Friday, January 29, 2010

Baker Birds: Gray-crowned Rosy Finches

In This Edition:

- Gray-crowned Rosy Finches at the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center

- More on Corporations as Persons (Corporation Running for Congress Satire)


Gray-crowned Rosy Finches

I first encountered the Gray-crowned Rosy Finches well over 20 year ago, back in my rock-hounding days. We were exploring the Darwin Mining District in the Darwin Hills of Inyo County, California when we encountered a gray, brown and pink bird that was apparently roosting in the old mine shafts. A check of the old Audubon bird guide showed them to be Gray-crowned Rosy Finches. That was my last confirmed visual sighting until yesterday.

Gray-Crowned Rosy Finch
Rosy Finch on railing in front of Interpretive Center.

Gray-crowned Rosy Finches, while widespread, are uncommon and rarely seen. If you subscribe to the OBOL (Oregon Birders On Line) list or the birding list out of EOU in La Grande, you will read occasionally of sightings, usually in the country north of Wallowa, but sometimes east of Cove near La Grande. Thats a long trip for a long shot sighting, so local birders were pleased to find out that the Gray-crowns had been sighted in front of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center before Christmas. Interestingly, I first heard that the birds might be there from some none-birding friends visiting from Elgin around New Years. A call to Cheri, who woman's the front desk at the center, confirmed that they were showing up periodically, and had been since around late November.

A few of us made separate visits to the area, including the front entrance to the center, off and on for several weeks without success. Then last week, Sheri saw them again in late afternoon, and they were seen around the same time for several of the succeeding days. Finally, yesterday's visit paid off. After no luck initially while hiking around the center, I went in to speak with Cheri. She said it was about 4 minutes before the time they seemed to be showing up--3:40 PM. I went inside to poke around and 2 to 3 minutes later they appeared. Unfortunately, about the same time, they were immediately scattered due to the fact that the resident Kestrel (sparrow hawk) came looking for dinner. (Two are known to have crashed into the front windows this winter with one fatality--wondering if they were trying to escape the Kestrel?) about 5 or 6 came back briefly and the left seemingly to the back of the building. After trying to find them again, around the building, I noticed one lingering on the railing in front of the building. After I got back up there, it remained long enough for a very short photo session. Due to the calm, half-tame nature of the birds, I was able to get close enough for a decent photo prior to its flying off in search of its friends.

My feeling is that because these Rosy Finches have an affinity for rocky hillsides and talus, both found at the Interpretive Center, and are known to roost communally during winter in mine shafts (of which their are several in the area), bridge supports (like supports found below the building) and buildings, they are likely showing up in the late afternoon to be close to their communal night-time roost.

Primary area to find the Rosy Finches (Dirt is on the lens, not the building!)
Finches, when present, are usually on the railing, supports, or rocks near the walkway.

More about these finches
The three North American species of Rosy Finches, the Gray-crowned, Brown-capped, and Black Rosy Finch, were once considered to be a single species, but have since been separated back to the three individual species. Within the Gray-crowned species, there are 3 or 4 subspecies. The birds at the Interpretive Center appear to be the Gray-cheeked or Hepburn's subspecies, but the Audubon Society of Portland recognized the Gray-crowned Rosy Finch population that is endemic to the Wallowa Mountains and surrounding area as a separate subspecies, the Wallowa Rosy Finch. As the Hepburns and Wallowa subspecies closely resemble each other, at least according to Gabrielson and Jewett, and intermingle on their N. E. Oregon wintering grounds, I can't say with any certainty which subspecies the Interpretive Center's birds belong to, although it is likely a Gray-cheecked/Hepburn's, due to their higher numbers.

To see the Wallowa subspecies alone in its breeding range, one must travel to the alpine zone of the high peaks in places like the head of Big Sheep Creek or the summit area of Brown Mountain. (See the chapter on these birds in "The Birds Of Oregon, by Gabrielson and Jewett, 1940, reprinted as Birds of the Pacific Northwest in 1970.) There they describe their chilly summer breeding grounds:

"The habits of this small finch have made it a species of peculiar interest to ornithologists. It seeks the cold and austere heights for its summer home and there, about the perpetual snow and ice, builds its nests in crevices and crannies in the rocks and forages for food on the surfaces of the snowfields and glaciers. [where] they feasted on chilled insects that had fallen benumbed on failure of their endeavors to cross the frozen areas."

If you would like to see one of these attractive and uncommon finches, late afternoon at the Interpretive Center entrance is your best bet. Remember that there are no guarantees and that their visits, in groups of 5 to 20, have been sporadic since late fall. It is likely that they will be heading back up toward their breeding range before long, especially if the weather stays unseasonably warm. If you head out that way, remember they close at 4 PM.

Learn more about these finches:

All About Birds/Cornell Lab of Ornithology This site shows the "Interior" subspecies, which lacks the large gray cheek of our birds.

Birds of North America Online


California Department of Fish and Game

From the Morgue

As mentioned above, a few weeks ago a Rosy Finch flew into one of the large windows at the entrance and died. The Bird Conservation Network estimates that "At least 100,000,000 [that's one hundred million] birds are killed and even more are injured every year across North America by collisions with windows." (

Some of these deaths can be prevented if a pattern of some sort can be placed on your clean, clear wndows. My persoal solution, that seems to work well while fitting my character, is not washing them. ;-) Let that film and spotting thicken up a bit! Not quite the same as a decorative film, but it is effective and economical.

The Bird Conservation Network Recommends:

"Reflective Windows: Put something on the outside of the window to alter the appearance of the entire window. The coverage must be total and allow for openings no larger than 4 inches (10 cm) across.

1) Hang strips of 1+ inch wide paper / ribbons / string / mobiles every four inches
2) "Frost" or "etch" the glass using techniques popularized by decorating books and websites
3) Sponge or stamp on a decorative pattern with soap or thinned window paint
4) Cover the windows with "CollidEscape" perforated film to make windows visible to birds while allowing those inside clear view to the outside
5) Cover the window with decorative films"

If you do find or receive a dead bird, not one legally hunted of course, be sure to call ODFW to see if you can legally possess it. Besides non-natives like house sparrows and starlings, it is generally unlawful to possess native birds without a permit.

More on Corporations as Persons

(Murray Hill Incorporated is Running for Congress Must See Satire!)
Click Here:

Edwards says Amend the Constitution
On January 27, 2010, Congresswoman Donna Edwards announced that she would introduce an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to undo the damage caused the the Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC.

Join this effort:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Little Bit Fishy?

Edited for clarity, 1/28/10.

In a recent editorial from the Baker City Herald Editorial Board (A Little Bit Fishy:, they complain that "the government risks its credibility when it claims a species is in peril yet can’t answer questions about the species that the public should, and probably will, ask."

I strongly disagree, because the government, has is fact answered the public's questions and provided a good deal of explanatory material in the proposed and final rules from 2002 to 2010. They can't, of course, be held responsible for the public's or the Heralds lack of knowledge concerning the principles of conservation biology and "connectivity," or for not answering questions that haven't been asked.

Bull Trout
Fish & Wildlife Service Photo

The board has printed many editorials that I agree with, especially those that deal with a fiscally conservative approach to spending the people's money (but not their recommendation of a "no" vote on measures 66 & 67), but we come to those conclusions it seems from different perspectives. The main difference to me seems to be that they want to preserve the current system of inappropriate distribution of the country's wealth, including its native flora and fauna, while I would like to change it.

I understand that in a county as "conservative" as Baker County, that a media outlet will tend to sit on the fence or take editorial positions in accordance with the political views of the majority of their readers, which include, among other things, fiscal conservatism, and unfortunately for the biosphere, an animosity toward environmental reforms intended to save the habitats and species that were here before our self-centered and destructive appearance on the historic landscape.

In their editorial, in addition to suggesting that the government "can’t answer questions about the species that the public should, and probably will, ask" they write "of 251 miles of the Powder River and its tributaries proposed as critical habitat, almost one-third — 76 miles —harbor not a single bull trout, according to the FWS." They are of course speaking of habitat that was historically used by bull trout before we altered and nearly destroyed its usefulness to bull trout because of the changes accompanying agricultural development, grazing, mining, logging, and roading activities.

They continue by explaining that "Now we understand that in some cases it’s defensible to protect habitat for a species even when there’s no evidence that species lives there. Terrestrial animals can cover a lot of ground, after all. . . . there are thousands of acres of suitable habitat for lynx on the forest, and it’s reasonable for the forest to try to preserve that habitat because lynx could return. . . . Fish, of course, are considerably more restricted in their movements." These last few statements seem to suggest that the Herald thinks while it may be "reasonable" to protect vacant habitat for terrestrial animals, fish are different because they lack the mobility of land-bound animals, and are restricted to aquatic habitat. The logic of such a notion escapes me given that the principles of conservation biology apply regardless of type of habitat or differences in modes of mobility.

Their greatest concern seems to be that "federal officials say it’s necessary to designate as critical habitat streams where bull trout are absent because those streams are connected to ones where bull trout do live. . . . . That sounds all right in theory. Except the FWS report fails to explain why the isolated bull trout populations in the Powder River system aren’t connecting, as it were, to the streams that have suitable habitat."

I am not a fast friend of the Fish and Wildlife Service or other Federal agencies, and have criticized their perceived failures many times, but a even a cursory look at the Bull Trout listing documents produced over the years reveals that the Herald is mistaken. The agencies have explained and answered these question and more.

Connectivity in the science established by the discipline of conservation biology, consists, in its simplest sense, of the existence of suitable corridors, terrestrial (over land) or aquatic (i.e., streams, lakes, and rivers), to allow for the natural migration of a species. For bull trout, aquatic corridors allow their migration between spawning and rearing habitat in cold, clean upstream waters to and through foraging (feeding), migratory, and overwintering habitat downstream. Much of this downstream habitat has been blocked or degraded to the point that it is no longer useful. In coastal regions, bull trout, if unimpeded by various obstructions, even migrate into salt water ocean harbors for a portion of their lives as juveniles.

A reading of all the recovery plan documents suggests, despite the Herald's claim, that the government has adequately explained the problem: "Currently, habitat fragmentation and degradation are likely the most limiting factors for bull trout throughout the Hells Canyon Complex Recovery Unit. In the Snake River, large dams of the Hells Canyon Complex lack fish passage and have isolated bull trout among three basins, the Pine Creek and Indian Creek watersheds, Wildhorse River, and Powder River. Dams, irrigation diversions, and road crossings have formed impassable barriers to fish movement within the basins, further fragmenting habitats and isolating bull trout. Land management activities that degrade aquatic and riparian habitats by altering stream flows and riparian vegetation, such as water diversions, past and current mining operations, timber harvest and road construction, and improper grazing practices, have negatively affected bull trout in several areas of the recovery unit." ( 2002 Recovery Plan, Ch. 13, p. 4)

Improper Grazing Practices Degrade Water Quality
Degraded Water Quality from Trampled Streambanks Interferes With Fish Reproduction

Also, in the Introduction (Ibid, pp. 4 &5): "Declines in bull trout distribution and abundance are the results of combined effects of the following: habitat degradation and fragmentation, the blockage of migratory corridors, poor water quality, angler harvest and poaching, entrainment (process by which aquatic organisms are pulled through a diversion structure or other device) into diversion [irrigation] channels and dams, and introduced nonnative species. Specific land and water management activities that continue to depress bull trout populations and degrade habitat include dams and other diversion structures, forest management practices, livestock grazing, agriculture, road construction and maintenance, mining, and urban and rural development. Some threats to bull trout are the continuing effects of past land management activities."

Further, in the 2004 "Final Rule," (, the Fish and Wildlife Service explains that:

"The ability to migrate is important to the persistence of local bull trout subpopulations (Rieman and McIntyre 1993; Gilpin 1997; Rieman and Clayton 1997; Rieman et al. 1997). Bull trout rely on migratory corridors to move from spawning and rearing habitats to foraging and overwintering habitats and back. Migratory bull trout become much larger than resident fish in the more productive waters of larger streams and lakes, leading to increased reproductive potential (McPhail and Baxter 1996). Also, local populations that have been extirpated by catastrophic events may become reestablished as a result of movements by bull trout through migratory corridors (Rieman and McIntyre 1993; MBTSG 1998). Activities that preclude the function of migratory corridors may affect bull trout (e.g., stream blockages)." (p. 60025)

Whether the migratory habitat is currently occupied, in the sense that one can always find a fish there, is simply irrelevant. The migratory habitat is necessary for fish to get from one suitable habitat, and isolated population, to another, for purposes that help guarantee the survival of the species.

They explain this further on p. 60024:

"Restoration of reproducing bull trout populations to additional portions of their historical range would significantly reduce the likelihood of extinction due to natural or human-caused factors that might otherwise further reduce population size and distribution. Thus, an integral component of the draft Recovery Plan is the selective reestablishment of secure, self-sustaining populations in certain areas where the species has apparently, but not necessarily conclusively, been extirpated. In this regard, we also note that some habitat areas that would not be considered essential if they were geographically isolated are, in fact, essential to the conservation of the species when situated in locations where they facilitate movement between local populations, or otherwise play a significant role in maintaining recolonize adjacent habitat patches following periodic extirpation events) (Dunham and Rieman 1999). In addition, populations on the periphery of the species' range, or in atypical environments, are important for maintaining the genetic diversity of the species and could prove essential to the ability of the species to adapt to rapidly changing climatic and environmental conditions (Leary et al. 1993; Hard 1995)."

In the Jan. 14, 2010 Proposed Rule (Federal Register / Vol. 75, No. 9 / Thursday, January 14, 2010 / Proposed Rules, p. 2279, the government states under "Primary Constituent Elements," the need of the bull trout species for:

"(2) Migratory habitats [i.e., connectivity] with minimal physical, biological, or water quality impediments between spawning, rearing, overwintering, and freshwater and marine foraging habitats, including but not limited to permanent, partial, intermittent, or seasonal barriers."

More explanations on the need for connectivity:

Also under "Criteria Used To Identify Critical Habitat," the 2010 Proposed Rule says on p. 2280, in addition to ensuring "sufficient connectivity among populations," that "(4) In selecting areas to propose as critical habitat, we considered factors specific to each river system, such as size (i.e., stream order), gradient, channel morphology, connectivity to other aquatic habitats, and habitat complexity and diversity, as well as range-wide recovery considerations. We took into account the fact that bull trout habitat preference ranges from small headwater streams used largely for spawning and rearing, to downstream mainstem portions of river networks used for rearing, foraging, migration, or overwintering." On p. 2281 they write, "Our primary consideration for most unoccupied areas is restoring connectivity among populations by protecting FMO (foraging, migration, and over-wintering) habitats."

There is an extended discussion of the effects on human activities and the need for connectivity on p. 2282 of this last document, and it is sprinkled with further commentary regarding the need for habitat connectivity throughout. Also included are references to publications documenting their findings in the government documents.

An internet accessible discussion of habitat fragmentation and the need for connectivity can be found at the Craighead Environmental Research Institute ( They include the following paragraph:

"Habitat reduction and fragmentation at a variety of spatial scales has been widely acknowledged as a primary cause of the decline of many species worldwide (Ehrlich 1986, Lovejoy et al. 1986, Harris 1984). Habitat fragmentation generally leads to smaller and more isolated animal populations. Smaller populations are then more vulnerable to local extinction, due to stochastic [random] events (Shaffer 1978, Gilpin and Soule 1986), and they are more susceptible to the negative effects of inbreeding depression. To reduce the isolation of habitat fragments, many conservation biologists (e.g. Noss 1983, 1987, Noss and Harris 1986, Craighead et al. 1997, Craighead and Vyse 1995, Paetkau et. al. 1997) have recommended maintaining landscape "connectivity" -- preserving habitat for movement of species between remaining fragments."

The "connectivity" they refer to includes aquatic connectivity for the biological and reproductive needs of fish species.

There is much more to the "connectivity" story, including protection from random disasters in isolated habitat, and the need to reestablish a population where it has been eliminated by one transitory problem or another. Connectivity also serves the genetic diversity of local populations by allowing fish from one locale to mingle and breed with another population elsewhere. If anyone is interested in knowing the current science about habitat fragmentation and connectivity, I suggest beginning with the the works of Michael Soule and Reed Noss.

So, we get back to the original Herald editorial. Is it really true, as claimed by the Herald editorial board, that the government "can’t answer questions about the species that the public should, and probably will, ask?" Why does the Baker City Herald spread false doubt and ignorance that only inflames the public against environmentalists and one of the few agencies in government that is doing something, although less than it could or actually should do, to protect threatened species?

A larger question is why have we allowed private and quasi-public commerce, the agricultural and hydropower sectors of the economy, to expropriate the biologically productive riverine systems, and the water and connectivity needed by fish, for their own benefit? Prior to the construction of dams and irrigation diversion structures, salmon, steelhead and bull trout used to migrate to the headwaters of the Powder, Malheur and other watersheds, but the dams and diversions for farm and ranch irrigation, and electricity production, not to mention the trashing of spawning and rearing streams by privately owned cattle on public lands, have denied the people of those public benefits. How is it that those natural resource gifts have been eliminated in our watersheds and driven to the brink of extinction elsewhere, stolen in a sense from the majority of the population, so as to fill the needs of private enterprise?

Bull Trout
Fish and Wildlife Service Photo

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Financial & Moral Costs of Ignoring Militarism & Empire

The sanctity of military spending

As Washington prepares to demand sacrifice from everyone, the National Security State is exempt as always
Glenn Greenwald
Jan. 26, 2010
(updated below - Update II)

Administration officials announced last night that the President, in tomorrow's State of the Union address, will propose a multi-year freeze on certain domestic discretionary spending programs. This is an "initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit," officials told The New York Times.

But the freeze is more notable for what it excludes than what it includes. For now, it does not include the largest domestic spending programs: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. And all "security-related programs" are also exempted from the freeze, which means it does not apply to military spending, the intelligence budget, the Surveillance State, or foreign military aid. As always, the notion of decreasing the deficit and national debt through reductions in military spending is one of the most absolute Washington taboos. What possible rationale is there for that?

The facts about America's bloated, excessive, always-increasing military spending are now well-known. The U.S. spends almost as much on military spending as the entire rest of the world combined, and spends roughly six times more than the second-largest spender, China. Even as the U.S. sunk under increasingly crippling levels of debt over the last decade, defense spending rose steadily, sometimes precipitously. That explosion occurred even as overall military spending in the rest of the world decreased, thus expanding the already-vast gap between our expenditures and the world's. As one "defense" spending watchdog group put it: "The US military budget was almost 29 times as large as the combined spending of the six 'rogue' states (Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan and Syria) who spent $14.65 billion." To get a sense for how thoroughly military spending dominates our national budget, consider this chart showing where Americans' tax revenue goes [If you can't make out the corresponding color for each category on the list, it begins with the large blue piece of the pie for military spending on the right side of the pie chart, and then goes down the list and around the circle in a clockwise fashion.]:

Since much of that overall spending is mandatory, military spending -- all of which is discretionary -- accounts for over 50% of discretionary government spending. Yet it's absolutely forbidden to even contemplate reducing it as a means of reducing our debt or deficit. To the contrary, Obama ran on a platform of increasing military spending, and that is one of the few pledges he is faithfully and enthusiastically filling (while violating his pledge not to use deceitful budgetary tricks to fund our wars):

President Barack Obama will ask Congress for an additional $33 billion to fight unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on top of a record $708 billion for the Defense Department next year, The Associated Press has learned.

In sum, as we cite our debtor status to freeze funding for things such as "air traffic control, farm subsidies, education, nutrition and national parks" -- all programs included in Obama's spending freeze -- our military and other "security-related" spending habits become more bloated every year, completely shielded from any constraints or reality. This, despite the fact that it is virtually impossible for the U.S. to make meaningful progress in debt reduction without serious reductions in our military programs.

Public opinion is not a legitimate excuse for this utterly irrational conduct, as large percentages of Americans are receptive to reducing -- or at least freezing -- defense spending. A June, 2009 Pew Research poll asked Americans what they would do about defense spending, and 55% said they would either decrease it (18%) or keep it the same (37%); only 40% wanted it to increase. Even more notably, a 2007 Gallup poll found that "the public's view that the federal government is spending too much on the military has increased substantially this year, to its highest level in more than 15 years." In that poll, 58% of Democrats and 47% of Independents said that military spending "is too high" -- and the percentages who believe that increased steadily over the last decade for every group.

The clear fact is that, no matter how severe are our budgetary constraints, military spending and all so-called "security-related programs" are off-limits for any freezes, let alone decreases. Moreover, the modest spending freeze to be announced by Obama tomorrow is just the start; the Washington consensus has solidified and is clearly gearing up for major cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, with the dirty work to be done by an independent "deficit commission." It's time for "everyone" to sacrifice and suffer some more -- as long as "everyone" excludes our vast military industry, the permanent power factions inside the Pentagon and intelligence community, our Surveillance and National Security State, and the imperial policies of perpetual war which feed them while further draining the lifeblood out of the country.

UPDATE: I just saw this scary headline on MSNBC [.E. "Report: Alaida aims to hit U.S. with WMDs"], became very frightened, and have changed my mind, as I now realize we need to massively increase our military spending to Stay Safe!!!

The Washington Post is hyping the same report. Apparently, it's breaking news -- meriting screaming red-alert headlines -- that Al Qaeda would like to ("aims to") acquire WMDs and use them against the U.S. But we should all try to remain a little calm, at least. I'm sure if we just buy some more fighter jets, create some better underground bombs, invade a few more Muslim countries, keep more Muslims imprisoned forever with no charges, give the Pentagon, the CIA and their private contractors a lot more unaccounted-for cash and stay out of their way, expand our domestic spying networks even further through private sector telecom contracts, pour tens of billions of dollars more into the coffers of our Middle East client states, and kill a few more civilians with drones, this problem will be handled. It's just a matter of making sure we bulk up our military budget -- and Look Forward, not Backward to what was done in the past -- and we'll be able to Stay Safe from this Terrorist-WMD menace.

As for the deficit, no need to worry about that. We can just freeze programs for national parks and cut Social Security and Medicare.

UPDATE II: Thankfully, some among us will be spared the pain of these budgetary freezes and imminent cuts:

Defense Secretary Robert Gates hosted a meeting with the nation's top defense company executives Wednesday, stressing the need for a closer partnership with them and pledging to work with the White House to secure steady growth in the Pentagon's budgets over time, according to his spokesman. . . .

Gates's meeting was part of a day-long session between Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter and the Aerospace Industries Association, the top trade group for American aerospace firms. The heads of the nation's top two defense firms -- Lockheed Martin and Boeing -- attended, said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell.

Did they mention that Al Qaeda aims to get WMDs and attack the U.S. with them?

Wanted: Tony Blair for War Crimes.
Arrest Him and Claim your Reward
Chilcot and the courts won't do it, so it is up to us to show that we won't let an illegal act of mass murder go unpunished

[The difference between Great Britain and America is that they at least think they have to put on the show of an "inquiry." We don't even bother to produce the charade. Makes sense from the perspective of the powerful: how many recent Presidents would we have to drag before a tribunal? And, more importantly, such truths would no doubt interfere with the profit to be made from the killing.]
By George Monbiot

January 26, 2010 "The Guardian" --

The only question that counts is the one that the Chilcot inquiry won't address: was the war with Iraq illegal? If the answer is yes, everything changes. The war is no longer a political matter, but a criminal one, and those who commissioned it should be committed for trial for what the Nuremberg tribunal called "the supreme international crime": the crime of aggression.
But there's a problem with official inquiries in the United Kingdom: the government appoints their members and sets their terms of reference. It's the equivalent of a criminal suspect being allowed to choose what the charges should be, who should judge his case and who should sit on the jury. As a senior judge told the Guardian in November: "Looking into the legality of the war is the last thing the government wants. And actually, it's the last thing the opposition wants either because they voted for the war. There simply is not the political pressure to explore the question of legality – they have not asked because they don't want the answer."

Others have explored it, however. Two weeks ago a Dutch inquiry, led by a former supreme court judge, found that the invasion had "no sound mandate in international law". Last month Lord Steyn, a former law lord, said that "in the absence of a second UN resolution authorising invasion, it was illegal". In November Lord Bingham, the former lord chief justice, stated that, without the blessing of the UN, the Iraq war was "a serious violation of international law and the rule of law".

Under the United Nations charter, two conditions must be met before a war can legally be waged. The parties to a dispute must first "seek a solution by negotiation" (article 33). They can take up arms without an explicit mandate from the UN security council only "if an armed attack occurs against [them]" (article 51). Neither of these conditions applied. The US and UK governments rejected Iraq's attempts to negotiate. At one point the US state department even announced that it would "go into thwart mode" to prevent the Iraqis from resuming talks on weapons inspection (all references are on my website). Iraq had launched no armed attack against either nation.

We also know that the UK government was aware that the war it intended to launch was illegal. In March 2002, the Cabinet Office explained that "a legal justification for invasion would be needed. Subject to law officers' advice, none currently exists." In July 2002, Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, told the prime minister that there were only "three possible legal bases" for launching a war – "self-defence, humanitarian intervention, or UNSC [security council] authorisation. The first and second could not be the base in this case." Bush and Blair later failed to obtain security council authorisation.

As the resignation letter on the eve of the war from Elizabeth Wilmshurst, then deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Office, revealed, her office had "consistently" advised that an invasion would be unlawful without a new UN resolution. She explained that "an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression". Both Wilmshurst and her former boss, Sir Michael Wood, will testify before the Chilcot inquiry tomorrow. Expect fireworks.

Without legal justification, the war with Iraq was an act of mass murder: those who died were unlawfully killed by the people who commissioned it. Crimes of aggression (also known as crimes against peace) are defined by the Nuremberg principles as "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties". They have been recognised in international law since 1945. The Rome statute, which established the international criminal court (ICC) and which was ratified by Blair's government in 2001, provides for the court to "exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression", once it has decided how the crime should be defined and prosecuted.

There are two problems. The first is that neither the government nor the opposition has any interest in pursuing these crimes, for the obvious reason that in doing so they would expose themselves to prosecution. The second is that the required legal mechanisms don't yet exist. The governments that ratified the Rome statute have been filibustering furiously to delay the point at which the crime can be prosecuted by the ICC: after eight years of discussions, the necessary provision still has not been adopted.

Some countries, mostly in eastern Europe and central Asia, have incorporated the crime of aggression into their own laws, though it is not yet clear which of them would be willing to try a foreign national for acts committed abroad. In the UK, where it remains illegal to wear an offensive T-shirt, you cannot yet be prosecuted for mass murder commissioned overseas.

All those who believe in justice should campaign for their governments to stop messing about and allow the international criminal court to start prosecuting the crime of aggression. We should also press for its adoption into national law. But I believe that the people of this nation, who re-elected a government that had launched an illegal war, have a duty to do more than that. We must show that we have not, as Blair requested, "moved on" from Iraq, that we are not prepared to allow his crime to remain unpunished, or to allow future leaders to believe that they can safely repeat it.

But how? As I found when I tried to apprehend John Bolton, one of the architects of the war in George Bush's government, at the Hay festival in 2008, and as Peter Tatchell found when he tried to detain Robert Mugabe, nothing focuses attention on these issues more than an attempted citizen's arrest. In October I mooted the idea of a bounty to which the public could contribute, payable to anyone who tried to arrest Tony Blair if he became president of the European Union. He didn't of course, but I asked those who had pledged money whether we should go ahead anyway. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

So today I am launching a website – – whose purpose is to raise money as a reward for people attempting a peaceful citizen's arrest of the former prime minister. I have put up the first £100, and I encourage you to match it. Anyone meeting the rules I've laid down will be entitled to one quarter of the total pot: the bounties will remain available until Blair faces a court of law. The higher the reward, the greater the number of people who are likely to try.

At this stage the arrests will be largely symbolic, though they are likely to have great political resonance. But I hope that as pressure builds up and the crime of aggression is adopted by the courts, these attempts will help to press governments to prosecute. There must be no hiding place for those who have committed crimes against peace. No civilised country can allow mass murderers to move on.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

More on the Corporate Takeover of America: Inverted totalitarianism

Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction

By Chris Hedges

January 25, 2010 "Truthdig" -- Corporate forces, long before the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, carried out a coup d'état in slow motion. The coup is over. We lost. The ruling is one more judicial effort to streamline mechanisms for corporate control. It exposes the myth of a functioning democracy and the triumph of corporate power. But it does not significantly alter the political landscape. The corporate state is firmly cemented in place.

The fiction of democracy remains useful, not only for corporations, but for our bankrupt liberal class. If the fiction is seriously challenged, liberals will be forced to consider actual resistance, which will be neither pleasant nor easy. As long as a democratic facade exists, liberals can engage in an empty moral posturing that requires little sacrifice or commitment. They can be the self-appointed scolds of the Democratic Party, acting as if they are part of the debate and feel vindicated by their cries of protest.

Much of the outrage expressed about the court's ruling is the outrage of those who prefer this choreographed charade. As long as the charade is played, they do not have to consider how to combat what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls our system of "inverted totalitarianism."

Inverted totalitarianism represents "the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobilization of the citizenry," Wolin writes in "Democracy Incorporated." Inverted totalitarianism differs from classical forms of totalitarianism, which revolve around a demagogue or charismatic leader, and finds its expression in the anonymity of the corporate state. The corporate forces behind inverted totalitarianism do not, as classical totalitarian movements do, boast of replacing decaying structures with a new, revolutionary structure. They purport to honor electoral politics, freedom and the Constitution. But they so corrupt and manipulate the levers of power as to make democracy impossible.

Inverted totalitarianism is not conceptualized as an ideology or objectified in public policy. It is furthered by "power-holders and citizens who often seem unaware of the deeper consequences of their actions or inactions," Wolin writes. But it is as dangerous as classical forms of totalitarianism. In a system of inverted totalitarianism, as this court ruling illustrates, it is not necessary to rewrite the Constitution, as fascist and communist regimes do. It is enough to exploit legitimate power by means of judicial and legislative interpretation. This exploitation ensures that huge corporate campaign contributions are protected speech under the First Amendment. It ensures that heavily financed and organized lobbying by large corporations is interpreted as an application of the people's right to petition the government. The court again ratified the concept that corporations are persons, except in those cases where the "persons" agree to a "settlement." Those within corporations who commit crimes can avoid going to prison by paying large sums of money to the government while, according to this twisted judicial reasoning, not "admitting any wrongdoing." There is a word for this. It is called corruption.

Corporations have 35,000 lobbyists in Washington and thousands more in state capitals that dole out corporate money to shape and write legislation. They use their political action committees to solicit employees and shareholders for donations to fund pliable candidates. The financial sector, for example, spent more than $5 billion on political campaigns, influence peddling and lobbying during the past decade, which resulted in sweeping deregulation, the gouging of consumers, our global financial meltdown and the subsequent looting of the U.S. Treasury. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $26 million last year and drug companies such as Pfizer, Amgen and Eli Lilly kicked in tens of millions more to buy off the two parties. These corporations have made sure our so-called health reform bill will force us to buy their predatory and defective products. The oil and gas industry, the coal industry, defense contractors and telecommunications companies have thwarted the drive for sustainable energy and orchestrated the steady erosion of civil liberties. Politicians do corporate bidding and stage hollow acts of political theater to keep the fiction of the democratic state alive.

There is no national institution left that can accurately be described as democratic. Citizens, rather than participate in power, are allowed to have virtual opinions to preordained questions, a kind of participatory fascism as meaningless as voting on "American Idol." Mass emotions are directed toward the raging culture wars. This allows us to take emotional stands on issues that are inconsequential to the power elite.

Our transformation into an empire, as happened in ancient Athens and Rome, has seen the tyranny we practice abroad become the tyranny we practice at home. We, like all empires, have been eviscerated by our own expansionism. We utilize weapons of horrific destructive power, subsidize their development with billions in taxpayer dollars, and are the world's largest arms dealer. And the Constitution, as Wolin notes, is "conscripted to serve as power's apprentice rather than its conscience."

"Inverted totalitarianism reverses things," Wolin writes. "It is politics all of the time but a politics largely untempered by the political. Party squabbles are occasionally on public display, and there is a frantic and continuous politics among factions of the party, interest groups, competing corporate powers, and rival media concerns. And there is, of course, the culminating moment of national elections when the attention of the nation is required to make a choice of personalities rather than a choice between alternatives. What is absent is the political, the commitment to finding where the common good lies amidst the welter of well-financed, highly organized, single-minded interests rabidly seeking governmental favors and overwhelming the practices of representative government and public administration by a sea of cash."

Hollywood, the news industry and television, all corporate controlled, have become instruments of inverted totalitarianism. They censor or ridicule those who critique or challenge corporate structures and assumptions. They saturate the airwaves with manufactured controversy, whether it is Tiger Woods or the dispute between Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien. They manipulate images to make us confuse how we are made to feel with knowledge, which is how Barack Obama became president. And the draconian internal control employed by the Department of Homeland Security, the military and the police over any form of popular dissent, coupled with the corporate media's censorship, does for inverted totalitarianism what thugs and bonfires of books do in classical totalitarian regimes.

"It seems a replay of historical experience that the bias displayed by today's media should be aimed consistently at the shredded remains of liberalism," Wolin writes. "Recall that an element common to most 20th century totalitarianism, whether Fascist or Stalinist, was hostility towards the left. In the United States, the left is assumed to consist solely of liberals, occasionally of ‘the left wing of the Democratic Party,' never of democrats."

Liberals, socialists, trade unionists, independent journalists and intellectuals, many of whom were once important voices in our society, have been silenced or targeted for elimination within corporate-controlled academia, the media and government. Wolin, who taught at Berkeley and later at Princeton, is arguably the country's foremost political philosopher. And yet his book was virtually ignored. This is also why Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich and Cynthia McKinney, along with intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, are not given a part in our national discourse.

The uniformity of opinion is reinforced by the skillfully orchestrated mass emotions of nationalism and patriotism, which paints all dissidents as "soft" or "unpatriotic." The "patriotic" citizen, plagued by fear of job losses and possible terrorist attacks, unfailingly supports widespread surveillance and the militarized state. This means no questioning of the $1 trillion in defense-related spending. It means that the military and intelligence agencies are held above government, as if somehow they are not part of government. The most powerful instruments of state power and control are effectively removed from public discussion. We, as imperial citizens, are taught to be contemptuous of government bureaucracy, yet we stand like sheep before Homeland Security agents in airports and are mute when Congress permits our private correspondence and conversations to be monitored and archived. We endure more state control than at any time in American history.

The civic, patriotic and political language we use to describe ourselves remains unchanged. We pay fealty to the same national symbols and iconography. We find our collective identity in the same national myths. We continue to deify the Founding Fathers. But the America we celebrate is an illusion. It does not exist. Our government and judiciary have no real sovereignty. Our press provides diversion, not information. Our organs of security and power keep us as domesticated and as fearful as most Iraqis. Capitalism, as Karl Marx understood, when it emasculates government, becomes a revolutionary force. And this revolutionary force, best described as inverted totalitarianism, is plunging us into a state of neo-feudalism, perpetual war and severe repression. The Supreme Court decision is part of our transformation by the corporate state from citizens to prisoners.

Chris Hedges, whose column is published on Truthdig every Monday, spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He served for eight years as the Middle East bureau chief of The New York Times, where he shared the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism, for coverage of terrorism. Hedges also received the 2002 Amnesty International Global Award for Human Rights Journalism.

© 2010

Billy Bragg and Wilco - The Unwelcome Guest (Written by Woodie Guthrie)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Supreme Court Hands American "Democracy" over to the Corporations

[Edited 1/23/09]
When I was young, I remember having to appear in court for some fairly innocuous charge or another. I remember walking up the steps of the "super sized," Intimidating edifice of the courthouse, with its huge marble columns, to enter the courtroom of monstrous oak facades above the seat of the "Judge." I trembled some with fear at the power of "justice." Although the fear was well founded, it was only decades later that I came to realize that what I was seeing was just that, a facade. The legal system in the "Land of the Free" is not a scale that weighs the justice or appropriateness of an action according to what is 'right" or "wrong" from the perspective of all the people subject to the whims of life, circumstance, and the laws that they would themselves choose, or even always on established law--it was and is a scale that weighs justice according to the needs of the wealthy and the politically powerful. The scale of justice is, when all is said and done--weighed down with human politics on one side or the other. (OK,nothing new to you, but it needs to be expressed.)

Baker County Circuit Court

If one looks only at the Supreme Court of the United States of America the situation becomes quite clear. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was accused of using his power to "pack" the Supreme Court with "Liberal" judges of his liking, and indeed, he had the opportunity to do so. During his terms in office, he was able to appoint eight Justices to the court, a number of appointments surpassed only by George Washington. Those Justices, using their political perspectives, were in part responsible for turning our country, despite the Republican protests, into one of the the most egalitarian and economically successful nations on earth. In recent years, the Republican Presidencies of Reagan and the the Bush "dynasty" have been able to appoint the majority of the current Justices, to peck away at the freedoms and security the people had gained, and the current court reflects the reactionary, pro corporation agenda that those presidents stood for.

The recent opinion on campaign financing handed down by the Republican court majority, has completed what appears to be the ultimate right-wing, some may call it Fascist, goal (coup?) of turning the country, our beloved United States of America, over to the corporations.

I leave it to others more informed and articulate than myself to describe and explain the final nail that has been driven into the coffin of American democracy.

Corporate Personhood Should Be Banned, Once and For All

Time to Reign in Out-of-Control Corporate Influences on Our Democracy

Ralph Nader

Yesterday's 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission shreds the fabric of our already weakened democracy by allowing corporations to more completely dominate our corrupted electoral process. It is outrageous that corporations already attempt to influence or bribe our political candidates through their political action committees (PACs), which solicit employees and shareholders for donations.

With this decision, corporations can now directly pour vast amounts of corporate money, through independent expenditures, into the electoral swamp already flooded with corporate campaign PAC contribution dollars. Without approval from their shareholders, corporations can reward or intimidate people running for office at the local, state, and national levels.

Much of this 183 page opinion requires readers to enter into a fantasy world and accept the twisted logic of Justice Kennedy, who delivered the opinion of the Court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Alito, and Thomas. Imagine the majority saying the “Government may not suppress political speech based on the speaker’s corporate identity.”

Perhaps Justice Kennedy didn’t hear that the financial sector invested more than $5 billion in political influence purchasing in Washington over the past decade, with as many as 3,000 lobbyists winning deregulation and other policy decisions that led directly to the current financial collapse, according to a 231-page report titled: “Sold Out: How Wall Street and Washington Betrayed America” (See:

The Center for Responsive Politics reported that last year the U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent $144 million to influence Congress and state legislatures.

The Center also reported big lobbying expenditures by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) which spent $26 million in 2009. Drug companies like Pfizer, Amgen and Eli Lilly also poured tens of millions of dollars into federal lobbying in 2009. The health insurance industry trade group America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) also spent several million lobbying Congress. No wonder Single Payer Health insurance – supported by the majority of people, doctors, and nurses – isn’t moving in Congress.

Energy companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron are also big spenders. No wonder we have a national energy policy that is pro-fossil fuel and that does little to advance renewable energy (See:

No wonder we have the best Congress money can buy.

I suppose Justice Kennedy thinks corporations that overwhelm members of Congress with campaign contributions need to have still more influence in the electoral arena. Spending millions to lobby Congress and making substantial PAC contributions just isn’t enough for a majority of the Supreme Court. The dictate by the five activist Justices was too much for even Republican Senator John McCain, who commented that he was troubled by their “extreme naivete.”

There is a glimmer of hope and a touch of reality in yesterday’s Supreme Court decision. Unfortunately it is the powerful 90 page dissent in this case by Justice Stevens joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor. Justice Stevens recognizes the power corporations wield in our political economy. Justice Stevens finds it “absurd to think that the First Amendment prohibits legislatures from taking into account the corporate identity of a sponsor of electoral advocacy.” He flatly declares that, “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the Nation.”

He notes that the, Framers of our Constitution “had little trouble distinguishing corporations from human beings, and when they constitutionalized the right to free speech in the First Amendment, it was the free speech of individual Americans that they had in mind.” Right he is, for the words “corporation” or “company” do not exist in our Constitution.

Justice Stevens concludes his dissent as follows:

At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

Indeed, this corporatist, anti-voter majority decision is so extreme that it should galvanize a grassroots effort to enact a simple Constitutional amendment to once and for all end corporate personhood and curtail the corrosive impact of big money on politics. It is time to prevent corporate campaign contributions from commercializing our elections and drowning out the voices and values of citizens and voters. It is way overdue to overthrow "King Corporation" and restore the sovereignty of "We the People"! Remember that corporations, chartered by the state, are our servants, not our masters.

Legislation sponsored by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Representative John Larson (D-CT) would encourage unlimited small-dollar donations from individuals and provide candidates with public funding in exchange for refusing corporate contributions or private contributions of more than $100.

It is also time for shareholder resolutions, company by company, directing the corporate boards of directors to pledge not to use company money to directly favor or oppose candidates for public office.

If you want to join the efforts to rollback the corporate privileges the Supreme Court made yesterday, visit ( and (

In Landmark Campaign Finance Ruling, Supreme Court Removes Limits on Corporate Campaign Spending

Transcript below:

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court rules corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money to elect and defeat candidates. One lawmaker describes it as the worst Supreme Court decision since the Dred Scott case justifying slavery. We speak with constitutional law professor, Jamin Raskin. [includes rush transcript]


Jamin Raskin, Professor of Constitutional Law at American University and a Maryland State Senator. He is the author of several books, including Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court vs. The American People.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin our show today looking at yesterday’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that will allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to elect and defeat candidates.

In a five-to-four decision, the Court overturned century-old restrictions on corporations, unions and other interest groups from using their vast treasuries to advocate for a specific candidate. The conservative members of the Court ruled corporations have First Amendment rights and that the government cannot impose restrictions on their political speech.

Writing the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy described existing campaign finance laws as a form of censorship that have had a, quote, “substantial, nationwide chilling effect” on political speech.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice John Paul Stevens described the decision as a radical departure in the law. Stevens wrote, quote, “The Court’s ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions across the nation.” Stevens went on to write, quote, “It will undoubtedly cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process.”

To talk more about this ruling, we’re joined by Jamin Raskin. He’s a professor of constitutional law at American University and a Maryland state senator. He is the author of several books, including Overruling Democracy: The Supreme Court vs. The American People.

Professor Raskin, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about the significance of the Supreme Court’s ruling.

JAMIN RASKIN: Good morning, Amy.

Well, we’ve had some terrible Supreme Court interventions against political democracy: Shaw v. Reno, striking down majority African American and Hispanic congressional districts; Bush v. Gore, intervening to stop the counting of ballots in Florida. But I would have to say that all of them pale compared to what we just saw yesterday, where the Supreme Court has overturned decades of Supreme Court precedent to declare that private, for-profit corporations have First Amendment rights of political expression, meaning that they can spend up to the heavens in order to have their way in politics. And this will open floodgates of millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars in federal, state and local elections, as Halliburton and Enron and Blackwater and Bank of America and Goldman Sachs can take money directly out of corporate treasuries and put them into our politics.

And I looked at just one corporation, Exxon Mobil, which is the biggest corporation in America. In 2008, they posted profits of $85 billion. And so, if they decided to spend, say, a modest ten percent of their profits in one year, $8.5 billion, that would be three times more than the Obama campaign, the McCain campaign and every candidate for House and Senate in the country spent in 2008. That’s one corporation. So think about the Fortune 500. They’re threatening a fundamental change in the character of American political democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about President Obama’s response? He was extremely critical, to say the least. He said, “With its ruling today, the Supreme Court has given a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics…a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.” Yet a number of especially conservatives are pointing out that there was—that President Obama spent more money for his presidential election than anyone in US history.

JAMIN RASKIN: OK, well, that’s a red herring in this discussion. The question here is the corporation, OK? And there’s an unbroken line of precedent, beginning with Chief Justice Marshall in the Dartmouth College case in the 1800s, all the way through Justice Rehnquist, even, in First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, saying that a corporation is an artificial creation of the state. It’s an instrumentality that the state legislatures charter in order to achieve economic purposes. And as Justice White put it, the state does not have to permit its own creature to consume it, to devour it.

And that’s precisely what the Supreme Court has done, suddenly declaring that a corporation is essentially a citizen, armed with all the political rights that we have, at the same time that the corporation has all kinds of economic perks and privileges like limited liability and perpetual life and bankruptcy protection and so on, that mean that we’re basically subsidizing these entities, and sometimes directly, as we saw with the Wall Street bailout, but then they’re allowed to turn around and spend money to determine our political future, our political destiny. So it’s a very dangerous moment for American political democracy.

And in other times, citizens have gotten together to challenge corporate power. The passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913 is a good example, where corporations were basically buying senators, going into state legislatures and paying off senator—paying off legislators to buy US senators, and the populist movement said we need direct popular election of senators. And that’s how we got it, basically, in a movement against corporate power.

Well, we need a movement for a constitutional amendment to declare that corporations are not persons entitled to the rights of political expression. And that’s what the President should be calling for at this point, because no legislation is really going to do the trick.
Now, one thing Congress can do is to say, if you do business with the federal government, you are not permitted to spend any money in federal election contests. That’s something that Congress should work on and get out next week. I mean, that seems very clear. No pay to play, in terms of US Congress.

And I think that citizens, consumers, shareholders across the country, should start a mass movement to demand that corporations commit not to get involved in politics and not to spend their money in that way, but should be involved in the economy and, you know, economic production and livelihood, rather than trying to determine what happens in our elections.

AMY GOODMAN: This is considered a conservative court, Jamin Raskin, but isn’t this a very activist stance of the Supreme Court justices?

JAMIN RASKIN: Indeed. The Supreme Court has reached out to strike down a law that has been on the books for several decades. And moreover, it reached out when the parties to the case didn’t even ask them to decide it. The Citizens United group, the anti-Hillary Clinton group, did not even ask them to wipe out decades of Supreme Court case law on the rights of corporations in the First Amendment. The Court, in fact, raised the question, made the parties go back and brief this case, and then came up with the answer to the question that the Court itself, or the five right-wing justices themselves, posed here.
There would have been lots of other ways for those conservative justices to find that Citizens United’s anti-Hillary Clinton movie was protected speech, the simplest being saying, “Look, this was pay-per-view; it wasn’t a TV commercial. So it’s not covered by McCain-Feingold.” But the Court, or the five justices on the Court, were hell-bent on overthrowing McCain-Feingold and the electioneering communication rules and reversing decades of precedent.

And so, now the people are confronted with a very serious question: Will we have the political power and vision to mobilize, to demand a constitutional amendment to say that it is “we, the people,” not “we, the corporations”?

AMY GOODMAN: Jamin Raskin, we want to thank you very much for being with us, professor of constitutional law at American University’s School of Law and a Maryland state senator.

Supreme Court Decision Creates Political Crisis

The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision today that will enhance the ability of the deepest-pocketed special interests to influence elections and the U.S. Congress, said a pair of leading national campaign finance reform organizations, Common Cause and Public Campaign. The decision in Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, which overturned the ban on independent expenditures by corporations, paves the way for unlimited corporate and union spending in elections.

"The Roberts Court today made a bad situation worse," said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. "This decision allows Wall Street to tap its vast corporate profits to drown out the voice of the public in our democracy. "The path from here is clear: Congress must free itself from Wall Street's grip so Main Street can finally get a fair shake," Edgar continued. "We need to change the way America pays for elections. Passing the Fair Elections Now Act would give us the best Congress money can't buy."

"This decision means more business as usual in Washington, stomping on voters’ hope for change,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign. “Congress must take on the insider Washington money culture if it wants to make the changes voters are demanding. The way to do that is by passing the Fair Elections Now Act.”

The Fair Elections Now Act (S.752 and H.R. 1826) was introduced by Senate Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.). In the House, the bipartisan bill has attracted 124 additional cosponsors. Both bills blend small donor fundraising with public funding to reduce the pressure of fundraising from big contributors.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing an open, honest, and accountable government that works for the public interest, and empowering ordinary people to make their voices heard.

See Also:

Read the Entire Decision Here:

Monday, January 18, 2010

President Obama is No Martin Luther King

Democracy Now! had a marvelous program about Dr. Martin Luther King for this holiday in his honor. If people were ever confused enough to think that Barak Obama was another Martin Luther King, listening to the speeches and other information in the DN! program will surely disabuse them of such a faulty notion. As I listened once again to Dr. King's speeches, It was impossible to not compare them to the words and actions of Barak Obama, and the reactions that both men have evoked from so many people in their time. While Barak Obama stands as a symbol of Dr. King's civil rights accomplishments, it was the actual sacrifice, and not mere words, of people like Dr. King, that allowed him to become that symbol. While Barack Obama called for hope and change, we have seen by his actions that he actually stands for expediency and cynicism. Dr. King, on the other hand, while preaching hope and change, showed through his actions that he stood for conscience, courage, and compassion.

While Dr. King was excoriated by the right for his views on Vietnam, Amy Goodman reminds us that he was also chastised by the so-called "Liberal" mainstream media at the time as well. When King noted that America was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” [it still is], he was blasted by both "Time" and the "Washington Post." Obama on the other hand is generally applauded by the same outlets for conducting three and one half wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, while he plays a disingenuous game with the victimized Palestinians.

Speech Excerpts:

From “Beyond Vietnam”

[On dishonesty as a pillar of American Foreign Policy-]

Hanoi remembers how our leaders refused to tell us the truth about the earlier North Vietnamese overtures for peace, how the President claimed that none existed when they had clearly been made. Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the North. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy. Perhaps only his sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than 8,000 miles away from its shores.

. . . .

[On the destruction of the minds of American Soldiers-]

I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else, for it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after the short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long, they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

[On stopping the madness-]

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America, who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

. . . .

[On the need for protest-]

Meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task, while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible. 

These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest. 

Now, there is something seductively tempting about stopping there and sending us all off on what in some circles has become a popular crusade against the war in Vietnam. I say we must enter that struggle, but I wish to go on now to say something even more disturbing. The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality—and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing clergy- and laymen-concerned committees for the next generation. [Talks about future aggressions] We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy. So such thoughts take us beyond Vietnam, but not beyond our calling as sons of the living God. 

[On the need for a Revolution in Values]

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered. 

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

There is much more to be heard from Dr. King on this program. You can obtain a transcript at:


Monday, January 11, 2010

Law, Order, and Perhaps a Little Justice?

In his Edition:

- Ron Calder Update

- Brian Cole Update

- Jeremy Thamert Cat Shooting Incident

[Updated and edited on 1/12/09]


Ron Calder Update:

Ron on the Right Of Way in Front of His House. There used to be a 100 year old house where the new homes are in the background.

On the positive side, the word is that the charges against Ron Calder, which were affirmed by the City Council, may soon be dismissed by the Baker County Circuit Court. My information indicates that the sometime City Attorney, Dan Van Thiel, has asked Ron's "Pro Bono" attorney, Robert Whitnah, to "prepare an Order of Dismissal" in the case.

The downside is that the City Attorney and the Baker City Police Department have decided to go after Mr. Calder again using their new tightened up and oppressive Property Maintenance Ordinance #3292 (

For Background, please see:

SUNDAY, MAY 17, 2009
Property Maintenance Jihad Targets Disabled Life-long Baker City Resident


FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 2009
Democracy In Baker City, Plus Calder Update (YouTube)

Defense attorney Bob Whitnah has a practice here in Baker City. You can find him at:

1920 1st Street
Baker City, OR 97814-3309
(541) 523-1633

Defense attorney Whitnah took on this case for free because of his principles and because he is willing to defend those among us of poor circumstance, or otherwise, who find themselves entangled in a legal system they do not understand.

Brian Cole Update:

Brian Cole's pretrial hearing was scheduled for January 8th, 2010 at 8:30 AM. I, and a few others, appeared at that time, only to find that the hearing had been postponed the previous afternoon and that no new date had been set. I was also informed that the hearing would be private, in the Judge's chambers in any event, so there was little a person could learn from showing up on the pretrial date. As of today, 1/11/10, no new hearing date had been set.

So what do we know?


Halloween Happenings: Brian Cole Cited for Furnishing Alcohol to a Minor

Brian Cole Update, 11/04/09
1:53 PM
Brian Cole "will not be announcing at this point in time."

Also of interest:
Baker City Church of the Nazarene
Sunday School
Sunday School is offered at 9:30 a.m. every Sunday, from age 3 through 103.
If you see a need for a new Sunday School class, contact Pastor Jon.

Teens' Classes
Youth Sunday School Director: Matt Wilson

9th & 10th grades Brian and Suzi Cole
[The class is now taught by Aaron and Lisa Chong.]

Cole Update: Revisiting a Rumor
(Edited 11/6/09)
When is a Rumor Much More than Just a Rumor?

OK. Brian Cole, a 47 year old male, has been charged with furnishing alcohol to a minor (a person under 21 years of age), a 17 year old woman, in an out of the way place out on Pocahontas. Do I know the family of the victim? Yes I do. Do many, many, people here in Baker County and elsewhere know Brian Cole? Yes, they do. How could anyone here in Baker County, who is paying attention, not know who Brian Cole is?

So what is happening legally?

After I attempted to attend the pretrial hearing, I collected some information about the case from the Oregon Circuit Court.

What little information is available indicates the following:

The count of furnishing was filed on November 10, 2009.

On about 11/25/09, Judge Baxter recused himself, and Judge Gary L. Reynolds from Hermiston took the case. No reason was given for Judge Baxter's recusal.

On December 17, 2009, a motion was made by Sean Riddell, from the Attorney General’s office, to continue the Grand Jury term, because he felt, apparently from investigations of the homes of the parties, that there were "potentially additional charges."

The Grand Jury term was extended for six months by Garry L. Reynolds on or about December 24, 2009.

When I arrived at the Circuit Court on January 8, 2010, I was informed that the hearing had been postponed because a day or two prior, a good deal of "discovery" information had been produced which would require some time for all parties to digest. This discovery information, I believe, had to do with computer files and correspondence that was gleaned from earlier searches of both Brian Cole's, and the victim's computers and phone files.

I was surprised to learn yesterday that Grand Juries are secret bodies. When I went to the District Attorney's office and asked Rebeca Piedra for the names of the people on the Grand Jury, she informed me that the names are not public information. The reason I wanted to know is that, due to Mr. Cole's extensive contacts in Baker City, it seems entirely possible that his friends may end up on the Grand Jury, which could affect the outcome of any investigation. The other side of the story is that some defense attorneys find the Grand Jury rigged in favor of the prosecution and the people they are defending, because Grand Juries have a heavy dependence on evidence provided and influenced by the district attorney or state prosecutor. Given though that the proceedings are secret, unavailable to inquiring minds or anything approaching scientific scrutiny, who knows how the mix of prosecutorial superiority and potential good-old-boy relationships actually plays out.

While the names may not be public at this time, there appears to be precedent for releasing them at a later date. There are also several proposed reforms for Grand Juries, including some that would reduce Grand Jury secrecy.

Additional information will be posted as it becomes available.

Jeremy Thamert Cat Shooting Incident

Jeremy Thamert, owner of Oregon Power Solutions in Baker City, and who is listed as President of Historic Baker City, was charged in the later part of 2009 with Animal Abuse in the Second Degree for shooting a neighbor's cat with a Beeman pellet rifle. On December 7, 2009, his case was dismissed by Circuit Judge Gregory L. Baxter because he and the owner of the injured cat, Tena McKim, who is also the secretary for Historic Baker City, had signed an "Acknowledgement of Satisfaction," indicating that Mr. Thamert had satisfied any claim of "injury and damage" from the "alleged act." Thamert also turned over the bail money of $2,500 to his attorney.