then you must remove

  • Your belt;
  • Your shoes;
  • Your watch;
  • Your wallet;
  • All other objects from your pants pockets;
  • Any jacket you’re wearing;
  • Any cell phone you’re carrying.

All of these must be placed in one or more large plastic containers, which are run through an x-ray scanner.

Finally, assuming you avoid setting off any alarm system, you’re allowed to enter.

Now, suppose you want to report a crime to the San Francisco field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

You take an elevator to the 13th floor and walk into a large room filled with several comfortable chairs that sit close to the floor. You approach a window such as you find in a bank–made of thick, presumably bulletproof glass.

A secretary on the opposite side greets you, and asks why you’ve come.

You offer your reason for wanting to speak with an agent. Assuming the secretary thinks you have a legitimate reason, she says you must first show her your driver’s license or State ID card.

You slide these through the bottom part of the glass window. Then she makes a xerox of this and hands the card back.

Then, as if that isn’t enough, you have to fill out a single-page form, which requires you to provide your:

  • Name;
  • Address;
  • Phone number;
  • Social Security Number;
  • The reason you want to speak to an agent.

Of course, you can refuse to fill out the form. But then the secretary will refuse to let you meet with an FBI agent.

The FBI has always encouraged Americans to report anything they consider a threat to national security or a violation of Federal law.

But this demand for so much private information is almost certain to sharply decrease the number of people willing to report knowledge of a crime.

At a time when Federal law enforcement agencies need all the cooperation they can get, this is not a matter to be taken lightly.

REPUBLICANS: AMERICA’S STORMTROOPERS: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 11, 2016 at 1:05 am

Donald Trump’s “dog-whistle” solicitation for the political assassination of Hillary Clinton has been decried as unprecedented.  In fact, it is anything but.

Repeatedly, Republicans have aimed violent–and violence-arousing–rhetoric at their Democratic opponents.

This is not a case of careless language that is simply misinterpreted, with tragic results.

Republicans like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin–and Trump–fully understand the constituency they are trying to reach: Those masses of alienated, uneducated Americans who live only for their guns and hard-line religious beliefs–and who can be easily manipulated by perceived threats to either.

Sarah Palin’s “Crosshairs” Map

If a “nutcase” assaults a Democratic politician and misses, then the Republican establishment claims to be shocked–shocked!–that such a thing could have happened.

And if the attempt proves successful, then Republicans weep crocodile tears for public consumption.

The difference is that, in the latter case, they rejoice in knowing that Democratic ranks have been thinned and their opponents are even more on the defensive, for fear of the same happening to them.

The most important target of these intended assaults has been President Barack Obama.

In August, 2009, about a dozen people carrying guns, including one with a military-style rifle, milled among protesters outside a Phoenix convention center where President Obama was giving a speech.

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Anti-Obama poster

A week earlier, during Obama’s healthcare town hall in New Hampshire, a man carrying a sign reading “It is time to water the tree of liberty” stood outside with a pistol strapped to his leg.  

Fred Solop, a Northern Arizona University political scientist, said the incidents in New Hampshire and Arizona could signal the beginning of a disturbing trend.

“When you start to bring guns to political rallies, it does layer on another level of concern and significance,” Solop said. “It actually becomes quite scary for many people. It creates a chilling effect in the ability of our society to carry on honest communication.”  

But now that Hillary Clinton has become the official Democratic Presidential nominee, Republican hatred has moved from Obama to her. Shouts of “Lock her up!” thundered at the Republican National Convention which nominated Donald Trump.  

In July, Trump called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to hack into U.S. State Department emails to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

And now Trump has called on literally hair-triggered gun fanatics to remove his political rival.

The way to prevent such tragedies in the future is to hold fully accountable not just the shooters but those who deliberately point them toward their targets and repeatedly scream: “Kill the traitors!” 

Americans must shed their naive belief that “America is exempt from the political corruption of other countries.” And they must see the Republicans’ lust for absolute power at any price as the danger it presents to the future of the Republic.

Among the steps that need to be taken:

First, the families and friends of the Tucson massacre victims should file civil lawsuits against Sarah Palin and every other Republican who can be proved to have created the firestorm of hate that consumed 20 people on January 8, 2011.

A legal precedent for such lawsuits emerged 20 years ago, and still remains viable.

On November 13, 1988, in Portland, Oregon, three white supremacist members of East Side White Pride and White Aryan Resistance (WAR) beat to death Mulugeta Seraw, an Ethiopian man who came to the United States to attend college.

Morris Dees and the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a civil suit (Berhanu v. Metzger) against Tom Metzger, founder of WAR.  They argued that WAR influenced Seraw’s killers by encouraging their group, East Side White Pride, to commit violence.

At the trial, WAR national vice president Dave Mazzella testified how the Metzgers instructed WAR members to commit violence against minorities.

Tom and John Metzger were found civilly liable under the doctrine of vicarious liability, in which one can be liable for a tort committed by a subordinate or by another person who is taking instructions.

In October 1990, the jury returned the largest civil verdict in Oregon history at the time–$12.5 million–against Metzger and WAR.  The Metzgers’ house was seized, and most of WAR’s profits go to paying off the judgment.

Second, the FBI and Justice Department should launch an all-out investigation into not simply right-wing hate groups but those political leaders who openly or secretly encourage and support their activities. Those who are found doing so should be vigorously indicted and prosecuted under the anti-terrorism statutes.

Third, the Secret Service should immediately adopt the policy that no one but sworn law enforcement officers will be allowed to carry firearms within the immediate vicinity of the President.  And it should enforce that policy through its elite counter-sniper teams.

Finally, President Obama should do what President Bill Clinton refused to do at the time of the 1995 truck-bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building: He should publicly condemn those Republicans who give “aid and comfort” to the right-wing extremists whose support they openly court.

Unless such steps are taken, Right-wing candidates like Donald Trump will continue to solicit the murder of their political opponents. And those outrages will continue until a Republican version of the swastika permanently flies over the capitol dome and the White House.

REPUBLICANS: AMERICA’S STORMTROOPERS: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 10, 2016 at 12:12 am

“Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish, the Second Amendment,” Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump told a rally in Wilmington, North Carolina. 

That in itself was untrue, but what followed was worse.

“If she gets to pick her [Supreme Court] judges,” said Trump, “nothing you can do folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

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Donald Trump

The Clinton camp instantly saw it as a “dog-whistle” solicitation for political assassination.

Virginia U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, Clinton’s vice presidential running mate, said: “Nobody who is seeking a leadership position, especially the presidency, the leadership of the country, should do anything to countenance violence, and that’s what he was saying.”

The Trump campaign, of course, denied that he had meant any such thing.

According to a statement from the Trump campaign: “It’s called the power of unification–2nd Amendment people have amazing spirit and are tremendously unified, which gives them great political power. And this year, they will be voting in record numbers, and it won’t be for Hillary Clinton, it will be for Donald Trump.”

Increasingly, Republicans have repeatedly aimed violent–and violence-arousing–rhetoric at their Democratic opponents. This is not a case of careless language that is simply misinterpreted, with tragic results. 

Republicans like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin fully understand the constituency they are trying to reach: Those masses of alienated, uneducated Americans who live only for their guns and hardline religious beliefs–and who can be easily manipulated by perceived threats to either.

If a “nutcases” assaults a Democratic politician and misses, then the Republican establishment claims to be shocked–shocked!–that such a thing could have happened.

And if the attempt proves successful–as the January 8, 2011 Tucson shootings of Arizona’s Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and chief U.S. District judge, John Roll did–then Republicans weep crocodile tears for public consumption.

The difference is that, in the latter case, they rejoice in knowing that Democratic ranks have been thinned and their opponents are even more on the defensive, for fear of the same happening to them.

Consider the following:

  • Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Tex.) yelled “baby killer” at Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) on the House floor.
  • Florida GOP Congressional candidate Allen West, referring to his Democratic opponent, Rep. Ron Klein, told Tea Party activists: You’ve got to make the fellow scared to come out of his house.  That’s the only way that you’re going to win.  That’s the only way you’re going to get these people’s attention.”
  • Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Tea Partiers had “every right” to use racist and homophobic slurs against Democrats, justifying it via Democrats’ “totalitarian tactics.”
  • Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she wanted her constituents “armed and dangerous” against the Obama administration.
  • Sarah Palin told her supporters: “Get in their face and argue with them. No matter how tough it gets, never retreat, instead RELOAD!”
  • Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter: “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building.”
  • Senator Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) “We’re going to keep building the party until we’re hunting Democrats with dogs.”
  • Rep. Louisa M. Slauter (D-NY) received a phone message threatening sniper attacks against lawmakers and their families.

For more than 50 years, Republicans have vilified government–except when they controlled it. They have sought to convince Americans that Democrats are at least potential traitors, if not actual ones.

Among the slanders Republicans have routinely hurled at Democrats:

  • Democrats are plotting to “take away your guns.”
  • Democrats are “anti-work” and want to turn America into a welfare-dependent society.
  • Democrats are “Godless” and want to force atheism on believing Christians.
  • Democrats will allow United Nations “black helicopters” to stage a military takeover of the United States..

During the 1992 Presidential campaign, Republicans tried to paint Bill Clinton as a brainwashed “Manchurian candidate” because he had briefly visited the Soviet Union during his college years.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Republicans lost their “soft on Communism” slander-line.  So they tried to persuade voters that Democrats were “soft on crime.”

When riots flared in 1992 after the acquittal of LAPD officers who had savagely beaten Rodney King, President George H.W. Bush blamed the carnage on the “Great Society” programs of the 1960s.

When President Barack Obama set out to provide healthcare for all Americans–and not simply the wealthy–Republicans tried to frighten voters with lies.

The most infamous of these was that healthcare reform would lead to wholesale murder by government “death panels,” as Sarah Palin put it.

Republicans have since encouraged right-wing groups to claim that Obama was not born in Hawaii, but in Kenya. The reason: To strip Obama of legitimacy as a leader.

Republicans–brandishing photos of President Obama bearing a Hitler forelock and toothbrush mustache–have claimed he intends to set up concentration camps for those who disagree with him.

Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House, charged that Obama was pursuing a socialist agenda to reform healthcare.

In his book, To Save America: Stopping Obama’s Secular-Socialist Machine, Gingrich claimed that Obama’s policy agenda was as “great a threat to America as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.”

AVOIDING OBAMA’S MISTAKES: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 22, 2016 at 12:05 am

The ancient Greeks believed: “A man’s character is his fate.” It is Barack Obama’s character–and America’s fate–that he is more inclined to conciliation than confrontation.

Richard Wolffe chronicled Obama’s winning of the White House in his book Renegade: The Making of a President. He noted that Obama was always more comfortable when responding to Republican attacks on his character than he was in making attacks of his own.  

Rule #4: Be Open to Compromise–Not Capitulation

Obama came into office determined to find common ground with Republicans. But they quickly made it clear to him that they only wanted his political destruction.  

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President Barack Obama

At that point, he should have put aside his hopes for a “Kumbaya moment” and applied what Niccolo Machiavelli famously said in The Prince on the matter of love versus fear:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved. 

For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain. 

As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote. But when it approaches, they revolt…. 

And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.  

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Niccolo Machiavelli

By refusing to vigorously prosecute acts of Republican extortion, President Obama has encouraged Republicans to intensify their aggression against him.

Their most recent act: Refusing to meet with federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland. Obama’s designated nominee to the Supreme Court after the February 13 death of Justice Antonin Scalia.  

Kentucky United States Senator Mitch McConnell has flatly stated: There will be no Supreme Court hearing–not during regular business or a post-election lame-duck session.

Had Obama proceeded with indictments against Republican extortion in 2011 or 2013, McConnell–who supported the extortion attempts of those years–would now be desperately meeting with his lawyers.  

Rule #5: First Satisfy Your Citizens, Then Help Them  

Obama started off well. Americans had high expectations of him.

This was partly due to his being the first black elected President. And it was partly due to the legacies of needless war and financial catastrophe left by his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Obama entered office intending to reform the American healthcare system, to make medical care available to all citizens, and not just the richest.

But that was not what the vast majority of Americans wanted him to concentrate his energies on. With the loss of 2.6 million jobs in 2008, Americans wanted Obama to find new ways to create jobs.

This was especially true for the 11.1 million unemployed, or those employed only part-time.

Jonathan Alter, who writes sympathetically about the President in The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, candidly states this.

But Obama chose to spend most of his first two years as President pushing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–which soon became known as Obamacare–through Congress.  

The results were threefold:  

First, those desperately seeking employment felt the President didn’t care about them.

Second, the reform effort became a lightning rod for conservative groups like the Tea Party.

And, third, in 2010, a massive Right-wing turnout cost Democrats the House of Representatives and threatened Democratic control of the Senate.

Rule #6: Be Careful What You Promise  

Throughout his campaign to win support for the ACA, Obama had repeatedly promised that, under it: “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. Period. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Period.”

But, hidden in the 906 pages of the law, was a fatal catch for the President’s own credibility.

The law stated that those who already had medical insurance could keep their plans--so long as those plans met the requirements of the new healthcare law. 

If their plans didn’t meet those requirements, they would have to obtain new coverage that did.

It soon turned out that a great many Americans wanted to keep their current plan–even if it did not provide the fullest possible coverage.

Suddenly, the President found himself facing a PR nightmare: Charged and ridiculed as a liar.

Even Jon Stewart, who on “The Daily Show” had supported the implementation of “Obamacare,” sarcastically ran footage of Obama’s “you can keep your doctor” promise.

Jon Stewart

The implication: You said we could keep our plan/doctor; since we can’t, you must be a liar.

As a result, the President found his reputation for integrity–long his greatest asset–tarnished.

All of which takes us to yet another warning offered by Machiavelli: Whence it may be seen that hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil….

AVOIDING OBAMA’S MISTAKES: PART TWO (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 21, 2016 at 12:07 am

If Hillary Clinton succeeds Barack Obama as President, can gain much by learning from his mistakes.

In 2011, Obama could have ended Republican extortion by invoking the law–that of the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and/or the USA Patriot Act.

Or he could have faced down Republican extortionists by urging his fellow Americans to rally to him in a moment of supreme national danger.  

Rule #2: Rally Your Citizens Against a Dangerous Enemy 

President John F. Kennedy did just that–successfully–during the most dangerous crisis of his administration.

Addressing the Nation on October 22, 1962, Kennedy shocked his fellow citizens by revealing that the Soviet Union had installed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba.

John F. Kennedy

After outlining a series of steps he had taken to end the crisis, Kennedy sought to reassure and inspire his audience. His words are worth remembering today:

“The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are, but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world.

“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have always paid it. And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

President Obama could have sent that same message to the extortionists of the Republican Party.

Yet this was another option he failed to exploit. And he and the Nation have continued to pay the price for it.  

Rule #3: Timidity Toward Aggressors Only Leads to More Aggression

In September, 2013, Republicans once again threatened to shut down the Federal Government unless the President agreed to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as “Obamacare.

They were enraged that millions of uninsured Americans might receive medical care on a par with that given members of the House and Senate.

So on September 20, the House voted on a short-term government funding bill that included a provision to defund Obamacare.

Obama and Senate Democrats rejected that provision. If the House and Senate couldn’t reach a compromise, many functions of the federal government would be shut down indefinitely on October 1.

According to Republicans: They wanted to save the country from bankruptcy–although the Congressional Budget Office stated that the ACA would lower future deficits and Medicare spending.

After passing the House and Senate, the ACA had been signed into law by President Obama on March 23, 2010.

On June 28, 2012, the United States Supreme Court–whose Chief Justice, John Roberts, is a Republican–had upheld the constitutionality of the ACA.

Yet House Republicans still sought a way to stop the law from taking effect. By September, 2013, they had voted 42 times to repeal “Obamacare.”

But their efforts had failed; the Democratic-led Senate made it clear it would never go along with such legislation.

Finally, unable to legally overturn the Act or to legislatively repeal it, House Republicans fell back on something much simpler: Threats and fear.

Threats–of voting to shut down salaries paid to most Federal employees. Most, because they themselves would continue to draw hefty salaries while denying them to FBI agents, air traffic controllers and members of the military, among others.

And fear–that would be generated throughout the Federal government, the United States and America’s international allies.

Republicans claimed it was Obama and Senate Democrats who refused to see reason and negotiate.

But then a Republican accidentally gave away the real reason for the shutdown.

“We’re not going to be disrespected,” Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) told the Washington Examiner. “We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Martin Stutzman

In short, Republicans–as admitted by Martlin Stutzman–were out to get “respect.” A member of the Crips or Bloods couldn’t have said it better.  

The shutdown began on October 1, 2013–and ended 16 days later with even Republicans admitting it had been a failure.

President Obama, a former attorney, denounced House Republicans as guilty of “extortion” and “blackmail.” If he truly believed them to be so guilty, he could have once again invoked RICO and/or the USA Patriot Act. 

Yet he did neither.

Had the President dared to prosecute such criminal conduct, the results would have been:

  • Facing lengthy prison terms, those indicted Republicans would have been forced to lawyer-up. That in itself would have been no small thing, since good criminal attorneys cost big bucks.  
  • Obsessed with their own personal survival, they would have found little time for engaging in the same thuggish behavior that got them indicted. In fact, doing so would have only made their conviction more likely.
  • The effect on Right-wing Republicans would have been the same as that of President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers: “You cross me and threaten the security of this Nation at your own peril.” 

True, some prosecuted Republicans might have beaten the rap. But first they would have been forced to spend huge amounts of time and money on their defense.

And with 75% of Americans voicing disgust with Congress, most of those prosecuted might well have been convicted.

It would have been a long time before Republicans again dared to engage in such behavior.

AVOIDING OBAMA’S MISTAKES: PART ONE (OF THREE)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 20, 2016 at 12:11 am

If Hillary Clinton becomes the nation’s first woman President, that will certainly be as big a historical milestone as Barack Obama’s becoming the first black man to hold that office.

But simply being elected President will not guarantee her success–any more than it guarantees success to any President.  

Every President faces challenges that his (up to now) predecessor didn’t. But others can be reasonably anticipated. For Clinton, a totally predictable challenge will be the sheer hatred and ruthless opposition Republicans aimed at Obama.  

And unless she determines, early on, to confront and overcome it, she will find her agenda just as blocked and undermined as Obama so often did.  

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Hillary Clinton

For example: 

On July 9, 2011, Republican extortionists threatened the Nation with financial ruin and international disgrace unless their budgetary demands were met.

They refused to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agreed to massively cut social programs for the elderly, poor and disabled.

If Congress failed to raise the borrowing limit of the federal government by August 2, the date when the U.S. reached the limit of its borrowing abilities, it would begin defaulting on its loans.

As Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, explained the looming economic catastrophe: “If you don’t send out Social Security checks, I would hate to think about the credit meeting at S&P and Moody’s the next morning.

“If you’re not paying millions and millions and millions of people that range in age from 65 on up, money you promised them, you’re not a AAA,” said Buffett.  

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Warren Buffett 

A triple-A credit rating is the highest possible rating that can be received.

And while Republicans demanded that the disadvantaged tighten their belts, they rejected raising taxes on their foremost constituency–the wealthiest 1%.

Raising taxes on the wealthy, they insisted, would be a “jobs-killer.” It would “discourage” corporate CEOs from creating tens of thousands of jobs they “want” to create.

As the calendar moved closer to the fateful date of August 2, Republican leaders continued to insist: Any deal that includes taxes “can’t pass the House.”

One senior Republican said talks would go right up to–and maybe beyond–the brink of default.

“I think we’ll be here in August,” said Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, of Texas. “We are not going to leave town until a proper deal gets done.”

President Obama had previously insisted on extending the debt ceiling through 2012. But in mid-July, he simply asked congressional leaders to review three options with their members: 

  1. The “Grand Bargain” choice–favored by Obama–would cut deficits by about $4 trillion, including spending cuts and new tax revenues.
  2. A medium-range plan would aim to reduce the deficit by about $2 trillion.
  3. The smallest option would cut between $1 trillion and $1.5 trillion, without increased tax revenue or any Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

And the Republican response?

Said Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee: “Quite frankly, [Republican] members of Congress are getting tired of what the president won’t do and what the president wants.”

With the United States teetering on the brink of national bankruptcy, President Obama faced three choices:

  1. Counter Republican extortion attempts via RICO–the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.
  2. Make a Cuban Missile Crisis-style address to the American people, seeking to rally them against a criminal threat to the financial security of the Nation.
  3. Cave in to Republican demands.

Unfortunately for Obama and the Nation, he chose Number Three.  

Rule #1 Ruthlessly Prosecute the Acts of Ruthless Criminals

But Obama could have countered that danger via the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

In 1970, Congress passed RICO, Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1961-1968.  Its goal: Destroy the Mafia.

U.S. Department of Justice

RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys. Among those crimes: Extortion.

Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.” 

And if President Obama had believed that RICO was insufficient to deal with this crisis, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.  

President George W. Bush signs the USA Patriot Act into law – October 26, 2001

In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism. Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place. President Obama needed only to direct the Justice Department to apply them.

“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”

The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place. President Obama needed only to direct the Justice Department to apply them.

Prosecuting members of Congress would not have violated the separation-of-powers principle. Congressmen had been investigated, indicted and convicted for various criminal offenses.

Such prosecutions–and especially convictions–would have served notice on current and future members of Congress that the lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage as part of a negotiated settlement.

MIKE PENCE’S LEGACY: BRINGING SHARIA LAW TO AMERICA

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 18, 2016 at 3:48 pm

Michael Richard “Mike” Pence served as a Republican member of the House of Representatives from 2001 to 2013. He also served as Chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2009 to 2012.  

In 2012, he ran for Governor of Indiana, won the election, and assumed this office in 2013.

On July 15, 2016, Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he had selected Pence as his Vice Presidential running mate in the 2016 Presidential election.

As a member of Congress, Pence: 

  • Voted, in 2007, to defund Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions.
  • Opposed, in 2009, giving American citizenship to children born to illegal aliens living within the United States.
  • Compared the U.S. Supreme Court’s upholding the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • Voted to eliminate funding for climate education programs and to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

As Governor, Pence: 

  • Unsuccessfully pushed for a 10% income-tax rate cut.
  • Signed legislation in 2015 that repealed an 80-year-old Indiana law requiring construction companies working on publicly funded projects to pay a prevailing wage.
  • Successfully lobbied in 2013 to limit reductions in sentences for marijuana offenses.
  • Agreed, in 2015, to expand Medicaid in Indiana, in accordance with the Affordable Care Act.

But for all of Pence’s actions as Congressman and Governor, the one which may prove the most far-reaching may be this: His signing into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As Governor of Indiana, he did this on March 26, 2015. The law allows any individual or corporation to cite its religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.

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Mike Pence

Officially, its intent is to prevent the government from forcing business owners to act in ways contrary to strongly held religious beliefs. Unofficially, its purpose is to appease the hatred of gays and lesbians by the religious Right, a key constituency of the Republican party.

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

The same applies for a hospital that doesn’t want to provide care to a gay or lesbian patient. 

The bill was passed overwhelmingly by both chambers of the Republican-controlled state legislature.  

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

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

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

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

It’s almost as if Pence sensed that he was about to push open a door into a danger-filled room. And this may well be the case.

Through that door may soon march the First Church of Cannabis. The day after Pence signed the Act, church founder Bill Levin announced on his Facebook page that he had filed paperwork with the office of the Indiana Secretary of State.

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

“Donate $100 or more and become a GREEN ANGEL. Donate $500 or more and become a GOLD ANGEL. Donate $1000 or more and become a CHURCH POOHBA.”

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

Since 9/11, Right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have warned that Muslims are trying to impose Sharia (Islamic law) on America. And now Indiana’s legislators, in elevating religion above the law, may have laid the legal foundations for making that possible.

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Muslims demanding the imposition of Sharia law–on themselves and non-Muslims

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

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

What will happen when: 

  • Muslims in Indiana claim their right–guaranteed in Islamic religious law–to have as many as four wives?  
  • Muslims demand a taxpayer-funded “halal” non-pork food shelf at free food pantries for the poor? (Exactly this happened among Somali refugees in Minnesota in 2015.) 
  • Muslims demand that police departments cancel counter-terrorism courses by claiming that their materials are anti-Muslim? (Exactly this happened to several police departments in Illinois.)

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

Hang onto your hijabs–it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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