Wednesday, May 15, 2019

VP Pence's Speech at Liberty University, May, 2019 - Annotated

I was disturbed recently to hear that our Vice-President Pence had included in a commencement speech address he made at Liberty University on about May 11, 2019, references to the fact that graduates should "be ready" because "Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs." (I quote USA Today's article on the subject.)

I wanted to read the speech and found the text online.
I then read it and annotated it as I went along.

In case you're interested, I hope you appreciate my remarks, my annotations. You see, I love annotations. About as much as I love true Liberty and truly Christian behavior - governed by our amazing Constitution and the rule of law we cherish and wish to preserve.

I include, at the end, some of my thoughts on what a good commencement speech would look like. It's my speech to the 2019 graduates of Liberty University.

So here you are if you're interested  - and a reader, that is (guess that leaves Trump out):


 (Warning: Changes made to this text … in particular locations. Can you guess them all?)

Well, hello, Liberty!  (Applause.)  I want to thank President Falwell for using Trump’s former lawyer to cover up embarrassing sex photos. You know what they say: any friend of Trump’s is a friend of mine. I also want to thank my friend, Dr. Ben Carson, who as HUD Secretary proved that a person who knows nothing about housing and urban development policy really can fuck it up quickly.

(Read: puffery directed towards graduates) It is an honor for us to be here in Williams Stadium with 20,000 liberty-loving “champions for Christ” for the 46th Commencement Ceremony of the Liberty University Class of 2019!  (Applause.)  You did it! You’re graduating!

(Read: more puffery directed towards graduates) But all kidding aside, we are so grateful to you, Jerry, and Becky, and your entire family for your friendship, for your leadership, and for the honor of joining you today.  It is my great honor to be here with you and the largest graduating class ever at Liberty University.  Thank you for letting me come, even though I’m working for the greatest devil of a president in possibly our entire history.  (Applause.)

(Read: more puffery, this time sucking up to Trump) And as I begin, let me bring greetings from a great friend of Liberty University, who gave his first commencement address as President of the United States from this very podium just two years ago.  I told him yesterday that I was going to be with you all today.  So allow me to pass along the congratulations —

(Read: more puffery, this time to his equally discriminatory wife) And let me also say it’s a real joy to be here with — really, the most special person in my life.  She’s a Marine Corps mom, she’s a champion for military families, she’s an elementary school teacher.  She actually taught six of today’s graduates today.  Would you welcome my wife of 33 years, the Second Lady of the United States of America, Karen Pence, to Liberty University today?  (Applause.)

(Read: more puffery, this time directed towards his wife, again, and the school) You know, Karen and I couldn’t be happier to be back on this beautiful campus.  We paid our first visit to Liberty Mountain during the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, and even though we spent only a few hours here, we could tell that there was something special about this place.

(Read: more puffery, directed towards the school, alums, and grads) When you opened your doors in 1971, Liberty had just 154 students.  And in 1985, your founder, the Reverend Jerry Falwell Sr., set what then seemed to be an impossible goal: He said that by the early 21st century, Liberty would have a student body of 50,000 men and women.  But the truth is, even Jerry Falwell Sr. didn’t foresee how Liberty would grow.  It is amazing to think that more than 100,000 men and women are receiving a Liberty education today.  (Applause.)

(Read: more puffery, directed at Falwell’s inane quote.) As Dr. Falwell once said, it was his “conviction that whatever [was] required to make a good Christian also makes a good citizen.”  And from what I’ve seen and heard of this graduating class of 2019, I know that to be true.  This is a remarkable class and remarkable achievements.  And you all ought to be proud.

(Facts about their numbers, homelands, etc) This year’s graduating class is from 50 states and more than 80 nations around the world.  The oldest graduate is 87 — (applause) — and the youngest graduate is 17.  (Applause.)

(Facts continued) Nearly 6,000 students graduated with honors.  And as we already celebrated, more than 6,000 graduates are in the United States military or have military family ties.  Thank you again for your service to the United States of America.  (Applause.)

(Facts continued) Also among you are scholars, musicians, artists, and, of course, athletes, who led your men’s basketball team all the way to the second round of the NCAA tournament this year.  Let’s hear it for Coach Ritchie McKay, the 2019 Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year.  Well done, Coach!  (Applause.)

(Read: Jumping on the kindness bandwagon for brownie points) But, you know, more impressive than your many achievements in the classroom and in athletics are the acts of kindness that have demonstrated the character of this class of 2019.
I learned that Liberty students have actually performed more than half a million hours of community service.  And nearly 2,000 of your faculty and students performed roughly 9,300 hours of community service in the Lynchburg community in the month of April alone.  (Applause.)  That’s a remarkable record of charity and support.

(Read:  Picks out someone who is graduating into criminal justice and a police officer.) (Puffery towards police officers) A few days ago, I actually received a letter from one of your graduates, who I had the pleasure of meeting during a service at the Capitol just last year.  He wrote to me that he came to Liberty to study a profession that he dreamed of doing as a child.  He said he’d be honored to be able to serve his community and his nation; to be able to put on a badge.  You see, he’s a police officer who puts his life on the line for us each and every day.
And today, Officer James Belcher is graduating with a degree in criminal justice.  Congratulations, Officer Belcher.  (Applause.)  Where are ya?  Thank you for your service.  And congratulations to all the Liberty graduating class of 2019.  Let’s hear it for this extraordinary group of young men and women.  (Applause.)

(Read: Sick joke about putting a turtle on a fencepost, which is mean, vicious and a sad and degrading reflection of the value of every animal’s life.) You know, this is a great day, but I can tell, looking out at all of you, that you know you didn’t get here on your own.  You know, there’s an old saying back in the state of Indiana that when you see a box turtle on a fence post, one thing you know for sure: he had help getting there.  (Laughter.)  And I know that’s true of all of you.

(Read:  Inane platitudes about making your life’s friends at college – implies/infers folks don’t change after they graduate.) For the last four years, your professors, and the faculty, and the administration here at Liberty have poured themselves into your lives.  The friends you made here, who studied with you, who prayed with you, and reassured you during those anxious days of papers and exams — I’ll let you in on something: They’re going to be some of the best friends you ever have in your life.  And that won’t change.

(Read: puffery towards parent alums and Moms. All feel-good talk. No critical perspectives here.) But most important of all, long before you arrived on this campus, your parents were there.  And they’re here today.  Every step of the way, they were encouraging you, supporting you, believing in you.  And on this Mother’s Day weekend, I can’t help but think of the moms who drove you to school, helped you with your homework, took you to games, and they got you dressed on that first day, and they hugged you on the last one.  Can we just ask all the moms who are here with us today to stand up and take a bow?  (Applause.)  The Class of 2019 knows they wouldn’t be here without you.

(Read: Says jobs are coming back but they aren’t. Lies.) Today, you, the Class of 2019, will graduate from an extraordinary university.  You’ll enter new careers and new endeavors.  And they say timing is everything.  And, Class of 2019, I just want to tell you, you picked a great time to graduate because after two years of the leadership of President Donald Trump, jobs are coming back and America is back.  You are entering a growing American economy.  (Applause.)  It’s true.

(Read: America’s “stature in the world” has never been more greatly ridiculed than under Trump and Pence. He lies.) The America that awaits your energies and ambitions is experiencing a new era of opportunity and optimism.  You’re beginning your careers at a time when this economy is growing.  And we’ve restored American stature at home and abroad.

(Read: He twists the truth, which is that we need immigrants to take more jobs but Trump is keeping those numbers down. More Americans are working because they have to -because the rich have taken the money and tax benefits and run away with them. The middle classes are shrinking dramatically, the very class you should hope to be in.)  Businesses large and small, in little more than the last two years, have created more than 5.8 million jobs.  Unemployment is at a nearly 50-year low.  And there are more Americans working today than ever before in the history of this country.  And this year, for the first time ever, there are more job openings in America than there are Americans looking for work.  That’s good timing, Liberty!  (Applause.)

(Read: I know that Liberty alums discriminate against non-Liberty alums, so as long as you go looking for work among alums, you should be, well, in a small club of persons who are just like you.) Not that Liberty graduates are going to have any trouble finding a job.  I can promise you, the Liberty name carries great weight with employers all over the country.  And I should know.  I’m proud to say there are actually four Liberty alumni on the Vice President’s staff at the White House today.  And we’re proud of each and every one of them.  (Applause.)

(Read: Takes credit for the economy which was already better under the previous administration and is now suffering under Trump's trade wars) So the American economy is soaring, and you all ought to know that prosperity didn’t just happen.  Since day one of our administration, President Trump and I have been advancing the very principles and values that you studied and learned here at Liberty — principles and values that are making our country strong and great again.

(Read: Assumes there was something wrong with our foreign policy when there was not. Suggests the enemies have not changed when Trump has revised the list of who he approves and who he does not. Puffery towards important rightist American Jews.) We’ve been rebuilding our military, standing with our allies, and standing up to our enemies.  And under this administration, if the world knows nothing else, the world knows this: America stands with Israel.  (Applause.)

Here at home, we’ve been expanding freedom (also known as undercutting personal protections), cutting taxes (also known as cutting taxes for the wealthy but not for the poor), rolling back the regulatory state (also known as stripping the Executive Departments’ capacity to do their law-directed jobs of service and protection of the American people), returning authority to the people and the states (also known as refusing to coordinate with states on programs involving federal-state funds for public services needed by the poor and sick in our nation).  And we’ve been upholding the the foundation of our laws by defending — or by nominating strong conservatives to our courts at every level (also known as placing judges in positions to counter efforts to protect the public air, water, land and public rights, services and freedoms).  And I promise you, as of this last week, 103 judges confirmed to our courts.  And every one of them will (read: NOT) uphold all the God-given liberties enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.  (Applause.)

You’re entering an America where you have a President and an administration that is (Read: NOT) standing strong for all the liberties we cherish: the freedom of speech, the freedom of religion (the freedom of association, the freedom to non-violently protest authoritarian and non-representative democracy. A nation where, yes, even your Senators in Congress, may have decided NOT to discuss or permit a vote on a given law because, frankly, it might be good for the desperate people of our nation).  And we stand without apology for the sanctity of human life (We do this despite shaking hands with the murderers of the world, openly and with complete and breathtaking moral equivalency. Because we can do whatever we want, even if it would be against everything Christ ever stood for!)  (Applause.)

The truth is, when you leave Liberty Mountain, you’re going to find an America filled with promise.  And I know the men and women of the Class of 2019 will thrive because you have the support of your families, you’ve gotten a tremendous education, and because, here at Liberty, it was all built on a foundation that cannot be shaken.  And I know what I’m talking about.

(Read: We hear about how Pence wanted a cross and re-embraced his religion in college.) You know, maybe like many of you graduates today, I was raised in a churched home.  But by the time I got to high school, I was one of those people who still went to church, but I was just going through the motions.  I decided to go my own way.
I got to college though, and I started to meet some people that I could tell had something I lacked.  It wasn’t just confidence or an easy familiarity with success.  I really knew they had something that I didn’t have.  And the only way I could describe it was joy.  They seemed to have a peace, regardless of their circumstances.  And I was drawn to them.
So I decided to start attending a Christian fellowship on campus.  I had this friend who was wearing a really cool cross around his neck, and so I started asking him where he got it so I could get one.  It’s true.  Frankly, I started to pester him about it.
And I’ll never forget the day I went up to him and I said, “Hey man, you know, I’ve decided to go ahead and do the Christian thing.  So, I want to get one of those crosses you wear, so let me know where you got it.”
And he looked at me and said something that I’ll never forget.  He looked me in the eye and he said, “Mike, you know, you got to wear it in your heart before you wear it around your neck.”  (Applause.)
And I wrestled with those words for days.  I didn’t know what he meant, but I knew there was truth in it.
A few weeks later, I found myself at a youth Christian music festival in Wilmore, Kentucky.  I listened to a sermon or two all day long, and I heard those words I’d heard ever since I was a little boy, that “God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

(Read: Pence turns his re-embrace of religion into a mythical conversion experience.)  But on that rainy Saturday night, I heard it differently.  Sitting on that hillside, I realized that also meant that God so loved me that he gave his only son to save me.  And overwhelmed not with guilt but with a heart overflowing with gratitude, that night I put my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior, and it’s made all the difference.  (Applause.)

(Read: Says go be Christians in the world.) So, I say, not so much as your Vice President, but as a brother in Christ, if what you’ve seen and heard and learned in this place has also taken hold in your hearts, go from here and live it out, share it, because America needs men and women of integrity and faith now more than ever.  (Applause.)  It’s true.

(Read: Creates fear by referring to religious wars in foreign countries that target Christians, which are technically run by criminal gangs posing as terrorists.) The truth is, we live in a time when the freedom of religion is under assault.  Yesterday, I was informed by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that today Christians suffer more persecution around the world than any other religion.  In fact, the United Kingdom released a report just last week that said persecution of Christians worldwide is “near genocide levels.”

(Read: Focuses on how right-wing terrorists have targeted Jews and Muslims in America and New Zealand but doesn’t call the attackers that.)  In the last few months, we’ve seen unspeakable attacks on people of faith — on Jewish synagogues in Pennsylvania and California, on mosques in New Zealand, Christian churches in Sri Lanka, and on three historically black churches in Louisiana.
(Maybe the only good thing he said without any nuance in the entire speech) No one should ever fear for their safety in a place of worship, and these attacks on people of faith must stop.  (Applause.)
One week ago, I was standing before the charred remains of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Louisiana.  And I must tell you, I was deeply inspired by the example of Pastor Gerald Toussaint.  He’s a pastor at one of the three churches that was burned.  But he was the one that said on the day that they arrested the arsonist, he said, quote, “We’ve got to forgive him.”  And Pastor Toussaint brought a community together with faith and grace.  They overcame evil with good.  (Applause.)
And that’s the kind of faith we need to see more of in these divided times — faith that unites on a foundation of grace.
(Read: Makes a leap of nasty discrimination-bating moral equivalency as a cynical statement) Because we live in a time when it’s become acceptable and even fashionable to ridicule and even discriminate against people of faith.  Dr. Carson just talked about it a few moments ago.

(Read: Creating division and stirring up anger and hatred on issues embraced by some religious groups but which have nothing to do with religion, instead, having to do with both human rights and women’s rights, women’s health and women’s freedom to choose. Creating hatred of film-world activists for no good, decent or Christian reason.) You know, it wasn’t all that long ago that the last administration brought the full weight of the federal government against the Little Sisters of the Poor merely because that group of nuns refused to provide a health plan that violated their deeply held religious beliefs.  And when the state of Georgia recently was debating legal protections for the unborn, a bevy of Hollywood liberals said they would boycott the entire state.

(Read: suckering for a position as some sort of Christ-like fall-guy for his wife’s having gotten a plumb job in a private school that discriminates by not allowing gays – LGBTQ)  And when my wife Karen returned to teach art at an elementary Christian school earlier this year, we faced harsh attacks by the media and the secular Left.  And a major newspaper reporter actually started a new hashtag, called “Expose Christian Schools,” inviting students to share their “horror stories” of Christian education.

(Read: Turns, instead of to the discriminations he approves of which are clearly known to his audience from his last statement above, to the ‘freedom of religion’ – this infers that an argument for discriminating against LGBTQ persons starts with the Bill of Rights, which it does not.) The freedom of religion is enshrined in our First Amendment and in the hearts of every American.  And these attacks on Christian education are un-American.  (Applause.)  I’m proud to report our administration has already taken decisive action to protect religious liberty, and we’ll continue to do just that.  And I promise you: We will always stand up for the right of Americans to live, to learn, and to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience.  (Applause.)(More moral equivalency follows at the end of this paragraph, as you can see.)

(Read: No one will take your (er, gun) er, religion away. Creates a word subterfuge that reads, pro-gun ownership while pretending to succor the people as if they needed to know and did not trust that our American Constitution would protect their right to their religious freedom – in particular, theirs.)  The American people cherish our tradition of religious education, and as President Trump said at this very podium two years ago, on our watch, “No one is ever going to stop you from practicing your faith or from preaching what is in your heart.”  That’s a promise.  (Applause.)

(Read:  Moving into his most controversial remarks. Creating a moral equivalency between their religious freedom and creating audience fear that their expression of that would result in ridicule or shunning, most often experienced today by Muslims and Jews.) But my message to all of you in the Class of 2019 is — derives of the moment that we’re living in today.  You know, throughout most of American history, it’s been pretty easy to call yourself Christian.  It didn’t even occur to people that you might be shunned or ridiculed for defending the teachings of the Bible.

(Read: Moving into the lie and what I call the ‘devil’s wedge’, disappointment, generating by raising fear, hatred and anger. )(Look it up). But things are different now.  Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for traditional Christian beliefs. (This is a LIE, graduates: Some of the loudest voices for tolerance today have little tolerance for those who express NO tolerance for differences between people, differences of race, class, religion, sexual orientation. Christ would have embraced all persons. Christ would have you respect and love ALL persons, regardless of their differences. As would the Muslim faith, the Buddhist faith, and others.) 
(Read: Now he is preparing to ‘give his only command’ of the speech.) So as you go about your daily life, just be ready.  
(Read: Pence is preparing persons for a warning, not for good news or good advice. This is a fear-based approach, a fear-mongering approach, to begin with.) 
Because you’re going to be asked not just to tolerate things that violate your faith; you’re going to be asked to endorse them.  

(This is a lie. Your religion in Christ does not require you to endorse things that are against the law. We are a nation of laws. Religious speech is protected, but criminal and civil law govern public and private behavior, what is permitted and what is not. Faith is not the law. Persons are protected from discrimination by law. Hate crimes encourage punishment for persons who refuse to respect other’s rights based on specific hate-based premises: it’s again the law. Rule of law. It’s the best way to work together, play together, respect each other and live together, with our differences and rights.) 

You’re going to be asked to bow down to the idols of the popular culture. 
(Another horrible image of someone being told they had to bow to someone else – who would say this? It sounds insane! It reminds me of a blow-job actually. The only person who wants you to bow down seems to be Trump and Pence. Shame on them for making you feel ashamed and concerned that ‘popular culture’ would make someone – would ‘force’ someone to bow down. And what is “popular culture”?  Is popular culture the RULE OF LAW? Law follows cultural norms. Yours has followed and developed over centuries: it is NOT “popular culture.”)

(Read: Pence acts like he has to now tell them to move towards some sort of action – but what action would that be? An action that protects them from invaders? Aliens? Mexican Catholics?  Muslims?) So you need to prepare your minds for action, men and women.  You need to show that we can love God and love our neighbor at the same time through words and deeds.  (Pence lets up on the nasty thoughts and images of fear and preparation for attack that he himself just laid in the minds of the listeners – just in time to make them grateful, they probably experienced a sense of relief – maybe also because this speech is almost over.) (Applause.)  

And you need to be prepared to meet opposition. (Pence sticks this last pin in their heads as if it’s important to count on fighting against something, instead of finding peace, developing in cooperative social worlds, jobs, etc.)

(Read: Pence lays a veneer of tradition over his nasty and hateful suggestions by puffery-quoting the founder of the school, the quote also suggests that there is great moral value in forcing yourself against others to get ahead in the world, not a Christian value…) As the founder of this university often said, quote, “No one ever achieved greatness without experiencing opposition.”

(Pence extends his message, referring to the Bible to suggest that if the graduates go down, so will the other guy. This is warlike talk and un-Christian. It almost reminds of a nuclear war in which there would be no survivors, policies that Trump’s administration has made more plausible by canceling the treaty with Russia. I consider this very scary and very surrealistic political posturing.) So, men and women of Liberty University, Class of 2019, as you strive for greatness, know that you’ll face challenges, you’ll face opposition.  But just know this: If, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, you end up in the fire, there’ll be another in the fire.  (Applause.)

(Pence dials it back again, embracing values of respect and gentleness.) So, Class of 2019, my word to all of you is decide here and now that you’re going to stand firm, that you’ll put into practice all the things you learned here on Liberty Mountain, that you’ll never give up, that you’ll persevere, and that you’ll always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have, and you’ll do so with gentleness and respect.  Because our nation and our world need that message of grace and love maybe more now than ever before.

(Pence does his version of the pastor blessing the congregation.) And as you do these things, in increasing measure, I promise you, you’ll be blessed, you’ll be a blessing to your family, to your coworkers, and you’ll be a blessing to this nation.

(Pence suggests that what he is doing is strengthening America with morality, which, in fact, Trump is not doing: he is weakening American with immoral and unethical, even criminal behavior – daily.) America has always been a nation of faith.  And as our first Vice President, John Adams, said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  So just know, as you strengthen your foundation of faith and the foundation of faith among the American people, you will be strengthening the foundation of America itself.  (Applause.)

So thank you for the honor of addressing you today.  To all our graduates, I say: Have faith.  Have faith in yourselves, proven by what you’ve accomplished to get you to this very day.  Have faith in the principles and the ideals that you learned here and the noble mission that’s always animated this university.  And have faith that He who brought you this far will never leave you, nor forsake you, because He never will.

(Pence can’t help but stick another political sucker pin into the speech. Here, at the end, it feels even more abrasive, obtrusive, generating anger and hatred and helping foment division, in his ‘great again’ line.) So, Class of 2019, this is your day.  The world awaits.  As you leave this place, go forth for Liberty.  Make Liberty proud.  We will all be cheering you every step of the way.  And never forget: Where the spirit of the Lord is, there’s Liberty.  And I know — (applause) — right after we get done getting this country great again, you’re going to make America greater than ever before.
Congratulations, Class of 2019.  You did it.  (Applause.)
God bless you.  And God bless America.  (Applause.)
END                 11:18 A.M. EDT

--
No, Mr. Pence, we will never forget – that is, never forget – how great our country was before you became Vice President, and how little you’ve done to keep it great – how very little. And when we speak about how little that is, let us say, it’s got to be the littlest amount. This can be done, as you know, by your being the quietest person in a room of non-Christians, the one who never challenges a non-Christian policy direction, the one whose charity does not extend in Christian ways, the one who has nothing but blame and hatred for those who are different than you, and nothing but secret disgust for those who care to keep our nation’s spirit truly open and truly great.

Dear Graduates of Liberty University,

Your parents and you yourselves have made this day possible. Your graduation is fraught with promise and obligation, not just for you and your family, but for the world. Be brave and open-minded. Be sure to spend time with people who are not like you. Travel widely around in the world if you can, for work and pleasure, and be curious about how others live, what they prioritize in their lives and why, how their social systems are set up, how they function to help those in need, as well as how they help their people excel, both in their personal lives and in their work and business lives. 

Be careful about pre-judging people based on their appearance, their age, their condition, their beliefs. Many across the world hunger for connection with others. Many love to meet Americans, to examine their belief systems and to ask them about their own life stories. Be open to communicating with persons from different cultures.

Your model in Christianity should be to use Jesus Christ as a model for your own behavior in the world. Christ was a human among us. How did he behave? What were the myriad lessons he shared with his disciples and the world? Make yourself into the Christ consciousness in all your work and play. How does one do that? I can think of a couple of necessary elements I would share with you. First, be sure you spend meaningful amounts of time with people, not with your phones and PCs;  not with machines, but with people. Develop a pattern of relationship-building with people, not all of whom are exactly like you. Learn to see their values and help them help you to learn also to be a bigger, broader version of yourself as you grow older, a wiser self. To do this also requires self-contemplation. You are only now at a stage, many of you, when this seems hard to do. Yet, in the years ahead of you, with practice, you can develop the sort of self-contemplation that lets God guide you in this life, that lets his will be your will, that tells you, if you listen deeply in quiet calm times alone with yourself, what it is you should do, which path you should take, how you can help another, how you can help yourself and the world to be a better place to live and experience.

This will also require you to be bold in your positions at times. We are afraid in these situations. You have now been given a rock-solid education. Don't be afraid to expand your horizons in life, to stand firmly for what you believe in. Blend this with tolerance - tolerance of those who have other opinions. Appreciate differences in opinions - let those be your well-spring for intellectual development. Read widely. Read much.

Finally, appreciate actual truths, actual facts. Never listen to the demagogue, the braggart, the snake-oil salesman, the con-artist, the shyster. Each of these has their own giant guilty burden they carry and distribute everywhere.

And never let 'the devil's wedge' into your home or life. The devil wants to sell you anger, hatred of others, meanness, and its wedge is disappointment. Hold always hope in your highest heart of hearts, in your mind, as a beacon, that we as a species can become better for each other and for all living beings, for the entire world as we find it; that we can improve it for future generations not yet born, and for our children that we preserve its integrity and clean it, so we can preserve the bio-diversity that we ourselves are a part of.

God bless you all, and God speed you in your wonderful lives as graduates of Liberty University.

-June Edvenson
an American attorney living and working in Norway
a graduate of the 'religious high school' North Park Academy, Chicago
a graduate of the 'religious college' Carthage College, Kenosha, Wisconsin


Thursday, April 18, 2019

AG Barr's '4-page' letter on Mueller's report misrepresents the law

This is really a short memo to note that I decided to download and read AG Barr's 4-page memo to Congress on the Mueller report. (I did that after just learning that he had, under his previous work for Bush, misrepresented the law on specific areas that he sought to influence the administration to take a particular position on.)

Sure enough: the 4-page letter includes misrepresentations of current law. Let's look at how.

On the first issue of what has been called collusion but is really conspiracy and coordinated fraud, Barr only refers to the part of the Mueller report that indicates what Mueller "did not" find. We move on.

On the second issue, of obstruction of justice, Barr says that Mueller lines up all the evidence on both sides. It sounds like some folks would consider that evidence sufficient "beyond a reasonable doubt" including done with "corrupt intent". So it will be interesting to see if Barr released all of this evidence.

What bothers me most, however, are his arguments about how he's protecting the process in some way by not releasing the Mueller report in its entirety to Congress, which he should do.

Barr refers to several federal laws in making his arguments in this last part of the letter. He also refers to a law review article. Since law review articles are NOT THE LAW, I will defer on that. I haven't read it. But anyone can read what the laws he refers to say.

What I did was look very closely at the two other spots that AG Barr then makes a citation - a footnote to what he is stating, about the Mueller report in the letter and, in general, about the process.

He slying writes, "it is apparent that the report contains material that is or could be subject to Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure 6(e), which imposes restrictions on the use and disclosure of information relating to "matter(s) occurring before (a) grand jury."

Section e actually says that all proceedings MUST BE RECORDED (except for the grand jury's actual deliberations or their voting time).

Section e also states NO OBLIGATION OF SECRECY MAY BE IMPOSED ON ANY PERSON EXCEPT IN ACCORDANCE WITH RULE 6(e)(2)(B). That section states that UNLESS THESE RULES PROVIDE OTHERWISE, a list of persons "must not disclose a matter occurring before the grand jury" - and the list includes the grand jurors, interpreters, court reporters, persons in the room, etc.

HOWEVER, Section e also has a section called EXCEPTIONS. The first exception states that "Disclosure of a grand-jury matter" . . . "may be made to . . . any government personnel - including those of a state, state subdivision, Indian tribe or foreign government - that an attorney for the government considers necessary to assist in performing that attorneys' duty to enforce federal criminal law."  This means that any attorney working for the government, CAN decide that the matters SHOULD be released to any state actor, such as a Congressperson or even Congressional staff, if they thought that would assist them in developing the enforcement of criminal law!

This means there is NO EXCUSE for not releasing the entire report to Congress!
Of course, Congressional powers can assist in the development of the enforcement of criminal law. That enforcement might lead to the capture and prosecution of persons now planning the disruption of the 2020 Election in the U.S. but for whom the law now in place is not strong enough nor specific enough to respond quickly and effectively to stop criminal activity related to obstructing the democratic voting process.

I would show my copied-over version of Barr's letter, in which I include the sections of the federal law he refers to, but can't manage to add it to this posting - sorry. I've cited the points I wanted to make, in any case.

In Barr's next footnote, Barr seems to be suggesting that 'you better watch out if you ask to see all of it' - but the citation he puts there is actually citing a section of law that gives COURTS (NOT HIM) the power to find someone in contempt for violating procedures and processes. Without stating it, he acts like this is 'his' deterrent against 'procedural violations'! Sorry, buddy: it's the court's deterrent: you aren't in charge of that decision. This means he's also suggested that the gap between the judicial power and the executive power has been 'crossed' in some fashion - i.e. by his statement of enforcement authority which he does not hold. And that is illegal. Gee, we're really scared now about Barr's power to hurt us if we try to find out what our taxpayer dollars paid for our best legal minds to . . . find out . . . and then tell us.

Maybe someone needs to go to jail.  For contempt - or violation of the process.  Maybe someone needs to lose his law license. Maybe that's AG Barr.

As I wrote since I originally released this blog post: the two footnotes I analyzed from AG Barr's letter, if written by a law student into, for example, a law class paper, and if then reviewed closely by the law professor in giving that student a grade, would simply flunk miserably! And yet, he's permitted to 'shovel this shit' at the country, Congress and our democracy? What an astoundingly galling reality!

-June Edvenson is an American attorney living and working in Norway. She is a former Administrative Law Judge and Hearing Officer for the State of Illinois, a Fellow of the International Bar Association, and active in international tax and legal work.


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Want to Run Against Donald Trump in 2020?

You’re welcome to. I’m not really interested. Yes, in spite of what happened, but perhaps more accurately, because of what happened.



You see, when Donald Trump won the presidency, it was November of 2016. He quickly took to Twitter and said something mean and stupid about someone else. I quickly took to Twitter and replied that, as President, he should behave in a presidential manner – and that, basically he should “shut up” and not use Twitter as a platform for – whatever he had on his mind. He continued to use Twitter, and I continued to reply that he shouldn’t. I’m pretty sure he never ‘blocked me’ on Twitter: I’m frankly a pretty tiny fish in the sea of Americans who didn’t like him and didn’t want him to be our President. I’m sure he’s gotten, by now, hundreds of thousands of tweet replies that say, basically, what I have said in mine.



What I did do, however, was happen to mention on Twitter in a tweet or tweet reply that if he wouldn’t stop being so stupid, I might have to run for President in 2020 myself, seeing as I was certainly more qualified than he was to be President.



It’s all there if anyone wants to see it. My Twitter 'feed name' is: @pelicanposts. This was back at the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017, as Trump began his presidency. I know: you’re too busy. And I am too busy - to look back at this material: life and important events rush forward and priorities carry us on to the next day and important issue to address. Like many, I have used links to interesting and important stories and opinions to share my own concerns and requests for action - on Twitter. My focus has been on the environment, responsible budget management, responsible tax policy, responsible public administration, responsible human rights and rule of law participation points. You get the picture.



In the Spring, I often go to Florida these days. There, I visit my sister and my aunt and uncle and generally get my fill of sunshine and warmth, returning to Norway after the birch pollen season ends, with my sinuses thankfully intact and saved from the experience.



That explains why, on May 31, 2017, I was boarding United Airlines Flight 1631 from Tampa to Newark, with a continuation ticket to Oslo that evening on Scandinavian Air. We were scheduled to take off about 2 p.m. I had been seated at a seat of my usual choice, an aisle seat about half-way back on the plane on the right. Before the plane took off, I was approached by one of the airline stewardesses: I was going to have to move – I declined. She said I could not choose not to move, and I would be seated in the back row, right, with a window seat. I told her I did not want a window seat and was fine where I was. She said she was sorry about it, but I could not stay seated there. I was re-seated – against my wishes.



Shortly after the plane took off, the seat next to me, which was empty, was filled by an overly gregarious guy from the front of the plane. He said he was with his wife and just wanted to take a break from sitting up there. She came back a few minutes later, bringing him two bottles of red wine. He asked me if I would like any and I said no. I was not interested in talking to this man, but he was very interested in talking to me. I tried to read and he continually interrupted me. He simply ‘had’ to know where I was from and where I was going, expressing amazement and delight over nothing at all. He also simply ‘had’ to show me all of his Facebook photographs, which oddly were materializing on his cell phone, despite the fact that we were flying through non-internet connected space. He had to talk to me about how he met his soul mate in - why, yes, Bradenton, and how she had a son from a former relationship but they all got along very well. I asked him at one point what he did for a living and he told me he actually spoke to women on the phone - for money – that’s right: they were lonely and he would hear them, ‘console’ them, you know, it was lucrative and they called and he would talk to them. Not get involved, but yes, help them feel better. He said he was spending part years in Florida and part years in Greece. And, oh, by the way, he and his lady friend were on a trip to New York to attend a wedding. So he said. I didn’t ask whose.



Eventually, this man who insisted on scrolling through hundreds of photographs of the Greek Islands, all of which looked like every other person’s photos of the Greek Islands, steered the conversation towards politics. Would your antennae not be up at this point, reader?



I asked this man, who said his name was Andreas (but who could not produce his Facebook front page showing me that the name Andreas appeared there), if he wished to continue to chat, wouldn’t he please send me a friend request on Facebook. I had, as I told him, both a personal page and a business page. He said he would definitely do that.



He then insisted on discussing Donald Trump, not pejoratively, but to question what he was about, so to speak and get me to comment. I declined to engage. He then asked me what I would do – wouldn’t I like to change the Republican party. (I was a Republican candidate for office in the past, in the Chicago-Oak Park, Illinois area during the 1990s on two occasions.) I did not ‘bite.’ By this time the two bottles of wine were empty and he’d had to let me fall into my own solitude, on and off. But before the crew announced that we would be starting to descend to our Newark destination, he asked me if I’d ever had an interest in running for President.

I had nothing to hide - I had tweeted to the effect that I would - if no one else decent did.

Then he turned to me as he stood and said something to the effect of, ‘Well, I think it’s pretty presumptuous to assume that someone can run for President just because they don’t like the way things are going. I think I may have said, ‘Oh, you think so.’ He then said, ‘Yes, you wouldn’t want to do that now, would you?’ I could hardly believe my ears. I believe I may have said, ‘What?’ He repeated himself quite firmly as he stood to leave and return to his seat up front, ‘You wouldn’t want to do that now, would you?’ I answered softly after a brief pause, ‘No.’ His last glance at me held no amusement, and his jolly demeanor was already gone.



The flight landed and that was the last I heard from or saw ‘Andreas.’ By the way, there is no Andreas matching this man’s age and description located in Bradenton, Florida on Facebook. So here are my questions:



Who was this man?

How was he able to bump me from my plane seat and re-direct the way in which I would spend the flight?

On what pretext was he able to secure the cooperation of United Airlines in what basically turned out to be a hazing situation related to my expressed interest in running against Donald Trump as a Republican for President in 2020? A hazing that, given its intent, was undertaken specifically to get me to give up my right to freedom of speech and expression, in part, as well as my right to freedom of association and the free will to be involved in determining what I will do, why and when.

Who would do this? And why?

Who paid for it? And why?

At this time, Steve Bannon was on the White House staff as an advisor. I also knew that I had tweeted a reply to him that he wouldn't have liked. He was not a big tweeter but had tweeted, after Trump's win, that it was 'his way or the highway.'  I replied that I guessed it was the highway for him - seeing as we lived in a democracy and the people decided what happened, not him and not one person. Could Bannon have 'effected' my plane visitor? Bannon's history in Florida, by the way, is rather odd: https://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20180424/behind-casey-key-address-steve-bannon-used-questionable-associate . This is where the man who would politically harass me on the plane got on, claiming to live in the area that Bannon and his crony lived.

I think these are good questions and may lead to discovering that this sort of thing has happened to others, others that expressed disdain with President Trump’s demeanor and direction and were told, by someone at some moment, not to even get serious about it.

Who would that be? I would say, the most refreshing of the dismal possibilities is the Republican Party itself. In that case, who paid for it? Where is the paperwork? Why would they do this? Are they not open-minded about what Republicans think about President Trump? We now know that they are not only not open-minded, but that the Trump organization, only a week ago, enlisted the Republican party in creating a single entity that will go forward towards the 2020 election on Trump’s behalf. And that is plain scary.

The next possibility is that the Trump organization itself was handling this – perhaps through their national security apparatus, which was, as we also now know, ‘compromised’ during the beginning of Trump’s term. Was one of these compromising agents involved in the little escapade to shut me up? In any one of these cases, perhaps the FBI, or even Mr. Mueller himself, is interested in my story.

Well, let the hounds of legal justice and rule of law out: we've got some wolves to find, and they haven't been found yet. They have frankly roamed a United Airlines plane - with impunity - targeting a person who wished to express her opinions about the current President, and who, also, offered to run for President. Me. 

I am simply saying, this isn't nothing - this is big. And this is not okay. This is not even in the least permissible.



You see, it’s not alright to treat people like this for speaking their mind in America. That goes for all the people of the United States. We must stand up to this sort of behavior, and we must do it now or risk losing even more of our precious but fragile rights-based freedoms.

I hope someone is interested in tracing down what occurred to me on that plane, who this man was, who sent him, why, and who paid for it. I will help as much as I can. I think it’s the least we can do for the little man or woman who might, someday, want to run for President of the United States – the one who should NOT be told that they “better not even think about it.”


-June Edvenson,
an American attorney, living and working in Norway
www.edvensonconsulting.com

Monday, January 9, 2017

Not Blogging in 2017?

It's been a long hard slog to get through 2016 and not fall behind in my work. Actually impossible:  as it stands, I'm still working on new catch-up tax return sets for Americans overseas who became aware of their filing obligations to the IRS last year - and those are soon completed!

You are welcome to contact me if you need to file US tax returns and are an American overseas. I continue to do this work and plan to work with another PTIN-registered preparer to take on new clients.

So what is the purpose of this blog post? It's more a short memo on the changing of the year, 2016 to 2017.

1. You and I have less time to discuss the grave social and political needs of U.S. citizens, despite needing to do so more than ever, as we look towards Trump soon taking the presidency, a fact that instills fear and desperation in the hearts of millions of Americans.

2. Tax news facts and tax return news are of special interest. I will be keeping my listed and accepted clients informed on these in my tax client newsletters.

3. Communicative messages are now being relayed with ever-increasing brevity. This removes the value of the essay, the writer's development of a train of thought and argument. The entire capacity of our intelligence and mental capabilities is short-circuited into drops of meaning no larger than, well, a teardrop or a bird's small twitter.  Instead of crying, at the moment, I'm doing my best with it - by visiting Twitter and Facebook and using them to share messages and articles I believe are of special interest to my readers.

4. I am also working on writing longer works for publication. My writing to publish dream is not over and my determination to continue with my projects is stronger than ever. These will be given their time to ripen during 2017. Perhaps a flower of publication will bloom this year or next.

5. You will find me on Facebook at the Facebook page, Edvenson Consulting. Feel free to 'like' this page and you may find yourself receiving weekly updates with an article or two to share and enjoy. You will also find me on Twitter at: pelicanposts. There, I'm making more regular small comments when news of special interest pops up - news or assertions in need of an intelligent reply or remark.

6. The status of legal cases and stories I've worked on is dismaying:

John Kristoffer Larsgard remains in Arizona prison, despite being eligible for transfer out of country to his own nation to finish his term - which has been lengthened repeatedly for supposedly bad behavior, such as attempting to assist a fellow inmate in returning his jacket to his room after a visit. A court case he brought against the system was nearly won when at the very last moment (jury had already deliberated) the judge called for the jury to stand down - thus permitting an out-of-court settlement no one will talk about, a nearly entire travesty of justice just continued and continuing. The bad prison treatment then continues, the isolation continues, the injustice continues. Tell me something different and I'll publish it.

The state of mixed American-Norwegian children in Norway whose Norwegian mothers continue to misbehave and violate Norwegian and international rights law and get away with it - refusing visitations, making up stories to ward off American fathers out of country, are sick and sad. They are examples of the very worst in human behavior - the behavior that looks away from "the best interests of the child" to the "the best interests of me" but gets it wrong: they are wrong and their arguments are wrong. The attorneys they hire in Norway are wrong and should be embarrassed to evade the law so brazenly in their representations. Their antics are effective without using much money and the Norwegian courts should do more to put a stop to it: they should permit out-of-country parents the right to sue in Norwegian courts and have court fees paid by the state during the court process. The state should then recoup those fees from the violator - yes, the little mother and her nasty attorney. This is the sad status of  not one, but two stories I have worked with for years. It suits Norway to behave as if their system is perfectly in tune with international treaties and requirements when, in practice, it sucks. Yes, I did say that, sorry.


 And that's just the 'tip of the iceberg' for me related to my work, Americans in America and Americans overseas.

So, with that, let's say: Happy New Year, 2017: may all injustices be righted in this year, and may those who have brought them about be punished and their influences removed. May those who follow the law live long and well, and may those who do not cooperate, abuse their position, and villify rightness - and, as well, place their personal goals above those of the public's health, safety and welfare - fail miserably.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Charade Conversation at FBI Director Comey's office - Happy Halloween

Dangerous Moves at the FBI – Why?

I’m an American attorney. I live in Norway where I work. Luckily, I also have a few weeks each year when I can get to the U.S., and therefore this article comes from the Florida side of my life. The news in Florida is often considered to be THE weirdest. This state gets that reputation from real news (Just one evidentiary collection is found at: http://brobible.com/life/article/outrageous-florida-stories-2015/ ), as well as from the hilarious-but-serious literary efforts of authors such as Carl Hiassen.

But now that I am once again in Florida, the weirdest news I’ve heard is the news that the Director of the FBI is, um, copying Trump. Yes, folks: he’s making un-substantiated allegations that Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, which have been thoroughly gone through by him and his staff, are on the table again – or, well, some others that might not be the same as the ones that were already on the table – but, then again, may be the same ones that were already found to be basically okay. . . even if he didn’t think she should have used the internet e-mail server she was using (as if we, the average smart and educated person, by the way, knows about what internet server to use in an effective and realistically applicable way).

The Director’s latest ‘announcement’ – coming 9 days before Election Day? – is so OUT of ORDER that I, and many other people - even Trump supporters and conservative Republicans - are amazed and disturbed.

Therefore, I thought I would put this into perspective. How? By trying to determine why it would have happened.  . . .

On a dark and windy night, in October, 2016:

(Tree branches rattle against the office window. The wind is whipping harshly tonight)

At a secret meeting in the FBI Director’s office, the day before his announcement, we join the ongoing conversation:

Paul Ryan: Listen, Jim, I just can’t help it. I wouldn’t be here if I could! I mean, she’s killing Trump on the campaign trail. So what if it’s with facts and figures – what are we going to do if the Republican party is shown up as the complete charade it seems to be today?  I mean, we NEED HELP, Jim! We have to have something to show for our campaign - besides Trump’s big-mouthed retorts, over and over again, about Hillary e-mails. They just don’t ‘stick’ anymore.

Director James Comey:  Well, you could have come up with a f----g political agenda. You know, a platform! What kind of party are you anyway? Bunch of do-nothings. It’s not MY job to save your a---. Go on back out there and just mumble something about looking forward to getting your troops back into Congress – so you can boss them around some more about why they shouldn’t do anything for anyone except the NRA.

Paul Ryan:  Now, that’s cutting it too close. I couldn’t help it.  You saw how Trump took over the Republican debates before the nomination convention. It was pathetic:  no one could stand up there on that stage with him and get in a decent word edgewise! Even Jeb Bush bowed out, and he’s a seasoned politician with a good record.

And now we’re stuck. We need your help! You’ve GOT to re-open this e-mail topic, it’s our last chance.

Director James Comey:  What do I get for it? You know, I can sit in this office for 10 years either way. 

Paul Ryan: Well, what about the limelight? You’d be the star of the Republican party – at least as long as you couldn’t finish any new ‘reviews’ until after the election. It could help me keep my Congressional waistcoat buddies on my team, and you know how we like to waste taxpayer dollars.

Director James Comey: You know, Paul, you’re a heartless jerk. But I can see a glimmer of light here. We’re still working on Weiner’s investigation. Maybe I could tie some new e-mail inquiry to that.

Paul Ryan: Weiner? Oh, that’d be great: everyone hates that prick already – except his online girlfriends I guess. Yeah, definitely tie him to Hillary news and e-mails. IT’ll double our pleasure! A knock-out punch.

Director James Comey: I’m still trying to figure out what I get for it. After all, you know, I’m not supposed to do anything that might politically affect the election, especially for the months headed towards Election Day. I mean, it’s just 10 days away!  And there are rules about this.

Paul Ryan: F—k the rules. We’re highlighting your important power in this situation. The Director of the FBI has been a mole since Hoover left office. And McCarthyism is on the way back ‘in’, anyway: you can see it in the eyes of Trump’s followers! They love to scream for the blood of their supposed enemies, even if they are some of the people who would benefit most from supporting Hillary.
But you’re getting me off my game. Tell me, when was the last time the national press noticed you?

Director James Comey: Well, it must’ve been . . . let’s see . . . No, listen, I’ve already been quoted as saying that “I don’t give a hoot about politics.” 

Paul Ryan: Well, that’s your approach, then: if you don’t give a hoot about politics, then what difference does it make to YOU that Election Day is only 10 days away?  Just damn the torpedoes and let’s go! Give her the black-eye - again, Jim, and now.

Director James Comey: Yeah, well, we get so bogged down with small stuff - spending time keeping track of how many cops are killing how many non-aggressive citizens, catching health fraud guys, the idiots joining ISIS, the Ponzi scheme guys and the bank fraud guys. WE could use a bigger story again – I miss it.

Paul Ryan: That’s right – you miss it, and you said already you don’t have to follow the Justice Department’s rules when you’ve made up your own personal judgement on something. So just go for it.

Director James Comey: Alright, but I’ll have to say something extremely non-specific: after all, I don’t have anything more specific to say about it. I just wished she’d had more IT security at the State Department. But I can ‘milk’ it for you, Paul.

 I’m still going to come back to you later – I’ll need the strong word of the Republicans, if they win, to keep from being investigated for this. 

Ah, what the hell – I hate those committees too. F—k them. I can do whatever I want to do. As J. Edgar Hoover said, “Justice is incidental to law and order.”  Plus, if Hillary wins, there are going to be so many social and cultural initiatives, I’ll be crying to Congress for a bigger budget – and you’ll have to give it to me, won’t you, Paul?

Paul Ryan: Anything for you, Jim. Just get going and get this insinuation out to the press.

Director James Comey:  Alright alright, now get outtahere  - before someone sees you.

(Paul Ryan departs the office.)

Director James Comey: Snake. (Peers up to the portrait of J. Edgar Hoover) John Edgar, like you said, “I am government man, come from the government. The government has sent me.”  That oughtta be enough.

***

Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty.
-Plato

***

By June Edvenson



Sunday, October 9, 2016

Congress? Give Republicans What They Deserve

Congress: Give Republicans What They Deserve

The NPR commentator says, “Why?”  Why have Republicans suddenly decided to abandon their support of Trump? Especially noting that those in ‘battleground states’ who are running for Congress as Republicans are taking a very active role in that abandonment.

Journalist 2 replies, saying, “That’s a real good question!”

Really? You think so?

And Paul Ryan? Showing up at a rally to say that, despite the fact that he is not there to talk about Trump’s sexist comments, frankly he is really disgusted personally – and he really wonders what the heck is not right with a certain candidate for, you know, President.

Gee, I’m feeling a little clairvoyant then: I think I know why.  And Paul, I’m really disgusted with, well, your disingenuous disgust. Because what is going on here is precision-driven. This party has had to – and has been planning for a long while to - derail or split their support at the last minute if Trump turned out to be the crazy candidate he always promised to be – because, well, actual Republican Senators and real Republican House members, are trying to be re-elected. Or elected.

So let’s GLOAT OVER the PEOPLE’S POWER to change the course of Congress!

Who’s on the ballot?  How many Senators are affected? How many Representatives are involved? Standing Republicans seeking re-election themselves or seeking to get another Republican elected to their already-Republican state or district?

I have been saying (for years) that we must get rid of the current Congress and get a new Congress, one that will actually do something. I could say, instead, do something good.

So, just to be clear, these are the people who spent THE LAST YEARS FAILING to coordinate politically with both the other side and our President, Barack Obama, and did nothing (except for themselves, the NRA and their own favorite pork projects) while holding high office.

These are the Republican Senators to VOTE AGAINST:

Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire)
Roy Blunt (Missouri)
John Boozman (Arkansas)
Richard Burr (North Carolina)
Dan Coat’s seat (Indiana) retiring in 2016
Mike Crapo (Idaho)
Chuck Grassley (Iowa)
John Hoeven (North Dakota)
Johnny Isakson (Georgia)
Ron Johnson (Wisconsin)
Mark Kirk (Illinois)
James Lankford (Oklahoma
)Mike Lee (Utah)
John McCain (Arizona)
Jerry Moran (Kansas)
Lisa Murkowski (Alaska)
Rand Paul (Kentucky)
Rob Portman (Ohio)
Marco Rubio (Florida)
Tim Scott (South Carolina)
Richard Shelby (Alabama)
John Thune (South Dakota)
Pat Toomey (Pennsylvania)
David Vitter’s seat (Louisiana) retiring in 2016



Again, in every one of these cases, vote for the Democratic candidates. Let the elder statesmen retire now, and those younger incumbent Republicans pay big for their poorly delivered public service.

For those of you who are foreigners or did not have Government in high school, there are two houses to Congress: the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the House, the figures are even more dramatic: Yes, it is hard to believe, but according to www.ballotpedia.org, there are 19 Republicans who are actually retiring rather than run again. Luckily, there are only 9 do-nothing Democrats retiring in this election.

Currently, 24 of the 435 House seats, of those that are up for election this November, are expected to be competitive. (Many go always to the party-in-power.) And the general feeling of those reporting on such things is that there is doubt that the Democrats could become a majority in the House.

The current make-up of the Congress is: 187 Democrats and 247 Republicans. This totals 434 and there are 435 seats (one is empty pending a special election).

If ALL 24 seats classified as ‘truly competitive’ were to go to the Democrats, the House would have 211 Democrats and 223 Republicans.  THAT WOULD BE AN EXCELLENT RESULT! Vote for the Democrats and DO YOUR PART to balance the powers of the two dominant parties in the House of Representatives.

In fact, in a long list of districts, the House winner is expected to win by less than 5 percent!  So be SURE to VOTE AGAINST any Republicans in these Congressional races. If the Democrat is an incumbent, hard questions must be answered to gain your vote. IF the Democrat is brand-new to the race, great – go for it.

Representative races for 18 districts are already called a “toss up.”  Decide to change that now – in a positive, Democratic direction. Then there are those that are leaning Democratic, which already total more than those districts that are leaning Republican. Hurray!
Should things get even closer, an additional 8 districts’ Representatives will be in danger. (www.ballotpedia.org)

As well, it’s going to be a very exciting general election for Congress – an ‘open season’ in a way – since not many ‘incumbents’ were defeated in their own party primary races. So the boring old Congress members are still carrying most of their ticket places on the ballots.

Back to the question that the national journalist is asking: “Why?” are the Republicans playing a self-destructive take-back, play-back dodge  - and so near the touchdown line? Because they want to do nothing to create a consistent public policy while, at the same time, protect with evasive excuses their abuses of their positions of public service. They want to NOT be sucked down with the dross flowing from Trump’s campaign mouth, but also manage to evade losing their privileges. The problem is that their privilege is, actually, to act - positively and together - to take positions that HELP the health, safety and welfare of the people in their states and districts. Along with guiding foreign policy in positive and effective directions, this is the ONLY thing they are asked to do while in Congress. And, for the most part, they have not been doing it.

So, welcome to the insanity! But be sure to toss most of the Republicans’ back-pedaling bull into the garbage where it belongs, by voting Democratic. And DO try to vote for someone with the public’s good at heart when you make your choice for your Congressional Senators and Representatives. You know what result I would like. I actually care about the people of the United States of America. Make me happy.

***


-       June Edvenson is an American attorney and former candidate for Judge in Cook County, Illinois, for the Republican party. As such, she could say what she believed and thought should be changed, while knowing that the Democratic machine was sufficiently entrenched and corrupt to assure the delivery of the victory to all Democrats in the general elections. 


She is now an American living and working overseas and has already cast her ballot for President and members of Congress by absentee ballot from her last permanent residency in the U.S. She encourages all Americans in the U.S. and overseas to vote in all elections in which they qualify to vote.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Greetings from Norway: Follow the Money, Panama Papers


Greetings from Norway: Follow the Money, Panama Papers

The Panama Papers are a real hit in the Norwegian newspaper, Aftenposten. Each day, new revelations follow, along with the obfuscations and changing explanations of DNB Bank’s President, Rune Bjerke. I have to admit I found him a jerk when I called him accidentally some years ago. (There is another Rune Bjerke in the Oslo area who should not be confused with this man.) DNB’s president kept me on the phone, mocking me in a continuing spiral of chatter meant to make me feel timid, small and apologetic for simply having reached the wrong phone number. But now I am already digressing.

What should a bank do with its money? And what should the Norwegian bank (that would be: DNB) do when the State of Norway is an owner? Not just banks – there are several companies with important global operations – in oil, technology, minerals, manufacturing – that are partially or majority owned by the State of Norway.

Beate Sjafjell has written a critique in the Aftenposten that I found interesting. I’d like to share it with you. This article appeared in the Aftenposten, Norway’s leading newspaper, the only Norwegian paper involved in the Panama Papers research activity. Beate Sjåfjell is a Norwegian attorney and Law School Faculty at the Norwegian Law School of the University of Oslo.

Her article, translated by me below, was published only in Norwegian. I am translating it here into what I call ‘transparent English’ so that others will see it and read it. . . . And ask related questions.

It’s key to raising not only questions about how the Norwegian state manages the mega-billions it holds in its ‘Oil Fund’, now called the ‘Pension Fund’, but it also begs the question I’m trying to see the answer to – even in the Panama Papers revelations: Where is the money going? Follow the money? Where does the money lead it? Not just to Panama . . .

After all, when the money gets to Panama, someone wants it there for a price. The price they’ll pay for that means they are interested in borrowing it or using it while it is ‘parked there’ - for some other, further purpose. That purpose could be economic activity involving drugs, illegal trade in arms, even legal trade in arms, trade in humans, body parts, medicines - any commodity for which there is sought a market underneath the ‘white market' radar system and into the (non-taxed or lower-taxed) black market, any objective that makes someone else a lot of money at less expense and means more profits in more secret private pockets related to more secret goals and, well, nasty, unfair or unethical activities.

As my favorite audit manager supervisor, Kevin Carhill, always said, “Follow the money.” I’m trying, but I don’t see the end of the Panama Papers trail yet. I really hope we do!

It’s hard to prove a negative, but you tell me: can I be positive that not one single Norwegian crown (kroner) has gone to buy one single gun in Syria? One single bomb in the Middle East?

Then there is a habit, apparent in Norway’s State company ownership interests, of not asking hard questions in the right forum. Where I come from (Illinois), at least we had The Open Meetings Act, even if politicians and cronies were busy hustling around avoiding it when they wanted to break, in particular, the labor laws. And we had the Corporations Act, which told owners (and shareholders) of companies how to behave when they made decisions. Norway should take a lesson in this.

Here is Beate’s article I enjoyed so much. The sub-titles and cut-out quotes are scattered around, unfortunately, making it a bit harder to follow. Still, fantastic work. Thank you, Professor Sjåfjell, for your insights and suggestions:

“Government failed shareholdings

The Norwegian State’s Ownership Report provides no indications that the government will deal with the extremely harmful and short-term pressure for maximum profit. This comes at the expense of social responsibility.

What do Yara, Statoil, Telenor, Hydro, Kongsberg, DNB Bank, and Kvaerner have in common? They all have the State as a shareholder (indirectly on Kvaerner’s part), and all have, during recent times, been accused of being involved in crimes or unethical conduct. How can this happen with a government shareholder who claims to have clear expectations of social responsibility?

Profit before corporate social responsibility

The Norwegian Minister of Business argues that the state is clear that profit should not be at the expense of legal and corporate governance (White Paper 27 (2013-2014, "A diverse and value-creating ownership - "Ownership Report"). The Ownership Report shows the opposite. It states emphatically repeatedly that the main objective is the maximization of profits/returns.

The state has no legal obligation to always do what maximizes profits.

Government expectations for corporate social responsibility are, in content, praiseworthy. But they are coming long after the message, sandwiched in between the expectations of the highest possible returns and guidelines on executive pay.

Neither returns nor executive pay are explicitly related to social responsibility. The main point is profitability. Working with social responsibility should help to "protect shareholder value." One fourth of the pages in the 122-page message are devoted to adhering and expectations concerning social responsibility.

Missing the will to lead

The Ownership Report points out the problem as companies with many small shareholders, who can be seen to be without strong shareholder control – i.e. "ownerless" companies. The state obviously does not consider that the same applies to a company with a state majority shareholder - who dares not run it.

The bottom line is profitability. Work with social responsibility should help to "protect shareholder value."

The state is in a double role as a public shareholder, whether passive or active. The state seems to want to manage its dual role by giving the impression of being aloof and not exerting direct influence on these companies.

The government can exercise authority at the AGM (the Annual General Meeting)

The state claims that it cannot do more than choose a competent board. That is wrong. At the AGM, shareholders exercise the highest authority in the company. Here, the State has, as majority shareholder (in Telenor, Statoil, and Kongsberg) control; and as a large minority shareholder (in Yara, Hydro, DNB Bank, Kvaerner Aker Holding) significant influence.

The state has no legal obligation to always do what maximizes profit. The State could, through selected, strategic decisions at the AGM meetings, show that, for example, zero tolerance for corruption means “saying No, thanks” to some projects. The State’s capacity and opportunity for influence, both nationally and internationally, is formidable.

Missing Transparency in Company Shareholder meetings (AGMs)

Instead, the state uses the AGM to elect the board and to “sprinkle sand” (slow down progress) on their proposals. The state argues that it addresses important questions in the so-called ownership meetings between State department staff and company leaders.

The state is breaking with its own principles of good corporate governance: There should be transparency knitted into the ownership activity, and decisions and resolutions should be conducted at the AGM meeting. The ‘ownership dialogue’ should be tied, in addition, to the AGM, not be replaced by other meetings.

The state should be an active and socially responsible shareholder

The state is afraid to scare off other investors. Consideration of other shareholders and the market means that the government’s representatives should refrain from partisan political power activity and other arbitrariness.

There is little that separates the state from a private profit-maximizing shareholder.

This does not mean that the state should refrain from being an active and socially responsible shareholder and only try to influence decisions in closed meetings. Active and socially responsible share ownership activities can be conducted in a predictable and orderly manner within the framework of company law and ethical principles and in line with the government's own overall objectives and international obligations.

The hunt for current profit maximization

Short-term profit maximization pressures make it difficult for companies to propose tough enough requirements when they enter into corrupt countries. The Ownership Report itself notes that leaders are feeling the pressure for short-term profit maximization as a growing problem.

Public shareholding company direction could propose greater long-term focus and a willingness to put social responsibility before profit, also in the form of proposing an ultimatum for transparency in business dealings with all corrupt regimes.

Long-term focus is mentioned - with exception

Instead, we see that the message emphasizes, time after time, that the main consideration is maximization of invested capital, and when long-term focus is mentioned, the need for continued short-term returns at the same time is emphasized.

The consultant network, such as PWC (Price Waterhouse Coopers) is a part of, and among those whose facilitation has given us the Panama Papers scandals.

The signal is that profit is the goal and all else should be managed as well as one can, with the exception that it must support the goal of maximizing profits. There is little that separates the state from a private profit-maximizing shareholder. There is nothing that suggests that the state should have settled and agreed to something of extreme damage, or short-term pressure for maximum profit.

What is the Department of Business doing?

The Norwegian Department of Business, which has the overarching responsibility for the state’s shareholder ownership management, has asked the Attorney firm within Price Waterhouse Coopers for help. PWC should discuss and report on the companies and the Department follow up messages concerning owner’s expectations to work against corruption and towards transparency in economic transactions well enough.

Secretiveness is just a symptom.

The consultant network sits on all sides of the table

These consulting networks, such as PWC, are a part of, and are among those additional agents who have given us the Panama Papers scandal. These consultant communities are sitting on all sides of the table, alongside, preparing the ground for the owners’ reports, facilitating services of the companies, and then evaluating whether the companies and the state government’s ownership activities work well enough.

That a consultancy environment that is so well integrated into this system, which obviously does not work, should be the one to give systemic, thoroughly persuasive assessments of what is the problem and what should be changed should be unthinkable. Unless the government takes a completely different grip, we ought to expect new scandals.”


-June Edvenson is a former Illinois State Senior Auditor. She worked as an auditor for the State of Illinois for 7 years in Springfield and Chicago. She also is a former Hearing Office and Administrative Law Judge. She is an American attorney now living and working in Norway.