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It was not unusual for the most powerful or influential Russian czars to have a moniker: Catherine the Great, Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible, to name a few.

Following in this tradition, Russia now has Putin the Sociopath.

If there were any doubts about V. Putin’s state of mind, the destruction of Malaysia Air Flight 17 over Eastern Ukraine should quash them. It is not just his outright denial of responsibility in the face of growing intelligence that he has armed pro-Russia rebels and provided technical training, stirred the pot by keeping a large force on the border with Ukraine and failed to dial down the rhetoric about a “fascist” government in Kiev, but he blames Ukraine for the tragedy that murdered 298 men, women, children and infants.

Mario Puzo’s Michael Corleone was a novice sociopath compared to the ex-KGB hack in the Kremlin. Although he lied about giving the order to kill his own brother-in-law and viewed the murder of his rivals as “strictly business,” at least the young Godfather did not kill innocent people.

Putin effectively pulled the trigger of the surface-to-air missile by encouraging the chaos and bloodshed that heretofore was primarily directed at combat units. Even if the Russian operatives on the ground did not intend to shoot down a civilian airliner – traveling at a non threatening altitude of 33,000 feet – Putin must answer for the deaths.

What is just as repulsive are those in the United States who actually admire this butcher.

Why do they?

For many of them it is about President Obama. Since Putin made him appear weak in the Syrian chemical weapon confrontation, he instantly became a hero in the eyes of the lunatic fringe. For what it is worth, Obama shot himself in the foot with his “red line” threat. Nevertheless, Putin has become a rock star in their eyes. These Americans are blinded by rage and hate.

President Obama’s international policies have been largely embarrassing over the last two years, but he has done a decent job of dealing with the crisis in Ukraine. He has been in no position to be too aggressive with sanctions because the EU countries, who rely heavily on Russia’s natural gas, have responded timidly lest they jeopardize their energy supplies. Without firm support from our major European allies, US sanctions will have little effect.

This may change. Europe cannot ignore the gravity of this senseless act and Putin’s attempt to cover up the role he played.

Putin must pay a price. The Russian people who support him must also feel pain. They keep this brute in power. Until they wake up and end his regime, they will also have blood on their hands.

Do the math

The Police Protective League announced that a majority of the 9,900 LAPD officers it represents rejected a contract extension. The extension would have denied most officers a raise, but would have considerably increased the budget to pay officers for overtime rather than defer it.

The deferral of overtime was a bad idea to begin with. It only backloaded a greater burden upon officers’ retirements. But that’s besides the point.

The objective of the city is to hold down raises in order to minimize the cost of retirement benefits. Retirement costs for fire and police have shot up from $175 million in 2005 to $626 million currently (a straight 29% per year over the base period), and will continue to grow. The Los Angeles Times reported the annual cost will reach $710 million in two years.

The contract rejection came on top of a challenge to the 2012 City Council decision to offer lower benefits to new civilian employees. The Employee Relations Board will now have to deliberate over whether the new tier violated labor laws.

The cost of civilian retirement cost have grown from $260 million in 2005 to $410 million, a 6% per year annual increase over the base year.

In the aggregate, combined retirement costs have grown by 15% per year since 2005.

We simply cannot afford to maintain that pace.

If employees want to maintain gold-plated benefits, they must contribute more.

The alternative is a reduction in services. Everyone loses in that scenario.

It is highly likely the rate of increase will get worse. People are living longer and will require more care.

The city is in a race to the bottom. How long before the residents and businesses wake up and realize they will increasingly pay more for less?

Unsocial Media

About three years ago, I stopped posting my politically oriented articles on my Facebook timeline. Nothwithstanding many of these articles were about local issues in Los Angeles and, therefore, would not be relevant to many of my friends scattered on the east coast, I did not want to force my opinions on others’ news feeds.

Instead, I post most of them on Facebook Groups dealing with the issues. If the related threads devolve into a food fight, at least they are confined to the cafeteria and not the hallways.

Facebook has increasingly become a soapbox for a hardcore group of users who share their ideological rants multiple times a day. Free speech is vital to our society, but someone moving the soap box from the street to another’s porch goes beyond being social. People have a right to share their opinions on social media or in many other forums. They don’t have to blast it electronically to everyone, but they do.

However, there is no obligation to be considerate when someone intrudes on your space. Think of how you might deal with a telemarketer who ignores the no-call list or interrupts you at 9 AM on your day off. I can be a bulldog when I respond to a partisan post, also harsh, but never profane. I don’t apologize for my responses. If the posters do not like it, they can unfriend me. I will not take it personally.

The Supreme Court decisions last week created an explosion among a handful of individuals who went berserk over them. My God, how could anyone dare cross their personal lines in the sand? A few resorted to barely disguised profanity (i.e STFU, f**k-g) Had the decisions gone the other way, it would have been the conservative fringe popping off about liberal bias and denial of religious rights.

To a minority of Facebook users, the world is black and white.

Rights collide sometimes. How far can you take freedom of speech without infringing on, say, freedom of religion or the separation of church and state? It is a fuzzy region.

I safely assume at least the vast majority of my Facebook friends follow the news through various sources. I will not bombard them with links to biased sources, or a personal diatribe against this figure or some issue. I do not want to turn their news feeds into a virtual version of MSNBC or FOX News. They can find my opinions easily enough.

So please consider your friends before you launch World War III on Facebook. Find another battleground or start your own Facebook Group – it is very easy.

Happy Anniversary

Citywatch asked me to share my thoughts about Mayor Garcetti’s first year in office.

If I were limited to writing about his tangible achievements, this article would end right here………

– just 30 words about nothing.

That would not be fair.

There are some intangible developments worth mentioning, but there is also so much for him to prove.

The most encouraging sign I see is the synergy among Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and City Controller Ron Galperin. I cannot recall any administration where the top three elected officials appeared to be in step with each other. For one thing, all of them embrace technology. That’s a far cry from the threesome of Villaraigosa, Greuel and Trutanich who allowed the city to slip further behind 21st century information processing standards. There is no doubt in my mind Los Angeles will move forward and close the gap.

It was also heartening to see the three stand together against Brian “Vladimir” D’Arcy’s disrespect for the public’s right to transparency over the financial disclosures of the secretive Joint Institutes of Safety and Training. By contrast, the City Council has remained mum.

But what is in store for the next three years? A more tech-savvy city that still cannot fix its streets and gives developers breaks to build more luxury hotels?

Garcetti’s effectiveness will boil down to how well he manages the city’s finances. He can’t do it alone – there is an entrenched civil service bureaucracy at City Hall and a City Council that does not want to make waves with the public employee unions.

Freeing up funds to provide both core services and eliminate some of the massive deferred maintenance will depend on whether Garcetti can secure higher contributions from labor to cover steadily growing health care and pension costs. Left unchecked, retirement benefits will eventually consume the majority of the general fund within a generation.

It would not be productive for the mayor to tackle education at the granular level as Villaraigosa attempted. Instead, Garcetti should use his superior communication skills – something his predecessor lacked – to encourage more parental activism to free students as much as possible from the tyranny of the LAUSD.

Garcetti is on record as wanting to reform the DWP. He made a good start by appointing responsible commissioners and advocating for new management at the utility. Now he has to make sure his team can deliver better customer service and more attention to infrastructure replacement. It will require loosening IBEW work rules and reining in the compensation costs. Rate increases are inevitable, so the long-term goal should be to attain maximum value for our money.

Of course he will not be able to achieve all of these things in a single term, but he must show at least some progress in his second year to prove he is committed to turning the city around both financially and in terms of quality of life.

It has been reported that the infrastructure construction for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio are in even worse shape than in the run-up to the Athens Games in 2004. Social unrest also grips Brazil as people question the nation’s priorities.

In a recent poll, only 48% of the population were happy playing host to the World Cup tournament in a country where futbol is a religion.

Olympic costs will far exceed those of the World Cup – a projection of $18 billion vs. $11 billion for the latter. The new stadium is about $100 million over budget.

Regardless of the costs, the IOC may have to make what might be the most controversial decision in sports history if it appears that the facilities in Rio will be largely unfinished by the opening ceremonies. It could move the Games to an alternate location.

Although everything would be done to avoid such an embarrassment, it is not out of the question, especially if major venues are not in condition to offer competitors and fans a safe experience. If public unrest grows, fears of riots could drive countries to pull their national teams from the Games.

The point of no return is rapidly approaching – say by September of this year. A go or no-go decision will have to be made.

So what city would be capable of stepping up?

Conceivably, London could, but the chances are virtually zero the IOC would allow the same city to host back-to-back Games.

The facilities used for Athens and Beijing are rotting away.

No city in the world can match Los Angeles for its combination of sports infrastructure, balmy weather, die-hard fans and, most of all, the entrepreneurial character of its business community. Add to that, you could have Mitt Romney manage the preparation and staging of the Games. He could go down in history as having been behind two financially successful Olympics in a world where it is an achievement for the host city to simply avoid bankruptcy. Put it this way, it offers a much better opportunity than running for president again.

But could a Los Angeles Olympics earn a surplus?

The 1984 Games made a surplus of $232 million against $546 million in costs, a 42% return . Much of the surplus was funneled into an endowment – LA84 – that still contributes to sports programs benefiting local children and schools today.

We have much more riding in our favor these days. Besides the experience and lessons learned from 1984, we have a vastly larger commuter rail system, more hotel beds and key new facilities, such as the Staples Center, to complement older serviceable arenas.

We do not need new stadiums, only upgrades.

Beach volleyball anyone? I mean real beach volleyball.

Local colleges can provide housing for many athletes. Many residents would open their doors to athletes and team personnel as well.

Of course residents could benefit from one of the best tax breaks around – you can rent your dwelling tax-free for fourteen days no matter how much you charge. It would be enough to make many people leave town and reduce the traffic load.

Perhaps Mayor Garcetti and the County Board of Supervisors could quietly suggest to the IOC that Los Angeles stands ready if needed.

Carpools have HOV lanes.

Bicyclists have bike lanes.

They must all feel better-served and perhaps safer, or at least have the illusion of safety, with dedicated blacktop.

How many times have you been driving down a street and had to hit the brakes because a cat darts out and dashes erratically in front of your car?

This type of incident leads to tragedy every day on the streets of Los Angeles.

I am on a crusade to end the dangerous interactions between motor vehicles and our feline friends.

The time for the Cat Lane has arrived.

Before you jump to the conclusion that I am overdosing on some really fine medical catnip, I have done my research and conducted tests to prove cat lanes are a deterrent to felineous paws of attention brought on by distractions such as texting while driving.

I converted my driveway to a cat lane prototype.

I am proud to say I have not hit Pinky once. If anything, she feels secure enough to nap in the middle of the driveway (see pictorial proof below).

Test track for Cat Lane in Valley Village, CA

Test track for Cat Lane in Valley Village, CA

I will ask City Council Member Paul Koretz to introduce a motion to fund a network of cat lanes throughout the city.

The next logical step will be the establishment of cat parks with the Department of Parks and Recreation. The cat lanes will connect the parks, allowing cat owners to let their pets roam in safety.

Of course, some kitties will abuse their freedom. For that, cat red light cameras will be needed to make sure they abide by the rules of the road.

This is a great opportunity for Los Angeles to prove that you can herd cats.

The commemoration of D-Day never fails to rankle the Russians. They like to downplay the Normandy invasion and emphasize the sacrifice made by the Soviet Union. Someone should remind them that westerners do not trivialize their commemoration of Stalingrad.

The Great Patriotic War, as it was known in the former Soviet Union and still is by the citizens of today’s Russia – has been used by both the Communist and current leaders of Russia as a means to stoke nationalistic fervor. It is this fervor that has been behind their desire to expand power and influence throughout the world. Russian separatists and their sympathizers in Ukraine routinely parade images of Joseph Stalin and justify their actions as a continuation of the war against fascism.

Russian losses in World War 2 were estimated at 20,000,000 – as large a sacrifice as any nation ever made. One should note the casualty figure includes at least 3,000,000 Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians and those from other republics that were under Soviet subjection.

The victims should be honored and respected, but the past and present governments and leaders of Russia, along with the nationalists who use the war to wave the bloody shirt, do not deserve any recognition. Vladimir Putin strutted around like a peacock at the very solemn gathering in France last week marking the 70th anniversary of the riskiest military venture ever attempted in modern times.

Perhaps Putin should be reminded that Stalin’s Non Aggression Pact with Germany gave the green light for Hitler to invade Poland and start the war. The agreement also partitioned Poland. Stalin invaded days after German forces attacked to secure his share of the spoils. The Soviet occupation of Poland was as brutal as Germany’s. Besides atrocities committed against the civilian population, the Russian government authorized the execution of 4,300 Polish officers held as prisoners.

In 1944, the Red Army did noting to provide relief to the valiant Polish resistance who rose up against the Nazi occupiers of Warsaw. There was more than ample time to intervene, instead the Russians sat outside the Polish capital with a massive force and provided little assistance despite pleas from Churchill and Roosevelt. There was so much disgust with Stalin that Churchill’s cabinet considered stopping the danger-ridden Arctic convoys that ferried 4 million tons of military aid to Russia.

Stalin repeatedly criticized the western allies for taking so long to open a second front in Europe. However, the Anglo-American forces were involved in the war against Imperial Japan, one in which Russia sat out until just days before the Emperor surrendered. Stalin’s sole motivation in those last day of the Pacific War was to gobble up as much land as possible in Asia.

The Americans, British and their Commonwealth allies were also heavily engaged in North Africa and later Italy. Their Navies were simultaneously fighting Germany’s deadly U-Boat threat to life-sustaining convoys crossing the Atlantic to England.

Stalin and his regime perverted the victory over Hitler by enslaving half of Europe. Stalin also installed Kim Il-Sung as his puppet in North Korea…and you know how that played out.

With Putin, it is all about Russia. He, his cronies and the 80% of Russian citizens who support them want to create a power the Czars and Stalin would be proud of.

The Great Patriotic War is their marketing tool.

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