politics

The Checking Account Scam – How Wells Fargo Gouged Its Customers

By Numerian posted by Michael Collins

We’ve often talked here about the bank practice of extracting equity from customer accounts. Now comes a 90 page ruling from Judge William Alsup of the Northern District of California against Wells Fargo Bank, showing in detail exactly how the bank engaged in “gouging and profiteering” when it managed customer checking accounts. Nor is this one of those polite judicial rulings where the judge waits to the end to conclude whether or nor the defendant engaged in bad behavior. Judge Alsup is biting and nasty throughout his ruling, barely able to hold his disgust at what he concluded was a deliberate attempt by Wells Fargo to profit off a system that trapped customers into overdraft hell.

How the System Was Rigged to Create Overdrafts

Prior to 2000, Wells Fargo did its best to minimize overdrafts in customer accounts. Its computers processed all credits to the account first, followed by ATM withdrawals and debit card purchases, followed by checks and then Automated Clearing House transactions (the ACH is used by banks to process debits such as PayPal charges or monthly mortgage or rental payments where the customer has agreed to an automatic debit). In every step, Wells Fargo used low to high sequencing; the smallest debits would go first and the largest would go last. This entire process mimicked the way the consumer managed their account using a traditional checking account balance, which ranks all transactions in chronological order. When an overdraft occurred on the bank’s records, the consumer would have known had they been keeping their checkbook balance up to date.
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Ray McGovern and Robert Parry on Truth Unflinching and the Price of Integrity

Michael Collins

(Washington, DC) Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern and investigative journalist Robert Parry spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, DC last night.  They were guests of The McClendon Group which holds periodic meetings at the press club featuring investigative reporters and newsmakers.  Parry publishes and reports at Consortium.News.com.  McGovern is on the steering committee of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

They focused on the risks of integrity in both journalism and government service.  Parry had a successful career with AP and  Newsweek, where he was a leader in Iran-Contra reporting.  McGovern’s career in intelligence spanned three decades and put him in front of presidents and cabinet members for daily intelligence briefings by the CIA, among other duties.

Both received awards and acknowledgments for their efforts.  Yet both left the beaten path of conformity to establish their own independent critiques of conventional wisdom and establishment mythologies.  They chose telling the truth as they knew it and saw it over the comfort of corporate and government perquisites and security. (more…)

Chris Dodd’s wife and derivatives trading – “all in the family”

Michael Collins

It’s all in the family! Senator Chris Dodd writes a financial reform bill but forgets to regulate derivatives, “financial weapons of mass destruction.” Then we find out that his wife works for the owners of two exchanges that will very likely benefit from Dodd’s “reform” legislation.

They make the rules. They take the money, all of it, and leave us with debt. And they tell us it’s all legal.

Here’s the story.
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Tea Party Becomes the ‘Vote Our Way or We Shoot You’ Party

Posted by Devilstower , Daily Kos at 10:26 AM on January 15, 2010.

“We can go to the soap box, the ballot box, or we can go to the jury box. And hopefully we won’t have to go to the bullet box.”

Hey, the Tea Party “movement” isn’t about violence, or racism, or any of that stuff. It’s about calling the health care bill Nazi-inspired and reminding people that Barack Obama is an Indonesian Muslim. Oh, and remember to vote our way or we shoot you.

On-Point Host, Tom Ashbrook: Joining us from Royal Oak, Michigan, is Jeffrey McQueen, founder of USRevolution2.com, which has created a modified American flag to serve as a symbol for the Tea Party movement. He has been protesting government involvement in the auto industry at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week.
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How we got to Zero: General Eikenberry’s Hail Mary

From The Agonist

How We Got to Zero:  General Eikenberry’s Hail Mary

Michael Collins

U.S. Afghan Envoy Urges Caution on Troop Increase

“WASHINGTON — The United States ambassador to Afghanistan, who once served as the top American military commander there, has expressed in writing his reservations about deploying additional troops to the country, three senior American officials said Wednesday.

“The position of the ambassador, Karl W. Eikenberry, puts him in stark opposition to the current American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who has asked for 40,000 more troops. New York Times, Nov. 11

This isn’t just any envoy.  General Karl Eikenberry has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, the second as head of the Combined Forces Command.  After the second Afghan tour, Eikenberry was Chairman of the NATO Joint Military Committee.  He’s a West Point graduate with advanced degrees from Harvard and Stanford and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

General McChrystal has asked for 50,000 troops in early October.  By October 28, the president was said to favor a “McChrystal light” number as low as 15,000. On Nov. 7, just four days before Eikenberry’s statement, McClatchy Newspapers put Obama’s preferred number at 30,000. At this moment, the president is reported have rejected all of the troop increases on the table, according to Associated Press at 12:02 am EDT, today, November 12.

How did we get from McChrystal’s request for 50,000 troops in early October to Eikenberry’s “written reservations about deploying additional troops” just days before President Obama’s planned decision?

The only thing we know for sure is that Eikenberry’s statement was no accident.  Clearly, there is dissent in the Pentagon and White House as evidenced by this publicly reported assessment by a serving ambassador and distinguished officer.  Of interest, on troop levels, the Eikenberry statement agrees with the much criticized assessment of Vice President Joe Biden on made after a trip to Afghanistan (more…)

A Modest Proposal – An Iraqi Vote on Troop Withdrawal

A Modest Proposal

An Iraqi Vote on Troop Withdrawal

By Michael Collins

(Also published at OpEdNews, The Agonist, The Smirking Chimp )

Over the years, we’ve seen various “exit strategies” proposed for withdrawal from Iraq.  The best proposal was made by a Baghdad man on his way to a demonstration just a few days after that city fell.  A  U.S. reporter asked what should happen now.  The man turned to the reporter and said, “Thank you for getting rid of Saddam.  Now please leave our country.”

That advice was probably the best input that United States policy makers ever received (if they even noticed).   It was freely offered and no one died in the process.

Why not give democracy a chance?

The Iraqis have a right to a direct vote on the options for U.S. troop withdrawal.

The ballot would be simple.

Should U.S. troops leave Iraq?   Yes   No

If you answered Yes, how soon should they leave?

Immediately __    6 months __   12 months__    18 months__

Iraqis have wanted the U.S. out of their country almost from day one.  Various surveys show that a solid majority of citizens want coalition troops to leave within a year.  In 2004, 86% of Iraqis wanted U.S. troops out – 41% immediately and 46% after a new government was established.  At the start of 2006, 94% of all Iraqis supported their government setting a timeline for U.S. withdrawal from immediate departure to a timed departure over two years.   A few months later, even a poll by the U.S. Department of State showed nearly 70% of citizens wanted U.S. occupation to end.

Polls in 2007 and 2008 conducted by a variety of organizations demonstrate that a majority of Iraqis want foreign troops to leave.

Here’s why they’re upset.  Over a million Iraqis have died in sectarian and other forms of violence kicked off by the U.S. invasion.  For the most part, this has been Iraqis killing other Iraqis, an outcome of the extensive civil strife that was predicted before the invasion.

In addition, the quality of life in Iraq is dreadful and the citizens do notice.   Since 2007, large segments of the population describe a “declining quality/availability of (the) electricity supply, water, fuel, education, local government and medical care.”  Harm to an immediate family member was reported by 17% of Iraqis.

But the Iraqis are no fools.  They’ve lived with the darkest expressions of the Bush – Cheney White House since March 2003.  Nearly 80% of all Iraqis believe that coalition troops won’t withdraw even if they’re asked.  .

Just a month after the citizens of the United States saw the neoconservatives and their dreams of empire leave power , a new plan was announced.  Most U.S. troops will be withdrawn by within 18 months.  Thirty to fifty thousand will remain to help with security and the never ending process of training Iraqi security forces.

Aren’t we missing a step?

Who asked the Iraqi people about the withdrawal schedule?  As the self-proclaimed proponents for democracy and human rights, shouldn’t the United States inquire as to the will of the people before initiating any policy changes?  Failing to do so means we’ve skipped a critical step.  How democratic is that?  It’s their country after all.

Did someone forget to raise those questions when the new plans were developed?

Relying on the ever shifting positions of a very unpopular Iraqi government is useless in assessing the will of the Iraqi people.  The only way to determine their will is through a national election.  Should U.S. troops stay or go?  If they should go, what is the preferred timeline?

Those who speak the language of empire might say that this modest proposal, democracy for Iraq, allows Iraqi citizens to determine U.S. foreign policy.

The answer to that is simple.  Right now U.S. foreign policy trumps Iraqi domestic policy and democracy.   Denying the vote to the Iraqis on this most vital matter denies their rights to self determination and belies the role of the United States as a proponent of democracy.

A 2003 Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report on Iraq stated that:

“Iraqis remain a proud people. Gratitude over the removal of Saddam mixes with a strong strain of nationalism. Military occupation elicits complex reactions, and Iraqis, citing their long history of civilization, believe that they are capable of running their own affairs.”  Committee on Foreign Relations, July 2003

That statement was made in 2003.  It’s 2009.

Do we believe in the right of self determination for the long suffering people of Iraq?  If so, at long last, let’s prove it by letting them chose their own fate.

END

Permission granted to reproduce in whole or in part with attribution of authorship and a link to this article.

Too Little Too Late? The Money Party In Action

Too Little Too Late?

The Money Party at Work

By Michael Collins

Wash. DC, Feb. 19 — President Obama announced a $75 billion assistance package to address home foreclosures yesterday.  He also promised a $200 billion infusion into Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the nation’s underlying lenders.  That’s exactly $275 billion more dollars than the previous administration committed to citizens to help ease their very human crises surrounding foreclosure.

Is this enough to stem the tide for those losing their homes?  Will those “who have played by the rules,” as Obama calls them, be salvaged the indignities and financial oblivion that begin in earnest if they’re thrown onto the street?  Or will those who broke all the rules profit immeasurably?

In order to understand the current situation, it’s necessary to take a hard look at some really ugly numbers from 2008 summarizing the “nonprime” home lending situation. (The data in this article is from Federal Reserve Bank of New York Dec. 2008 summary of “nonprime” lending).

The nonprime home lending market consists of 2.2 million “Alt-A” home loans to those with good credit who chose “innovative” adjustable rate mortgages plus 2.7 million subprime home loans to those with marginal credit who, often times, used funds to purchase a first home.  The total 4.9 million nonprime loans were used to purchase homes that house around 12 to 15 million people.

The total balance due for the five million “nonprime” loans is $1.2 trillion as of December 2008.  The loans at risk (60 days overdue) have a balance due of $160 billion (40% for Alt-A’s, 60% for subprimes).  Preserving home ownership for those at risk in just the nonprime financed homes will eat up the proposed $75 billion package and reduce the Fannie-Freddie funding increase from $200 to $115 billion dollars.

That presumes every cent pledged today was used for these 714,000 loans.  What about the six million additional home foreclosures anticipated over the next two years?  More will be needed or a comprehensive approach like a national cramdown may gain the attention of our public servants.

To understand how the future will look, let’s examine what happened in the nonprime market in 2008.  The following graph shows the risk in just the nonprime loans.  Traditional fixed interest loans are less vulnerable at the moment but when GM and Chrysler implode and as small businesses disappear, traditional loans will show up at risk in droves.

The nonprime lone market has 1.2 million loans at risk of entering foreclosure due to substantial arrears in payment.  What will change to allow these people to catch up?   There’s no credit line left, in most cases, and no room for a “second” in a home loan where the current value is less than the loan value.

If anyone tells you that we’re finished with the “subprime” crisis, recall these figures above.  Over 800,000 subprime loan holders are currently at substantial risk for defaults and foreclosure.

The next wave of loan defaults and eviction risks will come from the Alt-A loans.  They are, “typically higher-balance loans made to borrowers who might have past credit problems-but not severe enough to drop them into subprime territory–or who, for some reason (such as a desire not to document income) chose not to obtain a prime mortgage” (NY Federal Reserve) These are often borrowers who took Alan Greenspan’s 2004 advice seriously when he pitched borrowing through a “mortgage product alternative,” (e.g., ARMs), take some cash out, and spend that money (all to “help” the economy).

Small business owners, professionals, and corporate employees from generation X forward used the ARMs, and interest only loans to move into more suitable homes.  Why not?  Home prices were increasing exponentially.  It looked like a good investment.    And “the man” Greenspan said so.

The advice and loan programs have turned sour and many are now trapped in loans that will soon change dramatically.  In the first few years of an Alt-A or subprimes, interest rates are kept low.  In fact, some loans allowed substantially reduced “interest only” payments.  It was all about getting people in homes to fuel a housing boom.  The “affordability” of new homes pushed the market up in general and created artificial wealth.  Now the party is over and these Arthur Geeenspan specials are “resetting.”

When a nonprime loan “resets,” it adds an average of three to six points to the loan payment for Alt-A’s and subprimes respectively.  It’s quite a shock.

“Average Margin” is a specified amount added to the
rate of the mortgage when it “resets” a few years into the loan.

This chart shows the percent of nonprimes resetting in the coming years.  In 2009, 630,000 combined nonprime loans will reset to a substantially higher interest, 320,000 in 2010.  By 2011, all but 3% the subprimes will have reset.  However, starting in 2011, nearly 40% of the Alt-A’s, 850,000 in all, are scheduled to reset.   Families and individuals in these homes will have a home loan well over the assessed home value and a substantial increase in interest payments.  They’ll be in a recession economy.

The loss of homes is not the sole manifestation of rampant fiscal mismanagement and systemic corruption.  It’s a symptom of an economy going in to a steep decline after years of looting by insiders.

Why are we going through all of these gyrations and special programs to prop up a financial system that clearly created this exposure with full knowledge of the substantial risks?  Why are we diverting funds to cover bad loans by U.S. banks and bad investments in securities based on those loans by financial interests overseas?

A partial answer is that the U.S. banks that knowingly made these bad loans must be preserved and have their investments preserved.  Overseas banks and others who invested in special stock offerings based on this high risk housing bubble must see their investments preserved in some profitable form.   (See the next installment of “The Money Party at Work” for a broader explanation.)

We may not know how this crisis will end but it’s clear how it started.   Despite warnings from some of the most respected housing experts in the public and private sector, the die was cast by failed financial guru and Wall Street promoter Alan Greenspan in 2004 when he offered uncharacteristically clear advice to home buyers.

From Money Party to Citizens: Drop Dead! Feb.1, 2008

In 2004, Greenspan told a credit union association crowd that “the refinancing phenomenon” had been supportive for the economy and that the use of home equity “helped cushion” declining stock prices. Then Greenspan showed his supposed genius with this advice to home buyers and owners:

American consumers might benefit if lenders provided greater mortgage product alternatives to the traditional fixed-rate mortgage. To the degree that households are driven by fears of payment shocks but are willing to manage their own interest rate risks, the traditional fixed-rate mortgage may be an expensive method of financing a home.” Understanding household debt obligations, Federal Reserve Board, Feb. 23, 2004

END

This article may be reproduced in whole or in part with attribution of authorship and a link to this article.

The Money Party Series

Information Sources:
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York Nonprime Loans Dec. 2008

Subprime Home Loan Market as of Dec. 2008 xls

Alt-A Home  Loan Market as of Dec. 2008 xls

Interactive Maps of Loan Status Data by Zip, County, State, Nation

Seating Franken and Burris Memo to Congress

Seating Franken and Burris


Al Franken (D-MN) left and Roland Burris (D-IL) right
Image cc
Image cc

Memo to the U.S. Senate:
Try Following the Rules

Michael Collins

Originally published at American Politics Journal

We’ve seen what happens when people don’t follow the letter and intent of important laws, particularly those where there is a general consensus and an absence of moral ambiguity.  Consider our history from the implosion of Enron through stock market collapse.  This extreme damage was enabled by the deliberate defiance, evasion, and perversion of rules and laws, all in the service of personal gain for a very few.  Citizens lost $6 trillion in that episode of lawlessness.

President Bush and his administration consistently broke the laws of the United States by illegally tapping phones and emails, “selling” the Iraq invasion based on outright lies, and, in the case of six cabinet officials, participating in the “choreography” of torture sessions.  All of them found the Constitution a nuisance and rendered it meaningless by their actions.  The cost of these violations is incalculable.

A government gains legitimacy through the ascent to shared rules and laws by the vast majority of citizens.  No government can retain legitimacy, however, when the legislature fails to enforce and live by the very laws that they are sworn to protect.

Democrats and Republicans are now unified along party lines in their defiance of the laws.  Is this the new national unity we’ve been hearing about?

Yet this is exactly what is happening in the cases of the legally appointed Senator from Illinois, Roland Burris, and the soon to be certified winner of the Minnesota senatorial election, Al Franken.  Republicans are threatening to delay the seating of Franken, even when he’s certified the winner of the Minnesota Senate seat.  Senate Democrats all signed a letter of implied threat to the governor of Illinois regarding his selection of Roland Burris as the U.S. Senator from Illinois.

The final vote count for Franken shows him winning by a narrow margin.  The same elections system that conducted the recount will recommend and likely receive certification of the election quickly by the authorized state authority.

Burris was appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) according to the laws of Illinois.  There’s no provision that says a governor can’t make a selection if he’s been indicted for any crime.  The Illinois Supreme Court refused to remove the governor when the request was made by the State Attorney General.  The Illinois legislature could have impeached him but it didn’t.  He is still the governor of Illinois.

Senate objections to Franken and Burris show that the United States Senate has thrown out the rule book and is ignoring established law when it comes to plans for the “presumptive” Senator from Minnesota, Al Franken, and the legally appointed Senator from Illinois, Roland Burris.

The Laws of the United States, Illinois, and Minnesota Were Followed

A candidate or appointee only has three requirements to be a legitimate Senator.

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution states:  “No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years, and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.”  (Author’s emphasis)  Link

Both Al Franken and Roland Burris pass muster for these requirements.

The XVII Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlines the popular election of Senators and the authority and procedures required to replace them in case they leave for some reason.

AMENDMENT XVII

“Passed by Congress May 13, 1912. Ratified April 8, 1913.

“Note: Article I, section 3, of the Constitution was modified by the 17th amendment.

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures.

“When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.

“This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.  (Author’s emphasis)  Link

This amendment provided for the popular election of Senators.  This is so simple.  Elected and appointed Senators should be immune from the actions by the any judicial, authority unless there are violations of state or federal law in the process of appointments.

But the Senate has one slim provision that can be invoked in the case of a real controversy or a contrived political event.

Article I. Section 5 states that:  “Each House shall be the judge of the elections, returns and qualifications of its own members” (continues) Link

This provides the Senate with the option of rejecting a prospective member.  In point of fact, there have been more than a few challenges to elections, mostly in the House.  No Senator has ever been denied a seat as a result of Article I, Section 5.

Seat Al Franken as the United States Senator from Minnesota

Al Franken lost the initial vote count by less than one half of one percent of the total vote.  That qualified him for an automatic recount.  Minnesota election law clearly specifies a recount process and even states that the recount vote will be different than the initial reported election result:  “Once the recount is over, the state elections board certifies the election.  The election is over at the point the results are certified.”

“The final results as modified, if necessary, by the recount are considered the final results of the election and are certified as final by the canvassing board.
Minnesota Election Recounts: Federal, State, and Judicial Offices

The Uptake.Org reported late Saturday night that final recounting is finished and Franken has a 225 vote lead.  The Minnesota Secretary of State commented at a post recount conference Saturday night that any election contest challenging the recount would be futile.  He praised the openness and fairness of the recount.  At a post recount press conference, Coleman’s representatives said they’d recommend a challenge in the form of a Minnesota election contest but indicated that the former Senator (his term expired Jan. 3 at noon) had not reached a decision.

The recount proceeded in an open and transparent way.  Results were reported by the Secretary of State and in the states major newspapers daily.  Controversies between the campaigns were handled by the appropriate courts and decisions were made in a very timely fashion.

Franken followed every single rule.  He did what many candidates fail to do.  He fought for the right of Minnesota voters to have their ballots counted and the right of all citizens of that state to have a Senator elected by a majority of the voters.  Norm Coleman, the initial winner, chided Franken for taking the option of a mandatory recount.  Franken didn’t back down or complain. He simply followed the rules and will very likely be certified as winner and therefore U.S. Senator from Minnesota.

But Republicans are now talking about making up their own rules.  They don’t want Franken seated until the conclusion of an anticipated appeal of the election through an “election contest.”  Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), head of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee, threatened “chaos” if the Democrats tried “to jam this issue through the Senate and seat a senator who has not been determined to be the winner of the election” StarTribune.com, Jan. 3, 2009.

Wait a minute!  The canvassing board is the duly impaneled body that “determines” the “winner” of the election.  Franken will most likely be certified Monday, Jan. 5.  Coleman’s term expired at noon Saturday, Jan. 3, 2009.  Does this mean that any certified winner of a Senate race can be denied his seat by a legal challenge of the final decision?

It’s absurd.  Cornyn can object all he wants.  The rules are clear.  Franken should be seated if certified the winner, as anticipated.  There is no valid precedent in any of the election contests in the past to deny him that seat (See Appendix B).

Should a contest be brought against a senator-elect prior to his being sworn in, the chamber’s custom has been to seat the individual contingent upon his credentials being in order. (10) Thus, the precedent has been that a senator-elect has a “prima facie” right to the seat, while the contest brought against him is being investigated.  Moreover, the individual is considered seated “without prejudice” to himself or to the office. This pseudo-legal arrangement allows the Senate to remove the individual by a simple majority vote, should a subsequent investigation find him not to be entitled to the seat. Otherwise, the Senate’s only course of action would be “expulsion,” which would require a two-thirds majority (12).”  Partisanship and Contested Election Cases in the Senate, 1789-2002, Jeffery A. Jenkins, Northwestern University.  Studies in American Political Development, 19 (Spring 2005), 53-74, Cambridge University Press. (Author’s emphasis)

This is outlined in a report by the Senate outlining the election contests to date.

If Coleman pursues a post certification election contest, the Minnesota canvassing board certification becomes “provisional” by state law indicating that a contest is under way.  It may take three months to resolve the election contest.  The citizens of Minnesota will be denied representation should the Senate refuse to seat the declared winner after certification.

Seat Roland Burris Now

Roland Burris, the former Illinois Attorney General and Comptroller, was selected by indicted Governor Rod Blagojevich to fill the term of President elect Barrack Obama.  The day after the governor’s arrest, Illinois senior Senator, Richard Durbin (D-IL), appealed to Blagojevich to call for a special election rather than make an appointment to fill President-elect Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

“Please understand that should you decide to ignore the request of the Senate Democratic Caucus and make an appointment we would be forced to exercise our Constitutional authority under Article I, Section 5, to determine whether such a person should be seated.

“We do not prejudge the outcome of the criminal charges against you or question your constitutional right to contest those charges. But for the good of the Senate and our nation, we implore you to refrain from making an appointment to the Senate.”

Signed by the entire Senate Democratic leadership and all members of the Democratic Caucus.  Sen. Richard Durbin, (D-IL), Dec. 10, 2008

In the first paragraph above, Sen. Durbin says that the Democratic Caucus “would be forced to exercise its “Constitutional authority” to review the appointment.  This is a reference to Article I, Section 5 above.  The “Senate Democratic Caucus” has no authority under the United States Constitution.  It isn’t even mentioned.  The Senate does have the authority to “be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.”  But no Senator or group of Senators is “forced” to do this.

Doesn’t this sound like an implied threat? ‘We want a special election not an appointment by you, Rod.  Go right ahead and we’ll invoke that section of Article I, Section 5 on Qualifications.’

How would they proceed?  Will they reject this fully qualified man as a United States Senator because the governor filling the vacancy, unlike all other citizens, is judged guilty as charged without the right to a trial by a jury of his peers.  Gov. Blagojevich has been charged, not convicted.  Is it is still possible to say this:   the governor is innocent until proven guilty.

How does it look when the Senate throws away the presumption of innocence by threatening to obstruct a legal appointment based on the presumed guilt of the governor making the appointment?

Why didn’t just one Senator stand up and point out that the appointment of Roland Burris was made by a sitting governor according to the laws of the State of Illinois, as the Constitution provides?

Will just one Senator on the Republican side take Sen. Cornyn to task for his obstructionist threat regarding Al Franken?

Why are they so special that they don’t have to follow the rules?

We’re witnessing the beginning of the 111th Congress engaged in the wholesale disrespect of the law in favor of partisan bias.  There is no regard for the law, no regard for process, and no indication of even the slightest degree of insight on the part of those flaunting the laws.  There isn’t even one objection to the violation of process, rules, and law from any Senator.

The majority of citizens are subject to the laws as they stand.  If you steal an iPod, that’s a felony in most states.  You’ll do some time if you can’t afford an attorney.  If the felony stands, you’ll lose your right to vote in many states.  In all instances, a felony places huge barriers to gainful employment, including a career in any of the professions.

Yet when it comes time to obey the Constitution that they’re obliged to honor and protect, what do the Senators do?  They allow their personal bias and political interests to trump the Constitution without any noticeable objection from the legislative body.

This type of disregard for the law by lawmakers is not only unacceptable; it impedes citizens from implementing their own “bailouts” and “recovery” programs by denying them access and positive influence on the government in this critical period of our history.

Memo to Congress:  Try following your own rules, precedents, and, most importantly, the Constitution of the United States.  The laws and rules that Congress should follow are fairly straight forward and the underlying principals are clear — respond to the will of the people and respect their right to representation.

END

NB:  The obedience to what I characterized as ” important laws, particularly those where there is a general consensus and no moral ambiguity” in no way diminishes the utility of civil disobedience for morally repugnant laws like those resisted by Martin Luther King, and others.

This article may be reproduced in part or in whole with attribution of authorship and a link to this article.

See this link for Appendix A (Minnesota election law) and Appendix B (Senate precedents and history on election challenges to U.S. Senators)

From the People Who Brought Us Judith Miller and George Bush

From the People Who Brought Us
Judith Miller & George Bush

Former New York New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, who wrongly
claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and her president.
(Images left, right)

The New York Times “Covers” the Susan Lindauer Hearing

Michael Collins
“Scoop” Independent News
Washington, DC

The New York Times disgraced itself and betrayed the citizens of the United States when it repeatedly headlined misleading stories by reporter Judith Miller that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The paper issued a meandering apology well after the 2003invasion prompted by the inaccurate reporting of Miller, the self-styled “Miss Run Amok” reporter, and others. But it was too little and too late to correct the damage. And it seems the Times is still running amok at the expense of what’s in the public interest.

One has to wonder if the New York Times and the White House coordinated efforts on the WMD matter. They certainly worked very well together, propping up in tandem the fear-based prophecy of a menacing Saddam who would deliver his nuclear filled hate to our shores. This was total nonsense, to put it kindly.

We know that the Bush administration and the New York Times editor, William Keller, communicated about a very sensitive matter before the 2004 election. New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau had discovered that the Bush administration had been illegally wiretapping citizens since Sept. 11, 2001. “Internal discussions about drafts of the article had been ‘dragging on for weeks’ before the Nov. 2 election, Mr. Keller acknowledged,” according to an article by Times public editor Byron Calme Instead of publishing the story, Times editor Keller killed and barred the story from public release until December 16, 2006, 13 months after the 2004 election.

Was this a coincidence? Not at all. Bush requested the story be killed for “national security” reasons. Forgetting the paper’s shining moment when it released the Pentagon Papers, Keller willingly complied.

This was the election that would determine if Mr. Bush would have another four years to work the magic that’s brought the nation to its current state of peril. When the story finally broke, it created a wave of negative reaction across the political spectrum.

Thanks to the New York Times’ deliberate delay, we’ll never know how the public would have responded just weeks before the 2004 vote. Based on the public response when the story was released, it may well have created enough of a shift to render the dirty tricks of Ohio and elsewhere meaningless.

The false WMD reports represented propaganda of the most frightening type. It came from reporter Miller who had relied largely on one source, Ahmad Chalabi. He was on the Defense Department payroll at the time that reporter Miller gained the WMD information from him. Without any doubt, the New York Times was a major enabler of the Iraq invasion and occupation.

By withholding a most devastating indictment of the lawless regime in power, namely illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens, the New York Times denied citizens the option of a fully informed choice in 2004 and it played a major role in returning Bush-Cheney to power.

Four thousand U.S. deaths, tens of thousands of life long injuries to U.S. troops, 1.2 million dead Iraqis due to civil strife triggered by the war, 5 million Iraqi orphans, and the loss of United States’ prestige on a massive scale: this is the shared legacy of the New York Times coverage leading up to the Iraq invasion. A nation on the verge of bankruptcy, foreclosures at epidemic rates, national debt so out of control it is difficult to even measure and a deep recession with possibly worse down the road: this is just a part of the legacy of the New York Times’ coverage of the 2004 election.

How low will they sink?

Even on a smaller scale, their depths are without limits, it would seem.

The most recent example is the New York Times’ coverage of the competency hearing on June 17, 2008 in the Susan Lindauer versus the United States in the Federal District Court, Southern District of New York, in lower Manhattan. Antiwar Activist Returns to Court for Iraq Spy Case, Alan Feuer, New York Times, June 18, 2008.

The headline betrays the first major problem with the New York Times coverage. Susan Lindauer has claimed all along that she was an anti-war and anti-sanctions activist as well as a U.S. asset. However, no one who has read the indictment or the informed coverage would refer to Lindauer as an accused “spy.” She is charged with being an “unregistered foreign agent.” The “high water mark” of the indictment, as Judge Mukasey called it, is the charge that Lindauer attempted to influence U.S. policy on behalf of pre-war Iraq through the delivery of this January 2003 letter to Andrew Card, then chief of staff for President Bush, and Colin Powell, then secretary of state.

The New York Times story opens with this curious statement:

“She rolled her eyes. She stuck her tongue out at the prosecutor. It was decidedly not the usual courtroom demeanor. Then again, it was not the usual federal case.” New York Times, June 18, 2008 (NYT)

I attended the hearing and sat in the front row of the courtroom. Of all the spectators, I had one of the best views of defendant Susan Lindauer and the witnesses. With regard to “rolling her eyes,” that was simply not visible from the public seating since Lindauer faced the judge showing spectators only her back except when she turned and was visible in profile. As for “sticking out her tongue,” I saw no such behavior and Lindauer denies the reporter’s claim vigorously. The alleged gesture was not reported by the New York Daily News, Associated Press, and New York Metro. Nor did I report it in this article on the hearing.

Why would the reporter begin a news story with such an inflammatory unverified charge?

If we skip to the end of the article, we might find an answer. The reporter closed the story with this statement by Lindauer from her post hearing press conference in the hall just outside Judge Loretta Preska’s courtroom.

“She angrily contested an accusation in her indictment that she had illegally lunched with Iraqi intelligence operatives.

“You want to send me to prison because I had a cheeseburger,” she said, “even though I’m not the person who actually ate the cheeseburger.” NYT

The reporter plucked out of context a random remark about cheeseburgers to characterize Lindauer’s denial of serious charges as weak and less than serious.

Lindauer was arguing that the indictment was both flawed and incorrect. She denied these charges, pointed out that she had not been in the city on the dates alleged, and asserted that she can prove it. Then she illustrated what she clearly believed to be the absurdity of the charges with the cheeseburger remark. By lifting this quotation out of context, an entirely different meaning is implied.

The New York Times reporting on the facts of the case is also notably wanting. The reporter echoed the prosecutors claim that “a half-dozen doctors claimed Lindauer suffered from paranoia and delusions of grandeur.” Lindauer, the subject of these professionals, questioned the accuracy of the prosecutor’s statement.

The story leaves out the psychiatrist who examined Lindauer just after her arrest and found no such thing. It fails to mention the two psychotherapists who saw Lindauer over a period of months and failed to report any of this. Observation and interaction over an extended period are powerful tools for diagnosis.

The reporter also failed to note the completed report submitted to the court by a distinguished Washington, D.C. area psychiatrist and academic which reportedly says that Lindauer is competent to stand trial. The psychiatrist is scheduled to appear on Lindauer’s behalf at the next hearing before Judge Preska on July 7, 2008. But discovering this would require that the reporter actually talk to the defendant.

This was, after all, a competency hearing on the mental capacity of Lindauer to stand trial. Wouldn’t you expect the New York Times to cover both sides of the story?

The New York Times described the last hearing of former judge, now U.S. Attorney General Mukasey, on the prosecution’s request to have Lindauer forcibly drugged. He said that “Judge Mukasey declined to rule on the request, saying that the case would be assigned to a new judge — which turned out to be Loretta A. Preska — and that she would eventually have to decide.” NYT

That’s entirely incorrect. In his “Opinion and Order” of Sept. 6, 2006, Mukasey wrote: “Based on the evidence presented at a Sell hearing on May 4 and May 9, 2006, for the reasons explained below, the government has failed to carry this burden — Accordingly, the motion is denied.” (Author’s emphasis)

The New York Times article referred to the defense witnesses’ testimony as “suggestively odd.” Why would the Times make that inference?

The first witness, Kelly O’Meara, was a former reporter for the Washington Times and Insight Magazine and a senior congressional staffer for over two decades. She established a strong connection between Lindauer and an individual reported to be a part of U.S. intelligence, a relationship that endured over time.

The second witness, Dr. Parke Godfrey, was deliberate and thoughtful. He is a long time associate of Lindauer’s and a PhD level associate professor of computer science with a solid academic record. He told of Lindauer’s anti-war activism and also of her warnings about 911.

“Appearing for the defense, Dr. Godfrey testified under oath that Lindauer told him of her specific concerns about an attack on the United States. She told him that a “massive” attack would occur in the southern part of Manhattan, involving airplanes and possibly a nuclear weapon. The witness said that she mentioned this in the year 2000, which coincided with the Lockerbie trial. And then in 2001, Lindauer also mentioned the anticipated attack in the spring, 2001 and then August 2001. Godfrey said, at that time, Lindauer thought an attack was “imminent” and that it would complete what was started in the 1993 bombing (the original World Trade Center bombing).” “Scoop” Independent News, Michael Collins, June 18, 2008

The Associated Press covered the 9/11 portion of the testimony but not the New York Times.

The New York Times coverage of this story opens with an inflammatory personal attack verified only by the reporter – the claim that Lindauer stuck her tongue out. It ends with a quotation clearly out of context leading to a negative view of Lindauer’s coherence. Combined, the two inflammatory aspersions have the effect of presenting an unstable individual. Is the reporter qualified to make this assessment from the gallery? Is this some new form of remote diagnosis?

The story erred by ignoring Mukasey’s highly significant “opinion and order” that denied the government the ability to physically force drugs on the defendant. The reporter jettisoned the facts by claiming that Mukasey simply passed that issue along to Lindauer’s current judge, a factually incorrect statement.

The story ignored mental health reports that are the crux of the competency issue and favorable to Lindauer’s claim, instead relying solely on the prosecutor’s characterization of the government’s evidence.

The New York Times blithely extended the personal attack on Lindauer to her witnesses by calling their testimony “suggestively odd.” Both witnesses presented calm, considered demeanors, described relevant information, and gave every appearance, in my opinion, of being open and cooperative with the hearing process.

What is the New York Times up to? Was this just the product of a bad day by a reporter who preferred to be somewhere else? Is the New York Times entering a new realm of coverage that includes highly subjective personal attacks? Are we seeing the birth of a new deductive journalism in which the facts are tailored to create a story that the paper prefers?

These are the people who brought us Judith Miller’s fatal distortions and covered up George Bush’s illegal surveillance activities from consideration in the 2004 election.

They continued that tradition in the article on the Lindauer competency hearing by inflammatory claims that would lead uninformed readers to a significant bias against the defendant and factual errors about the history of the case that are less than helpful.

The reporter from the New York Times characterized Lindauer in a derisive and mocking tone. If he truly believed the prosecutor’s experts with regard to Lindauer’s mental state, he would be guilty of behavior that is simply not acceptable in almost any circle. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and presume that he had another motive for his characterizations.

Stories like this are not only unbalanced and biased. They promote injustice to citizens who deserve an opportunity to achieve justice through a fair trial.

END

Previous “Scoop” coverage of the Susan Lindauer case:

American Cassandra: Susan Lindauer’s Story by Michael Collins 17 October 2007
Bush Political Prisoner Gets her Day in Court by Michael Collins June 11, 2008

An Exclusive Interview with Bush Political Prisoner Susan Lindauer by Michael Collins June 2008

911 Prediction Revealed at Susan Lindauer Competency Hearing by Michael Collins June 17, 2004

Acknowledgments to Susannah Pitt and K. Stone for their very helpful assistance

This material may be reproduced in whole or part with attribution of authorship, a link to this article, and acknowledgment of image use information.

A Memorial for Habeas Corpus

A Memorial to Habeas Corpus

We celebrate Memorial Day to honor those who fought for the quest for civil rights and civil liberties for all. If that sounds idealistic, that’s what memorials are about.

When I wrote Polite Fascism Contracts the Right to Vote, I included an extended footnote which I’m sure few read. I decided to achieve a slightly wider reader base.

It is fitting that we memorialize Sept. 28, 2006, the day the 109th Congress willingly surrendered habeas corpus in the “Military Commissions Act.”

We will remember and those accountable will need to explain their votes. There is no reading of the Act better than Rep. David Wu (D-OR). I provide a short introduction.

ARBITRARY DETENTION AND TORTURE
MADE POSSIBLE FOR U.S. CITIZENS
THROUGH SUSPENSION OF HABEAS CORPUS IN
THE “MILITARY COMMISSIONS ACT”

Michael Collins

Habeas corpus protects citizens from arbitrary detention by placing the burden on the state to justify and defend any detention. The state must show cause and allow the jailed citizen access to legal consul to challenge the detention. This protection is a right that has evolved over nearly 800 years. It had been desired, no doubt, since the beginning of recorded history. The principle was established in 1215 in the Magna Carta and codified in 1679 in the Habeas Corpus Act 1679.

It is so vital; the United States Constitution offers clear protection: “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.” Congress is the only branch of government empowered to suspend the writ.

The 109th Congress suspended habeas corpus when it passed the Military Commissions Act. Thanks to that historic surrender, the executive branch can declare any citizen, you for example, an “enemy combatant.” They can put you in jail indefinitely, refuse a trial, and refuse to even tell you why you’re in jail. The same techniques approved for the “enhanced interrogation” (i.e., torture) of alien enemy combatants can be used on you, if someone in the executive branch simply puts your name on a list.

All of this follows from the simple declaration of your status by a Pentagon bureaucrat or politician. You cannot appeal the decision. But you do have the right to suffer indefinitely for an unspecified crime brought by an anonymous source, all in the secrecy of a prison here or abroad.

==============================

Congressional Record: September 27, 2006 (House)

Page H7522-H7561

MILITARY COMMISSIONS ACT OF 2006

Statement of the Hon. David Wu, (D, OR)

Mr. HUNTER. Mr. Speaker, pursuant to House Resolution 1042, I call up the bill (H.R. 6166) to amend title 10, United States Code, to authorize trial by military commission for violations of the law of war, and for other purposes, and ask for its immediate consideration.

The Clerk read the title of the bill.

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to House Resolution 1042, the amendment printed in House Report 109-688 is adopted and the bill, as amended, is considered read.

The text of the bill, as amended, is as follows:

H.R. 6166

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

Mr. WU. “Mr. Speaker, I want to focus like a laser beam on the right of habeas corpus and the untoward effect of this legislation on habeas corpus. This is an ancient doctrine that has been with us since at least the days of Charles I. It has presented difficulties to many American Presidents from Jefferson to Lincoln to Grant to Roosevelt.

‘We have the power to do much in restricting habeas corpus; but we should do so very, very carefully because it is the protection from tyranny that our forebears sought in the Revolution.

“Congress here is entering upon dangerous constitutional shoal waters, and it is, in my belief, unconstitutionally limiting access to habeas corpus. The courts have repeatedly ruled in a restricted fashion whenever Congress or the Presidency has restricted access to habeas corpus and each of us, not just the Supreme Court, but we in the Congress and those in the executive branch, we all take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and this act, by restricting habeas corpus, will not serve America well.

“And by so restricting habeas corpus, this bill does not just apply to enemy aliens. It applies to all Americans because, while the provision on page 93 has the word “alien” in it, the provision on page 61 does not have the word “alien” in it.

“Let us say that my wife, who is here in the gallery with us tonight, a sixth generation Oregonian, is walking by the friendly, local military base and is picked up as an unlawful enemy combatant. What is her recourse? She says, I am a U.S. citizen. That is a jurisdictional fact under this statute, and she will not have recourse to the courts? She can take it to Donald Rumsfeld, but she cannot take it across the street to an article 3 court.

“This bill applies to every American, regardless of citizenship status.”

Full Bill and debate

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