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Updated: 12 weeks 1 day ago

Opting Out: Sovereignty, Decentralism and the Secessionist Impulse

Thu, 2013-10-24 12:43
Topics> Activism, Finance, Economics, Food&Health, History, Media, Governance, Foreign Policy, Elections, Military, Politics, Trade, Environment, Education, Diplomacy, Energy, Vermont Commons, Common Assets, Sustainability

(This essay is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, “The Vermont Way: Restless Spirits and Popular Movements”.)

The idea of defying the forces of centralized power and wealth can be seductive, especially if you live in a small, isolated place with a reputation for being contrary and the sense that it’s different, even exceptional.   In Congress, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders has reflected this perspective, challenging corporate secrecy and the powers of international financial institutions by forging alliances that cross traditional lines. When that strategy was attempted in Vermont during the late 1970s, the two ends of the political spectrum also found common ground, in that instance by embracing decentralism. Both sides discovered that they agreed on a preference for small scale energy production to mega-plants, widespread ownership of land and business, and removal of “government barriers.”   Things became complicated, however, when the discussion shifted to welfare, environmental regulation, affirmative action, and abortion – none of these easy topics. The difficulty was that the same arguments for decentralization and sovereignty that sounded progressive in some cases could be used in support of isolationism, unfettered capitalism and discrimination.   In 2003, as former Vermont Governor Howard Dean was running for president, former Duke University professor Thomas Naylor launched a related but more ambitious movement, the Second Vermont Republic. Its aim was to dissolve the United States and, in particular, to return Vermont “to its status as an independent republic.” Lincoln had persuaded the public that secession was unconstitutional and immoral, Naylor argued. “It’s one of the few things that the left and right agree on. We say it’s constitutional – and ultimately it is a question of political will: the will of the people of Vermont versus the will of the government to stop us.”   Historian Frank Bryan, whose 1989 book with Republican thinker John McClaughry called for restructuring the state’s democracy along decentralist lines, has argued that “the cachet of secession would make the new republic a magnet" and "people would obviously relish coming to the Republic of Vermont, the Switzerland of North America.”   Naylor said the question wasn’t “if” but “when.”   Vermont attorney and historian Paul Gillies was skeptical, “It doesn’t make economic sense, it doesn’t make political sense, it doesn’t make historical sense,” he said. “Other than that, it’s a good idea.” And Vermont archivist Gregory Sanford claimed that some of the arguments for secession, in Vermont at least, were based on “historical facts of dubious reputation.” The State Archives often receive requests for copies of an “escape clause” in the Vermont Constitution, which supposedly allows Vermont to withdraw from the US.   “The truth, drawn from documents, is less satisfying; there is no, nor has there ever been, such an escape clause,” Sanford asserted.   Still, the underlying issue isn’t whether there is legal authority, but why millions of people across the country consider secession a reasonable and attractive idea. A 2008 Zogby poll commissioned by the Middlebury Institute, a think tank studying “separatism, secession, and self-determination,” indicated that that 20 percent of Americans thought “any state or region has the right to peaceably secede from the United States and become an independent republic.”   More than 18 percent told pollsters that they “would support a secessionist effort in my state.”   Leaving the Empire   In Vermont, the argument has been “that the US has become an empire that is essentially ungovernable – it’s too big, it’s too corrupt and it no longer serves the needs of its citizens,” according to Rob Williams, editor of Vermont Commons, a publication that emerged to cover secession and related issues. “Congress and the executive branch are being run by the multinationals. We have electoral fraud, rampant corporate corruption, a culture of militarism and war. If you care about democracy and self-governance and any kind of representative system,” argue Williams and Naylor, “the only constitutional way to preserve what’s left of the Republic is to peaceably take apart the empire.”   As its history demonstrates, this quirky state has been fertile ground for such “outside the box” thinking in the past. It didn’t immediately join the United States, remaining an independent state for almost 15 years. It was also the first state to ban slavery.   Explicit constitutional authority aside, it came close to separating from the new Union before and during the War of 1812. Between 1809 and 1812, Federalists and other opponents defied national policies, flirting with secret societies, secession and other forms of dissent. In 1813 Vermont elected a governor who rejected the necessity of war. Martin Chittenden’s refusal to let the state's troops defend the lake emboldened the British. In October 1814, although Chittenden stopped short of supporting secession, Vermont delegates were among those who responded to a call by the Massachusetts legislature for a convention in Hartford to consider more extreme options.   Seventeen years later it was the first state to elect an Anti-Mason governor during a period when opposition to elites and secret societies was growing. The Anti-Mason movement lasted only a decade, and most of its members eventually joined either the short-lived Whig Party or the more durable Republicans. But along the way it expressed an emerging anti-monopoly philosophy and, on a practical level, initiated changes in the way political parties operated.   This wasn’t the only time a short-lived political movement produced unexpected change in the US. In 1912, the new Progressive Party, formed by Theodore Roosevelt when he lost the Republican nomination to William Howard Taft, led to the election of Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt soon left his own party, but it continued under the leadership of Robert La Follette. Although La Follette’s run for president in 1924 netted only 17 percent of the vote, he won in his home state of Wisconsin, and successful reforms were implemented there.   Secession advocate Kirkpatrick Sale has described decentralism as a “third way,” evident in bioregional movements, cooperative and worker-owned businesses, land trusts, farmers markets, and a variety of grassroots initiatives. Assessing whether Vermont could “go it alone,” author Bill McKibben has argued that “functional independence would be the proper first step, and useful in its own right.” He also has provided a list of practical projects to help create more food self-sufficiency, energy independence, and local economic power.   On the other hand, the 2008 election of Barack Obama and the global nature of many pressing problems has also convinced McKibben that “any political independence movement is going nowhere now.” Therefore, his advice is modest: to build affection and trust by sharing information and making small but effective moves in the right direction.   Before he died Second Vermont Republic founder Tom Naylor defined secession – or independence, as some supporters of the movement prefer – in idealistic terms, as a rebellion against empire designed to retake control from big institutions and help people care for themselves and others by “decentralizing, downsizing, localizing, demilitarizing, simplifying, and humanizing our lives.”   In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the Decentralist League, which ultimately disbanded when its Left wing opted for electoral politics and its Right signed on for the Reagan “revolution.” In the meantime, however, it did suggest some of what might unite people who find the current national and global order unsustainable and dangerous. Taking aim at centralized power and wealth, it asserted that decentralism is the best way to preserve diversity, increase self-sufficiency, and satisfy human needs.   “Decentralists believe in the progressive dismantling of bureaucratic structures which stifle creativity and spontaneity, and of economic and political institutions which diminish individual and community power,” the League’s Statement of Principles said. The political platform included support for local citizen alliances; widespread ownership of industry by employees; a viable and diverse agricultural base; a decent level of income for all; education that stresses self-reliance, creativity, and a combination of learning and work; technologies that increase energy self-sufficiency; and mediation of disputes rather than reliance on regulations and adversary proceedings.   While promising in theory, its demise underlined the fragility of such a left-right alliance. Similar difficulties have faced the Second Vermont Republic. For the more recent movement the first significant controversy involved an accusation by the Southern Poverty Law Center that Naylor and other Vermont secessionists were talking to an allegedly racist group, the League of the South.   Critics pounced, and Seven Days, the liberal Vermont weekly that was distributing Vermont Commons as an insert, decided to end the arrangement. Labor groups demanded the removal of offensive web links, disassociation from certain groups or individuals, and a statement clearly opposing racism, fascism, bigotry, and discrimination. There was no evidence that Vermont secessionists actually condoned such things, but they were being forced to prove it.   In a 2009 article for Vermont Commons, educator Ron Miller attempted to define the difference between progressive and conservative decentralists. Supporters of Vermont secession are motivated by opposition to war, exploitation, and government violence, he explained. These “liberal decentralists” support equality, human and civil rights, nonviolence and multiculturalism. “Conservative decentralists,” in contrast, are usually free market libertarians who are hostile to cultural change. The former welcomed some aspects of the Obama presidency, the latter viewed it as a deadly threat to liberty and identity.   Left-leaning decentralists face a paradox, Miller argued. Expansion of the federal government had led to social progress in the past, “but always at the cost of siphoning off local, state and regional sovereignty.” There is also the risk that bad leaders will do appalling damage, or that progressive reforms spark such an extreme reaction that civil dialogue is impossible. The federal government hasn’t resolved most conflict, he wrote. It has merely papered over deeply held but divergent values.   The solution he proposed was to have Vermont, or a confederation of progressive states, break away and “become a model of enlightened governance.” What about the conservative, “red” state regions? Since past progressive reforms have failed to transform southern culture or conservative populists he suggested leaving them to “live by the values they prefer.” But that sounded a bit like saying it would be acceptable for almost half the US – or half the world, for that matter – to live under repressive conditions and various forms of fundamentalism.   Sovereignty and Nullification   By 2011 secession organizations were organizing across the United States and a dozen states had active movements. Even more legislatures were debating laws designed to “nullify” federal actions in areas from gun control and health care reform to marijuana possession and overseas troop deployments.   In Alaska, even though the State Supreme Court held in 2006 that secession is illegal, the secessionist Independence Party has influenced state politics. Former Governor Sarah Palin’s husband was a member and she publicly endorsed the party while in office. Hawaii’s sovereignty movement has won small victories, and Georgia’s State Senate passed a resolution in 2009 endorsing the right of states to nullify federal laws. If Congress ever dares to restrict gun rights, that resolution added, the federal government will cease to exist.   In April 2009, Texas Governor Rick Perry directly threatened secession at a protest of the recently launched Tea Party movement. Afterward, a Rasmussen poll of Texans found that almost one third thought the state had the right to secede – although, at that point, only 18 percent actually backed such a move. According to Vermont secession leader Naylor, “Although thirty or so states now have some form of independence movement, in most states it’s all talk and no action. Some so-called secession movements are little more than computer websites.”   At the time he said that Vermont and Texas were the most notable exceptions, Naylor acknowledged. By 2013 Tea Party Republicans in at least seven states were introducing legislation that challenged federal authority or flirted with secession.   A related, larger and predominantly conservative movement has pursed nullification. If the federal government fails to check itself, goes the argument, it’s up to the states to call a halt. This rebellion rests on the theory that the states created the national government. Therefore, they have the right to judge the constitutionality of federal laws and potentially refuse to enforce them. Nullification was used when American Colonists nullified laws imposed by the British. Since then states have used nullification to limit federal actions, from the Fugitive Slave Act to unpopular tariffs.   Vermont had direct and dramatic experience with nullification early in its history. In November 1850 the state legislature approved a so-called Habeas Corpus Law that required officials to assist slaves who made it to the state. The law rendered the Fugitive Slave Act effectively unenforceable. It was a clear case of nullification, a highly controversial concept even then.   Poet John Greenleaf Whittier suggested such tactics, while Virginia governor John B. Floyd warned that this form of resistance could push the South toward secession. President Millard Fillmore threatened to enforce federal law in Vermont through military action if necessary, but nothing happened.   Even earlier, support for nullification emerged in reaction to the Sedition Act and the jailing of Vermont Congressman Matthew Lyon. These two events prompted the Kentucky Resolve of 1798, written by Thomas Jefferson, and the almost identical Virginia Resolve penned by James Madison. In Section One of his version, Jefferson wrote:   “Resolved, that the several States composing the United States of America, are not united on the principles of unlimited submission to their General Government; but that by compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States and of amendments thereto, they constituted a General Government for special purposes, delegated to that Government certain definite powers, reserving each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self Government; and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force . . . . That the Government created by this compact was not made the exclusive or final judge of the extent of the powers delegated to itself; since that would have made its discretion, and not the Constitution, the measure of its powers; but that as in all other cases of compact among parties having no common Judge, each party has an equal right to judge for itself, as well as of infractions as of the mode and measure of redress.”   In simple English, this meant that federal authority wasn’t unlimited, and if it went too far government actions need not be obeyed. The national government wasn’t the “final judge” of its own powers, Jefferson suggested, and therefore various states had a right to decide how to handle federal overreach. Madison’s Virginia version declared that, in the case of a deliberate and dangerous abuse of power, states not only had a right to object, they were “duty bound” to stop the “progress of the evil” and maintain their “authorities, rights and liberties.”   Ten years later, after Jefferson enacted a trade embargo as president in response to British maritime theft and kidnapping of sailors, legislatures nullified the law using his own words and arguments. On February 5, 1809, the Massachusetts legislature declared that the embargo was “not legally binding on the citizens of the state” and denounced it as “unjust, oppressive, and unconstitutional.” Eventually, every New England state, as well as Delaware, voted to nullify the embargo act.   In August 2010, the Missouri legislature used similar logic to reject the health care mandate in the Democrat’s health care reform, followed by a flood of legal challenges from state officials. In recent years, several states have also either passed or proposed legislation or constitutional amendments designed to nullify federal laws in the areas of firearms and medical marijuana. Many who support this approach cite the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”   Attempts to discredit nullification as a tactic by branding its leaders extremists, wingnuts and “tenthers” hasn’t dissuaded them. On the contrary, several state legislatures have introduced 10th Amendment resolutions that serve “Notice and Demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.”   Nullification advocates can point to some limited successes. After the REAL ID act was signed by President Bush in 2005, more than two dozen states passed laws or resolutions denouncing it or refusing to comply. In response, the feds postponed its enactment. In Wisconsin, groups like the Grandsons of Liberty lobbied lawmakers to nullify health care reform by amending the constitution so that the state could opt out. According to the John Birch Society-backed magazine New American, activists in 28 states were involved in similar campaigns as of 2010.   Concern about guns rights has also fueled the movement. The Firearms Freedom Act (FFA), which challenges the federal government’s authority to regulate firearms, passed in Montana and Tennessee, and has been considered in at least 11 other states. The bill says that firearms made and retained in-state are beyond the authority of Congress under its constitutional power to regulate commerce. The federal position is that such laws are unconstitutional. In response to state campaigns the Department of Justice filed a brief in federal court against the FFA.   Another strategy, especially if the federal government ever tried to block nullification efforts by threatening to withhold funds, is a proposed State Sovereignty and Federal Tax Funds Act, which has been introduced in several states. The objective is to place state governments between federal tax collectors and individuals. The goal: to stop the flow of money to the feds before they can use it to intimidate a state. But before things get that far, nullifiers calculate that the threat of such legislation could be enough to make the feds back down on any threats to cut off funding.   Bridging the Divide   The Tea Party movement, sparked in 2009 by widespread disapproval of the federal government’s bailout of mortgage defaulters, grew into a tidal wave of anti-big-government sentiment that helped the Republican Party regain control of the US House in 2010. Supporters said the movement marked a return to core values; critics called it reactionary and possibly racist. In part funded by wealthy interests who saw it as a way to advance their own deregulation, limited government agenda, the Tea Party was a loose association of fiscal conservatives, fundamentalists and libertarians.   A March 2010 poll estimated 37 percent support for its basic agenda. But that figure has dropped, especially since the recent Tea Party-fueled government shutdown. In any case, the movement encompasses contradictory impulses, from libertarian orthodoxy and neo-isolationism to populist anger directed at elites, deficit spending and any perceived foreign threat to US interests.   Some liberals, leftists and Democrats have written off the Tea Party’s anti-federal rebellion as a purely Republican tactic. But there were also liberal nullification campaigns to decriminalize marijuana and bring National Guard units home from wars overseas. “Bring the Guard Home” legislation, for example, would require a state’s Governor, and/or the legislature, to evaluate the legality of orders for National Guard deployments and give them the chance to allow or deny the deployment.   Nullification has clearly exerted influence on federal policies at times. But secession is another matter. Can it happen? Not according to at least one US Supreme Court Justice, the conservative Antonin Scalia. In 2006, he responded to a letter from screenwriter Daniel Turkewitz, who was developing a script about a secessionist movement in Maine. He wrote to all of the justices but only Scalia replied. And the message was that a legal showdown in the Supreme Court could never happen.   “If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War,” Scalia said, “it is that there is no right to secede.”   Even assuming that is true, the Court’s refusal to revisit the issue is not apt to quell the anger roiling in many parts of the country, or stop anti-federal, independence, secession, and nullification movements from attempting to rally people with the hope that they can prevent an “evil,” or just morally and economically bankrupt, government from seizing more power. Or even roll it back. Part of what unites these upsurges is clearly anger; another part is distrust and disbelief. They simply don’t have faith in most political institutions anymore, especially “big government.”   On the other hand, the left and right have been culturally polarized for generations, disagreeing passionately (sometimes violently) over moral issues, racism, abortion, immigration, climate change, and controlling the distribution of wealth as well as power. In fact, they often perceive very different “realities.” Post-2008 one side decided that President Obama was a socialist, maybe even a Muslim Manchurian Candidate. The other said he was at best a political sell out, and in some ways was doubling down on the mistakes of the previous administration. One side says climate change is a hoax, or at least exaggerated, and the government should institute literacy tests for voting. The other sees ecological (or economic) catastrophe just around the corner, thinks guns should be strictly controlled, and says states should seize public resources as “trustees” of the commons.   There is some common ground between the two ends of the political spectrum, beginning with the idea that in the face of oppression (however you define it) withdrawal of consent can make a difference. The idea is that disengagement, whether gradual or sudden, is preferable to sticking with the team, staying the course, remaining faithful to or engaged with a system in which you no longer believe. Even active resistance is justified if necessary.   Left-wing protestors have often used civil disobedience tactics and generally embrace the philosophies of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. Early Vermonters resisted outside control, government pressure to wage war, and human slavery. Tea Party activists have taken selected pages from the same play book, but so far appear to question the value of tolerance and peace.   Maybe these political “outliers,” a disparate collection of  subcultures and “extreme” or “alternative” movements, will someday seize what the media like to call the narrative – aka mass perceptions – and join together long enough to sell the idea that it is time to call an end to the Union. Game over. Bring down the curtain.   It’s more complicated, obviously. But with the United States looking like an empire in decline, militarily overstretched, crippled by long-term debt and frequently on the brink of a crisis, maybe it will happen someday. And if any place does take “the road less traveled,” it may well be Vermont, the “reluctant republic,” fertile ground for original thinkers, common sense tolerance, and independent idealism, a cantankerous maverick that wasn’t sure it wanted in from the start.    There’s even a bumper sticker: Most Likely to Secede.   Previously published here

Vermont Progressives Aiming to Shoot Down F-35 While Vermont Democrats Remain Solid Military Boondoggle Boosters

Tue, 2013-10-22 13:27
Topics> Activism, Business, Health, Media, Governance, Elections, Military, Politics, Environment, Education, Common Assets, Sustainability

Image by Dylan Kelley for Vermont Commons 

The latest high-ranking Vermont Democrat to push for prime military pork in her state is Burlington city attorney Eileen Blackwood, who released a slippery legal memo October 17th that is as cleverly political as it is narrowly legal, leading to widespread, obtuse media coverage along the lines of Vermont Public Radio's simply false headline: "City Report: Burlington Can't Block F-35."

Blackwood's "preliminary analysis" was a memo "responding to some of the legal concerns raised" in the course of three years' "public discussion of the Air Force's consideration of basing the F-35 jets at the Burlington International Airport (BIA)." Blackwood, a Democrat, said her legal memo was requested by Burlington mayor Miro Weinberger (the Democrat who appointed her) and "several City Councilors," unnamed.

Blackwood's 14-page legal memo comes to no such sweeping conclusion, as reported by public radio, WPTZ-TV, the Burlington Free Press, VTDIGGER, and other Vermont media. News reports made the memo sound comprehensive and conclusive when it is very limited and inconclusive. Blackwood has delivered the best case she can for the views of her boss, Mayor Weinberger, just as other attorneys in similar but more serious circumstances offered legal support to presidents who wanted to torture people or assassinate them with drones.

Blackwood argues that the city's position is legal. She doesn't claim that it's right. Her page of "conclusions" is hedged with conditional language - things are "likely," "would likely mean," "would not seem to allow," "would likely be withdrawn," "appears," "seems likely," or "does not appear to apply," a style all very lawyerly. The memo, as she says, "is not intended to serve as a final statement of the City's legal position on any specific issue."

In her last sentence, Blackwood acknowledges the essentially political (not legal) nature of the F-35 dispute, saying, "Voicing opposition would be a political statement that is protected speech" under the Constitution's first amendment. But that's not the whole sentence. The rest of the sentence gives her game away. In what seems a clear move to head off any voicing of opposition, she concludes her memo by warning that protected speech "would carry with it a different set of risks and opportunities than those explored here." In other words: council members, be afraid, be timid.

Blackwood memo designed to influence council vote on October 28th

The Vermont Progressive Party's four members on the Burlington City Council (which has 14 members in all) have been trying since early October to get the council to vote on measures aimed at delaying or blocking the Air Force from basing the controversial F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at the city-owned airport. These Progressives are trying to protect the neighboring communities most at risk from this military escalation in the middle of Vermont's most densely populated area.

The smaller towns of South Burlington and Winooski would take the brunt of personal and economic damage inflicted by the F-35, with no way to exercise any direct influence over their own destiny. Both towns have long been excluded from any representation on the five-member Burlington Airport Commission. By contrast, Mayor Weinberger, as a former commissioner who now appoints commissioners in his role as mayor, is loaded with potential conflicts of interest.

Everyone admits that basing 18 to 24 F-35 stealth bombers at the Burlington Airport will do significant harm to South Burlington, where it's located, and Winooski, which sits directly in the main flight path. Most of the damage assessment comes from the Air Force itself in its environmental impact statement. Opponents of the F-35 have raised additional concerns not addressed by the Air Force.

Proponents of the F-35, including all of the state's top Democratic officials (there are few top Republican officials in Vermont), support the basing plan despite the damage it will cause, usually saying that they believe that the military spending is important to the Vermont economy. Proponents of the F-35 typically say the cost is worth it, without addressing the fairness of the cost largely being borne by others, many of whom are lower-income and/or foreign born (including a significant refugee population).

The city council first scheduled a vote on at least two Progressive resolutions on October 7th, with a public hearing to precede the vote. Four days before the event, the city council president cancelled it because Blackwood had informed her that the council was not insured against liability for any actions they might take regarding the airport they own. According to Blackwood, the city did not have any "public officials liability insurance for the airport that it routinely carries for other city business."

City moves forward, insured against liability attorney implies is chimerical

The city has since acquired the liability insurance, for up to $5 million in damages, as recommended by Blackwood. The council has re-scheduled the public hearing and F-35 vote for October 28th. Blackwood's legal memo argues at length the ways the city council should be legally immune from liability suits of various sorts. The memo does not say why the city council therefore needed liability insurance before even voting on the F-35 and its assortment of potential harms to public health, safety, and property.

There are at least two resolutions, probably more, that will be presented at the October 28 council meeting. One resolution says the city will prevent F-35 basing at Burlington Airport at any time. Another says the city will prevent basing the F-35 at Burlington Airport during the first basing sequence (beginning in 2020 at the earliest, according to the Air Force, which once said it might happen as early as 2015). Another resolution might be only a sense-of-the-council statement, without binding force of law (which Mayor Weinberger has said he expects).

Blackwood's legal memo acknowledges quietly that a municipality that owns an airport has the legal authority to adopt health and safety regulations for that airport, including control of noise. But mostly she describes all the ways Burlington might be limited in its exercise of that right. Her political position is clear: that the city has the right to protect health and safety in a way that could bar the F-35 from the airport, but it shouldn't even consider exercising that right because, well, someone might sue or something.

In a brief, preliminary response to Blackwood, attorney James Dumont writes:

"Eileen Blackwood's memo accepts the most basic point we have been making for months - that unlike South Burlington, Burlington is the proprietor of the airport and therefore it has authority that South Burlington lacks. Federal noise standards preempt South Burlington's authority to regulate through zoning or other regulations. The caselaw we submitted and that Blackwood found all agrees that a city that owns an airport can set noise or other standards as proprietor, not regulator."

Does Vermont still know what it means to be a good neighbor?

Although Dumont leaves it implicit, the fundamental question is whether Burlington, unlikely to feel much negative impact from the F-35, has the integrity, conscience, neighborliness, or will to act to protect the health and safety of South Burlington. A corollary question is whether Burlington will face any consequences if the city fails to act, and South Burlington suffers the grievous harm the Air Force and others predict.

Dumont, who represents the Stop-the-F-35 Coalition, argues that Blackwood's memo is, in effect, mostly smoke and mirrors:

"None of the cases cited in the memo address the situation in Burlington. Uncited cases and scholarly articles explain that in the Burlington situation local action is acceptable if the purpose is within the traditional purposes of local government - protection of the public health of the local public - and if the effect is not to directly control military affairs. For example, there is the case of Arthur D. Little v City of Cambridge, decided by the highest court in Massachusetts. The City there adopted a regulation, like the proposed resolution here, which had the purpose of protecting local public health. The regulation banned all manufacture of chemical weapons in the city."

When the chemicals weapons maker, Arthur D. Little, sued to continue making chemical weapons in Cambridge, the Massachusetts Supreme Court forcefully rejected Little's claims and emphasized the city's right and duty to enact laws "to protect the public health and welfare.... municipal health and safety regulations, such as that at issue here, carry a heavy presumption of validity, and are only rarely preempted by Federal law."

According to Dumont, there will a resolution of this sort offered to the city council on October 28th: "It is explicitly a public health measure."

In addition to the four Progressives on the city council, there are one Republican, two Independents, and seven Democrats. The Democrats are all under pressure from their party leaders - including U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, Rep. Peter Welch, and Gov. Peter Shumlin - to support the F-35, although none of these "leaders" has offered a coherent argument as to how this nuclear-capable bomber serves the common good.

Ultimately the question comes down to whether Democratic loyalty to Pentagon extravagance is some kind of justification for Burlington to impose damage on its neighbors against their will. It should be unconscionable.

Previously published at Reader Supported News

The Facts About The Safety of the F-35 Basing in Burlington by Pierre Sprey

Tue, 2013-10-22 12:45
Topics> Activism, Health, Military, Politics, Environment, Common Assets, Sustainability



1. All new fighters have high accident rates, much higher than mature fighters and much, much higher than scheduled airliners.

2. Basing a new fighter with significantly less than 1 million fleet hours of safety experience in an urban area is likely to expose the residents to accident probabilities that are irresponsibly high.


The F-16 at 100,000 fleet hours had a cumulative major accident rate (i.e., officially termed Class A Mishap Rate) of 17 per 100,000 hours. By 1 million hours (almost exactly the point when F-16s started operating from Burlington) its cumulative rate was down to 7 and the current cumulative rate at 12,000,000 fleet hours is 3.55. (Note that the current F-16 fleet major accident rate, that is, the non-cumulative rate, is actually running about 1.59, as averaged over the last 5 years).

Statistically speaking, there is not much point in looking at the accident rates of fighters with less than 100,000 fleet hours, simply because with such small accident sample sizes, the estimated rates bounce around too much, rendering the estimates too uncertain to be useful.

Thus, with only 4500 cumulative fleet hours for the F-35A (10,000 hours for all three variants), no useful direct estimate of the F-35A accident rate can be projected. Note that only F-35A fleet hours are germane to estimating the accident probabilities for Burlington; the accident experience of the F-35B and C is irrelevant because they only have 20% commonality with the F-35A. The fact that, so far, the F-35A has had zero Class A Mishaps is certainly commendable but uninformative. And the zero major accident score is certainly offset by having more early fleet-wide groundings to cure safety problems than any other fighter of the last 50 years.

The Air Force’s EIS agrees that the F-35 accident rate can’t be directly estimated because of the fighter’s newness.  Reasoning by analogy, the USAF does go on to say that the F-35 major accident rate may be similar to that of the F-22 because the size and technology are roughly comparable. This reasoning overlooks two relevant facts, both of which would increase the likely accident rate relative to the F-22. First, the F-35 has only one engine while the F-22 has two. Second, the F-35 flight computer, weapons system, cockpit/helmet display, control system, and cooling system are significantly more complex than the F-22 (for instance, 9 million lines of computer code versus 1.7 million for the F-22).

The F-22 cumulative accident rate, whether germane or not, is now running at about 7.34 major accidents per 100,000 hours with a fleet total of about 130,000 hours. At 16 years since first flight, these fleet total hours are remarkably low (at 16 years after first flight, the F-16 had 4 million hours). The F-35A will have similarly low total hours by 2020 for similar reasons: first, because both airplanes are so complex, they spend so much time in maintenance that they fly less than 12 hours per month; secondly, both are so expensive that the DoD budget can only afford to produce them at a slow rate (20 per year maximum for the F-22 at 11 years after first flight and only19 F-35As per year for the USAF out through at least 2014, with probably no production increase for 3 years longer under sequestration).

From the point of view of Burlington area residents, the real issue is the probability of a major accident in any given year. That, of course, depends on the fighter’s actual accident rate and how often it flies per year.

The current VtANG F-16s fly 2550 sorties per year (same as 5100 flight operations/yr) from Burlington at 1.3 hours per sortie and have a current (not cumulative) major fleetwide accident rate of 1.59 per 100,00 hours over the last 5 years. That yields a .051 probability of at least one major accident per year (Poisson probability calculation)—or roughly 1 accident every 20 years.

Just as an illustrative comparison, a guesstimate for the F-35A accident rate could assign it the same major accident rate as the F-16, since the F-16 is the single engine fighter that is closest in size and performance to the F-35.  When it came to Burlington in early1986 with 1 million hours of worldwide fleet flight time, the F-16 non-cumulative rate was about 7 per 100,000 hours, based on accidents experienced during the next million worldwide flight hours.  Assuming this rate for the F-35A and with the F-35A flying 2250 sorties per year (according to the USAF’s EIS Scenario 1) and about 1.54 hours per sortie (current average), the probability of at least one major accident per year would be .215—or nearly one accident every 4 years.      

For scheduled airliners (no smaller than 10 passengers), the official NTSB Major + Serious accident rate (the rough equivalent of the military Class A Mishap) is .1217 accidents per 1 million hours over the last 5 years reported (2007 to 2011), about 132 times less than the F-16 hourly rate. These scheduled airliners flew 5681 flights (landing + departure) out of Burlington in 2012, averaging 1.53 hours per flight. That yields a .0011 probability of a major accident in a year—or roughly 1 accident every 945 years.

There are, of course, large numbers of flights out of Burlington by much smaller airplanes: air taxis (most of them well under 9 seats) flew 8862 flights (landing + takeoff) and private airplanes (most under 4 seats) flew 18522 flights in 2012, according to Sky Vector. These smaller planes need to be considered separately because their major accidents represent far less of an urban area disaster potential than the much larger scheduled airliners or fighters. Just to give a rough indication of accident likelihood for these smaller aircraft, the air taxi accident rate per flying hour is about 8 times that of scheduled airliners, so air taxis would still have a considerably lower major accident probability than F-16 fighters. Small private airplanes, however, have an accident rate about 40 times greater than scheduled airliners and fly 8 times as many flights out of Burlington, so their accident probability would significantly exceed that of the F-16s.


3. The VtANG claims that by 2020 the F-35 fleet will have accumulated 750,000 hours of safety experience and that will be adequate maturity to a) provide a good estimate of the fighter’s accident rate and b) ensure acceptably safe accident probabilities for basing in Burlington. Statistically speaking, 750,000 fleet hours is marginally adequate for purpose a). Purpose b) would be served if and only if the F-35A fleet demonstrated less than 10 Class A Mishaps in the interval between 250,000 and 750,000 hours.  

4. The arithmetic that led to the claim of 750,000 F-35 fleet hours by 2020 is wildly in error. In truth, a decision to base F-35As in Burlington in 2020 would be exposing the Burlington area to a fighter with only about 90,000 to 110,000 fleet hours of safety experience.


Given that current F-16 operations in Burlington are exposing the area to a Class A Mishap risk of about 1 every 20 years, it would be hard to argue that it is acceptable for a new F-35 fighter to significantly increase that risk, say by a factor of 2 or 3 or more—most particularly if that new fighter also adds the risk of a major toxicity disaster to any crash in a residential area (as will be discussed below).  The success of the F-16 basing in Burlington—arriving with 1 million hours of fleet experience and demonstrating steady and satisfying accident rate reductions thereafter—sets a convincing precedent for a conservative approach to the fleet hours needed to estimate and mitigate the risk to area residents. Thus, 750,000 hours of fleet experience is marginally acceptable.

To keep the risk of the new F-35A fighter close to the 1.59 accident rate of the currently flying F-16s means that the new fighter needs to demonstrate less than 2 Class A Mishaps per 100,000 hours during an adequately long period before the date the F-35 is to be based in Burlington. From a statistical viewpoint, a sample of 10 accidents is barely acceptable for forming an adequately accurate estimate of the true accident rate. Thus, to ensure with adequate confidence an accident rate of no more than 2 per 100,000, it is essential to set a threshold of no more than 10 F-35A accidents in the 500,000 hours before the decision date for basing in Burlington.   

With regards to correctly estimating the number of F-35 fleet hours accumulated by 2020, the arithmetic is quite simple. Our starting point is the 10,000 hours reported this October 13 by Lockheed for all three variants; the F-35A comprises 42% of the 63 F-35A/B/Cs flying in October and about 45% of the hours or 4500 hours. For those in-service 27 F-35As--plus for every newly produced F-35A delivered thereafter--we calculate that 10 hours per month (present fleet average) gets added to the 4500 hour starting point. The delivery schedule is fixed out to 2017 by the existing LRIP (Low Rate Initial Production) contracts. LRIP-5 delivers 22 F-35As (includes export planes) by second quarter 2014, LRIP-6 delivers 23 by second quarter 2015, LRIP-7 delivers 24 by 2Q 2016 and LRIP-8 delivers 21 by 2Q 2017 (these deliveries may well get cut back by the exigencies of sequestration). For our arithmetic, we assume a slight increase to 25 F-35As per year for the following years, 2018, 2019 and 2020 (even this slight increase may not materialize due to continuing budget pressures and large competing programs in USAF procurement plans). The total F-35A fleet hours by second quarter 2020 therefore total 89,460 hours. Should the monthly F-35 hours improve to 12, the 2020 total would be 107,352 hours. Note that only a quarter of the factor of 8 error in the 750,000 hour calculation is due to the VtANG’s mistake of counting all three F-35 variants as providing relevant accident experience.


5.  All largely composite-based  (that is, laminated plastic and carbon fiber cloth) aircraft—whether new generation airliners or fighters—release large volumes of extremely toxic gases and fibers when the flammable plastic burns unextinguishably in a crash. These gases and fibers can blanket an entire neighborhood or can touch down in “hot spots” as far away as 10 to 50 miles, depending on atmospheric conditions.  


There is a large and growing body of research and technical papers on the fire dangers of composite airplanes, authored by engineers, toxicologists, chemists and combustion scientists. Based on both laboratory experiments plus the real world experience of the 2013 Dreamliner fire in London and the disastrous 2008 B-2 crash on Guam (which burned for two days despite massive fire fighting efforts), there is direct evidence of the flammability of composite fuselages and wings, and of the dangerous toxicity of the clouds of resulting combustion products.

The aircraft that pose this new crash danger are the latest generation airliners (Boeing 787 and Airbus A350) and military aircraft (F-22, F-35, B-2 and almost all current drones), all with 30% to 60% or more of composite structure. Many older planes (F-16, F-18) have small composite parts—wing and tail tips, fairings and housings--comprising 2% to 5% of the structure; these planes are not at issue here.

The composite fire problem is simple: the plastic adhesives that glue the carbon fiber cloth layers together (mostly related to epoxies or polyurethanes), unlike aluminum structure, can be ignited at well below the temperature of burning fuel. And once ignited, the inner layers continue to smolder (sometimes for 24 to 48 hours) even after firefighters have extinguished the external fires. Epoxies and polyurethanes and their solvents are high on OSHA’s list of dangerously toxic industrial chemicals, even at room temperature; after burning, the combustion products of these same chemicals can become significantly more toxic and corrosive to the lungs and other organs, as well as more carcinogenic. A further risk comes from the clouds of tiny carbon fibers, breathable like asbestosis fibers and laden with adsorbed toxic combustion products.

Viewing a video of any crashed airliner or military aircraft burning immediately establishes that there are towering clouds of smoke from the burning fuel that can easily blanket dozens or even hundreds of blocks of residential neighborhoods—particularly in still weather or, even worse, during an inversion. Then consider the effect of mixing in the toxic fumes of 12,300 pounds of burnt F-35 plastic composites (42% of the 29,300 pound empty weight of the F-35 is composites). Just the prompt evacuation problem for residents downwind of such a crash is a nightmare, not to mention the subsequent disastrous load on local medical facilities.

Less obvious is the problem of  “hot spots”; these are touchdowns of the crash site’s smoke plume that create locally toxic concentrations many, many miles downwind. Such hot spots have been widely observed in situations as diverse as toxic releases from incinerators or smelters, radioactive plumes from Fukushima and toxic smoke from the Twin Towers of 9/11.

At this early point in the history of composite aircraft crashes, the health consequences for people exposed to these toxic gases and fibers are, needless to say, poorly understood or quantified. But the OSHA and toxicological literature do establish some rough safety thresholds for some of the toxins involved, with respect to effects such as pulmonary tissue damage, neurotoxicity and cognitive dysfunction, liver damage, asthmatic crises, kidney damage and/or carcinogenicity.


6. All stealth coatings are highly toxic during manufacture and even more so when they burn, much more so than the already dangerous toxicity of standard composite fires.


There is a long history, dating back to before 1988, of stealth production line workers sickened and sometimes permanently disabled after breathing the toxic fumes of assembly line stealth materials. Some of this history is documented in dozens of lawsuits brought by afflicted workers, most of them unsuccessful because the defendant companies and government agencies invoked national security classification to withhold evidence. The 1980s open pit burning of failed F-117 stealth coating panels at the then-secret Area 51 airbase in Nevada killed two of the pit workers and permanently disabled at least five more who were working at the pits or downwind. This turned into a high profile lawsuit that won a favorable federal court ruling, ultimately blocked by a secrecy directive issued by President Clinton.

After the disastrous F-117 experience, the USAF started taking somewhat more responsible health precautions for mechanics repairing B-2 and, subsequently, F-22 coatings. Stealth aircraft manufacturers, however, varied greatly in taking responsible precautions. According to whistleblowers working there, Lockheed was notably irresponsible in exposing F-22 workers, engineers and even office workers to alarmingly toxic fumes from stealth constituents.   As is to be expected, the exact toxic constituents are kept secret by high classification levels. However, it is known that di-isocyanates  and mercury at particularly dangerous levels were involved in the F-22 stealth coatings. Di-isocyanates are one of the most important OSHA listed toxins in the plastics and fiberglass industries, with known long term pulmonary, asthmatic and neurotoxic/cognitive function effects at concentrations so minute that their usually acrid odor can’t even be detected. The F-35 uses yet another generation of stealth coatings, different than the F-22 but known to be very toxic—even though, once again, the constituents are classified.

The classification/secrecy problem, in itself, considerably increases the already seriously elevated risks and health consequences of a crash involving the F-35’s stealth coatings. Doctors treating people exposed to known toxins from an unclassified aircraft crash can focus on therapies for specific chemical pathways, particularly as toxicological and medical research in this area continues to make progress. But when a classified aircraft crashes, the doctor is denied knowledge of the toxins released and thus can only treat victims with generic, all-purpose therapies.

The Police State Wants What The Police State Wants: Ladar Levison and Lavabit

Mon, 2013-10-21 13:13
Topics> Activism, Business, History, Media, Governance, Politics

The Fourth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution is anti-police-state

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

The founding document of the United States is inherently suspicious of a government’s willingness to abuse its powers, a suspicion rooted in centuries of tyranny around the world. Even the U.S. government, as well as state and local governments, have abused their powers from time to time since the country’s beginning.

The drift toward an American police state intensified under the guise of anti-Communism, but that was mostly a convenient cover for state intrusion into people’s lives. The Soviet Union collapsed, but the nascent American police state kept growing. The Patriot Act of 2001, a massive assault on personal and political liberty, was largely written before 9/11 and passed, largely unexamined, in the hysterical atmosphere and raw panic of that over-hyped “new Pearl Harbor.” 

Now we have a police state apparatus of almost unimagined dimension, most of which is kept secret and remains unknown, despite the efforts of a few reporters and whistle blower, who tell the truth at their personal peril. 

The “American police state” is likely an abstraction in the minds of many people, and as long as they remain unknowing and passive, it’s likely to leave them alone. But even law-abiding innocence is not a sure protection of a person’s right to be secure.  And when the police state comes after you in one of its hydra-headed forms, the assault can be devastating. 

For starters, the state won’t always tell you when it begins 

The intrusion of the police state into your life can shatter your world even before you realize it’s begun. Fight it, or surrender to it, the cost is huge. Recovery may be possible, eventually, if it’s ever allowed, but it will be hard, and it will take time. 

Ladar Levison and Lavabit

In May 2013, Ladar Levison was 32 when the police state first came after him. The dreaded “knock on the door” was actually only an FBI business card on his door at home. And Levison’s initial interactions with the FBI were reportedly mild and civil, at first by email and later in person. The FBI was interested in Levision because he owned and operated a secure email service called Lavabit. From the FBI point of view, Lavabit was too secure, because the NSA and the rest of the security state couldn’t get into it.   

Right out of college, Levison had started Lavabit as a sole proprietorship in April 2004 (the same month Google launched Gmail at a much greater scale). Having grown up in San Francisco, Levison studied computer science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he still lives. While working on his start-up, he supported himself mostly with internet security projects for financial services. He also worked as a consultant on website development for clients such as Dr Pepper, Nokia, and Adidas. 

What Lavabit was selling was secure email, much more secure than anything Google, Microsoft, or most other email providers were offering.  The demand was not that great at first.  It took six years for Lavabit to gather enough paying subscribers to allow Levison to devote himself to the business fulltime in 2010. Even when the FBI became interested in Lavabit in May 2013, it was still a small company, with two employees and about 400,000 subscribers.

But one of those subscribers was another American about Levison’s age, 30-year old Edward Snowden, the whistleblower whose leaked documents have added so much to our understanding of the dimensions  and activities of the American police state. Snowden opened his edsnowden@lavabit.com email account in 2010.     

Political repression may not be the government’s overt intent, but it works  

At this point, there’s no indication that Levison and Lavabit ever had anything but a commercial relationship with Snowden.  It’s even possible that Snowden had nothing to do with the FBI’s initial interest in Lavabit.  It may be that Lavabit’s effective security was sufficient offense to the surveillance forces to make it an object of attack for its own sake.  In May 2013, Levison says he had the impression the FBI agents who talked to him didn’t even know who or what was the subject of their investigation. The FBI hasn’t said. 

Levison is not an obviously political person, he hasn’t been revealed to be involved in party politics or political causes. “Until last summer, Mr. Levison, a Republican of libertarian leanings, had not been active in politics,” according to the New York Times October 9. He seems to be the person he seems to be: a thoughtful, hardworking, physically fit, computer business guy who has had a dog named Princess since January 2010 and who spends a lot of his spare time keeping in shape playing beach volleyball.

Princess has her own album on his Facebook page, where the dominant theme by far is Levison’s competition in beach volleyball (with albums for Sunday Night, as well as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday Nights) and there is one picture of Levison with Rep. Ron Paul. Levison’s page shows membership in just one Facebook group, “OCCUPY (Support) EDWARD SNOWDEN and All Other Whistleblowers,” to which someone else added him about two months ago. Among his 43 “Likes,” Levison lists two Interests (programming and computers), lots of volleyball Activities, and six books, including William Gibson’s “Neuromancer,” George Orwell’s “1984,” and Dostoevski’s “Crime and Punishment.”    

From another perspective, Levison is as political as the Fourth Amendment, which is as profoundly political as it gets. It was the Patriot Act’s assault on the Fourth Amendment, Levison says, that contributed to his decision to start Lavabit in 2004, when the act was up for renewal and much in the news. 

Among the many objections to the act was that it gave to federal agents excessive authority to, in effect, write their own search warrants on no other authority but their own. In the Orwellian language of the act, these personal searched warrants are known as “national security letters.” Levison designed the security architecture of the Lavabit email and storage services to be beyond the reach of unwarranted searches, even in national security letters. As Levison recalled on Democracy NOW! in August:

“And as I was designing and developing the custom platform, it was right around when the PATRIOT Act came out. And that’s really what colored my opinion and my philosophy, and why I chose to take the extra effort and build in the secure storage features and sort of focus on the privacy niche and the security focus niche…. [for]  people who want email but don’t necessarily want it lumped in and profiled along with their searches or their browsing history or any of their other Internet activities.” 

You can’t reveal what you don’t know – and that provides more security

During May 2013, Levison met for “a couple hours” with FBI agents at his office, where he explained how his security system and his business operated. As Levison told Democracy NOW! the service included his personal pledge of security: 

“I’ve always liked to say my service was by geeks, for geeks. It’s grown up over the last 10 years, it’s sort of settled itself into serving those that are very privacy-conscious and security-focused. We offered secure access via high-grade encryption. And at least for our paid users, not for our free accounts—I think that’s an important distinction—we offered secure storage, where incoming emails were stored in such a way that they could only be accessed with the user’s password, so that, you know, even myself couldn’t retrieve those emails. And that’s what we meant by encrypted email. That’s a term that’s sort of been thrown around because there are so many different standards for encryption, but in our case it was encrypted in secure storage, because, as a third party, you know, I didn’t want to be put in a situation where I had to turn over private information. I just didn’t have it. I didn’t have access to it.” 

Over the years, Lavabit has received and complied with “at least two dozen subpoenas” from the local sheriff’s office to the federal courts, Levison says, “I’ve always complied with the law.” Each of those subpoenas targeted a specific individual and appeared to Levison to be consistent with the Fourth Amendment. As recently as June 2013, he complied with an unrelated subpoena seeking information on one of his subscribers accused of violating child pornography law. 

A secret subpoena from the American police state is different

On June 6, 2013, the Guardian began publishing surveillance state revelations based on documents from Edward Snowden, the Lavabit.com email subscriber. On June 9, Snowden revealed that he was the whistlblower who leaked documents to the Guardian and others. The first secret court order against Lavabit came the next day.    

On or about June 10, the Justice Dept., on behalf of the FBI, went to federal court to compel Lavabit to provide information “relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation” involving someone with a single Lavabit email account. The FBI has not identified the subject of this investigation, but it is widely believed to be Snowden. 

 The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (the Fourth Circuit) granted the FBI’s request and issued the disclosure order against Lavabit that same day. A one-page, single-spaced attachment to the order listed the categories of information to be disclosed, including names, addresses, phone records, other subscriber identities, billing records, activity records, and “information about each communication” – in other words, everything about the email account “not including the contents of communications.”  The order did not mention encryption keys, SSL keys, or the like.  These are closely guarded secrets in a security business like Lavabit. 

The U.S. Magistrate Judge who signed the initial order gave Lavabit 10 days to comply.  He also sealed the court records from public view and further ordered that Lavabit “shall not disclose the existence of the application of the United States, or the existence of this order” to anyone except “an attorney for Lavabit.”  In other words, Levison was subject to a gag order before he ever found out the FBI was definitely coming after him. 

In the meantime, on June 14, the Justice Dept. filed a sealed criminal complaint against Snowden, who was then in Hong Kong. The government accused him of three offenses – theft of government property and two forms of “unauthorized communication” the Espionage Act of 1917. The criminal complaint, which was made public a week later, gave the government 60 days to file a formal indictment. 

Getting unsatisfying compliance, the FBI decided to raise the stakes  

According to a later Justice Dept. filing: “Mr. Levison received that order on June 11, 2013.  Mr. Levison responded by mail, which was not received by the government until June 27, 2013.  Mr. Levison provided very little of the information sought….”

On June 28, the day after getting Levison’s belated response to the June 10 order, the Justice Dept. went back to the Fourth Circuit Court in Alexandria seeking an order “authorizing the installation and use of a pen register/trap device on an electronic mail account” – an FBI wiretap on email. Levison had no notice of the government motion and no opportunity to contest it.  A new judge on the case, Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan, promptly ordered the wiretap installed on the basis that the government “has certified that the information likely to be obtained by such installation and use is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation….” Like the first order, this order did not mention encryption keys, SSL keys, or the like.

FBI special agents met with Levison in Dallas the same day to discuss the new order, which Levison had not yet received, as well as a prior summons to appear before a grand jury. The agents presumably explained to Levison that the court had issued a secret order based on a secret motion, itself based on secret evidence (or none at all) and that Levison was not only compelled to comply but was also still under court order to keep the whole secret process a secret, this time with no exception even for his attorney.  

According to a later government filing, “Mr. Levison told the agents that he would not comply with the pen register order and wanted to speak to an attorney. It was unclear whether Mr. Levison would not comply with the order because it was technically not feasible or difficult or was not consistent with his business practice of providing secure, encrypted email service for his customers.” 

As Levison months later explained to reporters about Lavabit: “We’re wholly focused on secure email. Without it, we have no business.” In Levison’s view, breaking Lavabit’s security without the right to tell his customers would have been to commit commercial fraud.

Judge Buchanan keeps the pressure on Levison and Lavabit

Following this meeting, the Justice Dept. immediately went before Judge Buchanan seeking an order to compel Lavabit to comply with the other Magistrate’s earlier order and install the FBI wiretap and to “furnish agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, forthwith, all information, facilities, and technical assistance necessary to accomplish the installation and use of the pen/trap device…” as ordered pursuant to federal law [U.S. Code, Title 18, sec. 3123]. 

Judge Buchanan immediately granted the “Order Compelling Compliance Forthwith,” based in part on her findings that “Lavabit informed the Federral Bureau of Investigation that the user of the account had enabled Lavabit’s encryption services and thus the pen/trap device would not collect the relevant information” and that “Lavabit informed the FBI that it had the technological capability to obtain the information but did not want to ‘defeat [its] own system’…” 

Judge Buchanan ordered Lavabit to provide “unencrypted data pursuant to the Order.” Noting that failure to comply “forthwith” would subject Lavabit to “any penalty within the power of the court,” Judge Buchanan added in her own handwriting, “including the possibility of criminal contempt of court.” This order was issued under seal. 

Previously, Levison faced the possibility of being fined for civil contempt if he failed to comply. Now he also faced going to jail. And the court’s most recent orders, in their plain language, prevented Levison from discussing his situation with anyone, not even an attorney. 

According to the FBI, agents “made numerous attempts, without success, to speak and meet directly with Mr. Levison” during the next ten days. On July 9, the Justice Dept. returned to the Fourth Circuit court seeking an order for Lavabit to show cause why it “has failed to comply with the orders entered June 29” by Magistrate Buchanan, and why Lavabit should not be held in contempt of court for its failure to comply. 

Judge Hilton decides a hearing with the parties present might help

Judge Claude Hilton issued the show cause order the same day, including a summons for Lavabit to appear at a hearing a week later. Judge Hilton is a secrecy case veteran, having served on the secretive FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court from 2000 to 2007. The Judge continued to keep the Lavabit case under seal, but reinstated Lavabit’s exception to the gag rule when consulting with an attorney.    

The next day, Levison went to the FBI field office in Dallas for a meeting/conference call that included prosecutors and FBI agents in Washington and his attorney in San Francisco, convened “to discuss Mr. Levison’s questions and concerns… [that] focused primarily on how the pen register device would be installed on the Lavabit LLC system, what data would be captured by the device, what data would be viewed and preserved by the government... [and] whether Mr. Levison would be able to provide ‘keys’ for encrypted information.” 

The parties did not reach an agreement at the meeting and the next day, July 11, Levison’s attorney informed the FBI that she no longer represented Levison or Lavabit. The same day, Levison “indicated that he would not come to court [for the July 16 show cause hearing] unless the government paid for his travel,” according to a government filing. 

Rather than engage in a dispute over travel expenses, the FBI served Levison with a subpoena to appear before a Fourth Circuit grand jury, also on July 16. The government is responsible for the travel arrangements of grand jury witnesses, and the FBI so advised Levison by email. The grand jury subpoena left little wriggle room in its effort to force Lavabit to surrender the encryption keys that were essential to its business: 

“In addition to your personal appearance, you are directed to bring to the grand jury the public and private encryption keys used by lavabit.com in any SSL (Secure Socket Layer) or TLS (Transport Security Layer) sessions, including HTTPS sessions with clients using lavabit.com website and encrypted SMTP communications (or Internet communications using other protocols) with mail servers; Any other information necessary to accomplish the installation and use of the pen/trap device ordered by Judge Buchanan on June 28….” 

“I don’t trust you, but you should trust me” and vice-versa

Levison responded on July 13 with an email to the U.S. Attorney’s office, offering an alternative to the FBI-operated wiretap. Levison proposed that he would collect the court-designated data himself. While he didn’t state it in the email, this would address one of Levison’s primary concerns, that there was no effective oversight to prevent the FBI from gathering more data than the court had allowed.  Levison proposed to design and implement the solution, gather the data manually, and provide it to the FBI at the end of the 60-day court order – for a price of $2,000. For another $1,500, he offered to provide data “more frequently,” which would require implementing an automated system. 

The U.S. Attorney chose not to explore the offer. In a brusque and internally contradictory reply email the same day, an assistant U.S. Attorney explained “that the proposal was inadequate because, among other things, it did not provide for real-time transmission of results, and it was not clear that Mr. Levison's request for money constituted the ‘reasonable expenses’ authorized by the statute.” The government later admitted to the court that it was “unclear” as to precise details of the proposal. The clear implication of Levison’s proposal is a willingness to provide real-time transmission for reasonable compensation. But that would leave Levison in control. The government didn’t consider that a useful compromise. 

On July 15, Levison flew to Washington for his show cause hearing at 10 the next morning, although he thought it was set for 10:30 and arrived late.  He was appearing pro se, representing himself without an attorney.   

Even a federal court hearing can be a comedy of errors

The government goal for the July 16 hearing remained unchanged: “Lavabit LLC may comply with the pen register order by simply allowing the FBI to install the pen register devise and provide the FBI with the encryption keys.”  Lacking compliance, the government asked the court to impose a civil contempt sanction of $1,000 a day until Lavabit complied. 

The government also requested a search warrant for the encryption keys. Judge Hilton granted the search warrant before the hearing began. 

As it turned out, the 20-minute hearing resulted in no change in the legal standing of the parties, but did produce a transcript with moments of unintentional hilarity. 

Present in the courtroom were Judge Hilton and the court staff.  U.S. Attorney James Trump represented the government, along with three other lawyers and an FBI agent. Levison was alone.

The U.S. Attorney wanted to know if Levison was going to comply with the wiretap order, but Judge Hilton wouldn’t ask and Levison wouldn’t say.  Or rather, Levison said he had always been ready and willing to comply with installation of the wiretap, but he was reluctant to give up the encryption codes, which would give the FBI access to all 400,000 of his subscribers even though the court order named only one. “There was never an explicit demand that I turn over those keys,” Levison said. 

The U.S. Attorney argued that Judge Buchanan had effectively if not specifically ordered Levison to turn over the encryption keys. Judge Hilton wasn’t touching that: “I’m not sure I ought to be enforcing Judge Buchanan’s order.” Judge Hilton said that his order was to install the wiretap and Levison had said he’d do that, so – “You’re trying to get me to deal with a contempt before there’s any contempt, and I have a problem with that.”

Levison moved to unseal all but the sensitive information in the proceedings.  Judge Holton denied the motion, based on the underlying criminal investigation.  Levison asked the judge to order “some sort of external audit to ensure that your oders are followed to the letter” as to FBI data collection.  The judge refused.  Levison moved to continue the hearing to allow him to retain counsel.  Judge Hilton granted the continuance. 

Levison and Lavabit get legal representation from a Virginia firm

Levison’s new attorney is Jesse Binnall of Bronley & Binnall PLLC in Fairfax, Virginia. Binnall, 34, was a communication major at George Mason University and graduated from the Law School there in 2009. Binnall and Levison would later be among the first guests on the New Ron Paul Channel in mid-August.  

On July 25, Binnall filed under seal a “Motion to quash” the outstanding grand jury subpoena and the search warrant against Lavabit. The motion requested “that this Court direct that Lavabit does not have to produce its Master Key. Alternatively, Lavabit and Mr. Levinson request that they be given an opportunity to revoke the. current encryption key and reissue a new encryption key at the Government's expense. Lastly, Lavabit and Mr. Levinson request that, if they are required to produce the Master Key, that they be reimbursed for its costs which were directly incurred in producing the Master Key….” 

In support of his motion, Binnall made a number of arguments against the actions of the government, which had not faced serious legal opposition up to this point. 

Binnall pointed out that giving the government access to Lavabit’s Master Key is tantamount to giving the government access to all of Lavabit’s 400,000 users.  That amounts to a general warrant that is unconstitutional, Binnall wrote, and:

“It is axiomatic that the Fourth Amendment prohibits general warrants [with Supreme Court cases cited]…The Fourth Amendment's particularity requirement is meant to ‘prevent the seizure of one thing under a warrant describing another’ [citation omitted]. This is precisely the concern with the Lavabit Subpoena and Warrant and, in this circumstance, the particularity requirement will not protect Lavabit. By turning over the Master Key, the Government will have the ability to search each and every ‘place,’ ‘person [and] thing’ on Lavabit's network…Additionally, the Government has no probable cause to gain access to the other users accounts.” 

The government seemed unconcerned about Levison’s business survival

Bindall also argued that the court should quash the subpoena and search warrant as creating an “undue burden” on Lavabit as defined by law [U.S. Code Title 18, sec. 2703]:

“Not only has Lavabit expended a great deal of time and money in attempting to cooperate with the Government thus far, but, Lavabit will pay the ultimate price –the loss of its customers’ trust and business – should the Court require that the Master Key be turned over. Lavabit's business, which is founded on the preservation of electronic privacy, could be destroyed if it is required to produce its Master Key.”

Also on July 25, Binnall filed a motion to unseal court records and to lift the gag order on his client, since the “gag order infringes upon freedom of speech under the First Amendment, and should he subjected to constitutional case law. “ 

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. Attorney filed a motion in opposition.

At the motion hearing on August 1, Judge Hilton engaged in lengthy colloquy with attorney Binnall. Before the 25-minute hearing was half over, the judge had denied both motions and the U.S. Attorney had said little more than “Good morning.” Judge Hilton gave Levison and Lavabit until 5 p.m. Dallas time on August 2 to comply. 

Levison’s compliance took an unexpected form

The next day in Dallas, at about 1:30 p.m., Levison provided information that purported to be full compliance with the court’s orders. Whether it was actual compliance remains uncertain.  The government was not happy and engaged with attorney Binnall to achieve satisfactory compliance, without success. On August 5 the government filed a motion for sanctions against Levison, calling his apparent compliance “unworkable” and describing it as follows:

“Mr. Levison gave the FBI a printout of what he represented to be the encryption keys needed to operate the pen register. This printout, in what appears to be 4-point type, consists of 11 pages of largely illegible characters. See Attachment A. (The attachment was created by scanning the document provided by Mr. Levison; the original document was described by the Dal!as FBI agents as slightly clearer than the scanned copy but nevertheless illegible.) Moreover, each of the five encryption keys contains 512 individual characters - or a total of 2560 characters. To make use of these keys, the FBI would have to manually input all 2560 characters, and one incorrect keystroke in this laborious process would render the FBI collection system incapable of collecting decrypted data.” 

When this compliance effort became public two months later, TechCrunch called it “an epic troll.” At the time, the government was not amused and called for the court to sanction Levison $5,000 a day, beginning at noon August 5.  The court promptly granted the motion, while reminding the parties that all aspects of the matter remained under seal. Known only to the participants and some court employees, the case was still unknown to the public.   

Levison makes a tantalizing public announcement

That secrecy ended on August 8, when Ladar Levison shut down Lavabit, posting a short notice on the Lavabit.com website, together with a link to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund.  As Levison explained:  

“I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on – the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests. What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company. This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.” 

Also on August 8, Levison fully complied with the Fourth Circuit courts orders, turning over the encryption keys to a now defunct service. He had incurred 2 days of sanctions – owing the government $10,000 – which remains pending.

The next day, Silent Circle, a global encrypted communications service, stayed in business but preemptively wiped out its email service (about 5 per cent of its customers) in anticipation of a government request that the company wouldn’t want to have to obey. “Meanwhile, Silent Circle is working on replacing its defunct e-mail service with a system that doesn’t rely on traditional e-mail protocols and keeps no messages or metadata within the company’s grasp. It is based on a protocol often used for instant messages and other applications. [CEO Mike] Janke says the goal is for this to not be e-mail, but ‘for all intents and purposes it looks, feels, and acts like e-mail,’” according to MIT Technology Review. 

Lavabit’s closing drew some news coverage over the next week, but any story was hampered by the gag order that severely limited what Levison and Binnall could safely say.  As Levison told Forbes the day after shutting down Lavabit: 

“This is about protecting all of our users, not just one in particular. It’s not my place to decide whether an investigation is just, but the government has the legal authority to force you to do things you’re uncomfortable with….The fact that I can’t talk about this is as big a problem as what they asked me to do…. The methods being used to conduct those investigations should not be secret.”

The FBI and the Justice Dept. Have not commented publicly about the Lavabit case beyond their court filings. 

Being secret, federal court appeal gets no news coverage

On August 15, Lavabit attorney Binnall filed notice – under seal – that he was appealing the federal district court’s rulings of August 1 and August 5 to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In other words, the government can not only keep the public ignorant of what it’s doing, it can also prevent the public from knowing that anyone objects to the government’s actions as unconstitutional. 

In the Lavabit case, at least, this changed abruptly on October 2, when Judge Claude Hilton ordered a censored version of 23 documents (162 pages) made public. The redactions in these documents appear, from context, to be intended mostly to conceal details of the criminal investigation into Snowden or some other lavabit.com user. Since the unsealing of the court documents, news coverage had expansed, and Levison and Binnall have appeared in public across the country to argue their cause. As Levison put it on his Facebook page October 2:

“If the Obama administration feels compelled to continue violating the privacy rights of the masses just so they can conduct surveillance on the few then he should at least ask Congress for laws providing that authority instead of using the courts to force businesses into secretly becoming complicit in crimes against the American people.” 

On 2005, a U.S. Senator addressed a similar concern, when Congress was about to pass a law creating the “national security letter,” a secret government process much more intense and unforgiving what Levison went through last summer: 

“This is legislation that puts our own Justice Department above the law. When national security letters are issued, they allow federal agents to conduct any search on any American, no matter how extensive, how wide-ranging, without ever going before a judge to prove that the search is necessary. All that is needed is a sign-off from a local FBI agent. That’s it. Once a business or a person receives notification that they will be searched, they are prohibited from telling anyone about it, and they’re even prohibited from challenging this automatic gag order in court. Even though judges have already found that similar restrictions violate the First Amendment, this conference report disregards the case law and the right to challenge the gag order. If you do decide to consult an attorney for legal advice, hold on. You will have to tell the FBI that you’ve done so. Think about that. You want to talk to a lawyer about whether or not your actions are going to be causing you to get into trouble. You’ve got to tell the FBI that you’re consulting a lawyer. This is unheard of. There is no such requirement in any other area of the law. I see no reason why it’s justified here. And if someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document, through the library books that you read, the phone calls that you’ve made, the emails that you’ve sent, this legislation gives people no rights to appeal the need for such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear your plea; no jury will hear your case. This is just plain wrong.” 

The question is: how much of a police state do we have already?

That Senator was concerned eight years ago, and that Senator was Barack Obama.  Today, national security letters are part of the law of the land, the Obama administration uses them, and if you get one, talking about it is against the law. In that context, since Ladar Levison apparently did not get a national security letter, he was lucky. The country, not so much. 

On October 10, in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Lavabit filed the opening brief of its appeal of the lower court’s orders.  The United States has until November 4 to file its answer.  This will take awhile, it will take effort to follow, but it matters.  

Originally published by Reader Supported News.

Shaping A Surveillance Utopia: “The Circle,” by novelist Dave Eggers

Mon, 2013-10-21 12:36
Topics> Activism, Theater, Film, Music, Commerce, Health, Media, Governance, Education, Common Assets, Sustainability

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of.”

-Google’s Eric Schmidt

I killed my TeeVee when I went to college in 1985. Stopped watching. Cold turkey. An active watcher all my young life, I grew up and decided that television was too corporate, too commercial, and too invasive. University life, with its infinite distractions, intellectual and otherwise, proved much more compelling. I continued my television-free life into my twenties, and found I didn’t miss the screen a bit. The “boob tube’s” critics, meanwhile, savaged the medium; the “idiot box” was a “plug-in drug,” creating a culture in which we were “amusing ourselves to death,” explained NYU media critic Neil Postman in a 1985 book with the same title (still in print almost thirty years later.)

That same year, as I started college and ended my relationship with television, the Internet arrived at our university. The first academic department to be wired into the world wide web? Religion (of course). What hath God wrought, and what was Her email address? Unlike television, which seemed so “one way” as a communications technology – networks program, and audiences watch – the Internet was different.

With the arrival of Web 2.0’s personal participatory ‘Net culture ten years ago via chat rooms, high speed bandwidth, blogging, and new social media platforms (remember Friendster back in 2002?), the conversation proved “many to many,” and any ‘Netizen with an Internet connection could jump in and play. Cyber-cheerleaders promised a “brave new world” of communications - more democratic, more egalitarian, and more exciting than anything since the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press.

And yet. Ambivalence has crept into the Internet mix these past few years, fueled by concerns about privacy, addiction, data mining, identity theft, cyberbullying, and surveillance. O brave new E-world, that has such problems in it – where is the Internet taking us?

Novelist Dave Eggers sets out to explore this question in his memorable new novel “The Circle.” Set in the not-too-distant future, Eggers’ story takes us inside a shiny happy California-based media corporation called the Circle, the world’s most powerful Internet company. The Circle has absorbed Facebook, Twitter, Google and all its other competitors, managing a universal operating system linking together all Circle users’ data in one convenient account: emails, banking, social media platforms, the works.

Eggers’ protagonist, young twenty-something Mae Holland, is hired by the Circle for an entry-level customer service position as the novel begins. Astonished at her good fortune and happy to leave her old life behind, Mae is quickly absorbed into Circle culture, where everyone, drunk on the Kool Aid, is expected to daily commit themselves to embracing and expanding the Circle culture of universal transparency and civility uber alles. “Smiles” and “Zings” are marks of affirmation, Circle members compete to achieve “most connected” status within the corporation, and to not “share” stories through the Circle is anathema.

One of Eggers’ key moments finds Mae taking an afternoon kayak paddle on the bay after work. When she forgets to upload her adventures – Text! Photos! Video! - to her Circle feed, she is admonished by the Circle faithful for depriving others of the opportunity to “share” her experience.

In another moment, Mae borrows a kayak without the owner’s permission, and is caught on one of the Circle’s new SeeChange cameras (deployed all over the globe by the Circle to help map and share data 24/7). Her public confession of boat theft (without wearing a life jacket, even) in front of the Circle community is converted by Circle leaders into a “teachable moment,” one in which they make the case for complete transparency as an antidote to secrets which, they argue, are “lies.”

Eggers’ brilliance in his novel lies in convincingly taking us inside the real-life culture of 21st century cyber-utopian cheerleading, showing us how the vision of digital media moguls like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Eric Schmidt spreads like a virus, first through corporate culture, then through a fawning media, and then into society as a whole, with social media’s enthusiastic users doing the most convincing marketing on media companies’ behalf.

To be clear, “The Circle” is NOT, as some critics have suggested, a novel that rehashes a “Brave New World” scenario, marked by faceless State-run telescreens, grim government officials, and a Big Brother’ly externally-imposed culture of fear. Instead, Eggers creates for us a surprisingly contemporary world that seems strangely familiar to regular social media users, a world into which all of us willingly opt into, participate in, and propagate. Mae Holland is our fictional stand in. While she has her reservations about the Circle at first, they are quickly subsumed by the persuasive collective power of the Circle community, even after she meets a mysterious figure inside the corporation who raises dire questions about “Completion”: the Circle’s ultimate goal of networking everyone together into a worldwide transparent planetary community.

Eggers also creates an articulate naysayer in his story, Mae’s old boyfriend Mercer, who vainly tries to talk sense into Mae. “It’s not that I’m not social. I’m social enough,” Mercer says to Mae early on in the novel. “But the tools you guys create actually manufacture unnaturally extreme social needs. No one needs the level of contact you’re purveying. It improves nothing.” What happens to Mercer, I will not spoil for you here.

Suffice to say, last generation’s concerns about the intrusive corporate commercial nature of television seem positively trite when stacked up against the expansive power of our new 21st century digital social media universe, and Eggers’ new novel gives a discerning reader much to chew on.

“The Circle” may not make you abandon your twibe in the Twitterverse, junk your Pinterest boards, or deactivate your Facebook account, but Eggers entertaining book will push you to think more deeply about where our 21st century convergent media culture might be taking us.

The law is on our side: Burlington City Council Can Stop F-35 basing

Mon, 2013-10-21 12:24
Topics> Activism, Health, Media, Governance, Elections, Military, Politics, Environment, Education, Common Assets, Sustainability

by James Marc Leas

When Burlington City Attorney Eileen Blackwood issued a legal opinion on the resolution to bar basing of F-35 warplanes at Burlington Airport, the Mayor of Burlington, Miro Weinberger, issued a punchy one-sentence statement suggesting it was a knockout blow to the resolution. The legal opinion concluded that Burlington cannot legally block the F-35.

By the very next day, however, the negative conclusion evaporated and turned into a strong positive. A 3 page response provided by Stop-the-F-35 Coalition attorney Jim Dumont included corrections that turned the Burlington City Attorney's opinion into a helpful blueprint for revising the text of the resolution to avoid all the legal issues she raised. With the revisions and corrections, the City Attorney's opinion provides a strong legal basis for stopping F-35 basing at Burlington airport.

Dumont told VTDigger that the resolution will be revised to state something along the lines that “this city will not permit the basing of any plane that creates a significantly larger 65 decibel day-night average noise level zone than the F-16 or has a crash risk significantly greater than the F-16.”

The amended resolution to bar F-35 basing will be considered by the City Council on Monday, October 28th. Everyone is encouraged to come out for the meeting, participate in the public hearing that begins at 6pm, and support the resolution before the Council. A rally to support the resolution, at which several city councilors will speak, begins at 5:15pm. The events take place at Burlington City Hall at the corner of Main and Church Streets.

By revising the resolution to block all aircraft that make more noise than the F-16, or that pose a greater crash risk than the F-16, the problem of losing FAA airport funding identified by the city attorney is eliminated. The FAA expressly allows a municipal government to set noise limits and block aircraft from landing that exceed those noise limits so long as the rules are applied fairly to all aircraft without "unjust discrimination."

The revised resolution will also be consistent with court rulings under which a city can take action consistent within the traditional role of municipal governments to protect the health, safety, and property of citizens even if there is an effect on the military--if that effect does not directly control military affairs.

The Air Force has many alternative locations available for basing F-35 jets, and there is no identified strategic reason for prioritizing basing the F-35 in Burlington. The Air Force itself included several of those alternatives in its Final Environmental Impact Statement. Because the Air Force identified alternatives, there is no possibility that the basing in Burlington can be found to be anything other than of militarily negligible importance. But protecting the health, safety, and property of nearby residents is of immense importance.

The corrections also mean that the City of Burlington will be liable--and will be subject to paying millions of dollars--if it shirks its responsibility to do everything it can to protect the health, safety, and home values of thousands of Vermonters.

The valuable combined work of Blackwood and Dumont shows that the city has the legal authority to prevent the F-35 basing and to prevent the severe harms to many thousands of people its basing will cause, as described by the United States Air Force in its Final Environmental Impact Statement. Passage of the resolution will both protect the people and protect the city.

But facts, arguments, a corrected legal opinion, and a revised resolution, by themselves, are not enough when top commercial real estate developers and top state politicians, including Leahy, Sanders, Shumlin, Welch, and Weinberger are all in lock step pushing relentlessly for F-35 basing regardless of facts provided by the Air Force and regardless of harms to people and liability to the city.

One more ingredient is needed to ensure victory. What is key to protect our Vermont families, our homes, and the city itself, is large numbers of people coming out for the council meeting on October 28 and speaking up. Be there.

Image here (Burlington City Council member Rachel Siegel speaks at an event announcing plans to introduce a resolution that would bar F-35s at the city owned airport, Attorney Jim Dumont in background 9/04/13)

Federal Shutdown = Secession Trial Run

Mon, 2013-10-21 02:02
Topics> Economics, Governance, Elections, Politics

Secessionists should celebrate the DC shutdown.  WHOO HOO!  We got what we have wanted for 10 years.  For 16 days the national government was out of business. Did the economy collapse?  Did the terrorists attack?  Was there chaos in the streets?  Did the sky fall?  No.  None of these things happened.  The fear is overblown.

Was your life affected at all?  Seriously think about it.  It didn't affect me in the slightest.  I am not everyone, since I receive no federal government services, and am not employed by the feds.

I do think that Social Security and Medicare are important for now, but as Bernie has repeatedly stated SOCIAL SECURITY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BUDGET DEFICIT OR NATIONAL DEBT since it's funded separately!  In fact the Social Security "Trust Fund" is one of the biggest lenders to the Federal Government as the largest single owner of US Treasury bonds (16.7%).  So if anything SS is keeping the government afloat!

The tea partiers have provided a valuable service to the US people.  They have demonstrated that in reality the national government is basically useless, and costs us a lot of money for very little in return.  They are totally misguided in thinking that Obamacare and social programs are the cause of the debt compared to war, tax cuts, and offshoring US jobs, but that is beside the point.  They have really demonstrated how little we need the national government.

When is the next shutdown?  The "debt limit"?  I can't wait.  GOOD RIDDANCE DC!  US out of Vermont.


Debt Ceiling? What Debt Ceiling? That’s a unicorn in Congress’s garden!

Tue, 2013-10-15 11:46
Topics> Activism, Finance, Business, Economics, Media, Governance, Elections, Politics, Common Assets, Sustainability

For all the talk about the United States approaching a catastrophic Debt Ceiling and subsequent unprecedented but exceptional default that would have unpredictable but probably dire impact on pretty much everybody, one thing you don’t hear much is that:

There is No Debt Ceiling.

Seriously, the relevant law literally does nothing to control the national debt. A serious Debt Ceiling law would prevent Congress from appropriating expenditures beyond the debt limit.  Congress has never done that, Congress probably never would do that, even if it could. Congress doesn’t want to do that, and it would probably be irresponsible for Congress to do that.   

Presumably a president could veto any appropriation that exceeded the Debt Ceiling of the moment, but why would a president do that? 

The Debt Ceiling is a legal fiction, a fantasy, a mindless game the United States has been playing with itself since 1917, for reasons that defy rational comprehension. There is no compelling constitutional basis for this contra-constitutional legalism.  The only other democratic country in the world with a Debt Ceiling is Denmark, where it is an empty formality that tracks with the reality of government spending and has never been manipulated to create a dishonest debt “crisis.” 

Even the phrase “Debt Ceiling” is false on its face. The law does nothing to stop the accumulation of debt by Congress.  What the law does is hamper the executive branch, the Treasury Dept., in paying off debt that Congress voted into law. Congress, in its traditionally narrow vision, creates one law to make the president spend money and another law to prevent him from spending it, and then expects him to obey both laws. 

Isn’t it un-American for Congress to make us all play Russian roulette? 

In other words, the Debt Ceiling dance is an inherently stupid charade, a kind of Russian roulette that the Republicans now think would be fun to play with no empty chambers. That would be no empty chambers in the revolver, empty chambers among the people’s representatives is another matter entirely. 

The ridiculousness of the Debt Ceiling duplicity has been apparent to most sentient people right along, that’s why congressional passage of bills to raise the Debt Ceiling were, until recently, largely theatrical opportunities for public posturing that even the performing demagogues knew was an empty gesture, since the comedy had a foregone conclusion: the bill would pass the Debt Ceiling would be raised to cover the expenses Congress had already incurred. 

Somewhere along the line, sanity lost its edge and now the nihilist know-nothings in Congress, in the House of Representatives, in the Republican caucus are allowed to hold that fully-loaded revolver to everybody’s head and play Russian roulette with the world. This would make some sense in an Oliver Stone movie, the audience might thrill to the spectacle of so many people’s blood and brains blown against the clean, white, and imaginary walls of law and tradition.  Then they’d walk out of the theatre.  We can’t. Or can we? 

Why won’t President Obama act like a president? 

If President Obama would act forcefully and decisively (presidentially!) then this phony crisis would be over faster than the Secret Service could shoot a crazy person racing across the White House lawn.  (This is NOT an argument for using lethal force on Congress, no matter how justified that could be made to seem.) 

Go back to 2011 for a moment, the first time the people’s hostage-takers held the Debt Ceiling gun to the country’s head.  President Obama, whether due to inexperience or philosophy or some other sad trait, played nice and made concession after concession after concession resulting not only in a loss off billions of dollars to the economy, not only in an unprecedented downgrade in the U.S. credit rating, but finally in an unjustifiable “compromise” that solved nothing and opened the way to the rolling fiscal crises we have experienced ever since, including the current double-barreled one (Debt Ceiling and shutdown). 

President Obama blew it in 2011. But everyone else who could make any difference also blew it in 2011, so the blame was diffused and minimized and apparently forgotten and here we are again. Thanks 2011 mud wrestle, the increased cost of government borrowing alone was $18.9 billion, according to the General Accounting Office (GAO).

If President Obama blows it again this time, he should be impeached.

Impeachment for this, or any other reason, seems hardly likely, which is another measure of the country’s cultural impotence, of our collective, national inability to see what matters most, never mind our unwillingness to act in the interest of the common good.  

The president says, in a voice too whiny, that he is “exasperated” with Republicans in Congress and makes fun of some of the absurd things they say, but this is on the level of cable news infotainment and makes the president look like part of the problem.  Another reason for that look is that he is part of the problem. 

The president can complain all he wants about Speaker Boehner’s refusal to let the House vote on a budget bill that, by all accounts, would pass easily.  But that creates the false impression that the president is helpless, that he is limited to an “Obama’s Complaint” approach to governing, when the more important issue is his unwillingness to take decisive action. 

There is a Gordian Knot solution to the problem of the moment – in fact there are at least three such solution that cut through the political knot and restore the country to a rational state where the possibility of fiscal sanity and health replaces the looming uncertainty and disaster the Republican true believers would pull down on us all. 

How about a trillion-dollar coin?  Or special premium Treasury Bonds? 

Two of the president’s possible solutions are relatively simple, but somewhat gimmicky – and certainly vulnerable to Congressional reaction and rollback. 

One is for the Treasury to issue trillion dollar platinum commemorative coins, then borrow against them, indefinitely.  According to Yale Law School’s professor of constitutional law Jack Balkin, this is both legal and constitutional, thanks to the loose way Congress wrote the law governing platinum commemorative coins.  But it’s hard to see how this sort of dodge would escape challenge legally, legislatively, politically, and rhetorically, especially in the talk radio fact-free zone.  And it’s hard to see the public understanding the ploy, much less cheering for the president. 

The second Gordian knot solution is even more baroque and gimmicky, involving the Treasury Dept. creating “premium” Treasury Bonds that Treasury could then manipulate to control the calculation of the national debt to keep it technically under the Debt Ceiling.  The full explanation of how all this works relies on a recondite rendering of the intricate interplay of par values, pricing, interest rates, rollovers, face values, and other variables that can be managed in their own fantastical way to fit within the chimera of the Debt Ceiling.  This might be less vulnerable to attack because it’s so hard to explain, but that would make it hard to defend, too. In the present moment already awash with suspicion and distrust, this response to the Debt Ceiling seems unlikely to clear the air at all. 

So is this the situation the Constitution mandates?  Really? 

The third immediate, and perhaps permanent, means of stalling the Debt Ceiling crisis machine is for the president to throw a constitutional wrench in its gears. 

This is the much-discussed 14th Amendment solution. The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified and adopted in 1868. Relevant to the Debt Ceiling mirage is the amendment’s little-litigated section 4: 

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.   

The plain meaning of the first sentence certainly seems to be, roughly: the public debt incurred by Congress shall be paid. Period. In 1935, in a Supreme Court case not directly related to the Debt Ceiling (Perry v. United States, 294 U.S. 330), the court’s holding stated in highly relevant part: 

“By virtue of the power to borrow money ‘on the credit of the United States,’ Congress is authorized to pledge that credit as assurance of payment as stipulated -- as the highest assurance the Government can give -- its plighted faith. To say that Congress may withdraw or ignore that pledge is to assume that the Constitution contemplates a vain promise, a pledge having no other sanction than the pleasure and convenience of the pledgor. When the United States, with constitutional authority, makes contracts, it has rights and incurs responsibilities similar to those of individuals who are parties to such instruments.

“The right to make binding obligations is a power of sovereignty. The sovereignty of the United States resides in the people, and Congress cannot invoke the sovereignty of the people to override their will as declared in the Constitution.   The power given Congress to borrow money on the credit of the United States is unqualified and vital to the Government, and the binding quality of the promise of the United States is of the essence of the credit pledged." 

“We in the White House see ourselves as really, really weak and ineffective.” 

The White House continues to spin the Debt Ceiling story around the president’s perceived powerlessness, which is certainly an effective self-fulfilling prophecy. The president who says he has no authority to act seems pretty likely not to act. But it’s also possible the rationale is bogus and the president simply doesn’t want to act.  The White House says it has an in-house legal opinion supporting the president’s impotence, but presidents tend to get the legal opinions they want – President Bush wanted torture to be legal, and presto White House counsel said torture to your little heart’s content. 

The president’s oath of office, as provided in the Constitution, is elegantly simple and direct: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

But the White House appears more concerned about bond markets than the obligations of the president’s oath or the nation’s general welfare and all the other priorities enumerated in the Constitution’s preamble. 

So we have the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, citing the White House legal opinion as justification for inaction, and then arguing that even if the president could act, paying the bills incurred by Congress would still be a bad idea because: “You could not have an economically successful [bond] auction in an environment like that.” He apparently did not go on to explain why a default on the national debt was a better idea.    

And we have National Economic Council director Gene Sperling speaking from the same script: "The 14th Amendment does not give the President of the United State the ability to unilaterally borrow. And by the way, even if you did something that questionable, you would need all of the global financial markets to not be shaken by the specter of the United States government seeking to borrow money with a cloud of legal fuzziness over it.”  He did add that he believed that such borrowing “would have a lot of the same harm that “a technical default would have.” He did not rule out a 14th amendment, but came close, ducking behind the White House legal opinion and saying “the cure does not exist.” 

White House: the Constitution matters, except when it doesn’t

One of the things the White House consistent avoids mentioning is that the Debt Ceiling is not in the Constitution. It’s not even implied by the Constitution. It is only an untested law passed by Congress, with little or no real impact until 2011. But rather than challenge a manifest absurdity, the White House cites the Constitution’s grant of authority to Congress to borrow money and pay debts, as if those obligations can be trumped by the Debt Ceiling law which has no constitutional basis. 

White House press secretary Jay Carney tosses out a red herring when he tells reporters that the White House legal opinion says the 14th amendment doesn’t give the president the authority to raise the Debt Ceiling.  He may be right in a narrow sense, but his point is totally irrelevant. 

The president doesn’t have to raise the Debt Ceiling this crisis. He doesn’t have to address the Debt Ceiling in any direct way. All he has to do is ignore the Debt Ceiling and pay the government’s bills. 

Does anyone think the markets have much confidence in the United States now?  Isn’t it possible that the markets, watching a president acting with uncharacteristic clarity and vigor for the sake of the common good, might even feel a bit more confidence in a country where the lunatics were allowed to run the asylum for only a limited time? 

Would Republicans move to impeach the president for acting to preserve the good faith and credit of the United States? Quite probably. But so what? Why isn’t that a fight the president should embrace?  Why shouldn’t President Obama go fully on offense for sanity against the crazies? Why shouldn’t he exercise the inherent emergency powers of the presidency to defend the nation and the Constitution?  Why shouldn’t he act presidentially and lead for a change? Wouldn’t most people find that refreshing after all the feigned limpness?   

And how much harder for the president would it be to act responsibly against the Debt Ceiling, really, than the way he already acts with even less authority to kill strangers with drones, also an impeachable offense by any reasonable measure, and one for which he will never be held accountable?     

Previously published at Reader Supported News

Totally awesome unicorn image here

Collateralized Damage: Are Vermont state funds deposited in TD Bank North safe?

Tue, 2013-10-15 11:15
Topics> Activism, Finance, Currency, Commerce, Business, Economics, Credit Union, History, Media, Governance, Elections, Politics, Vermont Commons, Common Assets, Sustainability, Transition Towns

This paper is an investigation into whether or not Vermont State funds, deposited in TD Bank North, are safe. Documents and opinions from several experts were solicited and received.[1] Gary Murphy and I examined the new regulations of the FDIC in an effort to find out if the FDIC had set the stage for the confiscation of state money that was deposited in a "TBTF" (Too Big to Fail Bank).  We looked at the confiscation of deposits and pensions in Cyprus and Poland, and at the debacles in Detroit and Philadelphia.

We compared the placement of Vermont's funds to those in other states and found that states, by law, "collateralize" their deposits, which are considered "secured."  These deposits are generally held in a large national or international  (TBTF) bank. Vermont places them in Toronto-Dominion which is not considered to be one of those.

First, note that the TBTF banks are not banks: not legally and not by function. They even have a new name SIFIs which stands for Systemically Important Financial Institutions. Financial institutions are not depositories. Banks are depositories.

We examined the machinations that the SIFIs had perpetrated over the last several years, especially as described and analyzed by Matt Taibbi in his series of  historic articles in Rolling Stone Magazine.  Particularly enjoyable is "The Scam Wall Street Learned from the Mafia."

Though expert opinions varied as to what these institutions might pull off next, specifically how and if they plan to confiscate our deposits, some aspects of the investigation achieved unanimous agreement.  There is irrefutable proof of, and agreement with, the following:

 1) Certain executives of the Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of England, UBS, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, the Federal Reserves itself and other central/ international banks engaged in conspiracies to defraud, to steal, to launder drug money (HSBC) and to rig markets.

2) They are still protected in the US by Obama and Holder who have prohibited prosecutions and appointed those responsible (such as Larry Summers who withdrew his name as a candidate for chair of the Federal Reserve) to positions of leadership.  

3) They put regulations in place to insure their positions of "superior claimants" and "safe harbor" counterparties.  Larry Summers in particular, in the words of Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz "supported banking deregulation, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which was pivotal in America's financial crisis. His great 'achievement' as secretary of the treasury from 1999 - 2001, was passage of the law that ensured that derivatives would not be regulated - a decision that helped blow up the financial markets." A move for which he was greatly rewarded.

What this means, as explained by our colleague, Michael Taub, in a Times Argus op-ed from Thursday, Sept 12, is that steps should be taken by our treasurer to ensure that our money is deposited in a bank or banks that are not subject to "superior claimants" or "safe harbor" counterparties that will claim their collateral before the state is allowed to gather the crumbs. The other alternative is for Vermont to form a partnership with its state chartered banks, depositing its money there.

How is this possible?

It may help here to explain why it will be so easy for the FDIC and the big financial institutions to confiscate our money rather than to protect it. 

Your deposit in a bank is a loan to the bank. It goes on the bank balance sheet as a liability because they are supposed to give it back to you whenever you want it.  They owe it to you.  When a bank lends money, it goes on the asset side of the account because it is money the bank created and is owed to them by the borrower.  So, just as any loan can go bad, so can your loan (deposit) to the bank. That was impossible, of course, with FDIC insurance, and until the FDIC changed the rules. Here is what the rules are now according Dr. Mark J. Roe, professor of corporate law and corporate bankruptcy at Harvard Law School.

Chapter 11 bars bankrupt debtors from immediately repaying their creditors, so that the bankrupt firm can reorganize without creditors’ cash demands shredding the bankrupt’s business. Not so for the bankrupt’s derivatives counterparties, who, unlike most other secured creditors, can seize and immediately liquidate collateral, readily net out gains and losses in their dealings with the bankrupt, terminate their contracts with the bankrupt, and keep both preferential eve-of-bankruptcy payments and fraudulent conveyances they obtained from the debtor, all in ways that favor them over the bankrupt’s other creditors. Their right to jump to the head of the bankruptcy repayment line, in ways that even ordinary secured creditors cannot, weakens their incentives for market discipline in managing their dealings with the debtor because the rules reduce their concern for the risk of counterparty failure and bankruptcy.2

In other words, if you and I each lend $5000 dollars to Paul, and he signs over to me the title to his car as collateral, then, if Paul can't pay, I have his car, and you have nothing. If he can pay, then I return the title and we both get our $5000 plus interest. You didn't know anything about my deal with Paul. It was made before the bankruptcy. If I (as a counterparty to you) walk away with the car due to Paul's bankruptcy, you get nothing. That is what the bankrupt's derivatives counterparties get to do now. And, if the car is worth more than $5000, I benefit if Paul can't pay back the loan.

So I have a financial incentive to make Paul go bust, even though you, my friend, lose your entire $5000. I can even bet against Paul's ability to pay back the loan (that's a derivative) and also set up terms that guarantee his failure. Specifically, that makes me a counterparty in a credit default swap.  (And I could make a side bet that you couldn't pay your creditors either, knowing that Paul is going bust.) That's what the gangs from Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan did to home-"owners" and to the stock, pensions and 401(k)s of Lehman Brothers and AIG; and those who did it still "rule the world." Read the Summers/Geithner set up in a report by Greg Palast here.

Bail In vs. Bail Out

The above scenario could be played out against any bank that borrows money from Wall Street. Therefore any bank that plays in that casino could be gutted of its assets by the protected SIFIs that see a profit in ruining a bank so they can buy it cheap.  And since asset depletion by SIFIs through predation is a constant modus operandi, then the likelihood of "contingent capitol" (your money) for "loss absorbency" (bail-ins) is a given. In other words, it could now happen to any entity that deposits money in a bank, even if that money is collateralized. If it's paid out to superior claimants before the bankruptcy, it's gone.  And even if it's not gone, it could be "bailed in" to save the bank and to satisfy counterparties who get to cut to the head of the line. And those counterparties are the ones who make the deals that a state would know nothing about until the state discovers that its funds had been confiscated.  The bank is now allowed to confiscate deposits to save the bank. Those funds become bank equity so that the bank can stay in business and maybe buy up some more banks and raise the salaries of their executives. And it's all legal thanks to a series of de-regulations and new regulations that leave depositors holding the bag.

This "bail-in" regulation as quoted from the source is:

”The unsecured debt holders can expect that their claims would be written down to reflect any losses that shareholders cannot cover, with some converted partly into equity in order to provide sufficient capital to return the sound businesses of the G-SIFI to private sector operation.” -Resolving Globally Active, Systemically Important, Financial Institutions, coauthored by the FDIC & the Bank of England, December 10, 2012, Page ii.

We, the depositors, are the "unsecured debt holders." They are the "G-SIFI," Global Systemically Important Financial Institutions. It's not the SIFI of Ray Bradbury. They're really here.

What would make your money safer in this current scenario is to deposit your savings in a credit union or local, state chartered bank, as most of their creditors are us and our local businesses. They are probably not exposed to creditors/super priority counterparties that can claim your deposits. They may, however, expose your deposits by leveraging them in "overnight sweeps," allowing banks to earn extra interest while you sleep.

This all started with the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999, and was further enshrined  in April 2005 with the "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act" aka the "Bankruptcy Reform Act." The BRA:

1) created the "super-priority status" for the derivatives claims to go to the front of the line,

2) overrode the FDIC's power to insure us, the depositors,

3) guaranteed that the SIFIs get the money before we do, and also before local and state governments,

4) turned depositors into cash cows, collateral, and contingent capitol for the insiders in super-priority.

Pray, note the title of the Act. Both names are the opposite of what the acts actually do.

The story:   Following the repeal of Glass-Steagall was the bail-out of AIG in 2008, which was bailed-out to pay off Goldman Sachs, which had knowingly insured fraudulent mortgages through . . . AIG.

In  April of 2009, the Financial Stability Board was created as a subcommittee of the Bank of International Settlements with the powers to regulate banking world wide.

In July of 2010 came Dodd-Frank which, in sections 204a, 214, and 716, prohibited government bail-outs, opening the discussion as to where the money would come from to save the big banks next time. (This time)

In October of 2011 that discussion went as you would expect: The Financial Stability Board paved the way for the bail-ins in a document called: "Key Attributes of Effective Resolution Regimes for Financial Institutions."  And the "effective resolution" turns out to be turning your money into bank equity to prevent bank failure. The G-20 immediately endorsed this.

End of 2011:   J.P. Morgan and Bank of America move their gambling (derivatives) operations to the their banking operations. Thanks to Larry Summers for removing Glass Steagall!

And now it's ready to roll as we see from the "bail-in" document of Dec 10, 2012 from the FDIC quoted above.  Here's another translation from Randy Langel:  

"One day you may go into your big US bank and when you ask for a withdrawal they give you a share of stock in a new company instead of cash. It will be your responsibility to get that share of stock converted to cash. Of course, since the new company was formed from the failed bank in the first place, it may be difficult to sell it, much less get remuneration equal to the cash you lost when the bank absconded with your money. Since your account has been converted to equity (stock) from cash, the FDIC is no longer responsible for the deposits. Why? Because the FDIC only insures cash accounts not equity accounts. Cute trick. You can’t really blame the FDIC because they were forced into action when BofA and JP Morgan Chase moved their trillions of derivatives into their depository arms. There is no way the government could make up the money lost with one of those giants failing."

The effectiveness of the steps taken to set this up, and of the power of the FSB, was shown when the EU mandated the bail-in in Cyprus, and the next one in Poland where they pillaged the pension funds.

At last count, the total amount was $232 trillion in the derivative casino.      

What does this mean for Vermont?        

And so, to return to our story, TD Bank North has $3.32 trillion on the table, many times its total assets of  $835 billion and having a book value of $46 billion (see "Morningstar" or any of the investment reporting services that provide company statistics). You know what position that could put you in if you have deposits in Toronto-Dominion. And it is your treasurer's fiduciary responsibility to look this in the eye.

On the other hand, TD is not in the same legal category as the SIFIs. What this appears to mean is that TD, if it fails, will have to enter into for-real bankruptcy proceedings, and a judge will adjudicate the distribution of the remaining assets. In that case, I doubt, personally, that your deposits will be automatically swept up by the bank.  But TD could probably be destroyed by any of the SIFIs, just as JP Morgan did to MF Global  -  claiming assets and deposits, and getting them because they were powerful  and well-enough connected to do so.  This was theft. That's why Jamie Dimon was protected by Obama and Holder from prosecution.  Otherwise Dimon would be in jail. If he had been put in jail when he started his sprees of naked short selling, market rigging and manipulation, bribes, illegal foreclosures, and outright theft, his career in crime would have been cut short, rather than perpetually extended.  In the words of William K Black, Associate Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, "We increasingly live in a cheater-take-all system." He quotes from "Looting:  The Economic Underworld of Bankruptcy for Profit" by George Akerlof and Paul Romer who wrote, "Why abuse the system to pursue a gamble when you can exploit a sure thing with little risk of prosecution?"  For Jamie Dimon et al, there is no risk of prosecution.

Could this happen here? As Gary Murphy puts it:  "If counterparties in contracts that are not governed by the Fed, FDIC or some other government body can do an end run around the receiver, all bets on money kept in a depository institution being kept out of the resolution process are off." TD Bank North has subsidiaries, "some of which are depositories, and these depositories (under Dodd-Frank) would be spun off into bridge companies, and deposits would therefore be left intact." Much depends on whether money is in a bank (depository) or a financial company. TD is both, and furthermore, it's Canadian, which presents a question of jurisdiction. 

Add to this the illegal activities of TD.  It was connected to a ponzi scheme in Florida for which it paid a settlement of $52.5 million, and its new "Rental Agreement, Safe Deposit Rules and Regulations"  #10, prohibiting the "storage of currency, " violates VT law 27 V.S.A. chp 14, not to mention common sense and customer trust.

There is a section in Dodd-Frank that is boiler plate bankruptcy law.  It gives the FDIC the authority to "repudiate" prior contracts. This means that, even if they claim your money as assets for the bank, the FDIC can repudiate that confiscation. In that case the bank fails or is about to fail, and you keep your money. But it hasn't come up yet over here as it did in Cyprus, so we don't know how the FDIC will play it. There could be compromises and you could lose only some of your savings, and the state could lose only some of the millions it has deposited in TD Bank North.

What else could stop it? A state bank that keeps public money in the state. Confiscation of deposits to boost bank assets could not happen in North Dakota because they have a state bank, so they will not suffer the slings and arrows that the rest of us are heir to.

Gary Murphy, who contributed to this article, was Chair of Bradford Planning Commission 1985-87, Vice president/legal researcher for union local at Capital City Press, former member of Vermont State Labor Council, AFL-CIO e-board VT Working Families Party state banking committee chair and web master for vtpublicbank.com


[1]  Tom Sgouros, Ellen Brown, Matt Taibbi, Rudy Avizius, Mike Krauss, Scott Baker, Mark J. Roe, Randy Langel, William K Black

2  Roe, Mark J., The Derivatives Market's Payment's Priorities as Financial Crisis Accelerator (March 6 2011), Stanford Law Review, vol 63 issue3.

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Countdown Begins for F-35 Showdown

Fri, 2013-10-11 00:02
Topics> Activism, Health, Governance, Military, Politics, Common Assets


Burlington- Gathering in the outer chambers of City Hall, dozens of Burlington citizens held a rally Monday night to oppose the basing of the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Burlington International Airport (BTV). Intended to coincide with a set of proposed City Council resolutions against the deafening and expensive aircraft, organizers of the rally made careful note of City Attorney Eileen Blackwood’s announcement that BTV doesn’t hold the right kind of insurance for the F-35, making the City vulnerable to lawsuits and forcing the opposition’s resolutions to be potentially postponed until November 4th.

Plagued by technical failures; astronomical budget overruns; and a design so poor that one aeronautical engineer described it as having the cross-section of “a pregnant pig”, the F-35 was intended to be Lockheed Martin’s one-size-fits-all solution for the Air Force, Navy, and Marines. The most expensive aircraft in history, the F-35 is also among the loudest in recent memory; producing take-off sounds so ear-piercing that the USAF itself has acknowledged the risk of hearing loss and cardiovascular disease along with the credible risk impairment in the cognitive development of children. That report comes alongside recent word from the Air Force Inspector General that the F-35 program is “out of control” in regard to quality assurances and the safety of critical components.

Speaking to a crowd that filled the lobby outside Contois Auditorium, Stop the F-35 organizer Chris Hurd addressed the recent announcements of the City Attorney: “The City is doing the right thing, the prudent thing to protect itself with insurance. Insurance provides compensation for damages; more important for the City is to prevent the damage thousands of families. No-one can be adequately compensated for hearing loss; heart disease; or the cognitive impairment of their children. The City must take action to protect these people. This new plane is not a good idea for an airport surrounded by four or five cities with thousands of families in noise and crash zones. The City Council can do the right thing, the prudent thing, to protect both itself and the People by voting to tell its tenant that it cannot base F-35 warplanes at its airport.”

The rally and near-vote in City Hall follows a preliminary Air Force decision last week to base the F-35 at BTV. “It was apparently well known to the so-called business and political leaders who cheerlead the basing, that Senator Leahy alone ultimately decides,” said Paul Fleckenstein an organizer with the International Socialist Organization and vocal participant of the Stop the F-35 campaign. “There’s a question now of which side Burlington is going to stand on: on the side of boondoggle warplanes or on the side of human rights?” asked Fleckenstein of the increasingly responsive gathering. “Like the F-16s that symbolically flew over New York City on 9/11, the F-35's real mission is to bomb 5,000 miles away in the Middle East and Asia thus increasing the anger at U.S. war policies and actually the risk of terrorist attacks.”


Paul Fleckenstein addresses a crowd of fellow opponents of the F-35


Throughout the rally Councilor Max Tracy served as cheerleader and morale booster, despite the apparent delay of a decision on the part of the Council. “I know everybody, including myself was incredibly excited to deal with this issue, to give it a yes or no vote; and hopefully, in my mind, give a ‘No’ vote on the basing of the F-35 tonight. Unfortunately, we asked the City Attorney to do a review of the liability associated with basing the F-35 at the airport. You know, ‘could the City be sued for damages incurred by that?’” said the surprisingly animated Tracy. “I think that we as a City need to send a clear message to the airport saying that no, we don’t want to be personally liable; we don’t want to be liable as a community; we don’t want to be liable as a state. So, hopefully with this resolution and with all of your support we’ll be able to get there.”


Councilor Max Tracy


Clarifying the change in the decision making process at the City Council level, Councilor Rachel Siegel addressed the crowd to provide context over what was and wasn’t happening within Burlington’s chambers of power. Carefully outlining the process to the crowd, Siegel described two resolutions that will either outright forbid the Air National Guard from renting space at BTV if they possess controversial aircraft or a compromise that states that City will not rent to the Air National Guard if they accept the F-35s during the first round of basing due to the widely acknowledge elevation of risk surrounding newly designed aircraft. However, these resolutions were not on the table Monday night due to Eileen Blackwood’s announcement regarding the City’s insurance for the airport.

Although the majority of City Council Democrats have remained silent on the issue of the F-35 roosting at BTV, Mayor Weinberger has ominously stated that he will veto the measure forbidding the F-35 outright, but may be more receptive to the compromise offered by Progressives to refuse only the first round of basing.

“There was supposed to be this special forum tonight,” said Siegel “that’s not going to happen tonight because [these were the two] resolutions on the agenda that were pulled. The public forum will happen when the resolutions get back on the agenda. We don’t know the date when that will happen but I have been assured that if there is any way possible they will be on an agenda even if it means calling a special meeting before the 30 day window is up” said Siegel referring to a 30 day window of decision that began on Friday, October 4th. “It’s a countdown at this point."


Councilor Rachel Siegel






For more work by Dylan Kelley visit his blog, Facebook page, and website.

Follow Dylan Kelley on Twitter via @LivefromGround.

The Hungry Heart: Vermonters Speak Out On The “Dragon Of Addiction”

Mon, 2013-10-07 14:24
Topics> Film, Health, Media, Governance, Politics, Vermont Commons, Common Assets, Sustainability

Prescription drug addiction has emerged as one of Vermont’s most pervasive and most hidden public health problems. Now, “The Hungry Heart,” produced by Kingdom County Productions and directed by Peacham, Vermont filmmaker Bess O’Brien, provides a powerful and intimate look at the often hidden world of prescription drug addiction in a moving documentary that bears witness to the struggles of drug addicts, their families, and the medical professionals who do their utmost to support them.

The hero of “The Hungry Heart” is St. Albans, Vermont pediatrician Fred Holmes, who has spent more than forty years counseling, supporting and mentoring a wide variety of addicts. Direct, honest, and compassionate with his patients, Holmes clearly understands the power of non-judgmental listening, what he calls “the healing power of conversation,” and the importance of building personal relationships, even as he practices what one patient calls “tough love.” O’Brien’s intimately-filmed scenes of the intense office conversations Holmes has with his patients are at once disturbing and moving, and provocatively reveal the emotional and physical struggles that accompany prescription drug abuse. Coupled with a series of still photo montages accompanied by a haunting soundtrack (the film’s music managed to be arresting without distracting), “The Hungry Heart” ultimately emerges as a hopeful film about the redemptive power of human relationships to help heal difficult personal circumstances.

While Dr. Holmes (now retired) is the central figure in the film, “The Hungry Heart” also spotlights the many Vermont victims of drug addiction who have the courage to speak out, candidly and with conviction, about their experiences. “Alcohol and drugs made me feel like no one could hurt me,” explains one addict, while another patient details how drug addiction created a “whole lifestyle” that helped kill the emotional as well as physical pain of being lonely, depressed, and the product of divorced parents. The film also dispels a number of many myths about prescription drug addiction – that it affects only the young, the working class or the poor, for example. Geoff Kane, Chief of Addiction Services at Brattleboro Retreat, raves, “The Hungry Heart” displays the unflinching honesty necessary for addiction recovery.  Dr. Fred Holmes displays the unwavering respect, hope, and accountability that people need to get there." I’d agree – don’t miss screening this remarkable film.

“The Hungry Heart” is touring around the state of Vermont, and will play the Big Picture Theater in Waitsfield on Sunday. Oct 13th @ 7:00 pm. Tickets are $12 adults, $6 Youth at the door. For those in recovery or impacted by addiction that need support, tickets are free. 

Is Homeland Security Preparing for the Next Wall Street Collapse?

Mon, 2013-10-07 14:16
Topics> Finance, Currency, Commerce, Business, Economics, Credit Union, History, Media, Governance, Military, Politics, Trade, Energy, Common Assets, Sustainability

Reports are that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is engaged in a massive, covert military buildup. An article in the Associated Press in February confirmed an open purchase order by DHS for 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition.According to an op-ed in Forbes, that’s enough to sustain an Iraq-sized war for over twenty years. DHS has also acquired heavily armored tanks, which have been seen roaming the streets. Evidently somebody in government is expecting some serious civil unrest. The question is, why?

Recently revealed statements by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the height of the banking crisis in October 2008 could give some insights into that question. An article on BBC News on September 21, 2013, drew from an explosive autobiography called Power Trip by Brown’s spin doctor Damian McBride, who said the prime minister was worried that law and order could collapse during the financial crisis. McBride quoted Brown as saying:

If the banks are shutting their doors, and the cash points aren’t working, and people go to Tesco [a grocery chain] and their cards aren’t being accepted, the whole thing will just explode.

If you can’t buy food or petrol or medicine for your kids, people will just start breaking the windows and helping themselves.

And as soon as people see that on TV, that’s the end, because everyone will think that’s OK now, that’s just what we all have to do. It’ll be anarchy. That’s what could happen tomorrow.

How to deal with that threat? Brown said, “We’d have to think: do we have curfews, do we put the Army on the streets, how do we get order back?”

McBride wrote in his book Power Trip, “It was extraordinary to see Gordon so totally gripped by the danger of what he was about to do, but equally convinced that decisive action had to be taken immediately.” He compared the threat to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Fear of this threat was echoed in September 2008 by US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who reportedly warned that the US government might have to resort to martial law if Wall Street were not bailed out from the credit collapse.

In both countries, martial law was avoided when their legislatures succumbed to pressure and bailed out the banks. But many pundits are saying that another collapse is imminent; and this time, governments may not be so willing to step up to the plate.

The Next Time WILL Be Different

What triggered the 2008 crisis was a run, not in the conventional banking system, but in the “shadow” banking system, a collection of non-bank financial intermediaries that provide services similar to traditional commercial banks but are unregulated.  They include hedge funds, money market funds, credit investment funds, exchange-traded funds, private equity funds, securities broker dealers, securitization and finance companies. Investment banks and commercial banks may also conduct much of their business in the shadows of this unregulated system.

The shadow financial casino has only grown larger since 2008; and in the next Lehman-style collapse, government bailouts may not be available. According to President Obama in his remarks on the Dodd-Frank Act on July 15, 2010, “Because of this reform, . . . there will be no more taxpayer funded bailouts – period.”

Governments in Europe are also shying away from further bailouts. The Financial Stability Board (FSB) in Switzerland has therefore required the systemically risky banks to devise “living wills” setting forth what they will do in the event of insolvency. The template established by the FSB requires them to “bail in” their creditors; and depositors, it turns out, are the largest class of bank creditor. (For fuller discussion, see my earlier article here.)

When depositors cannot access their bank accounts to get money for food for the kids, they could well start breaking store windows and helping themselves. Worse, they might plot to overthrow the financier-controlled government. Witness Greece, where increasing disillusionment with the ability of the government to rescue the citizens from the worst depression since 1929 has precipitated riots and threats of violent overthrow.

Fear of that result could explain the massive, government-authorized spying on American citizens, the domestic use of drones, and the elimination of due process and of “posse comitatus” (the federal law prohibiting the military from enforcing “law and order” on non-federal property). Constitutional protections are being thrown out the window in favor of protecting the elite class in power.

The Looming Debt Ceiling Crisis

The next crisis on the agenda appears to be the October 17th deadline for agreeing on a federal budget or risking default on the government’s loans. It may only be a coincidence, but two large-scale drills are scheduled to take place the same day, the “Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill” and the “Quantum Dawn 2 Cyber Attack Bank Drill.” According to a Bloomberg news clip on the bank drill, the attacks being prepared for are from hackers, state-sponsored espionage, and organized crime (financial fraud). One interviewee stated, “You might experience that your online banking is down . . . . You might experience that you can’t log in.” It sounds like a dress rehearsal for the Great American Bail-in.

Ominous as all this is, it has a bright side. Bail-ins and martial law can be seen as the last desperate thrashings of a dinosaur. The exploitative financial scheme responsible for turning millions out of their jobs and their homes has reached the end of the line. Crisis in the current scheme means opportunity for those more sustainable solutions waiting in the wings.

Other countries faced with a collapse in their debt-based borrowed currencies have survived and thrived by issuing their own. When the dollar-pegged currency collapsed in Argentina in 2001, the national government returned to issuing its own pesos; municipal governments paid with “debt-canceling bonds” that circulated as currency; and neighborhoods traded with community currencies. After the German currency collapsed in the 1920s, the government turned the economy around in the 1930s by issuing “MEFO” bills that circulated as currency. When England ran out of gold in 1914, the government issued “Bradbury pounds” similar to the Greenbacks issued by Abraham Lincoln during the US Civil War.

Today our government could avoid the debt ceiling crisis by doing something similar: it could simply mint some trillion dollar coins and deposit them in an account. That alternative could be pursued by the Administration immediately, without going to Congress or changing the law, as discussed in my earlier article here. It need not be inflationary, since Congress could still spend only what it passed in its budget. And if Congress did expand its budget for infrastructure and job creation, that would actually be good for the economy, since hoarding cash and paying down loans have significantly shrunk the circulating money supply.

 Peer-to-peer Trading and Public Banks

At the local level, we need to set up an alternative system that provides safety for depositors, funds small and medium-sized businesses, and serves the needs of the community.

Much progress has already been made on that front in the peer-to-peer economy.  In a September 27th article titled “Peer-to-Peer Economy Thrives as Activists Vacate the System,” Eric Blair reports that the Occupy Movement is engaged in a peaceful revolution in which people are abandoning the established system in favor of a “sharing economy.” Trading occurs between individuals, without taxes, regulations or licenses, and in some cases without government-issued currency.

Peer-to-peer trading happens largely on the Internet, where customer reviews rather than regulation keep sellers honest. It started with eBay and Craigslist and has grown exponentially since. Bitcoin is a private currency outside the prying eyes of regulators. Software is being devised that circumvents NSA spying. Bank loans are being shunned in favor of crowdfunding. Local food co-ops are also a form of opting out of the corporate-government system.

Peer-to-peer trading works for local exchange, but we also need a way to protect our dollars, both public and private. We need dollars to pay at least some of our bills, and businesses need them to acquire raw materials. We also need a way to protect our public revenues, which are currently deposited and invested in Wall Street banks that have heavy derivatives exposure.

To meet those needs, we can set up publicly-owned banks on the model of the Bank of North Dakota, currently our only state-owned depository bank. The BND is mandated by law to receive all the state’s deposits and to serve the public interest. Ideally, every state would have one of these “mini-Feds.” Counties and cities could have them as well. For more information, see http://PublicBankingInstitute.org.

Preparations for martial law have been reported for decades, and it hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully, we can sidestep that danger by moving into a saner, more sustainable system that makes military action against American citizens unnecessary.

Previously published here

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For Real Food Safety, Support Local Food and Local Oversight

Mon, 2013-10-07 10:38
Topics> Activism, Food&Health, Governance

by Dorian Yates 

For those who care about local foods and small farms, please submit comments to the FDA by November 15th on the new Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). Signed into law by President Obama in January of 2011, the FDA has taken more than two years to move FSMA through its rule-making procedure—a process still ongoing. The FDA hails FSMA as the most “sweeping reform of food safety laws in over 70 years.” An undeniably important objective given the attention-grabbing headlines announcing outbreaks of foodborne illness from hamburgers, chicken, fruits and vegetables, FSMA unfortunately undermines some of the safest producers of food in the nation—our local farmers.

    The "sweeping" law risks sweeping the little guy right out of business. Designed to cover the disparate extremes of industrial farming and neighborhood farm stands, FSMA's one size fits all is a disaster in the making. The voluminous 548 page law is confusing. On the surface it appears that farms grossing less than $500,000 would be exempt from the law, but on closer examination, many farms would indeed have to comply with the expensive and cumbersome rules. How many? Neither the state agriculture department nor the FDA can answer that definitively, but based on USDA numbers and income criteria likely hundreds of Vermont farms will be affected.   At an FDA "listening session" held in August, farmers from Vermont and New Hampshire gave FDA representatives an almost universally unfavorable earful. Themes repeated throughout the morning were: the proposed law was overly cumbersome to struggling small farms; the majority of food borne illness outbreaks come from imported foods and large scale industrial food companies, not small, diversified farms in New England; criteria for the new law is not supposed to be in conflict with organic standards, but it is; and FSMA seems to duplicate laws that many farms already comply with like the USDA’s Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) program. Across the board, farmers felt the proposed law would put onerous requirements on them, consume their already tiny profit margins, hamper growth, and force many of them out of business.    Over the course of the session, many farmers expressed their frustration at the inconsistencies and double standards in federal food safety policy. The FDA admits it is able to inspect only about 2% of imported food even though imported food has repeatedly been implicated in food borne illness outbreaks. While the government plans to impose increasingly cumbersome regulations on small produce farms, they are simultaneously relaxing and changing laws that will deleteriously affect food safety. Recently the USDA announced that it will allow U.S. grown chicken to be processed in China for resale in the United States, without any USDA inspectors on site. The processed chicken, used in canned soups, chicken nuggets and other products, will be sold without any label informing the consumer it was processed in China.     Earlier in 2013, in an effort to save money for the government and the poultry industry, the USDA announced plans to cut back the inspectors at slaughterhouse kill-lines by 75%, leaving only one inspector where there used to be four, while increasing the numbers of chickens killed to 175 per minute. USDA Secretary Vilsack believes that this will reduce thousands of foodborne illnesses, even though the Environmental Working Group’s report, Superbugs Invade American Supermarkets, exposes that antibiotic resistant bacteria is found in 81% of ground turkey; 69% of pork chops; 55% of ground beef; and 39% of chicken breasts, wings and thighs. No worries. Under the new USDA rules, chicken carcasses will be doused in chlorinated water and “other antimicrobial substances” to deal with lingering fecal matter and other contaminants.    The numbers of food borne illnesses used to justify FSMA are high. While quoted in the press as hard numbers they are, in fact, only estimates. These numbers were announced by the CDC a month before Obama signed FSMA into law and are almost 2000 times the rate of illness and 150 times the rate of death that were documented between 1998 and 2008. In Vermont, cases of food borne illnesses are low—about 250 statewide in 2012—although relative to population they hover around what the Vermont Department of Health cites as the national averages for reported cases in 2011 of 14.3 to 16.5 per 100,000. Over the past almost twenty years, the number of cases in Vermont have stayed relatively consistent. The Department’s most recent report on foodborne illness, dated May 2013, explains that Vermont’s cases are mostly “sporadic”—i.e. they are not connected to each other.   While the Vermont Department of Health (DOH) agrees with the CDC that under-reporting is a problem, State epidemiologist and foodborne illness expert, Erica Berl is quick to say that the DOH does not want every single person who is experiencing diarrhea or vomiting to report to the state. Berl says there are many reasons for these common symptoms of foodborne illness but, “most cases of GI illnesses are from viruses passed from human to human.”   When asked if she thought foodborne illness in Vermont could be traced to small local farms she replied, “Causation is very difficult to prove and often near impossible with the small numbers in Vermont. It is impossible to state that food borne illness does or does not ever come from small farms. What we know, capital K, is that there are certain high-risk foods linked to certain pathogens.”    In short, there is no way to prove that any small farms in Vermont have caused any foodborne illness in the state. But, there is also no way to prove they haven’t.   While the state may not be able to say unequivocally that small farms are not the cause of foodborne illness, the farmers made it very clear at the FDA session that they do not believe they are to blame for outbreaks in the state. Repeatedly farmers said, “My family and I eat the food we are growing and selling. We would be the first to get sick if there were a problem.” Others commented that since they know their customers, they would be aware if someone got sick.     Some farmers expressed their fear that as small farms are forced out of business that foodborne illness will increase not decrease. The question begs, does trying to reduce the 200 some odd annual cases of foodborne illness which can not be definitively linked to Vermont’s small farms justify the enormous health and economic impact of FSMA throughout the state? If society’s goal is to keep reducing or trying to reduce the percentages of people who are sick then maybe the small farms of Vermont should be viewed as part of the healthy solution and goal, not as the culprits. It raises the need for an examination of health and what is considered relevant to food safety. Acute illness is dramatic and headline grabbing, but debilitating chronic illness is often far more damaging in the long run. Is diabetes a food safety issue? Are allergies a food safety issue? Chronic digestive diseases?   There is a reason Vermont has, per capita, the most farmer’s markets, certified organic farms, certified organic farm land, CSAs, local dollars spent on local foods, artisan cheese-makers, micro-breweries, and maple producers in the entire country. We love our local food producers, we care about our health and we are proud of Vermont’s agricultural heritage.    Champion real food safety and security. Let FSMA fulfill its mandate by regulating those producing contaminated food, not those providing healthy food. Let the FDA know that you support Vermont local farms and local oversight. Tell the FDA that farms grossing less than $1 million should be regulated locally, by the Vermont Department of Agriculture, not the federal government. Keep Vermont’s farmers in business and keep our food healthy. As Vermont senator and organic farmer, Dave Zuckerman, told the FDA, “This is an issue that New Hampshire’s libertarians and Vermont’s radicals can agree on—keep  the feds out of local farming!”

Send your comments to the FDA by November 15th 2013. 

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Minority Government At Work –Why don’t we call these people nihilists?

Sun, 2013-10-06 19:50
Topics> Activism, Media, Governance, Elections, Politics, Common Assets

Is the phrase “government shutdown” actually an oxymoron? 

By the time you read this, the government shutdown may or may not be over, and it may or may not matter to you personally, and it may or may not matter to the country – depending on the criteria you use to assess it. Those who say it’s not actually a “government shutdown” are correct in an obvious way – it’s actually only a partial executive and judicial branch shutdown, with Congress very much alive, well, and dysfunctional as ever. 

A real government shutdown would bring the troops home from their dozens  (hundreds?) of foreign postings; it would free all the prisoners at Guantanamo and other prisons (or, alternatively, leave them locked up to starve); it would leave our privacy unmolested by the dozens of federal spy agencies (but not state or local ones); it would prevent the Supreme Court from further eroding personal liberty (leaving it to the states to protect); and so on, as the sky failed to fall, but got a lot closer to the ground.    

A real government shutdown would effectively take us back to a state of nature, or at least to an eighteenth century, pre-constitutional governmental structure, enhanced by all the modern conveniences we could keep working without Washington’s help. That might provoke a new constitutional convention, which is what a busy minority has been after for a long time, and maybe that’s the point of all this, but we’re not there yet. 

OK, so this is a fight based on “principles” that no one can state persuasively?

The impasse of early October is relatively simple in its essence.  The Congressional majority (all Democrats) passed a law, the President signed it, and the Supreme Court ratified it (with adjustments). That’s the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that is not well understood and is also in the early stages of implementation, so no one knows for sure how well or poorly it may work, but the absolute certainly of predictions that is will be purgatory or nirvana is easy to come by, at least from people whose job it is to persuade you they know what they’re talking about (never mind how wrong they were on the last two or three or four important national issues). 

The Obamacare food fight is bogus at a deeper level as well, starting with the reality that it never had a chance to be the single payer system just about every honest broker acknowledges would best serve the American people.  Democrats don’t do that any more (seek to serve the American people), but they like to maintain the illusion, so the party brought in insurance professionals to craft a health insurance bill that would benefit the insurance industry in perpetuity and, with luck, would also improve the health care prospects of some of the millions of Americans currently without health insurance, but not all of them (that would be too much like all the other advanced countries in the world and we have our exceptionalism to protect). 

Democrats defending their own work poses no mystery.  And it makes sense that the public seems mostly muddled about a program that may or may not do them much good, a program that is way complicated and under-explained, and about which the lies have ranged from the predictable to the spectacular. A large proportion of the public is opposed to Obamacare because people want a better health care system than the one that’s coming at them. Republican opposition makes sense only as part of a fundamentalist belief system in which the role of government is divorced[ from any effort to promote the common good (or in this case from a program that might promote the common good, even if that’s not its primary goal).

What do you do when you can’t win within the system? 

The implacable minority opposing Obamacare has exhausted its normal constitutional means of opposing the law, either repealing or amending or postponing it, because they don’t have the votes.  And they won’t have the votes before 2015 at the earliest (and even then, they’re unlikely to have the votes to override a presidential veto).  And from the opponents’ perspective, the supporters of Obamacare refuse to negotiate (by which is meant surrender), so their next best option was a government shutdown, even though its impact on Obamacare is next to nil. 

Freshman House Republican Tom Cotton, 36, a lawyer from Arkansas with degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, explained his party’s dilemma with apparent sincerity this way on the House floor (and C-SPAN):

“The House Republicans have acted reasonably and responsibly to act on simple principles: the government should be funded and the American people should get relief from Obamacare.

“We have repeatedly made reasonable and responsible compromises. We couldn’t repeal Obamacare, so we offered to defund it. We offered to delay it for one year when the President has delayed so many parts of it himself. Yet the Senate rejected every one of those compromises.”  [emphasis added] 

“Hey, who you calling a wacko bird, you idiotic lemming?”

Rep. Cotton went on in these remarks to accuse Democratic Senators of putting their personal self-interest ahead of the country’s interest.  As insults go these days, it was pretty mild.  Months ago, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona referred to his more adamant Republican colleagues as “wacko birds,” and more recent insults for the same cohort have included “morons,” lemmings,” “idiots,” “dishonest,” “stupid,” “irresponsible,” “dead-enders,” “crazy,” and in a New York Daily News headline: “House of Turds.” 

At a more intense level, this group has been called:

“anarchists” (Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV; New York Times)

“saboteurs”  (Pres. Obama; Jonathan Chait)

“extortionists and hostage takers” (Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY) 

 “legislative arsonists” (Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-CA) 

 “murderers”  (Sen. Angus King, I-ME) 

“terrorists” (White House aide Dan Pfeiffer; Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL; Al Gore ) 

“lemmings with suicide vests”  (Rep. David Nunes, R-CA) 

 “traitors” (Robert Reich; Scott Galindez) 

“morally and politically correct”  (Forbes) 

And then there’s the hard to top rant by Charles Pierce in Esquire:

“We have elected an ungovernable collection of snake-handlers, Bible-bangers, ignorami, bagmen and outright frauds, a collection so ungovernable that it insists the nation be ungovernable, too. We have elected people to govern us who do not believe in government.”

“Disapproval” is what the American people have long felt about congressional Republicans according to some polls (70% of public in Quinnipiac polls since 2011; 80% of public in Gallup polls since 2009). 

Entertaining as they may be, none of these personal insults contribute anything to the debate, such as it is. They are just ad hominem attacks with no value as logical arguments. And they shed no useful light on how we arrived at this moment in our national politics, or how we might get beyond it. 

Arguably, this government shutdown is one more spasm in the internecine political struggle that poses a genuine existential threat to the United States as we know it. The opposing philosophies have been at odds for a long time, perhaps since the founding of the country, but the struggle has intensified during the fast four decades and is crystallized in the well-know line from Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural (1981):  

“… government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Judging by his record, Reagan didn’t really believe that, but he knew it was the Kool-Aid the faithful wanted to drink, so he kept pouring.  Meanwhile, his presidency tripled the national debt, enlarged the federal government, and took the United States from being the world’s largest creditor nation to being the world’s largest debtor nation.  On second thought, maybe his government was the problem – or at least the beginning of a problem tradition carried on by his successors. 

In any case, the idea of government-as-problem has persisted and gathered strength. Partly that’s an inherent result of having any government at all, since governments never function perfectly and almost everyone gets more annoyed by their bad experiences with their governments than they feel grateful for all the things that governments get right. Despite that near-universal, reflexive annoyance, most people aren’t ready to abolish governments.  But some are, or think they are, as activist Grover Norquist has so vividly expressed it:

"I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."

That is an expression of pure political nihilism: the belief that government has no objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. 

The political nihilist is focused on pure governmenticide, on getting rid of government by any means necessary. The idea is simply to eliminate government, with no stated plan for anything to come after government.  And even though the nihilists want to get rid of government, there’s no hint they want to get rid of power.    

That leaves us in a parlous situation, with no visible, reliable opponents of the nihilists.  In effect, we are looking at a forced choice that is really no choice at all: to repeal government, by ceding the power to govern to a dedicated band of radicals or to compromise with them and defund government.  

Originally published at Reader Supported News 

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Why the C02 Panic Economy is an Affront to Science

Thu, 2013-10-03 09:05
Topics> Energy, Common Assets, Sustainability

My main point on all of this C02/climate "debate" has been and remains that the "experts" really don't know with any certainty that historically speaking C02 is a leading causal factor in warming. This article shows that in fact the ice core data does imply the opposite, that C02 rises after warming peaks, (so how could C02 be the cause of the warming peaks?). How this data is interpreted, and in what context, will likely change. But it's clear to me, from this article and others, that the "science" is being rigged to fit a particular political agenda and a particular foregone conclusion, and that's what I find so offensive: that's not science. 

This article confirms that CO2 spikes follow temp spikes in the ice core data, usually by hundreds of years. The climate scientists studying this describe that finding a "problem" (what happened to unbiased observation of facts?) which they offer one potential theory that still by their own data only "gets us closer" (a 200 year lag of C02 peaks to temp peaks instead of a 1400 year lag). What this really proves is that none of the climate experts have any idea how to prove that CO2 drives warming historically. They're working hard just to reinterpret their own data to show that warming does not cause CO2 spikes as the data suggests. This great unknown is the ENTIRE basis for the CO2 panic economy. That's just utterly insane. The data doesn't fit the political agenda so the "scientists" look for ways to rejigger the data and still come up short, and STILL claim CO2 causes warming when the data says the exact opposite. That is not science.

The fact that the past 15 years of temp/C02 data shows that there has been in fact no significant global average temp increase despite significant C02 increases validates the perspective that...we really don't know. The fact that all the climate-expert dialog continues to paint this story as "over" and continues to attack anyone like me who looks at the data and draws different conclusions/questions as heretics of the "environmental religion" should be another big cause to question the agenda at play here. 

I've spent most of my professional life working for sustainable non polluting energy and sustainability in general, and through that process I've seen that the data behind the C02 story just doesn't hold water and that there are major political and data-driven reasons to question all the conclusions of the IPCC and Al Gore. We are clearly being manipulated.  It could of course turn out that the C02-story of warming is valid, and I'm looking for the evidence that would make that conclusion valid. But so far, that evidence is entirely missing and I'm amazed at how "97% of the experts" could pretend that they don't see that. 

Why is it so hard for my fellow environmentalists to see the possibility that we've all been duped by Al Gore etc? If I take a combative stance against the "green" grain on this, that does not make me a Koch-head, that makes me an honest scientist. IF I can find conclusive evidence that C02 is the primary factor of climate disruption/warming, I'll accept that. So far I have found no valid evidence to that effect, only theories that do not hold water given the facts.

There are so many variables at play, blaming C02 for everything, even if it is a significant factor, when we don't understand the other variables (like ocean thermal factors, like solar/orbital cycles, like the changes going on in the Earth's and Sun's electromagnetic spectrum, like the geoengineering chem-trail experiments being conducted), is a disgusting affront to the scientific method. The people promoting the idea that the debate is over are not scientists, they are modern high priests using guilt and manipulation to control the people through the religion of climate-panic.

Weapons of Mass Destruction Wanted? Democratic “Leaders” Push For “National Scandal” to Come to Vermont

Mon, 2013-09-30 09:02
Topics> Activism, Business, Economics, Media, Governance, Foreign Policy, Elections, Military, Politics, Environment, Common Assets, Sustainability

With Vermont’s highest elected officials still deep in Defense Dept. denial over the disaster that is the Air Force’s F-35 strike fighter, a local city council threatens to bring some military sanity to Vermont (but nowhere else) by exercising its landlord right to reject as a tenant a weapon of mass destruction that will wreak havoc on the local neighborhood. 

This initiative comes from four members of Vermont’s Progressive Party on the Burlington City Council, who plan to introduce a resolution on October 7 effectively barring the F-35 from being based in the middle of Vermont’s most populated area. In contrast, Vermont’s official “leadership,” almost all Democrats, still thinks basing nuclear-capable warplanes in a Vermont community is a dandy idea. 

Whatever they say – which is next to nothing – Vermont’s governor, two Senators, lone Congressmen, Burlington mayor, and most of the legislature remain effectively committed to a fool’s errand on behalf of the military-industrial complex, one that will do nothing good for the vast majority of their constituents and will do real harm to many of them. These representatives consistently refuse to meet with their constituents for serious discussion of health, safety, cost, and other issues. This is what the breakdown of American representative democracy looks like up close. 

John McCain calls F-35 fighter-bomber “worse than a disgrace” 

In Washington, at a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting on September 19, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona was telling Pentagon officials that continuing cost overruns have made the F-35 the first trillion-dollar weapons program and “have made it worse than a disgrace….  it’s still one of the great, national scandals that we have ever had, as far as the expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars are concerned.”  

Not only is the F-35 roughly ten years behind schedule and 100% over budget, it’s still years from being operational. At Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where F-35’s are being tested, its current safety limitations are severe: “the squadrons at Eglin are prohibited from flying at night, prohibited from flying at supersonic speed, prohibited from flying in bad weather (including within 25 miles of lightning), prohibited from dropping live ordnance, and prohibited from firing their guns,” according to a September 16 article in Vanity Fair. 

The story also notes that one of the chronic problems is F-35 software.  The plane requires some 18.6 million lines of code to function at its operational specifications.  Currently, according to the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, if the F-35 went into combat with its current software package, it would need protection in the air from the F-16s and other planes it is supposed to replace. 

Vermont leaders lead by silent evasion of dangers to Vermonters

None of Vermont’s elected leaders – not Sen. Patrick Leahy or Rep. Peter Welch, not independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, not Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin or Democratic Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger – none of them has anything serious to say about the F-35’s multiple shortcomings. Nor do any Republicans. And they all have even less to say about the health, social, and environmental punishment the plane will deliver to thousands of mostly low income Vermonters. 

But when people’s elected representatives get captured by hostile interests, sometimes people react with something like direct democracy.  And sometimes that democratic coalescing gathers enough momentum to make a difference at least for a moment.  For example, broad national opposition to waging a one-sided war on Syria seems to have kept that from happening, at least for awhile. 

Popular Vermont resistance to the F-35 basing has been building since the Air Force first announced its plans more than three years ago.  The city councils in South Burlington and Winooski, the cities closest to the proposed base at the Burlington International Airport, have both voted to oppose the F-35 (although South Burlington later reversed its vote after a corrupt election). 

Will Burlington take responsibility for damaging others? 

Even though Burlington owns the airport located in South Burlington, the Burlington city council has been a hotbed of inaction on the F-35 so far, passing only a resolution to seek more information. In early September, the four Progressive city councilors announced their plan to put the council on the record by offering a resolution to block the F-35 basing at the city-owned airport. 

The city council has 14 members.  In addition to the four progressives, there are two independents, one Republican, and seven Democrats, making the outcome on the resolution uncertain, given the Democratic pressure in the state to support the American war machine.  Approaching the vote, it appears that there are four votes in favor of the resolution, four opposed, and the rest probably worried that voting either way could be a big mistake. 

A month ahead of the vote, Progressive city councilor Rachel Siegel said of the outcome: “I’m unsure, to be totally be frank. I’m going to work my tail off to try to get there. It’s going to be a lot of work I believe because a lot of them [Democrats] follow the state leadership and our administration at the city level who are proponents of basing [F-35s] here for God knows why.” 

At the time of their announcement, the Progressives were joined by three new, Democratic state legislators: two House members and the Senate majority leader, Philip Baruth, the highest-ranking Vermont Democrat yet to oppose the F-35.  The Vermont Natural Resources Council has also joined the F-35 opposition, sending a letter to the mayor and city council saying that the expanded militarization of the airport would come at the expense of community housing and growth. F-35 opponents plan to support the Progressives’ resolution with a door-to-door leafleting campaign, as well as several continuing legal challenges. 

Lack of accountability can be hilarious, albeit unintentionally

In what has the earmarks of a politically-timed response to the increased opposition to its warplane, the Pentagon announced September 12 that it would study another Vermont site as a potential base for an anti-missile missile system, part of the Ballistic Missile Defense System’s effort to protect the country from Iran, which does not yet have any missiles that could reach the United States. 

The Pentagon announced the site study for Camp Ethan Allen, a federally-owned Vermont National Guard post near Burlington, without giving any advance notice to the Vermont Congressional delegation.  This combination of events inspired each member of the delegation to issue an unintentionally hilarious objection to the anti-missile missiles, since each response was just as applicable to the F-35. 

Leahy issued a statement saying: "I’ve always felt that the multiple billions spent on missile defense are a monumental waste of money, on technologically challenged systems, and I am emphatically against putting one of these sites in Vermont." Leahy once questioned the $400 billion and counting spent on the F-35, although he stopped short of calling that technologically challenged weapons system “technologically challenged.” 

Sanders supported Leahy, saying: "My first impression is that this is a very bad idea and, for a wide variety of reasons, I do not believe that it will ever happen." For reasons he has yet to explain, Sanders has not pointed out that the bad idea of the F-35 is a “bad idea.” 

Welch supported Leahy, saying: "This is absurd. It's the wrong location for a bad idea and dead on arrival." So implicitly, Welch thinks the Burlington Airport is the right location for a bad idea. 

Shumlin supported everyone, saying: “Vermonters are well-served by our federal delegation's thoughtful involvement and deep experience in these issues, and I agree with Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders and Congressman Welch." Translation: whatever. 

The missile-system-formerly-known-as-star-wars still doesn’t work

As the New York Times reported in July: “A test launching of an advanced missile-defense interceptor failed to hit its target high over the Pacific Ocean, the Pentagon said on Friday, four months after the Obama administration announced that it would spend $1 billion to increase the number of interceptors along the West Coast in response to verbal threats from North Korea.” 

The report went on to say that the Pentagon didn’t know why the missile failed and that this particular missile system has had no successful test in five years. Prior to that, “the interceptors had a mixed record, hitting dummy targets just 50 percent of the time.” 

In September, the chief executive officer of Boeing Defense, Space and Security, the missile’s maker, called for more testing to make the missile system reliable. 

After almost two decades in development, the unreliable F-35 strike fighter is not yet far enough developed to subject it to any reasonably realistic operational tests. 

As the Daily Beast summarized the Vanity Fair report:

"Vanity Fair dove deep into the troubled Joint Strike Fighter program, and what it found isn't pretty. The $1.5 trillion plane that was supposed to be the next generation in fighter jets is years over deadline, billions over budget, and might not be able to safely fly.

"A helmet that uses cameras to give pilots 360-degree vision, one of the centerpieces of the F-35, was supposed to be its crowning achievement, but Lockheed still hasn't finished the software for it. Furthermore, pilots who've tested the F-35 have found it laggy, disorienting, and blurry.

“The plane has been grounded repeatedly for broken parts, it can't fly near lightning, and the stealth coating burns off when it goes supersonic."

Originally publsihed at Reader Supported News

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Vermont’s False Fiscal Dilemma by Michael Taub

Fri, 2013-09-27 09:24
Topics> Activism, Finance, Currency, Commerce, Business, Economics, Credit Union, Governance, Politics, Common Assets, Sustainability

The September 7th article in the Times Argus by Peter Hirschfield titled “State finances: Bonding amounts may drop, affecting infrastructure repairs” presents a false dilemma for Vermonters. 

We are told we must reduce spending on needed infrastructure and public safety or risk the loss of Vermont’s AAA bond rating.  This is akin to another false choice we are told we have to make every year when the legislature convenes - the choice of raising taxes or cutting spending to balance the budget.  We hear about $20 million budget “holes” that have to be filled, and hard choices that have to be made between programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit and early childhood education.  Now it’s our core infrastructure we’re being told we can’t afford – roads, bridges, schools, energy improvements, wastewater treatment, cleaning up Lake Champlain.

The article stated that we will need to cut 37%, or $52 million, in capital spending over two years, out of $160 million total spending. Vermont is currently paying $74 million annually for debt service on $550 million in general obligation loans, a debt load characterized as ‘considerable.’  But there is more to the story. 

During fiscal 2013, Vermont’s average end-of-day balance was over $357 million – that’s the money we have deposited in banks, deposits that are collateralized to keep them insured.  We paid over $700,000 in fees to the large banks like TD Banknorth for this service. In the last 10 fiscal years we paid over $225 million in interest on General Obligation (G.O.) bonds, and the 2012 Capital Debt Affordability Advisory Committee (CDAAC) report estimates this will explode to $272 million over the next ten years. Interest on bonds for local projects is not included in this total – this is just for state capital spending. 

This fantastic amount of money is paid to Wall Street banks for the privilege of using what is essentially our own money.  In addition, because of the fractional reserve system, the banks can make over $3.5 BILLION in loans by lending out these deposits, which in turn creates new deposits, which are also loaned out – creating new money through the banking system and earning lots and lots of interest, all because of Vermont’s public fund deposits.

This incredibly expensive system is also surprisingly risky.  Should the big banks fail, current Chapter 11 bankruptcy law now gives first priority to holders of the bank’s repurchase agreements and derivatives, whose rights to repayment now come before depositors.  The world derivative market is currently $1.2 QUADRILLION, or 20 times the size of the world’s economy.  There simply isn’t enough money in the world to pay the derivative holders, let alone the bank’s depositors – who are now legally considered unsecured creditors by the banking industry.  If you think the FDIC will somehow bail us all out, think again - the Fund Balance at the FDIC was only $75 Billion at the end of 2012. [1] 

According to a recent study done by Harvard professor Mark J. Roe and published in the Stanford Law Review[2], the financial institutions that hold the derivatives can now seize the collateral we imagine is keeping our state deposits secure in payment for their losses.  This fantastic risk is perhaps the most compelling reason to explore alternatives to our current financial management system at the state level.

There is a third choice to the false dilemma the bond rating agencies who represent the big banks from Wall Street present - we can create a public bank and harness the power of Vermont’s public funds to benefit all Vermonters. A public bank would hold and manage Vermont’s taxpayer funds, resulting in substantial savings in interest and fees.

Like the successful public banks in North Dakota, Germany, India, and Brazil, a Vermont state bank can generate new income for the state, as well as provide a stable source of credit for our towns, students, homeowners, and small businesses.  This is because the revenue from the lending it does would benefit the citizens of the state, not private bank shareholders or private bondholders.  It would also be much safer than the large private banks that are currently overexposed to the international derivatives market.  The bond rating that state administrators think is so important to our future holds less of an influence over our borrowing ability and the long-term costs of financing needed public infrastructure when we are borrowing from ourselves instead.

Vermonters can learn more about public banking and other New Economy ideas during Vermont’s New Economy Week, October 10-20. This will be a statewide discussion about how to create an economy that works for the people, the planet and for Vermont.  Currently, Vermonters in 22 towns are circulating information about public banking, local investment, slow money, cooperatives, worker owned enterprises, new forms of measurement, and are organizing local events. 

The kickoff will be October 10th and 11th, when Michael Shuman, author of Local Dollars, Local Sense, speaks at Chandler in Randolph and at the Kellogg Hubbard Library in Montpelier.

Michael Taub is a member of Vermonters for a New Economy, a state-wide grassroots movement working to create and demonstrate new economic possibilities for Vermont.  More information about New Economy Week can be found on the web site - (www.vtneweconomy.org).        


[1] Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Annual Report 2012.  Financial Statements and Notes.  (http://www.fdic.gov/about/strategic/report/2012annualreport/chpt4-01.html)

[2] Mark J. Roe, The Derivatives Market’s Payment Priorities as a Financial Crisis Accelerator.  Stanford Law Review 539, March 6, 2011.

Pledging Allegiance to Homeland: Four Ways To Watch the U.S. of Empire's Most Insidious Television Show

Fri, 2013-09-27 09:06
Topics> Film, Media, Governance, Foreign Policy, Elections, Military, Politics, Diplomacy, Energy

Turn on your TeeVees. It's screen-driven pop culture propaganda dissemination time once again in the U.S. of Empire.

Season 3 of Showtime's wildly successful spy drama "Homeland" kicks into high gear this Sunday, September 29 at 9:00 pm. With multiple Emmys and two seasons worth of spy mojo under its belt, "Homeland" has delivered some of TV's most memorable moments of our post 9/11 era. Six million Americans (2% of the population, including President Obama) count themselves regular die-hard weekly viewers.

Here are four different ways "Homeland" fans pledge allegiance (season 3's tagline) to the show, and a quick primer on how you can get in on the action. Just remember - the job of corporate commercial media in the U.S. of Empire is to soften up viewers' "hearts and minds" for real life drama that is playing out beyond our ubiquitous tele-screens.

 1. People: Heaps of "Homeland" fans tune in weekly to track the never-predictable development of the show's main characters. U.S. Marine quadruple agent (really?!), POW and Muslim convert Nicholas Brody (Brit actor Adrian Lewis) returns to the U.S. and attempts to assimilate back into civilian life. His family - wife Jess, daughter Dana, and son Chris - welcome him home to the drumbeat of heroic accolades by Beltway insiders, but bipolar off-her-meds CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) suspects Brody of being "turned" by terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir while in captivity. The "love triangle" that unfolds - Brody and Mathison find themselves embroiled in an on-again, off-again affair even as "terrorist" accusations fly - drives the action forward through season 2, as Brody, Mathison, and Jess (who, thinking Brody dead, had been shagging Mike, Brody's best man and fellow Marine, at season 1's beginning) struggle to define their personal and professional loyalties against a post-9/11 backdrop.

 2. Plot: "Homeland" fans also focus on the often-unbelievable plot twists that drive the show forward. To wit: Season 1 (spoiler alert for the unpledged!) culminated in an Abu Nazir coordinated sniper attack on the Vice President's motorcade, designed to herd the VP and key personnel into a DC underground bunker. Once inside, POW-turned-war hero-turned-terrorist-to-be Brody, as Nazir-trained suicide bomber, planned to detonate a vest bomb that would assassinate the VP, Nazir's revenge for VP-ordered drone attacks that killed (among others) Issa, Abu Nazir's son with whom Brody bonded while in POW captivity. In a remarkable scene, Brody's daughter Dana talks him down via mobile phone, but the next thing viewers know, terrorist-in-training Brody is being vetted and groomed for the VP slot at season 2's beginning. Whipsaw, anyone? Much of "Homeland"'s fun derives from the implausibility of the show's many twist and turns, but viewers have continued to pledge allegiance, even as the season 3 trailer hints at much more mayhem ahead.

 3. Politics: Few shows since 9/11 have catapulted U.S. foreign policy making into the pop culture spotlight like "Homeland" has. Many viewers (including Mr. Obama) tune in for the show's "art mirroring life" nature - where else will you find a fictionalized dive into (no particular order here) the Central Intelligence Agency, PTSD and other post-war trauma for veterans, steamy DC romance, the foreign policy fallout from drone warfare, family jockeying within the Beltway, ambitious political machinating, and super-secret spy scenarios - all in one show? 

 4. Propaganda: Which begs the question - is "Homeland" an honest and unflinching look at Washington, D.C.-based U.S. policymaking in an Age of Terror, or sophisticated propaganda designed to soften American hearts and minds for the realities of living life in a post-9/11 age? Critical viewers have made the case both ways. The show's brilliantly produced opening montage, drawing from real-life historical moments - look for references to the USS Cole bombing through 9/11 - firmly anchors the viewer in a dualistic worldview that imagines Islamofascist terrorist attacks around every corner. The humanizing of the show's characters, on the other hand, (even Abu Nazir is a loving father and, at times, a tender captor) reminds us of the universality of the human condition and the personal "blowback" that always accompanies institutional decision-making.

 One thing is for sure - "Homeland” ‘s first two seasons have kept viewers perpetually off balance and that, by many accounts, helps explain the show's popularity and why viewers keep come back to "pledge allegiance" week after week. Check back here at Vermont Commons for weekly recaps of the show this fall. 

Measles, the UN and Your Health

Thu, 2013-09-26 13:35
Topics> Food&Health, History, Media, Governance, Military, Politics, Education, Diplomacy

Disease eradication programs seem admirable enough, with stated goals of saving the lives of women, children, the poor and war-torn. However, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

While United Nations Millenium Goals/Global Vaccine Action Plan Goals may sound lofty and philathropic, execution of unrealistic goals can lead to unintended consequences. One-sized fits-all health programs leave little room for tribal, personal, familial, religious or conscientious health choices. Nor do they consider biological diversity. 

People throughout the world have many different reasons for making the health choices that they do, but one-sized fits all health goals, written on paper, leave little room for "non-compliance" and at times even fail to respect individual bodily autonomy in practice. 

Unexpected consequences are even being seen here at home, in the USA. Take measles (which we are hearing alot about in the news these days), for example. United Nations Millenium Goals/Global Vaccine Action Plan Goals have already been translated into US2020 Goals even here in Vermont (VT2020 Goals). Restrictions on the right to say no are being pursued all over the country in local legislatures, and liability protections along with tax-funded injury compensation programs are being set up throughout the world.

The following article was written by Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center and is being reprinted here with permission of the author. It was originally titled, "Measles Reports in America: What Does It Mean?" In her article, Fisher lays out the challenges and questions that we all face as humans in the pursuit of the right to know, the right to choose, and the right to our own health. 

Measles Reports in America: What does it Mean?

by Barbara Loe Fisher

On Sept. 12, 2013, public health officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) called a press conference to announce that vaccination rates among pre-school children are “high and stable” and “less than 1% are unvaccinated.” {1} More than 90 percent of American toddlers have gotten a measles containing MMR shot by age three, along with many doses of 10 other government recommended vaccines.

159 Measles Cases Reported This Year in U.S.

But health officials warned there have been 159 cases of measles reported so far  this year, the second highest number of measles cases reported in one year since 2000. They put the blame on 92 unvaccinated Americans diagnosed with measles who had “philosophical objections” to vaccination, such as orthodox Jews in New York City and Christians attending a church in Texas, which they described as “clusters of people with likeminded beliefs leading them to forego vaccines.” {2,3,4}

There have been no measles-related deaths in the U.S. this year; however one government official said that 160,000 people around the world die from measles every year and the infection is “literally a plane ride away.” She warned that “the measles virus can hang out in the air and if you are in the same waiting room as someone with measles you will get measles if you never had it.” {5}

Americans Born Before 1957 Have Natural Immunity

In the interest of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that when I was a child I did get measles and so did my sister and brother and all my friends. It started off with a fever, runny nose, sore throat and white spots inside our mouths and then an itchy red rash on our faces that spread all over and I remember wearing sunglasses in the house because the light hurt my eyes.

My parents and grandparents and their sisters and brothers also had measles when they were children. When I was growing up in the 1950’s, measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox were infections we all experienced but our parents didn’t worry about those childhood diseases like they worried about polio.

Americans born before 1957 have naturally acquired immunity to measles and we passed antibodies on to our babies when they were born to protect them from measles during the first year of life. Because naturally acquired measles antibodies are different from vaccine antibodies, young vaccinated Moms today cannot give longer lasting naturally acquired measles antibodies to their newborns. {6} Things have definitely changed in the past 60 years.

American Children Highly Vaccinated

In August and September, the CDC published annual reports that once again confirmed American children are among the most highly vaccinated in the world. {7,8,9} In 2012, 95% of children entering kindergarten had gotten two MMR shots and so had more than 90% of high school students. About 1.8% of kindergarten children had a medical or personal belief exemption to vaccination on file with schools.

Bottom line: 95% of the approximately 75 million children under age 18 {10} have gotten two doses of MMR vaccine and there is also a high measles vaccination rate among young adults in their 20’s and mid-30’s because, since 1981, 95% of all children entering kindergarten have received at least one dose of MMR vaccine and three or more doses of diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and polio containing vaccines. {11} Now let’s take a look at what measles incidence and death rates looked like before and after the first measles vaccine was licensed in 1963.

Infections & Vaccine Reactions: Misdiagnosis & Underreporting

It is important to remember that, like B. pertussis whooping cough and other infectious diseases, measles has natural cyclical increases and decreases every few years in populations.{12,13} Plus, not all pertussis {14,15} or measles infections {16,17} are diagnosed correctly by doctors and reported to government health officials and the same is true for diagnosis and reporting of vaccine reactions, injuries and deaths. {18,19,20}

Before Vaccine: Millions of Measles Cases Not Reported

Before measles vaccine was licensed in 1963, the CDC admits there was massive underreporting of measles cases and that “because virtually all children acquired measles, the number of measles cases probably approached 3.5 million per year (.i.e., an entire birth cohort). ” {21} Other doctors say it was more like 5 million cases of measles occurring every year. {22} In 1960, three years before the first measles vaccine was put on the market in the U.S., there were about 442,000 reported measles cases and 380 related deaths {23,24} among 3.5 to 5 million Americans.

After Vaccine: Decreases & Increases in Measles Case Reports

After 17 years of giving children measles vaccine, in 1980 there were only 13,500 reported measles cases and 11 related deaths. {25} But in 1990, about 28,000 measles cases and 64 deaths were reported in a population in which 95% of children entering kindergarten had gotten one MMR shot that public health officials had promised parents would give their children life long immunity to measles. {26}

So the CDC added a second MMR shot to the child vaccine schedule and, by 2005, there were only 66 cases of measles reported. {27} However, in 2008 and 2011, there were a total of 362 reported measles cases, even as there were no deaths. {28} This brings us to the question of why there is so much publicity today about 159 measles cases identified in the U.S. this year in a population of 316 million.

Global Measles Eradication Endgame: 2015 - 2020

Well, what a lot of Americans do not know but need to know is that the World Health Organization is partnering with government health officials, multi-national pharmaceutical corporations and medical trade groups in a global measles eradication campaign patterned after the smallpox and polio eradication campaigns of the 20th century. The goal is to eradicate measles (and rubella) from the earth by 2015 or at the latest by 2020. {29, 30}

Two Doses of MMR for Two Billion Children

In order to accomplish that goal in the next two to seven years, the plan is to make sure that at least 95% or more of the world’s two billion children {31} get two doses of MMR vaccine. With a dose of MMR vaccine costing the CDC $20 to purchase from Merck while private pediatricians pay $56 a dose, {32} the cost of waging a global measles eradication campaign is astronomical. {33}

Europe: Few Countries Mandate MMR

In Europe where many countries mandate polio vaccine and not MMR or other vaccines, {34} there have been tens of thousands of measles cases reported over the past decade. {35,36} European health officials say that individuals with religious beliefs, as well as many “middle class people” using holistic health care alternatives for staying well, are resisting MMR vaccine promotion campaigns. {37}

Public health doctors see the trend by educated consumers in many developed countries to move away from using lots of prescription drugs and vaccines {38,39,40} as a threat to infectious disease eradication programs.

Public Health Doctors: How Far Will They Go?

The question is: How far will public health doctors go to reach their goal of eradicating measles, rubella and many other infections with the mandated use of vaccines? {41,42,43,44} We have seen a militarization of the public health system in the past century {45} to justify global vaccination campaigns to eradicate smallpox and polio. {46,47,48,49} After Sept. 11, 2001, Congress and state legislatures granted greatly expanded police powers to government health officials to detain, quarantine and force vaccine use without the voluntary, informed consent of citizens whenever government officials declare a “public health emergency.” {50,51,52}

A War on Values & Beliefs

The public conversation about vaccination, health and autonomy has become ugly and divisive in the 21st century because the War on Disease has been turned into a War on Values and Beliefs. {53,54,55,56,57,58} And it is making many people afraid and distrustful of doctors and government health officials using threats and sanctions to enforce one-size-fits-all vaccine policies and laws that force them to get not just two doses of MMR vaccine but dozens of doses of other vaccines. {59,60,61,62,63,64}

Will The Oppression Escalate?

Is the current government-endorsed criticism of the values and spiritual beliefs of unvaccinated Americans, who have been diagnosed with measles, just the first step toward even more oppression? Will it escalate into what we witnessed in 2007, when parents failing to show proof their children had gotten a chickenpox shot or hepatitis B shot, were threatened with stiff fines and jail time before being summoned by government officials to a Maryland courthouse patrolled by armed police with dogs to make sure their children got vaccinated? {65}

I don’t think any of us know how far doctors working for government or drug companies and medical trade groups will go to pit citizens against each other in an effort to shun and punish anyone defending the human right to exercise freedom of thought, belief, conscience and informed consent to medical-risk taking, {66} which includes taking risks with liability free pharmaceutical products like vaccines. {67}

Philosopher and human rights advocate Elie Wiesel has said “When you take an idea or a concept and turn it into an abstraction, that opens the way to take human beings and turn them, also, into abstractions. When human beings become abstractions, what is left?” {68}

Biological, Genetic & Environmental Differences Among Us 

When public health officials embrace the concept of eradicating an infection from the world and achieving that goal means making sure that a certain number of children have gotten a certain number of vaccinations, it is very easy to turn children into abstractions and forget that human beings are not all the same and do not all react the same way to vaccines or infections.{69,70,71,72}

There are biological, genetic and environmental differences among us and that is why some of us get an MMR shot or experience measles and do not suffer complications while others of us do suffer complications and are brain injured or die.{73,74,75,76,77,78,79}

When doctors cannot predict ahead of time who will be harmed by a vaccine {80,81} or an infectious disease and they cannot guarantee that those who have been vaccinated are incapable of being infected or transmitting infection, {82,83,84,85} the precautionary and informed consent principles should not be eradicated from vaccine policies and laws just because public health officials have decided to embark on yet another infection eradication campaign.

The National Vaccine Information Center supports your civil and human right to exercise freedom of thought, conscience and informed consent to vaccination and make independent health care choices without being tracked down, bullied and punished by anyone. Become informed about measles and MMR vaccine and talk with one or more trusted health care professionals before making an educated health care decision.

Go to NVIC.org to learn more and sign up for the online NVIC Advocacy Portal to defend vaccine choices and exemptions in your state.

It’s your health. Your family. Your choice.


1 CDC.  Telebriefing on the National Immunization Survey, Vaccine for Children Program and Recent Measles Outbreaks in the U.S. CDC Press Briefing Transcript Sept. 12, 2013. 

2 Jaslow R. CDC: Vaccine ‘philosophical differences’ driving up U.S. Measles Rates. CBS News Sept. 12, 2013. 

3 Stein R. Big Measles Outbreak Worries Federal Health Officials. NPR Sept. 12, 2013. 

4 Brown E. CDC Reports on U.S. Vaccination Rate, Recent Measles Outbreak. LA Times Sept. 12, 2013. 

5 CDC.  Telebriefing on the National Immunization Survey, Vaccine for Children Program and Recent Measles Outbreaks in the U.S. CDC Press Briefing Transcript Sept. 12, 2013. 

6 Waaijenborg S., Hahne SJM, Mollema L et al. Waning of Maternal Antibodies Against Measles, Mumps, Rubella and Varicella in Communities with Contrasting Vaccination Coverage. J Infect Dis 2013; 208(7). 

7 CDC. National, State and Local Vaccination Coverage Among Children Aged 19-35 Months – United States - 2012. MMWR Sept. 13, 0213; 62(36): 733-740.

8 CDC. Vaccination Rates Among Children in Kindergarten – United States, 2012-2013 School Year. MMWR Aug. 2, 2013; 62(30): 607-612. 

9 CDC. National and State Vaccination Coverage Among Adolescents Aged 13-17 Years – United States, 2012. MMWR Aug. 30, 2013. 2(34): 685-693. 

10 U.S. Census Bureau. 2010 Census Shows Nation’s Population is Aging. Press Release May 26, 2011. 

11 Hinman AR, Orenstein WA Schuchat A.. Vaccine Preventable Diseases, Immunization and MMWR 1961-2011. MMWR 2011; 60(04): 49-57 

12 Noah ND. Cyclical Patterns and Predictability in InfectionEpidem Inf 1989; 102: 175-190. 

13 CDC. Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases: Measles. The PinkBook: Course Textbook (12th Edition Second Printing) 2012. 

14 CDC. Pertussis (Whooping Cough): Surveillance and Reporting. March 29, 2013. 

15 Adlersberg J. Whooping Cough and Adults. WABC-TV Oct. 9, 2012. 

16 Cairns LK, Nandy R, Grais RF. Challenges in Measuring Measles-Case Fatality Ratios in Settings Without Viral Registration. Emerging Themes in Epidemiology 2010: 7(4). 

17 World Health Organization. Measles and Rubella. Measles and Rubella Laboratory Network 2013. 

18 Rosenthal S, Chen R. The reporting sensitivities of two passive surveillance systems for vaccine adverse events. Am J Public Health 1995; 85: pp. 1706-9.  

19 Braun M. Vaccine adverse event reporting system (VAERS): usefulness and limitations. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Last updated Feb. 15, 2013. 

20 Slade BA, Leidel L, Vellozzi C, Woo EJ et al. Postlicensure Safety Surveillance for Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus Recombinant Vaccine. JAMA 2009; 302 (7):750-757. 

21 CDC. Measles, Mumps and Rubella – Vaccine Use and Strategies for Elimination of Measles, Rubella and Congenital Rubella Syndrome and Control of Mumps: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). MMWR May 22, 1998; 47(RR-8): 1-57. 

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23 CDC. Summary of Notifiable Diseases, United States, 1993. MMWR Oct. 21, 1994; 42(53): 1-73. 

24 National Center for Health Statistics. U.S. Vital Statistics Mortality Data. National Vital Statistics System. 

25 CDC. Summary of Notifiable Diseases, United States, 1993. MMWR Oct. 21, 1994; 42(53): 1-73. 

26 Wood DJ, Brunell PA. Measles Control in the United States: Problems of the Past and Challenges for the Future. Clin Microbiol Rev 1995; 8(2): 260-267. 

27 CDC. Measles – United States, 2005. MMWR Dec. 22, 2006; 55(50): 1348-1351. 

28 CDC. Measles – United States, January 1 – August 24, 2013.. MMWR Sept. 13, 2013; 62(36): 741-743. 

29 World Health Organization. Measles Deaths Decline But Elimination Progress Stalls in Some Regions.WHO Jan. 17, 2013.   

30 CDC. Global Control and Regional Elimination of Measles, 2000-2011. MMWR Jan. 13, 1013; 62(02): 27-31. 

31 United Nations. World Population Age Composition. World Population Prospects (The 2010 Revision) 2011. 

32 CDC. Vaccines for Children Program (VFC) Vaccine Price List. July 24, 2013. 

33 Barrett S. Economic Considerations for the Eradication Endgame. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B June 24, 2013. 

34 Haverkate M., D’Ancona F, Giambi C et al. Mandatory and Recommended Vaccination in the EU, Iceland and Norway: Results of the VENICE 2010 Survey on the Ways of Implementing National Vaccination Programmes. Euro Surveill 2012; 17(2). 

35 Antona D, Levy-Bruhl D, Boudon R et al. Measles Elimination Efforts and 2008-2011 Outbreak, France. Emerg Infect Dis 2013; 19(3): 357-364. 

36 Moran NE, Gainotti S, Petrini C. From Compulsory to Voluntary Immunisation: Italy’s National Vaccination Plan (2005-7) and the Ethical and Organisational Challenges Facing Public Health Policymakers Across Europe. J Med Ethics 2008; 34(9): 669-674. 

37 Gallagher J. Threat to measles elimination plans. BBC May 6, 2013. 

38 Barnes PM, Bloom B, Nahin RL. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Adults and Children: United States, 2007. National Health Statistics Report Dec. 10, 2008. 

39 Frass M, Strassl RP, Friehs H et al. Use and Acceptance of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Among the General Population and Medical Personnel: A Systematic Review. The Ochsner Journal 2012; 12(1): 45-56. 

40 Dreier H. Private School Vaccine Opt-Outs Rise. Associated Press/USA Today Sept. 9, 2012. 

41 Klepac P., Metcalf JE et al. Towards the Endgame and Beyond: Complexities and Challenges for the Elimination of Infectious Diseases. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B June 24, 2013. 

42 Caplan AL, Hoke D et al. Free to Choose but Liable for the Consequences: Should Non-Vaccinators Be Penalized for the Harm They Do? Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics Fall 2012. 

Gorman S. Is Disease Eradication Always the Best Path? PLOS Blog Mar. 20, 2013. 

43 Stadlin S, Bednarczyk RA, Omer SB. Medical Exemptions to School Immunization Requirements in the United States – Association of State Policies with Medical Exemption Rates (2004-2011). J Infect Dis Aug. 29, 2012 (published online). 

44 El Amin AN, Parra MT, Kim-Farley R, Fielding JE. Ethical Issues Concerning Vaccination Requirements.Public Health Reviews 2012; 34 (1).   

45 Swendiman KS. Mandatory Vaccination: Precedent and Current Laws. Congressional Research Service Feb. 24, 2011. 

46 Center for Global Development. Disease Studies: Eradicating Smallpox

47 Daily Post. Police Arrest 102 Persons for Refusing Polio Vaccines in Niger. Daily Post Sept. 18, 2013. 

48 Brilliant L, Foege W. Lessons from Smallpox Guide Polio Endgame.. Scientific American Apr. 22, 2013. 

49 Minor PD. The polio eradication programme and issues of the end game. J Gen Virol March 2012; 93(3): 457-474. 

50 American Civil Liberties Union. Model State Health Emergency Powers Act (MSEHPA). ACLU Jan. 1, 2002. 

51 Fisher BL. Smallpox and Forced Vaccination: What Every American Needs to Know. The Vaccine Reaction Winter 2002. 

52 Fisher BL. Letter to Col. Robert P. Kadlec, Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health Preparedness, U.S. Senate. Nov. 15, 2005. 

53 Frontline. The Vaccine War. PBS Apr. 27, 2010. 

54 Offit P. Vaccine Exemptions? Call Them What They Really Are. Medscape Aug. 10, 2012. 

55 Fisher BL. Turning Vaccine Exemptions Into Class Warfare. NVIC Newsletter Sept. 14, 2012. 

56 Coyne JA. Muslim Anti-Vaxers Slow Eradication of Polio. Why Evolution is True Mar. 4, 2013. 

57 Caplan A. Opinion: Prayer No Substitute for Vaccination. NBC News Aug. 31, 2013.  

58 Dawkins R. Stop the Anti-Vaccine Gospel. Richard Dawkins Foundation for Science and Reason Sept. 11, 2013.    

59 NVIC. org. Cry for Vaccine Freedom Wall. 

60 O’Reilly KB. Time to get tough? States increasingly offer ways to opt out of vaccine mandates. American Medical News Sept. 8, 2008.

61 Wang SS. More Doctors ‘Fire’ Vaccine Refusers. Wall Street Journal. Feb. 15, 2012 

62 Stadlin S, Bednarczyk RA, Omer SB. Medical Exemptions to School Immunization Requirements in the United States – Association of State Policies with Medical Exemption Rates (2004-2011). J Infect Dis Aug. 29, 2012 (published online). 

63 Fisher BL, Wrangham T. NVIC Public Comment to NVAC on Health Care Personnel Influenza Vaccination. Jan. 16, 2012. 

64 Cheung-Larivee K. Hospital Flu Vaccination Policies Are a ‘Tough Sell. Fierce Healthcare Dec. 4, 2012. 

65 Fox News. MD Judge to Parents: Vaccinate Kids or Go to Jail. Associated Press/Fox News Nov. 17, 2007. 

66 Fisher BL. Desperate Times for Vaccine Risk Denialism. NVIC Newsletter May 10, 2013. 

67 Businesswire. National Vaccine Information Center Cites ‘Betrayal’ of Consumers by U.S. Supreme Court Giving Total Liability Shield to Big Pharma. NVIC Press Release Feb. 23, 2011 

68 Annas GJ, Grodin MA. The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code. Forward by Elie Wiesel. Oxford University Press 1992. 

69 Institute of Medicine Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines. Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality (Evaluating Biological Mechanisms for Adverse Events: Increased Susceptibility). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press 2012.

70 Poland GA. Variability in Immune Response to Pathogens Using Measles Vaccine to Probe Immunogenetic Determinants of Response. Am J Hum Genet 1998; 62: 215-220.

71 Hill A.V.S. Aspects of Genetic Susceptibility to Human Infectious Diseases. Annual Review of Genetics 2006; 40: 469-486. 

72 Szakacs A., Darin N, Halbook T. Increased Childhood Incidence of Narcolepsy in Western Sweden After H1N1 Influenza Vaccination. Neurology 2013; 80(14): 1315-1321. 

73 Frieden TR, Sowell AL, Henning KJ, et al. Vitamin A Levels and Severity of Measles. Am J Dis Child 1992; 146(2): 182-186.   

74 NVIC.org. Measles (Rubeola): Can Measles Cause Injury & Death? and Can Measles Vaccine Cause Injury & Death? April 2012. 

75 Howson CP, Howe CJ, Fineberg HV, Editors. Adverse Effects of Pertussis & Rubella Vaccines. Institute of Medicine: National Academy Press 1991. 

76 Stratton KR, Howe CJ, Johnston RB, Editors. Adverse Events Associated with Childhood Vaccines: Evidence Bearing on Causality. Institute of Medicine: National Academy Press. 1994.  

77 Stratton KR, Howe CJ, Johnston RB , Editors. DPT Vaccine & Chronic Nervous System Dysfunction: A New Analysis. Institute of Medicine: National Academy Press. 1994. 

78 Weibel RE, Casserta V, Benor DE, Evans G. Acute Encephalopathy Followed by Permanent Brain Injury or Death Associated with Further Attenuated Measles Vaccine: A Review of Claims Submitted to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Pediatrics 1998; 101(3): 383-387.  

79 Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Statistics Reports: Claims Filed and Compensated or Dismissed. DHHSSept. 3, 2013.   

80  Institute of Medicine Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines. Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality (Evaluating Biological Mechanisms for Adverse Events: Increased Susceptibility). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press 2012. 

81 Institute of Medicine Committee on the Assessment of Studies of Health Outcomes Related to the Recommended Childhood Immunization Schedule. The Childhood Immunization Schedule and Safety: Stakeholder Concerns, Scientific Evidence and Future Studies. (Summary: Conclusions About Scientific Findings). Washington, DC: The National Academies Press 2013.   

82 Paunio M, Deltola H, Valle M et al. Explosive School-Based Measles Outbreak. Am J Epidem 1998 148(11): 1103-1110. 

83 Melkie J. Rise in mumps cases linked to waning immunity given by MMR vaccine. The Guardian Jul 4, 2013. 

84 Wendelboe AM, Annelies VR et al. Duration of Immunity Against Pertussis After Natural Infection or Vaccination. Pediatr Infect Dis J  2005; 24(5): S58-S61.

85 Liz Szabo.  US Whooping cough may be becoming resistant to vaccines. USA Today Feb. 18, 2013.


Photo: Multinational UN battalion (Wikimedia Commons).