Tuesday, June 22, 2010

City Budget, Bogart Resigning?, House Cleaning at City Hall, & More

[edited 6/27/10]

- Quotes- Barney Frank on NPR's "All things Considered"

- Can Anyone Understand the Budget?

- Is City Manager Steve Bogart Resigning?

- Don Williams Appointment as Justice of the Peace Pro-Tem on Hold

- Cleaning House, er, City Hall

- Essays on "Tragedy of the Commons" from Jay Hanson

- Supreme Court Ruling on "Aiding Terrorists"

- Latest Possible Threat to Social Security Safety Net


Quotes-Barney Frank on NPR's "All things Considered

SIEGEL: But do people behave differently because it's being broadcast on...?

Rep. FRANK: No, that's a very good question, Robert. The fact that we did this so publicly, we got an even stronger bill out of the conference committee than I had thought. And I know that the public pressure was one of the reasons. And the public pressure was there because people knew they were being watched on C-SPAN. And the fact that what you see will be preserved forever is a powerful force for the public good in this case.

Can Anyone Understand the Budget?
(Warning, this article may make your eyes blur over and bring on dizzy spells!)

The City Council and volunteer Budget Committee just completed many grueling weeks wrestling with the City Budget, and what they came up with has shaken some at City Hall.

The Budget Committee consisted of the Council and seven members from the community--Randy Daugherty--Chairman, owner of Baker Garage and Chevy dealership, previously with 4 years on Council, Alan Blair--long-time member of the committee, Debra Bainter--Chamber of Commerce, Nelson Clarke--insurance agent, Roger Coles--Manager of Coles Funeral Home, Peter Ellingson--Of Ellingson Lumber, Former Mayor with 12 years on Council. and Reid Langrill--CFO of Oregon Power Solutions and previously CFO for Micron Technology. My understanding is that several members of the committee, including Ellingson and Daugherty, were in favor of moving towards regaining a comfortable reserve position that the City had struggled for and attained prior to the time when former City Manager Steve Brocato was hired (See: CITY: Trio spent 35 years on Baker City Council), hence the wish to get an Ending Fund Balance in the range of $1 million.

Committee meetings were also attended by City Staff, including City Manager Steve Bogart, Finance Director Jeanie Dexter, and (now or soon former) Community Development Director and Assistant City Manager Jennifer Watkins. (TidBit: It is my understanding, that when City Manager was an interim CM back in 2004-2005, he had established a separate fund for things like termination payments, separation agreements, and etc., but Steve Brocato eliminated it during his tenure by rolling it over into the general fund.)

The thing people notice about budgets immediately is that they are complex, seemingly arcane, and almost incomprehensible to the layperson upon the first, second, or even third reading. That's a major reason why most citizens don't attend budget meetings. They'd like to know what is going on financially, they probably even have strong opinions on how the money (some of it their money) should be spent, but they have households to keep up and/or families to feed, and they feel they can't just give it all up to take the time for getting a degree in accounting or business administration so as to figure it all out and go to budget meetings. (I'm wondering how much different this situation is from that of the high priests in earlier societies, who held power because they had information that would allegedly not be comprehended by the common folk?) To my knowledge, the only non-committee citizens attending regularly were Jason Bland and now Councilor Gail Duman. Sometimes it seems like even some councilors and administrators, and surely myself and some reporters, can misinterpret the figures that are tossed about. One wonders, given the importance of budgets to citizens (who benefits?--who pays?"), why they are written in such a manner that only accountants and savants can initially understand them.

I myself was a late-comer to the process, but my ears were open and I did attend the June 14 Special Council meeting with the Budget Committee (called after the committee had essentially finished its work), the June 21 County Economic Development Council Meeting on funding for the City's Economic Development function, and the June 23 Council meeting to approve the Budget (Click here for a copy of the 2010-2011 Baker City Budget Resolution No. 4637 that I posted on Scribd). I was also given the audios of four previous Budget meetings by City Manager Bogart upon request, although my recent questions to him about the budget have gone unanswered. Given the seeming complexity of the budget, my late start, and problems associated with getting answers, it seemed prudent to take some time before offering up opinions in a blog. Councilors Bonebrake, Button, and Calder, have taken time to respond to some of my questions, with Councilor Bonebrake being particularly helpful in understanding the ramifications of the illusory $136,000 for Economic Development support that was included in the City Manager's proposed budget and the budget approved by the Budget Committee before they knew of the possible deletion of $136,000 in support from the County controlled transient occupancy tax dollars. The fact that both the Budget Committee's and proposed City Manager's budgets discussed at the June 23 Council Meeting had not accounted for the deletion of $136,000 from the revenue side of the equation allowed for the obscuring of the real figures for the Ending Fund Balance and the differences between them.

Some of my confusion was contributed to by the problems faced by the stereotypical wild-eyed blogger--that would be me, or anyone who seriously questions policy--is the access problem. People in that position most often have to rely on their own videos, hearsay, or publicly available information that is often slow in coming. I've posted some videos with commentary on the meetings involved in the process on my YouTube channel. I will be posting more.

This last Budget Process for the next fiscal year 2010-1011 (Yes--budgeteers aren't allowed use a normal year--budgeting tradition has invented their own year--July 1 to June 30), was no exception when it comes to understanding what is going on. In this blog, and perhaps more in the future I hope to shed some light on the puzzle, but it would be good to start with the information that has been reported thus far in the Herald (Council cuts two positions, June 25, 2010)

This was a pretty good article, but they too fell into the 136K confusion concerning the difference in the Ending Fund Balance (EFB) between the final Council budget and the City Manager's budget.

The Herald article states:

Pope pointed out that the original proposed submitted by Bogart had a reserve of about $671,000 — about $60,000 less than the budget the Council adopted — yet the original budget didn’t eliminate Stackle’s or Watkins’ jobs or eliminate the community and economic development department.

He also noted that the budget the Council adopted Wednesday does not include money to replace Police Lt. Brian Harvey, who left the city to take the job as La Grande’s Police Chief.

"For that $60,000 you lose three people,” Bass said. “Hey people, if we are that hard up we ought to take out a loan.”

I certainly did not understand what had occurred after leaving the meeting, and was confused by statements that came out of Q & A between Councilor Pope and the City Manager. See: YouTube-CM Bobart & Milo Pope's Initial Comments.m4v). I was subsequently disappointed with the Council's low Ending Fund Balance, having relied on Councilor Pope's and the City Manager's numbers. The small difference between the City Manager' recommended Budget ($686,849) and the one finally approved by Council ($722,832), did seem insignificant. After all, the Budget Committee, trying to reverse the continuous decline of City reserves in recent years, was shooting for $1 million and had approved a budget with an EFB of $904,849. It had been over $2 million not too many tears back, which would certainly come in handy today as we face maintenance issues with streets and other infrastructure, as well as looming costs for Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) along with sewage and water treatment.

The problem with their statements however was that neither the CM's nor Councilor pope's figures accounted for the by then missing $136,000 from the revenue budget line for economic and community development.

Statements by Councilors Pope and Bass that the difference was $60,000 went unquestioned. If you subtract the missing $136,000 for the CM's published proposed EFB of $686,849, you arrive at $550,849, so the actual difference in the EFBs between CM Bogart's proposal and that approved by the Council was actually $171,983 ($722,832 - $550,849), not $60,000 or so. My understanding from Councilor Bonebrake is that the CM's proposal is now $671,000, which leaves an EFB of $535, 000, which would put the actual difference between the two budgets at $187,852 (not $60,000 as stated by Bogart, Pope, and Bass)

All I can say is that the Councilors seem to be trying to bring the budget back in line with economic realities, like "The Great Recession," and to rebuild the cash balance (depleted by the previous City Manager) to a place where it will be able to help mitigate problems associated with street maintenance, sewer treatment and maintenance, and a host of other issues. Look for large increases in your water and sewer bills if we don't.

Enough for now.

More background from the June 14 special Council Meeting on budget (YouTube):

Budget Committee Chair Randy Daugherty discusses City Manager's budget revisions.

- "What are you asking for Steve? . . . Are the changes workable?"
- Thought the committee would like to redo the 2008-2009 budget
- "If we had leased the police station instead of bought it, we wouldn't be here tonight."
- "We can't as a city continue to spend more than our resources are . . . ."

Budget Committee Chair Randy Daugherty discusses difficult Issues:

- Divisions and lack of trust in Baker City
- Economic uncertainties that face the city and the nation.

More background from the Baker City Herald archives:

Councilor: Cut city spending
by MIKE FERGUSON, Baker City Herald November 21, 2008
Dennis Dorrah proposes trimming 5 percent from city’s budget for next fiscal year

City looks to pare its $2 million cash balance

City budget board breezes through process

Is City Manager Steve Bogart Resigning?

I have it from reliable people who should know, that City Manager Steve Bogart is resigning in September.

Steve Bogart, former County Commissioner and City manager prior to his current term, was hired in late January to take the place of Tim Collins, who resigned, and whose time in that office ended on January 31, 2010. It had been thought that Mr. Bogart had committed for a year's service, during which time the Council would re-initiate a new search for a City Manager. His early resignation has created a need to begin that search immediately, as there are but a few months remaining in his tenure.

I do not know why he resigned early, but there have been recent rumors that he had threatened to resign over the current direction of the City budget. He had stated in one of the Budget Committee Meetings that the path the committee was taking might result in a "train wreck," or something like that, if I recall correctly--this despite the Council and business budgetary experience that is quite evident on the Budget Committee.

I would have asked him why he resigned, but he has not answered many of my most recent e-mails on the budget, and I don't like to bother people on their days off. Some had thought that he was working for the Council and that he had indicated that he could work with the budget provided by them, but until his brother gives his opinions in the Courier, or until the Herald can get some answers from him, I simply do not know (Steve please call me and let me know, I am interested in your views, as always.). Generally, Steve has been very forthcoming with me on his views when I can get a rsponse, but he has been extremely busy lately. The job of City Manager is so fraught with political uncertainty that it takes a very dedicated or motivated person to even consider it.

Don Williams Appointment as Justice of the Peace Pro-Tem on Hold

The appointment of Don Williams was put on hold at the June 23, 2010 County Commissioner's meeting.

Apparently, the Commissioners have decided to (very appropriately) place an advertisement in the local papers for qualified applicants before filling the position.

Thanks to Gary Dielman and others for writing to the Commissioners about this appointment.

Baker County Commissioners Warner, Kerns, and Stiff:

I understand that you're planning to appoint Don Williams as Justice of the Peace Pro Tem at your June 23 meeting.

Given Don Williams' outspoken objections to the ouster of Steve Brocato as city manager of Baker City and his backing of the recall of Baker City Mayor Dorrah and Council Calder, I don't think Baker City voters, who rejected the recall by over 2 to 1, will be sympathetic to your appointing him to a position of authority and power in Baker County government.

And personally, given Williams' vicious and ill-informed public attack on City Councilor Beverly Calder concerning the building she owns on Valley St. which [she] is attempting to rescue after decades of neglect by previous owners, I do not want such an intemperate person as Williams appointed JP Pro Tem to impartially dispense justice in Baker County.

Surely you can find a more qualified and moderate person in Baker County to be JP Pro Tem than Williams.

Gary Dielman


Cleaning House, er, City Hall

The following photos are of archived documents tht were recently removed from City Hall. The photos were taken at Baker Sanitary's recycling station on Campbell by an interested citizen.

City Documents in Baker Sanitary Dumpster

The word from the City is that they are old records, bills, confidential, and etc., some from as far back as the 1920's. Some had been stored in the basement and brought up to the attic for going through by the recorder.

They say they are keeping records according to the legal time schedule, 2, 5, 7 years etc. and tossing what they don't need to keep any longer. A Title V worker named Bill, whose funding runs out at the end of the month, under the supervision of Jennifer Watkins and Becky Fitzpatrick, has been sorting them out. I asked whether they are keeping records they might need for the City to defend itself in the Brocato lawsuit, and I was assured me they were.

It's reassuring to know that resigning City Manager Bogart and soon to be ex-employee Watkins (an avid Brocato supporter, to say the least) have gotten rid of City documents.

Essays on "The Tragedy of the Commons"
Jay Hanson  America2Point0

A "commons" is any resource used as though it belongs to all. In other words, when anyone can use a shared resource simply because one wants or needs to use it, then one is using a commons. For example, all land is part of our commons because it is a component of our life support and social systems.

A commons is destroyed by uncontrolled use—neither intent of the user, nor ownership are important. An example of uncontrolled use is when one can use land (part of our commons) any way one wants.
Tragedy of the Commons Re-stated
by Jay Hanson -- 06/14/97

"To the free man, the country is a collection of individuals who compose it ... He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive."

"We may well call it 'the tragedy of the commons,' using the word 'tragedy' as the philosopher Whitehead used it: 'The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things.'"

As the 21st century races towards us like a huge wave on the horizon, we fear that we are not going to be able to ride this one out, that global currents will pull us to the bottom and tear us apart. We look to our political leadership and see that it has been corrupted by freedom—everything is for sale—and all political decisions are reduced to economic ones. In other words, we have no political system—no means to save ourselves—only an economic system (one-dollar-one-vote).

In 1944, 29 reindeer were moved to St. Matthew Island. The reindeer thrived by "exploiting" (making the best use of) their rich "commons".

The island had no natural predators to keep the reindeer population in check, so the population swelled to 6,000 animals during the next 19 years. Suddenly the commons was depleted and the population crashed until only 42 animals remained alive! The reindeer could have avoided the crash by keeping the population within the carrying capacity of the island, but reindeer politics couldn't manage it, so naturally the population crashed.

In his 1968 classic, "Tragedy of the Commons", Garrett Hardin illustrates why the reindeer crashed and why communities everywhere are headed for tragedy—it's because freedom in the commons brings ruin to all:

Visualize a pasture as a system that is open to everyone. The carrying capacity of this pasture is 10 animals. Ten herdsmen are each grazing an animal to fatten up for market. In other words, the 10 animals are now consuming all the grass that the pasture can produce.

Harry (one of the herdsmen) will add one more animal to the pasture if he can make a profit. He subtracts the original cost of the new animal from the expected sales price of the fattened animal and then considers the cost of the food. Adding one more animal will mean less food for each of the present animals, but since Harry only has only 1/10 of the herd, he has to pay only 1/10 of the cost. Harry decides to exploit the commons and the other herdsmen, so he adds an animal and takes a profit.

Shrinking profit margins force the other herdsmen either to go out of business or continue the exploitation by adding more animals. This process of mutual exploitation continues until overgrazing and erosion destroy the pasture system, and all the herdsmen are driven out of business.

Most importantly, Hardin illustrates the critical flaw of freedom in the commons: all participants must agree to conserve the commons, but any one can force the destruction of the commons. Although Hardin describes exploitation by humans in an unregulated public pasture, his commons and "grass" principle fit our entire society.

Private property is inextricably part of our commons because it is part of our life support and social systems. Owners alter the emergent properties of our life support and social systems when they alter their land to "make a profit"—cover land with corn or concrete.

Neighborhoods, cities and states are commons in the sense that no one is denied entry. Anyone may enter and lay claim to the common resources. One can compare profits to Hardin's "grass" when any number of corporations—from anywhere in the world—drive down profits by competing with local businesses for customers.

One can see wages as Hardin's "grass" when any number of workers—from anywhere in the world—can enter our community and drive down wages by competing with local workers for jobs. People themselves even become commons when they are exploited (are made the best use of) by other people and corporations. Everywhere one looks, one sees the Tragedy of the Commons. There is no technological solution to the problem of the commons, but governments can act to limit access to the commons, at which time they are no longer commons.

In the private-money based political system we have in America, everything (including people) becomes the commons because money is political power, and all political decisions are reduced to economic ones. In other words, we have no political system, only an economic system—everything is for sale. Thus, America is one big commons that will be exploited until it is destroyed. Like the reindeer population on St. Matthew Island, our population will crash too.

Will the coming global currents will pull us to the bottom and tear us apart? Our only chance to avoid it is to invent a political system that money can't buy—and then limit freedom in the commons. If we can't, we're dead.

By Jay Hanson (8/1/97)

"The aim of every political constitution is, or ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society; and in the next place, to take the most effectual precautions for keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold their public trust." 
—James Madison, FEDERALIST #57 (1787)
"I see the White House is like a subway—you have to put in coins to open the gates." 
—Johnny Chung (1997)

Systems that select for failure are often called Greshamite systems after the English financier Sir Thomas Gresham (1519?-1579). His name was given to Gresham’s Law, the economic principle that "bad money drives out good. " When depreciated, mutilated, or debased (bad) money circulates concurrently with money of high value (e.g., silver or gold), the good money disappears because of hoarding. As more and more people notice that good money is being hoarded, more and more good money is hoarded—runaway positive feedback. Ultimately, the monetary system fails.

American Democracy can also be seen as a Greshamite system. To understand why, first consider the theoretical premise of our political system: a government that is willing to act for the Common Good. Next, consider two very different candidates for public office. Ms. Honesty believes in the principle embodied in our Pledge of Allegiance "... liberty and justice for all." If Honesty is elected, she will treat everyone fairly and pursue the Common Good.

Mr. Corruption is a good capitalist who is motivated to pursue his own private gain. He has studied the system carefully and knows that he can gain political power by rewarding his friends and punishing his enemies.

Which of these candidates has the advantage? Obviously, Corruption has the advantage! Here's why:

Mr. Jones is a local developer who has money, employees and influence. Philosophically, he is an average, self-interested individual who was trained by television (and to some extent by his family and formal education) to consume as much as he can. In fact, Jones can’t even remember ever hearing about public goods.

Will Mr. Jones contribute to Ms. Honesty? No, why should he? If she wins, Jones will receive justice and fairness from her anyway (a public good). If she loses, Jones will be punished by Mr. Corruption for helping her.

Will Mr. Jones contribute to Mr. Corruption? Yes, because Jones has been promised a change of zoning (a private good) so he can build his new gated community. Jones writes a check for $2,000 to Mr. Corruption and has a few dozen employees volunteer to help out on Corruption’s campaign.

American Democracy tends to elect politicians who are motivated to maximize their own private gain (there are some rare exceptions). Runaway positive feedback occurs as politicians need more and more money to run for public office. As this process continues, more and more politicians are corrupt.

Bad drives out good and Corruption drives out Honesty. To what end? In the end, we do not even have a political system (one-person-one-vote), only an economic system (one-dollar-one-vote).

"Public goods" are goods and services that can be shared by a whole group of people. Some examples of public goods are national defense, police protection, government, and environmental services. As a rule, government must provide public goods for two reasons:

1. Private investors won't supply public goods because they can't make a profit on them.

2. Voluntary efforts won't supply public goods because the voluntary contribution of any one person exceeds the services received by that person. For example, suppose the cost of national defense to each taxpayer is worth the services each taxpayer receives. But if the entire cost were spread out evenly among only those who will voluntarily pay, then the individual cost will exceed the individual services. Thus, only government can supply a national defense through its taxing powers.
This same principle applies to voluntary efforts at cleaning roads, parks, and so on. Voluntary efforts will ultimately fail because those who don't contribute (called "free riders") can use the services anyway. So there is little incentive for volunteers to contribute over the long term. Ultimately, volunteers will "burn out".

[ Civic-minded citizens can even be seen as a form of corporate welfare! Instead of corporations paying for their social and environmental destruction, civic-minded volunteers donate their own time and money to keep their communities together while CEOs give themselves million-dollar bonuses! ]

"Private goods" are restricted goods. A couple of examples of private goods are gated communities and toll roads (only those who pay can enjoy the services).

America's political system is based on private money: whoever can raise the most money usually wins. Our private-money political system naturally exhibits a strong bias towards private goods—and private profits. This bias towards private goods leads to less public infrastructure and more private infrastructure (e.g., private police, gated communities, etc.). Unfortunately, this leads to a two class society: one with private infrastructure and one with no infrastructure; and ultimately, these will lead to the disintegration of the state.


by Beryl Crowe (1969)
by Garrett Hardin and John Baden
W.H. Freeman, 1977; ISBN 0-7167-0476-5

"There has developed in the contemporary natural sciences a recognition that there is a subset of problems, such as population, atomic war, and environmental corruption, for which there are no technical solutions.

"There is also an increasing recognition among contemporary social scientists that there is a subset of problems, such as population, atomic war, environmental corruption, and the recovery of a livable urban environment, for which there are no current political solutions. The thesis of this article is that the common area shared by these two subsets contains most of the critical problems that threaten the very existence of contemporary man." [p. 53]


"In passing the technically insoluble problems over to the political and social realm for solution, Hardin made three critical assumptions:

(1) that there exists, or can be developed, a 'criterion of judgment and system of weighting . . .' that will 'render the incommensurables . . . commensurable . . . ' in real life;

(2) that, possessing this criterion of judgment, 'coercion can be mutually agreed upon,' and that the application of coercion to effect a solution to problems will be effective in modern society; and

(3) that the administrative system, supported by the criterion of judgment and access to coercion, can and will protect the commons from further desecration." [p. 55]


"In America there existed, until very recently, a set of conditions which perhaps made the solution to Hardin's subset possible; we lived with the myth that we were 'one people, indivisible. . . .' This myth postulated that we were the great 'melting pot' of the world wherein the diverse cultural ores of Europe were poured into the crucible of the frontier experience to produce a new alloy -- an American civilization. This new civilization was presumably united by a common value system that was democratic, equalitarian, and existing under universally enforceable rules contained in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

"In the United States today, however, there is emerging a new set of behavior patterns which suggest that the myth is either dead or dying. Instead of believing and behaving in accordance with the myth, large sectors of the population are developing life-styles and value hierarchies that give contemporary Americans an appearance more closely analogous to the particularistic, primitive forms of 'tribal' organizations in geographic proximity than to that shining new alloy, the American civilization." [p. 56]

"Looking at a more recent analysis of the sickness of the core city, Wallace F. Smith has argued that the productive model of the city is no longer viable for the purposes of economic analysis. Instead, he develops a model of the city as a site for leisure consumption, and then seems to suggest that the nature of this model is such is such that the city cannot regain its health because the leisure demands are value-based and, hence do not admit to compromise and accommodation; consequently there is no way of deciding among these value- oriented demands that are being made on the core city.

"In looking for the cause of the erosion of the myth of a common value system, it seems to me that so long as our perceptions and knowledge of other groups were formed largely through the written media of communication, the American myth that we were a giant melting pot of equalitarians could be sustained. In such a perceptual field it is tenable, if not obvious, that men are motivated by interests. Interests can always be compromised and accommodated without undermining our very being by sacrificing values. Under the impact of electronic media, however, this psychological distance has broken down and now we discover that these people with whom we could formerly compromise on interests are not, after all, really motivated by interests but by values. Their behavior in our very living room betrays a set of values, moreover, that are incompatible with our own, and consequently the compromises that we make are not those of contract but of culture. While the former are acceptable, any form of compromise on the latter is not a form of rational behavior but is rather a clear case of either apostasy or heresy. Thus we have arrived not at an age of accommodation but one of confrontation. In such an age 'incommensurables' remain 'incommensurable' in real life." [p. 59]


"In the past, those who no longer subscribed to the values of the dominant culture were held in check by the myth that the state possessed a monopoly on coercive force. This myth has undergone continual erosion since the end of World War II owing to the success of the strategy of guerrilla warfare, as first revealed to the French in Indochina, and later conclusively demonstrated in Algeria. Suffering as we do from what Senator Fulbright has called 'the arrogance of power,' we have been extremely slow to learn the lesson in Vietnam, although we now realize that war is political and cannot be won by military means. It is apparent that the myth of the monopoly of coercive force as it was first qualified in the civil rights conflict in the South, then in our urban ghettos, next on the streets of Chicago, and now on our college campuses has lost its hold over the minds of Americans. The technology of guerrilla warfare has made it evident that, while the state can win battles, it cannot win wars of values. Coercive force which is centered in the modern state cannot be sustained in the face of the active resistance of some 10 percent of the population unless the state is willing to embark on a deliberate policy of genocide directed against the value dissident groups. The factor that sustained the myth of coercive force in the past was the acceptance of a common value system. Whether the latter exists is questionable in the modern nation-state." [p.p. 59-60]


"Indeed, the process has been so widely commented upon that one writer postulated a common life cycle for all of the attempts to develop regulatory policies. The life cycle is launched by an outcry so widespread and demanding that it generates enough political force to bring about establishment of a regulatory agency to insure the equitable, just, and rational distribution of the advantages among all holders of interest in the commons. This phase is followed by the symbolic reassurance of the offended as the agency goes into operation, developing a period of political quiescence among the great majority of those who hold a general but unorganized interest in the commons. Once this political quiescence has developed, the highly organized and specifically interested groups who wish to make incursions into the commons bring sufficient pressure to bear through other political processes to convert the agency to the protection and furthering of their interests. In the last phase even staffing of the regulating agency is accomplished by drawing the agency administrators from the ranks of the regulated." [p.p. 60-61].

Garrett Hardin on Carrying Capacity

Animal lovers and professional biologists should be able to agree on the ultimate goal of game management: to minimize the aggregate suffering of animals. They differ in their time horizons and in the focus of their immediate attention. Biologists insist that time has no stop and that we should seek to maximize the wellbeing of the herd over an indefinite period of time. To do that we must "read the landscape," looking for signs of overexploitation of the environment by a population that has grown beyond the carrying capacity.

By contrast, the typical animal lover ignores the landscape while focusing on individual animals. To assert preemptive animal rights amounts to asserting the sanctity of animal life, meaning each and every individual life. Were an ecologist to use a similar rhetoric he would speak of the "sanctity of carrying capacity." By this he would mean that we must consider the needs not only of the animals in front of us today but also of unborn descendants reaching into the indefinite future.

Time has no stop, the world is finite, biological reproduction is necessarily exponential: for these combined reasons the sanctity strategy as pursued by animal lovers in the long run saves fewer lives, and these at a more miserable level of existence, than does the capacity strategy pursued by ecologically knowledgeable biologists.
—Garrett Hardin

Supreme Court Ruling on "Aiding Terrorists"

Intimidating Supporters of Palestine
US Fear Factory Kills Free Speech

By Yvonne Ridley

June 22, 2010 "Information Clearing House" -- AMERICA is still embarrassed by the infamous McCarthy Hearings which ruined the lives of thousands of innocents during the Fifties.

Anyone then, suspected of being linked to communism was arrested, interrogated and either imprisoned or forced to give names of others suspected of communist tendencies. And so the fear and intimidation spread like a great plague across the USA.

Names were blacklisted, careers and lives ruined as the authorities ruthlessly traded on peoples’ fears, paranoia and weaknesses.

With little or no evidence people were found guilty and anyone daring to question any of the actions and the wild accusations also had suspicion cast upon them. But hey folks, that was back in the Fifties and various administrations resolved the same insane hysteria, hatred and fears would never again cast a dark shadow across the Land of the Free.

Sadly, the Salem-style witch hunts have returned, but the new villains are no longer communists. The Red Scare has been replaced by those who shout Viva Palestina!

From the very highest law-makers right down to ordinary John Doe there is an irrational fear so great that it holds many of them hostage in their homes, workplaces and schools.

Their vision has become so skewed they are unable to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

And so when they’re told that heavily armed Israeli soldiers shoot peace activists at near point blank range because they are defending themselves, few dare to question.

When they see babies dying on the Gaza Strip because of lack of medical equipment because of the Israeli-enforced blockade, they remain silent.

And even fewer dare to criticize Israel.

Millions upon millions of Americans wake up frightened, go to sleep frightened while others feed on the hatred and bile spewed out by politicians, preachers, academics and the media who tell them Israel is good and Palestine is bad.

There are some politicians who want to see the heroic Americans who took part in the Viva Palestina convoys and the recent Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla prosecuted as terrorists.

Today I trolled through some of the pages in the American media and there, among the column inches, are stories that perfectly illustrate the Zionist Fear Factory in operation.

The Los Angeles Times reveals that UC Irvine has told its university students that the Muslim Student Union will be suspended for one year because it dared to criticize Israel and protested during a speech given by the Israeli Ambassador. So there you have it – freedom of speech is now banned.

The unprecedented action also sends out a chilling message to students across the USA who might consider demonstrating, rallying or protesting against the Zionist state and its supporters. Free speech, it seems, is a thing of the past in Barack Obama’s America. 

And should you be in any doubt, read a story about the latest decision to emerge from the US Supreme Court.

In a majority 6-3 ruling it becomes virtually impossible for anyone to put food into the mouths of malnourished babies in Gaza or to give money to a charity to do the humanitarian act for you.

Insane as it sounds, it is now a crime in America to work for peace and human rights in Gaza because the day-to-day running of The Strip is carried out by the democratically-elected Hamas government. Therefore it would be virtually impossibly to bypass Hamas to operate in Gaza.

In an astonishing McCarthy-like ruling any American who even offers advice to banned organizations like Hamas, including legal assistance and information on conflict resolution, will be prosecuted as terrorists. Be afraid, be very afraid … this is happening in the USA, here and now.

Barack Obama’s barmy administration reckons that even giving advice intended for peaceful purposes will amount to "material support" for terrorism. "The supreme court has ruled that human rights advocates, providing training and assistance in the nonviolent resolution of disputes, can be prosecuted as terrorists," said David Cole, a Georgetown university law professor who argued the case before the court. In the name of fighting terrorism, the court has said that the first amendment [on free speech] permits congress to make it a crime to work for peace and human rights. That is wrong."

The ruling is designed to intimidate Palestinian supporters and their fundraising activity. Some have already been prosecuted and jailed for raising cash for social groups dealing with issues such as housing and welfare in Gaza. 

The government's case was enthusiastically argued in February by Elena Kagan, who is now the Obama administration's nominee to the supreme court. She said: "Hizb’Allah builds bombs. Hizb’Allah also builds homes. What Congress decided was when you help Hizb’Allah build homes, you are also helping Hizb’Allah build bombs. That's the entire theory behind the statute.”

Well if that’s the case an interesting legal situation looms on the horizon – unless all of this legislation is purely designed for Palestinian supporters.

A Congressional subcommittee, led by Representative John F. Tierney, Democrat of Massachusetts, has uncovered evidence showing US tax dollars are funding the Taliban.

The source is a Pentagon-issued $2.1 billion dollar contract called Host Nation Trucking, which pays for the movement of food and supplies to some 200 American bases. It appears Afghan security firms have been extorting as much as $4 million a week and then funneling the spoils to warlords and the Taliban in return for a safe passage. In short, the US is financing the enemy and undermining international efforts to stabilize the country. 

Hmm, isn’t this material support for terrorism? I think we need to have the Commander in Chief charged with immediate affect.

Yvonne Ridley is one of the founders of Viva Palestina and European President of the international Muslim Women’s Union

Published on Tuesday, June 22, 2010 by The San Francisco Chronicle
Giving Peace Advice to Terrorist Can Be Illegal
by Bob Egelko

WASHINGTON - The government can prosecute private citizens for giving advice to a foreign organization - on how to negotiate peace or take its case to the United Nations, for example - if the group is on the U.S. terrorist list, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

In the most important foreign policy and civil liberties case of their 2009-10 term, the justices ruled 6-3 that a law prohibiting "material support" of foreign terrorist organizations can be used against people who claim to be providing only peaceful, humanitarian assistance.

Any tangible support - money, legal aid or political advice - "frees up other resources within the organization that may be put to violent ends," Chief Justice John Roberts said in the majority opinion.

"It also importantly helps lend legitimacy to foreign terrorist groups - legitimacy that makes it easier for those groups to persist, to recruit members, and to raise funds - all of which facilitate more terrorist attacks," Roberts said.

Dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer protested that the majority's interpretation "would deny First Amendment protection to the peaceful teaching of international human rights law," on the grounds that it might enable terrorists to conduct sham negotiations.

Those who intend to aid terrorism should be prosecuted, but any broader use of the law would violate free speech, argued Breyer, whose dissent was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. The majority included liberal Justice John Paul Stevens as well as the court's conservatives - Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

Furious debate
The ruling touched off a furious debate over the government's power to prevent dissidents from helping blacklisted organizations. The ban on "material support" for foreign terrorists was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 and was expanded in the USA Patriot Act that President George W. Bush signed in 2001.

Under Monday's decision, "human rights advocates, providing training and assistance in the nonviolent resolution of disputes, can be prosecuted as terrorists," said David Cole, lawyer for organizations and individuals who challenged the law.

The plaintiffs sought to train members of two groups on the State Department's terrorist list - the Kurdish Workers Party in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka - in peaceful conflict resolution and advocacy before the United Nations.

Those forms of assistance to such "deadly groups" could lead to prosecution, the court said Monday, while insisting it was not restricting free speech. "Plaintiffs may say anything they wish" on their own behalf, Roberts said.

Carter concerned
Civil liberties advocates said they also feared repercussions for U.S.-based critics of the Israeli government, who might be charged with aiding Hamas, which Washington has designated as a terrorist group. One such critic is former President Jimmy Carter, whose private Mideast diplomatic efforts have included contact with Hamas.

The ruling "threatens our work and the work of many other peacemaking organizations that must interact directly with groups that have engaged in violence," said Carter, whose organization filed arguments with the court.

On the other side, Annemarie McAvoy, a Fordham law professor and former federal prosecutor, said the court recognized the "reality factor" of a world in which groups such as al Qaeda thrive on aid funneled through charities.

"By helping the terrorists, even tangentially, they're freeing up the terrorists to focus on other things, such as violent attacks," McAvoy said.

During arguments in February, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, now President Obama's nominee to the court, defended the law and urged a broad interpretation that would allow prosecution of a U.S. citizen who filed a legal brief on behalf of a terrorist organization.

"What Congress decided," Kagan told the court, "is that when you help Hezbollah build homes, you are also helping Hezbollah build bombs."

Read the ruling
The ruling in Holder vs. Humanitarian Law Project, 08-1498, can be read at links.sfgate.com/ZJWF .

© 2010 The San Francisco Chronicle
Article printed from www.CommonDreams.org

Latest Possible Threat to Social Security Safety Net

Commentary: Hands off Social Security: There are better ways to cut the national debt.

Posted: 7:18 p.m. Friday, June 25, 2010

The Social Security Trustees' Annual Report on the program's finances comes out Wednesday, delayed from March by the health bill. It will be turned into a marketing tool by advocates of cutting Social Security to reduce the national debt.

Among those, the president's newly appointed National Commission on Fiscal Reform (the "debt commission") is threatening to strangle the economic lifeblood of seniors by denying the solvency of Social Security and then using the solvent funds for other purposes.

It's an illusion that cutting Social Security would reduce the deficit. If the new report does not point out that the money seniors have given to Social Security keeps it solvent through 2043, and after that 80 percent funded, it's a propaganda fraud for defunders.

Moreover, that future shortfall is only a blip - a point missed by nearly all media. After the Baby Boomers reap their Social Security benefits, since those Boomers have had the fewest children ever (2.1 per couple vs. the current 2.7 rate), the system will return to full solvency because it will pay benefits to fewer people.

To cut a national deficit by cutting Social Security, which does not have a deficit, is theft from seniors who have paid in. If a bank told a customer, "Sorry. We've spent your money on other items," would anyone accept that or say: "Fine, you made money on my money but you still owe me mine. Pay up."

The debt commission is littered with politicians and industry CEOs who have a history of wanting to scale back Social Security benefits. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., told us in an interview, "The commission is loaded with billionaires who want to convert Social Security's money to business."

Commission Co-chairman Erskine Bowles is linked to Wall Street as a Morgan Stanley board member, and Honeywell CEO David Cote to the defense industry, both of which would benefit from Social Security's money. Will these captains of industry stand up for people who need Social Security the most? Or look for ways to transfer its money to defense and stocks?

Co-chairman Alan Simpson, along with Dave Camp, Judd Gregg, Tom Coburn and Mike Crapo, made statements supporting cutting or privatizing Social Security. Sen. Richard Durbin told "bleeding-heart liberals" to be open to Social Security cuts. Alice Rivlin co-authored a 2005 report titled Restoring Fiscal Sanity that advocated $47 billion in entitlement cuts, including an "increase in the retirement age under Social Security."

Why could the administration not appoint former Connecticut Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security? Or Al Gore, who famously said he would protect Social Security in a "lockbox"? Or expert "policy wonk" Bill Arnone, a partner at Ernst & Young, co-author of the firm's retirement planning guide, a spokesman for the positive economics of Social Security?

The program remains indispensable in enabling the 38 million senior citizens over 65 nationwide and 3 million in Florida to live their lives in dignity. Without Social Security, nearly half of Americans age 65 or older would be below the poverty line. For two-thirds of the elderly, Social Security provides the majority of their income. For one-third, it provides nearly all.

We need the courage of the late Florida Congressman Claude Pepper. In 1978, when Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps suggesting raising the retirement age, Rep. Pepper and House Social Security Chairman James Burke ran over for a meeting, and Rep. Pepper said they would "fight it to our death." Ms. Kreps suddenly said the proposal hadn't been drawn up.

The debt commission has plenty of options. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the military needed to cut its "gusher of defense spending." Congress could also scale back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to the levels they were under President Clinton and could get rid of tax breaks for U.S. corporations doing business overseas. The deficit needs to be cut, but not at the cost of our seniors.

During a 2006 speaking tour, every time President Bush spoke of his plan to privatize Social Security, his approval ratings dropped. His advocacy of cuts helped cost Republicans the Congress. While up a hair recently, the market has lost 20 percent since 2000. Voters knew that would have meant 20 percent less food on the table for seniors or money for electricity. President Obama should not let the commission make the same mistake, or this time it will cost him and his party.

Robert Weiner was chief of staff of the House Select Committee on Aging, chaired by the late U.S. Rep. Claude Pepper, and a senior public-affairs director in the White House. Jonathan Battaglia is policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates..

Oftentimes, one must put down well nourished roots before one can blossom productively and constructively within a community.