Financial

Down the corporate greed rabbit hole

Capitalism, gun to headWhen did making a profit turn into greed? Greed has been around from the beginning of time, but my guess would be it was unleashed in the1980s when American voters bought the farce that wealth would trickle down to them. There was no proof of this theory, but politicians kept saying it over and over until a majority of people began voting against their self-interests: Electing congressional representatives who approved lower corporate tax rates and numerous business deductions, but were against that job killer, increasing the minimum wage.

The fear tactic

When companies downsize, the actual work does not go away. One employee leaves; her co-worker takes up the slack, receiving extra duties. Or technical assistance is transferred to a phone bank in India. The fear tactic is deathly subtle: Either work harder and longer hours or you’ll be out of a job. Result: less overhead, more profit. Improving procedures and workflow? Not in the picture because that worker picking up the slack will stay at the same pay. What’s to change?

The early-out two-step

Older workers on the cusp of reaching retirement are offered a quick out — with reduced benefits. The work remains but will be done by lower-paid rookies. Conservatives in Congress refuse to compromise on solutions to fully fund Social Security. Their best thinking is to push up the retirement age and reduce benefits. Does anyone who’s been out looking for a job after age 40 really believe you can find one after 50? 60? Or even 70?

The possibilities?

I retired on an early-out offer at 51. In the succeeding 20 years I have worked in several full-time jobs and a half-dozen part-time ones. My job experience: toll booth operator; free-lance writer; warehouseman; multiple-choice question writer; online accounting system tech writer; AmeriCorps writing mentor; law firm runner; para-educator; sole business owner writing and selling books; writing coach; creative writing instructor; concierge; writer-in-residence. There were pluses and minuses. I wanted to write after I retired, so the keyword “writing” is sprinkled among my various jobs. But among the good experiences was a nasty confrontation with exhaust fumes in that toll booth — it was either that or wear a Donald Duck costume and walk around Walt Disney World in 90-degree heat. Worse was physical exhaustion in the warehouse doing a job designed for someone 30 years younger. Yet I discovered the joy of writing at home and selling a few books.

Something different is needed

A paradigm shift in thinking would lower the retirement age, not raise it. Consider this: What if the tax code favored workers who wanted to retire early, even at 45 or 50? Going further: What if big business/large corporations got a tax deduction only if they created jobs? Moving us older workers into retirement earlier makes room for younger folks. Let’s tell it like it is. Is it more cost-effective to pay hundreds of thousands of workers unemployment insurance or to rewrite the tax code making it feasible for older workers to leave earlier? Perhaps more would sample the work world as I have done and create their own job. Or start a small business.

Slurping at the federal trough

Entrepreneurs know where the big money is, in that trough filled with our taxes; politicians need money to keep their jobs. It has become a traditional tradeoff. The push for an independent Congress requires getting money out of elections. Changes to thinking, especially for a tax code favorable to American workers, require publicly funded elections, setting term limits and abolishing political parties. While we’re at it, let’s throw open primary and general elections to all voters no matter their political affiliation. No one really won the 2012 general election. Less than 24 hours after the votes were counted, stalemate returned, or really, simply remained. Does anyone really like gridlock? The work of Congress has become winner take all. Any vote is not for the people but for the particular party’s ideology. Meanwhile political spin managers try to convince us that our friends and neighbors we know to be moderate and independent are actually out to destroy our country. Preposterous.

Bill Ellis is a local author and can be reached at

contact@billelliswrites.com

 

What price combat?

vietnam_injuredThe final step when I reported to the Army intake center in Roanoke, Va., in February 1966 was an interview with a doctor. That day is memorable not only as my first one in the Army but also one observing draftees being inducted who were illiterate; others couldn’t speak English.

In a desperate attempt to increase the ranks of its fighting men in Vietnam, the Army had lowered its mental requirements. Physical qualifications were a moving target as I discovered during that interview with the doctor. A young man was brought over for an expert medical evaluation to determine his ability to serve. The specialist held up the boy’s arm bent permanently at a 90-degree angle and asked with obvious doubt, “Is this enough to disqualify him?” The doctor’s reply was a disgusted “yes!”

Looking back, I felt that at least one person had enough sense to send that draftee home. The Army could not enlist someone physically disabled. Yet, what happens to our combat veterans disabled mentally or physically?

I was disgusted by the May 20 article in this paper, “Report finds combat troop discharges rising sharply.” The AP article quoted from an investigation by the Colorado Springs Gazette: “The number of soldiers discharged from the Army for misconduct has risen to its highest rate in recent times, and some are wounded combat troops who have lost their medical care and other benefits because of other-than-honorable discharges.”

This is morally unacceptable to me, so I researched the full article through the Internet. The report got worse. Combat veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder are among those being discharged. Several top generals are quoted saying how much discipline counts to maintain an effective military and that our troops are important. Convinced? Me neither.

PTSD diagnosis is the tip of the iceberg. Combat damages and ruins untold thousands. We’ve only named it recently. After their release from Union and Confederate armies, many Civil War veterans simply “walked into the west,” unable to adjust to civilian life after observing the slaughter of the battlefield. Nothing compares to it.

Perhaps the most thoughtful words in the report were spoken by Lenore Yarger, a veterans advocate near Fort Bragg, N.C. She said, “We have gotten very efficient at getting people to fight wars but are not prepared to deal with the aftermath.”

In my opinion, we have never been prepared to deal with the aftermath. Also, I firmly believe that once a young man or woman is sent into combat we can never do enough for their maintenance afterward. To my thinking, it is unconscionable to discharge anyone and deny them benefits if they have faced combat. What is the value of discipline once you’ve sold your soul?

Estimates range from $5 trillion to $10 trillion spent on defense in the past 50 years. The Obama administration has increased funding for veteran support and there are still waiting lines sometimes hundreds of days long. In my lifetime, no president’s administration has done enough to maintain our veterans.

In Rachel Maddow’s book “Drift,” she details how every president from Johnson to the present has diligently tried to avoid congressional approval needed to send our troops into combat. Corrupting the power of their “commander-in-chief” role, presidents have outright lied and bent analyses to have their way with our military. It is an equal-opportunity corruption shared by presidents from both political parties. And worse, staunch defense-minded politicians, a euphemism for hawks, have even argued that since we have invested so much in our military we might as well use it. Fight on.

Obviously, this conundrum demands a change in thinking. Active citizenship requires each of us to question our country’s penchant for war. We must ask a tough question. How much defense do we need? Not how much can we spend on our military to keep our economy strolling along.

In my view, for every dime we invest in new weapons we should spend millions on the humans ruined by war. And we must ask, what is the cause for dismissal from service? Can anyone know the contribution of combat?

Shame on us.

Bill Ellis is a local author and can be reached at contact@billelliswrites.com.

 

 

 

Commissioners rate truck traffic above people

Want to get an idea about the scale of industrialization of Boulder County?

In Colorado, trucks haul fluids more than 100 miles one-way into Utah on Interstate 70 (where the speed limit is 75 mph) to a large open pit facility. Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Photo courtesy of TEDX The Endocrine Disruption Exchange

Let’s take a look at truck traffic alone. According to the recent “Boulder County Oil and Gas Roadway Impact Study” presented to the Boulder County Commissioners, each well fracked in Boulder County would take about 2,206 truck trips to complete. Given the commissioners’ estimate that up to 1,800 wells are conceivable in Boulder County, this equates to 3,970,800 truck trips to complete these wells. If we assume the average tractor-trailer length to be 70 feet, this gives a perspective on the scope of the industrialization being considered.

Given the report and county’s numbers, the resulting line of trucks would span from New York to Los Angeles and back over 10 times. Of course the study assumes the wells are fracked only once. In reality wells can be fracked up to 18 times. Can you imagine, from truck traffic alone, what the sky above Boulder County might look like to someone from on top of the Flatirons by the end of this process?

The study does not calculate the costs to people. What would the rise in cases of asthma cost due to ozone? What are the total costs to public and environmental health associated with the full process of gas and oil operations? It is clear that the Boulder County Commissioners need to take as much consideration into the human impacts of industrialization as they do roads. For a real picture of what this would mean we would have to include complete health impact studies and baseline air and water quality studies. For a county whose oil and gas permit moratorium expires on June 10, it sure seems like there is a lot of homework to be done.

Longmont City Council lap dog for developers

The new mall plan looks DOA to me. Basically, we are replacing Dillard’s with Sam’s Club. Why does Longmont need three Walmarts?

And what small businesses will want to be in the same mall as Walmart? Why cozy up with people who will undercut small business prices?

The stores that NewMark Merrill has in mind are not bringing new kinds of business to Longmont. On the contrary, they are aggressively overlapping with stores on Hover and Ken Pratt that have proven they can do business here. The mall’s intent is to siphon off that business, not develop new business.

Photo by M. Douglas Wray ©2011 FreeRangeLongmont.com

Twin Peaks redevelopment will use TIF to destroy what are now viable businesses

The tax increment financing is what the developer is looking to pocket, and reaping these tax dollars will also give them the upper hand in undercutting the prices of the existing stores they seek to undermine. That’s not a productive way to do business. It will use TIF to destroy what are now viable businesses, and will only replace them with a cheaper version. If you think Twin Peaks Mall has succumbed to urban blight, wait ’til you see what Hover and Ken Pratt will look like in 5-10 years.

Big-box abandonment will be pervasive. Or Longmont City Council will be dishing even more TIF money in an attempt to save them.

This is a poisonous project and NM should be kicked out of here. It is self-destructive for Longmont to continue with this plan.

That the new mall will restore Longmont’s reputation as the armpit of Boulder County is really the least of our problems. This is a financially unsound plan, designed to benefit the developer and not the city or residents. It will damage Longmont seriously. Longmont’s tax dollars would be far better spent in redeveloping Main Street, Kimbark and Coffman.

Corporate Greed, Corporate Bullying, Corporate Slavery

Featured in McClatchy Newspapers articles, Phil Richards, Joe Arredondo, and Lisa Weber are being pushed to their human limits while their employers use technology to measure every minute of their work in a “relentless push for efficiency.” (“A Tougher World: As employers push efficiency, the daily grind wears down workers,” and “Tracking workers’ every move raises stress along with productivity.” Business Section of the Sunday, April 14, Times-Call, page C6.)In Greed We Trust

The technology may be new, but the management strategy is quite old: Use threats and fear to maximize productivity. I saw it working summers in a sweatshirt factory where “efficiency engineers” used the technology of that era, stopwatches, to pressure workers to attain 200 percent of the going piece rate. We called those timers “Khrushchev” behind their backs; the Soviet premier at that time was feared by all blue-collar workers. Cutting wages to the bone and fighting off unions was the norm in the textile industry’s greedy, profit-seeking course as owners moved their factories from England, to New England, to the American South, to out of the United States.

I worked in a Florida sweatshop writing multiple-choice questions for a greedy man who joked as he gave me 25-cent-an-hour raise after a year. “Here’s some motivation,” he said sarcastically. The perks? We all got a turkey for Thanksgiving and a pound of venison sausage from his hunting trips for Christmas. The man flaunted his wealth and was always chipping away at working conditions, making life miserable. It worked. No one stayed long.

In my last part-time job working for a health food store, I was called into the office and given the choice of running to restock shelves faster or quitting. That was my last day.

My wife’s experience more closely mirrors that of many of today’s workers. In her HMO job, she gradually assumed the duties of exiting co-workers without any raises. Her company perk was a grand Christmas party. At her last one, the retiring CEO thanked everyone for helping him build a mansion on a Caribbean island. He said that? Really.

After we moved to Longmont, my wife started as a temp and again gradually took on duties of co-workers who either quit or left in downsizing efficiency moves. After two years she “earned” a 1 percent raise.

The American “business model” is dangerously flawed. Under the guise of a sacrosanct profit motive, and raising productivity to compete in the global economy, government and business leaders, stitched at the hips of special interests, have left out American workers. Just three decades ago Robert Townsend, CEO of Avis and author of “Up the Organization,” set an example by paying his management team members more than he got. Today that strategy has vanished. Multimillions go to the top while arguments to raise the minimum wage for average workers is fought as a job killer. It is absurd.

Today it is a rare event when a smart and conscientious executive like Harold Dominguez, Longmont’s city manager, shares bonus pay with a team of workers. Or, Don Haddad, superintendent of the St. Vrain Valley School District, rejects raises four years running.

In a negative paradigm shift, corporations continue to cry wolf about government regulation stifling business. But their lobbyists and congressional representatives, bought with campaign contributions, have manipulated the tax code to create deductions that virtually avoid their paying a fair share of taxes. Worse, many top earning corporations do not pay any taxes. According to the Corporate Tax Dodgers Report, a joint project of Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, for years 2009 and 2010 General Electric made a profit of $10.46 billion and paid no taxes. GE actually got a refund, with a tax rate of minus 45 percent.

My wife and I paid more taxes for 2012 than GE did in 2009 and 2010.

money_stacks_of_100sIn plain English, the untouchable profit motive has been used successfully in “getting government off the backs of businesses” and unleashing obscene greed. Workers have been pummeled with dehumanizing pressure so the big bucks can stay at the top. The middle class is threatened with unconscionable cuts to entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security while lobbyists and politicians rant against raising taxes for the wealthy elite and protect tax deductions that allow mega corporations to avoid paying taxes.

In The Days Before – Part 3

Mary Pitt at age 14

Mary Pitt at age 14

On a warm early spring, while I was outside playing, Mother called me back to the front porch where she told me that Father had passed away. She told me that there would be a number of people going in and out of the house and she would like me to stay out of the way until she called me in. As was (and is) my wont, I had no reaction except obedience. I walked up the sidewalk into the next block where I met a slightly smaller boy who, upon seeing me, picked up a rock and threw it with great accuracy right into my forehead. I fell to the ground and lay there weeping long after the bleeding stopped. I knew no emotional ties to this fearsome man but I suppose I knew that this would make new and terrible changes to my life.

And those changes were certainly unwelcome. There was a funeral in this little town where we had taken residence, followed by another in the town where my parents had lived for years. There were many strangers to meet and sort as to their relationship, a solemn visit with the one brother who had been able to obtain a “compassionate” leave for the occasion, and much confusion as to where life would take us next.

Mother decided to stay in the house until “things were settled” and then to take the remaining family back to the town where she had friends and relatives. At the funeral, friends and relatives had given her small donations which she carefully hoarded for moving expenses, and she rented two adjoining rooms upstairs to a newlywed couple who were diligent about paying their $10 a month rent so that, by the time the renter had to report to service, she said that she had enough to move. The oldest brother who remained at home had a birthday and he announced that he was enlisting in the Air Force but would wait until he had helped her move.

Life was again uprooted and my mother and two youngest brothers would undergo another settling-in with nothing but faith and optimism. The following year the next oldest brother enlisted and left, being followed the next year by the next younger brother, leaving only the youngest brother, who joined the Navy at only 17. Mother was left alone with only an adolescent daughter to care for and only minimal means of support.

war-ration-book-1_600
We continued, the two of us, living in the house with the five-star flag in the window and endured the rigors of living, not only in extreme poverty but with the added challenges of the war-time restrictions of food and ordinary daily needs. We were getting a reduced allotment from more than one brother in order to lessen the burden on each of them. I still wore second-hand and hand-me-down clothing, as did she. I vividly recall the time she decided that we could afford a rare visit to the cheapest movie house in town. The tickets cost eleven cents each and it was a rare and treasured event.

As we were leaving the movie, she paused in the midst of the pushing crowd, and all eyes searching her for the reason for the delay. There she stood with her under-drawers crumpled up around her ankles. I was feeling humiliated when she kicked them the rest of the way off, put them in her purse, and announced, “Darn that old Hitler! You can’t even get good elastic any more.” We continued proudly out the door to the sound of applause.

My brothers, as young men do, met lovely young women and got married. In turn, each asked Mother to forgo her allotment from him, to which Mother gladly agreed. Each time, we had to move to smaller and less expensive living quarters. Only one time did either of us have a serious illness and it was a trial. She became ill and the doctor told her that she had an obscure disease which he did not know how to treat. Being poor, hospital treatment was out of the question. She took to her bed and remained there for several weeks with no care other than what I could provide under the direction of the doctor who would stop in to check on her and to give me instructions

I gave up the upstairs bedroom and slept in the living room so I could hear her at night, eventually, staying home from school to care for her. She became delirious from the fever and required constant attention.

Finally, thinking Mother was dying, one of the brothers got a leave and came home to see her “one last time.” It was not the help I needed. He took me to task because the house was not adequately maintained and provided even more tasks, as I was also charged with cooking for him and his small family. His emergency leave ran out and they departed, so I continued caring for Mother until the morning she woke up lucid and demanding breakfast!

As time went on, older members of the family would turn to Mother for help. Because they were working on farms where a house was given as part of the wages, when they lost their jobs, they would have to live elsewhere. While with us, they would take any temporary employment they could find, but it was never enough. But Mother would pinch every dollar even harder and managed to keep children and grandchildren fed. First my sister and then a brother brought their child to us for them to attend school because, living in the country — before there were school buses — the walk was too far for a six-year-old to navigate alone.

The last of these events was when we were living in a one-bedroom house and another brother decided it was necessary to “come home.” Unfortunately, he brought his wife and four kids! Mother slept on the couch so that they and their youngest could have the bedroom. The rest of us slept on pallets of folded bedding on the floor.

My brother was still recuperating from the diphtheria that had cost him his job and it was a long time before he could find work that he could do. After a while, it seemed as though we were living with them! Mother finally informed them that the rent on the house was $15 per month and she had found us a one-bedroom apartment above a store downtown. We moved out and left them there. It was nice to have a bed again.

As more brothers married and cut off the allotments to Mother, money became more scarce than ever. Mother got a part-time job, altering clothes for a women’s store. She made a dime for measuring and sewing a hem, maybe twenty-five cents for alterations, etc., certainly not enough to live on but still welcome in her budget. I also got a job, washing dishes on weekend evenings in a tiny cafe downstairs from our apartment. I was allowed to keep the quarter I was paid each week for mad money!

I shall never forget my fifteenth birthday. Birthdays had never been celebrated in our home, just sort of a family reunion in July near Father’s birthday when we were on the farm. Mother would kill and dress a couple of young chickens to fry, and mix up milk and eggs for a freezer full of home-made ice cream. I recall it as the epitome of our familial happiness. This birthday, however, was an awesome surprise. Mother took me downtown to buy me a pair of shoes, not to the usual second-hand store but to J.C. Penney’s! To my delight, she allowed me to choose a pair of white gillie-tie shoes with the toes out! Then she said that we needed to go to the dress shop where she worked. I floated down the street in my beautiful shoes and into the door of the shop. There, she presented me with a new two-piece blue dress in the height of fashion! This was the first “store-bought-just-for-me” dress I had ever owned in my entire life!

Only over these many years have I really appreciated that gift as I came to understand the horrendous sacrifices and scrimping she had undergone to provide it to me. How many hems she had to stitch, how many seams she had to take in or let out and what she had done without in order to save that much money! It took many years of experience in scrimping and saving for something special for me to really appreciate her heroic efforts.

Today’s people may read of the circumstances of those days but they cannot be expected to truly understand them. It is possible to survive without welfare, Social Security, and medic-aid, but to those forced to live without them, there is a whole lot of miserable existence which only the heroic among us can survive. I lived in “The Days Before” and I know whereof I speak. I can recall as a small child asking my mother, “Why can’t we live in the days of fairy tales? Princesses lived in castles with beautiful things and had servants to do all the work.”

Mother’s reply was succinct and spoken with the wisdom of the ages, “What makes you think that, if you had lived in those days, YOU would be the princess and not the servant?”

Dangerously Exploitative

bad_idea_sign_crossbonesThe new mall plan looks DOA to me.  Basically, we are replacing Dillard’s with Sam’s Club, aka Walmart.  Why does Longmont need 3 Walmarts?

And what small businesses will want to be in the same mall as Walmart?  Why cozy up with people who will undercut small business prices?

And by the way, it’s not “at the peaks,” which are quite far away.  A confusing name that pretends to be something that it is not, but then the whole project could be seen in the same light.

The stores that Newmark Merrill has in mind are not bringing new kinds of business to Longmont.  On the contrary, they are aggressively overlapping with stores on Hover and Ken Pratt that have proven they can do business here.  The mall’s intent is to siphon off that business, not develop new business.

The TIF (tax incremental financing) is what the developer is looking to pocket, and reaping all these tax dollars will also give them the upper hand in undercutting the prices of the existing stores they seek to undermine.  That’s not a productive way to do business.  It is basically parasitic.  And very NON competitive.  It will use TIF to destroy what are now viable businesses, and will only replace them with a cheaper version.  If you think Twin Peaks Mall has succumbed to urban blight, wait ‘til you see what Hover and Ken Pratt will look like in 5-10 years.

Big box abandonment will be pervasive.  Or Longmont City Council will be dishing even more TIF money in an attempt to save them.

This is a poisonous project and NM should be kicked out of here.  It is self-destructive for Longmont to continue with this plan.

And don’t you look forward to 25 different versions of “Planet of the Apes” in stadium seating.  And then you can enjoy “patio dining” in the low-budget fast food court in 100 degree weather (or about 20 in winter) –cheaper by far since there’s no need for cooling or heating.

That the new mall will restore Longmont’s reputation as the armpit of Boulder  County is really the least of our problems.  This is a financially unsound plan, designed to benefit the developer and not the city or residents.  It will damage Longmont very seriously.  Longmont’s tax dollars would be far better spent in redeveloping Main Street, Kimbark, and Coffman.

In the Days Before

Sharecropper

Farmers paid $100 per year plus a share of the crop for the privilege of occupying the land.

History and legends are rife with tales of “Old Crones” who educated the people and the leaders of nations in their search for further civilization by telling them the stories of what had gone before in their history. This writer has reached that stage in life where I am ready and willing to accept the title of “Old Crone” and to try to educate our people of “the days before”, in this case specifically, of the days before many of the political and social programs which affect our lives today. Today, my story will be about what life was like for many in the days before some of taken-for-granted social programs of today.

I was born in 1930, during the administration of Herbert Hoover and in the early days of the famous Dust Bowl, to parents who were already elderly by the standards of the day. They already had eight children and had lost one in infancy. My father was a farmer and they reared their family on eighty acres of rented farmland as had their own families before them. I can remember the 1936 elections and my father’s ire at the successes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He hated government and resented any intrusion of said government into what he had considered the business of private persons.

Father paid $100 per year plus a share of the crop for the privilege of occupying the land. The money for the landlord had to be saved by pennies and nickels throughout the year to avoid having to move to another property the following year, so hard cash was very hard to come by. Therefore, all the household support was accomplished by my mother. She would plant huge gardens of vegetables which were canned in glass jars and stored in the storm cellar for use all year. Any patches of native fruits and berries were harvested and processed into the jars for winter consumption.

She kept chickens, laying hens that would provide the eggs which were carefully cleaned and boxed for transport to town to get enough cash to purchase the basic food which was our fare. A large box of eggs and a couple of gallons of cream from our cows would buy a huge box of oatmeal, a can of lard, and a 24-pound sack of flour for the bread which was our staple. On a good week, we could also afford a pound of oleomargarine, the kind that had to have the coloring removed from the packet and stirred into the glob of white goo which substituted for butter. Only occasionally was there a nickel left to buy a bit of sugar to sweeten the fruit or, wonder of wonders, to bake a cake.

When Roosevelt established the Work Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corp, we worried that Father would die of apoplexy! A married older brother with a family went to work for the WPA and another brother joined the CCC. At last, there was a bit of cash in the household. And then, to Father’s horror, the farm commodities began to be distributed, “forcing” the families of farmers to “eat from a tin can.”

In the summer, Father and the boys would contract to bale hay for farmers with larger acreage. Some of that work was for cash while some was for a share of the bales, which could be sold to accumulate cash toward the annual rent. In the hardest years, there would not be enough cash income from the contracting and the sale of other crops to cover the $100 rent. Fortunately, since Father was such a good farmer with so many mouths to feed, the landlord was often lenient and accepted only the share. It was hard, energy-sapping work and people just wore out at a much younger age than they do now.

When Father was only 60 years old, he began to suffer more from his chronic cough and there would be days that he would spend the day in the house, worrying aloud….very loud! On many occasions, due to the hard work and the vagaries of nature, he had suffered from severe pneumonia for extended periods and his cough had worsened each time. There were doctors at that time but even they were limited in what medicines or procedures were available. Even if the doctors had the capabilities and the knowledge of today, the poor had no money and would lie-in at home until nature took its course.

In 1940 another of the older brothers left home. Since there was no work locally, he joined the Navy, so he would not be available for the next haying season but, somehow, we made it through. Then Pearl Harbor happened and our whole world turned upside-down. The oldest brother who was left at home went to the county seat and enlisted in the Army. This left only three brothers at home, not enough to do all the work, much less to compensate for Father’s lessened abilities.

There was no choice but to sell out what we owned on the farm and move into town. Being still a child, I was more concerned with losing all the friends when the animals had to go to new homes, but there were more serious concerns than that. Later in life, in going through Mother’s papers, I came across the accounting from the auction of all my parents’ worldly goods. With the sale of every animal, every piece of farm equipment, and all the appurtenances that went with them, their “lifetime savings” amounted to slightly over $600!

My mother has always been my hero, and she proved it then. She rented a house in our small town and moved in with three almost-adult boys, an elementary-school daughter, and a dying husband and she made us a home! The brother who was in the Army arranged for her to be given $15 a month as a “family allotment.”  This amount covered the rent with nothing left for food. The brother in the Navy had married and his allotment was going to his wife. The two older sons who were at home did find part-time work around town, as helpers in various shops, and contributed their earnings to the family.

You may ask, “Why didn’t she go on welfare or apply for SSI for your father?” The answer is simple. That was in “The Days Before!” When you hear the politicians complain about needing to “reform entitlements,” and you know that their aim is merely to end them, be sure to watch for my next article about what life was like in the days when there were no entitlements or other assistance for the poor.

TOP Operating: Flagrant, serial COGCC rule violator

Editor’s Note: The following testimony was given to the Colorado Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, & Energy Committee on March 21, 2013, by Gordon Pedrow. SB 13-202 concerns additional inspection of oil and gas facilities. SB 13-202 advanced out of committee to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Mr. Chairman and Committee members.

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

Former Longmont City Manager, Gordon Pedrow

Thank you for this opportunity to be heard regarding this important matter.  I am Gordon Pedrow, a twenty year resident of the city of Longmont.  Until I retired on April 1, 2012, I served the community for 19 years as city manager.  I am here to share with you why many Longmont families support SB 13-202.  I am certain you are aware that the state government in Colorado is experiencing a massive hemorrhage of trust when it comes to adequately regulating oil and gas operations.

The citizens of Longmont have been struggling for many months to protect their health and quality of life from the negative impacts of heavy industrial activities associated with oil and gas operations.  This battle began in 2011 when the TOP Operating Company began the process of permitting a new multi-well drilling site within the city’s corporate limits.

Using the COGCC’s online data base, citizens examined the inspection and enforcement record of the two existing wells within the Longmont city limits that were closest to residential areas.  The results were appalling.

In 2011, Both Rider #1 and the Stamp wells had numerous unresolved violations, including benzene contaminated ground water 100’s of times above state standards.  I am going to provide the committee some specific information about Rider #1 and  its operator, TOP OPERATING COMPANY.  I believe this information will clearly demonstrate why residents were appalled in 2011 and remain so today.  It will clearly demonstrate why passage of SB 13-202 is a necessary first step in appropriately regulating this industry and restoring public trust.

RIDER WELL #1: 350 feet from homes in the Quail Crossing subdivision, 350 feet from Trail Ridge Middle School

  1. July 17, 2006, Engle Homes to COGCC (TOP’s contaminated well on Engle’s property)
  2. July 21, 2006, COGCC to TOP Operating:  Provide site Investigation and Site Remediation Plan
  3. December 7, 2006  Notice of Alleged Violation (200100371)  Numerous violations
  4. 4.     (nothing done for a year) TOP and COGCC staff failed to accomplish anything.  Both ignored the owner, Engle Homes and residents rights to have safe operation
  5. December, 2007  Engle Homes again found violations not corrected
  6. September 2008  COGCC fined TOP $10,000 for failure to remediate
  7. March 30, 2009  Still Benzene problem

2011Public scrutiny of both TOP and COGCC performance begins by angry Longmont residents.  (You would think a state agency might try harder when citizens are engaged) However, the concerns of the citizens were still ignored by TOP and COGCC.  Both the regulators and the regulated act as though they are above the citizens!!!!

  1. January 24, 2012 Notice of Alleged Violation (1771570) Rules 210d, 301, 308A, 308B,309,603j,604d,906a
  2. February 22, 2013, COGCC  issued a Notice of Order finding Violation and Hearing set for March 25/26   COGCC staff is seeking an order finding violation of all the above rules and imposition of a fine not to exceed $85,000.
  3. 10.                         March 21, 2013.  (today) TOP still in violation & Benzene levels still out of compliance.

SETTLEMENT:  The most appalling COGCC document regarding this whole Rider Well #1 fiasco has now come to light.  For over 6 years, TOP OPERATING COMPANY has flagrantly disregarded COGCC orders and the COGCC has ignored its mandate to protect public health and the environment.  Now the regulators and regulated have gotten together for a sweetheart settlement deal as outlined in this Administrative Order by Consent now scheduled for March 25/26.

Despite flagrant, serial, multi-year violations of state rules and regulations, the COGCC staff has now agreed to three unbelievable provisions.

   Read these sections from the consent order. 4,6,8

Unfortunately, this ADMINISTRATIVE ORDER BY CONSENT does not deal with the benzene in the ground water within 350 feet of Trail Ridge Middle School.  That matter is still being mitigated !!

I encourage you to pass SB 13-202.  Furthermore, before this legislative session adjourns, I encourage you to carefully review the entire regulatory operations of the COGCC.  Because more inspectors inserted into a flawed agency culture will most likely be wasted resources.

Hick and severance: possibilities abound

Governor John Hickenlooper today recently threatened any municipality in Colorado with legal action, should it have the temerity to try to ban fracking within its corporate limits. His remarks did not resonate from supremacy clauses (state laws are “higher” than local) or any appreciation for local land-use discretion. Rather, the Guv lamented that property owners “paid for” the mineral estates beneath their feet, and so must not lose. He also alluded to severed mineral estates. There lies the meat of the argument.

Only recently employed, directional drilling accompanied by hydraulic fracturing is being used to reach targets that can not be drilled with a vertical well.

Only recently employed, directional drilling accompanied by hydraulic fracturing is being used to reach targets that can not be drilled with a vertical well.

Most severances occur when someone sells a property and retains the mineral rights, or a portion of them. This may be a hedge against benefit from future development. But modern “fracking” was not generally known or acknowledged until 2007 or so, and so I doubt many property sellers anticipated or expected that particular form of beneficiation.

I was a commercial real property appraiser long enough to learn that the “bundle of rights” within a property depends on reasonable expectations, plus knowledge of what is feasible. If someone in Colorado retains rights to mining diamonds, he is pretty likely to be wasting his time. But when a property is purchased without a severance, is the buyer cognizant of what is to be deeded? If so, what is paid for it?

The answer is very little. Only a buyer of a mineral estate in an area where a certain kind of mineral production is not only likely but also being prosecuted, would pay what might be recognized as “market value” for that estate. The increment attributable to all or part of POSSIBLE minerals within a purchase of the fee-simple interest, encompassing minerals, surface, and everything else, is generally minimal. Oil and gas operators almost always lease; they have no interest in ownership. In these days of CERCLA that may not surprise. At least there were such days prior to Dick Cheney’s tenure in Washington’s Executive Office Building.

Monopoly moneySo, guvna, are you going to bat for the owner of the severed mineral estate, or the owner of a complete fee-simple property? Mineral values are speculative until proven by production; drilling may or not prove them. A former oil geologist ought to know that. You also should know that the market value of a speculative probability is lower than the value of what can be seen, touched, and enjoyed (commonly known as the surface of the planet). It is a real shame you have no interest in protecting that.

Fortunately, owners of the latter are usually citizens of the state and can vote. Owners of severed mineral estates may not live here. If you’ve got nothing better to do than sue cities, then I suggest you go back to drilling. In Zimbabwe.

Agenda: wreck the train to narrow the tracks

Wreck the train to narrow the tracks.

Wreck the train to narrow the tracks.

In Latin “agenda” means things [to be, or being] done. So some of our elected representatives in Washington have an “agenda?” I don’t think so.

First, the zeal on the part of some extremists, especially on the House side of Capitol Hill, for shrinking government is said to constitute (oh, THAT word!) an agenda. It certainly does appear they would wreck the train in order to narrow the tracks. Imagine, no FAA to ground the new plastic airliner. Note: the biggest customer for the Boeing 787 is the Japanese, who will soon and again be the country’s biggest creditor. Maybe we can get them to bomb us again, or threaten to. Say, a small island in the Aleutians as a shot across the bow? Don’t miss a payment, and don’t mess with Mrs. Watanabe.

How about no FCC to make sure television commercials are no louder than the programming? I’m not the first to point out that hasn’t worked. Neither does the “no call” list, but that’s a story for another day. In either case, what’s the difference?

These legislators SAY they hate debt. How many of them have a mortgage? Ah, ah, ah, ah; you freaks can’t use a credit card, either. If you’re gonna talk the talk, then walk the walk. All that “debt” verbiage is just garbage designed to strike fear into you and me. I’ll show you fear, when the Social Security checks stop arriving. These “lawgivers” would blackmail and bankrupt us all to prove their point. And if the USA goes down, we’ll take the rest of the world with us. But don’t worry. Your congressperson or US senator will set up food lines, man the electric plants, run the water and sewage treatment facilities, fix the roads, protect our borders, in short fill in everywhere. They have our backs. So what’s the worry? After all, we elected them; didn’t we?

‘Seems Pogo must have been right after all.

Change: It comes from the bottom up

The deaths in Connecticut brought back the pain many of us have experienced after the death of a child. How much more is that pain when not only your child died but also the children of many of your friends and friends of your children? Those of us who have lost more than one relative to gun violence are sensitized to these violent events.

The responses to this and similar events have raised broader issues.

 

We the PeopleShould large corporations, organizations and people with large amounts of money be able to have more influence than individuals? Should partisan efforts be allowed to limit which U.S. citizens can actually vote? Can we get to the point where people with differing views stop talking past each other? Even within groups of largely like-minded individuals, there is too often disrespect for opposite views on specific issues.

The various responses to mass killings tell a lot about our society. I understand why many people want to own guns. The NRA’s callous response and the repetition of trite slogans have not helped at all. The NRA once supported a ban on assault weapons. Comments about not arming mental health patients, while appropriate, will not be effective. In Connecticut and New York, the weapons were bought by other people. There seems to be a fear that banning assault weapons or large magazines will be a step to ban all firearms. This is an unrealistic concern. The Arizona sheriff recruiting 500 armed volunteers to patrol around schools is much different from having trained and seasoned law enforcement officers, who have even recently killed bystanders. An effective solution requires listening to all positions.

As discussed in the Jan. 2 guest opinion by Gordon Pedrow, big money institutions have the ability to frequently negatively impact all of us, with practical impunity for those running these companies.

Several years ago the CEOs of the largest tobacco companies and large petroleum companies clearly lied to Congress. (Congress does, however, pursue athletes for lying.) Listen to the ads from the American Petroleum Institute and the natural gas industry. When they do not lie, they omit important information.

The banks and mortgage companies allowed home loans to be made that were guaranteed to fail then passed the cost on to others and eventually the taxpayers. Several banks have just agreed to pay billions of dollars for closing on homes that they did not hold the mortgage on or whose owners were not behind on payments.

Wall Street and insurance companies created risky investments whose risks were not always identified. Individual investors and taxpayers paid the cost. A few banks aided the drug cartels by laundering their illegally obtained money and indirectly supported numerous murders. No individuals or banks were charged with criminal behavior.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, large corporations, including those controlled from other countries including China, can now try to buy elections. Large corporations with lots of money, as well as very wealthy individuals, have entirely too much influence in Congress. It is hard to believe that votes that go against the interest of the residents of this country are not directly or indirectly influenced by big money interests.

How you steal and how much you steal is important. If you steal enough money you can afford the very best legal representation. As Mr. Pedrow so aptly pointed out, the very largest companies and their CEOs/board of directors cannot be punished enough to discourage bad behavior.

Try not fully paying your employees (an all-too-common practice) and you will not face any serious consequence other than paying the employee what they are owed, with a small penalty. However, the odds greatly favor that the result will be that the employee and her family will never see all or even any of what they worked for. (By the way, they will not be able to spend that missing money at local businesses including sales tax.)

These endemic problems are all too obvious. The solution is not. There are some things we can do. We can look at where candidates are getting their support from. We can learn who makes direct sizable donations and who is contributing to their PACs — oops, we cannot do that. Too bad. We can look at the behavior of the large banks and other companies to choose where we do business. If they have paid a fine, they are probably still behaving badly.

Collectively we can promote change.

Boenhner smoke

By Justin K. from Flickr

By Justin K. from Flickr

Mr. Chris Douse wrote a letter lambasting Senate leader Harry Reid for a pork-laden Sandy relief bill. I agree that there should be no pork in the relief bill. But let us take a closer look. Money appropriation bills like this are supposed to originate in the House. Speaker Boehner is led around by the nose by the tea party fanatics and did exactly nothing, leaving it to the Senate and Harry Reid to help the victims.

Reid can do nothing without the approval of Republican leader Mitch McConnell or he will be filibustered. McConnell filibustered 60 times in the 111th and 48 times in the 112th Congress. He even filibustered one of his own proposals when he proposed it and Reid then offered to vote on it. So the pork-laden bill had his full approval.

Reid was forced to buy the votes of some senators by their demands for a favorite pork project in order to get enough votes to pass the bill. Mr. Douse found a list of the pork projects, but failed to go further and obtain the names of the people who demanded the pork. If he had done so, I’ll wager that at least half were from Republican senators. In the meantime, Speaker Boehner fulminated and chain-smoked in the House instead of doing his job of helping the victims of Sandy.

Tell the truth, Wendy.

As a native of Boulder County, and as the son of a man who worked in the oil and gas industry for 35 years, I feel compelled to respond to the hyperbole and melodrama of Encana Oil and Gas’s Wendy Wiedenbeck’s guest editorial (“Anti-fracking activism,” Op/ed Dec. 29). And, as the Colorado director of the national group Food and Water Watch that Wiedenbeck smears, I feel compelled to set the record straight about my organization and the community members that Wiedenbeck depicts as “extremists.”

Being almost completely devoid of facts, Wiedenbeck’s article uses emotional pleas and exaggeration. But what about the peaceful, earnest community members who she derides as “fringe activists?” These are mothers, fathers, teachers and small business people who have, until now, had no say to whether or not the oil and gas industry can put our air, water, soil and property values at risk by dangerous drilling practices like fracking.

Wiedenbeck wants sympathy, but it’s our health, our families’ safety and our communities that are threatened. Let’s examine the factual record.

There are 45,000 fracked wells in Colorado. Increasingly, the oil and gas industry — with the blessing of Governor Hickenlooper — is drilling merely a stone’s throw from our homes, schools, public parks, rivers and streams.

Warning sign on oil and gas condensate tank near homes in Evans COFracking and its associated activities threaten our health. Nearly 25 percent of the chemicals used in fracking could cause cancer; 40 to 50 percent could affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular system; and more than 75 percent could affect the skin, eyes and respiratory system. With these scientifically documented dangers, why is Governor Hickenlooper’s state regulatory agency permitting companies like Encana to drill wells next to elementary schools in Erie, where data from a recent NOAA study found levels of propane ten times higher than in Los Angeles?

Fracking contaminates groundwater. According to an analysis done by the Denver Post of the state’s own regulator agency’s data, oil and gas has contaminated groundwater over 350 times in the past 5 years. On average, there is more than one spill a day across the state.

It takes 1-5 million gallons of water to frack a well. Each well can be fracked multiple times. Multiply that across the 45,000 wells in Colorado and you get a sense of the sheer volume of water that is being laced with thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals and pumped into the ground. In effect, this water is removed from the hydrological cycle forever. Having just experienced one of our state’s most severe droughts, when 62 out of 64 counties were declared in a state of disaster, it seems unconscionable to continue such wanton destruction of our precious water resources.

Fracking drives down property values. There have been reported cases of home values dropping up to 75 percent due to nearby fracking activity. Increasingly, banks are not granting mortgages to property owners whose land carry oil and gas leases.

Ban Fracking NowSadly, it’s not just Wiedenbeck who’s obedient to the business objectives of the oil and gas industry — Governor Hickenlooper is astonishingly out of touch with Coloradans on this issue too. He has refused multiple requests to meet with Coloradans who are concerned about fracking taking place near their homes and children’s elementary schools. He has locked citizens out of “public meetings” that he has convened to discuss the issue while gladly keynoting at the oil and gas industry’s annual summit, starring in pro-fracking advertisements, and to suing the citizens of Longmont for attempting to protect their health, safety and property from fracking.

Wiedenbeck’s attack should be seen for what it is: A desperate attempt to cover up the fact that Coloradans don’t want fracking. This was made clear when citizens in Longmont voted overwhelmingly to ban this dangerous, industrial activity next to their homes and schools last November. The vote was a resounding mandate. It was especially notable because the oil and gas industry raised over half-a-million dollars to defeat the measure, including $30,000 from Wiedenbeck’s employer.

It’s unfortunate that Wiedenbeck finds it necessary to defame Colorado citizens, but it’s understandable. It’s less understandable — deplorable actually — that Governor Hickenlooper continues to dismiss, discredit and even sue mothers, fathers, teachers, farmers, nurses, retirees and business owners in Colorado who do not want fracking next to their homes and schools. These are the voices of reason and common sense.

Sam Schabacker is the Mountain West Region Director for Food and Water Watch.

Some call them banks. We call them criminals.

Photo courtesy http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1136585In case you failed to notice, 2012 ended just like it began for many global too-big-to-fail banks: scandalously. Too-big-to-fail banks are those entities deemed so large that their failure could plunge the global economy into depression. Many of these players are the ones that allowed greed and compulsive gambling with borrowed money to nearly wreck the global financial system in 2008. Saving the system required U.S. taxpayers to bail out numerous big U.S. banks. Unfortunately, since the bailouts, these behemoths have become even larger, with more concentrated power over the global financial system. Therefore, too-big-to-fail banks are an even larger threat to international financial stability than in 2008. After you read the next paragraph, it will be clear that as they have become larger, the too-big-to-fail banks have also become too big to indict, even for the most egregious illegal and fraudulent behavior.

For those of you who have not followed the long parade of big banks that agreed to pay fines to avoid prosecution in 2012, here is a small sample of names, settlement amounts and offenses for which they settled. As you recognize these well-known names, remember, these are the large financial institutions on which the global financial system depends for economic growth and stability. The following are listed in the chronological order in which the settlements occurred: 1. Bank America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Bank ($26 billion), fraudulent foreclosure practices; 2. Citigroup ($158 million) and Bank of America ($1 billion), misleading the Department of Housing and Urban Development; 3. Deutsche Bank ($200 million), misleading HUD; 4. ING ($619 million), money laundering; 5. Barclays ($450 million), interest rate rigging; 6. Capital One ($210 million), deceptive marketing credit cards; 7. Standard Chartered Bank of England ($340 million), laundering money for Iran and lying to regulators; 8. Bank America ($2.43 billion), misleading investors; 9. Goldman Sachs ($12 million), a “pay to play” scheme with a public official; 10. JPMorgan and Credit Suisse ($417 million), bundling and selling troubled mortgages to investors; 11. HSBC ($1.9 billion), money laundering for drug traffickers and terrorist institutions; 12. Morgan Stanley ($5 million), violating securities laws; and 13. UBS ($1.5 billion), manipulating interest rates. Only UBS was forced to admit guilt as part of its settlement. Although the settlement agreement shielded its charter to operate, UBS admitted guilt for a single act of felony wire fraud on behalf of its Japanese subsidiary. The remaining offenders were allowed to settle without admission or denial of guilt. Many of these banks are recidivists.

Prosecutors in the Justice Department and other bank regulators chose to settle these cases instead of prosecuting for fear conviction might cause the banks to fail, thus triggering a collapse of the global financial system. Therefore, with a slap on the wrist, the too-big-to-fail banks were not held accountable for charges of fraud, misleading federal regulators, money laundering, interest rate manipulation, deceptive marketing, misleading investors and violating securities laws. With prosecution off the table, big banks have no incentive to change their behavior. Settlement payments are just another cost of doing business. The U.S. banks named above were all considered too big to fail in 2008, so they received billions of dollars in TARP bailout support. These same banks are now spending huge sums to ferociously resist reasonable regulation under the Dodd-Frank financial reform act.

Since the global financial system is so dependent on a small group of large, interconnected banks (oligopolists) that are too big to fail, indict or prosecute, these institutions have no fear of being held accountable for the most egregious acts of lawlessness and fraudulent behavior. Therefore, they are too big to exist in their current form and must be right-sized into smaller entities. A large number of right-sized banks will ensure a vigorous, competitive financial sector that can efficiently provide the wide range of financial products necessary to support business formation and job creation. Officials at the big banks claim their institutions must be gargantuan to efficiently finance the economy. Empirical data to support such claims is hard to find; however, proof that too-big-to-fail banks are detrimental to global financial stability is abundant. Numerous banks agreeing to pay millions or billions of dollars to settle charges of outrageous illegal behavior in 2012 alone is quite telling. Until we eliminate too-big-to-fail banks, the world will constantly be on the edge of the next greed-induced financial calamity like we experienced in 2008.