October 2011 Articles—Mobile/Text

Contents, October 2011

 

American Autumn, Steve Klinger

Let no one say that democracy

  will not exist here, Craig Barnes

Knowing the difference, Carter Bundy

Jobs in New Mexico

Three steps to more NM jobs, Steve Fischmann

New Mexico’s economy, Jim Peach

Jobs: Closing loopholes, Peter Wirth

Capital outlay bill should help on jobs, Brian Egolf

Low-wage workers, Steve Klinger

Occupy Santa Fe, Steve Klinger

Letters to the editor

Test your Telecom IQ, Katie Singer

United we take back America, Bruce Berlin

Finding bank fraud in your foreclosure case, Ana Garner

NM news briefs

Oct-Nov calendar of events

Book review, Three Cups of Deceit, Claire Ayraud

Weird News

 


From the editor

American Autumn : Rise up, our emerging band

“To those holding the reins of power, let us say, We will be your witnesses and your truthtellers. We will not allow you to live in a bubble. We will not go away. We will show you whom you are hurting and how. We will make it awkward to do business, until your conscience cannot stand it any longer.”   —Charles Eisenstein

Steve Klinger

When the protesters are streaked with gray, they say they’re too old to be taken seriously. When they wave signs for peace, they’re called naïve or treasonous. And now that this nation, for the first time since the Vietnam generation, is seeing significant numbers of young people rising up in protest, occupying Wall Street and now hundreds of cities across the country, the most threatened among us call them rag-tag and un-serious, dangerous and mob-like. We seem to have hit a nerve here, haven’t we

Older liberals are skeptical, intoning that nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen unless there are full-out riots, and then they’ll just get their heads cracked open. But the oligarchs and their minions in the media are in the biggest panic. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called them “mobs” and accused them of  “pitting Americans against Americans.” Presidential hopeful Herman Cain called them “anti-American.” Rep. Peter King warned that the situation reminds him of the ‘60s, when the media “glorified” left-wing protesters.  Mitt Romney calls the situation dangerous, sounding the alarm of  “class warfare.” Isn’t it curious that none of the above seemed to have a problem with free speech when Tea Party activists were inciting riots at town hall meetings in 2009?

There has been little “glorification” in the MSM. But after three weeks and counting, the protests are finally making the evening news, and locally the Santa Fe New Mexican, which ignored this city’s Oct. 1 rally, did a 180 and covered last Saturday’s Occupy event extensively. In Washington, Obama himself observed that the protesters have a valid argument or two, given the unrelenting greed of those who have literally capitalized on the nation’s economic misfortunes. It remains to be seen if the Great Conciliator will use this last chance to reconnect with his populist roots and endorse the occupation movement, or if he’ll try to tiptoe along the fence between the protesters and the oligarchs right up to Election Day.

This much already can be said: This spontaneous, non-hierarchical movement has done more in three weeks to change the dialogue from a contrived obsession with the deficit to a reality-based focus on greed, corporate excess and human suffering—more in three weeks— than Obama with his voter mandate and his bully pulpit could accomplish in two and a half years.

In the downtrodden and disillusioned circles of progressives who have seen their modest gains of many decades battered by the virulent onslaught of the plutocrat-backed Tea Party, by the sweeping reactionary tide abetted by Koch Industries and ALEC, more than a few are beginning to voice hopeful wonder: Could it be, might it be, is there any way, by any stretch can we dare say we are on the cusp of the western answer, the counterpoint to Arab Spring: American Fall, both seasonal and empirical?

To which I’d say it’s looking like the “occupation” of America will indeed go viral—despite the lack of a cohesive list of demands, despite the absence of top-down organizational origins—or more likely because of these lacks, for the very reason that as a spontaneous movement it had to arise in its own good time, and perhaps with the help of the very social media that were criticized for addicting and distracting this country’s youth from any useful purpose whatsoever.

The need and deprivation were stronger, the greed perhaps more blatant in Egypt and Libya and Tunisia, but very hard times are percolating through the towns and villages of this teetering nation now, and maybe, just maybe, the rest of the 99 percent can be awakened to join in and demand the change that only numbers, accompanied by great resolve and youthful enthusiasm, can set into motion. How ironic and somehow fitting that after a century of occupying the four corners of the world, ostensibly to bring them democracy, it is now necessary for Americans to occupy America, to rediscover the democracy we lost along the road to oligarchy and empire.

Now MoveOn.org and organized labor are among those climbing on the bandwagon, and soon a few more prominent mainstream Democrats will forget their invertebrate nature and lavish timid praise on the Occupiers—until some untoward act or comment sends them slithering back into gelatinous retreat.  But true leadership may yet emerge from the ranks of the acolytes themselves—or the weathered activists who have been scouring a somnolent landscape in search of them. And then another milestone may be reached if the veteran organizers can channel the anarchist origins of this grassroots movement into a vehicle for change without fracturing its spirit or inclusiveness.

What they will do, if and when their ranks swell and the entire nation takes notice, I can’t answer, since the solutions seem so far-removed from the gridlocked government that let the greed and inequalities fester and itself became the problem. Whether the 99 percent will succeed in truly occupying America I can’t predict, nor whether such a movement would save our democracy or rather usher in a disastrous authoritarian retaliation that would doom it.

But if it is to succeed it will have to recognize that just beating back the current forces of money and power will not alter the long-term dynamics of the zero-sum game that is destroying our civilization, for others will surely follow to fill the power vacuum.

If it is to succeed, the Occupy movement will have to encompass the leap in consciousness —away from violence and toward sustainability, compassion and respect for all sentient beings—that is the only path forward to save this democracy, this nation and ultimately human life on this planet as we know it.

Steve Klinger, The Light of New Mexico editor, can be reached at [email protected]

 

 

 


Let no one say that democracy will not exist here

Craig Barnes

It is autumn, 2011, and one is reminded of a distant November in which William Butler Yeats wrote:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
… everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Little there is in the world this autumn to give us hope.   A savage streak is revealed in the American psyche as we willingly and mercilessly execute men in the prisons in Georgia and Texas and Alabama.

A primitive ideological streak is revealed in our politics as candidates for the presidency quarrel over who will treat migrants more harshly, who is more Christian, or, on the other hand, who is more apt to invoke the vengeance of an angry God.

A conceptual bankruptcy is revealed in our economics as the followers of Ayn Rand seek to divorce the free-market hero from the common good and insist that the formula for human progress is to disavow society. Rand’s followers in the House of Representatives recently would only vote to alleviate the suffering of flood and tornado victims if they were allowed to increase the suffering of the sick or the elderly.  It is as if the House of Representatives had been taken over by bookkeepers of suffering, who will only treat pain as if it were asset management.

The Federal Reserve this September declares more money available to banks, but the businesses to which these banks will now loan are those whose income stream is guaranteed by increasing productivity.  This is, unfortunately, a productivity that is produced by reducing the work force and exporting jobs overseas.  The banks do not therefore create jobs, as they are touted to do by the Congressional bookkeepers, but lend to firms that cut jobs, and neither the Federal Reserve nor the Treasury has the courage and skill to loan directly to construction, manufacturing, conservation, education, or technology.

None of this has prevented the continued concentration of income and wealth at the highest levels of our society, and none of this can give hope to people on the American left who have seen the citadels of power and are so discouraged that they are now prepared to concede that democracy and plutocracy cannot exist together. And since we have plutocracy, they say, we do not have democracy.  It does not exist here any more.

Someone in the labor movement said to me recently: “We cannot win this fight. Democracy is already done.”

It is my habit to do my work beside a window where I can see the birds that come to the feeder or to the water trough.  I keep track of who among them has come to call and can tell the changing seasons by their arrivals and departures.  When the juncos come it is time to prepare for snow, and when they leave it is time to prepare to plant.  A person can estimate the turnings of a life just by who flies in and who stays for the night.

The African collared dove is a special one. This bird is larger and more elegant than a mourning dove and is neither white nor golden but buff, half way between. The experts say that it does not exist here.  My books say that it was imported to Los Angeles and may only be found in that area, mostly still in cages.

So it does not exist here.

And then I saw one.

All alone, out of nowhere at the water, a large, buff-colored bird larger and whiter than any comparable species, waiting patiently to be observed, leaving no question that, contrary to all the experts, contrary to all the recorded knowing that she is only caged in Los Angeles, was here stopping by the water, beauty incarnate, out of her cage and free.

Look here, right now, she says.  Look at me.  See what you see.  Pay attention to your eyes, not your books.  Use your own senses.  See me, but not just me.  See dry grasses gleaming in the morning light.  See their seeds dropping down to nest for the winter.  Hear, this autumn, not only the mourning dove’s wail; hear also the chortle of the thrasher and the delight of the chickadee, the soaring wings of the raven.  See and hear them all.

With that, the white bird left her branch in the piñons and was gone.

She did not come by this way, I think, to be registered in my bird book.

She came to encourage me to see what I see, no matter what experts say I see.  She came to tell me that if I see the gleam of morning sun on the grasses I can also see democracy here in this room. If I see an African collared dove, I can see intelligence and compassion here in this city.  If I see elegance outside of its cage, then there is most certainly wisdom and good will here in this state and here in this land.  And if I see these things, let no one, not even any one who is expert in American politics, not in the unions, not on Wall Street, say to me that democracy will not exist here.

The exquisite buff white bird that does not exist here was here.  She had somehow escaped the cage, and so might we.

Craig Barnes is the author of Democracy At The Crossroads, is a former civil rights lawyer, international mediator and the host of Our Times with Craig Barnes, heard weekly on KSFR radio.

 


Knowing the difference

Carter Bundy

This past Saturday afternoon, I happened to drive past an Occupy Wall Street event that had been scheduled for the same time as another event I’d attended.  The OWS event, to their great credit, was four hours old and still had upwards of 50 people waving, singing, chanting and holding signs.

I loved most of the signs.  Anyone who is remotely familiar with the housing bubble’s root causes knows that the lack of regulations in the home loan industry, coupled with lack of oversight of Wall Street gambling, were the prime causes of a recession that has ruined literally tens of millions of American lives.  (Read The Big Short by Michael Lewis if you think that the causes were Fannie, Freddie, or the Community Reinvestment Act.  They weren’t).

The pain right now is real.  Foreclosures, homelessness, unemployment, underemployment, adult children moving in with parents and vice versa.  There’s a real crisis going on in America, and there’s no question about who is responsible for it.  Most protesters hit the nail on the head.

I had to object to one sign, though.

One young activist held a sign saying “Red or blue, they screw you.”  Talk about undiscerning.  There’s no doubt that the corporations and Wall Street firms who oppose regulation are masters of trying to buy off both parties, and that some Dems take the bait.

But there are real differences, and there’s no one happier than Wall Street and Republicans to see protesters lay blame equally on Democrats and Republicans for our current mess.  It allows Republicans to escape accountability for their actions, and punishes Dems for having the courage to fight against Wall Street’s demands for minimal regulation.

Democrats passed the strongest financial sector regulations and consumer protections since the ‘30s.  Guess who is trying to undo that work?  Virtually every Republican in Washington, including Rep. Steve Pearce.  Yet we’re supposed to treat Pearce the same as Reps. Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich, and Sens. Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman?

YouTube Elizabeth Warren, Obama’s hand-picked architect of many of our new consumer protections and now Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts, and ask yourself if she sounds like Republican Wall Street deregulation advocate Heather Wilson.

In addition to financial markets regulation and consumer protection, the parties couldn’t be more different when it comes to solving issues like unemployment.

President Obama’s American Jobs Act was a consolidation of three major ideas that have garnered widespread bipartisan support for decades. Republicans used to love tax cuts of any kind, including cutting payroll taxes, until they were offered by President Obama.  Suddenly Republicans find themselves in favor of raising taxes (mostly on the middle class and low-income families, of course).

Even stranger is the GOP opposition to infrastructure projects. Roads, bridges, airports, sewer and water systems, schools, prisons, and other essential infrastructure need to be upgraded anyhow, and badly.  So why not do it now while money is cheap, people need jobs, and the cycling of money through the economy is precisely what the private sector needs to get back on its feet?

The third major part of the American Jobs Act is rehiring laid off police, firefighters and teachers.  There was a time when the Republican Party supported things like smaller class sizes, crime fighting and public safety.  No longer.  Republicans scapegoat even workers who themselves are often Republican (or used to be) for a crisis whose causes had absolutely nothing to do with sewage plant workers, corrections officers, nurses, policemen, firefighters and teachers.

The American Jobs Act is a golden opportunity for a bipartisan solution that is primarily rooted in bolstering private companies and helping employees in the private sector, and Republicans are acting as if Obama had just nominated Karl Marx as the new chair of Apple.

Why?  Here’s what the Republicans’ senior leader in Washington, Sen. Mitch McConnell, about one-third of the way into Obama’s presidency: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

In fairness to the GOP, it’s not just politics.  There’s a second goal that’s always in their minds: protecting the fortunes of millionaires and billionaires, no matter the circumstances.

The American Jobs Act is paid for, in large part, by restoring progressivity to our tax code. Senate Democrats propose that the only people who would see a tax increase are those making over $1 million a year (many of whom are on Wall Street).  Obama has proposed merely reverting to the same top marginal rate that was paid during the Clinton years, when the rich did just fine.

When many millionaires and billionaires pay a lower percentage of income in taxes than their secretaries, that’s hardly class warfare.  It’s fair play.  Still, the idea that millionaires and billionaires share in even a penny’s worth of sacrifice while so much of the country suffers is anathema to the Republican Party of 2011.

Changing the country is going to take more than protests, as important as those are.  It means knowing who is on the side of 99 percent of us, and who is not.  And knowing the difference between the two come Election Day.

Carter Bundy is the political and legislative director for AFSCME in New Mexico.  The opinions in this column are personal and do not necessarily reflect any official AFSCME position.  You can reach him at [email protected]

 

 

 


Jobs in New Mexico

Jobs in New Mexico. We know they’re hard to find, and even more so with government shrinking. We know New Mexicans are suffering, as they struggle to make ends meet. Yet the numbers often belie the real situation.

According to statistics from the Department of Work Force Solutions, the employment picture in New Mexico wasn’t nearly as dire as in many parts of the country, including California, Nevada, the Pacific Northwest and other regions: “New Mexico’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.6 percent in August 2011, down from 6.7 percent in July and 8.5 percent a year ago. The national unemployment rate remained at 9.1 percent. The decline in New Mexico’s unemployment rate for August was the sixth in a series since the rate peaked at 8.7 percent at the start of the year.”

But, the report continues, “This drop was again the result of workers leaving the labor force rather than an increase in employment.” Many of us know from our own experiences and those of friends and relatives, that it’s not uncommon for workers to juggle two or even three part-time jobs, making ends meet by selling things at flea markets and on craigslist, and often performing contract labor for work that arguably should be salaried with benefits. We know unemployed workers who have exhausted their jobless benefits but get by with odd jobs and family help.

Reading between the lines, we know instinctively that the 6.6 percent doesn’t count the underemployed and the chronically unemployed, and of course it ignores the lower-echelon workers who are victims of wage theft and other economic injustice.

At a mid-September jobs rally at the Roundhouse, while the Legislature was in special session, union leaders and elected officials didn’t have to try hard to stir the passions of a sign-wielding crowd. The refrain was familiar: What do we want? Jobs! When do we want them? Now! But how to keep them, and how to grow new ones in a grimly challenging economy was the question, for which a variety of answers emerged.

After the rally, we contacted a number of state legislators, several union leaders, a university economics professors and local activists to get their take on New Mexico’s employment picture. Their thoughts are on these pages. To view the complete September employment report from the Department of Work Force Solutions, go to their web site, http://www.dws.state.nm.us/.

—Steve Klinger

 

 


Three steps to more New Mexico Jobs

By Steve Fischmann

With the state of New Mexico highly dependent on government jobs, and with significant federal budget cuts on the horizon, we more than ever need a coherent economic policy to keep the paychecks coming home.  I’m not talking about the corporate giveaways that seldom are effective and create long-term budget shortages, but about real solutions that address the fundamental causes of our current economic malaise.

Unfortunately, I see little from the governor’s office or the democratic opposition that addresses the core issues.  It’s not rocket science, but progress depends on pulling our attention away from wedge issues and focusing the things that truly impact our daily lives.  Here are three areas I am working on:

The real estate bubble and reckless bankers played a huge role in digging our current economic hole.  Stabilizing real estate prices, and minimizing the threat of foreclosure hanging over so many families’ heads will be central to restoring consumer confidence and economic health.  Every unnecessary foreclosure is a blow to families, real estate markets and the economy.  And each foreclosure costs banks 40 percent of their initial investment.  I am developing mandatory foreclosure mediation legislation that will encourage loan restructuring and keep people in their homes.

New Mexico’s tax structure is uniquely designed to penalize small business when it can least afford it.  Gross receipt taxes on transactions between businesses penalize business activity by creating tax liabilities before a concern even knows if it will be profitable.  We punish New Mexico business to the tune of a billion dollars annually with this destructive tax structure, and we regularly push businesses near our borders into neighboring states.  We must reduce this tax and replace the revenue by closing many of our over 300 tax-expenditure loopholes, as well as eliminating unfair tax advantages to out of state enterprises.

Finally, New Mexico has to do a much better job of investing in itself.  Only a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars in our land trust and pension funds are invested in New Mexico concerns.  Our own finance authority (NMFA) has somewhere in the range of $200 million in unused revolving fund bonding capacity that can be used to spur economic activity and generate revenue for the state.  We need to widen the scope of projects that are considered for this kind of financing.  Options could include money-saving energy retrofits for government buildings that would spur our struggling construction industry, as well as a variety of infrastructure projects.

There are significant obstacles to pursuing each of these reforms, but each is achievable with commitment and persistence.  Citizens should demand real leadership from elected officials to make sure they happen.

State Sen. Steve Fischmann represents District 37 (Las Cruces).

 

 

 


New Mexico’s economy: Slowly recovering but not out of
the woods

Jim Peach

The New Mexico economy seems to be slowly recovering from the effects of the worst recession in the US since the 1930s. The most recent labor market data (for August 2011) from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions (DWS) indicates that the state unemployment rate has declined for three months in a row. The state unemployment rate in August (6.6 percent) is substantially lower than it was a year earlier (8.7 percent) and much lower than the national unemployment rate 9.1 percent). The decrease in the state unemployment rate obscures serious labor market issues. Much of the decrease in the unemployment rate can be attributed to people leaving the labor force. And, New Mexico’s total non-farm employment (805.5 thousand jobs) in August 2011 remains substantially below its peak of 849.6 thousand jobs in February 2008 shortly after the start of the national recession.

Job increases in the state during the last year have been concentrated in health care services and professional and business services –the same two sectors that have been strong at the national level. Employment in the mining sector—which includes oil and gas extraction—increased from July to August but remains below August 2010 levels. New Mexico mining sector employment should not be surprising given the volatility of energy and commodity prices over the year. Government employment, particularly state and local government employment continues to decline

New Mexico was not among the most hard-hit states during the recession. In the first several months of the national recession (January 2008 to July 2008) the state benefitted from extraordinarily high oil and gas prices. West Texas Intermediate reached a price of $147 per barrel in early July 2008 and then declined precipitously for the rest of the year. New Mexico’s economy is also heavily dependent on government expenditures –federal, state and local. The state’s dependence on government provided some stability during the early part of the recession. The irony is that budget reductions at the state and national level now pose a great risk to the New Mexico economy. This is particularly the case at the federal level. If the congressional super-committee fails to reach an agreement on how to cut the federal budget by November, automatic across the board federal budget cuts will be implemented starting next July. Across the board federal budget cuts would be a very damaging blow to the New Mexico economy.

Obviously, a second major risk to the New Mexico economy would be another national economic downturn. I don’t think another US recession is imminent but there are many national and international difficulties that could prove me wrong. Another recession would be very hard to handle. The Federal Reserve System, despite protests to the contrary from Mr. Bernanke, has few remaining policy options. A major stimulus from fiscal policy is highly unlikely in the current political environment. None of this should be very surprising. In the short run New Mexico economic conditions will be determined by policies and events that occur far beyond the state’s borders.

Jim Peach is Regents Professor Department of Economics and International Business at New Mexico State University.

 


Jobs: Closing loopholes

 (Editor’s note: The following was part of Sen. Wirth’s update to his constituents after the special session of the Legislature in September.)

Peter Wirth 

Of the many items the Governor added to the special session, there were only two job-creating measures the Legislature addressed and passed. The first was Senate Bill 1, sponsored by my colleague, Sen. Tim Keller. This bill cleaned up an existing procurement statute that gives New Mexico businesses a 5 percent preference. I say “cleaned up” because the law existed on the books but was so riddled with loopholes that it was not achieving its purpose. Just as an example, New York lawyers were using the statute to gain a preference on contract work over other out-of-state lawyers as the result of an exemption years ago for a New York bus company.

The bill passed unanimously, closing loopholes and truly helping New Mexico businesses. Most importantly, it is estimated it will create 3,000 to 4,000 New Mexico jobs.

The other jobs bill we passed is an $86 million capital outlay package. This money comes from bonds against severance tax revenues the state earns on energy extraction, which pays for bricks-and-mortar projects. These state projects will put people to work and provide a much-needed infusion in this economy.

Unfortunately, the Legislature chose to pass an amount far less than the $212 million the Governor wanted. In one of the true bipartisan moments of the session, I joined with eight other colleagues in the state Senate to vote for the Governor’s proposal, which was supported by both labor and business. Because only nine of the 15 Republicans agreed with the Governor, we were not able to pass this higher amount. This is unfortunate because this type of monetary stimulus to our economy is just what the state needs.

Peter Wirth is State Sen. District 25, Santa Fe (Dem.).

 

 


Capital outlay bill should help on jobs

Brian Egolf

(Editor’s note: The following is taken from State Rep. Brian Egolf’s special session update to his constituents.)

On the important issue of jobs, the Legislature was able to pass a capital outlay bill that is focused on starting new infrastructure projects immediately and statewide. I pushed hard to get the bill passed and fought efforts by the minority party to adjourn before we could vote on the bill.

Fortunately, we were able to defeat the effort to adjourn and kill the capital outlay bill, which eventually passed. I wish the bill has contained funding for more projects, but we will have a chance in the upcoming 30-day session in January to invest in more infrastructure projects.

Brian Egolf is State Rep. Dist. 47 (Dem.)

 

 


The NM Film Business: the biggest job creation program
since the Manhattan Project

 

Jon Hendry

There is much discussion on how to create jobs on both a local and national level, but here in New Mexico governors embraced the motion picture and television industry and created over 12,000 jobs across the state. Film has been part of the N.M. landscape since 1898 when Thomas Edison shot a 12-minute short, Schoolhouse Days, at Isleta Pueblo. Over the years there have been literally thousands of projects from Tom Mix movies in Las Vegas to Transformers in Alamogordo. Some of the most famous pictures ever were made here, including Salt of the Earth, the story of one of the most important labor actions in history in Silver City 1954, and more recently, Oscar winning No Country for Old Men in Santa Fe and Las Vegas.

Much of the mythology of New Mexico and the West is based around two characters (Billy The Kid and Geronimo), who have been portrayed in multiple films. In fact, The Kid has been the subject of more movies than any historical character other than Jesus Christ. Massive infrastructure spending, including the state-of-the-art ABQ Studios and the brand new SF Studios, have combined public and private dollars. There are currently over 11,000 students in film programs statewide in our high schools, and two- and four-year colleges. Major companies have relocated here, including Sony Image Works and Hertz entertainment Rentals. Literally hundreds of local businesses have sprung up, large and small, to service the projects that have shot or that post here. Technology transferred from our national labs and the White Sands Missile Range has enabled new and exciting industries to be established, and that’s a part of our success story that has only just begun.

Why does Gov. Martinez have an issue with this bipartisan effort? I believe the industry failed in its efforts to educate the new administration on the importance of film in N.M. Those of us who work every day in the industry see the benefits, as do the many N.M. businesses that do business with us.

To the general public and to Gov. Martinez the myth that we’re just giving money back to Hollywood lingers. The math is simple: This is new money coming in from out of state; only taxable expenditures by film companies receive the benefit of the tax rebate, and if there is no money spent, no money is put out. That is not the case with many other incentivized industries here. Estimates range anywhere from $400 million to $1.2 billion in tax breaks given to businesses here in the state, and there is no direct correlation to jobs except in the film program.

That doesn’t mean that incentivizing industry is wrong; in fact many would argue that is a primary function of government. The film industry is singled out because of its high profile and immediate and substantial impact to the N.M. economy. Many of the misconceptions about what the state has rebated come about through a perceived lack of transparency. The reality is the film industry has always had a higher bar than any other industry that receives tax breaks from the state. New legislation passed in the 2011 session raises that bar to a standard of complete disclosure within the parameters of business confidentially, and this state now requires more information than any other before it processes the rebate. All this info is available at nmfilm.com, and it confirms what film makers have been saying for eight years—movies make money for New Mexico.

The question in the process is really this: If not film then what? The days of high paid manufacturing jobs with health insurance and a pension are rapidly receding. America as a nation will stand and fall on its ability to reinvent itself, and information as an industry, film being part of that, along with software development, medical imaging, and other intellectual properties will drive the new energy economy and become the largest provider of jobs in this century

The ability to create content and access it remotely anywhere, anytime, is what will keep American not only competitive but the world’s leader. Countries such as China, which restrict content for political purposes, or India and Brazil, which simply don’t have the infrastructure, have a long way to go to catch up and may never do so. New Mexico is uniquely placed as a state to service these new technologies with our educated workforce (Los Alamos has the highest number of Ph.D.s for a small city, and Albuquerque has the second highest number of Ph.D.s for a large city), companies such as Intel and Lockheed are already here and the film business is part of the economic transition.

The main challenge locally is a lack of commitment from state government, although Gov. Martinez has become much more active, involved, and sympathetic recently, and on a national level, a lack of protection for intellectual property. We have raised an entire generation who believe content should be free, be it books music or movies. Last year a tipping point was reached when over 50 percent of movies were illegally downloaded. There is no sustainable business model when over half your product isn’t monetized. The 11,000 students in film and video programs need to understand clearly that their future is simply being stolen. Current legislation pending in the U.S. Senate on intellectual property theft is a start to dealing with this, but until there are legal solutions, hardware solutions and a shift in attitude, this will remain as a major barrier to further investment and a looming “deathstar” to the new energy economy jobs here in New Mexcic.

In the meantime, enjoy the movies that were shot here, such as Thor and Avengers, and our great TV series: “Breaking Bad,” “In Plain Sight” and the soon-to-be-shot “Longmire.” When you pass a film crew, know that they are not only working for themselves, they are creating revenue and good jobs for New Mexicans.

Jon Hendry is the president of the New Mexico Federation of Labor. His day job
is as the business agent of IATSE Local 480 the film technician’s Local.

 

 


Low-wage workers fight uphill battle against wage theft

Steve Klinger

New Mexico’s employment picture encompasses more than a loss of jobs; there’s a major element of economic injustice that especially affects lower-echelon workers, including immigrants and those with a lack of education or professional skills.

The problem has been termed “wage theft,” because its many manifestations all result in the worker taking home less money at the end of the pay period due to various forms of exploitation by employers.

At a conference in September, sponsored by Interfaith Worker Justice, an organization that describes itself as “a statewide network of People of Faith and Conscience,” presenters explored the practices numerous workers must endure. Among those discussed were:

  • Violations of minimum wage laws;
  • Non-payment of time-and-a-half overtime pay;
  • Workers being forced to work off the clock;
  • Workers not receiving their final paychecks;
  • Workers having their tips stolen by management;
  • Workers misclassified as independent contractors so employers can avoid paying them benefits or overtime and can dodge their share of payroll taxes and worker’s compensation

While New Mexico did enact wage law enforcement in 2009, speakers at the conference noted that HB489 does not include protection against retaliation and that labor law administrators widely ignore damage provisions in the legislation.

The Light of New Mexico conducted an e-interview on wage theft with Marcela Díaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, an anti-discrimination group that focuses on humane immigration policies and protecting the human rights of all people, regardless of national origin.

LNM: From your literature and the activities of your organization, you clearly feel that wage theft is a major problem and an ongoing injustice, especially in New Mexico. Can you provide some perspective on how it manifests in the workplace

MD: Wage theft is the non-payment or underpayment of wages to workers in our community. Wage theft is a crime that often goes unreported and unprosecuted. It occurs when employers don’t pay the minimum wage, don’t pay overtime, require employees to work off the clock, or fail to disburse final paychecks.

LNM: What sort of impacts does wage theft have on workers at different levels of compensation? Who is hurt the most and why?

MD: Wage theft has a disproportionate impact on low-wage working families that live paycheck to paycheck, especially during tough economic times. When workers don’t receive the money they’ve earned, they spend less in our local economy and often have to rely on emergency public services and charities to make ends meet.  Employers who engage in this unscrupulous and illegal behavior undercut businesses that are following the rules. This situation is bad for our local economy all the way around.

LNM: How does Somos Un Pueblo Unido see work against wage theft as being an integral part of its work against discrimination based on national origin? What initiatives has Somos undertaken to learn about various forms of wage theft and help affected workers improve their situation?

MD: Immigrants are working hard in New Mexico.  We make up about 11.6 percent of the overall workforce, but are still struggling to forge bright, prosperous futures for our families. According to Voices for Children, 63 percent of non-citizen workers make less than $25,000 per year, and 33 percent live below the poverty line.  In the absence of low-wage worker unions in New Mexico, immigrant workers are extremely vulnerable to favoritism, nonpayment of wages, job insecurity, discrimination, sexual harassment, excessive workloads, unsafe and toxic work environments, and humiliating treatment by supervisors and managers.  Mixed legal status exacerbates these circumstances by making immigrant families fearful and less likely to demand better working conditions, seek remedies to which they are entitled or speak up when their rights have been violated.

Despite these challenges, immigrants are charting a course for low-wage worker organizing in this state. In 2005, several members of Somos Un Pueblo Unido formed El Comité de Trabajadores to organize for worker justice. Since, this Worker’s Committee has had a number of successes. It recruited and trained members to conduct know-your-rights presentations for over 2,000 workers; played a key role in expanding the Santa Fe Living Wage, the highest in the country, to all workers in the city; passed a state anti-wage theft law in 2009; launched a statewide wage theft public information campaign in 2010; and helped form dozens of worksite committees, most of which are currently active at several hotels, restaurants and cleaning companies in Santa Fe. Using a combination of community education, administrative and legal complaint processes, public pressure, and organized worksite committees, we’ve been able to make important changes in several workplaces, including enforcing the city minimum wage, ending sexual harassment, improving health and safety conditions, and instituting reasonable workloads. We’ve also been able to help recover over $300,000 in stolen wages and settlement fees for workers in Santa Fe.

LNM: In the recent conference on wage theft there was mention of legislation sponsored by Rep. Miguel Garcia (HB 489) that extends the statute of limitations for wage claims and penalizes employers with trebled damages, but there was also discussion that this law offers no protection against retaliation by employers and that the courts have not been enforcing the increased damages provision. Can you elaborate?

MD: Somos Un Pueblo Unido’s Worker’s Committee organized the campaign to pass this law in 2009, knowing that a big part of the work would be to ensure its implementation. We launched a Wage Theft Public Information Campaign last year, as well as a Wage Theft Working Group, made up of community, government and labor allies to help identify ways to improve wage theft enforcement mechanisms. Together we are working to inform attorneys, judges, policy makers, workers and potential allies about the gaps between current legal protections and enforcement.

LNM: What can New Mexico workers and residents do to help protect themselves?

MD: Worker organizing is the most effective way to change conditions in the workplace and protect oneself from retaliation. This doesn’t necessarily have to happen through a union.  There are other options. To find out how to start a worksite committee in your workplace, you can contact Somos Un Pueblo Unido at 505 424-7832.

LNM:  What can New Mexico residents do to support workers who are victims of wage theft

MD: Allies can support workers who are standing up against egregious workplace abuses by joining and supporting organizations like Somos Un Pueblo Unido, which is made up of low-wage workers organizing to promote worker and racial justice. Find out which employers are violating worker’s rights by going to our Wage Watch Website www.somosunpueblounido.org/wagewatch.
Editor’s note: The Rev. Holly Beaumont, organizing director of Interfaith Worker Justice-New Mexico, will be in conversation with David Bacon on wage theft and economic justice in the workplace, Sunday, Oct. 23 at 11 am at The Travel Bug, 839 Paseo de Peralta.

 

 


Occupy Santa Fe:  Now a base camp

Steve Klinger

Occupy Santa Fe has morphed from two Saturday rallies on a busy street corner to an ongoing occupation in the form of an encampment. Tents, a screen house and an airstream office are in place on the vacant piece of public land across from the Bank of America at Paseo de Peralta and St. Francis Drive. A space for music and art is being created, and volunteers are being sought to maintain a 24-hour presence, so far with no objection from Santa Fe police or Mayor David Coss.

The occupation follows rallies Oct. 1 and 8 on the corner adjacent to the Bank of America’s parking lot, in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began last month in New York City. Groups in hundreds of cities have joined the movement, organizing mostly peaceful demonstrations and occupations expressing opposition to corporate greed and the increased shifting of wealth away from the middle and working classes and into the pockets of the wealthiest 1 percent.
The Santa Fe group plans a march Saturday, Oct. 15 from the occupation site to the Roundhouse, where a rally will be held, in coordination with worldwide protests scheduled for that day.

On Oct. 1, about 60 people with signs, drums and smiles, a few of them in the formal attire of plutocrats from the We Are People Here! group, waved their placards and acknowledged the numerous honks and greetings from passing traffic on a bright, sunny Saturday morning.

Umika Solange, who said she co-organized the Occupy Santa Fe event with Amina Re, greeted newcomers warmly and explained her participation in the event as “wanting to take back our country from corporate greed and negligence.”

She said that Saturday’s demonstration was “in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street,” which began in mid-September in lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. “We want to see positive change” in America, she added.

Amina Re said she set up a Facebook page with Solange, linking it with the new Occupy Together site, which is tracking protests and offering videos from cities across the U. S. She said, “I am wanting to really unify with the other 1 percent to join the 99 percent of us and come up with a solution together.”

A wheelchair-bound participant with a sign reading “Bank of America Sucks $” said she has been protesting that bank’s corrupt practices since the 1970s. Carol Weber said she used to picket weekly in San Francisco. She added she has been demonstrating in Santa on behalf of workers since Gov. Scott Walker’s push to deunionize Wisconsin began in January. As for Bank of America, Weber said, “They’ve been corrupt since the early 1900s.”

Another demonstrator added that she has gotten unemployment benefits on a Bank of America debit card and the bank charged her for every transaction.

Mariel Nanasi, executive director of New Energy Economy, an energy independence organization based in Santa Fe, said there are both local and national goals that can be accomplished by organizing resistance to the status quo.  She suggested a tax on all stock transactions, with the money going to mayors of cities, to be spent only on renewable energy infrastructure.

“The money has to go toward renewable energy,” she stressed. “That will create thousands of jobs” and move the country toward cleaner energy.

Locally, Nanasi said, “We should kick PNM out of Santa Fe city and county. That would bring a million dollars immediately back to Santa Fe that is going to Wall Street and get us off dirty coal.”

The Oct. 8 gathering was larger, with more costumes, music and drumming. Crowd estimates ranged from 100 to over 200, as people came and went during the 7-hour rally, while car horns honked and passersby paused to chat with sign-waving demonstrators.

The Saturday march to the Capitol will begin at 9 am, according to the group’s Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/OccupySantaFe.  Participants who want to march will gather at the Bas Camp before that hour, but others can meet at the Roundhouse, east concourse.

 


 Letters to the editor

Telecommunications issues must be addressed

On July 5, 2011 a New Mexico federal judge ruled that the Telecommunications Act preempts (partially repeals) the Americans with Disabilities Act. I have appealed that decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, and the opening brief is due November 10.

If you know of an organization that might be interested in filing an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief, please let me know as soon as possible. Organizations concerned with disabilities or civil rights may be alarmed by this court ruling and may wish to file a brief. Upon request I can send interested organizations a draft of the brief that we are writing, and that we want them to support. Any amicus brief would be due November 17.

We have raised about $20,000 towards legal fees; THANK YOU to all who have contributed!

A local attorney, Lindsay Lovejoy, has been doing much of the legal research on this case. He has also just filed a brief, also in the Tenth Circuit, for Los Alamos Study Group, which wants to block construction of a new six billion dollar plutonium facility at LANL. You can read more about Lindsay on his website, www.lindsaylovejoy.com.

In local news: The cell tower that AT&T wants to place in the parking lot at Baillio’s, disguised as a pine tree, has been rejected by the city because it would stick out like a sore pine tree in a parking lot where no trees are growing. The city has sent the application back to AT&T to redesign the project to make it less conspicuous.

The application for antennas hidden in the chimney at St. John’s United Methodist Church is moving forward, in spite of the appeal that I have filed in state court. It is presently on reject status, apparently because of drainage problems on the property that have to be corrected.

The big tower near the transfer station (above West Alameda) has grown a number of new antennas since May 25, when the city passed the ordinance exempting that tower from regulation. We are trying to find out which new companies have placed antennas on it.

 

Arthur Firstenberg

President

Cellular Phone Task Force

PO Box 6216

Santa Fe, NM 87502

 

 

Call LANL and ask for analyses

Instead of just ranting about the outfulls [sic] from LANL, try a more direct approach. Call them up and ask for the analyses of them. Lab people monitor them on a regular basis.

Better still, ask if you can go along with the people to see what effort is involved in collecting samples.

 

Bob Skaggs

Santa Fe

 

 

Thanks for raising the bar

 

Congratulations on The Light of New Mexico’s first issue!

What a joy to be able to pick up a paper and read solid, good information that is well presented like this.

The overall layout of the paper and every page is just excellent; lots of white space framing the pages so your eyes can adjust and see the information easily on each page. They are extremely well organized; comfortable to read; type size is just right too. The articles are strong ones. Not a weak one in the bunch. Visually and journalistically the components compliment each other. The articles are well written and offer us solid, good journalism which is hard to come by here. Talk about refreshing! We need to be challenged this way on the issues and with the writing. Thank you for raising the bar here. It’s about time.

Great to read visually. Thank you for this. Sometimes I have to take two aspirin after reading other publications and trying to navigate through the maze of information and type. It’s exhausting. I usually scan these papers and give up but not with The Light!

The calendar seems comprehensive, fair, unbiased, well organized, easy to read and covers a lot of different events too Nice!

The only negative I felt were the cartoons and the Darwin page. They distract from the sophisticated content and layout of the paper. Everything else seems to fit, but these don’t. I would suggest using less of them next time and keep the valuable space for articles on the issues of our bio region.That’s really what we all want and what the paper is all about..

You’ve got an edge going in the way the paper feels. It’s good stuff. Speaks volumes for your backgrounds. It’s beautifully designed, obviously done by professionals; extremely well organized; excellent content. Can’t ask for much more than that.

You hit the ball out of the ballpark for a first issue….

Thank you.

 

Melissa Williams

Santa Fe

 

 


Test Your Telecommunications IQ

 

Katie Singer

What is a hertz (Hz) rate?

Per second, the rate at which electric and magnetic fields expand and collapse. The higher the Hertz rate, the more data can be transmitted.

What is the Earth’s Hertz rate?

7.8 Hz.

What Hertz are houses, schools and office buildings wired for in the U.S.?

60 Hz.

What is a microwave?

Electromagnetic frequencies above 300 MHz (300 million Hertz) and below 300 GHz (300 billion Hertz).

What is the Hertz rate used to operate a cordless DECT phone?

6.0 GHz (six billion Hertz).

How did the FCC determine that using a mobile phone is safe?

The FCC found that the temperature of a 200-pound man using a mobile phone for six minutes did not change significantly.

How did the FCC determine safety standards for cellular antennas?

Standards are based on engineering needs, not biological effects.

Do FCC guidelines protect users from the biological effects of antennas?

No. According to the BioInitiative Report, the FCC’s standards are one thousand times greater than what is biologically safe.

What does our federal law say about telecom equipment and health?

Section 704 of The Telecommunications Act of 1996 states that no health or environmental concern can interfere with the placement of telecom equipment.

Can local officials refuse to grant a permit to a telecom company that wants to install service?

Not unless they’re prepared to take a lawsuit to the Supreme Court.

How many cell phone antennas (base stations) are located within a four-mile radius of your home, school and workplace?

To find out, go to www.antennasearch.com.

In 2011, what did the FCC propose about landlines in the U.S.?

Eliminating them. Already, at least one person who lives rurally was told that her installation fee for a landline would be $112,000.

According to epidemiologist Sam Milham, if a person uses a cell phone for two hours per day for five years in their twenties, how much does their risk of brain cancer increase?

700%.

What is a Smart Meter?

A wireless utility meter that tracks your use of electricity, natural gas or water. It pulses signals in the microwave range. One Smart Meter emits 100 times the amount of radiation as that emitted by a mobile phone. Smart Meters are being installed around the country.

What do studies find about Smart Meters’ effects on humans and wildlife?

No studies have been conducted.

What do studies say about the cumulative or the combined effects of exposure to radiation from a mobile phone, WiFi, Smart Meters, antennas, baby monitors and GPS devices?

No studies have been conducted.

Why do up to 40 million birds die per year from crashing into cellular antennas?

The antennas’ signals disorient the birds.

What do recent studies say about the relationship between bee colony collapse and radiation emitted by mobile phones and cellular antennas?

Compelling evidence suggests that antennas disorient and repel bees so that they do not return home to their colonies. Also, bees’ immune function and reproductive success appear to be impaired around antennas.

Compared to a landline, how much energy does a mobile phone require?

A mobile phones requires three times as much energy as a landline.

If you want to decrease your risk of harm from telecom equipment, what options do you have?

* Minimize your use of and exposure to wireless devices. Start by using only a corded landline and cabled Internet access.

* Urge your senators to co-sponsor a bill to revise Section 704 of the Telecommunications Act. The revision would allow local governments to create setback policies that determine how far antennas must be from schools, residences, hospitals and nursing homes.

* Urge your Congressional representatives to get the FCC to revise its safety standards so that biology is respected as much as technology.

* Insist on the option to self-read your utility meters.

* In your own home, do not install any new equipment until it is proven harmless.

* Urge Congressional representatives to create radio-free zones around the country.

* Educate parents, teachers and youth about the dangers of wireless devices.

 

Websites about telecom radiation, health and public policy:

www.cloutnow.org

www.electricalpollution.com

www.emrpolicy.org

www.magdahavas.com

www.microwavenews.com

www.sammilham.com

www.stopsmartmeters.org

 

Katie Singer is a novelist and has written several books about reproductive health.

 

 


Where’s the outrage?

United We Take Back America

Bruce M. Berlin

While our country’s school children pledge allegiance to “one nation under God,” the truth is Americans rarely act as a unified people.   In fact, we are more concerned with our individual rights and desires than the common good.   Though one of the main premises of the United States Constitution is to “promote the general welfare”; we are more focused on guarding our private property than our public wealth.    Thus, while we buy alarm systems and insurance policies to protect our homes, we fail to demand the elimination of tax loopholes and subsidies for well-heeled corporations making record profits that drain the nation’s treasury.

Only in a crisis do Americans seem to overcome their intrinsic individualistic natures and pull together for the greater good.   The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center is a recent example of Americans uniting to confront a catastrophe.   However, as is often the case, with crisis comes opportunity.   And so, it did not take long for the neo-cons in the Bush Administration to hijack that national tragedy and use it for their own ulterior motives.   Consequently, they frighten Americans into supporting two needless and costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the devious, but accurate belief that these ill-advised ventures would tighten their control over the country, while enriching themselves and their friends in the defense and oil industries.

Of course, the neo-cons’ self-promoting causes, including the Bush tax cuts, set the stage for the country’s latest crisis, the financial collapse that began in 2008.   As a result, millions of Americans are now unemployed.   While the official unemployment figure is 9.1 percentwhen you count those who are no longer looking for work, the figure is about 16 percent.   Since the beginning of this financial disaster several million people have lost their homes to foreclosure as well.   Meanwhile, Wall Street bonuses continue to be paid at close to all-time highs.   Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, took home $13.2 million last year, including a $3.2 million raise.

According to Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration:   “More than one in three families with young children is now living in poverty (37 percent, to be exact), according to a recent analysis of Census data by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies. That’s the highest percent on record. The Agriculture Department says nearly one in four young children (23.6 percent) lives in a family that had difficulty affording sufficient food at some point last year.   We’re in the worst economy since the Great Depression….”

Fortunately, however, as in past crises, this calamity is bringing people together for the common good.   Amazingly, Americans have taken the bullyes, the Wall Street bull by the horns and are transforming this crisis into an opportunity with tremendous potential.   In the middle of September, about 200 protesters began occupying Wall Street in New York.   As I write this piece in early October, their numbers are growing.   On October 1, over 700 protesters were arrested for spilling out onto the traffic lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge.   Inspired by Occupy Wall Street, hundreds of demonstrations are now springing up around the country, including in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City, adopted by the Occupy Wall Street protesters on September 29, 2011, proclaims:

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.   We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

Occupy Wall Street is the most promising, grassroots development I have seen in this country in a very long time.   Many of us have been frustrated and angry for years as we’ve watched huge corporate interests buy Congress and take control of our government.   On top of that, our plutocratic Supreme Court condones this corporate take-over by declaring money is speech and corporations have the right to free speech, just like real live people.   Meanwhile, the disparity between the very wealthy and the rest of us continues to grow exponentially.

Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com notes that the basic message of this fledgling movement is “that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power—in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions—is destroying financial security for everyone else….”   

The American people are finally rising up and saying “enough.”   They want their lives and their country back.   The financial crisis has exposed the devastating influence moneyed interests have on our government, our economy and our rights as citizens.   At the same time, it has created a tremendous opportunity to transform this country into a democracy that serves the people rather than the banks, the super- wealthy and the military-industrial complex.

That transformation, however, is a very tall order.   It will only happen if we, the people, seize this opportunity and build a mass movement of millions of Americans that demands fundamental change and settles for nothing less.   The skeptics will say it cannot be done.   History tells us otherwise.   If the South Africans could overturn Apartheid and the German people could tear down the Berlin Wall, then Americans can unite as well and take back their country from the corporate plutocracy that now controls it.

Bruce Berlin is a Santa Fe attorney who has been a political activist most of his life. For ways to help take back America, go to MoveOn.org, DemocracyattheCrossroadsSF.org or moneyoutofpolitics.org .


 

 


Finding bank fraud in your foreclosure case

Ana Garner

Are you behind on your mortgage payments, or fearing that you will be soon? Are you bracing yourself for the inevitable foreclosure on your home, after missing mortgage payments for 6-12 months?  Have you tried dealing with the bank to get a loan modification? Many clients have told me of their frustration in supplying the bank with reams of documents and spending hours of time getting the bank the paperwork it demands, only to hear that the bank has “lost” the paperwork.  And, after all that, they learn they qualify for a paltry reduction in payments of less than $100/month.  Or worse, the bank agrees to give them a forbearance, allowing them to make lower payments or no payments for a few months. The shock comes at the end of this reprieve, when the bank demands that they pay the arrearages in full, with tacked-on interest and penalties. This event alone would put most people in foreclosure.

More and more people find themselves in the position of not being able to make their full mortgage payments anymore. Many initially feel guilt, shame and despair about not being able to keep their end of a bargain with the bank.  Based on my research as a foreclosure defense attorney, I learned that the current economic crisis and housing value meltdown is the result  of the “culture of greed” followed by big banks and Wall Street, aided in no small degree by our corrupt government.  Together they created a monstrous conspiracy in which you were an unwitting pawn in a scheme to line their pockets with billions of dollars.  Knowing this, you have no cause to feel shame—and you have every right to be angry.

Lawsuits against the banks for fraud, predatory lending, and the ways in which their billions were made, are occurring across the nation. Most housing loans made between 2002 and 2008 were securitized, which means bundled with thousands of other loans similar to yours, pooled into investment trusts, and then sliced and diced into “tranches” and sold as bonds or mortgage-backed securities (MBS) to investors, who were also defrauded by these investments. The bank had already received its money for your note before the ink was dry on your signature.  Your note was sold multiple times over, with everyone involved along the chain making multiple profits on the value of your note.

In their rush to make more money from these notes, much of the essential paperwork needed to prove a foreclosure suit was lost.  To add insult to injury, now the bank wants your house on top of all the profits it has already made from your mortgage through the securitization process.  With the right information, you can defend yourself and not let the bank take your home without a fight!

In almost every foreclosure action I’ve seen by the big banks for loans between 2002 and 2008, there is fraud being committed upon the courts. You are most likely to find fraud if your loan was made through one of the big banks, such as Bank of America, Countrywide, Wells Fargo, GMAC, Lehman Brothers, Deutsche Bank, OR if your mortgage is a “MERS” mortgage.  MERS stands for “Mortgage Electronic Registration System.” A MERS mortgage will have this on it: “MIN” followed by a 10-12 digit number at the top right portion of the first page of the mortgage, and there will be a paragraph on the first or second page referring to MERS.

The purpose of this article is to teach you how to find out if there is fraud in your case. You can easily research this yourself if you have a computer and
Internet connection. Finding evidence of fraud will put you in a superior bargaining position with the bank concerning your mortgage and loan and may even get the case thrown out of court.

First, in the fat packet that was delivered to you when the bank filed a foreclosure lawsuit against you, look for these documents:

1.  Summons, which directs you to file an answer within 30 days (in New Mexico);

2.  Complaint, which sets out the allegations of the Bank. This must be answered within 30 days, or the court could enter a default judgment against you. You will also see various attachments (“Exhibits”) to the Complaint, usually a copy of the mortgage and perhaps of the note you signed, and maybe an assignment.

An assignment is a document by which one party (assignor) transfers your mortgage to another party (the assignee) that filed your foreclosure action.  Sometimes an assignment is attached as an exhibit to your complaint, but most of the time, you will have to find it in the county clerk’s records where your mortgage is recorded.  Make a copy of any assignment that was filed on your property near the time the lawsuit was filed.  In Santa Fe County, you’ll need to visit the county clerk’s office to search under your name. From your assignment, you can research to find out if a robo-signer was involved.

The new term “robo-signer” has arisen in our language as a result of the fraudulent paperwork (assignments and affidavits) being created by banks to foreclose on homes when they lack the essential paperwork and paper trail to prove chain of title.  “Robo-signing” has been the topic of a 60 Minutes show and covered by mainstream media, like The New York Times. The term has even reached Wikipedia, as proof of its notoriety.  An excerpt from an article from the Times states:

JPMorgan Chase has suspended 56,000 foreclosures because relevant documents may not have been properly prepared; GMAC has also suspended an undisclosed number. Chase and GMAC, in their zeal to process hundreds of thousands of foreclosures as quickly as possible and get those properties on the market, employed people who could sign documents so quickly they popularized a new term for them: “robo-signer.”  In depositions taken by lawyers for embattled homeowners, the robo-signers said they or their team at the “document factory” had signed 10,000 or more foreclosure affidavits a month.

One has to ask why such legal contortions are even done. If Plaintiff Bank were able to prove chain of title with the note and mortgage, these false affidavits and assignments would not be needed.  The fact that they are created to overcome deficiencies in the foreclosure process should be construed as intentional fraud on the court. “Fraud on the court” should be grounds for sanctions from the judge, including dismissal of the complaint for foreclosure with prejudice (which means they can never sue you again for the same note).  These banks cannot continue to commit fraud on the courts to wrongfully evict homeowners from their homes, when they can’t prove they have standing, nor can they prove they own the note and mortgage. Because of this, there is even recourse for people who have been wrongfully evicted.  Homeowners and the justice system can act to change the course of this practice.

Here is how you find out if you have a robo-signed assignment. With your assignment in hand, look at the name of the person who signed it.  In a Google search box, type in that name followed by the word “robo-signer” or “fraud” without the quotation marks. You may find this person has signed as representative of up to 10 different companies, as vice-president, or assistant secretary or some other title.  In one case, the name “Theodore Schultz” came up as an officer of almost a dozen different companies. You can be sure that he works for the party to whom the assignment was made (the assignee) even though he signed it as a representative of the assignor! Outrageous! Another robo-signer, Tiaquanda Turner, shows up in cases across the U.S.  As one New York judge stated in his opinion,  “This robo-signer is a milliner’s delight, as she wears the hats of many different corporations.” Robo-signing is clear fraud and shows up in almost every foreclosure case that involves MERS or is securitized.  The fact that this practice is industry-wide doesn’t make it right merely because there are so many criminals doing it.  The judges need to know this is happening in YOUR case.

Another client had the stroke of luck to have the same robo-signer sign the assignment as a representative of one company, yet she also signed the affidavit in support of the bank’s motion for summary judgment as representative of another company. Further research turned up her deposition in which she admitted never reading the documents she signs. This robo-signer, Beth Cottrell, admitted that her “team” of eight signed over 12,000 documents per month. Thinking how many times she signs her name each day is enough to make your hands cramp.  It’s no wonder the signatures evolve to just an illegible squiggle!

Ana Garner, Attorney at Law, represents only homeowners in the Santa Fe and Albuquerque areas.  She has 30 years of litigation experience in N.M. courts. Her mission is to protect the integrity of the judicial process in foreclosure actions and expose the fraud being perpetrated on the courts and citizens.  Her contact information is [email protected]; telephone 505 474-5300. She will review foreclosure documents at no charge if they are scanned and e-mailed to her with the subject line, Free Review of Foreclosure docs.

 

 


NM News briefs

Group: Martinez Puts Big Industry Before New Mexicans, Environment

SANTA FE – Food & Water Watch, joined by Conservation Voters New Mexico and the New Mexico Federation of Labor, released a report that outlines several examples of how Gov. Susana Martinez has given special privilege to industries like oil and gas, industrialized dairy, homebuilders and mining at the expense of environmental protection and the local economy.

Immediately following a press conference that took place in front of the Capitol Roundhouse., the groups and other concerned New Mexicans hand-delivered the report to Gov. Martinez’s office and demanded that she give advocates for small business, working families and the environment a seat at the table that has otherwise been reserved solely for big industry.

“New Mexicans are fed up with Governor Martinez’s secret task forces, industry appointments and decisions that do little to address the dire economic and environmental problems we face,” said Food & Water Watch New Mexico organizer Eleanor Bravo. “We are here today to remind Governor Martinez that she works for us – the residents of New Mexico – and not the big industries that threaten our health, our environment, worker rights, and home-grown small businesses.”

The report, Private Profits, Public Threats: How Governor Martinez’s Big Business Agenda Endangers New Mexicans, describes how in her first six months in office, Martinez has rapidly worked to roll back the rules and regulations that protect New Mexico’s natural resources, public health and working families. It explains how her “Small Business-Friendly Task Force” does not truly represent small businesses, and how Martinez’s big business agenda is particularly harmful to lower income, predominately Hispanic communities in New Mexico.

The report chronicles many examples of how Martinez has ignored the concerns of health and environmental advocates to favor the agendas of the big industries that gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to her gubernatorial campaign. Examples include:

  • Undermining pollution controls for factory farms
  • Attempting to abolish the Water Quality Control Commission
  • Paving over the Pit Rule that protects groundwater from oil and gas drilling waste
  • Pocket-vetoing local food procurement bill
  • Firing the State Labor Board
  • Vetoing unemployment benefits

“Gov. Martinez has launched an aggressive attack on the safeguards on which New Mexicans depend to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe,” said Sandy Buffett, Executive Director of Conservation Voters New Mexico. “In our view, her systematic dismantling of these safeguards threatens the security of our families and communities.”

The report can be downloaded for free at: http://foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/private-profits-public-threats/

Corresponding fact sheets that summarize the report are also available in Spanish and English at the URL above.

 

 

 

Department of Health Receives Community Transformation Grant from CDC

SANTA FE – The New Mexico Department of Health (DOH) announced recently that it will receive a $1.5 million Community Transformation grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The funding is the first of what is expected to be a five-year award, totaling $7.5 million. The DOH will use the funding to help address chronic diseases (childhood obesity, adults with pre-diabetes, second-hand smoke, tobacco use, and people at risk of high blood pressure and cholesterol) through the implementation, evaluation, and dissemination of evidence-based community preventive health activities.

“This funding will help the Department of Health to strengthen prevention efforts in several New Mexico communities” said DOH Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Catherine Torres. “By addressing these three lifestyle behaviors (nutrition, physical activity, and tobacco use) we will be working to reduce chronic disease rates, prevent the development of secondary conditions, address health disparities, and develop a stronger evidence base for effective prevention programs,” “We will focus our efforts in areas of the state where the health status and chronic disease burden levels are much worse, including the Tribes, Nations and Pueblos, and the Hispanic communities along the U.S. – Mexico border region.”

The DOH will target prevention strategies in 10 counties and 4 tribal communities in New Mexico with greatest health disparities and with strong American Indian, Hispanic, and U.S. – Mexico border population representation. The targeted counties were selected based on population size, poverty status, racial and ethnic, diversity, geographic diversity, chronic disease burden, and readiness to implement prevention programs.  The targeted counties are: McKinley, Cibola, Rio Arriba, Guadalupe, Curry, Chaves, Lea, Socorro, Luna, and Doña Ana. The targeted tribal communities are: San Ildefonso, Santa Clara, Zuni, and Mescalero.

 

 

New Border Environment Plan Announced

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accepting public comments on the draft of a new border environment plan. Titled “Border 2020: U.S. – Mexico Environmental Program,” the document is a framework for a new environmental protection and improvement plan designed to succeed the Border 2012 collaboration between Mexico and the U.S.

“As home to over 14 million people and one of the busiest cross-border trade regions in the world, protecting human health and the environment in the Border Region is essential to ensuring that the U.S. continues to be safe, healthy and economically productive,” the EPA said in a statement.

Public comment on the Border 2010 plan will be accepted through Nov. 30..

For the EPA, Border 2020 represents “the latest multi-year, bi-national planning effort to be implemented under the La Paz Agreement” on environmental cooperation signed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and Miguel de la Madrid back in 1983. According to the environmental protection agency, the draft for Border 2020 was the result of a process involving the EPA and its Mexican counterpart SEMARNAT, indigenous communities and tribes from the two nations and environment departments from the 10 Mexican and U.S. border states.

For more information on Border 2020, readers can go to: http://www.epa.gov/border2012.

 

Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news

Center for Latin American and Border Studies

New Mexico State University

Las Cruces, New Mexico

 

For a free electronic subscription email: [email protected]

 


OCTOBER – NOVEMBER CALENDAR OF EVENTS

LOCAL AND AREA BOOKS/TALKS/LECTURES/THEATER/CULTURE

To be included in the monthly calendar, please send suitable  items of interest to [email protected] by the first of the month of publication.

SANTA FE

Saturday, Oct. 15

Jobs Not Cuts
10:00 am

Roundhouse, East Concourse

Paseo de Peralta & Old Santa Fe Trail,

Old Santa Fe Trail side

Are you watching what’s happening in New York? What started as an
occupation of Wall Street—the heart of everything that’s wrong with
our economy—with a small, brave group of young people is growing and
spreading to every state. And the media is finally starting to pay attention to the tens of
thousands of people shouting that if we make Wall Street pay, we can
have jobs instead of cuts. If we can keep the spotlight on these issues,
we have a chance to force action on policies that work for the 99% of us
who can’t afford lobbyists. That’s why we’re joining with the American Dream movement to hold Actions for Jobs Not Cuts nationwide during the week of October 10-16.
From protesting banks not paying their fair share, to memorials for the
American Dream, to local rallies against layoffs, we’ll escalate our
demand for Jobs Not Cuts, which we can afford as long as Wall Street
pays its fair share.
Can you help make this too big to ignore by coming to a Jobs Not Cuts
event in Santa Fe on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011, at 10:00 AM?

<http://pol.moveon.org/>

Sunday, Oct. 16

Solar Seminars

3:00 pm-4:00 pm

Whole Foods Market ™ Community Room

Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, NM

RSVP call 505-428-0069

Homewise™, Whole Foods Market™and Positive Energy, Inc.  have partnered together to bring free Solar Seminars to Santa Fe. Positive Energy, Inc. is dedicated to spreading the word about solar electricity and the environmental and financial benefits of this renewable energy source.  In a partnership with Whole Foods Market™ on Cerrillos road and Homewise™, Positive Energy, Inc. will provide information on the current federal and state tax rebates as well as the incentives being offered by public utilities.  Homewise™ representatives will be there to offer advice on financing options, and there will be an opportunity to sign up for a free estimate on a solar photovoltaic system for your home.  Learn about energy efficiency, off-setting your energy consumption and the opportunity to never pay an electric bill again.

Sunday, Oct. 16

Conversation with David Bacon

11 am—noon

The Travel Bug

839 Paseo de Peralta

Courtney White and Avery Anderson from The Quivira Coalition will be in conversation with David Bacon

The Quivira Coalition was founded by a rancher and two conservationists in June, 1997, to build bridges among ranchers, conservationists, scientists and public land managers around concepts of progressive cattle management, innovative stewardship and improved land health.

The Quivira Coalition has successfully evolved to meet changing values, markets, and needs in society. In 1997, there was a need to create peace. Our contribution to this goal included The New Ranch and our work in the radical center. By 2002, the goal was to integrate an innovative toolbox of best management practices into an economic and ecological whole that would help heal land— and to spread the news. By 2007, this goal expanded to include ‘building resilience for the long-term.
Today, new values, markets, and needs are still changing – and will likely require new responses. The Quivira Coalition will continue to evolve to meet these new needs. We will continue, however, to emphasize our core values: grassroots relationships, land health, collaboration, and innovation.
During the Spanish Colonial era, mapmakers used the word ‘Quivira’ to designate unknown territory beyond the frontier; it was also a term for an elusive golden dream.

Friday, Oct. 21
This Film is Not Yet Rated

7:00 pm at the Lensic $10

211 West San Francisco St

Call (505) 988-1234
Buy Online at TicketsSantaFe.org

 This Film is Not Yet Rated

Screening with introduction by Kirby Dick at The Lensic
presented by Santa Fe Independent Film Festival

Academy-Award winning director Kirby Dick takes on the MPAA in this original documentary from IFC.

Saturday, Oct. 22

Dr. Luigi Manzetti

3:00 pm at The Forum,

Santa Fe University of Art and Design

1600 St. Michael’s Dr.;  $20 Non-members/$15 Members,

Qualified students are FREE

Dr. Luigi Manzetti, Associate Professor of Political Science and former Director of Latin American Studies at Southern Methodist University, will deliver a talk entitled: When Good Intentions Fuel More Corruption: Market Reforms and Crony Capitalism in Latin America and Russia. Council on International Relations.  Register: sfcir.org or call (505) 982-4931 This is a SF Council on International Relations lecture.

Saturday, Oct. 22

Christopher Merrill

5:30 pm Collected Works Bookstore

202 Galisteo St.

505 988-4226

Christopher Merrill and his brilliant new book, The Tree of Doves: Ceremony, Expedition, War.

On June 8th, 2011, President Obama announced his intention to nominate several individuals to key Administrations posts. Among them was the essayist and poet Christopher Merrill, whom the President selected for membership on the National Council on the Humanities. This fall, Milkweed Editions will publish Merrill’s new book: The Tree of the Doves, a wide-reaching exploration into the history and texture of our current “Age of Terror.”

In three extended essays, Merrill attempts to make sense of some of the ways in which our world has changed in the wake of 9/11, using his travels to three distinct places—Malaysia, the Middle Kingdom (China), and the Middle East—as the starting point for his reflections on matters political and religious, literary and historical.

Christopher Merrill is an American poet, essayist, journalist, and translator. Currently, he serves as director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

Saturday, Oct. 22
Screening of Bombay Beach

7:00 pm at The Lensic $10

211 West San Francisco St.

Screening of Bombay Beach, featuring the music of Beirut and Bob Dylan

presented by Santa Fe Independent Film Festival Film director Alma Har’el tells the story of three protagonists: The trials of Benny Parrish, a young boy diagnosed with bipolar disorder, whose troubled soul and vivid imagination create both suffering and joy for him and his complex and loving family; the story of CeeJay Thompson, a black teenager and aspiring football player who has taken refuge in Bombay Beach hoping to avoid the same fate of his cousin who was murdered by a gang of youths in Los Angeles; and that of Red, an ancient survivor, once an oil field worker, living on the fumes of whiskey, cigarettes and an irrepressible love of life. Together these portraits form a triptych of manhood in its various ages and guises, in a gently hypnotic style that questions whether they are a product of their world or if their world is a construct of their own imaginations.

Oct 22 & 23
Carnicom Institue

LaTienda in Eldorado
Carnicom Institute, a vital conference covering geo-engineering, bio-engineering and the resulting health and environmental issues that affect everyone, at La
Tienda in Eldorado. This conference will confront the deliberate alteration of our planet, including the subjects of geo-engineering, bio-engineering, and the Morgellons connection.  A ground-breaking documentary will be premiered at the event. The Saturday evening workshop will engage the audience in a hands-on learning experience. For more info www.carnicominstitute.org or call Sandy at 940.435.0276

Sunday Oct. 23 & 30

David Bacon “Who Controls Water In The Bio Region”

11 am—noon

The Travel Bug

839 Paseo de Peralta

David Bacon  with guest speakers, local politicians and county representatives discussing the concerns of water, climate change, drought in southwest. On October 23 Rev. Holly will join David in a conversation on Wage Theft and Economic Justice.

Monday, Oct. 24

Reining in the Rio Grande

6:00 pm At Collected Works Bookstore

202 Galisteo St.

Collected Works presents Fred M. Phillips, G. Emlen Hall, and Mary Black and their insightful examination of the Rio Grande in, Reining in the Rio Grande: People, Land, and Water.

This study examines human interactions with the Rio Grande from prehistoric time to the present day and explores what possibilities remain for the desert river. From the perspectives of law, development, tradition, and geology, the authors weigh what has been gained and lost by reining in the Rio Grande.

Fred M. Phillips directs the hydrology program in the department of earth and environmental sciences at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. G. Emlen Hall is professor emeritus in the School of Law at the University of New Mexico.  His most recent book is High and Dry from UNM Press. Mary Black has worked as an anthropological linguist, editor/writer, and librarian for the University of Arizona and as editor of Southwest Hydrology. She currently serves as a liaison with tribes, federal agencies and scientists.

Wednesday, Oct. 26
William deBuys

In Pursuit of Cultural Freedom Lecture:

Tariq Ali with Avi Lewis

7:00 pm at The Lensic

211 West San Francisco St.

William deBuys is the author of six books. An active conservationist, deBuys has helped protect more than 150,000 acres in New Mexico, Arizona, and North Carolina. He lives and writes on a small farm in northern New Mexico. William deBuys paints a compelling picture of what the Southwest might look like when the heat turns up and the water runs out. Examining interrelated factors such as vanishing wildlife, forest die backs, and the over-allocation of the already stressed Colorado River—upon which nearly 30 million people depend—the author narrates the landscape’s history—and future.

Friday, Nov. 4
Rinde Eckert

7:00 pm at The Lensic

$10 / $5 students

211 West San Francisco St.

The Lensic Performing Arts Center presents an evening with the complex and gifted artist, Rinde Eckert, performing his new, one-man multimedia work-in-progress, Becoming… Unusual: The Education of an Eclectic. Becoming Unusual is a solo concert of song, dramatic monologues, lecture and video from Rinde Eckert’s anthology of theatrical loners. The performance is part of the Lensic Presents series, Under Construction, a part of the Lensic Presents programming that showcases theater works in progress.

Monday, Nov. 7
Donald Jackson: Illuminating the Word

6:00 pm at the Lensic $15 / $50

211 West San Francisco St.

Presented by New Mexico History Museum

includes reception with Donald Jackson at the New Mexico History Museum following the lecture

Wednesday, Nov. 9

Bill McKibben Lecture

7:00 pm at The Lensic $25/50/100

211 West San Francisco St.
Presented by Santa Fe Art Institute

Author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign, 350.org, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009.

Time Magazine called him ‘the planet’s best green journalist’ and the Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was “probably the country’s most important environmentalist.” Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, he holds honorary degrees from a dozen colleges, including the Universities of Massachusetts and Maine, the State University of New York, and Whittier and Colgate Colleges. In 2011 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

 


 

Monthly Events

The local group of Amnesty International meets the last Monday of every
month from 5:30 to 7:00 pm in the classroom at the Shellaberger Tennis
Center on the campus of the Santa Fe University of Art and Design on St.
Michael’s Drive. When a holiday falls on the last Monday the meeting is postponed to the
first Monday of the following month. The group of 8 -12 writes letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience and post cards to prisoners.  Amnesty USA is also working toward abolishing the death penalty, closing Guantanamo and other black site prisons and demanding accountability for torture. The coordinator is Susan Tarman, [email protected].

We Are People Here!, a growing democracy group founded by Craig Barnes, holds town hall meetings most months on the last Tuesday, but best to check the group’s website for up-to-date information: www.democracyatthecrossroadssf.org, soon to change to www.wearepeoplehere.org. The next two town halls meetings are: Tues., Oct. 25, 6:30 pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church 107 West Barcelona St.
and Tues. Now. 29, 6:30 pm at Museo Cultural (note change of venue—we need a bigger space).

 

 


A study in disillusionment

Three Cups of Deceit

By Jon Krakauer

Book Review by Claire Ayraud

When I first saw this title in the bookstore, I thought, “Why would Jon Krakauer write a book about this man?” and so I was intrigued and puzzled. After reading through this short expose, I am still wondering, although many questions have been answered. The book has the tag line “How Greg Mortenson, humanitarian hero, lost his way.” If you have read Three Cups of Tea or Stones into Schools you will be more prepared, or perhaps less, because most people I talked to about it said they loved these books and hated to see a humanitarian organization go the way of corporate America into deception and theft.

I wanted to know the truth, however, and slogged through the descriptions of this man who claimed to be a humanitarian working for Afghan children, taking the contributions to his non-profit organization for his personal use and lying about his history. It seemed to be a big slam into the face of all non-profits, and yet maybe we all need to look at the organizations we contribute to with more scrutiny.

I believe that Krakauer felt personally betrayed, as he says in the book that he donated $75,000 to The Central Asia Institute and wanted to tell others about that experience. His points about the lies that Mortenson told seemed inconsequential, i.e. the name of the town he sets his story in was not the town where he first met the children for whom he built the first school; the kidnapping episode actually never happened; however, the Afghans he spoke to could also be lying; schools were built in areas where the community only stayed for a few months a year and then were too far away for the children to attend. This seems to be a technical difficulty, as everyone knows can happen, going into a country where you don’t know the language and relying on interpreters who might be telling you what they want you to hear.

The theft of millions of dollars actually did happen, and I’m sure Mortenson will be punished many times over for that. Krakauer’s point about how he was still fundraising after the story broke on 60 Minutes is valid and may be the reason he wanted to publish a book. It seems vindictive though, unless you have a vested interest in the organization.

We should all be more wary and ask questions about where our donations really end up. Maybe we need to reevaluate going into foreign countries and spreading money around. Krakauer brought up the point that the children in these Afghan communities were being schooled at home, which works well for the families that travel constantly, and The Central Asia Institute used a school model from the U.

Americans think, how wonderful it is to bring education to an impoverished country where we are waging a war. This will assuage our conscience. Now I know this is not truth but something we desperately want to hear.


CHUCK SHEPHERD’S NEWS OF THE WEIRD

by Chuck Shepherd

Gravitational Aesthetics

An option for suicide “with elegance and euphoria” is how Lithuanian-born Ph.D. candidate Julijonas Urbonas (London’s Royal College of Art) described his “Euthanasia (Roller) Coaster,” currently on the drawing board. Urbonas’ model of “gravitational aesthetics” would be a third-mile-long, 1,600-foot-high thrill ride engineered to supply 10 Gs of centrifugal force (a spin at about 220 mph) to induce cerebral hypoxia, forcing blood away from the head and denying oxygen to the brain. Euphoria—and disorientation and anxiety, but not pain—are likely states to precede the brain’s shutdown. Urbonas insisted that users would have the option through the first two minutes of the three-minute ride to rethink their decision and bail out (or else to push the final “FALL” button). (Suicide is legal in four European countries and Oregon and Washington.)

Government in Action!

— An open-government advocacy group’s survey of federal agencies, released in July, revealed that eight of them have unresolved Freedom of Information Act requests that are over a decade old, including one pending for more than 20 years. (The 1976 FOIA law requires resolution within 20 business days, with a 10-day extension under “unusual circumstances.”) (Also, regarding the FOIA, a June 2011 request by the city of Sioux City, Iowa, for background documents regarding the recent Postal Service decision to move jobs from Sioux City to Sioux Falls, S.D., was met promptly—by the Postal Service’s forecast that the likely fee for the documents would be $831,000, even though under the law the first two search hours and the first 100 documents are free.)

— In August, the Securities and Exchange Commission’s inspector general revealed that a $1,200 cash award was paid by the agency in 2010 to one of the very employees who had been specifically singled out for allowing Bernard Madoff to talk his way out of SEC inquiries in 2005 and 2006, before his epic Ponzi scheme was exposed in 2008. (The IG helpfully recommended that, in the future, awards not be given to employees who have recently been facing potential disciplinary action for poor performance.)

— Among the aftershocks of the 9-11 attacks on America was the colossal budget-busting on “homeland security” —a spending binge that, additionally, was thought to require something approaching uniform disbursement of funds throughout the 50 states. (Endless “what if” possibilities left no legislator willing to forsake maximum security.) Among the questionable projects described in a Los Angeles Times August review were the purchase of an inflatable Zodiac boat with wide-scan sonar —in case terrorists were eyeing Lake McConaughy in Keith County, Neb.; cattle nose leads, halters and electric prods (to protect against biological attacks on cows, awarded to Cherry County, Neb.); a terrorist-proof iron fence around a Veterans Affairs hospital near Asheville, N.C.; and $557,400 in communications and rescue gear in case North Pole, Alaska, got hit.

—The Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general denounced the agency in September for promiscuously continuing to pay pension benefits to deceased federal retirees —citing a 70 percent rise in bogus payments over the last five years. However, another federal inspector general (the Social Security Administration’s) chastised its agency for the opposite reason: About 14,000 people each year are cut off from benefits after erroneously being declared dead.

News That Sneaks Up on You

The convenience store clerk, Ms. Falguni Patel, was giving testimony in the September trial of Morgan Armstrong (charged with robbing her in Hudson, Fla., in 2009) when she began shaking and then passed out while seated in the witness box. A relative of Patel’s approached, removed her sneaker and held it to Patel’s face, without success. The relative explained that Patel was subject to such blackouts and that sniffing the sneaker often revives her. (After paramedics attended to her, Patel took the rest of the day off and went back to court the next morning.)

Great Art!

—Although Moroccan artist Mehdi-Georges Lahlou, 27, concedes that photographs can be misinterpreted, he maintains on his website that he never wants to hurt people’s feelings. Nevertheless, he said he is proud of his photo exhibit in which he stands completely nude, allowing various verses of the Quran to be projected on his skin. His latest scheduled appearance was at an art fair in Marrakesh in October.

—Two women were charged in September with what was likely a major art theft for Johnson City, Tenn. Connie Sumlin, 45, and Gail Johnson, 58, were identified from surveillance video as the ones who snatched two pieces of art off the wall in the entrance of a local Arby’s restaurant (a picture of some pears, and a metal art object, with an alleged combined value, according to the police report, of “$1,200”).

—Earlier this year, Marion Laval-Jeantet won a notable Prix Ars Electronica award for her “hybrid” work that, she said, intends to blur the boundaries between species. Laval-Jeantet stepped onstage in Ljubljana, Slovenia, as a horse-human, having earlier injected herself with horse blood (after prepping her body for several months with different horse immunoglobulins). She also walked with stilts that had “hooves” affixed to the bottom. She capped the show by extracting some of her own presumably-hybrid blood, to be frozen and stored for future research.

Fetishes on Parade

Indecent-exposure flashers appear to be invading even off-limits sanctuaries in their quest to be seen—in Florida, anyway. In Sarasota County in September, Shane Wheatley, 31, was arrested after a Comcast cable customer complained that Wheatley had begun fondling himself while installing the woman’s TV service. Three days earlier, in Niceville, a 14-year-old boy (whose name was not released) was charged with indecent exposure after a worshipper reported him masturbating openly during services at the First United Methodist Church. The boy admitted he had done the same thing during services the week before because he was “bored.”

Least Competent Criminals

In September, a jury found Terry Newman, 25, and an associate guilty of aggravated assault for a home invasion in San Antonio in 2009, thus adding insult to Newman’s injuries. Newman was shot by a resident during the initial invasion, and then again by another resident when he returned 15 minutes later to retrieve his car. Finally, after police encountered Newman following a short chase, he resisted officers and was shot again, for the third time. (None of the injuries was life-threatening.)

**                                    **                                    **

(Very) Undignified Death

An inquest in Yorkshire, England, in September found that the February death of Brian Depledge, 38, was accidental—that he had inadvertently strangled himself after falling onto a folding clothes horse (of the kind often used to hang recently washed laundry on to dry). The coroner concluded that Depledge’s body had become trapped between rungs in such a way that the more he moved his arms to extricate himself, the tighter was the pressure that was unavoidably placed on his neck.

A News of the Weird Classic (February 2007)

After Emmalee Bauer, 25, was fired by the Sheraton hotel company in late 2006, she sought unemployment compensation under Iowa law that affords benefits to employees terminated through no fault of their own. However, the judge decided Bauer did not qualify. She had written a 300-page journal, during office hours, describing in detail her efforts to avoid work. Among her entries: “This typing thing seems to be doing the trick. It just looks like I am hard at work on something,” and “Once lunch is over, I will come right back to writing to piddle away the rest of the afternoon,” and “Accomplishment is overrated, anyway.”

(Are you ready for News of the Weird Pro Edition? Every Monday at http://NewsoftheWeird.blogspot.com and www.WeirdUniverse.net. Other handy addresses: WeirdNews at earthlink dot net, http://www.NewsoftheWeird.com, and P.O. Box 18737, Tampa FL 33679.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 CHUCK SHEPHERD

DISTRIBUTED BY UNIVERSAL UCLICK

1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106; (816) 581-7500

 

 

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                         --Thomas Jefferson, 1799

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