Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Father's Maturing Dividend - Part 4

“The most gifted natures are perhaps also the most trembling.”
Andre Gide

French writer, humanist and moralist,
1947 nobel prize for literature,

We know that every strong sensation, emotion, or excitement-- extreme pain, rage, terror, joy, or the passion of love-- all have a special tendency to cause the muscles to tremble;
Charles Darwin

A friend who is far away is sometimes much nearer than one who is at hand. Is not the mountain far more awe-inspiring and more clearly visible to one passing through the valley than to those who inhabit the mountain?
Kahlil Gibran

Our absent friend KR is fond of yanking my chain with comments about me trembling in fear. I have never as a girl or woman, been fond of terrified damsel in distress scenarios. That is not to say that there have never been situations that were distressing to me, or frightening. The difference is not the risk, but the response.

When I was fifteen, my parents allowed me to begin dating, and the first person I dated was someone very nice from my debate team; he was a senior in high school. We continued dating, although it was at best a tepid relationship on my side, after he graduated and went on to college. That became tedious - the excitement of college parties didn't offset the deficiencies of the relationship. I dated other people, some in high school, some in college.

I finally dated someone that really interested me. He was in college. We had known each other since I was 4 and he was 6; my parents knew his parents socially. The difference was that this time, my feelings were more engaged. He invited me to a party at his dorm, and asked if I would give him a ride over to the West Bank of the U of MN Minneapolis campus where the dorm was. I arranged to take the car that was nominally my mothers for the day.

I was not sure if my interest was returned. At 16 I was usually more interested in dressing in a way that gained the approval of my girlfriends, or was competitive with them, rather than dressing for male attention. (It's a 'girl' thing.) But for that afternoon, I dressed to be, well, serious "arm-candy". I was able to be 'age ambiguous'; it helped, being tall. I knew quite well how to select clothes to achieve an effect.

My parents weren't worried, I had always been very responsible concerning alcohol, driving, and dating. When I wasn't a royal pain, I was a very easy child. They never had to tell me to study, I held a part time job at the library, I maintained honor roll grades, I was active in our church and community organizations, they liked who I dated, they even approved of my taste in clothes and makeup.

My father was fond of a kid's poem, from my earliest childhood, and said it to me often:

"there was a little girl,
who had a little curl,
right in the middle of her forehead;

and when she was good,
she was very very good,
and when she was bad, she was horrid".

That was prophetic.

I picked up my date at his front door, and we headed to the dorm party. We locked my purse in his dorm room, and moved on to the room where the party was, full of loud music, lots of people sprawled around the room on beds and the floor, in couples, with cigarette smoke, and bottles of alcohol everywhere, interspersed with a few half-empty bags of chips and pretzels. The music was so loud, conversation was impossible unless you yelled a few inches from the other person's ear.

We ended up sitting on the end of a bed that was up against a back wall, my date with his legs hanging over the foot of the bed and his back against the wall, and I with my legs draped over the side of the bed, resting with my back against his chest, his arm around my waist. He talked to the guy next to him, and except for his arm around my waist, ignored me. I was apparently there just to boost his image; that's what arm candy does, you sit there. Unfortunately for me, the inebriated jock who was sitting on the floor near where my feet hung over the edge of the bed didn't ignore me. He kept asking me if I was 'a real redhead', over and over. I had a bad feeling about where the conversation was going. As the music was so loud, I just nodded, tried to avoid eye contact, and hoped he would either pass out or go away.

He did neither. Sure enough, predictably, the next question was the perennial did the collar match the cuffs, the drapes match the rug. With the addition that he slid his hand up my leg. Which was bad enough, except that not only could I not dissuade him from continuing with his hand, he thought it would be very clever to find out the answer to his question for himself, and tried to slide his hand inside the pants leg of my shorts. I tried patiently for a few minutes to get the attention of my date, who was looking less appealing by the minute, while trying to struggle with the guy mauling me. As I looked around the room, every other woman there was in a similar position to mine, more or less, looking both bored and ignored, and very submissive.

We were not dates, we were accessories for the party, like the booze and the chips and the music. The lout on the floor would not stop trying to grope under my clothes , no matter how I struggled. My date was oblivious. The drunk was bigger, and older, and stronger than I was. I think he was used to that working for him with women. Although to be fair, I don't think he had any idea of my age.

I had enough. Near the end of the bed, at the corner, was a kitchen sized wastebasket doing double duty as an ice bucket, it had melted down to half ice cubes, half water, about 2/3 full. I slid forward to the edge of the bed, and leaned forward as if to speak to the clod on the floor. Correctly guessing he would be watching my chest rather than my face - or hands, I picked up the waste basket without him noticing. It was heavy, but I suppose by that point I'd had a rush of adrenaline. I rapidly poured the contents over his head, turned the wastebasket upside down, and thumped the upturned bottom of the wastebasket solidly with my fist, sort of wedging it over his head and around his shoulders at least on one side.

I stood up, amidst cheers from the other women in the room, and loud grumbling from the men. Someone turned off the noisy music. I told off my 'date'. I told off the guy on the floor who was still sitting there in quite a lot of water and ice cubes, with the waste basket still on his head. I think he was afraid to take it off. I was blazing angry. He was stunned. My date was stunned.

I stepped over the lout's legs, taking care not to step on the ice cubes, and headed for the door. My date looked at me, blankly, because he had no idea what had happened. He hadn't been paying attention; too bad for him.

I wanted my purse, I was leaving, and if he didn't want to open the door to his room, I would find a resident advisor, a janitor, someone to do it for me. All during the party, I had expected that my escort would intervene with the drunk. I was angry that he had not - angry being an understatement. It was in retrospect probably as much anger and disappointment in my escort as it was fury with the groping drunk that was at the root of my emotions. But I was also disgusted by the passivity of the other women in the room that contributed to the situation, and on some level I decided to change that by my example, even if I was the youngest person in the room at the time.

"Poor" date, his friends were angry with him, I was angry with him; it was a no-win situation. He chose me, and followed me out of the party. He was eventually able to persuade me to go for a long walk around campus before leaving, where he tried to be belatedly romantic. Then he decided to ride back home with me, even if it meant getting a second ride back to campus afterwards. It was a turning point in my expectations, a lesson that while it may be nice for a man to be protective and attentive, it is not wise to rely on it....and it is not necessary to wait for it. Behavior afterwards doesn't change anything.

Fast forward a number of years later. I held the power of attorney for a cousin who was getting a divorce, who had gone to China for a year to provide a specialized kind of engineering during their massive dam building project. My cousin's spouse was nuts; part of the strategy in the China trip was to put my cousin out of reach of the other person's obsessive behavior. The spouse didn't like me, because my volunteering for the power of attorney had made it possible for the trip to China. It became necessary first for me to get an ordinary civil restraining order, and when that was repeatedly violated, a criminal restraining order. As with the college party date, I was disenchanted with the protection provided by law enforcement in following through on the restraining orders, as in none. On top of which, the erratic behavior, including some truly odd religious notions on the part of my cousin's spouse had convinced me this person was just romp stomping nuts, dangerously so. I adamantly refused to be manipulated, bullied, threatened or otherwise coerced into doing what this person wanted. I actually enjoyed that doing the things I needed to do with the power of attorney, for the divorce, thwarted this wacko spouse more effectively than anyone else had ever been able to do. This was a person who got their way, regularly, through the most despicable means possible. I took a lot of satisfaction in that not working with me.

The very old and dear friend who introduce me to my friends who now blog, both Pen and Mitch, was always very protective of me, but in a reserved, very courtly sort of way. I think he was perhaps rather shy, but in his own special way he always gave me the most wonderful feeling of being safe that I think I have ever enjoyed as an adult.

He was what some people might consider a 'gun nut'; he knew and loved guns the way I know and love dogs. It was his 'thing', and he was singularly skilled. Why he undertook to be concerned about my safety and to extend himself to such a great extent, I don't fully understand, but I appreciated it. His response to my situation was to enroll me in a more advanced combat pistol class - I already had a minimal fire arms proficiency - and to join me for a lot of range time, practicing.

I can appreciate that he had my best interest at heart when he was demanding about routine handgun maintenance, after our visits to the range. I'm still not entirely convinced it was necessary for me to be able to field strip my personal weapon blindfolded, but I suppose it did add to my confidence. I have always wondered if he just thought that was simply funny to watch. But he was correct that both the target shooting and the blindfold drill, along with simply the assurance that I found in his company encouraged both my confidence and my competence. Fortunately, it was a skill I never needed to use, but I am glad he taught me.

He died a few years ago, from cancer.

He told me a story a long time before that took place, back when he was still very healthy. When he was seven years old, his parents took him to their usual church service where a guest pastor was preaching the Sunday sermon. His subject for the sermon had been heaven and hell, and which one people might be going to in the afterlife. As the congregation filed out of church, the guest pastor was at the door shaking hands, and he asked my friend's family what they thought of the service. My friend, contrary and clever child that he was, indicated when asked in turn, that he had decided he wasn't going to either one; not to heaven, and not to hell.

This rather disconcerted the reverend, prompting him to ask how he intended to manage that? My friend, with his seven year old's reasoning, told him he had decided to be a ghost when the time came, and to stay here on earth.

There are times when, in adverse moments, I feel my friend very comfortingly at my shoulder, reminding me that I am capable and resourceful no matter what life might throw at me. Not really because of those skills that he was at such great pains to instill, but because of who I am inside. Who is to say what is merely memory or something more?

So, what no one else who reads this blog has known, until now, is that references to me being afraid make me think fondly but sadly of my dear friend, who I miss very much. I am grateful that he was so generous in sharing with me his special gifts with the intention to empower me, one of the very special people I cherish for having done so in my life. His second gift to me was to remind me that there are men like him, who make others feel safe instead of afraid.

The right thing to do

As media like the Star Tribune have pointed out - we have a local Madoff-scandal brewing it seems. While DG is/has been writing about this.. and we'll have another installment soon - I wanted to put something out which answered a question I was recently asked by someone on right-wing radio - namely, what are the standards FINRA looks at in my experience - and I hope this answer is instructive in some regard for those who have questions about what a respectable investment company should normally look like.

First - the industry-based oversight authority for stocks/securities generally is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority or FINRA. This used to be two distinct regulatory bodies, the NASD (or National Association of Securities Dealers) and the regulatory arm of the NYSE (New York Stock Exchange).

Per FINRA's website, their review authority is sweeping:

"FINRA touches virtually every aspect of the securities business—from registering and educating industry participants to examining securities firms; writing rules; enforcing those rules and the federal securities laws; informing and educating the investing public; providing trade reporting and other industry utilities; and administering the largest dispute resolution forum for investors and registered firms. It also performs market regulation under contract for The NASDAQ Stock Market, the American Stock Exchange, the International Securities Exchange and the Chicago Climate Exchange."

This means FINRA has oversight over much of the securities market of the United States. I would urge anyone who has a question about a broker, or a broker-dealer (i.e. corporate entity) to go to FINRA's site and confirm the current licensure of the investment service and review the complaint status regarding that broker.

That said, here was my answer when asked -

The oversight review is not easily encapsulated into easy pidgeon-holes and my answers should be seen only as guide-posts, not as a complete list of all points of interest or oversight.

FINRA and any investor should/will look for (among other things) three key elements in my experience, those are:

Transparency - A customer is supposed to be able to understand where there money is, where it is being invested and why, and where it will go, in easy, well-understood language. A customer shouldn't have to try to weave his or her way through a myriad of cryptic services or disclosures to understand how, who, what, why and where their investments are being placed.

Accountability - The statement is the 'bible' both for banking and for investment services. Statements should be easily understood, and above all, accurate. Any mistake on a statement should be remedied normally by the creation of a replacement statement unless such mistake is of an immaterial nature. Any investor who routinely sees mistakes, or who cannot confirm the data as accurate, should be concerned. Any repetition of mistakes might well warrant a call to FINRA to inquire about the status of the broker. Brokers are accountable for the accuracy and completeness of statements. Inaccurate or incomplete statements are a hallmark of deceptive and/or fraudulent investments.

Credibility - Most brokerages require even their customer service representatives to be Series 7 licensed - meaning they are so concerned about not crossing the line of providing unqualified commentary about investments, they train anyone likely to answer the phone and have to provide a detailed answer - to be seen as competent and qualified to do so by the regulatory authorities. They do this to protect themselves against complaints, but also against people providing unsound commentary about investment products. Any investment service which does not have appropriate credentials, is one to be avoided entirely. They may not even be acting within the law by conducting such activity, but at a minimum, they are acting in a way the regulatory body wouldn't prefer (remember, FINRA is non-governmental, they don't pass or enforce law).

The key points I am trying to convey are these, you should have accurate, ready and competent access to how, where and why your funds are invested. People who say they 'want to work outside the system' or that 'they are tired of how the big companies take your money' etc.. are almost always selling something which is too good to be true. Investment brokers do make money, but there are already discount brokers like TD Ameritrade and Charles Schwab, and those which charge no load (percentages of earnings or investment amounts) at all, but instead charge by transaction. People who claim to be able to make 20% per annum when the market is losing ground, are saying they are smarter than the 670,000 registered brokers in the United States. It's possible, but don't you think if it was possible, the big companies would do it? For that matter, everyone would? Anyone who says they'll provide you these kinds of returns, should seem like the guy/gal who isn't registered with FINRA (or the commodities board, etc..) - or who produced a faulty statement, or who's check's bounce.. it's a sign that something is very fishy.

The people apparently and ONLY ALLEGEDLY bilked in our local case were nearly all victims found through right-wing radio. There are apparently a lot of these 'investment strategies' plying the airwaves talking about how to beat the system and protect your money from the government. The Right thing to do would be for the stations themselves to start providing information like that listed above - but they aren't, at least not yet. Until then, forewarned is forearmed.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Take my Oscar, please :)

I am not a writer, I use pronouns too much, and identify the object of my prepositions too little. Still, I try. Sometimes I try because one of the greatest things about blogging is that it sometimes offers you an opportunity to do something very cathartic. It allows you to write out your feelings about personal 'epiphanies' and also allows you to go back and refresh your understanding of the spirit and ideals of that epihpany. Of course, those are mostly personal feelings, so clearly blogs also can be a reflection of narcissism –this post is likely a bit of that, but I ask for your forgiveness for it.

So, I am not a writer...I am, if anything, a glorified problem-solver and/or jack-of-all trades. This has made me valuable because I get many things done, and if I can say with humility, often much more so than most. The consequence of getting so much done is my job is frequently stressful. This past week was one of the worst I’ve had. While the pay is excellent, the effort level is extraordinary. On Friday night I found myself wondering why I’d ever taken the job, and realized I’d done so for good and bad reasons. The good of course was it paid the bills, the bad, it paid so well I could afford things I didn’t need, but have missed the things I do need. The stress of it has often turned me into a grouch; I snap at my wife, I miss my children’s successes and hurts, and I find myself struggling to be the man I would rather be. I am too often concerned with the material world, and too little seeking simply to be kind, funny, or supportive.

On Friday night I watched a movie I had been avoiding watching. It was called, “The Bucket List.” As I expected it was difficult to watch, and I am often a wimp about such things, namely confronting the feelings I know such movies will engender. It was a movie about two terminally-ill men trying to squeeze into a few weeks many of the things in life they’d wished desperately to have experienced, but of course, it was really about grasping the meaning of their lives – and most especially, finding joy in their families, both those immediately around them and those they’d failed to appreciate. As I suspected it might, it made me question the way in which I act, the direction of my life. There was a particularly poignant moment where Morgan Freedman asked Jack Nicholson if he knew the two questions which the Ancient Egyptians had to answer to get into heaven. The first being, “Have you experienced joy in your life,” and the second, “Have you brought joy to the lives of others?” I sat and thought about both, and felt I could say “yes” to the first, but only, “I hope so” to the second – when the movie was over, I was left feeling that I wanted to be sure that I did so, more succinctly, that I this week I turned 45, and I decided that at 45 I was going to try to be sure I would not worry about the answer to that question at 65 (or 75). I also decided that I was not the person, the happy and kind person I want to be. Whether I can change that will be a work in progress.

I watched another movie on Saturday night called, “Julie and Julia.” It was, quite simply, one of the best movies I have seen in years. It was utterly charming. Meryll Streep played a delightful, warm, irrepressible, and playful Julia Child in a way which few other actresses have every played a role – she simply was Julia Child. This movie was about writing (and preparing food from) the book Child took a decade to write. Well on its face it was cooking, but in truth, it was about a love of life, and especially, the love in a marriage between Child and her husband of almost 50 years, Paul Child. It was also juxtaposed against Julie Powell, a 2002 office worker who spent a year preparing all of Child's recipes from that same book, and in so doing, like Child, discovering herself and redefining her life and marriage. She was cute, often adorable, but the essence of the movie was about the determination of both women to have a life with purpose. In their case it was cooking, but through it, they found joy. Much of that search was defined and bolstered by the men in their lives. These men stood by them at every downward turn. In a funny irony to the old saying that ‘behind every successful man there is a good woman’, they were the ‘man behind the successful woman.’ Each simply relished the wonderful person they married, even with the piques of temper or flights of whimsy. They saw thru all of it to the funny, kind, charming, meaningful and decent person they had been fortunate enough to be able to spend their lives with.

I walked out of this movie feeling what I have not felt very often, or often enough, recently. I walked out remembering why I fell in love, and how lucky I am to have such a fine person standing by me. I walked out wanting to be like Paul Child, wanting to be joyful, and most importantly, wanting to bring joy into the lives of those around me. Oh sure, the Paul Child of this movie was a caricature, but he reflected an ideal, an essence, I want to capture and hope to reflect. All in all, both movies spoke about the need to have purpose, but not just any purpose, a purpose to enjoy life, to be warm, and to find joy.

There was a time in my life that epiphanies like those I experienced this weekend were the norm, because of the skill of an artful Priest, who wove deeply meaningful truths into his sermons. I recognize, once again, as his sermons often helped me to that I am surrounded by marvelously, wonderfully decent people - both friends and family, and really nothing I can own brings me the same sense of happiness as simply being with them. For it seems as if I was offered such a sermon this weekend – and I offer it my own Oscar – for, God willing, I shall be putting my personal grouch back in the can, and need it no longer.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I would like to call our readers' attention to a change
in the upper left hand corner of Penigma,
where we have a new heading:
Contact us at
Our previous email with yahoo has been having problems,
leaving us unable to reply to email addresses
from hotmail and, and possibly others.
Our attempts to use a gmail e-address for Penigma also
had delivery problems (I appear to be a techno-jinx).
I want to alert readers who may contact us,
who are used to the previous email addy,
our new hotmail address IS a valid one.
It will be used by our three blog administrators:
Penigma, Dog Gone, and our newest addition ToE.
The previous yahoo email address has been set to send a
vacation message explaining this change during the transition.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Explosion of the Judge Clay D. Land Mine

"I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made."
Franklin D. Roosevelt

"Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers. "

"If you would judge, understand. "
"If you judge, investigate. "
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

On Wednesday, September 16th, Judge Clay D. Land presiding in the United States District Court of Georgia, for the Middle District of Georgia, Columbus Division handed down an order in Connie Rhodes v. Col. Thomas D. McDonald, et al. I'm not an attorney, but I have been told by members of that profession that reading court documents is usually not what would be considered entertaining reading.

Not so when Judge Land writes an order. Land was nominated to the District Court back in September 2001 by President George W. Bush, shortly after the events of 9/11. Judge Land shows a remarkable wit, and grace in the face of provocation, which makes his orders different from the usual - at least, these orders. I'm perhaps slightly prejudiced in favor of his writing, because of his use of widely ranging quotations to punctuate his meaning and set tone; so far, from Lewis Carroll and Yogi Berra. Judge Clay has gained national attention for his decisions due to the controversy brought before his bench by the notorious Orly Taitz, Esq. on behalf of anyone she can convince to let themselves be used to promote her birther movement. Don't take my word for it; Judge Clay makes the point particularly sharply, in the Order of September 16th, he not only makes it excruciatingly clear, he makes it repeatedly, including a warning to Taitz not to file similar frivolous suits in his court again on pain of sanctions. Taitz wanted a restraining order to prevent the army from shipping Captain Rhodes, MD off to Iraq on the premise that President Obama maybe isn't really the Commander in Chief. Apparently, Taitz has confused Judge Land's use of wit with joking. Because Taitz did exactly what she was warned not to do; she filed another suit, and she did a lot of trash talking about the judge before whom she was appearing as well, something that is generally unethical conduct for lawyers despite First Amendment rights.

On Friday, September 18, 2009 Judge Clay D. Land handed down a new order in Rhodes v. McDonald et al., which includes a show cause order for Taitz to persuade the Judge why he should not fine her $10,000 for defying his warning.
In an interesting wrinkle to the story, it appears that Captain Rhodes shipped out to Iraq on Friday. But before she left, Rhodes wrote a letter to Judge Clay in which she states that she did not authorize Taitz to file the second frivolous action on her behalf, that she only found out about it from the news coverage, that she did not want Taitz to represent her in that or any further action, and (because in anything involving Taitz, there always seems to be more) that the action Taitz had brought before Judge Clay's bench in the first place was not the action that she had authorized, and finally, that she intended to file a complaint against Taitz with the California Bar, which would make the third such complaint.

A local television station provided excellent coverage of the event, or...non-event. It will be interesting to see how the newest complaint reads, if Captain Rhodes follows through; I think it fair to qualify Captain Rhodes as an unhappy, and possibly very embarrassed client. Which brings me back to my continuing curiosity, who is paying Taitz for all of these actions, and the cost of traveling to different states, judge shopping for new locations to submit her cases before the court? Clients, some sort of slush fund, donations? This is just a guess, but I think after this recent round, and the show cause order is resolved one way or the other in front of the cameras, Taitz will be judge shopping in some new jurisdiction, with more travel expenses.

Unless the California bar acts expeditiously; I don't know if these things work on a first come first serve basis. I wonder if they have an equivalent to the express checkout lanes in grocery stores, with an item limit, for attorneys with 'x' number of complaints.... and wonder what the limit would be - 3 complaints, 5 complaints, more? If they don't, perhaps they will take this as a suggestion. As I understand it, and I'm hoping ToE will correct me if I get this a bit wrong, the way complaints to the bar which can result in sanctions and even disbarment, can come from any officer of the court - the defense lawyer, the judge, other lawyers NOT involved in an actual case. What prompts this flight of whimsy is that it would be my expectation that Ms. Taitz by now must not be below the radar of the California Bar, and the embarrassment she is bringing to it might very well be something they opt to address before it gets too much greater. We may not be there yet, but I can't help but speculate if the resolution of the $10,000 fine show cause order might produce enough fire works from Taitz to just be the 'tipping point'.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

President Ronald Reagan, or Ronald Ray-Gun?

“Not he is great who can alter matter,
but he who can alter my state of mind”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

American Poet, Lecturer and Essayist,

“The secret of living a life of excellence is merely a matter of thinking thoughts of excellence.
Really, it's a matter of programming our minds with the kind of information that will set us free."
Charles R. Swindoll

American Writer, Clergyman

On Thursday evening I recorded the last Colber(t) Repor(t) of the week, but did not get around to watching it until the weekend. Early in the show, Colbert featured an interaction with a remarkably calm but alert goat, as the lead in to his interview of Jon Ronson by satellite from the UK. Ronson has written a book, which I am looking forward to reading, as I work my way through the stack of material, book, online, periodical and 'other' that I seem always to feed slightly faster into the heap than I can winnow it down.

Ronson's Book, "The Men Who Stare at Goats", is about a little project that operated under the auspices of our government, beginning back in 1983, hence the whimsical word play on our esteemed late President's name. That and related projects were not discontinued until 1995. The book purports also to link these activities to the Bush administration's war on terror, which, not having read the entire book -yet - I can't address. It may very well be continuing in some form under President Obama for all I know. To supplement my preliminary reading, while I try to get my hands and eyes on a copy of this book, I have contacted the author by email, and await a response. Perhaps I should ask all of the readers of Penigma, like clapping for Tinkerbelle in Peter Pan, to 'will' Mr. Ronson to respond favorably to my request for an interview. (It must have worked, I have promptly received a positive response from Mr. Ronson.)

Mr. Ronson has a web site, which understandably is for the purpose of promoting his book and other activities, at, and which provides access to the first chapter, which deals with a certain Major General Stubblebine, describing actual 'black ops' secret military projects with names like "Project Jedi" intended to create soldiers with super powers, able to use psychic ability for a variety of offensive and defensive purposes. Between that and the Reagan era Star Wars initiative, I'm afraid the US Government was tremendously, even appallingly, derivative of the George Lucas entertainment canon of movies and supplemental fictional material. Or given the military nature of all of this new age effort, should that be cannon?

In the Colbert interview, reference was made to something in the book, called 'sparkly eyes', for employing psychic powers against others. I'm afraid the closest I could get to that kind of inspiration while writing this was glittery eye shadow, but it certainly puts me in the correct frame of mind, given where my admittedly spotty research has taken me so far.

After reading an excerpt of Chapter 1 from "The Men Who Stare at Goats", I did a little research on this project, and I will admit shamefully to havng deviated from my usual standard of seeking solid original sources. I just looked it up on Wikipedia (cut me some slack, this is a fluff piece, written for fun; I read the boring, original, serious material the rest of the time). It was strictly a casual interim 'browse' to familiarize myself with the subject matter. Mr. Ronson very much is not making this stuff up. There genuinely does appear to be all this, and much, much more.

A quickie google search on Major-General Stubblebine produced material that was not funny. It appears that Major General Stubblebine is a 'truther', one of those who believes that there is some kind of conspiracy relating to the terrorist events of 9/11. Some of our readers have taken me to task for writing about the birthers and their conspiracy theories without having addressed the lunatic fringe movements on the opposite side of the political spectrum. Well, those readers will get their wish. Although not in depth in this article, I will continue to pursue information on Stubblebine. For now, I offer this video which I found through google - I repeat, I'm not claiming this is up to my usual research standards - for those who would like a glimpse of what I am describing. The video appears to be for some German media, I'm not clear whom, but for those of you whose language skills were getting rusty, which in this case includes me, there is a bonus in the form of German subtitles to amuse you. Here is the Stubblebine interview link : I'm sure I'm not the only person who finds it bad enough for our fellow Americans to be treated to this rant by Stubblebine; for it to be seen around the world, in countries which are our allies, is even more embarrassing.

On a more serious note, which requires a bit of a mental shifting of gears to accommodate, I have to express my dismay and shock, so soon after researching the Orly Taitz / Birther information, that we appear to have high ranking military officers in the camps of our conspiracy theorists and lunatics on both extremes of the political spectrum. The 'truthers' apparently have the endorsement of Stubblebine, and the birthers claim the apparent support, through a law suit, of Major General James S. Childress.

This raises the question in my mind, who promoted these men to positions of authority and power, and how scary is it that they had access not only to soldiers, including special forces trained personnel, but dangerous weapons; guns and ammunition, tanks, rpgs. (OK - And goats!) I do not intend by these comments to in any way demean our armed forces, far from it. But reading and viewing the ideas held by these high-ranking individuals, the thought comes unbidden that those armed forces were under the care and command of individuals whose thought processes and conclusions I find disturbing. That these men, at either end of a very polarized political spectrum, had access to anything sharper than a marshmallow or more deadly than a daisy is on some level unnerving.

Readers may definitely look forward to my writing up something further on General Childress and on General Stubblebine. It is not my intent to be flippant or irreverent to legitimate service to our country by either gentleman in the course of questioning their extreme political views, and it is especially NOT my intention to embarrass or demean the rank and file of any of our armed forces. It is however an important concern for all of us that there appear to be individuals at the highest levels of our military who may be extremists, who are willing to use the achievement of that rank to give those extreme, even wacko views credence, and to use their service to recruit others who love their country to those bizarre viewpoints. The thought which popped into my mind unbidden was that it is bad enough to put inmates in charge of an asylum, but far worse to put them in charge of our armies.

Now, off to dig up that glittery eye shadow, and to try mastering the technique of 'sparkly eyes'.... if I can stop laughing long enough to apply it without poking myself in the eye.

More to come.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Affinity Scams, Part 3

"It is all right to rat, but you can't re-rat. "
Winston Churchill

"We are much harder on people who betray us in small ways than on people who betray others in great ones. "
Francois De La Rochefoucauld

"There are three signs of a hypocrite:
when he speaks he speaks lies,
when he makes a promise he breaks it,
and when he is trusted he betrays his trust."

It is expected that the number of plaintiffs in the Mini-sota Madoff-like scandal will continue to increase; the possibility of a class action is still in play. It is also anticipated that the number of defendants may increase.

According to the most recent Browning article this week, at two of the defendants, Kiley and Cook, are the subject of a Grand Jury Investigation in court filings last Friday, released Monday, by Assistant US Attorney Joe Dixon. I have not been able to confirm the rumor that Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank McGill has been assigned to this case. McGill became prominent in Minnesota when he was named the acting US Attorney for Minnesota in the wake of the disgraced departure of US Attorney Paulose under Alberto Gonzales. Current sitting US Senator Amy Klobuchar was an attorney in that office during that interval, and has spoken glowingly of McGill's abilities. Directly prosecuting the case or perhaps supervising it, McGill knows his way around white collar crime in Minnesota.

When Madoff was sentenced, he received what amounted to a life sentence without parole. Most of these defendants are younger than Madoff, although Kiley appears to be the closest to him in age. Like Madoff, these defendants are looking at potential life sentences if convicted, because like Madoff, even if the number of years attached to each count is relatively short, there are many, many alleged victims involved. Given that the risk to the defendants is life in prison without parole, I would expect that there is a very good chance that one or other, maybe all of them, will begin throwing each other under the metaphorical bus in an attempt to negotiate the best possible deal. The other usual bargaining chip available to defendants to negotiate is to return as much of the money as possible.

Now that we have had a week of the Grand Jury presumably in action, we may be seeing bodies flying under buses momentarily. I look forward to seeing what the weekend and coming week brings in the facet of the local radio programming that has been host to both defendants Pettengill and Durand. Apparently something new is in the wind.

I have been told by a source for the alleged victims who are not currently represented that there are also mail fraud complaints that have not been previously reported on in the media as part of the mix of investigations and allegations. Through the efforts of the members of Congress for those victims, those mail fraud complaints have been brought directly to the attention of the Post Office Inspector General. There are also plans for complaints to be made (or by now they may have been made to) the FCC and to the FTC, as well as to the various entities which have provided air waves for the broadcasting not only by Kiley, but also Pettengill, and Durand, and possibly a complaint about another individual who has found their niche on right wing talk radio, and who at one time appears to have been a close colleague of Kiley's, Robert Chapman.

Orly, Alice in Wonderland, and AOL

“Man gives every reason for his conduct save one,
every excuse for his crimes save one,
every plea for his safety save one;
and that one is his cowardice."
- George Bernard Shaw

Irish literary Critic, Playwright, Essayist; 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature

The brave man inattentive to his duty,
is worth little more to his country
than the coward who deserts in the hour of danger.
- Andrew Jackson
Seventh President of the United States

To be afraid is the miserable condition of a coward.

To do wrong, or omit to do right from fear,
is to superadd delinquency to cowardice.
- David Dudley Field
American Jurist
1805 - 1894

Yesterday I read the decision in Rhodes v. McDonald, United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Columbus Division, Case No. 4:09-CV-00106(CDL).

Why read this 14 page Court Order from Georgia? The suggestion from a friend was that I read it because it was so very funny, a "hoot". And...oh, yes, it WAS. It really, really was.

What the heck is 4:09-CV-0016? It is one of the latest court decisions in the continuing 'adventure' those of us who are NOT birther fanatics find so inexplicable on the part of what is largely the extreme political right. In this case, it entertains, as it informs.

Plaintiff Army Captain Connie Rhodes tried to sue Colonel Thomas McDonald, the garrison commander of Fort Benning, et al, so that she could avoid being deployed to Iraq, citing as the grounds for her suit that President Obama is not properly the President. She claims those orders are unconstitutional, and sought a restraining order, a request which was dismissed and deemed frivolous.

What makes this so entertaining, although I assume that was unintentional, is the details, and ohhhh my, is there a devil in these details. This suit, one of many, was considered so exceedingly frivolous that the attorney - our Mrs. Doctor Orly Taitz, Esq., sometimes realtor - was addressed directly at the end of the very first paragraph of the order dismissing the suit thus, "Further, the plaintiff's counsel is hereby notified that the filing of any future actions in this court, which are similarly frivolous, shall subject counsel to sanctions. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 (c)".

The document goes on to elaborate that Taitz is the self-proclaimed leader of the birther movement, and then gets to this part,"Her modus operandi is to use military officers as parties and have them allege that they should not be required to follow deployment orders because President Obama is not constitutionally qualified to be President." So, the court identifies Orly Taitz as deliberately USING members of the United States military to serve her own political purposes. This is from the first paragraph on page 2 of the order. It gets better, it continues, "Although counsel has managed to fuel this "birther movement" with her litigation and press conferences, she does not appear to have prevailed on a single claim." A footnote documents that this court had previously dismissed a similar claim, Cook v. Good that was brought on behalf of a reservist; the Court Order also indicates that the Rhodes case was first filed in Texas where it was no better received before trying it out in Georgia.

On page 3, the Court addresses the short form birth certificate provided by the President, and in a footnote at the bottom of page 3, the court addresses President Obama's Presidential campaign, information from the Federal Elections Commission, and the formal position of Congress on the status of the President of the United States as an eligible citizen for the office by virtue of being born in Hawaii. Page 3 goes on to elaborate how Captain Rhodes had a substantial part of her medical schooling paid for by the army, in exchange for her commitment to serve in that same army.

Page 4 goes on to elaborate that Captain Rhodes began her service in July 2008, and had no problem continuing that service under President Obama, right up until she received deployment orders in September 2009. The Court Order observes that she simply doesn't want to comply with orders sending her to Iraq or anywhere else that would put her in harm's way. She does not seek to leave the Army; she wants her conscientious objection simply to keep her on American soil.

The Court Order continues with the nuts and bolts of the legal matters, until we get to page 7 of 14, where it states, "First, Plaintiff's challenge to her deployment order is frivolous. She has presented no credible evidence and made no reliable factual allegations to support her unsubstantiated, conclusory allegations and conjecture that President Obama is ineligible to serve as President of the United States. Instead she uses her complaint as a platform for spouting political rhetoric, such as her claims that the President is "an illegal usurper, an unlawful pretender, [and] an unqualified imposter." The court order continues further in the paragraph to state with what appeared, to me at least, to be blatant derision of Ms. Taitz by the court, where on page 8 it states, "Then, implying the President is either a wandering nomad or a prolific identity fraud crook, she alleges that the President "might have used as many as 149 addresses and 39 social security numbers prior to assuming the office of the President." My favorite part of the 14 pages is mid-page 8, where the Court addresses an item brought by Ms. Taitz in support of her contentions on behalf of Captain Rhodes, where it states, "Moreover, as if the "general opinion in the rest of the world" were not enough, Plaintiff alleges in her complaint that "according to an AOL poll 85% of Americans believe that Obama was not vetted, needs to be vetted and his vital records produced." I looked up that Poll, Ms. Taitz is dishonest and inaccurate; it was 58%, and is not considered in any way a scientific poll, not that those kinds of polls are something I would expect a court to consider anyway. Or a teacher, if I was writing an essay or a term paper; I'd expect a low grade, heck, I'd expect an 'F' for submitting that.

The document continues "Finally, in a remarkable shifting of the traditional legal burden of proof, Plaintiff unashamedly alleges that the Defendant has the burden to prove his "natural born" status." The final sentence of page 8, which continues on page 9, states in perhaps the most telling statement from the court about the values of the "birther movement", "Any middle school civics student would readily recognize the irony of abandoning fundamental principles upon which our Country was founded in order purportedly to "protect and preserve" those very principles." So much for the 'birthers' understanding our government, knowing our constitution, and espousing the values of this country.

I particularly enjoyed the sense of the Court's feeling expressed in a scathing opinion of Orly Taitz' arguements and proof, near the end of page 9, "Unlike in Alice in Wonderland, simply saying something is so does not make it so." I've always enjoyed Lewis Carroll's work.

The pages go on and on to delineate the failures of Ms. Taitz legal arguments and documents entered in support of those arguments, but one of the most interesting of those comments is the footnote at the bottom of page 10, which addresses again in quite scathing terms the observations on yet another of the bogus Kenyan birth certificates, at too great a length to quote here. There are still 4 more pages of the order, which includes a passing reference to the Terri Schiavo litigation.

I enjoyed the top of page 13, the first full sentence, "Although close proximity to any combat zone certainly involves personal danger, Plaintiff, somewhat disingenuously, claims that fear is not her motivation for avoiding her military duty. She insists that she would have no qualms about fulfilling her duties if President George W. Bush were still in office. The Court cannot find from the present record that deployment to Iraq under the current administration will subject Plaintiff to any threat of harm that is different than the harm to which she would be exposed if another candidate had won the election." In other words, apparently the Court is not persuaded by Captain Rhodes' assertion that she is not, simply, a coward. To have allowed herself to be used by someone with the dubious competence and motives of Orly Taitz also suggests she is a fool. Such demonstrations of courage and patriotism, such devotion to the foundation principals on which our country was founded; those patriots on the right political fringe must be so very proud.

And then there is the end of page 13, following over into page 14, which we might term the beginning of the end of the Court Order, the end of this case, and the end of similar cases if we are lucky as a country, " A spurious claim questioning the President's constitutional legitimacy may be protected by the First Amendment, but a Court's placement of its imprimatur upon a claim that is so lacking in factual support that it is frivolous would undoubtedly disserve the public interest."

I was curious Ms. Taitz professional credentials. I looked it up; she was admitted to the bar in California, where one is not required as a condition of membership to the bar to have attended an accredited law school, and where one can do their law degree course work by correspondence school. I have checked where Taitz got her law education, it is from Taft Law School, and it is a correspondence school, although it has to have even so, an ethics class requirement. I'd like to suggest that Orly Taitz would even be an embarrassment to one of those correspondence schools that ask you to draw a turtle or a pirate, from the back of a matchbook cover or a glossy newspaper insert ad. I now know from having inquired, what the disbarment process is, in the state of California where she is licensed, where not one but two complaints have been filed - and I've read them both, cover to cover. I'd like to know why something so egregious has taken so long, and still has no conclusion. But then, I'd like to know what color the sky is on the planet she is from too.

And now, despite the warning to Ms. Taitz about sanctions should she persist with frivolous law suits in this court, yes, Orly Taitz has filed yet another one. And yes, this one is just as funny as the preceding filing. Undeterred, Ms. Taitz has recruited more of her 'clients' to provide her with fodder after this one is finally tossed out for good.

Fear Not, Fear Nut

“Mistrust the man who finds everything good;
the man who finds everything evil;
and still more the man who is indifferent to everything"
Johann Kaspar Lavater

Swiss Theologian

“The people I distrust most are those who want to improve our lives
but have only one course of action."
Frank Herbert

American science fiction Author

“I always distrust people who know so much about
what God wants them to do to their fellows."
Susan B. Anthony

American Suffragette
1820 -1906

I have written, here and on elsewhere, posts about the Birthers and their legal spokesperson (at least, legal for now) Orly Taitz. Some of the responses I have received have been longer than the original article, many of them have been very courteous and even reasonably articulate, but not what I would consider solidly researched or well reasoned.

Some will contend that Birthers are a fringe movement that does not merit serious consideration. I have contended that while it is certainly an embarrassment to those who hold less extreme views, and who wish to distance and disassociate themselves from the Birthers, these 'true believers' in the Birther cause are gaining in numbers, and are not as distinct from their larger constituent base as the remainder of that base might wish them to be. Because the numbers of the Republican party are so reduced, because the support of conservatives has become so dimished, there appears to be a trend to claim support of the mainstream that is not there, but to accept as the reality, allowing a greater percentage of more extreme individuals and movements more power and more determination in their politics. In essence, there is a vacuum which draws these people in, and which the more serious, the more moderate, the more legitimate political view holders are unable to push out of their political tent. What troubles me is that the individuals who line up in support of the Birthers, with few exceptions seem to be both incapable of serious critical thought, and incapable of even the most basic, intellectually honest research. They are willing to accept the worst second hand ideas without challenge, and even further distanced information posing as facts. The instances of citing sources such as The Law of Nations as a binding legal basis for their claims, clearly without having read much less really understood its concepts, is only one example.

While previously there was a geographic focus to the Birthers, with the overwhelming majority among white southerners, that is shifting. As an example, recently in New Jersey, clearly not a southern state in any sense of orientation, there were among conservatives in a recent poll by Public Policy Polling, the following results to a survey of opinion:
Q.4 Do you think President Obama was born in the United States? Yes 64%, No 21%, Not Sure 16%.

To be fair, the next question, which fairly quizzes the 'truther' idiocy is:
Q.5 Do you think that George W. Bush had advance knowledge of the 9/11 terrorist attacks pulled these numbers: Yes 19%, No 69% Not Sure 11%.

However, Q 11 completely blew my mind, that this is an actual, held belief among the Christian fundamentalist fringes:
Q. 11 Do you believe that Barak Obama is the Anti-Christ?: Yes 8%, No 79%, Not Sure 13%.

Say WHAAAAAAAAAAAT??????? While I try very conscientiously to be tolerant AND respectful of a wide range of religious beliefs, this is not anywhere near within my comfort zone from my fellow Americans; this is just plain NUTS and not suitable for compromise. Add in that cross referencing self-directed preferences in voting with beliefs about Obama, of those who voted for McCain, 37% do not believe that Obama was born in the United States, and another 24% are not sure. My math tells me that among those who voted for McCain a total of 61% of those polled in New Jersey, not the south, are not confident that our President is eligible to be our President. Of those who identify themselves as Conservative, 18% believe that Obama IS the Anti-Christ, and another 17% are not sure, for a whopping 35%, more than a third, who are not confident that Obama is NOT the Anti-Christ.

So, when I read the Complaint to the California Bar, at seeking discipline (I'm guessing they're bucking for disbarment?) of Orly Taitz, and the items in the complaint include things like holding "unlawful Citizens Grand Juries" which appear to be nothing more than meetings of partisan vigilantes, who then try to serve and enforce their kangaroo court proceedings on legitimate individuals and entities, at least in Georgia threatening violence if they are not enforced and on other occasions encouraging armed revolt and a military coup, I find it scary how many of my fellow citizens seem receptive to her message. When I read that Taitz does her recruiting for her Birther movement from among military and ex-military attending events like the Knob Creek Machine Gun Shoot in West Point, Kentucky (a state where Ms. Taitz is not credentialed to practice law), I find it alarming - and I happen to LIKE guns. See the following, from the complaint contents :, and

The sentence which follows, in the bar complaint, which I found most telling was "While the many outright lies contained in this flyer, if produced by a private citizen, would probably [be] protected by the First Amendment, when promulgated by an attorney, it further violates the duty to employ only those means only as are consistent with the truth."

I encourage reading of this complaint; it is edifying, and possibly just a bit terrifying. I do NOT, emphatically, believe that these views are supported by a majority of conservatives, or by a majority of those who identify themselves as republicans; those people I respect. But I do believe that conservative and republican entities, in desperation at their low, declining numbers, are giving these fringe elements unparalleled, unprecedented acceptance, consideration and cooperation out of what they perceive as necessity. I do not see these extremists being very widely repudiated or rejected, especially not their money.

I see false fears promoted by the likes of Michael Steele, chair of the RNC, with mailings claiming that ACORN will be doing the 2010 census and could steal our personal data; with poll questions that try to alarm by raising the specter of voter registration being used to deny republicans health care under proposed reform; with churning the fear of 'death panels to pull the plug on grandma' - among other instances. I see false fears promoted by the likes of Congressman Wilson claiming that illegal aliens would have access to insurance coverage under proposed health care reform, despite the applicability of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which has been effective in preventing that kind of access to government services. There are numerous attempts to gain employment through fraudulent claims of citizenship that have been documented, including by criminal court cases, but I am unaware of similar numbers of people falsely claiming citizenship to improperly or illegally gain any kind of welfare benefits, based on my research so far.

We need fairly, and united, to address the valid concerns, the real and legitimate fears, and to move away from these false frights; and most of all, those who are mercenary in benefitting from this activity need to stop.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fences and Fiscal Reality

Today there was an estimate published that the 'Border Security Fence' being planned and built along our border with Mexico will cost at least $6.5 billion dollars. I say at least, because no doubt when this fence fails, another will be proposed, and when that fails, yet another, and so on..

In my opinion, these kinds of expenditures, outside of the jobs they temporarily create seem to have little benefit for the country as a whole. They don't create sustainable production, they don't enable tourism or some other service industry, they just build ineffective physical structures which must be maintained over time.

I am all for preventing illegal aliens from entering the country, but what I find unfathomable is that the people who profess to understand market economics, and who often champion the ingenuity of the human mind, think that a massive economic draw will be stopped by what mostly is just a chain-link fence. Even where it is more robust than that, the thought that human ingenuity, if the will exists - and as long as there are jobs, it will exist, well the thought that humans will be stopped by fences is laughable in the extreme. From Hadrians wall to the Great Wall to the Berlin Wall, history is replete with examples of how such walls were routinely overcome, and this fence is nowhere near the scale of any of those, except in it's foolishness.

When I hear conservatives complain about government spending, I point to this, to SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative), to Iraq, and other expenses which are economically unproductive at best, and which tend to simply line the pockets of a few wealthy business owners out of the public coffers. While I do not approve of deficit spending by Obama, and think every expenditure must be accompanied by a corresponding cut (first) and/or revenue/tax increase (second), neither am I unaware that some expenditures are smarter than others. This one, is the king of stupidity. It will not work, it will be sublimated, obviated and/or decimated by the strength of the human mind.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ashcroft to Ashes, Dust to Dust

In the spring and summer of 2002, Abdullah al-Kidd, a native-born American citizen and his then wife were the subject of surveillance by the FBI allegedly aimed at Arab and Muslim men. Although Muslim, al-Kidd is African American and not of Arab descent. No evidence of criminal wrong-doing was ever discovered, and al-Kidd was never charged with any crime.

In 2003, a United States Grand Jury in Idaho handed up an indictment against Sami Omar Al-Hussayen for visa fraud and making false statements to federal officials. On March 14, 2003, the US Attorney's office in Idaho filed an application for a material witness warrant pursuant to 18 USC 3144. 18 USC 3144 states "If it appears from an affidavit filed by a party that the testimony of a person is material in a criminal proceeding, and if it is shown that it may become impracticable to secure the presence of the person by subpoena, a judicial officer may order the arrest of the person and treat the person in accordance with the provisions of section 3142 of this title. No material witness may be detained because of inability to comply with any condition of release if the testimony of such witness can adequately be secured by deposition, and if further detention is not necessary to prevent a failure of justice. Release of a material witness may be delayed for a reasonable period of time until the deposition of the witness can be taken pursuant to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure." The problem with this is that al-Kidd was not listed as a witness against Al-Hussayen nor was he ever called as a witness at Al-Hussayen's trial.

Al-Kidd was arrested and held for 16 days in maximum security fascilities in Virginia, Oklahoma and Idaho. During this time, he was repeatedly subjected to interrogation by the FBI and unspecified others. Eventually, a court ordered him arrested but confiscated his travel documents and ordered him to not travel more than a few miles from his home in Nevada. This de-facto house arrest lasted for fifteen more months, until the end of Al-Hussayen's trial. Al-Kidd was never on the government's witness list, nor was he ever called as a witness at Al-Hussayen's trial. During this time, Al-Kidd's wife, who was never a suspect nor was she ever arrested, filed for divorce and left him. As a result of the arrest, Al-Kidd, who had once enjoyed a security clearance, was unable to find a job when his security clearance was rescinded.

In 2002, John Ashcroft, as Attorney General of the United States under President George Bush, promulgated a policy which included the aggressive use of Material Witness warrants to arrest and detain men of Muslim and Arab descent. This included Al-Kidd.

Al-Kidd filed a lawsuit in US District Court in the District of Idaho in March, 2005 against former Attorney General Ashcroft. He also named as defendants a number of FBI agents who had allegedly made false allegations against him in the original application for the arrest warrant.

Mr. Ashcroft filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit claiming absolute immunity from suit and qualified immunity from suit. Mr. Ashcroft's claims were heard by the US District Judge who ruled that Mr. Ashcroft was not immune from suit because his actions were not a prosecutorial function when he approved the use of material witness warrants, but instead, since the warrants were not used for the securing of witnesses to a prosecution, but were instead used to attempt to develop criminal information from and about the arrested party, they were police functions and therefore not subject to immunity. The district court also rejected qualified immunity against the Mr. Ashcroft and the FBI agents because they knew or should have known that their actions were an unconstitutional violation of Al-Kidd's rights. Mr. Ashcroft is an attorney, which means that at a minimum, he has had training in constitutional law. Many FBI Special Agents have advanced degrees, and law is often the advanced degree of choice. Whether or not the FBI special agents in this matter have a law degree is not clear, but the district and appellate courts were not ruling on any appeal from those agents.

Mr. Ashcroft appealed to the US Circuit Court of appeals. On September 4, 2009 a panel of 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the refusal of the district court to dismiss on the grounds of immunity. The full text of the opinion is available here.

The next stage of the proceedings will be to conduct discovery. Discovery in this case could be potentially damaging and embarrassing to the government, and may very well shed more light on an era in which many politicians, of both political persuasions, allowed fear to overtake any sort of judgment they might have had, and allowed a certain hysteria to set in not unlike the "red scare" in the 1950's. Just as the "red scare" of the 1950's was overblown, the hysteria that set in with many politicians, both Democratic and Republican following the 9/11 attacks was and is unworthy of the great country that they serve.

The next months or year will be interesting. The plaintiff has a long row to go, as its clear that the defense will put up every road block that they can to uncovering additional information. However, the preliminary damage is done. The next question will be what information will come out during discovery. During the discovery process, documents can and will be demanded both from the defendants and can be subpoenaed from government sources. I think it likely that these documents will show that Mr. Ashcroft did not act alone, and that the systematic violation of fundamental American civil liberties came with the blessing and forethought of the highest levels of the executive branch. The next suspense will be whether Mr. Ashcroft decides to take the fall alone, or if he decides to take down with him those higher up the food chain. Time will indeed tell.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Affinity Scams, Part 2

“A thief believes everybody steals."
Edgar Watson Howe

American Editor, Novelist and Essayist

"A thief passes for a gentleman when stealing has made him rich.”
anonymous proverb

“Obviously crime pays, or there'd be no crime.”
G. Gordon Liddy


Before I sat down to write this, I read a document on the web site of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The first page of the 75 page document identifies it as Case number 09-CV-1732 (MJD/JJK), filed in the United States District Court, District of Minnesota. It is the Second Amended Verified Complaint; it requests a jury trial. It proceeds to lists the names and addresses of 57 plaintiffs, and goes on to detail what appears to be their financial misadventures. Of the five individual defendants named in the Second Ameded Verified Complaint, one until recently used to host a radio show called "Follow the Money", the contact method for recruiting investors, many who then later became plaintiffs and more who are potential plaintiffs. For 75 pages the Second Ameded Verified Complaint "follows the money" from the accounts of the 57 plaintiffs into the accounts of the 5 individual defendants and 12 similarly named, intertwined business entities. From the limited information in this document, it doesn't look promising the plaintiffs will ever regain their money, or at least, not soon. How much trust in people they will have at the end of this ordeal will be a matter of individual character, shaped by this experience.

The information in these 75 pages was not entirely new. I have been following the news of this litigation since I first read an article about the original filing on July 7th of this year. Dan Browning of the Minneapolis Star Tribune has written a series of articles on this case, which appears to have many of the characteristics of affinity scams. It is the "Minnesota Madoff" case, in that people believed that it was possible to achieve extraordinary investment results by individuals who could miraculously outperform everyone else's results. As well, it also preyed upon associations by the listeners and investors in interests, political leaning and religion to the defendants.

Like the Madoff case, the people in this case, though more ordinary, average people instead of the wealthy or celebrities of the Madoff case, were people who didn't have access to specialized knowledge and expertise. They were assured they were being 'allowed in' because they shared a religious affinity, where Madoff used a social connection. The "Insider" people were presented as the people who knew secret stuff that most people, even smart people, didn't know. If the plaintiffs can be faulted in placing their trust in the defendants, such fault finding should probably be they believed there is such a thing as investment advisers who provide this kind of guidance to large investors and institutions, that there are people who have an edge, people who CAN earn returns that 'regular' people cannot.

How would such results be achieved? Apparently the idea allegedly sold to the plaintiffs is there are smarter ways to do things. This same idea was sold to many others including those who are not currently represented in this litigation but who may be shortly be added as either additional individual plaintiffs, or as members a class action. This 'smarter way' represented ideas supposedly othewise only available to the large investor, or 'institutional investor', to those who are richer and savvier than the rest of us, the 'haves' of the world. The pressure and the persuasion was put to them that they had to find new ways to cope, because the world was going to hell in a handbasket, especially economically. The sky is falling, the government is coming for you, or will, and this is how to survive.

Growing up, my father very sternly told me that no one can swindle you without your help. Not of course, your willing help, but it is something rather that is done with you, that engages you, in order for it to happen. I was taught that one of the essential aspects of swindling is greed or unrealistic expectations, that you think you can beat out someone or some 'thing' - a bank, a person you don't know or like, an insurance company, an evil entity of some kind that 'deserves' to be cheated, beaten, to lose for your gain, a system, a class or group of people that can be defined to fit the scam. "If it is too good to be true, it isn't" was something I heard, a lot. I always thought, growing up, that it was one of those things that parents all had to say; that if there was some kind of club, or handbook, or owners manual for parents, it was 'in there'.

So I was surprised to find that when I have spoken or corresponded with these people who are the alleged victims, they don't seem to be greedy people at all, far from it. What emerged was a sort of carrot and stick scenario. They were encouraged by the broadcasts of the radio presenters to be afraid, to be concerned, to worry. They weren't trying to get an unfair edge or to cheat anyone, not in the slightest. They were made to feel that they didn't know the important stuff, that they lacked the expertise of the investment advisers, and of course that essential ingredient, the 'carrot' to earn their trust, their shared faith and beliefs. There were two different, sometimes overlapping characteristics that were distinct about the radio broadcasts (in some cases supplemented by other media) that recruited the plaintiffs. One was a very sincere appeal to Christianity, and the other was an appeal to very conservative politics, politics which promoted fear from current events.

These people who have lost their money are very nice people, they are not just names and addresses on a page. I like them. They have worked hard; many of them are older, even elderly. Represented are those who have served in the military, those who are religious leaders; the kinds of people we recognize as being like our family members, friends and neighbors, people deserving of our respect. Should they have been more skeptical? Possibly; it is an easy thing for someone outside of this to claim that, too easy a temptation. This 75 page document, the second amended verified complaint, and at least one other supporting document, referred to as the Loos document for the person whose work product it is, suggests that what was involved was not so much a lack of skepticism. The claims of expertise were very convincingly supported by allegedly fraudulent information in the form of boldfaced, apparently intentional, repeated misstatements of fact, and what appear to be convincingly faked documents and other material.

As of this writing, Asst. U. S. Attorney Frank McGill, formerly the acting Minnesota U.S. Attorney, is rumored to be prosecuting one of the defendants, Trevor Cook; however McGill could just be assigned to assist investigations in matters such as obtaining search warrants, and to coordinate legal work for the multiple investigations. According to the articles by 'Strib' ace investigative reporter Dan Browning, numerous regulatory entities, both state and federal, as well as the FBI and possibly other law enforcement agencies are actively investigating the defendants' activities. IF the rumor about McGill is true, this is an interesting development. McGill was the attorney who replaced the disgraced former US Attorney for Minnesota under Alberto Gonzales, Rachel Paulose. According to this article, he appears to be quite familiar with the prosecution of white collar crime in this state:

Don't just read what I write althoughthis is not going to be my last word on this subject. Read Dan Browning's articles, read as much of the original documents as you can. It is an education, no matter how much you think you know, that may surprise you. Browning's most recent article is : but readers can locate the other earlier articles on line as well.

It would be wrong to make this an issue of political belief, of right or left, liberal or conservative. It would be wrong to try to characterize this as a matter religious belief. It would be wrong to think you and I are so smart, so shrewd we would be immune. To make this about the crime and not about the right wing politics promoted by some of the defendants, I reached across that political 'divide' for help in gathering information and in disseminating information, from a politically active conservative friend I respect and trust. That gesture was initially rebuffed, but I understand the reasons; the door was left open for future cooperation. This story has political aspects, but at heart it is really about what is alleged to be the intentional, deliberate, callous theft of the life savings of very nice, trusting people. I must admit to having trouble wrapping my heart and mind around the very idea of that scale of calculated avarice, of the reality not theoretical greed and cruelty.

This is alleged civil wrongdoing; as yet there are no criminal convictions, and only rumors of prosecution. No jury has found any of the defendants guilty or responsible; this has not yet gone that far in the courts. It is early days. Until determinations are made, until all the investigations are complete, and all the many attorneys have present their cases, these are allegations and accusations, with supporting proof offered, but no decision from a judge or jury. Until that happens, and it will take awhile, estimations are as long as eighteen months, the defendants who are already named, and those who may be added to the list, are legally innocent until proven otherwise. It would be wrong to assert that in name only; it must be more real than something we give idle lip service.

It would also be a serious mistake to think affinity crimes only happen to other people, not to you, not to people you know, not to people about whom you care. When I first learned about this, it was not something I knew much about other than a little theory. Now I know more about the practical aspects, the reality of it. When I first started reading, it was something that happened to other people. Now I know some of those people, they are not abstractions any longer. I have the fortunate opportunity to try to help, and blogging is just one of the ways I can do that. The more people know and the better informed they are, the less chance there is of this happening again. It is a common crime, it happens with more frequency than most people realize. When the amounts are smaller, as is often the case, many people are too ashamed to let anyone find out they were victimized. What I write will not stop affinity crime, but if I work hard at researching, and if I write well enough, maybe it will happen less often, or in smaller amounts. If I can inform, if I can understand and share that understanding, maybe I can make the effects of THIS series of events less devastating for those individuals who have lost their life savings.

Because while these events sadden me near to tears, they also make me very angry. When I get a certain kind of angry, I have to do something. That 'something' usually turns into an adventure. I hope readers will share my adventure, and where it takes me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Join us today in remembering
the events of 9/11;
and in remembering those
whose lives were lost,
that day and afterwards
as a result of those events.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Path of Least Resistance

"Abuse of words has been the great instrument of sophistry and chicanery of party, faction, and division of society"
John Adams

2nd US President 1797-1801

From roughly 1820 to 1860, the United States trod an awful path. With each step, Dredd Scott, Plessey v. Ferguson, Kansas Nebraska act, Missouri Compromise, the elections of 1856 and 1860, we were reminded of the vast cultural difference between an ante-bellum South and a more industrial North.

Intent on establishing it's right to live and behave by its own standards, the South was strong in its conviction that the States reigned supreme over the Federal, that their economy was dependent upon cheap labor, and providing a skewed economic model of many many poor, and a few landed gentry, were and ought to survive. Any threat to that survival, any hint of opposition to their premise, was met with derision, contempt, threats, and scorn. For 40 years, in the interest of preservation of the Union, the balance of the country, the 70% who did not live in the South acceded to this tyranny by the minority

When Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860, it represented effectively the first loss on issue for the South in the question of slavery, dating back to the inception of the Constitution. "Fire-eaters" as they were called, like Breckenridge, and even James Buchanan, referred to his election as the first step in a tyrannical attempt to strip the southern states of their liberty. Shortly after his election, the most radical states voted to secede from the Union, in open defiance to the election of an opposition candidate.

Lies about the intent of Lincoln were spread far and wide: Lincoln intended to forcibly invade the South; Lincoln intended to forcibly end slavery, despite the fact that Lincoln made it plain in the months immediately following his election that in fact he would protect slave-owners as long as the states remained within the Union. The Southerners could not bear the insult to their 'pride' that a 'slave-lover' abolitionist had been elected. Because he was a Republican they assumed he was, automatically, an abolitionist; Lincoln did dislike slavery - but was not an abolitionist. They believed passionately that they could not afford to lose, not once, not in any way, on the issue of slavery.

This week, President Obama gave a speech, a speech about the crisis of economy we face. He is correct in being concerned that 1/6th of the economy would become 1/5th. He clearly understands having 20% of the economy go to producing nothing except extending life at exorbitant expense, in a highly inefficient way, is a national security issue. We face tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded mandates for medicare and social security; we have a dwindling middle-class which will be totally unable to pay for it. Safety nets like these two programs will probably end unless we correct the abuse and underfunding they've experienced, like the raiding of the SS trust fund in the 1950's. Our elderly population will both be impoverished and suffer vast health care service degradation if we do not act.

Yet, when Obama rightly noted that his bill will not pay for the care of illegal aliens as covered persons, he was met with the most uncivil and hateful reply I've ever had the dishonor to witness in my 40 plus years watching Presidents stand in front of congress. A representative from South Carolina, the first nation to secede, shouted out that the President lies in saying his bill doesn't provide for the coverage of illegal aliens. The truth is, any health care program will pay for emergency room care of ANYONE. It will pay, because that's the law, it's the law now, it will be the law in 200 years, we don't let people die on doorsteps. It is not new or unique to the President's proposal.

Obama wasn't lying to say those people won't be listed as covered persons under his proposal, that their primary care, or prescriptions or any of a host of services won't be covered. I don't even agree with him we SHOULDN'T cover them, but he won't. He wasn't lying - but that's not the point.

Sen. Patrick Leahy said colleagues sitting near him were "just shocked" by Wilson's shouted insult. "None of us had ever heard anything like it," he said.

When you disagree with a President, you sanely, rationally raise your objection to him, you SET THE EXAMPLE you want the nation to follow in providing for civil conduct. More than anything, you show some respect for the Office and traditions. You avoid fomenting hatred, hatred as has been in evidence in various town-halls. Hatred like creating pictures of all of the Presidents except for Obama where you simply show a set of eyes on a black background, or where you draw pictures of the White House lawn strewn with watermelons. Hatred where a group of people decide that the infringements on their 'liberty' of the election of someone from another party, and the implicit changes in policy which the majority rightly have the right to expect can and will happen are so onerous that they must 'act out'.

All of which suggest something to students of history, of our own history.

We are marching again on that path to war, a war so far only of words, much as it was in 1840 or 1850. Because those who sit elected by the minority feel their constituents do not mind ugly conduct, they feel emboldened to do what has never been done before in this country. They dishonor themselves, the institution of our government, and each one of us who are citizens who love this country, by violating traditions of conduct which have stood for more than 140 years.

If we do not find a way to have civil debate, to agree to compromise when the party elected to find solutions seeks to move forward, but more, if we simply are going to scream 'FREEDOM!!!' combined with obscenities in the face of those who seek such change - we are going to see history repeat itself, we are going to see those intractable people use violence when they no longer get their way, and we may see war that goes beyond words. Both sides faced horrible destruction in our civil war, and we would be wise as a result to have both sides now remember the lessons of that war. We would all of us, on both sides, be wise to also remember that the minority did not win that civil war, and that by provoking it the minority was a catalyst precipitating the very events they most feared.

The southern economic system was doomed, not because of abolitionists opposition to slavery, although slavery was wrong. The southern economic system was doomed because it was not sustainable. Our current health care system is economically not sustainable either. The decision is not correctly to keep or not keep our current system, the decision which should be on the table for agreement is how we will change our current health care system, and how drastic the schism will or will not be. It is a choice.