Friday, April 30, 2010

A Printer, A Job, A Motto, and The Constitution: Harold Berliner

In letterpress printing, the absolute most common printing job for part-time printers used to be business cards. Having an abundance of these small cards around also meant in their spare time, hobby printers - even those with only little tabletop presses like mine - would turn out stacks of the little wallet cards with mottos, prayers, witty sayings. Selling these things helped cover expenses between paying jobs.

A man well known in the Letterpress community passed away a few days ago. I never met him but have heard of him for a long time. He was both an Attorney - had served 4 terms as a District Attorney - and an avid printer admired for the quality of his fine books. He said of himself - echoing Ben Franklin - "I am first a printer."

As it happens, one of the accomplishments for which he will be most remembered combined both fields:

Harold Berliner wrote the Miranda warning. And then, he printed it.

What he did was put together the wording in a simple form and printed it on little cards,” [ Judge Frank] Francis said. “He then had it distributed to law enforcement officers all over the country so they could just read it. Later on, they knew it by heart.”

There's a fine obituary in the for Nevada County, California.

The Sacramento Bee has the full story ,by Robert D. Dávila, of how the Miranda Warning in its usual form came to be:

"The landmark ruling ordered police to inform suspects in custody of their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
"Attorney General Thomas Lynch asked Mr. Berliner and Deputy Attorney General Doris Maier to craft a quick and easy statement that officers could recite during arrests. Within two hours, they turned out what is believed to be the first written version of the Miranda warning, starting with seven words penned by Mr. Berliner: "You have the right to remain silent."
"Sensing a business opportunity, he quickly printed and sold wallet-size Miranda cards to law enforcement agencies nationwide."
"When we wrote those words, we were carrying out a request for uniformity within the state of California" he told The Bee in 2000. "I have never considered it a piece of Americana. I just think it was a job, and I did it. It just seems quite ordinary to me."

Examples of his beautiful presswork can be seen here: including GENESIS, Illustrated by Helen Siegl, and here, at Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie, is a small tale worth reading, as well as an example of Berliner's presswork.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Slogan For The Party of No: No Means No

I originally posted this over on Ann Althouse's blog, and decided it is good as a standalone:

The perfect Republican slogan for this election year is: "No Means No".

Because the people said no to the bail outs - every one of them, from both parties - and they ignored us and did them anyway.

We said no to dissing our allies, and they did it anyway.

We said no to bailing out mortgage holders by bailing out mortgagees, and they did it anyway.

We said no to "giving us health care" and they did it anyway.

We said no to tax increases of any kind, and they did it anyway.

We said no to calling CO2 a "pollutant" since it is what trees breathe, and they did it anyway.

We said no to passing any health bill without serious strong tort reform in it and they did it anyway.

We said no to laws that don't apply to Congress and they did it anyway.

We said no to letting non-citizens come into the country without permission, and they did it anyway.

We said no to refusal to enforce the laws of the land, and they said we were "misguided".

We said no to limiting our national defense anywhere, and they did it anyway.

We said no to passing bills that none of the people we elected had read, and they did it anyway.

We said no to never-ending unemployment payments and they renewed them anyway, again and again and again.

We said no to secret lawmaking and secret deals and secret contents of bills and they did it anyway, and they are doing it again.

We are saying no right now to leaving laws in place that allow any bank or any other company to be "too big to fail" and they are about to do it anyway.

We are saying no right now to any more bail outs ever, and they are about to do it anyway.

Someone has to be the parent here, and it's not the Government.

No means no.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

IME &" The Mexican Government's Efforts To Aid Migrants In The United States"

The Migration Policy Institute is a globally respected think tank. Supporters include agencies of multiple foreign governments, the US State Department,Fannie Mae, US Health & Human Services, and the US Census Bureau, as well as private foundations.

In January 2010, the MPI published an analysis paper on Mexico's strategy to use multiple channels, including activism development, to effect changes to US immigration policy, and to maintain allegiance to Mexico by emigrants in order to assure continued and growing Remittance income. Written by Laureen Laglagaron, it is titled "Protection Through Integration: The Mexican Government's Efforts To Aid Migrants In The United States" (link will open a PDF)

The paper begins by noting the influence of the IME (a Mexican government agency also called the Institute for Mexicans Abroad) on US Immigration Policy is "significant" but seldom noticed (page 4), and on page 5 makes a statement inferring the success of the IME in the past 10 years may relate to the increased population of Mexican nationals coming to the United States, and increase in Mexican consulate offices. It recommends that these programs serve as a model for other "sending" countries, specifically naming Ecuador, Bolivia, Uraguay and Paraguay.

Throughout, the paper adopts the word "integration" in its narrowest definition, to describe programs the Mexican government intends to reduce assimilation and retain allegiance of its citizens who emigrate and their American-born children, thereby assuring retention of remittances (link will open a PDF) and political activities supportive of Mexico's interests.

The paper requires careful reading and study. You may wish to note, in particular, the five bullet points on page 11, paragraphs following through page 12, the role of the Mexican consular on page 9, the information about the IME as an independent agency of the Mexican government operating out of embassies on pages 13, 14 and 16, and of no less importance, the central
paragraph on page 20 and 21.

The next several pages outline worthy and valuable educational and health care initiatives the Mexican Government supports for emigrants through the IME, and a discussion about remittances begins on page 34.

No one is talking about this. The situation with illegal immigration has changed in the past 10 years due to the intervention of the Mexican government outlined in the MPI Policy paper above, and of international banking interests, both in the remittance delivery systems market, (link opens a PDF. Click Here for Google-cached HTML version) and as a factor in trade balance calculations and securitized for sovereign debt. Mexican citizens working in the United States send $2 Billion dollars per month back to relatives in Mexico.

Most of us even in the border states are not aware of these new influences. They create issues beyond enforcement of our laws (8 USC Sec. 1304(e).) These changes make a difference to me in how I see the issues we face with immigration.

I am a nearly life-long Texan, and like most Texans, fully integrated into mainstream American Hispanic (Mexican) social and family life. My children are Hispanic. My beloved daughters in law are of Mexican descent, and my grandchild is Hispanic. My cherished friends, in-laws, nieces and nephews are Hispanic. My future as well as my heart are inseperably and gladly entwined with the future and happiness of Hispanic Americans.

Until a few days ago I thought the situation with illegal immigration from Mexico was the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago. Texans and the people of Mexico share history, faith, culture, & traditional values. We are easy together. My concerns about controlling the Southern border were about stopping the activities of gangs & criminal interests, the awful exploitation of coyotes and other human traffickers, and in preventing people from dying horribly of dehydration and exposure. I won't fault any person for seeking work to try to attain a decent life, even if we can't let them stay.

But it's no longer just a matter of assimilating millions of people. This is something else entirely, and I can no longer support the kind of reform I might have been comfortable with last week.


Don't Mess With Texas Governors

Texas Governor Rick Perry was menaced by a coyote during a run with his dog in a wooded area of Austin, and was able to shoot the animal before it injured them.

CBS11TVNews reports: "Perry said he will carry his .380 Ruger pistol -- loaded with hollow-point bullets -- when jogging on trails because he is afraid of snakes. He'd also seen coyotes in the area.

When one came out of the brush toward his daughter's Labrador retriever, Perry charged.

"Don't attack my dog or you might get shot ... if you're a coyote," he said Tuesday.

Perry, a Republican running for a third full term against Democrat Bill White, is living in a private house in a hilly area southwest of downtown Austin while the Governor's Mansion is being repaired after a 2008 fire. A concealed handgun permit holder, Perry carries the gun in a belt. .....

Perry's security detail was not required to file a report on the governor discharging a weapon, said Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Tela Mange.

"People shoot coyotes all the time, snakes all the time," Mange said. "We don't write reports."

As for the coyote, Perry left it where it fell.

"He became mulch," Perry said.

A single shot to kill is the usual skill level of any experienced hunter, and Perry has probably been shooting for a long time. As he noted, rattlesnakes are our main concern in this part of the world, and coyotes are common predators in urban areas too. Their numbers seem to be on the rise - they adapt vigorously to human proximity. If you haven't seen one running across the road, you might have seen their pelts hanging on fences as a warning to other coyotes to keep out.

While coyotes have their defenders, they are in reality a canine cousin to the wolf, a predator that hunts both alone and in packs. As with any predator in our modern world, attacks on humans are infrequent but should not be discounted. Six months ago, Taylor Mitchell, a 19 year old Canadian folk singer, was killed by coyotes.

Texas allows its citizens to carry a firearm, and with a permit to carry one concealed from view. Gun proficiency is a part of life, resulting in respect for firearms as useful tools that must be handled and stored properly, but that must be available in order to be useful. Even in non-shooting households, we learn as babies that guns are not toys and to never point a gun at anything we don't intend to shoot.

Living in a state where anyone or everyone around us is likely to be armed provides a strong security, and deterrence. Texans have learned from experience that mass shooting events generally occur only in places where lawful carry is prohibited.

In 1991, the Luby's Massacre in Killeen Texas saw 23 people killed. Texas law at the time limited who could carry a firearm on our persons (we were allowed to carry them in our vehicles). One of the patrons had a handgun in her car but was unable to get out of the restaurant to retrieve it. The shooter reloaded many times before finally shooting himself. As a result, our laws were liberalized to assure that anyone qualified would be issued a concealed carry permit.

Killeen was tragically the site of another mass murder due to a ban on firearms at Fort Hood, where the Army prohibited anyone other than Law Enforcement from carrying firearms while on base. in 1993, one of President Clinton's first actions was to disarm soldiers on Military bases.

I am thankful that our Governor is still able to be representative of ALL law abiding Texas citizens: confident to walk alone, and confident of his ability to protect himself from harm.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What's in Our Refrigerators?

Pat over at And So It Goes In Shreveport picked up on Ann Althouse's post and is inviting the public display of what's inside our refrigerators. Ha! Great meme for those of us in Texas who didn't let the Appliance Stimulus Package * entice us to exchange perfectly good and well made ice boxes for shiny new ones. :-)

It's fun how interesting the mundane things of our lives can be, isn't it?

*whispering* I'm not sure where the 87,000 new jobs are supposed to be created, because when we bought our new freezer last year, we shopped several places looking at major brands and learned that only Frigidaire still makes refrigerators in the US (and that from foreign made parts) - most appliances of all types are manufactured abroad...

Anyway, here's our fridge - complete with the boxes of Brie I found on sale! Like Pat, we also are blessed to have a freezer full of good food.

Are you brave enough to show off your cooler? Go on over and join the blog party!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Illegal Immigration 101: Things I Didn't Know, and Why I changed My Mind While Writing This Blog Post

About that law Arizona just passed (full text here), which mostly echos current National Immigration Law (INA Sec 264.(e)[8 USC 1304]), which requires every alien over 18 of any status to carry their papers at all times, and Federal Enforcement programs, and is supported by the state's largest police groups and by people who actually live in the state.

About some of the outrageous claims and statements being made about it by people who know better.

Here's some middle ground, and a few things you might not have known. One of those situations where truth really is stranger than fiction.

I bet it is the same in Arizona as it is in Texas: we don't judge people by the color of their skin, illegal immigration isn't limited to people from any one country, and people from Mexico come in as many colors as people from the US. Anyone who thinks otherwise has led too sheltered a life, or is playing some kind of game.

Our law enforcement people (who themselves represent our all-kinds-of-people population) are experienced, expert professionals who follow the law and do not use race or ethnicity or color as a means of determining suspicion about any crime, relying instead on an array of other, more nuanced and more accurate indicators. In fact, the Phoenix AZ Police Department's Public Safety Manager received the IACP Civil Rights Certificate of Recognition in 2009 for his work to promote policing " without focusing on specific demographics" to accomplish equal justice for the whole community.

My heavens, this isn't television. This is real life in border states that have always reflected de Colores in a nation that operates under the Rule of Law.

Enforcing the law of the United States in the 21st Century is never "misguided", never "undermines fairness", and especially never "destroys trust between the police and their communities". For goodness sake, if our police were not enforcing the law THAT is what would undermine trust. The Arizona law, in fact, gives citizens the right to sue cities that they believe are deliberately NOT enforcing the law. No wonder so-called "sanctuary cities" oppose this - they fear their own state's citizens might also demand that they uphold the fair and equal enforcement of our laws.

Arizona isn't alone. Did you know 48 out of 50 states passed immigration laws this past year?
Did you know that a majority of the American people, including minorities, want the government to enforce the immigration laws when aliens trespass into the country against the law.

Illegal aliens in the United States come from countries all over the world - including Canada. Estimates indicate that 43% or more are from countries other than Mexico: including at least 9% from Asia. As Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce said "Illegal is not a race, it's a crime." Since we have to rely only on estimates of people who are actively trying to remain hidden,
it is likely there's a much higher percentage of illegal trespass from those other countries than it appears. Aliens who are in the US illegally outnumber the law-abiding immigrants.

People with ugly motives and criminal intent, who are not representative of the ordinary freedom-seeking immigrant, are coming across our borders and through our seaports at will and disappearing into our country.

Modern slave traders engaged in human trafficking are transporting men, women and children against their will or under false pretense, holding them captive, forcing them into prostitution, and kidnapping for ransom.

40% of the illegal alien population are from all over the world who come in on tourist visas, which require little to no background checks, and hunker down after those expire. The federal government deliberately ignores them.

Voting Fraud is rampant
, and attempts to prevent, investigate or punish it are aggressively thwarted. 8 of the 19 September 11 highjackers were registered to vote. Fraudulent voting by non-citizens can make the difference in election outcomes. A Voter Registration Card is the easiest piece of identification an illegal alien can get. All he or she has to do is check the little box that asks if you are eligible to vote. Except in Arizona - since passing a law in 2005 requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote, they have rejected over 40,000 applications that could not provide verification.

The Federal government has failed, repeatedly, and repeatedly, to carry out plans to control illegal entry. There as little attempt by the Federal government, the INS, Homeland Security, the FBI, or any other agency to perform any enforcement or tracking of illegal aliens once they are in the country, or to share information, even with police or Attorneys General (go here and scroll down to "Failure to Cooperate"). Discovery is left to local law enforcement and the states by default. When such criminals are discovered, when they are arrested, even after they are convicted of crimes such as theft, robbery, assault, drugs and serving prison time, as many as 90% are frequently released without being deported.

Now, here's the part I didn't know, and why my earlier thoughts - to gain control of the border to stop the criminals, and to find ways to reduce the suffering and exploitation of people trying to come here outside of legal channels, and to increase understanding that the border issues are not about immigration but about the duty of government to enforce the law - those thoughts and attitudes are no longer applicable. Because the situation has changed, and even though all those things are still true, they can never be addressed without first putting a stop to the new policies of foreign governments that destroy the rule of law in the United States and effect greater influence on our laws and media than the best interests of the American citizenry.

Like other smuggling crimes, the economic incentive is not just to the smuggler, but often even more for the native country. "Remittances" is the term used for money sent back "to the old country" by foreign workers - in the case of legal immigrants, an honorable action. Foreign-born in the US (including lawful immigrants and trespassing aliens) send as much as $200 Billion in remittances home annually, $23 Billion to China, $26 Billion to India, $24 Billion to Mexico. These amounts may exceed official Foreign Aid and make up a substantial portion of some countries' incomes. The value is so lucrative - to the point of serving as collateral for sovereign debt - that countries push their people over our borders any way they can, ignoring our laws and their citizens' best interests.

In order to protect and grow this source of income, Mexico, for instance (following the lead of other countries), created its own government programs to encourage its citizens to move here, including guidebooks to assist aliens and inform them of their rights when they are caught. It has adopted a strategy to hold the loyalty of its citizens who live in the US, providing for dual citizenship, voting rights, and special outreach programs.

The Mexican government continually lobbies against US immigration controls, border restrictions, service limits to migrants legal or illegal, and against use of the word "illegal". Under the admirable guise of providing education programs for Mexican citizens, it has established agencies in dozens of US cities that it uses to actively lobby and influence politicians, law enforcement, and the media. The large demonstrations in US cities in 2006 against stiffer punishments for illegal immigration were not spontaneous - they were organized by Mexico's government.

Foreign governments like Mexico have a vested interest in supporting amnesty , guest worker programs, and lax enforcement, and in opposing legislation that serves America's interests, because the longer aliens remain in the US, the more valuable their remittances are to their home government. Official remittance and diaspora programs are supported by globalization & financial interests such as the World Bank, Bank of America and Citigroup, and by our own government's USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development). Given the fortunes involved, it is easy to see how business investment interests as well as foreign governments would be incented to apply strong pressure and convince the US government to quietly abet the continuance of the lucrative status quo. As we have seen with the recent financial crisis, in a situation of competing interests, our own government tends to choose short term finance for the few over long range security of the many.

We are not the only country facing these issues, although our challenges are the largest. Central Asian countries now dependent on remittances responded to the monetary crisis by increasing their emigration rates, flooding Russia with millions of illegal workers. Turkey's economy remains dependent on remittances from its large expatriot worker population in Germany. So many nations rely of remittances that the G8 conference dealt with the issue of creating streamlined systems for the transfer of these monies.

These complications increase concerns about mass amnesty programs and unrestricted immigration. Just who are the people from other countries who are here without our government's knowledge, and how many have criminal intent? How many are here as agents of countries who do not support US interests and culture? How much are foreign governments driving the push for amnesty and the push against US states enforcing our own laws?

Unless the people who stand in our place in Washington and in our State legislatures confront, out loud, and soberly, the hidden motivations for non-enforcement, just how likely is it that any Federal Immigration Reform bill will actually stop people from getting in or be enforced with any greater will or competence than our current laws?

So, when we talk about illegal immigration, don't slip on those red herrings the progressives and the media and the president and others with hidden agendas are throwing out. It's classic misdirection: distracting us from looking at something important.

Force them to talk about the part that somebody would like to hide.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Three Forgotten Direct Causes of The US Financial Meltdown

We are hearing a lot about how things fell apart, causes and potential fixes. But I am not hearing anyone talk about the two most significant changes to the law that, I think, led directly to our current ongoing crisis. The third is occasionally mentioned but never acted on. Regardless of how these came to be, they are all easily correctable right now - if Congress were willing to act.

(1) Loss of State Anti-Usury Regulation Authority and Failure of Congress to Restore These Protections

"Usury" is the charging of excessive interest on loans. "Anti-Usury Laws" are those that prohibit predatory lending by setting maximum interest rates, protecting borrowers from the servitude of debt that occurs when loans are compounded by such high rates of interest they can never hope to repay them. Until recently, most states had such laws, maintaining an
equitable balance between borrower and lender that let lenders profit fairly while also assuring citizens the means by which to raise their standard of living over time as they gradually paid off their debts.

In 1978, in Marquette Nat. Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp (439 U.S. 299),
the Supreme Court decided that interest rates and late fees charged by banks and credit card companies were determined by the laws of the state in which the bank was chartered, and that the state in which the bank offered loans and credit had no power to limit the interest charged.

They said the National Banking Act, passed in 1863 as a wartime measure to move control of money from the states to Lincoln's Federal government, and raise money to fund the Civil War, by creating "national banks" that centralized a national currency, intended that only the state in which a national bank was located could limit the fees it levyed.

Thus, by deciding to incorporate in a state with unlimited interest, lenders were free to impose any rate of interest they could get away with, and any amount of late charges they wanted.

The Court specifically said in their decision that it was up to Congress, rather than the Court, to decide whether to change the old law to reflect modern times and restore equal right of banking regulation to all states. Congress failed to take up the Court's implicit suggestion, even though the states had been freely regulating interest rates without objection for a hundred years, right up until the Court's pronouncement.

In other words, after 1978 the wolf was given full charge of the sheep fold. Credit card marketing, issuance, lending and collection practices became ever more predatory. Congress continually bowed to pressure from Banks and Wall Street and looked the other way while our formerly thrifty society descended into the bondage of debt.

There is a very simple fix. All it takes is a repeal of the portion of the National Banking Act that allowed this catastrophic and unfair situation to occur. No need for thousand page bills and new regulatory bodies, no reason to allow the lobbyists to rig the law. It's easy and understandable, it would restore balance, as each state's people could determine for themselves what is fair to all concerned.

Instead, Congress made a big deal about controlling the credit card companies this past year, proudly passing the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act, with the immediate result that credit card companies spent the next 9 months before the law went into effect raising rates and dreaming up new fees to impose. There's nothing in the bill to prevent the credit card company from charging 30 per cent interest, or from doing any number of despicable things that give them an average revenue of $100 per card per month... on 1.4 billion cards every month.

But Congress, still unwilling to lead us back toward sanity and thrift, refuses to acknowledge, much less fix the root problem.

(2) Short-Sighted Full Tax Exemptions For Short-Term Residential Profits: The Tax Relief Act of 1997

The right of the ordinary person to own a home of our own is a fundamental part of the American Dream that was not possible in the feudal societies of the Old World. Immigrants fled the kings of Europe, the tsars of Russia, the emperors of Asia; they fled the Collectives of communist states, the haciendas of Mexico, the castes of India: to claim their place in a society
where the ordinary man could expect the rule of law to stand with him in protecting his home and his capacity to own it outright.

Thus, throughout our history, our politicians remembered and our laws have rigorously protected access to private property ownership and the residential homestead as a necessary component of liberty.

Before 1997, our tax laws encouraged long-term home ownership and upward mobility of all income groups, by allowing people to sell one home and use the profit to buy another without paying taxes, and after age 55 to sell their home and move to a less expensive one without tax on any profit to free this money toward quality of life in retirement.

In 1997 that all changed, when Congress passed what now known as "The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997" More information, details and language on Public Law 105-34 here.

Whatever the original good intentions may be been, the main effect was to explode the entrance of investors into single family homes, using loopholes to gobble up residential properties, artificially inflate their value, and sell to unsuspecting families led astray by concurrent changes in lending practices.

The act allowed for "residential" real estate profit to be tax-free if the owner had owned the house for 5 years and lived in it for two. Combined with a rule called the "1031 exchange", investors posing as "homeowners" have been able to constantly buy, rent and sell property without ever paying a dime of tax.

This activity of well-funded investors in a candy store of tax-free profit, buying up every empty house on every block, sight unseen across state lines, demanding ever-expanding prices when selling (unopposed if not actually abetted by Real Estate brokers), artificially inflated demand and drove real estate prices all over the country far beyond their actual value.

Ultimately, the profiteering has made it harder and more expensive than ever before in our history for the ordinary person to afford to buy a home of their own.

Without the foolish, short-sighted provisions of the Tax Relief Act in 1997, the artificial inflation of real estate values would still be a limited, regional phenomenon, and as such would have been recognized as temporary.

Sub-prime loans would have been limited to the same small percentage of loans they historically occupied - less than 5% - and that portion of this crisis would never have occurred.

(3) The third item is another that is easy to fix, if Congress wanted to fix it: reinstate the portions of the Glass-Steagall Act that were repealed in 1999.

In the late 1990's a number of "banking reform" measures removed limits on the way banks and their investors operated. Many of the restrictions tossed aside had been in place since the 1930s, and had heretofore prevented the abuses and failures that led to the Depression. Most importantly, these old regulations assured stability by controlling speculation, limiting risk,
and reducing potential for conflict of interest.

Less than 10 years after repeal, ungoverned banks had once again raced our economy off a cliff.

Without these restrictions, banks immediately moved agressively into the speculative investment activity previously denied them, consolidating into massive conglomerates that could capture every phase of any financial transaction, including insurance and securities.

This relaxing of standards and legislative abandonment of regulation allowed banks to effectively write their own laws, free to pursue novel structures in lending that maximize profit in a full circle - these new types of financial instruments were not well understood by those issuing them, much less by the customers they sold them to.

Innovations in mortage lending destroyed the previous mutually beneficial relationship between homeowner and lender that held the lender's interests in line with the borrower's over the long range life of the note.

Thus, the traditional mortgage process offered substantial protections to the buyer, including:

(1) protecting the buyer from overpaying for a property by insisting on accurate, 3rd party appraisals. If the appraisal came back below the sales price, the bank could refuse the loan, the buyer could escape the contract, and the usual effect in practice was that the seller would agree to lower their price to the actual fair market value in order to make the sale;

(2) protecting the buyer from purchasing a substandard property that was not safe or sanitary to live in. Banks rightfully required property inspections to be sure the house had glass in the windows, a roof that didn't leak, plumbing and electricity that worked;

(3) protecting the buyer from being unable to pay their property taxes, and from losing everything if the home was destroyed by fire or flood, by using a system of escrow that collected a small amount from each monthly payment towards those charges, which the bank was then responsible for paying each year;

(4) protecting the buyer from risking losing their home by taking on too much debt. Banks, desirous of attracting savings accounts as well as loans, encouraged thrift, and were careful that a family would still have a reasonable percentage of their income left over after paying their monthly mortgage. This prevented buyers from paying so much for their house that they could not afford to maintain it, or to pay for other essential living expenses.

With the passage of the Gramm Leach Bliley Act, this was erased and replaced with a hive-like system designed to pre-empt repayment, exponentially multiply fee-taking, and to profit more from default than from compliance.

So. Lenders sold ugly mortgages, and re-financing schemes, and quick-change credit cards and insurance and checking accounts and car loans, then packaged all those loans and debts up into ugly investments and sold them. Then when it all fell apart, they repackaged it all again and sold it to Congress, who gave them a whole new stack of money and several new laws so they'd keep on selling ugly mortgages, and credit cards and car loans.... and insurance.

Despite a seemingly wide acknowledgment that we need to reinstate Glass Steagall, Congress has yet to do anything about it.


In the end, the repeal of Glass Steagall was only able to destroy our economy and our wealth because the Mortgage Cancellation Tax Relief Act had thrown open the doors of our homes to the wolves, and because of Congress's failure to restore the equitable right of each state's people to prevent usury and regulate how lenders and banks operate within their own state.

Had it not been for those two invitations to rapine by our Congress, the home we live in would still be understood as a long term investment for our old age, more of our population would be homeowners with equity than renters, and our individual states would be able to do what Congress has been unwilling to do: housebreak the wolves, no matter how big they are.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Governance By The People: Who Are Our Peers?

When I was growing up in Oklahoma, our State Representative lived with his family a few blocks down the street from us, in a small frame house we skipped past on our way to the neighborhood grocery store. He was a teacher, community service coordinator, and even sometimes clerked in a grocery store during the summer when the legislature was not in session. Mama always campaigned for him and we grew up assuming that politicians were all ordinary, approachable people who lived like everyone else.

When George W Bush was Governor of Texas, we lived in the same middle-class neighborhood that Laura's parents lived in. During visits, Mr Bush took walks around our streets on his own, and neighborhood kids encountered him and chatted with him and took their pictures with him.

My son was excited to meet him - but he was just as excited the day he came home and told us he'd met "Scat McNatt, one of the old-time, original basketball players!" on his way home from school. They were both a part of our community, like the rest of the people who lived in town.

Whether we actually meet them personally or not, no matter what party they belong to, our representatives were - and should still be - our peers: local people, who live with those they represent. People in each region of the United States have the right to select neighbors to stand in for them in government. From School Board to Congress, no district is so large that those elected should be separated from their neighbors who entrusted them with public office.

Over the years of our history, the American people, under our Constitution and Bill of Rights, have continually, firmly eroded the old European and Asian rigid class systems, democratizing the meaning of "our peers" to include not just local landowners but also those who don't own property, to include all citizens who live in our community regardless of income and position and race and ethnicity and sex. It's miraculous and wonderful.

Our system is set up to recognize and respect that our peers need to be a part of our physical location. No matter where we were all born, living in the same place gives us the ability to share each others' lives. Our right as Americans, it's fundamental to the meaning of "representative democracy".

That need for our representatives to share a common location with those they represent was one of the singular points our founding fathers made. Even today, proximity is an essential, irreplaceable element in truly fair representation.

Our peers are people who are near in distance to us. People we can know and who can know us. People we can sit down to dinner with at a covered dish supper without having to pay for the privilege. People we can run into in Walmart, or at a local baseball game, or see mowing their yard if we drive past their house.

Our peers are those with whom we share weather and geography, with whom we share meals, with whom we share daily life and the means of life. People who do their shopping in our local malls and grocery stores. People who join the local Lions Club and PTA and Art Association and Volunteer Fire Department.

People who help out with bake sales and barbeques to raise money for a local citizen with cancer, or restoring a local landmark, or to fund Meals on Wheels. People who jog in our parks and cheer our parades and attend our 4th of July concerts.

People who had a life in common with us in our district before they ran for office, and who will have a life there again after they complete their service in public office.

People who come home, here, between sessions.

People who will remember who we are, and that they belong with us, during the time they are in office.

Approachable, interested in us. People who consider us their peers.

Those are our peers.

Who are the people on your school board, your City and County offices, in the State Capitol, in Washington? Do they live in your district, or just "maintain a residence" there?

Where do they go for the holidays?

Whom do they consider their peers?


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Who is Running Congress Anyway? The People We Elected or Their "younger than you think" Aides?

This story in Politico, via And so It Goes In Shreveport, about very young congressional staff influencing the health care bill, reminded me of a trend I've been noticing for a while - now I understand why I am seeing this.

There are many, many practices and tools that are good and valuable for use by companies, whether private or publicly traded, that are not appropriate for use in any government. The general public, and even the customers, have limited rights of influence or access to knowledge about companies and the methods they choose for decision making, marketing, planning and acting, so corporations are free to determine what is best for their own interests.

When it comes to our government, however, we, the citizens, have MASSIVE right of equal influence and access to unfiltered, non-manipulated knowledge about our government. Decisions are to be made in OUR interest, not that of a small set of stakeholders. In government, the citizens are supposed to control the decision making process, by selecting representatives to
literally "stand in our place" and decide and act on our behalf.

Neither our country nor our government is a "brand", no matter which party is temporarily ascendant, and the use of standard brand marketing and brand management techniques is inappropriate at best, failing to treasure and respect the American way of individual self-governance: putting the moneychangers in the temple, as it were.

Applying corporate branding, organizational and marketing methods to operate the US government usurps the role of the people, and creates a risk of actually preventing legitimate government functioning.

Yet more and more, the majority party and the current administration behave as though our Country is a Silicon Valley corporation, focused more on marketing, PR, and Brand Management than on responsiveness to and respect for the citizenry, right down to hurried rollouts of buggy bills, pre-fab FAQs, and a new job title for every emerging market segment. It's as if we had elected a bunch of 20-somethings.

We saw it first in the remarkable campaign: Mr Obama was presented to the country with all the trappings of a new tech product launch, the latest in celebrity debuts: the attractive new iPresident! Complete with email and online donations, fashion art and vintage Pepsi Generation brand icon, romantic storyline (aka "narrative"), and carefully planned spontaneous rock concert rallies: a direct appeal to both the idealistic young and to the glory days nostalgia of aging hippies, promising a new endless Summer of Love if they chose the Democrat Brand.

It worked, America elected Mr. Obama, and, we assumed, the machinations of the campaign would be set aside for the work of governing. Instead, delegation of essential decisions became the rule rather than the exception, with Mr Obama playing CEO rather than President. The brand marketing meme permeated not only the White House, but all through the Democratic Party, and into the Republican as well.

While congressional staff have long been youthful, they did not always have the autonomy or influence they seem to have gained with this Congress. The people we elected to stand in our place in the House and Senate seem to be deferring the actual work of governing to their fresh-out-of-school staff.

And those unelected staff are practicing the current business success playbook: thinking like pirates, being disruptive to existing departments, taking what they want, defining their own roles, ignoring roadblocks and rules, making up their own success metrics, respecting no boundaries. Not looking past the current objective, focusing everything on winning whatever.

Being so concerned with delivering on the objective that back-end quality is sacrificed for front end cosmetics, ending up with products so full of bugs they won't work at all , then gaming the statistics to hide the failures and basking in the success trumpeted by the press release they wrote themselves. And no one cares because where else are the customers going to go?

Insistent on a need to conform to "industry standards", which is a way of saying to look as much like the competition as possible, there's a drive to mimic Europe, a marketing campaign titled "coffee party" and all sorts of progressives are now claiming to be "conservative".

Constantly changing the words used to describe things, so it appears something fresh and exciting is happening when in fact the reverse is true, like "The Open Government Directive", hyped as new but actually just a marketing campaign using 2010 buzzwords to claim credit for results of the e-Government Act of 2002 - a "relaunch" if you will - creating new website domains and cute page designs that link to ordinary data and tools already available on government websites and promoting plans agencies already had in the works.

Or inventing new words for existing things so that people will be fooled into accepting that which the public finds unacceptable, a la Microsoft Vista "Mojave", shutting down talk about the dangerous thing by renaming it something vague.

The current administration and majority Congress and their staff see voters as mere consumers who should be "driven" into certain modes of behavior.

Their roadmap says to turn our government into a west coast corporation and run it the same way.

Have you ever encountered internet or software upgrades that remove features and change things with no warning and even without the company ever acknowledging the change? Knowing customers have little choice in markets that are Too Big To Compete With, there's no interest in pleasing the customers upset by the changes, ony in getting them to be quiet and
agree that it is wonderful.

That is the environment the unelected staff of this administration and congress are mimicking. That's the model that the administration's advisors are foisting upon our nation. I'm sure they work very hard and are very bright. I'm sure they mean well. But they were not elected - and in a democracy that is more important than their good intentions.

15,000 people we did not elect are being paid very well to do the job we thought we hired our representatives to do.

And those are the unelected and inexperienced people that our elected officials are allowing to set the agendas, drive the priorities, and lay down the law of our land. A CEO can delegate authority to act on behalf of the company. An elected Representative cannot delegate the authority to act on behalf of the people, as it is not his to give.

The unelected staffers, no matter how talented, are the ones writing the bills and amendments and handing it all off just in time for those we elected to walk out on stage and claim credit for something they haven't even read.

So, our elected representatives not only did not write, but did not read the Health Insurance Bill. They didn't read the Stimulus Bill. And now, in the matter of inappropriately extending unemployment insurance for the umpteenth time, it seems the only controversy is that there's a need to cut spending elsewhere to "pay for it". And who is figuring out which budget items to cut? "[Our staffs] are working through that," [Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said].

Shouldn't our elected representatives, regardless of party affiliation, be listening to us more than to their employees?

Shouldn't the people who are deciding the fate of our lives and our country and our foreign policy be the people we elect to put our priorities and experience above any other?

Shouldn't they be something more than younger and smarter "than you think they would be"?

Shouldn't they be the people we actually elected to do these things?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Working Women In Earlier America: Not So Uncommon After All

In collecting vintage books, paper and photos, it's especially interesting how frequently we find women in the workplace in earlier times. Traditional life always included working women, and they and their occupations and businesses were commonly profiled in magazines and textbooks long ago.

Of course mothers were needed at home in eras when most clothes were home-sewn and most food was home-grown and home-preserved, and when there was so much work around the homeplace that even lower-income people hired helpers. But there were also those who worked for pay, at whatever jobs they were interested in doing, despite what we may have heard. According to the USDA, a full quarter of all American women held jobs outside their homes in 1910! (A similar statistic was reported for 1900 by PBS, although manipulated to highlight only "married women", and including a data point that was not tracked until 1950.)

The first woman Postmaster in the USA was appointed in 1775, and she wasn't alone. Women weren't just telephone operators - before that they were telegraph operators, and paid as well as their male counterparts. Women didn't just collect eggs to sell, they bred poultry and turkeys to create commercially better birds, and operated the leading mail-order poultry businesses of the day.

Women in every town worked in retail businesses, manufacturing, newspapers, restaurants, groceries, department stores, banks, book stores, laundries, farms, milneries, print shops, beauty salons, accountants... I wonder if we looked at statistics from 1900, if we wouldn't find that most businesses in most towns employed women, and at a ratio of women workers to women in management very similar to what we see today.

I think the reality was that most working women then worked for the same reasons and made their choice of job in the same ways we do. Some women sought careers, and some of those sought advancement in their careers, while others were happier with the balance of a job they could leave behind at the end of the day and put their main energy into personal and family life.

Isn't that true of women today?

Come to think of it, isn't that true of men as well?

So: why are we taught in the media that women "weren't allowed" to work before WWII, or that they couldn't be anything other than nurses and teachers? Why do we continue to hear claims of "glass ceilings"? Looking at original source material - whether from earlier or from recent history shows a very different reality.

Photos, in order from top to bottom:

From a 1906 edition of Muncey's Magazine, the caption on this photo reads "Mrs Rebecca Lukens, of Coatesville Pennsylvania, the first American ironworker to roll boiler plates successfully." The article further reads "Mrs Lukens was far more than a mere owner. She weas an inventive, practical woman, who drove the business toward success in the face of tremendous difficulties. Her boiler-plates became so famous that George Stephenson used them in the building of his first locomotives." Rebecca Lukens was born in 1794.

Claudia Staggs, in the Coggin National Bank, Brownwood, TX.

Katherine Stinson Otero (born 1893 or 1891), got her pilot's license in 1912, the 4th woman to do so, and became the first woman to carry airmail. During WWI, she drove an ambulance for the Red Cross in France and trained Canadian fighter pilots, later working as a draftsman for the US Navy.

A group of women picking fruit, circa 1910.

Maria Edgeworth (born 1767), Irish Novelist first published in 1795 who wrote and published prolifically thereafter until her death in 1849. The book I have is part of an 18 volume set of her works published in London in 1833.

UPDATE Jan. 15, 2011: Here are two recent posts on this topic that may be of interest:

Part 1 - 18th Century Equal Opportunity & Success: Some Women Printers in Colonial America

Part 2: 18th Century Business Women: Limited Only By 20th Century Interpretation

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday: Allelujah! He is Risen!

John 20 (New International Version)

The Empty Tomb

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"

"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

"Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

Jesus said to her, "Mary."

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." And with that he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."

Jesus Appears to Thomas

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!"

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.


John, who related this account, was one of Jesus' 12 original Disciples. Other records of eyewitness' accounts are also available to us, in Matthew, Chapter 28 , in Luke, Chapter 24, and in Mark, Chapter 16 .

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Saturday: Sometimes It Causes Me To Tremble

Mark 15:42-47 (New International Version)

The Burial of Jesus

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body.

Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph.

So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock.

Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb.

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

Matthew 27:62-66 (New International Version)

The Guard at the Tomb

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. "Sir," they said, "we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, 'After three days I will rise again.'

"So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first."

"Take a guard," Pilate answered. "Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how." So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard."


*Title is part of the refrain from the song "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?"

Photo was taken in the Old Sheldon Prince William's Parish Church Yard, South Carolina

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday: And The Light Went Out Of The World

The Trial, Crucifixion, and Death of Jesus

Matthew 27:1-27,32-56 (New International Version)

Judas Hangs Himself

Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood."
"What is that to us?" they replied. "That's your responsibility."

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

The chief priests picked up the coins and said, "It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money." So they decided to use the money to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners.

That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: "They took the thirty silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used them to buy the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me."

The Trial of Jesus Before Pilate

Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?"
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied.

When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer.

Then Pilate asked him, "Don't you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?" But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge — to the great amazement of the governor.

Now it was the governor's custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, "Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.

While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him."

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

"Which of the two do you want me to release to you?" asked the governor.
"Barabbas," they answered.

"What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked.
They all answered, "Crucify him!"

"Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!"

When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!"

All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!"

Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

The Crucifixion

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.

Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Two robbers were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!"

In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. "He saved others," they said, "but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.' " In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

The Death of Jesus

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, "He's calling Elijah."

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to save him."

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!"

Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thursday of Holy Week: The Power of Humility

In the British newspaper The Daily Mail, Peter Hitchens, brother of noted athiest Christopher Hitchens, speaks about his own wanderings from faith to atheism and his return to Christianity:

"Why is there such a fury against religion now? Because religion is the one reliable force that stands in the way of the power of the strong over the weak. The one reliable force that forms the foundation of the concept of the rule of law."

"The one reliable force that restrains the hand of the man of power. In an age of powerworship, the Christian religion has become the principal obstacle to the desire of earthly utopians for absolute power."

Hitchens further looks at how Christ's teaching has impacted how societies develop: "Its most powerful expression is summed up in the words 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends'. The huge differences which can be observed between Christian societies and all others, even in the twilit afterglow of Christianity, originate in this specific injunction."

This is a remarkable article, that I think will be interesting even for the agnostic or non-believer, to perhaps understand those of faith better. Hitchens makes the case for the good that Christianity does for human civilization in the world. You can read it all here.

The Scripture reading for Thursday in Holy Week is John 13:12-16 (New International Version):

"When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them.

"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.

"I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him."

The photo is of a truck I saw in the Walmart parking lot last week.


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