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.

Posted in Economics, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Fuzzy Skies Humor | Tagged , | 3 Comments

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 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

591 Destroys Washington’s Gun Safety Laws and 594 Improves Them

Washington’s fall ballot contains two measures on gun safety, 591 and 594.

AK47s Gun Safety   Photo posted on by ikmvers556


This is how they’ll appear on the 2014 Washington ballot this fall.


“Initiative Measure 591 concerns firearms.

This measure would prohibit government agencies from confiscating guns or other firearms from citizens without due process, or requiring background checks on firearm recipients unless a uniform national standard is required.”

The first part prohibits confiscating guns without due process, which is already prohibited in the federal and Washington State constitutions. The second part contains a bombshell that blows away Washington’s background checks: requiring a uniform national standard imposes the weaker federal background checks passed by Congress on Washington and nullifies Washington’s current background checks. It also prohibits voter approved improvements on future ballots related to background checks.

Washington voters would not only lose their stronger standards, they would not be able to vote for stronger standards. I’m voting no on 591.

Initiative 591 is a rollback of current Washington law that adds additional checks of state records to the incomplete federal records. Washington law  prohibits pistol sales by registered arms dealers to convicted felons such as drug dealers, or under certain court restraining orders such as domestic abuse, found not guilty of crimes by reason of insanity or judged mentally incompetent, or have certain charges pending.

Vote No on 591.

Washington’s background checks disqualify 30-40 people per year where the Department of Social and Health Services records show they’ve been involuntarily committed for mental-health reasons alone according to an article the Seattle Times last Sunday.

Washington’s law on background checks has a loophole. Any of those 30-40 people could drive to Seattle and buy firearms at a gun show and avoid that background check and be back in town by nightfall. Or they buy them online from the newspaper in a private sale.  Vote  no on 591.

Initiative 594 closes these loopholes. The ballot language reads:


Initiative 594 concerns background checks for firearm sales and transfers.

This measure would apply currently used criminal and public safety background checks by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers, including gun shows and online sales, with specific exceptions.”

According to the state voter’s pamphlet “This measure would apply the background check requirements currently used for firearm sales by licensed dealers to all firearm sales and transfers where at least one party is in Washington.” This adds sales at gun shows, online, and between unlicensed private individuals … whether the firearm involved is a pistol or another type of firearm.

I’m voting for 594. But to cover loopholes in Washington’s background checks and cover more firearms than just pistols, vote for 594 and no on the other one, 591.

Be prepared for a barrage of ads because these measures have attracted national interest.

A TV ad supporting 591 was labeled mostly false, by the KCPQ FOX news program Tracking the Truth, featuring C. R. Douglas who’s won 4 Emmy Awards for excellence in journalism. He said, “The biggest claim in advertising for 591 is ‘Stop gun confiscation without due process.’”

Douglas said, “There isn’t arbitrary gun confiscation here in Washington State.”

A TV ad for 594 was labeled Mostly True. In Washington, “Criminals who fail a background check can simply go on-line or to a gun show and buy a gun from a stranger.” Voting for 594 would close that loophole.

As you hear blizzards of ads opposing strengthening Washington’s background checks, remember these facts.

Washington background checks are currently filled out by local arms dealers for pistols at such dealers as Oldedays Firearms in Waterville and Sportsman’s Warehouse in East Wenatchee. Passage of 594 would expand background checks to retail stores such as Costco and Coastal Farm and Ranch in East Wenatchee.

I-594 allows transfers of guns without background checks for weapons like antiques, between family members or people sharing guns at licensed gun ranges or on public lands.

The Voters Pamphlet says, “The Office of Financial Mnagement says Initiative 594 is expected to have minimal impact on state and local revenues.” State expenditures would be  minimal.

Sheena Cooper at the Douglas County Sherriff’s office processes state background checks. She said, “Even if it doubles my load, it wouldn’t be horrendous.” But, she added, my supervisor is the one who would has to make the decisions.

To increase gun safety, vote FOR I-594, and No on I-591.

Posted in Community Building, Politics | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

A Genuine Voice for Communities Helping People in Poverty Move Forward

IMG_4734In Donna Beegle’s neighborhoods garbage service was an absolute luxury. After getting fined for taking garbage to an apartment complex, her family would keep it. And have rats. “I had rats crawl across me in bed to go down the wall,” she said.

Beegle was the keynote speaker on September 23 to over 250 people at Wenatchee Convention Center for a conference on Ending the Cycle of Poverty, a coordinated program by Wenatchee Valley service clubs and social agencies to reduce poverty. “Poverty steals all there is,” she said.

Poverty left her hopeless, ashamed, isolated and experiencing fragmented help.

Hopelessness breeds in homes where it’s normal for someone to shut off the lights or turn off the water. “We had love, we had family, but we didn’t have money,” she said.

Her cousin Tammy went to emergency rooms 17 times for blood clots in her chest. The doctors would release her, saying see your doctor. “She lived in a car with three kids,” Beegle said.

Tammy died from the clots.

Beegle constantly felt shame, asking herself, “What’s wrong with me?”

Bullies would beat her up and pull her hair, then she’d be punished by the school principal while handfuls of hair fell out. “My cousin Wanda was my hair stylist,” she said. “I used gas station pink and white powdered soap for my shampoo.” She didn’t know any better.

Her mom wouldn’t talk to teachers. She’d say, “I ain’t going in there and make a fool about myself.”

We watched an unreleased video of Beegle’s life by the Public Broadcasting System where her mother says, “I taught every one of my kids to do everything around the house.”

Isolation traps hopelessness and shame. “I was never around people who were making it,” she said.

She didn’t understand middle class language. “Two professionals were talking about me and I didn’t have a clue.”

A career meant nothing. “Every woman I knew got married early and had babies. I wanted to be a mom, a good mom, and find a way to get by.”

She got by. She gave birth to eight children and has three living.

Poverty programs were fragmented in states her family worked. “How smart I was depended on what state I was in. In Oregon, I’d be behind and they’d catch me up. Other schools, I was way ahead.”

When she quit school, a teacher asked, “Why do you want to quit school? You won’t be able to get a job.”

Beegle said, “School had nothing to do with me. A job for me as a migrant worker meant rent and food and we’d still get evicted.”

To get clothing for her daughter at school, Beegle asked an agency in a wealthy area for clothing. A man refused her because she didn’t live in the community.

She cashed food stamps, bought rent receipts, drove to low-income housing in another neighborhood, wrote that address on the rent receipt and marked it paid. She chose clothes her daughter said looked new. “I’m not about saying that’s right, that’s what is.”

At 25 she had two children and a welfare check for $408 per month and rent at $395. To qualify for rent subsidy, she had to enroll in a school to get her GED. She signed up. “I found people did care,” Beegle said. “I didn’t have a clue.”

A mentor, a professor at the University of Portland believed in her. “We get our sense of self from what other people think of us,” she said.

He said, “Read the newspaper, circle anything you don’t know and bring them to my office.”

Later he hired her as a Teaching Assistant for $100 to find grammatical errors in students’ papers. She realized some students wrote worse than she did.

In ten years she passed the GED, earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership and for 23 years has been recognized nationally as a genuine voice to guide service clubs, justice programs and social service agencies to help people in poverty move forward..

She’d be willing to train our local program leaders for Ending the Cycle of Poverty.

She convinced me she could do it and we should do it. If you want to help call Jennifer Dolge at the Community Foundation, 663-7716.

Posted in Community Building, Doing Justice and Having Compassion | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Online Higher Education is Improving Quality Ratings

Dramatic statements claim colleges as we know them are doomed because technology has empowered massive online organizational companies (MOOCs) that promise to improve student learning and undercut higher education’s higher fees. Are my college bound grandchildren going to experience those changes over the next decade?

My conclusion is MOOCs haven’t yet delivered radical transformations for students going to college directly from high school, but online education that is competency based is gaining acceptance.

Online education has been on campuses for years. Washington State University’s Online Department began in 1992 and is ranked 21st by among US campus based courses. WSU’s program takes advantage of the campus to include students in career fairs, social events and even student governance.

MOOCs are private firms without campuses that offer courses for free without a penalty on the hope it’ll make profits from students who finish the course and pay to complete certification. MOOCs often initiated courses by relying on existing faculty with traditional teaching, which isn’t delivering innovation or creating interest.

MOOCs struggle for profitability because of tremendous dropout rates that plague online courses. The September issue of Atlantic Monthly cites the study by the University of Pennsylvania’s online campus program covering 1.8 million students in 36 MOOCs. Out of every one hundred students only a handful will pay for an examination.

Students are pleased — eighty percent of them say they are satisfied because once they met their objectives they quit. Students on campuses or currently employed are helped, but not MOOCs.

MOOCs such as are adapting by partnering with AT&T and others to deliver contracted training for high skills in jobs where broad education is less relevant than certified competencies. Employers gain the skills they want and students gain the jobs they want. Udacity gets income from employer contracts and payments from student certifications.

Michael Horn has written extensively on the technology in online education. After taking a course from he wrote in Forbes magazine in 2013 that while he found the course challenging and worthwhile, it also helped him understand “how early we are still in the emergence of the newer platforms.”

In July 2014 he has moved from believing MOOCs offer disruptive power in Higher Education “to believing the real disruptive power is in the competency based model in collaboration with industry.”

He’s a strong supporter of the institutional model offered by Western Governor’s University ( that has no campuses, although it is licensed by Washington State’s Department of Education to offer accredited competency based master’s and bachelor’s degrees in business, health, teaching and information technology.

WGU’s website claims an eminent status in higher education because it “has the distinction of being the only university to receive regional accreditation from four regional accrediting commissions at the same time.”

It was accredited in 2003 and has a current enrollment of 35,594 students in fifty states and overseas military operations..

Several keys propel its success. All courses are online and each student is assigned a permanent mentor who is a fulltime advisor employed by WGU. Students pay a flat fee for 2014-15 of $6,070. Students may sign up to pass as many competencies as they believe are reasonable and can take the exam as soon as they feel competent.

In 2011, the Washington Monthly reported students were typically 36-years old attending part-time with both work and college experience. At that time more than 20,000 students had graduated in an average of two-and-a-half years.

This program is not designed for my grandchildren exiting from high school and entering college.

Successful online programs are gaining the confidence of the US public. Gallup Polls in April 2014 showed growing American confidence in the high-quality of online colleges and universities, although it’s still well below ratings for traditional higher education.. But Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education said, “there could easily be a tipping point where people start to accept online degrees as quality degrees and I think that’s going to grow enrollments dramatically.”

Posted in Higher Education | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Seahawks Can Win the 2015 Super Bowl, But Don’t Count on It

For those trapped in discussions about the tiresome, irrelevant speculation in the Pacific Northwest about whether the Seahawks can win the 2015 Super Bowl,” I recommend three defensible, informed answers that will allow you to terminate the discussion or divert it a more interesting topic.

My answers are: “Yes, of course they can.”  “They have a better chance of winning than any other team.”  “But don’t count on it.”

The Seahawks can win because NFL owners equalize each team’s possibilities of winning and that is a more interesting topic. Equality increases fan interest. The league attempts to assign winning teams harder schedules. Losing teams pick first in the college draft. Team payrolls have an upper limit which causes championship teams problems because star players get huge increases, forcing winning teams to release other players.

Teams with losing records have won Super Bowls the following season. The most improbable were the St Louis Rams, which won Super Bowl 2000 after a record of 4 -12.

Yes, the Seahawks could win in 2015. The problem is virtually any other team could also. Wouldn’t it be nice if our economic policies created equal opportunities for individuals?

I believe the Seahawks have a better chance than any other team this year because they won last year, have a major home field advantage and a young team.

Las Vegas preseason odds makers have established the Seahawks as co-favorites with Denver, although they were wrong about last year’s preseason favorites: the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints.

Odds Makers rank the Seahawks as co-favorites because the 12th Man fan crazies give the Seahawks a major home field advantage.

Unfortunately, the Denver Broncos have a home field advantage also because their oxygen-thin air weakens visiting teams.

The Seahawks would have the NFL’s best home field advantage if they put their 12th Man fans in a stadium on a mile-high ledge of Mt Rainer to reduce oxygen levels.

The Seahawks victory last year improves their odds this year, because Super Bowl winners win more Super Bowls in the next ten years compared to non-winners. Over the last forty four years, 55.9 percent of the Super Bowl winners had won a Super Bowl within the previous ten years, based on the recent analysis by Neil Payne, a senior sportswriter for ESPN network’s website

The Broncos haven’t won in the last ten years, so for the foreseeable ten years the Seahawks are more likely to win a Super Bowl than the Broncos.

Super Bowl winners probably won more often because they could build better teams by starting with better talent than non-winners.

Building talent is easier if you have younger players because fewer leave, retire or get injured. The Seahawks average age is the third lowest of all Super Bowl winners that won again within ten years.

The two teams with lower averages are the 1974 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 1981 San Francisco 49ers, both of which won three more super bowls within ten years. The younger the Super Bowl winners, the more Super Bowls they went on to win.

Coach Carroll and GM Schneider have built an exceptional young team. Sports analyst Paine says, “… because of their youth these Seahawks are in a situation where the odds of winning another championship are particularly heightened.”

All this is terrific news for 12th Man fans for the next ten year, but don’t count on them winning in 2015.

Even as co-favorites Odds Makers estimate they have a slim chance of only of 16.7 percent this year. If my doctor says I would have a 16.7 percent chance of surviving surgery, I’d be terrified.

The reality is NFL owners have designed the system to limit repeats.

The Seahawks could have a winning season, win their division, enter the playoffs and win the conference championship. But they could lose the Super Bowl and consider themselves failures because they couldn’t beat the system in 2015. That’s the way NFL owners want it.

Cheer on the Seahawks!. Go 12th Man! Good things happen, but don’t focus on 2015. Keep a ten-year perspective.

If you’re trapped in a discussion about the Seahawks repeating in 2015 and want to end or divert the discussion by tossing in a few comments to lead to a more interesting discussion, show your mastery of the topic by saying, “Yes, of course they can win Super Bowl 2015.” “They are the most likely preseason favorites.” “But don’t count on it.”

Your friends will thank you in 2015.

Posted in Humor | Tagged , | 2 Comments