Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dams and whales

-- by Dave

It's become increasingly obvious in recent years that one of the major obstacles facing the recovery of the Puget Sound's endangered killer whales has been the serious decline in their food supply -- primarily chinook salmon -- particularly in the winter months, when chinook are at their scarcest in these waters.

The orcas historically spend those months seeking prey primarily along the continental shelf of the Pacific Coast, ranging as far south as northern California and as far north as the Queen Charlotte Islands. And historically, their primary source of chinook along that range has been salmon from the Columbia River -- some 80-90 percent of salmon in that habitat used to originate from the Columbia.

However, those runs are now at about 1 percent of their historical levels. Of course, the bounty of salmon used to be so immense that there never was a food problem for the orcas before. Now, they're scraping to get by. And four dams on the Snake River (the largest and longest of the Columbia's tributaries) that have no fish ladders and turn the free-flowing river (an attribute necessary for fingerlings) into a long series of relatively stagnant reservoirs are probably the biggest single cause of the problem.

I explored this in some detail last year in a Seattle Weekly piece that predicted that scientists would soon start pushing the government to recognize that dams are playing a major role in the decline of the killer whale population.

Sure enough, exactly that has come to pass:
Leading Northwest scientists and orca advocates are urging NOAA Fisheries to consider removal of the four lower Snake River dams in order to protect endangered Puget Sound orca populations that need Columbia-Snake River salmon as a critical food source.

“Restoring Columbia River Chinook salmon is the single most important thing we can do to ensure the future survival of the Southern Resident Community of killer whales," said Dr. Rich Osborne, research associate with The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA. “We cannot hope to restore the killer whale population without also restoring the salmon upon which these whales have depended for thousands of years. Their futures are intricately linked.”

The comments from the six prominent orca scientists, delivered in a letter to Northwest members of Congress and NOAA regional administrator Robert Lohn, came in response to the Oct. 31 release of a new draft Biological Opinion from NOAA Fisheries for Columbia-Snake River salmon management. Salmon advocates say the new plan, the result of a court-ordered rewrite of an earlier, illegal 2004 federal salmon plan, fails to do enough to recover imperiled salmon in the seven-state Columbia-Snake river basin, and ignores altogether the four dams on the lower Snake River that do the most harm to these fish.

“History will not be very forgiving of the resource managers who failed in their responsibilities to these icons of the Pacific Northwest, Chinook and orca,” said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research.

“The draft plan relies heavily on actions that science and time have proven will not restore these fish to the levels necessary for self-sustaining populations of salmon, or abundant enough to provide a healthy food resource for these killers whales,” said Dr. David Bain, a killer whale biologist at Friday Harbor Labs. “Not only are salmon from the Columbia River an important historic food source, recovered abundant salmon in this river are an indispensable requirement for the future recovery of Southern Residents.”

“The new Federal salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers is no better than previous plans in providing access to the basin’s best remaining salmon habitat in the upper reaches of the Snake River,” said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network. “The resulting declining salmon runs have a very real impact on the 88 endangered southern resident orcas that depend on these fish, as they have for centuries. As the salmon disappear, the orcas go hungry.”

“The best science tells us,” Garrett added, “that to revitalize Snake River salmon, we'll need to bypass the dams that block fish passage, and that dam removal, combined with a variety of economic investments, will bring benefits to upriver communities in eastern Washington as well as to Puget Sound.”

You can read the text of the letter from the scientists here.

Of course, this is a significant political problem. The conservative eastern half of the state, having been fed a steady diet of Limbaughesque accusations that urbanites on the western half are working to "destroy their way of life," have come to identify the Snake River dams as a symbol of that struggle, as it were. As I noted in the Weekly piece:
Salmon advocates like Save Our Wild Salmon have argued that tearing down the dams is the most sensible solution, since it would return that portion of the river to a free-flowing state and give both smolt and spawners a fighting chance of success. They argue that the economic costs can be overcome, pointing out that replacing the barges with a revamped rail-transportation system and simply lowering the current irrigation pumps would cost a fraction of the current barging system. Moreover, they point to larger economic benefits for the region, particularly the economic boon that could be realized from recreation.

These arguments, however, have carried little weight with Eastern Washingtonians, who have come to see the dams as emblematic of "their way of life," and thus to be defended at all costs. When the breaching was first proposed in 1999, pro-dam rallies were held in various communities at which the rhetoric became high-pitched. Leading the way were top Republican officials, including then–U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who warned of various miseries that breaching would inflict.

"We are not going to allow a few Seattle ultraliberal environmental zealots to destroy what took generations to build," proclaimed then–state Sen. Dan McDonald, R-Bellevue, in Richland.

"In case you don't understand the urgency of this, think about this: The bulldozers are coming," said state Rep. Shirley Hankins, R-Richland. "The gun is at our heads, and we need to act right now before they pull the trigger."

Since 2001, however, the Bush administration has opposed any breaching program, reverting to a reliance on barging. A federal judge's May 2005 ruling that the barging program is failing, and demanding the government re-examine its salmon- recovery progress, was greeted with warnings from the Dry Side that doing so had better not put dam removal back on the table: "Changes may need to be made, but the dams are going nowhere," said U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, the Republican who represents Eastern Washington's 4th District.

It's becoming clear that it will take real leadership and courage at the state level -- particularly from Gov. Christine Gregoire -- to save the whales: someone willing to stand up to the knee-jerk, uninformed and myopic objections of eastern Washington farmers. And unfortunately, neither she nor her predecessor have demonstrated any such thing.

On the other hand, there's Gregoire's Republican opponent in the looming 2008 race: Dino Rossi. His campaign has been the major beneficiary of the Building Industry Association of Washington -- which was the entity that filed an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit against even listing the orcas as endangered. We can probably guess where killer whales stand in Rossi's list of priorities.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Food for Thought

-- by Sara

Well, it's the day after -- turkey sandwiches settling against straining beltlines, slight tryptophan-induced torpor still clinging to our bones, Dave's probably hanging with his family somewhere. I'm writing Another Stupid Term Paper. Usually, they come easily, but this one's lying there like Grandpa in his La-Z-Boy with a six-pack and a remote on a Saturday afternoon.

But, as long as we're all digesting, here's some food for thought.

This is the Revis family of North Carolina, along with their typical food purchases for one week:

And this is the Aboubakar family, living in a refugee camp in Chad. This, too, is one week's worth of food:

The whole photoessay, showing over a dozen families from all over the world, is here. The pictures are, in my mind, a detailed examination of why we give thanks -- and also where our real obligations to humankind begin.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A little local fascism

[A National Socialist Movement march in Nebraska in July. That's J.T. Ready on the right in the suit. Courtesy SPLC.

-- by Dave
"My libertarian friends are probably getting a little upset now but I think that's because they never appreciate the benefits of local fascism."

-- Ann Coulter

Ah, perhaps Coulter's friends in New York don't, but evidently, the Republicans in Maricopa County, Arizona, do, as Stephen Lemons of Phoenix New Times reports:
So look who's got a neo-Nazi in the woodpile: the Maricopa County Republican Party. This plumed penman first sniffed a whiff of National Socialism in local GOP ranks when The Bird was forwarded an e-mail signed by the Ernst Roehm of the East Valley, J.T. Ready, in which the turd-Reicher mentioned he's a Republican Precinct Committeeman.

... A call to campaign finance director Kristi Passarelli at Maricopa County Elections confirmed Ready was telling the truth about his PC-ship. Passarelli informed this pelican that Ready was elected in 2006 from precinct 529, also known as Mesa 67. There were two slots open for Republicans, but Ready was the only one on the ballot in that primary. He received 36 votes.

County Republican Party Chairman Lyle Tuttle was too busy playing golf to return The Bird's call. But Sean McCaffrey, executive director of the state GOP told the Taloned One the party was unaware of Ready's Republican position. He vowed Ready will be asked to step down. If Ready refuses, the party will field candidates for his PC-ship in '08, when Ready's term's up, to make sure Ready's not re-elected.

"People that campaign on hate and people that campaign on fear, well, that eliminates neo-Nazis and Democrats from the Republican Party," McCaffrey informed this egret.

Cute comparison, Sean. But local Dems aren't the ones with an Adolf Hitler-lover in-house.

Nor does McCaffrey's cheap shot explain why the Arizona GOP didn't try to stop Ready from becoming a precinct committeeman in '06. McCaffrey's excuse was that he'd just arrived in AZ this March, and that most of his staff is new and from out of state.

But state Republican Party Chairman Randy Pullen's no neophyte to local politics, being a two-time loser in the Phoenix mayoral race. Pullen can't be expected to know all the more than 3,000 Republican PCs, but Pullen and Ready run in the same immigrant-hating circles. They've spoken at the same Mexican-baiting rallies. And both have attended meetings of Rusty Childress' immigrant-bashing United for a Sovereign America.

Also, Ready's tight with state Representative Russell Pearce, who's bashed Mexicans ever since a Latino teen shot off his finger when he was a county sheriff's deputy. Pearce is a racist law machine, pumping out statute after statute targeting the brown segment of AZ's population. At a June anti-illegal demonstration at the state Capitol, Ready and Pearce worked the crowd arm-in-arm.

That's the same Russell Pearce, incidentally, who has opined that illegal immigrants have no rights:
They're illegal and they have no right to be marching down our streets. They have no constitutional rights. They don't have First-, Fourth-, Sixth amendment rights. They're here illegally and they chose to be here illegally.

And yes, that's the same Russell Pearce who distributed an anti-Semitic e-mail from a neo-Nazi to friends and supporters last year.

And yes, that's the same J.T. Ready whose neo-Nazi activities have been observed elsewhere.

Note also the embrace of Pearce by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who according to the Phoenix New Times piece was "recently honored Pearce at a 'gala reception' and dinner to raise moolah for Pearce's committee exploring a primary challenge to Congressman Jeff Flake, a moderate Republican who's championed comprehensive immigration reform." Of course, this isn't the first time an Arizona sheriff turned a blind eye to the presence of radical racists.

As Lemons notes:
Arpaio's a Joe-come-lately to the bigot parade, but he's been making up for lost time, mending fences with former rival and second-in-command Pearce. Arpaio was even on Lou Dobbs' show recently, calling it "an honor" to be labeled KKK by certain detractors. "It means we're doing something," he informed the conservative CNN pundit.

Days later, Arpaio tried explaining away the Klan remark, but this worm-wrangler thinks Arpaio was right from jump. There's precious little shame in the game of certain Republicans these days. That's why virulent anti-Semites like J.T. Ready are able to infiltrate Republican ranks. And it's why racists like Russell Pearce are feted as heroes.

Well put.

Spreading the wackiness

-- by Dave

Did CNBC's Lawrence Kudlow suggest to his national audience yesterday that Federal Reserve Notes might be "counterfeit"?

Let's cut to the video of Tuesday's broadcast of Kudlow and Company, his weekday news-commentary program.

It came during a discussion of last week's bust of NORFED, the promoters of the "Liberty Dollar," who were also planning to put out a special Ron Paul edition of their $20 coin.

Kudlow invited Bernard von NotHaus, the head of NORFED, and was remarkably congenial, if notably ill-informed:
I don't understand why people aren't free to choose. If they want to circulate your coins or your paper, they should be free to do that. I do think it is against the law, but I think in a perfect world they should be free to choose.

Von NotHaus goes on to claim that the NORFED currency was perfectly legal. Just for the record, minting coins to be used as currency in fact is illegal, under 18 USC 486:
Whoever, except as authorized by law, makes or utters or passes, or attempts to utter or pass, any coins of gold or silver or other metal, or alloys of metals, intended for use as current money, whether in the resemblance of coins of the United States or of foreign countries, or of original design, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

The Liberty Dollar advocates have posted a less than convincing disclaimer on this point. But they seem to be silent on the perhaps more salient point -- namely, that such operations are also likely to run afoul of the Constitution, which in Article 1, Section 8, clause 5 reserves to Congress solely the power to "coin money, regulate the value thereof, and of foreign coin, and fix the standard of weights and measures".

Moreover, von NotHaus then brings up the FBI's affidavit against NORFED and claims he can't find any evidence of wrongdoing there:
You read it -- Ask yourself: What is the crime?

Well, we have read it, and even beyond the obvious problem of promoting "dollars" that obviously are coins with a printed monetary value on them, there is the larger point that NORFED was operating both a pyramid scheme and a money-laundering operation:
The marketing system NORFED operates to sell the currency is a multi-level marketing scheme. The scheme gives NORFED, RCOs, and Associates a profit for selling the ALDs into circulation. When the ALD reached the point of being unprofitable, NORFED conducted a "move up" of the currency. In 1998, the ALD currency was minted using a $10.00 base, meaning that a $10.000 ALD coin, eDollar, or warehouse receipt was backed by one troy ounce of silver. In November of 2005, the thirty (30) day moving average of the spot price of silver reached the "move up point" set by the NORFED. NORFED recalled all of the $10.00 base coins and warehouse receipts and "re-minted" the currency as a $20.00 base currency. This change made what the day prior had been a $10.00 denomination ALD coin, warehouse receipt, or eDollar backed by one troy ounce of silver, a re-minted re-issued $20 denomination coin. This instantly doubled the value of the currency. The "move up" left the silver and gold holdings at the same level as they were at the $10.00 base. Thus the value of the entire currency was doubled without changing the holdings at all. The other effect of the "move up" was a tremendous increase in profits for NORFED, RCOs and Associates.

As we noted previously, the affidavit also details how NORFED laundered large sums of money through various business transactions.

Again, this is all subject to the basic presumption of innocence, but the government's evidence, as I've said, is clearly sound, and there's no indication yet this is a case of ideological persecution; at every step, NORFED has been afforded full due process.

In an event, it was remarkable that not only had Kudlow obviously not yet read the affidavit, neither had anyone on his assembled panel of experts, only a few of whom spoke anyway. One of these was Fortune's Quentin Hardy, who opened with this shot:
For a start: Is it true you have a picture of Ron Paul on this currency?

When von NotHaus eagerly answers affirmatively, Hardy says:
Right away, I'm glad they raided you.

He also dings von Nothaus for calling the FBI "G-boys," and then lays into him:
Dude, with all respect, you are a counterfeiter. What you are doing is undermining the value of American currency. This is not cool. And with a nod and a wink you can say, 'Oh, it's just a barter thing, it's not really a dollar.' But the fact of the matter is, for those who feel that gold is real money, and what the Federal Reserve prints is fake money, they take it as real money, and try to substitute it. Now the feds take rather a dim view of people trying to undermine our national currency. I'm sorry, and we'll test this out in court. Good day to ya.

Kudlow then responds by going to another "expert", and extending the sympathy to von NotHaus even further:
Jason, what Quentin just said didn't sound all that bad to me. I mean, maybe the Feds' money -- maybe the Federal Reserve notes are counterfeit, Jason. This is a whole new ballgame. What's your take?

I spent a year doing investment journalism in the '90s and we had CNBC on all the time in our newsroom. And I can't help but wonder what all those people tuning in -- especially the ones who like to invest in the U.S. dollar -- think about being told that maybe their entire economic foundation is "counterfeit."

I know that Kudlow was a respected analyst once upon a time, but anyone who thinks he's credible now will have a difficult time explaining this.

[Hat tip to s9 in comments.]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Third Strike

-- by Sara

Well, Warren Jeffs finally got sent to prison. The sentence was two consecutive five-year terms -- which means he'll be paroled in seven, the way things usually go -- which hardly seems like enough for a guy who arranged for the statutory rape of dozens of adolescent girls, each of whom will be scarred for life by the choices he made on their behalf. But it's the first time in a long time that anybody in the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) has seen the inside of a jailhouse, and I suppose we should be grateful for a good start.

But, to put this in context, this conviction is simply the third in a series of developments that are making permanent changes in the way the sect operates. As the trial has unfolded, rapid changes on at least two other fronts are raising the odds that on the faraway day that Jeffs leaves prison, he'll be coming home to a community that he likely won't recognize -- and may not even be glad to see him coming.

Subdivide and Conquer
The first development is a wide-ranging financial restructuring that has shattered the financial control the group's leaders exerted over the membership. For decades, everything owned by the church -- houses, property, the labor of its members -- was held in a corporation called the United Effort Plan (UEP). Historically, the assets in the UEP were solely controlled by the sect's Prophet, whose ability to allocate assets gave him near-total control over the community.

However, in May, 2005, the state of Utah -- pointedly noting the UEP's stark resemblance to an organized crime ring -- seized its assets, put them in trust, and began the process of returning them to private hands in ways that would benefit all the members of the community. In September, Ben Winslow of the Deseret Morning News gave an update on how this process is going:

Hildale — For the faithful followers of Fundamentalist LDS Church leader Warren Jeffs, this may be just another trial of their faith.

Life appears to be going on here, regardless of Jeffs' conviction on two counts of rape as an accomplice. As one drives through this polygamous border town, there is still signs of resistance to the changes being forced on them. Huge fences are still being erected, trying to keep out prying eyes. Women in the prairie dresses so common to this area scurry away from anyone who asks them questions.

Yet the communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., are about to undergo more changes. Plans are underway to subdivide this community and create the first-ever private property ownership, doing away with the early-Mormon "united order" that has long dominated the twin cities.

In 2005, the courts took control of the $110 million United Effort Plan Trust, which controls homes, businesses and property here. The Utah Attorney General's Office alleged that Jeffs and other top FLDS leaders had been fleecing its assets. The UEP Trust recently underwent a reform, and is now slowly doing away with the "united order" concept in favor of private property. The town councils for both communities are considering the first-ever subdivisions.

In a new report the size of a Salt Lake City-area phone book, the court-appointed special fiduciary of the UEP Trust detailed other changes underway here and across the border in Colorado City, as well as in the FLDS' Canadian enclave of Bountiful, British Columbia.

The latest financial report shows the UEP Trust has about $97,034 in its accounts. The bulk of the UEP's assets are in real estate.

"The fiduciary is investigating the possibility of selling certain trust property in order to secure additional funds which will be needed for the continuing administration of the trust," Bruce Wisan wrote in his report to the judge.

Property taxes continue to be paid, but in some cases it is a struggle. Some people are starting to move in to abandoned properties on UEP land.

The Utah Domestic Violence Prevention Program and the Safe Passage grant (to help women leave abusive situations in closed societies) recently put up a mobile home in Colorado City for a homeless single mother, Wisan wrote. The woman, who was part of the FLDS Church, is being allowed to stay there rent free.

Recently, Wisan said he was approached by four people who want to return to homes they were kicked out of. After getting no response from anyone living in the homes now, Wisan will allow the old tenants to move back in.

"In the event the present occupants refuse to vacate the residences, the fiduciary intends to pursue legal eviction proceedings against such occupants," he wrote.

In the end, the privatization of Hildale and Colorado City will likely have a far more lingering effect on the future of the FLDS than Jeff's conviction. However, beyond the loss of both their prophet and their core economic structure, there's a third development that's also going to make it much, much harder for the FLDS to conduct business as usual going forward.

The Long Arm of The Law
Hildale and Colorado City are the most famous FLDS communities -- but they're not the only ones. According to Jon Krakauer, the FLDS has also quietly built compounds in Mancos, CO; Pringle, SD; Eldorado, TX; and other cities across the west. There are persistent rumors of other ranches just over the Mexican border, and also as far south as Cancun. The largest one of all may be the 1,000-member community of Bountiful, BC, just over the Canadian border.

Over the years, FLDS prophets have been very canny at keeping the government at bay by using their inter-state and international network of safehouses in a shell game that shuffled fugitive men out of reach of the law; women and children out of sight of suspicious social service agencies; and family members far yonder as a means of disciplining out-of-favor members. And, of course, it gave them lots of places to hide their money. For decades, church leaders have relied on this network to nimbly hopscotch over prosecutors, sheriffs, revenue agents and auditors, and inquisitive social workers.

The upshot has been that, even when blatant crimes were being committed, it was virtually impossible for local prosecutors to put together a case that would stick. The scope of the problem was so much larger than any one jurisdiction; and the FLDS leaders were a law unto themselves as long as they could keep it that way.

But that day is over now, too. Tracking, capturing, and trying Jeffs was the catalyzing event that finally brought district attorneys and attorneys general throughout the western states -- and even prosecutors in BC -- together. They've been having meetings, forming relationships, and coordinating strategy on how to deal with the FLDS on something more than the local level. These conversations are leading to stronger laws, faster sharing of information, and an emerging set of best practices. (In BC, where the church is sheltered by religious freedom laws that are absurdly lax by American standards, we're also hoping for some updated legislation.) As law enforcement finally gets its arms around the full scope of the FLDS network, the group's freedom to live outside the law is going to be increasingly challenged and restricted.

A Different Future
With over 10,000 members and growing -- and a public profile that's only grown higher since Big Love and other PR efforts to improve their image -- the FLDS isn't going to crumble just because one prophet spends a few years behind bars. But, lacking iron-fisted leaders, vast pots of money, and it accustomed ability to evade government authorities, it will be forced to take on other structural forms and means of financing in order to survive.

Already, according to Krakauer, small pockets of FLDS families are being established in larger cities like Las Vegas -- evidence of a trend that moves members out of the compounds and into the American mainstream. That and their increased willingness to talk to the media -- and demand respect for their right to live as they choose -- suggest that their first impulse will be to diffuse the movement across the country, and step up their demands for social and legal acceptance.

In the end, this diffusion may make the church stronger, normalizing their unusual lifestyle and opening the community to more adherents. (At the same time, we will almost certainly see splinter sects of die-hard members regrouping, forming compounds of their own and trying to re-create the authoritarian glory days of the Jeffs and Blackmores.) On the other hand, over the long haul, the strategy of moving into town may be their undoing: without the immersive intensity of compound life, the passion may cool, and dispersing members can easily drift away.

Whichever way it goes, Jeffs' conviction marks the end of a very long era in the history of fundamentalist Mormonism. Without the trappings of money, high-SDO patriarchs, compounds, and near-perfect legal immunity, the only way the FLDS will survive is by finally making accommodations to the outside culture it's worked so hard to resist for so long.

Apart from Krakauer, there probably isn't a reporter on the FLDS beat who's done more to report this story than the Vancouver Sun's Daphne Bramham. Her coverage of the Bountiful community is almost never referenced in the US press; but she's been tireless and persistent in covering both the legal issues surrounding that community, and the larger social costs that the province incurs due to its continued existence.

(Among other things, she was the first one to really examine the plight of the "lost boys" -- the FLDS sons who are banished from the community at puberty, so they won't be around to compete with the elders for the young girls. They often end up on the streets in Vancouver and Phoenix, without money, skills, or education.)

The full collection of Bramham's articles on this issue over the past few years is here. It's a different take on the same problem -- one that really brings home what all the ways the FLDS shell game got played.

Monday, November 19, 2007

By the nose ring

-- by Dave

The original Mars Hill Church -- limned scarily well by Lauren Sandler in Salon (actually an excerpt from her book Righteous: Dispatches From the Evangelical Youth Movement) -- is only a few blocks from my house. Every Sunday they pack into the old refurbished hardware megastore that serves as their church.

It's quite a crowd, exacerbated by the fact that parking sucks in the neighborhood and most of the old parking lot was filled in by a new office building, so everyone parks on the nearby streets. I'm often out and about on Sundays and see them going to church: Pretty young folks, a lot of them with tats and assorted piercings. They usually seem to be wearing their nicest black things.

Of course, once I got a taste of Mark Driscoll's theology, I pretty much lost interest in pursuing it any further (an impression deepened by Sandler's book). It just looked like religious authoritarianism for the body-art crowd.

The latest news from Mars Hill, via the Seattle Times, pretty much confirms the impression:
The recent firing of two pastors is causing turmoil at Mars Hill Church, Seattle's largest congregation.

About a month ago, Paul Petry and Bent Meyer were fired from their staff positions.

Some Mars Hill members contend the pastors were removed because they challenged proposed changes in church structure that those members believed would consolidate power in the hands of top church leaders.

A current church leader disputes the interpretation, saying the church intends to share power, not hoard it.

The firings and changes to church bylaws, passed last month, have prompted lengthy exchanges in an online, members-only church forum.

Mars Hill leaders said in forum postings that one fired pastor was removed, in part, for "displaying an unhealthy distrust in the senior leadership." They said the other was removed for "disregarding the accepted elder protocol for the bylaw deliberation period" and "verbally attacking the lead pastor" — charges the fired pastor denied, the leaders added.

Petry also was removed as an elder; Meyer remains a church elder but is on probation. At Mars Hill, elders are men who hold positions of authority in the church. Some are on paid staff and some are not.

... Some members also lamented the loss of Petry and Meyer, challenged their firings, and questioned whether dissent was being quashed and a "culture of fear and elitism" was being perpetuated.

In some cases, members' posting privileges were revoked.

Church leaders said bylaw changes were made because the church governing structure had grown so large that it was impractical to have that many people governing its affairs.

You know, I think other people can be great spiritual teachers, but I've never understood the willingness or compulsion to let someone else tell you what to think.

Legal except for the illegal part

-- by Dave

I caught a lot of flack from the Ron Paul contingent for pointing out that the people who were about to distribute "Ron Paul dollars" had just been busted by the FBI. Some commenters complained that there was nothing illegal about minting your own coins if you choose -- though of course others pointed out that this is true only if you don't make them look like legal tender.

It's also somewhat irrelevant if you're selling them as part of a pyramid scheme, and using the business for illegal money laundering.

It's apparent that this, in fact, was what the FBI busted the "Liberty Dollar" operators for. The search warrant and supporting FBI affidavit [PDF file] spells this out. For instance, there's the actual profit picture:
The marketing system NORFED operates to sell the currency is a multi-level marketing scheme. The scheme gives NORFED, RCOs, and Associates a profit for selling the ALDs into circulation. When the ALD reached the point of being unprofitable, NORFED conducted a "move up" of the currency. In 1998, the ALD currency was minted using a $10.00 base, meaning that a $10.000 ALD coin, eDollar, or warehouse receipt was backed by one troy ounce of silver. In November of 2005, the thirty (30) day moving average of the spot price of silver reached the "move up point" set by the NORFED. NORFED recalled all of the $10.00 base coins and warehouse receipts and "re-minted" the currency as a $20.00 base currency. This change made what the day prior had been a $10.00 denomination ALD coin, warehouse receipt, or eDollar backed by one troy ounce of silver, a re-minted re-issued $20 denomination coin. This instantly doubled the value of the currency. The "move up" left the silver and gold holdings at the same level as they were at the $10.00 base. Thus the value of the entire currency was doubled without changing the holdings at all. The other effect of the "move up" was a tremendous increase in profits for NORFED, RCOs and Associates.

Other parts of the affidavit detail how this operated, as well as how the business was used to launder money.

We'll see how all this plays out in court, but it's clear the FBI evidence is neither thin nor the prosecution mere persecution. From the outside, NORFED always looked like yet another right-wing scam (a la the Freemen and countless others, especially tax scams), and now it seems fairly evident it indeed was.

I guess that raises a secondary but legitimate question: Did Ron Paul enter into an agreement with these guys to use his image on their coins? And if he did, what does that say about his judgment?

'The urge to purge'

-- by Dave

The latest installment in my running series at The Big Con is now up: "The Politics of the Personal: The Urge to Purge":
The transformation of mainstream movement conservatives into something closer resembling far-right extremists didn’t happen overnight. It came in bits and pieces, drips and drabs, piling up in small events that seemed innocuous enough at the time. Beginning in the mid-1990s, and increasingly so in the years after 9/11, figures on the mainstream right began picking up ideas, talking points, issues, and agendas from its extremist fringes: the xenophobic, conspiracist, fanatical religious right. These ostensibly “mainstream” figures would then repackage these ideas and talking points for general consumption, usually by stripping out the overt references to racism and xenophobic hatred.

These “transmitters” were often leading right-wing media luminaries, all reliably viewed as mainstream conservatives: Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, Michelle Malkin, Michael Savage. Some were public officials, like Sen. Trent Lott (whose ties to the segregationist neo-Confederate movement came floating to public attention in 2002), Rep. Tom Tancredo, and Rep. Ron Paul (the latter a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, despite his longtime proclivity for “New World Order” conspiracy theories). And sometimes the transmissions came from people with one foot firmly in the fringe camp who manage for a time to disguise their agendas: for instance, Jared Taylor of the white-supremacist American Renaissance, who is skilled at posing as an academic expert on race relations and is presented on TV as such; or John Tanton, the mastermind of various “immigration reform” groups whose work tends to specialize in demonizing Latinos, who is himself financed by white supremacists.

Longtime readers here will recognize a lot of the ideas herein, but this (and the preceding Part 3) are all fresh writing. Hope you enjoy.