Friday, April 30, 2010

Ihre Dokumente, Bitte

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Amendment IV, Constitution of the United States

The Legislature of the State of Arizona did something recently which reflects poorly on both the United States and the people of that state. The legislature passed and Governor Jan Brewer signed a sweeping bill which criminalizes being in the state of Arizona without legal status. SB 1070, which will go into effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session, makes it a criminal offense to be in the state without being either a US Citizen or to have legal permission to be in the United States. The bill makes it very clear that it is attempting to enforce federal law relating to immigration control and control of the borders.

This law contains some troubling constitutional provisions. The first, most troubling section is quoted below:


The troubling phrase here is "where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States". This is a violation of the right of persons to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The US Supreme Court has determined that where a police officer stops a person and demands identification, that such as stop constitutes "a seizure" within the meaning of the 4th amendment. "It must be recognized that, whenever a police officer accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away, he has 'seized' that person." Terry v. Ohio 392 US 1 (1968). What then, constitutes reasonable suspicion that a person is an alien who is unlawfully in the United States? The statute is silent on what constitutes a reasonable suspicion, but it does not take much to extrapolate from there: anyone who is Hispanic will surely face suspicion, anyone with an accent, (especially Hispanic) will be subject to stop and a demand for their papers. The law essentially means that anyone who can be potentially stopped should carry their papers on them at all times. That US citizens will be stopped and accosted, and thus, have their civil liberties violated is an absolute certainty.

An associate of the author's is a specialist in immigration law. His views on this statute, after reading it were that the bill's author had little if any grasp of federal immigration law and how the three federal agencies who enforce and regulate immigration, Citizenship and Immigration Service, Customs and Border Patrol, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (CIS, CBP, ICE) operate. Further the definition used for a trespassing alien is linked to 8 USC 1304 (3) and 1306 (a). 8 USC 1304(3) deals with a requirement for an alien to carry their green card, when it has been issued legally. There are a multitude of reasons for someone who is a lawful permanent resident but not have a green card, including renewals, lost or stolen cards, spouses or children of lawful permanent resident, etc. 8 USC 1306(a) deals with aliens being required to register with immigration authorities when required to do so by the Secretary of Homeland Security. Not all immigrants are required to do so, mostly those from countries who are defined as sponsors of terrorism, etc.

The Constitution of the United States grants to Congress the right to determine standards for entry into the United States. (Article II, Section 8) During the early part of US history, immigration control was the furthest from the minds of both the public and Congress. However, in the 1880's, ugly bouts of racism and bigotry took place, resulting in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. A series of acts over the years now restrict who can enter the United States and qualify for residency and the right to work in the US. Throughout all this period of time, however, it has been Congress which has passed and dealt with immigration and nationalization matters. The Supreme Court made this perfectly clear in Ping vs U.S. 130 US 581 (1889) where Justice Field wrote, "That the government of the United States, through the action of the legislative department, can exclude aliens from its territory is a proposition which we do not think open to controversy. Jurisdiction over its own territory to that extent is an incident of every independent nation. It is a part of its independence." 130 US at 603. The logic used by the Court was that control over its borders is a part of sovereignty, and that it is a nation which has control over its borders, not individual provinces or subdivisions within that nation.

It is widely agreed that our immigration system is broken. However, what isn't widely known is that there are already laws on the books to discourage unauthorized entry into the United States. People come to the United States to obtain jobs and to try and support their families in their native lands. They take jobs that not many people want, because these jobs often pay minimum wage or even less. They usually do not have any form of benefits or heath insurance. However, if there are no jobs for these people, the incentive to come and stay in the US becomes less. Certainly, the draw of family and a wealthier lifestyle is important. During fiscal year 2008, slightly over criminal 1,100 arrests were made by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.). Of these, only 135 were of owners, managers and human resources officers charged with knowingly harboring or employing aliens. The remainder were undocumented aliens who were further charged with identity theft and social security fraud. It was not until 2009 that Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano issued guidelines that indicated that more effort is going to be placed on worksite enforcement. This is long overdue.

Immigration reform is something that is needed in the United States, although perhaps not with the addition of new and onerous requirements on employers. Rather, enforcing existing law, requiring all employers to verify the eligibility of all potential employees and requiring that any name/social security number mismatch be fully investigated would resolve many of the immigration problems through reduced work opportunity for those without legal authorization to work and catching those with false papers earlier. As technology gets better, as the databases and fingerprint systems get better, it is already becoming more difficult for those without valid permission to work in the US to be here.

The Mexican government has issued a travel advisory to its citizens who are living or traveling in Arizona, urging them to make sure they have their papers on them at all times and to report harassment by law enforcement to any of the five consulate offices in Arizona. However, the action by Arizona has not helped Arizona's reputation, and if there is anything that would discourage tourism, this is a good example.

This law has already resulted in a number of conventions and other planned events which were planned for Arizona to consider other locations. Both the Republican and Democratic Conventions had been considering Arizona, and both parties have expressed concern about this law. The Arizona Hotel and Convention industry has been pleading with the rest of the country and world not to blame them, but, in honestly, why not? Its the voters of Arizona, including their members, who put the racist and bigoted lawmakers who approved this bill in office. They can and must speak loudly to their legislature to either rescind this bill, or the voters will, at the ballot box, rescind the members who voted for it. Hispanic voters are a voting block which increased clout. The Arizona politicians and their supporters may find themselves in trouble at the polls come November.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Palestine - A Perpetual Problem - Part I

"Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, 'The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey." Exodus 3:16-17

With this passage, the God of Abraham, promises most of what is modern day Israel to the Hebrews. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are all considered Abrahamaic faiths, because all stem from the same basic tradition, and all practice a monotheistic faith revering the same God. This writing, and perhaps several more, will explore the history behind the current conflict in Israel, and show that although the conflict in Israel came to a boiling point in 1948, the conflict is much, much older, and in fact, stems from the time of the diaspora and even before.

Following the exodus from Egypt in approximately 1400 BC, the conquest of the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, etc by the Israelites was not easy. Battles raged for decades until approximately 1020 BC, when the Kingdom of Israel was established under its first king, Saul. The united kingdom lasted approximately 100 years until the death of King Solomon in approximately 930 BC. Under Saul's successor, the kingdom split in two, and the two kingdoms, Israel and Judah, remained at odds throughout most of the next 400 years until the Babylonians conquered Judah in 586 BC. The Persians then conquered the Babylonians in 538 and many of the Israelites who had been deported to Babylon were allowed to return.

In 331 BC Alexander the Great conquered Persia, and with it, the remains of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Upon his death, a succession of rulers came and went until 64 BC when the Roman general Pompey captured Jerusalem, and brought Israel into the Roman empire. Israel was a client kingdom of Rome under Herod the Great. In 66 AD, militant Jews seized power and revolted against Rome. The revolt was ruthlessly crushed, and Jerusalem was captured and destroyed (along with the Temple) in AD 70. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were either killed outright, taken as slaves, or fled to other countries. In 132 AD a second revolt occurred, known as the Bar Kokhba's revolt. This revolt was suppressed as well, and the Roman province of Judea was then consolidated with the province of Syria.

During this period, lasting from approximately 135 AD to the beginning of the Byzantine period in 330 AD, the Romans gradually managed to eradicate Hebrew as a spoken language and through a variety of onerous burdens and eradicate the Jewish presence in and around Jerusalem. Various Jewish tribes remained as nomads in southern Palestine and eventually became a part of the founding of Islam. Northern Jewish tribes existed until well into the Islamic empires. Byzantine emperors, as Christians, lavished funds upon Palestine and funded the building of numerous churches and other important buildings. The Church of the Nativity and the Church of the Ascension were built during the reign of Emperor Constantine. The late Byzantine period of history was one of Palestine's greatest, with the cities of Jerusalem, Caesarea Maratima and Neapolis reaching their greatest glory and producing a number of important Christian scholars. In 683 AD following the siege of Jerusalem, the Caliph Omah Ibn al-Khattab and Patriarch Safforonius signed an agreement which spelled out the rights of non-Muslim occupants of Jerusalem. Christians and Jews were labeled "People of the Book", and although they were generally granted freedom of religion, they also were subject to additional taxes. Thus began almost 1,400 years of Islamic control of Palestine.

The next article in this series will discuss Islamic control of the region, the beginning of the return of Jews to Palestine, and the problems associated with the birth of modern Israel.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Affinity Scam, Part 5 - The Beginning of the End

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth...not going all the way, and not starting.”
-Buddha, Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta
founder of Buddhism
563-483 B.C.

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
-T.S. Eliot
American born English Editor, Playwright, Poet and Critic,

“He who chooses the beginning of the road chooses the place it leads to. It is the means that determines the end.”
-Harry Emerson Fosdick
American clergyman

UPDATE: According to the most recent article in the excellent series by Dan Browning, Trevor Cook has not provided any information leading to the recovery of funds swindled from investors in his Ponzi Scheme / Affinity Scam, contrary to the intention of his plea bargain agreement.

If Cook is actually telling the truth, for a change - and it would be reasonable to be VERY skeptical of any statement from him - then he doe not have any of the missing money that should be returned to the victims. Even allowing for the egregious excesses of Cook's lifestyle, there is no indication of which I am aware that suggests Cook personally spent all of it.

Given the content of Cook's emails included in the contempt filing, which assert that Durand and Pettengill split from the Ponzi scheme over a theft from the scam funds, the logical question is to wonder if the alleged co-conspirators, Pettengill and Durand might account for at least some of the missing funds, and further, to wonder if those funds may have financed the radio shows used by Durand and Pettengill to draw in new 'investors' (or as I would characterize them - victims) for their later investment schemes promoted on the radio.

The latest Dan Browning article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune can be found here :

On April 13th, 2010 Trevor Gilson Cook submitted his plea bargain guilty plea to one count of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion in front of Judge James Rosenbaum in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis. In the plea bargain, Cook admitted to defrauding upwards of 1,000 people of upwards of $190 million dollars, aided and abetted by others who have yet to be indicted for criminal activity. For the crimes to which he pled guilty, Cook agreed to accept imprisonment for 25 years, and to pay restitution, and to assist authorities in recovering the remaining money which is missing - an amount far smaller than the amount he swindled. Cook admits his actual crimes far exceed the crimes to which he pled guilty. Cook, who had been in jail on contempt charges for not cooperating with civil court orders, cried in court, tears not so much of remorse apparently, as for being caught and punished. If Cook fails to cooperate as promised, Judge Rosenbaum made it unavoidably clear that he will face jail time for all of the crimes he committed, which would probably, as with Madoff and other scam criminals, result in life behind bars.

For those who have not followed this story on Penigma or in the excellent series of articles in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Dan Browning, the announcement on the Minneapolis FBI web site ( outlines the events. I would draw reader's attention to the last two paragraphs which represent progress over previous years:

Man Pleads Guilty to Orchestrating $190 Million Ponzi Scheme

MINNEAPOLIS—A 37-year-old Apple Valley, Minn., man pleaded guilty today in federal court in Minneapolis to orchestrating a $190 million Ponzi scheme. Appearing before U.S. District Court Judge James M. Rosenbaum, Trevor Gilson Cook pled guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of tax evasion in connection to his crime. Cook was charged on March 30, 2010.

In his plea agreement, Cook admitted that from January 2007 through July 2009 he, aided and abetted by others, schemed to defraud no fewer than 1,000 people out of approximately $190 million by purportedly selling investments in a foreign currency trading program. In reality, however, he diverted a substantial portion of the money provided him for other purposes, including making payments to previous investors; providing funds to Crown Forex, SA, in an effort to deceive Swiss banking regulators; purchasing ownership interest in two trading firms; buying a real estate development in Panama; paying personal expenses, including substantial gambling debts; and acquiring the Van Dusen Mansion in Minneapolis.

To carry out his scheme, Cook caused false statements to be made to potential investors, including promises that the investment program would generate annual returns of 10 to 12 percent, and that trading would present little or no risk to investors’ principal. He also caused material information to be withheld from investors, such as the precarious financial position of Crown Forex, SA, in Switzerland, an entity through which he traded. In addition, he withheld the fact that trading at PFG in Chicago generated losses in excess of $35 million between July 1, 2006, and Aug. 31, 2009.

In furtherance of the scheme, Cook caused an account to be opened in the name of Crown Forex, LLC, at Associated Bank, which he used for depositing investor funds that he subsequently diverted for his personal use as well as the personal use of others. He also caused statements to be sent to investors that misrepresented the status of their investments. In addition, he caused due-diligence letters to be prepared that falsely represented Oxford Global Advisors as having more than $4 billion in assets under management, and that all accounts were liquid.

Specific to the charges, Cook admitted that on Jan. 29, 2009, he caused a $50,000 check to be sent through the U.S. mail from Arizona to Minnesota for investment in his foreign currency trading program. He also admitted that on April 15, 2009, he filed a false and fraudulent U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, Form 1040, for calendar year 2008, by failing to report taxable income of at least $5,285,719, upon which there was tax due in the amount of at least $1,844,571.

For his crimes, Cook faces a potential maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison on the mail fraud charge and five years on the tax evasion charge. Judge Rosenbaum will determine his sentence at a future date, yet to be scheduled.

This case is the result of an investigation by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation Division, with the assistance and support of the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank J. Magill.

This law enforcement action is part of President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated, and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. It includes representatives from a broad range of federal agencies, regulatory authorities, inspectors general, and state and local law enforcement who, working together, bring to bear a powerful array of criminal and civil enforcement resources. The task force is working to improve efforts across the federal executive branch and, with state and local partners, investigate and prosecute significant financial crimes, ensure just and effective punishment for those who perpetrate financial crimes, combat discrimination in the lending and financial markets, and recover proceeds for victims of financial crimes.

For those readers who have not followed our affinity scam series, or who have forgotten the details, the above is a fair summary of the events of the scam. Trevor Cook joined, according to charges in civil court litigation for the fraud, with Pat Kiley, Gerald Durand, Chris Pettengill, Bo Alan Beckmann and others, to create a dozen entities to use in conducting the transactions to which so far only Cook has pled guilty.

In the course of following these court actions, Pen and I have come to know something more of the 1,ooo victims of this swindle, and to care about what happens to them, and have attempted to be of help to them. We came to follow this story from its connections to Christian Right Wing Radio, the means used to attract many of the victims to the scam.

We also followed very closely the activities of two of the colleagues of Trevor Cook who had ostensibly separated from Cook and Kiley, Durand and Pettengill. Durand and Pettengill were continuing with some of the dozen or so false entities used to commit the fraud to which only Cook so far has pled guilty. And they were further continuing the pattern of conduct revealed in the fraud allegation documents currently in court, devising some 18 new entities with similar names. By similar names, I mean names similar to each other, but also similar to more legitimate and recognized business organizations, both here and in Europe.

Durand and Pettengill also continued the same pattern of using radio shows on Christian and Right wing stations, primarily two stations locally that were part of Salem Communications, WWTC and KYCR, to attract new people for their investment schemes. Those programs were Wealth Survival, on KYCR, and subsequently on The David Strom Show on WWTC from January 2009 through September 2009.

Our next two parts in the Affinity Scam series will focus on Durand and Pettengill, and on David Strom and his radio program. As we publish those additional segments in the series, I hope we will have additional news about the criminal indictments of those who, in the words of the Cook plea bargain "aided and abetted" these crimes. The segment on Durand and Pettengill will focus on their credentials - and lack thereof, and on the kinds of statements they made on the David Strom show, as well as the statements from the court documents in the amended complaints and in the Cook contempt filing to round out a portrait of these individuals. The segment on David Strom will focus on our direct observations from his radio program and on the interview conducted primarily by Penigma and Dan Browning, and my smaller contribution to that interview.

I hope readers will notice the quotations I use at the beginning of most of my writing; I intend the quotes to be a focus through which my writing is understood. In this case, I found the third quotation to be particularly apt, as it was the means to the end of satisfying greed which actually led to the end in jail for Cook. As I hope it will end for those who aided and abetted his schemes and his scam.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Get Your Paws Off, T-Paw!

“I have been thinking that I would make a proposition to my Republican friends... that if they will stop telling lies about the Democrats, we will stop telling the truth about them.”

“All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions.”
- Adlai E. Stevenson
American Politician, Governor of Illinois 1949-53, U. N. Ambassador 1961-65

There is a quiet, very polite conflict going on in the executive branch of Minnesota state government, over who legally represents the state and who calls the shots about going to court over the recent health care reform legislation; there are parallel conficts in states across the country. After the partisan politicizing of the Department of Justice in the Bush Administration, I think we all need to consider very seriously the intrusion of a chief executive into the activities and authority of the applicable Attorney General, especially for self-serving reasons.

from the official web site of Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson (D):

"About the Attorney General's Office:The Attorney General is the chief legal officer for the State of Minnesota. ... The Office represents the state in state and federal court, as well as in administrative adjudication and rulemaking hearings. ... In addition, the Office issues formal opinions interpreting statutes for the agencies and political subdivisions of the state. ... The Office is the state’s chief policy maker and law enforcer in the important areas of consumer protection, antitrust enforcement and charities’ regulation. "

The topic was covered by the Christian Science Monitor in an article back in March, just after it became law, in response to the same conflcit happening in many other states as well:
“State attorneys general are constitutionally independent state officers and have autonomy in their decisions to take action on behalf of their states,” according to Steven Schier, a political scientist at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn."

A position which has not stopped Minnesota's Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, who appears to have strong 2012 presidential ambitions, from grandstanding to the arch-conservative GOP base. "T-Paw" boasted to the media from Fox News to Minnesota Public Radio in early April about joining, on behalf of the state of Minnesota, in the AG litigation in Florida challenging the new Health Care Reform law.

Last September, in an interview on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos, Pawlenty sang a different tune. He didn't think health care reform merited a legal challenge.

Stephanopoulos: "So, just to be clear, are you suggesting that any parts of the plan as the president has laid it out are unconstitutional?"
Pawlenty: "Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a legal issue."

A change in position Newsweek's Alan Romano mocked when he wrote, "Pawlenty Flip-Flops on Health Care", asking "Is T-Paw the new John Kerry?" in his April 6, 2010 column, The Gaggle.

Why the change? Presidential ambitions.

Or, maybe instead of the suit he has boasted about, as T-Paw asserts much more quietly, he will just file an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief on behalf of Minnesota, an opinion / advisory document opposing the legislation.

T-Paw was at one time a practicing attorney and is in his second term as governor. So he should be aware that he is NOT the legal representative for the state of Minnesota in federal court or any other court. We Minnesotans ELECT the Attorney General to do that job, and to exercise that authority.

Given how long it has been since he has practiced law, I'd expect T-Paw to be seeking expert legal ghost writing instead of relying on his own legal qualifications to draft an amicus brief. If so, I don't imagine that service will come cheaply. As a resident of Minnesota, which has seen serious deficits in our state finances resulting is harsh cuts to important budget spending, I particularly would be irked if Governor 'T-Paw' uses any of our state money to get good legal help for his self-serving brief, given recent state budget cuts.

AG Swanson, in a savvy display of what we like to call "Minnesota nice", (which is not always quite as sweet as it seems on the surface), refused to file suit opposing the new law or to join the Republican AGs doing so. But she did write a formal letter to Governor T-Paw giving her official blessing for him to go ahead with his amicus brief.

AG Swanson's letter is available in its entirety here:

It's much less impressive to merely offer a formerly practicing attorney's legal opinion to the court, one of many - which the court can ignore. I think Swanson may have politely cooperated with the Governor, giving him enough scope to embarrass himself, and just enough rope to hang himself, leaving him twisting in the wind if he fails. Given the number of states joining the litigation in Florida, T-Paw may be bringing too little too late to the party to impress the GOP hard core with his presidential potential.

Swanson has also indicated to the Governor she will be offering the court her own amicus brief, which she has a more legitimate right to do than Pawlenty on behalf of the state of Minnesota.

Swanson, however, will be supporting the health care reform law, and opposing Governor T-Paw. Personally, I think she will make him look ridiculous; she is arguably a better lawyer than he is. Her legal opinion is based on the law, not on ambition to be a candidate for the White House in 2012.

The judge could still reject Swanson's amicus brief, and T-Paw's. In a mid-April ruling against birther queen Orly Taitz when she tried to join the AG litigation against the health care reform law, senior federal judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Roger Vinson, denied Taitz intervener motion stating "the representation by the Attorneys General must be deemed adequate".

Judge Vinson concluded his decision with the statement "The Parties to this litigation, and, indeed, the citizens of this country, have an interest in having this case resolved as soon as practically possible. That task will be made exponentially more difficult if all those who have an opinion or an interest in the outcome of the case were allowed to intervene and to join in those proceedings." In another part of the Taitz decision, Judge Vinson indicated numerous individuals had sought to join in; from his concluding statement, I get the impression the judge would like everyone not directly involved kindly to 'butt out' so he can get on with it. Too bad about Taitz losing out in joining the litigation in one respect; she always provides comic relief to any proceeding in which she is involved.

Numerous other state Attorneys General and their Governors are in conflict over filing litigation of their own, or joining the existing litigation filed by a number of Republican state Attorneys General (with one exception). AG James "Buddy" Caldwell (D) , from the state of Louisiana, is the only Democrat in litigation which is highly partisan, a filing otherwise exclusively along party lines. In the case of the Louisiana AG, the Governor, a Republican, is reported to have threatened to cut the funding for at least half the staff of the AG if he did not join in the litigation on behalf of Louisiana - essentially, gaining state participation by means of a threat which suggests an abuse of power.

In Nevada, Governor Jim Gibbons (R), yet another Republican politician embattled in a sex scandal, pressured Nevada AG Cortez Masto to challenge the recent health care reform in federal court. AG Masto was resisting the pressure, on the basis that there is no legal justification for joining the litigation, a position taken by the majority of states AGs.

In Michigan, the opposite situation is unfolding, with Governor Granholm ordering AG Cox to intervene on behalf of the health care reform legislation, while AG Cox has come out on the side of the litigation opposing the health care reform legislation. In Wisconsin, Republican AG Van Hollen requested permission to join in the litigation challenging the health care reform law. Van Hollen had also requested permission from the Wisconsin state legislature, which is not likely to be given. In Montana, it is the state legislature that is pushing for the AG to pursue litigation over health care reform, and the AG is refusing. In Washington, Governor Chris Gregoire (D) is fighting the Washington AG, Rob McKenna (R) for joining the suit.

In Georgia, AG Thurbert Baker (D) refused to pursue litigation, so instead Governor Sonny Purdue (R) used his state constitutionally provided authority to appoint a special AG to pursue litigation on behalf of the state of Georgia, and named Frank C. Jones to take on the job.

In Oregon, Governor Kulongoski is on the same page with AG Kroger - both are Democrats. Oregon is supporting the legislation in the litigation, filed in Florida. So far as I have been able to determine, this is the only state where both the AG and the Governor are not only in agreement, but willing to expend state funds to defend the health care reform bill in court.

As of this writing, the states with Attorneys General participating in the litigation to overturn the Health Care Reform law are:Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington. Virginia, again acting on partisan lines, is filing separate litigation from the group action.

Florida AG Bill McCollum (R) has spearheaded the litigation filing in Florida, and is also running for governor in that state. Recent polls in Florida show McCollum losing ground against his democratic opponent, where a recent Quinnipiac poll indicated 54% of Florida voters oppose the suit, while only 40% are in favor of it.

The named Defendants in the suit are the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, & Sec. Kathleen Sebelius; U.S. Dept. of the Treasury, & Sec. Tim Geithner; and the U.S. Dept. of Labor & Sec. Hilda Solis.

Rush Limbaugh hates America

Recently Rush Limbaugh is a noted gasbag and much married much divorced sexual tourist who takes Caribbean vacations in a country known for attracting rich men who enjoy underaged prostitutes, his 'virility' enhanced with "boner pills" not prescribed to him according to the label. He apparently took literally, along with little blue pills, the concept of a strong dollar in a country like the Dominican Republic with a weak economy giving U.S. tourists more bang for their buck.

Limbaugh recently claimed a moral high ground of superior patriotism to partially blamed Bill Clinton for Timothy McVeigh's attack on the Arthur P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Limbaugh claimed a direct, tangible link of responsibility for Clinton's authorization to storm the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco TX justifying McVeigh's attack on the Murrah Building on the anniversary of the Waco assault. It was incredibly inappropriate for Limbaugh to make such a comment on the anniversary of McVeigh's attack; it is something which should be called out.

For years, people like Limbaugh claimed any American hated the United States who believed Muslims might understandably resent U.S. support for Israel in every action; or the many "collateral deaths" of unarmed civilians, including women and children, in Islamic nations; or the torture of detainees, leading some to attack the United States abroad. Their reasoning was that anyone who questioned the correctness, the infallibility, the perfect wisdom and justness of U.S. actions internationally was inherently and intrinsically unpatriotic. In those instances, they believe America can do no wrong, no matter what we do; their fellow Americans should not dare to question our country's actions, much less object.

The irony of course is that Limbaugh and his followers, including many Tea Party activists, essentially hate the U.S. Government and actions it takes domestically.

So, in the eyes of Limbaugh and his followers, it is unacceptable for a foreigner to object to the policies and actions of the US government in their own country (or adjacent countries) that directly affect them, perhaps harm or kill their families, friends and other fellow citizens, and it's totally unacceptable for those foreigners to react (violently or otherwise) against the U.S. because of those U.S. policies and actions, no matter how egregious. Limbaugh and his followers claim "look at all the good we also do" as their justification for the U.S. to be above criticism or protest from the rest of the world.

But if Limbaugh doesn't like his taxes, or doesn't like the unintended consequences of a fully lawful attempt to bring hostage-takers and armed insurrectionists like those in Waco to justice, well, then Limbaugh is quick to blame the U.S. government. Which is no different than foreigners, or U.S. citizens criticizing the U.S. government for its actions overseas that do harm, or have unintended consequences.

The double standard here, the hypocrisy, is that Limbaugh believes he and his ditto-heads have every right - and they do - to criticize, no matter how offensively, the Unites States government. But they refuse utterly to respect the integrity, the loyalty, the motives, the character, the funamental decency, or the intelligence of their fellow citizens who disagree with them.

Limbaugh and his followers fundamentally hate the power of the government to tax and to govern. They claim to love the US, but either don't grasp or don't care that the power to govern stems directly from the various provisions of the Constitution as it defines our representative form of government, and effectively from the outcome of the Civil War which reaffirmed the individual states in some respects are subordinate to the national government.

They support the North's cause generally, to remain a complete nation, but selectively advocate state's rights. But when state's rights are discussed, while they support state's rights when it is self-serving to do so, they are ready to toss those rights aside to ensure the 2nd Amendment is incorporated upon the states. They selectively embrace federalism when it works to their advantage, cherry picking inconsistently what side of the argument they wish to advance.

Consequently, they like the government for a powerful military. But hate our government for many other things, most other things. They give only superficial lip service to supporting the Constitution and the US, while in the very next breath attacking that very same Constitution and government. Because the government as we have is based directly and entirely on the Constitution, including the 14th Amendment. Limbaugh and his followers complain about those who criticize the government as being anti-American in one breath, while blaming Bill Clinton for McVeigh's attack, and hating the ability of the majority to vote in a government when they are not that majority with their next wheeze.

What's more important, is that following Limbaugh's logic about Waco and the attack on the Murrah building, there is then is logical connection between our support for Israel and Bin Laden's attacks upon the US on 9/11/2001. He is effectively saying that while the US isn't FULLY to blame, it is to blame at least in part for the reactions to our actions. Limbaugh said that anyone who blames the US for 9/11 in ANY way therefore hated America, so I guess this means that Limbaugh hates America when he blames the U.S., under the Clinton administration, for Waco causing the Murrah bombing.

And the funny thing is, as the paragraph above about hating taxes, the power to govern, and federalism points out, it appears Limbaugh really does hate America; or at least, most of it.

Now the truth is, those who criticize U.S. actions overseas aren't "unAmerican", nor do they hate this country. They passionately dislike some folks' attitudes about mistreating innocent civilians or their attitudes about allowing US companies to abuse and exploit foriegn citizens/workers. If thinking abusive capitalism is wrong, then it is our ethical standards that need some correction, not those who question them.

Disliking liberals and independents isn't really hating the government. Yet, since liberals make up 42% or so of the voting public, it is hating a pretty sizeable cross-section of the country.

Limbaugh knows both things to be true, but he wilfully conflates the dissent of liberals with anti-Americanism and descibes those who object to our excesses in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan as traitors.

Limbaugh excuses insane criminals like McVeigh - and does so because the "militia" crowd is part of his political and listener base, so it benefits him to do so. It is self-serving. Limbaugh preaching contempt and intolerance of dissent is in itself fundamentally immoral; but his blaming Clinton for McVeigh's actions, in part or entirely, is nothing short of craven hypocrisy.

Limbaugh talks a great game about personal accountability; he talks about not dissenting from the government decisions during time of war; he talks about law and order, and he talks big about patriotism. But I think in the end Limbaugh and those like him really, truly do hate more than 40% or so of the people. They hate that they cannot control everything including health care and taxation in a way which would impose what they want as a minority on everyone else.

Fundamentally, they appear to hate the American ideal of democracy, of representative government and majority rule, of constitutional provisions that give Congress powers applying to them when the majority votes that way.

Limbaugh outright, straight up lies about more than 40% of the citizens of this country. Limbaugh lies when he claims that ANY disapproval is at it's base hatred, and then turns around and himself disapproves viscerally, calling for "action", excusing violence or transfering blame.

Limbaugh's lies, his hypocrisy, his duplicity is beyond belief. Perhaps he should move to Costa Rica - or maybe China. I hear they have a national news service which has even more popularity than Fox News, and which uses propoganda relentlessly to suppress dissent against the government. Limbaugh would fit right in.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Contempt and Scorn

In "The Lord's Prayer" we ask for forgiveness for our transgressions, we ask for deliverance from the 'evil' in the world- and that evil is in fact mostly about the evil which we know exists within ourselves.

I define that evil as that which turns us away from the spirit of Christ, most specifically, that which turns us away from loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Recently, while in Washington D.C., I met a shop-owner's son who was himself quite successful. In the course of a couple of hours of discussion, he confided that "while he might not be as smart as you (me), he believes what he believes, and we should simply agree to disagree." He described himself as a "God and guns guy." He also admonished me for thinking people cannot be whatever they wanted but instead needed help. His view, quite clearly, was that those who aren't well-off, or had a home foreclosed on, or were duped in the financial crisis and lost money, as well as those who falter (or commit crimes or heaven forbid, have a baby out of wedlock), simply are more about being irresponsible and/or stupid (more stupid than the rest of us, certainly than HE was, and more irresponsible than HE was) - than they were about being actually in need, or having made an honest mistake.

I related to him the realities of the past decade, that wages were flat, that the wealthy reaped the benefits of the labors of others, that many who are wealthy were either born with it, or simply more fortunate than those who ALSO tried out good ideas, worked hard, but simply didn't have things work out as well. I further commented that 60% of those who declare bankruptcy do so because of a health care calamity. I also reminded him that energy costs increased by $3000 or MORE per family over the past ten years, while incomes increased almost not at all. I reminded him that increasing the wealth of the wealthy did not result in "a rising tide lifting all boats" as he asserted, but rather, while incomes of the wealthy quadrupled, the middle-class in fact stayed static, since 1981. Finally, I reminded him that cutting taxes on the wealthy did not, as he asserted, result in a massive in-flow of new revenue for the government, but instead in the 80's resulted in only a mild increase (and we should remember during the 80's we ran the government on debt - as well as much of the country), and in the 2000's while we also ran the government on debt, tax revenues fell sharply.

All of this was of no matter to the man I was talking to. He viewed those who were 'not making it' in society as simply not positive enough about their future, which in fact was really reflective of his view that they were 'being irresponsible', 'living above their means', or 'not working hard enough' All of which he said at various times and ALL of which are code for someone judging others as not as 'good' or worthy of success as he was. It also, conveniently, is a way to brush-off needing to do anything for them, to be concerned about whether they have enough money to buy bread, or pay for school lunch, or, pay more in taxes.

This morning Katherine Kersten complained that nearly half of Americans don't pay taxes. Of course what Ms. Kersten meant was that half don't pay FEDERAL income taxes, but she wasn't clear, and she wasn't clear on purpose. She wanted to create contempt and outrage (or so I suspect) that half of Americans don't have to pay "while the rest of us do." Yet she conveniently left out that in fact, when looking at the TOTAL taxes (state, local, and federal) paid, most Americans, from the very poorest to the very richest, pay nearly the same percentage of their incomes in taxes.

I respect very much the self-reliance, initiative and personal friendliness of virtually every conservative I know. They are personally stand-up guys and gals, they generally are willing to work hard; and, normally, other than reflexively blaming the government for their woes from time to time, they take personal responsibility for their work and actions.

Yet, I am also struck that this contempt for others which I see so often, from my new found friend/shop owner, to Ms. Kersten, represents a failure to see such contempt is not love, it is not compassion for those less fortunate, it is instead judgment. It is a proclamation of self-superiority and righteousness for being smarter (perhaps) or better educated, or perhaps just even luckier. It confers upon the less fortunate culpability for their misfortune, for their poverty. It rationalizes dismissing their plight; just as it rationalizes looking to tax them even more than we do now, for "how can it possibly be fair" that 49% of us don't pay taxes? (forgetting that they DO pay taxes, just not the same rates on the same taxes - in some, like income they pay little to none, while in others like sales tax, they pay a FAR higher percentage)

How can it be fair? I would ask in counter, how can it be fair to ask someone who makes $12/hour, who is trying to raise a child, to give $200 or $400 of their $24,000/year to the federal government to somehow "equalize" the system, when they already are paying $3500/year in total taxes AND have as little as $200/year in disposable income, when we CUT taxes on those making more than $250,000. Those people, by contrast, have on average roughly $75,000/year in disposable income. How can we rationalize asking the POOREST of us to make up for our debt because we think it is wrong to ask those who have seen enormous increases in their wealth over the past 30 years to help fund a government which primarily benefits them by creating infrastructure and an environment where their businesses can succeed?

When we are asked to love our neighbor, when we ask to be lead away from temptation and to be delivered from evil - do we really, truly think we are being asked to demand more from the poor? Are we being told to envy the wealthy and to be "aghast" that due to their vast fortunes they pay 50% of our federal income taxes? Are we supposed to be outraged that after we cut their taxes in half, they took steps (including union busting) to help their income quadruple, and by that simple math they pay 50% of federal income taxes, but this is unjust? Finally do we truly think being delivered from evil means being motivated to complain about "our fair share of taxes", demanding that the poor pay more so that we can pay less? Is our concern supposed to be about OURSELVES first, is it supposed to be to look with contempt and scorn on the poor as being stupid or worse, lazy?

As my wife reminds me, there certainly are plenty of the wealthiest among us who have, becasue they incorporated in Ireland or Bermuda, ALSO put themselves in a position to not pay ANY federal tax and not due to privation, but due to laws created to shelter their taxes thru loopholes? Do those of us who wrankle at the poor paying so little get equally riled up at the rich paying nothing? I have seen many conservatives who simply think the rich who do so are smart. If so, how do we pay for a government where taxing those who have the income is "unfair" and those who duck it are "smart" while in the same breath condeming the poorest who both can't afford it and can't duck it?

I do not ask why the poor do not pay federal income taxes, I ask why we think, in our topsey-turvey world, that the rich should pay less? We have cut their federal taxes by half, we have 60% of businesses paying NO federal income tax. Do we really think it just to ask the poor and lower middle class to balance our budget rather than look to those who duck taxes, or who don't pay anything at all? When we talk about "wanting" a flat tax, as unjust as that is, the truth is, we have one - if you look at state, local, and federal taxes combined. Do we really think it's right to demand more from those who have the least? Is that what Christ said? Is it following temptation or being lead from it to think there's any real chance we'll "fix" things by asking the poor, lower-middle class to pay tiny pittance the poorest of society that they could pay?

People should remember and understand, we created the federal income tax credit for the poor quite frankly because our fathers and grandfathers agreed that having the poorest pay income tax was unjust. It was asking those who frequently could barely afford to feed their families to contribute, when such contribution was mostly unneeded and put the burden for paying for a system on those who benefited least by it. They also recognized, by contrast it seems, that many poor and lower middle class work very hard, often holding down two and three jobs. We created 90% an 70% tax rates on the highest incomes, not to be confiscatory, but instead to give the wealthiest incentives to share profits. Now, since we've done away with those disincentives, of course the wealthy, being normal human beings, seek to keep more, and seek to ensure they are taxed less (or at least aren't again taxed more as we face these budgetary crises). So they complain about the "unfairness" of having the working poor pay nothing, and their Fox News/Tea Party mouthpieces take up the complaint - and so I ask, do you think Christ would demand the POOR pay more to cover what the rich used to cover? The same rich who've gotten fabulously more wealthy? Is that the Christian thing to do?

Fundamentally, the reason the number of people not paying taxes has increased so dramatically (from 24% in 1980 to 47% today), is that so many more people make so little when using inflation adjusted dollars. Perhaps our problem isn't that so many people are "lazy" or "cheating", perhaps instead it is that we have such a wildly skewed system, such a two-class system, that we are seing our injustices manifest in obvious ways, yet we're too blind to see the root of the injustice itself? I believe it is a tragedy that we have SO many who are so poor that they do not even make enough that their incomes qualify for taxation, not a tragedy that we do not demand what little pittance they could give. If love is forgiveness and sanctimonious judgment is a sin (as we are told in the Bible), then I must not so blithely judge, or atleast I'd better by just about perfect before I do (glass house) - to include judging my sanctimony as sin - and when I do that first, I will find myself looking to long down my nose at a far too steep an income curve. We have set our world upon it's head when we seek to make our society right by going after the weakest among us.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Double Down

John Paul Stevens, one of the most legally erudite voices in the country, announced his retirement Friday. The link below offers some comments by six of his clerks and through those comments, some insight into the kind of person Stevens is. Contrastingly, I found the story about William Rehnquist a little illuminating :).

6 clerks talk about Stevens from the NY Times

Now the battle to replace him has begun. Republicans have claimed they will filibuster any nominee they consider to be "too liberal".

This is a funny and laughably hypocritical stance by those who demanded that Democrats NOT filibuster selections by George Bush - including Samual Alito and John Roberts, both of whom are FAR more conservative than Sotomayor or Stevens are liberal (though Stevens is certainly more liberal than Sotomayor).

When Alito was confirmed, he was not filibustered, nor was Roberts. There was a time when Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy were considered part of the conservative wing - back when Harry Blackmun was on the bench, and it is a telling sign that in the time prior to her retirement (and since) both O'Connor and Kennedy are now considered "moderates." They are nothing of the sort, it is just that the conservative element has become so strident, so virulently demanding that they get their way, that anyone (like Kennedy or O'Connor) who respects Stare Decisis or even just the fundamentals enshrined in the Constitution (of say, jurisprudence, or respecting due process or preventing random searches), well, THOSE kind of independent thoughts are intolerable.

Yet, Alito and Roberts were approved with Democratic votes in support (though far more in support for Roberts (22) than Alito (4)). The Republicans threatened to do away with the filibuster (the actual "nuclear" option) over judicial appointments - not SCOTUS appointments either, just federal bench appointments and demanded "up or down" votes on those bench appointments. On Alito and Roberts they reminded us all and "warned" the Democrats that the role of the Senate is to "advise and consent" based on qualifications, not ideology.

Now, not only will they NOT vote to approve, not only with they NOT vote on qualifications (anyone remember when Bush nominated Harriet Meyers?), they will prevent even consideration.

So, my answer is, call these repugnant hypocrites' bluff(s) - put forward a person as liberal as Alito is conservative to maintain balance on the court, and dare them to filibuster. Double down on their double-standard, and advise them that if they DO filibuster, they'll get it back in spades when there is a Republican President. Further, tell them you will only appoint someone as liberal as Robert or Alito is conservative and ask them if that is somehow unfair? Then, buy air time showing all of the comments by Republicans still in the Senate saying "advise and consent" and remind them they don't get to chose who the President nominates, the President does. It is HIS right, not theirs, they didn't win the White House in 2008. So it is time, it is time to put another Thurgood Marshall or William Brennan on the Court, they certainly were no more liberal than Alito is conservative, and by contrast to the woefully supported (meaning he provides no support for his stances) Clarence Thomas, minds like Blackmun's or Marshall's have been sorely lacking for the past 20 or so years (ok 16 in one case). The eloquence of the man who argued Brown vs. the Board of Education is far more meaningful than the man who voted (alone) to indefinetely imprison a US Citizen (Thomas) in violation of our Constitutional principals.

It is time to appoint another Marshall, or Blackmun, or for that matter, Stevens - so that we can again see what actual jurisprudence represents.

Friday, April 9, 2010

How do we pay for it?

Lately there has been a lot of talk about the deficit, the federal debt, and how will we, as a country, pay for all the things we are doing. Taxes are being raised to pay for the health care bill, not directly at first, but by raising the limit on how much of a persons income is subject to the Medicaid tax. There is also a good chance Congress will let the tax cuts put in by Bush expire thinking this will raise money for the government. If this happens it will not have the effect they think. When I studied economics in college one of the things we looked at was something called a Laffer curve. The Laffer curve is a bell curve that shows that as tax rates go down government revenues go up until you reach the top of the curve and then the effect is the opposite. The goal of governments should be to sit at the top of the curve where you have maximized your revenues while keeping the tax rates as low as possible. Going back at least to tax cuts made by John F. Kennedy and all the way to the cuts made by Bush, every tax cut has produced more revenue for the government. The year after the Bush tax cuts the IRS took in 25% more revenues than the year before the cuts. Even once the recession hit revenues were still up by 10% over the year before the cuts. I am not making an argument for more cuts here, it is quite possible that the last cuts put us at the top of the curve and more cuts would produce less revenue, however letting those tax cuts expire or raising taxes in some other way will also produce less revenue.

You might wonder if revenues went up how come our deficits and debt also went up. Spending. In the same period that revenues increased 25% spending increased by 53%. Roughly 10% of that increase was spent on the military and homeland security, the other 43% were things like the prescription drug program for Medicare and built in increases to programs. Lots of programs have it written into their budget to increase by the inflation rate + 1% each year. So where can we cut? The biggest impact comes from making cuts to the biggest pieces. The three biggest pieces are Social Security, Medicare\Medicaid, and the military. Cuts are being made to Medicare and more are planned in the health care plan. Social Security is pretty much off limits as no congressman will want to be the one to cut the income of everyone over 65. Military cuts are hard because even when the Pentagon tries to kill a program Congress tries to keep it alive in order to keep money flowing to their district. So what can be done? First we can get the unemployment rate down. At 10% or more unemployment there are a few million people out there living off federal and state unemployment and not paying in taxes, get the rate to around 3% and revenues go up, expenses go down. I don’t have a good answer how to do this but I think corporate America could make a good start by bringing jobs they outsourced to other countries back to the US. Maybe give them an incentive like a tax break if they bring back jobs or losing a tax break if they do not. Another thing that can be done is to put an end to the inflation + increases in programs every year. I don’t know about you but unless I get an actual promotion my increase each year is at or under the inflation rate and I still manage to pay my bills and feed my family, government programs can do the same. The last part is foreign military bases. Japan flat out does not want us there anymore and I don’t think the European countries would be sad to see us leave. Do a review of the foreign bases and see which are really necessary, they are not in anyone’s district and so would not cost jobs in the US to close them. Also anything the defense department buys should be made in the US. This should not even have to be said but it is US taxpayer money it should create US jobs not jobs somewhere else. Also if for some reason another war on the scale of WWII were to happen do we really want the factories making our supplies in another country? The last thing is something Obama promised and it will be nice if it happens, no new programs that do not somehow pay for themselves. They can pay for themselves by charging the people who use them, replacing outdated programs with something more efficient and cheaper, or some other way but they need to not run up the debt. All of these are fairly mild solutions compared to making deep cuts across every program but they would at least stop the bleeding and possibly start making small dents in the debt.

This Says it All, Pretty Much

click on each of the links for maximum impact

Coal Cruel World - Part I

"Politics, a strife of interest masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage."

"Corporation, an ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility."
- Ambrose Bierce
American journalist and satirist
1842 - 1914

A mining disaster is defined as a mine accident, including coal mining accidents, where there are five or more fatalities, according to the United States Mine Rescue Association's website, which identifies it as the largest mine rescue organization in the world. In the current mining disaster media frenzy, I found this web site one of the few sources that was both expert, and non-political


The same website identifies that the worst mine disasters in our history were around a hundred years ago where hundreds died in a single accident. Looking at approximately the last 50 years, where regulation and technology combined improved on those statistics, deaths in the worst mining disaster hovered around 100, plus or minus. From 1951 to 2010, the fatalities occurring in mining disasters started diminishing from triple digits. In 1951, only 10 disasters involved deaths in double digits, including the one this month in West Virginia, with the worst occurring in 1968, with 78 deaths. A dozen more disasters in the last 50 years involved loss of life in the single digits.

All of which suggests that while mining is inherently dangerous, despite the inherent dangers, it is possible to reduce these accidents dramatically. It may not be possible to completely eliminate fatalities; but as there are companies that have fewer accidents and do not have mining disasters at all, it seems reasonable to expect we can reduce accidents to fewer than we currently experience, and to eliminate or nearly eliminate mining disasters. But, only if we want to do so, if we decide it is important to do so.

Cross referencing Mining Disasters (not just accidents) with Mining Safety Legislation
using data from the Worst US Mine Disasters page of the USMRA, and the site History of Mine Safety and Health Legislation, from the US Department of Labor website


through 1875
19 Coal Mine Disasters
no fatality data
no safety legislation

1876 - 1900
101 Coal Mine Disasters/ fatalities exceed 2000 / year
1891, legislation prohibited mines from employing children under 12,
first minimum ventilation requirements in underground mines;
only applied to mines in the US territories

305 Coal Mine Disasters/ no complete disaster fatality information;
*total fatalities for the 3 worst coal mining disasters in US history, 884
1910, legislation creating the Bureau of Mines, as part of the Dept. of' the Interior.

2 disasters* no stats available for all disasters, only the 2 worst, 1940 - 1950/274 fatalities*
1941, authority for inspections, Bureau of Mines
1947, first federal safety regulation

1951 - 1975
5 disasters /197 fatalities
1952 Federal Coal Mine Safety Act, limited enforcement provisions
1966 amended to apply to all underground mines
1966 Federal Metal and Non-Metallic Mine Safety Act,
first standards, expanded investigations and inspections
1969 Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act
strengthened health and safety standards, monetary and criminal penalties
addresses black lung

1976 - 2000
13 disasters /183 fatalities
1977 Federal Mine Safety and Health Act
Created the Mine Safety and Health Administration under the Dept. of Labor,
Created the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission
Expanded the rights and protection of miners,
produced a drop in fatalities from 272 in 1977 to 86 in 2000

5 disasters/ 64 fatalities +4
2006 Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act (MINER)

According to the Unites States Mine Rescue Association, "Mine accidents have declined dramatically in number and severity through decades of research, technology, and preventive programs. Today, mine accidents resulting in five or more deaths are no longer common. However, preventing recurrence of disasters like those of the past remains a top priority requiring constant vigilance by management, labor, and government."

What I found was that legislation typically occurred - almost exclusively occurred - as a result of outrage over the worst coal mining disasters; a few occurred in response to outrage at overall coal mining deaths. The conclusion from the disaster statistics, the fatality statistics, and the examination of legislation progressing chronologically, is that the Free Market mechanism is useless in providing protection to those who labor to do the dirty and dangerous work of mining. Regulation has made consistent differences not only in reducing disasters but in smaller coal mining accidents; it reduces not only fatalities, but injuries and illness. Allegations of putting profit ahead of safety have been made against some coal mining companies, including the Massey Energy Company which owns the Upper Big Branch Mine where the most recent disaster has occurred, in a mine with a list of safety violations as long as my arm, and a large amount of unpaid fines.

Is it possible, in the current divided Congress, to pursue better legislation, better enforcement? Certainly it is difficult. Republicans and Conservatives can be counted on, as they have at all of the other legislation, to claim it is anti-business, and that the free market should be allowed to prevail to solve all problems. They seem less willing to address the issue of people dying as the Free Market operates - or that it has failed to operate to benefit anyone except mine owners and operators in the long history of coal mining in the United States.

One of the questions to ask while writing a blog post is "what do I want" from writing this. I want effective regulation that protects miners. I want it to be as business friendly as possible, but it should also address the problem that we are as dependent on coal to provide electricity as we are dependent on oil for other industries. Since financial penalties appear to be less effective than we might wish, short term, I want to see jail time for the executives who make the decisions about safety compliance become one of the consequences for miners dying or suffering injuries in accidents, where mine operators are negligent in complying with safety regulations that cause the accidents and deaths.

President George W. Bush was criticized for being pro coal industry corporations, many of which were generous Republican doners, and lax on safety enforcement, including the 2006 Sago mine disaster. President Obama has chosen pro-union people for his administration, although they have not been appointed soon enough to be very effective so far, and huge problems exist which have not been addressed by the Obama administration. For this Obama should also be sharply criticized. People have died, in another of the worst coal mining accidents in our recent history. We need to take the politics out of safety regulation; we need to stop putting either profits or politics ahead of miner's lives.

The coal that was easier to extract from the ground has nearly all been removed and used. In the short term, mining the coal remaining, like the other fossil fuels, oil and natural gas, is going to be increasingly more dangerous to those who work to bring it to the surface; increasingly the extraction is becoming more dangerous to the environment of the communities where these resources exist underground. We also need long term solutions that address the increasing dangers, and the decreasing fossil fuel resources, switching over to safer renewable energy alternatives.

One of the renewable alternative resources pioneered by the University of Minnesota is a solution to two problems - energy, and cleaning our waste water. The U of MN came up with an algae that cleans waste water, and at the same time, produces a safe bio-fuel bi-product, a single solution to two problems at the same time. The cost of sewage treatment has been a large one to communities, and sewage is, clearly, one of the ultimate renewable resources. But even if we don't embrace this possibility as a solution, we need to look closely at our options, because every one of us who demands cheap electricity, much of which is produced by burning coal, is also a part of the coal mining disaster problem. We need to have the will to make the effort to be part of the solution.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Other Charlie Wilson's "War"

Update -

April 9th - US District Judge James Hutton set bail for Charles Alan Wilson in the amount of $20,000, determining he was not a flight risk. If Wilson is able to post the bond, he would be under a curfew from 6 pm to 8 am, cannot have firearms, cannot use alcohol, and is restricted to eastern Washington except for court apperances in Seattle.

April 7th -The man accused of making death threats against Representative Eric Cantor and other members of Congress including Nancy Pelosi, Norman Leboon, has been found by prosecutors unable to stand trial for those threats, because he suffers from multiple personality disorder. Like Leboon, the man arrested recently for making threats against Rep. Pelosi, Gregory Lee Giusti, also has a history of mental illness, and is undergoing an evaluation to determine if he can stand trial.
Charlie Wilson was not a recognized member of the Yakima, Washington Tea Party group, "Remember Us, We the People", but Wilson did participate in a 120 person protest by the group over recent health-care reform legislation, held near a Yakima hotel where Senator Murray was speaking. "We the people" was a recurring phrase in Wilson's threats, as were references to other people sharing his sentiments. According to the Yakima Herald, organizers of the Tea Party protest indicated they did not know Wilson, and that they did not advocate violence.


This post is about the Charlie Wilson who was arrested for making 'true threats' to the two senators from Washington state, not the Charlie Wilson profiled in the Oscar-nominated bio-pic movie in 2007, "Charlie Wilson's War".

THIS Charlie Wilson is the man arrested in Washington, and his "War" is the acts of aggression referred to by Wilson throughout the transcribed threats that are listed in the FBI complaint :
Wilson is being charged with violating Title 18, United States Code, Sections 115 (a)(1)(B) and (b)(4) - a felony.
What I intend to do with this post is to excerpt the statements by Wilson, listed in the FBI complaint transcripts of his words, and to cross-reference them with statements from the Right in relation to Health Care Reform legislation, and other subjects.

Excerpting the threats, chronologically:

from March 22, 2010
"There are many people out there who want you dead. Just remember that, as you are politicing[sic] for your reelection.... Now that you've passed your health-care bill, let the violence begin....We the people will not subside, succumb, to socialism. ... Let the violence begin. You have awakened a sleeping giant. The American people will not put up with it."

Wilson, in using the words "many people out there want you dead", and in his references to "people not succumbing to socialism", "sleeping giant" and "American people" clearly believes, despite his insistence that he is an "Independent", and despite attempting to give the impression he is somehow not aligned politically, Wilson clearly sees himself as belonging to a larger group of people who share his views, and perhaps a shared affinity with the people who have shaped his beliefs.

The reference "We the people" is clearly a reference to the opening words to the Preamble of the United States Constitution. I have been struck by the number of groups on the Right who try to cloak themselves in the mantle of the Constitution, as if they, and only they value it. Too often these very people seem either to be ignorant of its actual content, or to be ignorant or have a twisted view of how our Constitution has been applied throughout our history. Some of them seem to come up with their own distorted ideal of the Constitution, entirely different from the reality. This seems to be one more link between Wilson and the political Right; Wilson's own words provide compelling insight into his beliefs.

from March 23rd, 2010:

"With the passing of your health-care bill, it is living proof now that....This great country that believes in God and guns. Since you've done this, there's going to be some bigger targets on your (expletive) back. I hope somebody kills you, and I hope somebody kills [the President]. Yes, die, dead. You're signing my death warrant, so I want to sign yours (more expletives)."

This excerpt reiterates the notion that Wilson believes he is not alone in his views on health-care reform, but rather that he is part of a group of similarly minded people, including Second Amendment proponents. It repeats his mistaken belief in the lie perpetuated by Sarah Palin and others about death panels, and the misrepresentation on end of life counseling such as making provisions for wills and living trusts. Clearly, Wilson has bought the premise seen on so many of the protest signs, including the Tea Party signs, without knowing or making the effort to fact-check the Right's talking points for validity. This misapprehension, in turn, is used as a justification for assassinations; and frankly, anyone promoting these lies has to be a fool to expect otherwise.

approximately an hour later, excerpted from a much longer voice mail,
on March 23rd, 2010:

" are going to have a target on your back...for voting in socialism into this country, with your health-care reform bill, and cap n tax....How long do you think you can hide?...By your attempts to overtake this country with socialism, somebody's gonna get to you one way or another and blow your (expletive) brains out....If I have the chance, I would do it...You have created a hatred in this country against socialism.... politicians are going to be held accountable... with your life....with your life." Wilson goes on to claim he is not a 'tea party bagger'[sic], not a Republican or a Democrat, claiming he is an Independent voter, however he clearly appears to have sympathies for the politics of the Right, and fairly far to the Right. Wilson goes on in his voice mail threat " I want to (expletive) kill you (more expletives). We will not be socialized (many more expletives)."

Anyone who has fact-checked the many allegations that the recent health-care reform legislation constitutes some kind of a socilialist government take over would understand that the health care and the insurance industries remain private, that the current legislation is fundamentally different from the health care provided in places like the UK. For example, awarded a "pants on fire" rating to Sarah Palin's claims during the 2008 presidential / vice presidential campaign that Obama wanted "to experiment with socialism", the worst rating for lies they have - except for the 2009 Lie of the Year award they gave to Palin for the false death panel claims.

Wilson went on to make many, many calls on March 23rd, 2010, and continued to make multiple calls through April 4th, 2010. While removing the obscenities and expletives cuts the transcribed language more than by half, those transcribed messages are still too long to include in total here. I encourage Penigma readers to read all of them for yourselves in the complaint. Further proof that Wilson had believed false statements by the Right, including those made by people like Sarah Palin, and Republicans from both the House and the Senate, are illustrated by the following excerpts from the transcribed threats in the complaint,

also from March 23rd, 2010:

"I do believe that every one of you (expletive) socialist democratic progressive (expletive) needs to be taken out...There is a growing hatred, my dear, for you progressive socialist democrats. Socialism will not work. There is growing hatred is coming for you. Since you are going to put my life at risk, and some bureaucrat is going to determine my health-care, your life is at risk, dear. Your life is at risk....your life is at risk.... There are a lot more of us. Your life is in danger, since you are putting my life at danger. Turn about's fair play."

Wilson, age 64, believes, from these statements, the horrendous lie that Palin circulated, that "seniors and the disabled" will have to stand "in front of Obama's death panel so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgement of their level of productivity in society, whether they are worthy of health care". Palin has never repudiated her lie, and she has continued to spread misinformation about health-care reform provisions to her unquestioning, blindly accepting adherents. This excerpt is further evidence that while not a formal member of any group, Wilson clearly does not consider himself a lone wolf, he believes he is one of many who have these beliefs - on the Right.

and later, still on March 23rd, 2010:

"Expletive you socialists up the expletive ass. baby killing expletive killer....We will not be socialized, you expletive expletive."

Wilson clearly believes the lie that was yelled out by Rep. Randy Neugenbauer on the floor of the House on the day of the health-care reform vote, a lie that has been widely, frequently, loudly repeated by the Right, like Texas Republican Representative John Carter, that the health-care reform bill has provisions paying for abortion. It does not:

on March 24th, 2010:

"put a (expletive) gun to your head....blow your (expletive) brains out.... You are ruining this country. You have awakened a sleeping giant, and we are coming after you. Yes, we the people. As you trash our Constitution, you tried to lead us into a socialist nation, we're gonna (expletive) you up....blows your fucking brains out."

As to 'ruining this country':

from another call on March 24th, 2010:
"The old saying goes, my dear, all's fair in love and war. This is war, so everything is fair. Cover your back....Cover your back, all's fair in love and war. Nobody comes out a winner. You may think you are a winner now. You're gonna be the biggest (expletive) loser. You have a horrendous amount of people that dislike you and your policies, and since we are, you have declared war on the American citizens, and we are declaring war upon you."

This is the 'war' in Charlie Wilson's war. It repeats the same core theme that Wilson is part of a larger group, possibly something he needed to believe to boost his courage to make the threats. If Wilson believes he is part of a group, it raises the question who that group would be. Clearly it is not the left, not the Democrats, not the Progressives.

from the transcribed calls on March 26th:
"Now that you have finally screwed the people of this State, and helped screw the people of this country....your policies and your ideas suck."

These lies about the provisions of the health-care reform bill, about the Obama administration, about Democrats in Congress - that there is rampant socialism, that health-care reform is a government take-over, that it pays for and encourages abortions, that it is a threat to the elderly and disabled through death panels, that it runs rough-shod over the Constitution, all of these claims - these LIES - come from the Right. They come from Palin and Bachmann, they come from Boehner and Cantor and McConnell, and all of their associates. They circulate to the Right from Beck and O'Reilly and their Fox news colleagues, they spread from talk radio, like Limbaugh and all of his imitators. They are repeated by the Right wing bloggers and commenters. Had these influential people not lied, deliberately, loudly, and often, had they not chosen to use irresponsibly their First Amendment protected free speech to inflame and incite, it is far less likely that the Senators from Washington and their staffs would have been threatened, instead of receiving the usual level of legal but offensive calls they receive about hot issues.

In researching this story, to demonstrate this connection between the Right, and Charlie Wilson, just a quick look on the Fox News website for "glenn beck, obama, socialism" produced 68,240 entries. That was just Glenn Beck, just Fox News; not performing a full search engine search.

The following is from Tuesday, April 6, 2010, an example of just one source where Charlie Wilson got the false idea that Obama is a socialist, and by extension, Democratic Senator Patty Murray. I want readers of this post to think about what Beck says, and then to remember Wilson's words, how vehemently Wilson wants President Obama dead over this notion of socialism, and how he wants Murray dead for socialism. And then I want you to think about that number of entries for "Beck, Obama, Socialism" on the Fox News site: 68,240.

Clearly, these statements in the threats by Charlie Wilson directly connect to the actions and statements of the Right. They cannot distance themselves from these threats, they cannot repudiate his actions; they share fully in all the threats to the members of Congress and others made by Charlie Wilson and the yet-to-be-arrested others who have generated similar threats. They share that responsibility because they put the ideas in his head and then they made a deliberate effort to agitate his emotions. Lies are dangerous things.

Tiny Kernels of Truth

In a recent e-mail exchange, I discussed with a local conservative blogger the nature of the financial meltdown. Among the things which I discussed was the role Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the meltdown . Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are private companies chartered to buy FHFA conforming loans from qualified lenders.

FM/FM DID have a contributing role, albeit a small one, in helping to bolster the credit default swap bond market by sinking money into those markets. An estimate I read said they probably contributed to 50% of the growth in the market during one six month period after they invested in the market. They sank money into the CDS market on two occasions, though the other time had a much smaller impact. Consequently, they had a a part, if a small part.

Yet, my friend (Mitch), espoused that it was instead the guarantee of the ability to resell mortgages which caused this problem. In fact, he asked me to ask experts I know whether this was an important factor. I let him know that such a question really wasn't necessary, first because subprime loans don't qualify for FM repurchase (normally - unless fraudulently presented), nor, in contrast to his co-author's earlier claims, do subprime loans qualify for consideration as CRA eligible loans. I steered Mitch instead to a couple of articles about how Lehman and Bear Stearns were taking risks simply because it made short-term profits, and those risks would have been taken with or without FM/FM. Nowhere in the various reports did anyone mention FM/FM as a causation of risk taking due to assurances of being able to off-load that risk. In fact, this meme' from the right (that FM caused the financial crisis) is nothing short of yet another grasp at straws, much like CRA was such a grasp.

Yesterday, Alan Greenspan (and others) reinforced this reality, when Greenspan noted the primary issuers of subprime loans were non-bank lenders. Note, the "Bowen" quoted below is Richard Brown, who headed the mortgage underwriting arm of CitiGroup.

From a story on USA Today online, April 7, 2010..

"Bowen says he issued many warnings to management about the mortgage risk starting in 2006, and e-mailed Rubin in November 2007.

Bowen's testimony is part of three days of hearings by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

Earlier Wednesday, Alan Greenspan defended his tenure as head of the Federal Reserve before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. As he has in the past, he disputed critics who say he kept interest rates too low for too long, encouraging risky lending.

Greenspan also rejected criticism that his Fed failed to regulate high-risk loans to borrowers who couldn't afford them. Many of those risky loans became the toxic assets that sparked the crisis.

Greenspan insisted the Fed lacked authority to regulate the nonbank lenders that issued most risky subprime mortgages"

Note, what Greenspan did not say. He did not fault FM/FM, though he has often been a critic of Freddie and Fannie. In fact, conforming loans are not generally issued by non-bank lenders, and both Freddie and Fannie have borrower qualification standards which were above the subprime standards by a fair margin. That said, both were rightly criticized for misstating profits in 2002-2004, a tactic which lead to the firing of their CEOs in 2004 - and, by the way, long before this crisis really got going. In fact, both were subsequently subjected to much more scrutiny, including having to report their books to the SEC, after the 2004 discoveries. However, it would be beyond naive' to say they did not own/hold poor quality loans, clearly they did. Yet..

They took on those loans as private companies, they owned the responsibility to see to it loans met FHFA standards, and if those standards slipped (by the way I haven't seen evidence they did), doubtless FM/FM had great authority to lobby and control such slippage since they, as a private company, had to own the risk. they hid losses, not the government, and Greenspan's complaints about FM/FM was a lack of oversight, not forcible mortgage repurchases. In short, FM/FM operated like other risky lenders when allowed to - and it was a lack of oversight, not regulation, which lead to most of the issues for FM/FM.

However, ALL of that aside, it is beyond disingenuous to suggest that because FM/FM were available to effectively underwrite risk that the much more broad primary market started or broadly expanded offering poor quality loans. This is a meme', and it is untrue, flatly, given the huge number of experts who've said exactly the opposite, that in fact it was a desire for short-term profits and an attitude that they'd worry about later.. well, later, I think given all the testimony and expert opinion, to suggest this risk off-load scenario was the cause, is nothing less than a lie. One other point, while FM/FM bought CDS' in 2006, by and large their role was to sell CDS bonds, not buy them, thereby creating situations where others were buying their risk, not the other way around.

Consequently, I told my friend Mitch that experts I know don't agree with this lie, and asked him cordially to provide me evidence to the contrary, to offer up any objective expert who agreed that FM/FM were the primary or even a significant cause.

To date, all I've heard is crickets...