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Posts Tagged ‘NICCOLO MACHIAVELLI’

BRINGING JUSTICE TO CEOs: (CORRUPT, EGOTISTICAL OLIGARCHS): PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on August 30, 2016 at 12:25 am

Mylan Pharmaceuticals CEO Heather Bresch is on a roll.  

  • Since 2004, she has hiked the price of a life-saving EpiPen from $50 to $300–or $600 for a package of two.
  • She has seen her own salary steadily rise more than 600% to a current total of $18 million a year.
  • The device now accounts for 40% of Mylan’s profits.  

But in playing greed-based games with the lives of millions of Americans, Bresch, 47, may have put her company–and even herself–in jeopardy.  

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Heather Bresch

EpiPens have been mandatory for public schools in at least 11 states since Congress passed the 2013 School Access to Emergency Epinephrine Act. This occurred after Mylan spent $4 million lobbying Congress.  

When the lives of their children are threatened, adults who can stoically accept the inevitability of their own deaths can become dangerously emotional about the fates of their sons or daughters.

As national news media spread the word of Mylan’s unconscionable price increases, American consumers are making their rage increasingly known.

There are three ways this could be expressed: Political, Legal, and Illegal.  

Political: Minnesota U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has called for an official investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into the price hike:

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Senator Amy Klobuchar

“I write to request the Federal Trade Commission investigate whether Mylan Pharmaceuticals has violated the antitrust laws regarding the sale of its epinephrine auto-injector, EpiPen. Many Americans, including my own daughter, rely on this life-saving product to treat severe allergic reactions.  

“Although the antitrust laws do not prohibit price gouging, regardless of how unseemly it may be, they do prohibit the use of unreasonable restraints of trade to facilitate or protect a price increase.” 

Other Senators who have called for hearings include Iowa’s Charles Grassley, Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal and former Democratic presidential contender Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. 

“I have heard from one father in Iowa who recently purchased a refill of his daughter’s EpiPen prescription. He reported that to fill the prescription, he had to pay over $500 for one EpiPen,” wrote Grassley to Bresch. “The high cost has also caused some first responders to consider making their own kits with epinephrine vials and syringes.”

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Senator Charles Grassley

“There’s no reason an EpiPen, which costs Mylan just a few dollars to make, should cost families more than $600,” tweeted Sanders on Twitter.

A second expression of political fallout could ultimately be the adoption of a single-payer healthcare system. Under this, a “single-payer” fund, rather than private insurers, pays for healthcare costs. The healthcare delivery system can be private, public or a combination of the two.  

Owing to the belief of millions of Right-wing Americans that such a system is “Communistic,” this is unlikely to be adopted within the foreseeable future.  

Legal: Individual Americans–and/or the U.S. Department of Justice–could file civil lawsuits against Mylan Pharmaceuticals under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.  

Passed by Congress in 1970 to combat the Mafia, its provisions include punishments for extortion. This 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.”  

It could be argued that, by holding a near-monopoly over a product that millions of Americans depend on for survival, and raising its price beyond the ability of most Americans to afford it, Mylan has engaged in extortionate practices.  

It would not be the first time a David-vs.-Goliath lawsuit prevailed against dismal expectations.  

In 1994, amid great pessimism, Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry. But other states soon followed, ultimately growing to 46.  

Their goal: To seek monetary, equitable and injunctive relief under various consumer-protection and anti-trust laws.

The theory underlying these lawsuits: Cigarettes produced by the tobacco industry created health problems among the population, which badly strained the states’ public healthcare systems.

In 1998, the states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related, health-care costs–amounting to millions of dollars. In return, they exempted the companies from private lawsuits for tobacco-related injuries.

Illegal:  At one time, business titans like John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford lived apart from “the common herd.” Americans read about them in newspapers or heard about them on the radio, but had no way of contacting them directly.  

If you wanted to “dig up dirt” on any of them, you had to be wealthy enough to hire private detectives–who were probably employed by the same people you wanted to investigate.  

But the rise of the Internet–and especially the advent of “people-finder” websites like Instant Checkmate, Intellius and Veromi–has drastically changed all that.  

Type “Heather Bresch” into the Intellius “Confidential People Finder” subject line, and–for a $20 month’s subscription–you can obtain “some or all of the following”:  

  • Full Name
  • Age and Date of Birth
  • Address
  • Address History
  • Phone Numbers
  • Aliases
  • Relatives
  • Neighbors
  • Email Address(es)
  • Social Networks
  • Property Records
  • Marriages & Divorce
  • Criminal Records
  • Bankruptcies
  • Liens
  • Judgments
  • Lawsuits

It doesn’t take a genius to see how the parent of an allergy-suffering child–desperate to save his son or daughter and enraged at what he believes to be the extortionately high price of EpiPens–might put such information to use.  

What is truly astonishing is that, in our publicity-saturated culture, greedy, self-destructive “celebrities” like Heather Bresch don’t realize this.  

BRINGING JUSTICE TO CEOs (CORRUPT EGOTISTICAL OLIGARCHS): PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, Business, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Medical, Politics, Social commentary on August 29, 2016 at 1:04 am

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern politics, delivered this sage advice in his political masterwork, The Discourses:

All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it. 

If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself.  But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.  

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Niccolo Machiavelli

Unfortunately, it’s advice that members of the United States Congress have blissfully chosen to ignore. And, in doing so, they have condemned millions of Americans to suffering and death at the hands of greed-based, predatory corporations.  

One of these corporations is Mylan Pharmaceuticals.  

In 2007, Mylan acquired the patent for the EpiPen, a lifesaving device for anyone allergic to common foods like peanuts, shellfish and eggs. Millions of people with life-threatening allergies depend on the EpiPen for survival.  

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During an allergy attack, the EpiPen injects an emergency dosage of epinephrine to the user, preventing a possibly fatal reaction, known as anaphylaxis, from occurring. 

Between 2007 and 2015, the wholesale price of an EpiPen skyrocketed from $56.64 to $317.82–an increase of 461%. 

According to NBC News, compensation for Mylan CEO Heather Bresch similarly skyrocketed during the same period: From $2,453,456 in 2007 to $18,931,068 in 2015–a 671% raise in eight years. 

Bresch wasn’t the only one to profit at the expense of the most vulnerable. 

Mylan’s president, Rajiv Malik, got an 11% pay increase to $1 million annually by 2015.  And Mylan Chief Commercial Officer Anthony Mauro got a 13.6% raise, amounting to $625,000 per year. 

Between 2007 and 2015, Mylan’s stock price tripled, going from $13.29 per share in 2007 to a high of $47.59 in 2016. By late August, 2016, Mylan’s stock is hovering around $45.68 per share on the NASDAQ index.

Bloomberg states that the EpiPen now accounts for about 40% of Mylan’s profits. 

Ironically, Sheldon Kaplan, the man who invented the now-famous device, never made a dime off it, and died in obscurity.  

After working at NASA, Kaplan worked for Survival Technology, Inc., in Bethesda, Maryland. His assignment: Create a device to quickly inject a victim of anaphylaxis–a potentially fatal allergic reaction–with an emergency dose of epinephrine. 

In 1973, when Kaplan was finalizing the design concept for what would ultimately become the EpiPen, the Defense Department asked him to take on a new assignment. The military needed a device that could quickly inject an antidote for nerve gas.

Kaplan’s design perfectly fitted this need: When a victim plunged a needle into his thigh, a spring-loaded mechanism shot a needle containing life-saving medicine into his bloodstream. 

Kaplan’s invention became known as the ComboPen, and was initially used by the Pentagon before becoming available for use by the general public several years later as the EpiPen. 

Kaplan left Survival Technology shortly after creating the ComboPen to become a biochemical engineer. He didn’t follow the success of his invention–and didn’t reap any of the huge financial rewards that it has produced.  

That has certainly not been true for Mylan Pharmaceuticals.

After cornering the patent on the EpiPen in 2007, the company has made billions on the life-saving device. 

According to Bloomberg, a package of two EpiPens costs $415 in the United States after insurance discounts. The same package in France–which has price controls under socialized medicine–costs $85.  

The chief beneficiary of this legalized price-gouging has been Mylan’s CEO, Heather Bresch.

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Heather Bresch

The daughter of U..S. Senator Joseph Manchin (D-WV), she joined Mylan in 1992 and held various positions within the company.  Among these: Its chief lobbyist before Congress.  

It was in that capacity that she persuaded Congress to enact a bill requiring all public schools to carry EpiPens for students with food allergies. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama in November, 2013.

Over the next three years, schools nationwide bought EpiPens by the truckload. And Mylan jacked up its prices for the EpiPen every other quarter. 

On January 1, 2012, Heather Bresch became Mylan’s CEO.

But it wasn’t enough to have a monopoly on a device millions of men, women and children desperately needed. In 2014, true to its “profits-at-any-price” philosophy, Mylan reincorporated in the Netherlands to lower its effective tax rate.

It did so through a corporate accounting trick known as a tax inversion, and thus claiming the status of a foreign-owned corporation although its headquarters remained in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania.

Even her own father, U..S. Senator Joseph Manchin, condemned Mylan’s use of the inversion scheme and said it should be illegal.  

But Bresch fiercely defended it in an interview with the New York Times: “You can’t maintain competitiveness by staying at a competitive disadvantage. I mean you just can’t.”

No doubt, with her $18 million-a-year CEO salary and moneyed ties to high-powered attorneys and influential members of Congress, Bresch thinks herself invulnerable.

But all that could quickly change–if even a small number of her victims become angry enough.  

COMBATING SLUMLORDS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 25, 2016 at 1:53 am

City agencies need to see landlords for what they truly are–as, at best, potential predators, if not actual ones. And to act on that knowledge. 

As Niccolo Machiavelli warned:

“All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it. 

“If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself.  But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.”

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Niccolo Machiavelli

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

This holds true across the United States. But it also holds true in San Francisco–the “renters’ paradise” where the District Attorney’s Office hasn’t prosecuted a slumlord in decades

Part Two of this series presented a series of badly-needed, long-overdue reforms for the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI). This is the agency charged to ensuring safe housing conditions for San Francisco residents.

This concluding part will cover the remainder of those needed reforms. 

  • 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.  
  • Landlords should be legally required to hire a certified-expert contractor to perform building repairs. To save money–that they can well afford to spend–many landlords insist on making such repairs despite their not being trained or experienced in doing so. They thereby risk the health and/or safety of their tenants. 
  • 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, if not slaves, 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.   
  • Above all, DBI must stop viewing itself as a 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 force their compliance. William Tecumseh Sherman, speaking of the rebellious Southern states, said it best: “They cannot be made to love us, but they may be made to fear us.”  
  • 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.  

  • Install Rent Control protections for tenants on fixed incomes. San Francisco is notorious for having the highest rents in the nation. A one-bedroom apartment runs $3,448 a month. Even those in the vaunted high-tech industry spend most of their income on rent.
  • For tenants on fixed incomes–seniors, disabled, students–the predatory greed of landlords amounts to a staged-in eviction notice.  Social Security recipients did not get a cost-of-living increase this year because there had not been a rise in the price of gasoline. But the fact that many of them do not own cars doesn’t mean that the price of everything else–such as groceries–hasn’t sharply risen.  
  • Allowing landlords to jack up rents to the fullest extent possible every year will eventually drive out all tenants who are not multimillionaires. In fact, an unknown portion of this City’s homeless population doubtless stems from the ability of landlords to gradually raise rents above tenants’ ability to afford them.  
  • In 1979, San Franciscans passed a Rent Control law to protect tenants against predatory rent hikes and unfair evictions. As a result, a landlord can only raise a tenant’s rent a certain percentage every year. This is set by the set by the Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, more popularly known as the “Rent Board.”  
  • But there is a gaping hole in the law: Once a tenant moves out, the landlord can jack up the rent as high as he wants. This is why the average rent in San Francisco is priced beyond most middle-class wage-earners. 
  • In addition, landlords are allowed to charge tenants yearly fees to maintain the existence of the Rent Board. This is both unfair and insulting, since the Board was created to protect tenants from predatory landlords. Most tenants have far less money to pay such fees than do landlords, who are free to raise rents every year. And landlords–unlike tenants–can and do write off Rent Board fees on their taxes every year. Thus, landlords–not tenants–should be paying the fees.  

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.”

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.

CHARACTER AND DESTINY: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 3, 2016 at 12:05 am

Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump recently attacked the integrity of the parents of an Army captain who died heroically in Iraq in 2004.

For this, he has taken heavy fire from Democrats, veterans organizations and even his fellow Republicans.

But an even more damning assessment comes from Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th-century Florentine statesman whose two great works on politics–The Prince and The Discourses–remain textbooks for successful politicians more than 500 years later.  

Niccolo Machiavelli

Consider Trump’s notoriety for hurling insults at virtually everyone, including:  

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

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

Machiavelli, on the other hand, advises leaders to refrain from gratuitous insults: 

  • “I hold it to be a proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards any one.
  • For neither the one nor the other in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy–but the one makes him more cautious, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”  

And Trump’s reaction to the criticism he’s received? 

“I can be Presidential, but if I was Presidential I would only have–about 20% of you would be here because it would be boring as hell, I will say,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Superior, Wisconsin. 

For those who expect Trump to shed his propensity for constantly picking fights, Machiavelli has a stern warning: 

  • “…If it happens that time and circumstances are favorable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful. But if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change the mode of his procedure. 
  • “No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to this, either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him, or else because, having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it… 
  • “For if one could change one’s nature with time and circumstances, fortune would never change.” 

Then there is Trump’s approach to consulting advisers:

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he consults about foreign policy, Trump replied;

“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

This totally contrasts with the advice given by Machiavelli:

  • “A prudent prince must [choose] for his counsel wise men, and [give] them alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else. 
  • “But he must be a great asker about everything and hear their opinions, and afterwards deliberate by himself in his own way, and in these counsels…comport himself so that every one may see that the more freely he speaks, the more he will be acceptable.”

And Machiavelli offers a related warning on the advising of rulers: Unwise princes cannot be wisely advised.   

During the fifth GOP debate in the Presidential sweepstakes, host Hugh Hewitt asked Trump this question: 

“Mr. Trump, Dr. [Ben] Carson just referenced the single most important job of the president, the command and the care of our nuclear forces. And he mentioned the triad. 

“The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out. It’s an executive order. It’s a commander-in-chief decision. 

“What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?” 

[The triad refers to America’s land-, sea- and air-based systems for delivering nuclear missiles and bombs.] 

Nuclear missile in silo

Trump’s reply: “Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible, who really knows what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important.”  

He then digressed to his having called the Iraq invasion a mistake in 2003 and 2004. Finally he came back on topic:

“But we have to be extremely vigilant and extremely careful when it comes to nuclear. Nuclear changes the whole ballgame. 

“The biggest problem we have today is nuclear–nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. I think to me, nuclear, is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

Which brings us back to Machiavelli:  

  • “…Some think that a prince who gains the reputation of being prudent [owes this to] the good counselors he has about him; they are undoubtedly deceived.
  • “It is an infallible rule that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well advised, unless by chance he leaves himself entirely in the hands of one man who rules him in everything, and happens to be a very prudent man. In this case, he may doubtless be well governed, but it would not last long, for the governor would in a short time deprive him of the state.” 

All of which would lead Niccolo Machiavelli to warn, if he could witness American politics today: “This bodes ill for your Republic.”

CHARACTER AND DESTINY: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 2, 2016 at 12:02 am

“He appeared to need enemies the way other men need friends, and his conduct assured that he would always have plenty of them.”

So wrote William Manchester about General Douglas MacArthur in his monumental 1978 biography, American Caesar.  But he could have written just as accurately about Donald Trump, the businessman-turned-Republican-Presidential-nominee.  

Since July 28, Trump has found himself embroiled in a no-win war-of-words with the parents of an American Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004. And the battle shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

Humayun Khan served as a captain in the U.S. Army. On June 8, 2004, a vehicle packed with explosives approached his compound in Iraq.  

Khan ordered his men to seek cover as he ran toward it. Suddenly, the car exploded, killing Khan instantly. He was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously.  

On July 28, his father, Khizr, was a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention. With his wife, Ghazala, standing at his side, he made a blistering attack on Trump: 

“We are honored to stand here as the parents of Captain Humayun Khan, and as patriotic American Muslims with undivided loyalty to our country.  

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Khizr Khan

“If it was up to Donald Trump, [Humayun] never would have been in America,” Khan said. “Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country. 

“Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”

Pulling a copy of the Constitution from his pocket he said: “In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’  

“You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”  

On July 29, the Khans appeared in an interview on MSNBC’s The Last Word. Khan appealed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) to “repudiate Trump.”

Trump predictably responded during a July 30 interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. 

“Who wrote that?” he demanded of Khan’s speech. “Did Hillary’s script writers write it?” 

(According to Politico, Khan declined the use of a speechwriter.)

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Donald Trump

“I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices,” said Trump. “I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs.”  

“Those are sacrifices?” Stephanopoulos asked. 

“Sure. I think they’re sacrifices. I think when I can employ thousands and thousands of people, take care of their education, take care of so many things.”

Trump implied that Khan’s wife may not have been allowed to speak because of her religion. 

Ghazala Khan subsequently retorted in an interview that she had been invited to speak but was too upset to do so.  

On July 31, Khizr Khan said on CNN’s State of the Union that Trump had a “black soul.”  

That same day, Trump took to Twitter:  

“Captain Khan, killed 12 years ago, was a hero, but this is about RADICAL ISLAMIC TERROR and the weakness of our ‘leaders’ to eradicate it!”  

And: “I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond? Hillary voted for the Iraq war, not me!”  

On August 1, Khan appeared on NBC’s Today Show: “This candidate amazes me. His ignorance–he can get up and malign the entire nation, the religions, the communities, the minorities, the judges and yet a private citizen in this political process. … I cannot say what I feel?”  

The same day, Trump responded on Twitter: 

“Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same – Nice!”

And again: “This story is not about Mr. Khan, who is all over the place doing interviews, but rather RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM and the U.S. Get smart!”  

The exchange hasn’t hurt the Khans. But it has inflicted heavy damage on Trump.  

Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain–himself a seven-year prisoner of North Vietnam during the Vietnam war–said: 

“In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents. He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States–to say nothing of entering its service.

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John McCain

“I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.”   

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), one of the largest and oldest veterans organizations in the country, released its own statement: 

“Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression. There are certain sacrosanct subjects that no amount of wordsmithing can repair once crossed.

“Giving one’s life to nation is the greatest sacrifice, followed closely by Gold Star families, who have a right to make their voices heard.”

THE FIRST RULE OF CONSPIRACIES–AND COMPUTERS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 26, 2016 at 12:15 am

On July 22, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

The emails were exchanged from January 2015 through May 2016.

These clearly reveal a bias for Hillary Clinton and against her lone challenger, Vermont U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.

One email revealed that Brad Marshall, the chief financial officer of the DNC, suggested that Sanders, who is Jewish, could be portrayed as an atheist. 

Sanders’ supporters have long charged that the DNC and its chair, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, were plotting to undercut his campaign. Now thousands of them are expected to descend on the Democratic convention as furious protesters.  

The leak could not have come at a worse time for Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, U.S. Senator from New York and Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

About to receive the Democratic nomination for President, she finds herself charged with undermining the electoral process. 

Wasserman-Schultz has proven the first casualty of the leak, resigning from her position as chair of the DNC and saying she would not open the Democratic convention as previously scheduled.

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Debbie Wasserman-Schultz

As for Clinton: Her campaign manager, Bobby Mook, blamed the Russians for the leak. Their alleged motive: To help Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Cyber-security experts believe the hackers originated from Russia–and that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have authorized it.

His alleged motive: Trump has repeatedly attacked United States’ membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

He believes the United States is paying an unfairly large portion of the monies needed to maintain this alliance–and he wants other members to contribute far more. Otherwise, if he is elected President, they would be on their own if attacked by Russia.

Trump took to twitter to offer his take on the release: “How much BAD JUDGEMENT was on display by the people in DNC in writing those really dumb e-mails, using even religion, against Bernie!”  

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Bernie Sanders

Which brings up the obvious question: Why was such sensitive information entrusted to computers that could be hacked? 

This is not the first time a major corporation or government agency has fallen prey to hackers.

Name-brand companies, trusted by millions, have been hit with massive data breaches that compromised their customers’ and/or employees’ most sensitive financial and personal information.

Among those companies and agencies:

  • Target
  • Kmart
  • Home Depot
  • JPMorgan/Chase
  • Staples
  • Dairy Queen
  • Anthem, Inc.
  • Sony Pictures
  • The U.S. State Department
  • The Pentagon
  • The Office of Personnel Management

Perhaps the most notorious target so far hacked is Ashley Madison, the website for cheating wives and husbands. Launched in 2001, its catchy slogan is: “Life is short. Have an affair.”  

Ashley Madison - Ashley Madison Agency

On July 15, 2015, its more than 37 million members learned that highly embarrassing secrets they had entrusted to Ashley Madison had been compromised.

This included their sexual fantasies, matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.

A website offering cheating services to those wealthy enough to afford high-priced fees is an obvious target for hackers. After all, its database is a blackmailer’s dream-come-true.  

And the same is true for computers of one of the two major political parties of the United States. 

Among the secrets unearthed in the WikiLeaks document-dump: Plans by Democratic party officials to reward large donors and prominent fundraisers with lucrative appointments to federal boards and commissions.

Most of the donors listed gave to Clinton’s campaign. None gave to Sanders.

According to Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, a government watchdog group: 

“The disclosed DNC emails sure look like the potential Clinton Administration has intertwined the appointments to federal government boards and commissions with the political and fund raising operations of the Democratic Party. That is unethical, if not illegal.”  

Centuries before the invention of computers–and the machinery needed to hack into them–Niccolo Machiavelli offered cautionary advice to those thinking of entering into a conspiracy.  He did so in his masterwork on politics, The Discourses.  

Niccolo Machiavelli

Unlike his better-known work, The Prince, which deals with how to secure power, The Discourses lays out rules for preserving liberty within a republic.

In Book Three, Chapter Six (“Of Conspiracies”) he writes:

“I have heard many wise men say that you may talk freely with any one man about everything, for unless you have committed yourself in writing, the ‘Yes’ of one man is worth as much as the ‘No’ of another. 

“And therefore one should guard most carefully against writing, as against a dangerous rock, for nothing will convict you quicker than your own handwriting.”

In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte, then First Consul of France, ordered the execution of the popular Louis Antoine de Bourbon, Duke of Enghien, claiming that he had aided Britain and plotted against France.

The aristocracy of Europe, still recalling the slaughters of the French Revolution, was shocked. 

Asked for his opinion on the execution, Napoleon’s chief of police, Joseph Fouche, said: “It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder.”  

This may prove to be history’s verdict on the storing of so many incriminating computer files by the DNC.

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.

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