Monday, September 1, 2014

Technology Upgrades

We'll be learning new technology this month, as I'm getting both a new laptop (this one has the slooows) and my first Smartphone.  J has chosen to stay with his dumb phone.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Outside Agitators

Whenever I hear that unrest in a community is the result of "outside agitators," I am reminded of a story about Da Nang in Viet Nam in 1946. Two organizers from the Indochinese Communist Party were sent to organize the population there and sparked a series of riots in which the population took the stores of rice being guarded by the government.  The French blamed the communists, of course.

Now first, one should be intrigued by the competence of an organization that can spark riots by sending two people.  They must have been really good.

But then one should check out the backstory.  What was going on that led the population to riot?  We find that the French colonials were selling rice to the Occupation forces in Japan.  They had bought up all of the rice, leaving nothing for the starving population.  In one of the usual colonial acts of insensitivity, the French had the rice guarded by the Japanese prisoners of war who had been captured in the region.  The population of Da Nang was starving, and there should be some doubt that the Indochinese Communist Party was, independent of the legitimate anger of the local citizenry, so good as to bring about a demonstration, let alone rioting.

But now we find that outside agitators have come to Ferguson.  We are already finding out that the spark was the killing of Michael Brown, but the poor and black population of Ferguson had a number of long-standing issues with their local police, whether or not the cops were dressed for battle in Iraq, and that much of the municipal government's budget was raised from petty harassment of the African American citizenry. Remember that Michael Brown was first stopped for jaywalking, one of those lovely little discretionary citations that raises money for the local government.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What the F#@&?

Recently Cuba has been in the news.  Once it became clear that the demise of the Soviet Union wasn't going to collapse the Cuban government, and Fidel Castro retired (which never occurred as a possibility to anyone in the extensive spy/analyst community), Cuba dropped off the radar, except for the every-15-year-or-so "young people are disillusioned with the revolution" campaign.  But Cuba has popped up several time in the last few years, in circumstances embarrassing to the US government.

In several recent incidents USAID-funded programs have been caught trying to infiltrate Cuba and turn the rebellious youth against the government.  But before that we have the case of Alan Gross, who has been working for USAID since at least 2004, when he delivered a video camera to a Cuban Freemason, who turned out to be a government agent. So when Gross came back to deliver various technologies to Cuba's Jewish community, the Cubans had been following him for years.  One would think that Cuban DGI just got very lucky, but that isn't true.

We've been spying on Cuba since the Revolution in 1959, and they've been setting us up since 1959.  And we know this.  In 1987 a Cuban defector reported that every blessed agent the CIA thought it had recruited was a double agent.  Some of the stories in the Cuban press at the time indicated that the Cuban government was sending out potential agents to be recruited.  In one case the head of Cuba's medical operation in Maputo, Mozambique, was first approached when he went to a meeting in Mexico. He returned to Cuba and was "prepared for recruitment."  Yeah, they dangled, we bit.  The good doctor then headed off to Mozambique and spent his off-time hanging out in bars, complaining that the Cuban medical system required that he spend more time on Marxism-Leninism than on anatomy and physiology.  Oh, puleese.  Are we really that stupid? Apparently so.

Clinton tried to re-start our spying program in 1994, but it went so badly that it was shut down a few months later.  Cuban agents videotaped alleged diplomats (and sometimes their wives) delivering radios and the like to drops at 3:00 A.M.  I'm sure there was some reasonable explanation for this, but I've yet to hear it.

Time passes.  In 1998 Ricardo Alarcon gave an interview in which he noted that dissidents could do anything they wanted except advocate for return of the exiles or take money from the US government.  No more than two months after the interview, President Bill announced that the US would begin sending resources to the dissidents.  And unless diplomats were going to carry cans of peas in their luggage, that meant we'd be sending money.  Which we did.  We sent the money through Canada to Marta Beatriz Roque, a well-known dissident, for distribution to others. Distribute she did, and her secretary kept records of the distribution.  In 2003 when the dissidents were arrested and tried for taking money from the US, the secretary, a government agent, testified for the prosecution. The case was a slam dunk.

What this did, aside from getting a bunch of ineffectual people sentenced to long prison terms (most have since been released), was to entirely discredit the dissident movement, as many of them had claimed they had not, and would never, take money from the US government.  So our government went looking around for other opportunities.  And came upon Cuban youth.

First up was the ZunZuneo operation.  Cuban youth liked it, not because it was a USAID project, but because it was very cheap.  After some twists and turns, ZunZuneo was shut down, much to the consternation of the young people who used it.  Then we moved along to our latest debacle, where we sent young people from other Latin American countries to sow dissent under the cover of of an HIV-prevention project.  Now it's all well and good to engage in HIV prevention but, from what I can gather, there's hardly a 12-year-old kid in Cuba who doesn't know about HIV prevention and hasn't seen the condom-on-a-banana demonstration.  There are lots of countries that could really use sex education assistance, but Cuba isn't one of them.

I wonder what they'll come up with next.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

On Iraq

Peon did not support the war in Iraq.  She was clear on that.  She attended demonstrations against it.  She had read books on Iraq during the First Iraq War and knew that Iraq was very complicated.  She did not like Saddam, who delighted in knocking off members of the Iraqi Communist Party and other leftists, as well as, so far as she could see, anyone else he didn't like.  In the run-up to the Second Iraq War, she also read up and found that it was unlikely that the Iraqis had any weapons of mass destruction.  In particular, the nuclear weapons program was dead. Why?  Because nuclear weapons require a lot of money and the Iraqis didn't have any money.  See, so easy.  Doesn't require any "inside" information--just a little bit of thinking.

And Peon was more than a little irritated when, after killing lots of people and spending lots of money, VSPs decided that the war had been A Bad Idea.  How about illegal?  How about immoral?

But now that the government we left in Iraq appears to be collapsing, the VSPs want to drop some more bombs.  More shock and awe?  More precision-guided weaponry?  They've got to be kidding.  C'mon guys (and they are almost all guys), you screwed up. You made a hash of it.  You made Saddam look good, and that took some doing.  No amount of bombing is going to fix this mess.  Instead go off to one of those fancy resorts and do a goodly amount of soul-searching.  Think about the mess you made and resolve, over lobster and fois gras, not to do it again.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Summer Reading

This year I'll be participating in the local library's summer reading program.  Once upon a time this was a program to keep kids reading over the school break, but adults expressed interest and so it came to be that adults were allowed to participate.  There are prizes, but I'm really more interested in tracking my reading and forcing myself to read some serious books.  It's okay to have a lot of trashy mysteries on the list, but I should read some books that require more attention than watching TV.  I'm not counting garden books, as those are mostly pictures and it's okay to do picture books if you're five, but not if your less than a year from sixty.

In figuring out what to read, I'm going to look at some classics that I've somehow never gotten round to reading.  First up will be Jack Kerouac's On the Road, which I should have read as a young person, but never did.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Roger Dickinson Just Lost Two Votes

Our local State Senate race has two major candidates, both presently serving in the State Assembly.  I had planned to vote for Roger Dickinson over Richard Pan, simply because Dickinson was one of 13 to vote for a bill that would have protected tenants against nefarious lenders who were trying to evict tenants in foreclosed properties.  But by voting for AB 1513 he's lost all his tenants' rights' cred and then some.

AB 1513 takes away the tenant protections of the Homeowners' Bill of Rights.  It allows a landlord to evict tenants who are allegedly "squatting" without benefit of court hearing, simply on the declaration of the landlord. The tenant has no way to show that she is a legitimate tenant except by obtaining a statement from the landlord who is trying to evict her.  Huh?

The five of you who actually read my blog (three of whom are relatives) will recall that I have been dealing with tenants in foreclosed properties for a long time (since the end of 2007) and have heard from legions of tenants who suffered abuse at the hands of of lenders, as well as abuse by those who purchased foreclosed properties.  Many of them had not done their due diligence--and didn't know that the former owner had rented out the property.  Some of them were just ill-behaved, and thought they could frighten the tenants out of the house.

Worse than just general bad behavior, a tenant with a signed lease has no recourse unless the landlord agrees that the resident is a tenant.  So a foreclosing lender or the purchaser of a foreclosed property can claim that the resident is not a legal tenant, evicting the tenant within 48 hours. Tenants with oral leases are in even more trouble, although in other circumstances, they could prove they were legal tenants.  (Evidence might include utility bills addressed to the tenant, a driver's license showing the address as the tenant's residence and so on.)  But the local constabularies didn't want to have to take on what is essentially a judicial function (examining and verifying documents), so they did the quick and dirty, and assumed that landlords were upstanding citizens and tenants are a bunch of low-lifes who deserve what we get.

And of course, there are no consequences for landlords who evict tenants wrongfully. Judges in California are loath to give tenants damages in disputes with their landlords, and the Legislature has not seen fit (of course) to compensate tenants who might be harmed by, say, requiring that a landlord who was found to have evicted tenants pay them a substantial sum in compensation--I'm thinking in six figures to the left of the decimal point.

There's sure to be Green running.  Vote Green.

Addendum 5/18/14:  Oh, my dear comrades, it gets worse.  Here's how and why. Deutsche Bank lost a case.  In the case at hand the tenant was unceremoniously evicted by Deutsche Bank's loan servicer, Ocwen, with no notice and with the co-operation of the local constabulary.  (The horror of a marriage between Ocwen and Deutsche Bank is a subject for another day, but suffice it to say that the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has gone after Ocwen for its dirty dealing.  Should you want to read up on their bad behavior toward homeowners, go here.)  Would anything stop a foreclosing lender from simply signing the statement that there were no tenants at the property?  That's right--help the banks continue their bad behavior.  Maybe we should just call it the Deutche Bank bill.

In addition, now that property values are moving up, lenders are looking to take back properties, many of them investor-owned, that weren't worth the trouble when the market collapsed.  But they don't want to have to deal with, you know, tenants who live at the property.

Oh, there's no Green running.  Just Vote No.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014