Ways We Can Help Politicians Cooperate and Improve Lives

  • IMG_5338The world is making startling progress to improve people’s lives. It doesn’t feel like progress when we’re finally free of the fall campaign rhetoric only to undergo immobilizing squabbling between Democrats and Republicans.

    What gives me hope are my experiences in progress getting politicians to cooperate by participating with ONE, an organization campaigning and advocating to end global extreme poverty and preventable diseases by 2030. ONE works from the ground up by providing basic services that increase economic development and save lives. More healthier people with money to spend get educated, develop global economies and cut population growth rates.

    The surprise is ONE advocated for squabbling politicians to cooperate in the Electrify Africa Act that passed the House with bipartisan support last summer. The Senate’s version is the Energize Africa Act (S. 2508) with bipartisan sponsorship by Senators Bob Mendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN). If passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama, the Act would provide access to modern electricity that would save lives, boost education, alleviate poverty and accelerate growth. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the development income would save the U.S. budget $135 million every year from 2015-2019.

    Local Rotarians and friends funded an extremely small scale project that provided access to solar powered electricity in nine homes in Africa. In February 2014 on a safari they visited the homes with the solar panels near the Nkoilale School in western Kenya. Safari leader Hillary Kosen of Kosen Safaris in East Wenatchee and the inventor of the solar panels, Dr. Claver Hategekiman from Wenatchee Valley College, visited the homes and villagers six months later.

    The results were better than envisioned. Women were increasing their income by making more jewelry to sell to travelers. They had more time during the day to tend their villages and care for their livestock and children.

    One man improvised solar power connections to recharge cell phones and raise his income to $3-5 per day, well above the level of extreme poverty. People plugged lights over their stock pens to cut the economic loss of 1-2 goats per month.

    Parents plan to install solar panels over a new lunch room at the school to provide a study hall at night for resident students. It would be a stage for evening performances where Maasai men and women could see their children blossom with drama skills.

    Imagine the impact of providing reliable electric power to millions of African homes, hospitals and businesses by passing the Electrify Africa Act through the Senate that will save the U.S. federal government $135 million per year from 2015-2019.

    We can act locally and recommend our politicians cooperate to do the same. Write our Senators to support the Energize Africa Act (S. 2508). Then look for small ways to cooperate so our leadership will return to doing the same for us.

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How a Charity Avoided Toxicity and Stopped an Ebola Outbreak

The book Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton describes how well-intentioned donations devastates causes by creating dependencies without investing in people with skills and attitudes for progress. The book cover said Lupton “has been at the forefront of urban ministry” in Atlanta churches and community development for 40 years.”

I purchased a summary of the book from Amazon by an author called The Growing Leader which gives the guidelines to build sustainable development that avoids toxic charity. They resonated with my experience in community development over 40 years. They also match the characteristics of a polio eradication program called PolioPlus that is expecting to declare Nigeria polio free for one year in December 2014.

PolioPlus began as a Rotary Project that gained momentum when it was co-sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation.

WHO praised Nigeria’s PolioPlus project as one of the keys to success in halting a terrifying threat of Ebola in Nigeria’s two major cities.

PolioPlus followed the guidelines of successful projects described in Toxic Charity.

First, PolioPlus began with a clear goal to eradicate polio from the planet in each nation on the planet.

Second it focused on  unique programs within each community over the long term, in this instance, nation by nation. Nigeria is battling violence from terrorists that overrun its borders, but it dedicated itself to improving health care.

Third, it focused on assets in the community. Nigeria had a stable government, a strong health department, a medical research university, doctors and nurses. It had Rotary Clubs committed to the goal. The nation had ongoing relationships with world health organizations. Those assets were strengthened and harnessed to serve the polio eradication goal.

Fourth, PolioPlus focused on the front burner issues concerning the people. WHO reports polio was not the front burner issue in Nigeria. Malaria, diarrhea, and diseases like tuberculosis were killing millions of people. Six-hundred-fifty thousand people suffered from Guinea-worm disease, a painful, sometimes fatal disease spread by unsanitary water.

Fifth, charitable donations were used to invest for the long term, not meet emergencies. The Ministry of Health created treatment facilities and staffed them with doctors and nurses to treat the rampant diseases crippling the people. WHO and CDC strengthened medical facilities with equipment and training for doctors, nurses and citizen volunteers. Rotary donated vaccines and volunteers. Rotary International magazine The Rotarian said patients flocked to the centers for primary treatment. After primary treatment patients were informed about the polio and given the vaccine.

The Medical New Today website article How Nigeria Prevented an Ebola Outbreak reported on investments in advanced GPS technology that enabled neighborhood by neighborhood mapping of polio cases. The Nigerians and WHO adapted the technology for the Ebola threat to trace and link 894 people who’d come in contact with two Ebola patients. They monitored each contact daily, isolated them when symptoms appeared and cleared them when they’d had no symptoms after 21 days.

Sixth, PolioPlus focused on leadership development to build capacity. A volunteer, Tunji Funjo, is chair of the Nigeria polio eradication program. The President of Nigeria and Minister of Health supported the polio and Ebola campaigns. They inspired neighborhood volunteers with local dialects. They used social media and well-known video and TV stars. The PolioPlus communication networks quickly transmitted the campaign against Ebola.

Seventh, PolioPlus focused on a deliberate pace that allowed people to accept the project. People trusted the centers that had treated them for disease. When the centers began explaining symptoms of Ebola, how it spreads and how people were being tracked, hysteria was avoided.

Nigeria’s story should reinforce the guidelines for volunteers working with communities and serve as an inspiration for volunteers and assistance programs for people wanting to think globally as well as act locally.

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The Self-Importance of My Dog

Haley and Us Wednesday 120512 009My dog Haley prances as if she’s important. That doesn’t seem possible for 14 pounds of brown and white beagle-terrier mix with white-booted paws and ear tips that bob along as she prances precisely erect to elevate her truncated view.

She has grand views from the banks of the irrigation canal above the first and ninth fairways of the country club. When she spots movement she charges silently and surprisingly swiftly to clear quail from shrubs and squirrels up trees. Every spot cleared is rechecked the next day. She makes our walk more fun. That’s important for my healing heart

She dozes most of the afternoon on the back of our downstairs couch. One day at 4:00 pm I decided she needed exercise and a greater sense of responsibility. I insisted she accompany me out the back door and up the rocky path to get the mail. She seemed perplexed as she looked from me and back to the quiet neighborhood. When we returned I praised her for helping me and she rushed upstairs to tell Karen what she’d learned.

Every afternoon at four pm she responds. She escorts me to the mailbox and sniffs the air like a canine secret service agent. A few days ago I realized she convinced me no one was hiding in the bushes in the gloaming of the fall day. There never has been, but she’ll tell me if there is any threat as I grow more frail over the next decade. My original spoof of an important task made her more important to me.

She creates self-importance she doesn’t deserve. I called her to help me deposit an envelope one night. We walked beside the house waiting for our movement-sensing light to turn on. Just before it lit up, Haley unexpectedly woofed at it. It obediently turned on. I’m convinced she believes she’s learned to turn it on for our  protection.

She’s undeniably important for my bad knee from a sports injury. It stays flexible and pain-free if I get down on the floor and do bicycle kicks every morning. Haley joins me any time my face is lower than hers. She rolls over on her back so I can rub her belly with one hand while kicking. Afterward I nuzzle her with sincere thank-yous. When we’re done she bolts upstairs to tell Karen I’ve done my exercises.

The truth is she often motivates me to do them. When it’s time she puts her paws on my chair urging us to get to work even though I explain to her I have other things I must do, and honestly prefer to do. Her wagging tail and brown eyes remind me it’s fun for her and good for me, so I roll out of my chair onto the floor. While my friends get knee surgeries I don’t feel a need for one.

She’s a wonder.  The importance of our relationship to each other is a greater wonder.

She deserves to prance with importance.

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Ban on Shooting Guns Expanded Along Popular Loop Trail

Douglas County Commissioners restricted firearm discharges from the middle of the Columbia River to a line 50 feet east of the Loop Trail in an area between the City of East Wenatchee and the Odabashian Bridge.

IMG_5187Hunters could shoot from land west of the ordinary high water mark, such as tree trunks along Porters Pond shown here.  They could shoot south across the pond where I saw a couple walking with their dog. IMG_5153

Safety of people and homes along the Loop Trail was the key issue. Janet Crouse of East Wenatchee testified, “We saw camouflaged boats real close to shore in Porters Pond with their decoys.” “It’s a safety issue,” said Renee Harnack, East Wenatchee, whose backyard faces the trail.

Opponents said there’ve been no accidents and wildfowl need to be controlled. “Porters Pond is the quintessential place,” said Rylan Weythman of Cashmere. “It’s practical, shallow water, kind of a gem, a safe place for hunting.”

Jim Brown, Regional Director of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife entered a letter into the record warning commissioners that hunting was opened up partly to reduce complaints about Canadian Geese populations.

The Commissioners believed more safety was needed with increasing development expected.  Dale Snyder said, “I’m an NRA member and  I know there are few fowl and wildlife places left, but parks like Porters Pond were opened without any development.” Ken Stanton said, “This is no longer a rural area. You can’t tell me all hunters are responsible.” Steve Jenkins told the Wenatchee World he doesn’t believe hunting on Porters Pond controls Canadian Geese populations in other urban parks. “It’s illegal to shoot in the park, so how does that work?”

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Regulate the Dangerous Energy Trading of Koch Industries

Charles Koch, CEO of the private firm Koch Industries and his twin brother David are known for donating millions of dollars to political organizations that support Republican and Tea Party politicians and dispute man-made causes of climate change.

Rolling Stone published a Sept. 24 article by Tim Dickinson called “Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire,” about Koch’s tactics. Koch did not agree to requests for interviews before the article, but responded in a subsequent article to which Dickinson responded.

My column is focused regulating Koch Supply and Trading that has been spectacularly successful trading oil and gas futures since 2000, according to Dickinson. The Koch brothers’ wealth exploded from $4 billion each in 2002 to $40 billion each today. Their $80 billion total rivals that of the richest individual on earth.

Koch Industries does not reveal its finances but is a major transporter, refiner, and producer of products from fossil fuels. It is also owner of companies such as Georgia-Pacific. The University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Energy Research Institute lists Koch, Exxon and American Electric Power as the only firms in the top 30 polluters of air, water and climate change carbons.

Koch Industries increased trading when trading in energy futures was exempted in the 2000 Commodities Futures Modernization Act regulated by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

“The Act completely exempted energy futures from regulation,” said Michael Greenburger with the CFTC. “This market wasn’t covered at all.”

Energy futures were aggressively opposed by lobbyists for Koch Industries, the now defunct Enron and other energy firms and traders.

Dickinson’s article describes how Enron escaped detection while promoting false information about trades for natural gas that allowed it to manipulate prices and cause serious losses for California taxpayers in 2004.

Koch Industries was charged with knowingly participating with false information. It agreed to pay a $3 million fine to avoid confessing guilt, but “is barred from maintaining its innocence,” said Dickinson.

The exemption of energy derivatives is now referred to as the Enron Loopholes.

Consumer protection laws in 2008 were proposed to close the Enron Loopholes.

That year Koch Industries spent $20 million in lobbying fees to keep the energy derivatives unregulated, four times its normal $5 million per year. Twenty-million dollars allows 18 days of lobbying per member of Congress assuming a $250 per hour average cost.

Congress passed legislation closing the Enron loophole in 2008. Nevertheless, no regulations currently exist.

Koch Industries and other energy traders used the Enron loophole in the oil market in 2008-09 according to Dickinson and undisputed by Koch. They bought massive oil supplies which they stored in supertankers in the Gulf of Mexico for future trades. Koch Industries was one of the top five oil traders in the world in 2009. They held back supplies until consumers like you and I paid up to 40 cents per gallon more than we would have under free market conditions.

Traders in regulated commodities prevent firms from buying excessive supplies so markets function competitively.

The Obama administration proposed regulations to close the Enron loophole in 2011, but a lawsuit from Koch Industries and other traders in the International Swaps and Derivatives Association successfully blocked the regulations. Koch Industries and others operate without regulations despite legislation requiring them.

The unregulated energy trading is financially dangerous according to industry financial leaders. A past-president of the Futures Industry Association and the 2012 Chair of the CFTC have raised concerns about the systemic risk that could lead to another meltdown.

Analysts and regulators can’t accurately assess the extent of the Koch Industries risk since it doesn’t report transactions and volumes on trades. Nor does it report whether it has collateral to protect against failed transactions that impact other firms.

Super banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan/Chase report their transactions and positions. Even private trading giant Cargill voluntarily reports.

Legal counsel for Koch Industries told Dickinson it was complying with the law.

Dickinson concluded his article by saying “It appears the very essence of the Koch business model is to exploit breakdowns in the free market.”

Koch Industries energy trades need more regulation in order for you and I and the country to trust our free markets, but at present that means defeating the company’s defenders in Congress.

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To My Surprise I Enjoyed a Round of Golf

To My Surprise I Enjoyed a Round of Golf

Jim Russell

My golf game has improved dramatically due to serendipity and practice.

As reported in the July 31 2014 Empire Press I would accept invitations to play with foursomes if they’d tolerate me picking up any bad fairway drives (mostly all my drives) and dropping my ball near their better ball locations. I’d announce my honest estimate of the number of strokes it would take me to catch up, shots I wouldn’t enjoy duffing down the fairway while they waited.

Serendipity led me to find a certificate for a round at Highlander, a Scottish Links golf course. Our golfer son planned to visit Labor Day weekend and Scottish links are among his favorite courses. He jumped at my invitation.

I invited a friend, Don, who’s encouraged me to play golf. He invited his son. Golf must be more addictive than I realize if people are willing to endure a game with my level of play.

My game improved! Out of respect for the other players I reluctantly practiced on the driving range twice for half-an-hour. Practice after my one golf lesson last year hadn’t improved my drives, so I’d quit practicing. The first day I discovered how to hit the ball in the air without a slice. The second day I hit longer drives.

Highlander is intimidating. It website proclaims the course “showcases three new canyon-carry holes ingeniously carved into the sheer cliffside above the Columbia River.”

I’ve lost balls in each ingenious canyon. I see views of the Columbia from my condo.

My confidence inspired me to tee-up the first drive in front of our foursome on the first tee despite its mini-chasm that’s swallowed every one of my previous drives. The last time I carried my ball to the other side and accepted the penalty.

I drove over the chasm. Another drive landed close to mine. My drive on the second hole drove my son to say, “That’s the best I’ve ever seen you hit.”

It may have been the best I’ve ever hit.

Of course that didn’t last, but I cleared water that I’d stubbornly dunked three balls into on my last round. My fuzzy score with reasonably estimated imaginary strokes and appropriate penalties was 18 strokes less than my average. My son’s score beat mine by over 30 strokes.

Don’s son picked his ball off one fairway and said, “I’ve enjoyed this hole enough.” He’s my kind of golfing partner.

We finished in four fun-filled hours instead of five humiliating hours for me. Afterward Don said, “Anytime your son comes over to play, we’d enjoy playing with you.”

At a party three days later, Don announced to his golf buddies in my presence, “Jim’s improved! He’s better.”

None of them invited me to play a round.

This winter I’ll be contemplating my golfing future.

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Borrowers of Subprime Loans and Predatory Lending Are Not the Guilty Parties

Borrowers of subprime mortgages who followed instructions from lenders in their applications were indicted for criminal behavior by the U.S. District Attorney of Sacramento in 2012. They were charged with filling out form fraudulently, reselling houses at inflated prices and defaulting on loans.

Jurors decided they were not guilty. This is according to a recent article appearing on salon.com called “Finally, Wall Street gets put on Trial,” by Thomas Frank.

Their story is similar to a civil class-action lawsuit brought by Wenatchee attorney Bob Parlette, where borrowers won damages by alleging a lender and its employees used predatory and fraudulent lending practices.

In Sacramento, Eastern European immigrants bought houses in California’s 2006 housing boom with loans from GreenPoint Financial Corp. (Capital One Financial Corp. purchased GreenPoint but closed GreenPoint’s mortgage lending in 2007.)

The borrowers were told by GreenPoint mortgage brokers they could state their incomes to qualify for mortgages with low down payments and adjustable-rate, interest-only loans. The borrowers believed they could resell houses in a get rich quick market.
Mortgage brokers got rich quickly with the company’s incentive system. Commissions on mortgages were higher with higher volume, so they advised applicants to state their incomes and not worry about completing all the information requested.

GreenPoint managers told underwriters to qualify applications based on stated income documentation. One underwriter testified management prohibited checking incomes with the borrowers’ employers. That’s absurd business for a legitimate bank, but defense attorneys argued GreenPoint’s incentives rewarded quickly processing loans, not carefully verifying information.

When the loan closed, the mortgage broker received a bonus. The underwriter received cash from the mortgage brokers for quick processing. Neither person had any more responsibility for the loan.

GreenPoint executives wanted mortgages processed rapidly because loans were combined with other loans to create securities, which GreenPoint sold to eager investment bankers as high-quality, asset-backed securities for resale to investors.
Sales of mortgage securities increased executive bonuses. Cash from the sales created more loans for more bonuses.

Except defaults on loans could be returned to GreenPoint and executives knew large numbers of defaults would disastrous. GreenPoint would have to refund investors, which it couldn’t afford because the money was invested in similar loans.
The business collapsed, costing billions of dollars in losses. GreenPoint executives, underwriters and brokers kept their compensation bonuses.

But GreenPoint corporation wasn’t the only victim.

“(GreenPoint executives) also pumped out at least 20 billion dollars of this toxic waste,” said Bill Black, a former regulator and expert on financial regulation at the University of Minnesota’s School of Law, who testified for the defense. “And they are one of the major contributors to the failure of Bear Stearns, one of the largest investment banks in the world.”

Despite the multiple layers of misrepresentation the U.S, District attorney decided to criminally charge the immigrants who defaulted on their loans and lost their investments.

Their defense attorneys decided to convince jurors that blaming borrowers was unfair. They asked jurors this question, paraphrased in Frank’s article: “How can the borrower have committed fraud on a mortgage application if the lender didn’t care whether their answers were truthful?”

The jurors decided they weren’t criminals. I agree.

Black told Frank, “So you finally have a case in which you are actually looking at the causes of the financial crisis. It’s the first criminal case.”

I think Parlette’s case, Luna, et al, v. Household Finance Corp., was an earlier civil case filed in Chelan County Superior Court in 2002. Borrowers sued for damages by alleging fraud and predatory lending by Household representatives.

As I wrote in the Oct. 27, 2011 issue of the Douglas County Empire Press, the case helped secure a nationwide $486 million judgment against Household by state regulatory offices in 2003. And Household ultimately agreed to pay more than $50 million to borrowers who transferred their lawsuit to Washington’s Whatcom County Superior Court. Household never admitted wrongdoing.

The two cases demonstrate that borrowers, prosecutors and defense attorneys can win criminal and civil cases against subprime and predatory lenders and their employees.
Author Frank said, “Maybe one day the courts of this land will acknowledge what the public has known for years. That the fraud that wrecked the world actually happened in the offices of the shadow banks and the Wall Street investment firms.”

Borrowers of Subprime Loans and Predatory Lending Are Not the Guilty Parties

Posted in Doing Justice and Having Compassion, Economics, Justice | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment