All posts by samutch

About samutch

We are one of North Central Florida’s premier estate & trust, family law, business, and civil litigation law firms. Our attorneys and staff are committed to providing high quality, accessible, and compassionate service to our clients. We take pride in giving each client the individual attention they deserve and vigorously strive to reach our clients’ overall needs and goals. Our law office is conveniently located in the Millhopper area of Northwest Gainesville. Our attorneys also serve many nearby cities including Trenton, Williston, Micanopy, Live Oak, Mayo, Crystal River, Bronson, Lake City, Starke, Alachua, Archer, Waldo, Hawthorne, Keystone Heights, Lake Butler, Chiefland, Cedar Key, High Springs, Bradford, and Ft. White. We represent clients in Alachua County, Gilchrist County, Levy County, Citrus County, Suwannee County, Bradford County, Union County, Columbia County, Clay County, and Dixie County in civil and family courts, and the Northern and Middle Districts of Florida federal courts.

The State of the Arab Spring After a Year & Another Spring

The youth groups that made the 2011 “Arab Spring” revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, were mainly leftist or liberal. They revolted against immoral police states run by clan cartels and their paid cronies. The demonstrators had allies among labor unions and office workers.

The Arab Spring movements demanded free, fair parliamentary elections as the next step towards democratization. But the groups best organized to campaign, canvass and fund-raise were the Muslim religious parties and to a great extent the remnants of the old regime.

EGYPT:

Egypy1The Muslim religious Egypt2parties got about sixty percent of the seats in the Egyptian parliament in fall 2011 election. Although that parliament was struck down by the courts for voting abnormalities, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad Morsi, won the presidency in June, 2012, and installed many party factotums in high positions.

TUNISIA:Tunisia

The Renaissance or al-Nahdah, religiously varied party woTunisia1n 42% of the seats in the Tunisian parliament and gained the office of prime minister, though al-Nahdah had to ally with liberals and leftists, from which the president and speaker of parliament were drawn.

LIBYA:Libya

Although the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya did poorly in the summer 2012 parliamentary elections; a significant number of independents were inclined toward the religious right.  Although the Muslim Brotherhood and those independents leaning toward the religious right were not a majority, they became a force to be reckoned within the government.

ISLAMIC WINTER:IslamicWinter

These outcomes were branded an “Islamic winter” by neoconservative critics of the Arab world.  Many Islamists call the neoconservative critics of the Arab world “those professional critics of a single ethnic group, Islamists, about whom they never have anything positive to say.”

NEOCONSERVATIVISM:  NeoCon1NeoCon2

From the neoconservative ranks have come a large quantity of articles and books published with the thesis that Arabs/Islamists are religion-obsessed fanatics who can never be truly democratic because of their fascination with theocracy.

EGYPT & TAMARRUD:&Tamar

Beginning in the fall of 2013, events took a different turn in Egypt. The youth movement, Rebellion (Tamarrud) staged enormous demonstrations against the Muslim Brotherhood and in particular President Morsi.  By June 30 and after, provoking a military coup and a comprehensive crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Muslim Brotherhood had been broken and driven underground. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was condemned by the Egyptian officer corps and activist youth (Tamarrud) as autocratic, mysterious and covetous, in short a kind of cult. The generals now dismiss it as a terrorist organization, having arrested 2000 party leaders and even more followers. As a military-appointed commission crafts a new constitution, it is likely that it will outlaw religiously-based parties permanently. Most Egyptians are believers and either practicing Muslims or Christians, both Coptic and Protestant. But most of them from all accounts have turned on the Muslim Brotherhood and its mystical ways.

TUNISIA & UGTT:  

In the summer of 2013 Tunisian youth and the labor activists of the UGTT (French acronym for General Union of Tunisian Workers) challenging prime minister, Ali Larayedh  of the Renaissance party. They blamed Ali Larayedh for being soft on Muslim terrorists and allowing two assassinations of members of the far-left Popular Front. The youth and UGTT demanded Ali Larayedh step down in favor of a caretaker government that would oversee free and fair parliamentary elections. Thousands assembled regularly at Bardo outside the parliament building. The alliance of the young crowds with the powerful UGTT gave the crowds a bargaining chip. If the country’s workers struck en mass, it would paralyze the Tunisian economy, already limping. So by the past weekend, the Renaissance Party had agreed to step down in favor of a caretaker government. Many among the Tunisian demonstrators use a militantly secular discourse in their discussions with the Ali Larayedh government. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/28/tunisia-islamist-government-to-resign

MUSLIM RELIGIOUS PARTIES:

The Muslim religious parties lost control of Egypt.  In Tunisia power has shifted to the youth groups and the UGTT union.  The religious parties, still somewhat ill-defined are merely influential in Libya, with leftist and pragmatic members of parliament dominating the scene politically.  Those who are pragmatic extol Islamic theocracy but vote for democratic reforms.

YEMAN:

In the Yemen, the religious right has not taken over the country. Yet there are deep fissures in the government as it attempts to fight-off terrorism and deal with very unpopular drone flights and strikes by the United States.

NORTHERN SYRIA:

It is reported in northern Syria that strong divisions have developed between those Muslim fundamentalist rebels who are against the regime, and the more nationalist Free Syrian Army, which is also fighting against the regime. There have been firefights between these two factions in the multi-faceted civil war.

ANALYSIS:

The result of the past sixteen months has seen a massive and comprehensive reaction against the religious parties previous summer and fall (2011 & 2012). Arab bloggers have sometimes declared they atheists, though that is rare and can result in prosecution.  More often these bloggers are Muslims who have split religion and government into two equal spheres.

Although the fears of the imminent imposition of Sharia (Islamic) law over a vast stretch of the Arab world has subsided it has not yet disappeared. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has lost most of its popularity outside of the committed members of many years.  The present military in Egypt seem to have marginalized the hard core of the Muslim Brotherhood for now.

The Renaissance Party in Tunisia announced in spring 2012, that they would not try to implement Sharia or Muslim canon law.  The outcome in Libya looks as if it is approaching the same rapprochement as the factions in Tunisia, but at a slower rate.  Northern Syria is a quandary as is all of the remainder of the country, which was at one time, was a cosmopolitan society where Muslim, Christian, and Druze lived together in peace.

Some optimist say there should be no further talk of an “Islamic winter.”  Those optimists say the idea of an “Islamic winter” does not comport with reality. The revolutionary youth in the Arab world is for the most part not theocrats and won’t be ordered around by the clerics. The officer corps likewise reacted against Brotherhood excesses.

The real question is whether a place can be found in democracies.  Can Egyptian, Tunisian, Libyan and Syrian democratic politics work if a large minority is fundamentalist like the Muslim Brotherhood?

(Via)

New Law Tomorrow

indiegainesville

Okay, first off: if you’re still texting and driving, stop. Seriously.  You have less than 24 hours to give that up, too, because starting tomorrow (October 1, 2013), Florida’s law against texting and driving goes into effect.

The law was passed to keep the roads as safe as possible.

What you need to know about the law:

1. Don’t text and drive EVER. (Okay, so that’s just seemingly common sense…)

2. Texting while driving (TWD?) isn’t enough to get you pulled over. TWD is a secondary offence, which means there has to be another reason for you to be pulled over.

You must be in violation of another law first, like speeding, not wearing your seatbelt, your taillight is out, etc.

3. You may not TWD, but you can: use your phone for music, navigational apps, or to pick up a call.

4. Texting while driving will be a no…

View original post 169 more words

Let’s Not Publish the Names of Terrorists and Mass Murderers

It has happened again, this time at the Washington Navy Yard.  Twelve Navy people killed by an insane man who showed all the signs of a psychotic individual prone to violence.  As one talking head psychiatrist said on CNN: “People like this are seeking attention.  It is part of their pathology.”blood-feud-main-motive-for-mass-murder-in-russia-s-south-902.si

Earlier this year I published, “Let’s Not Publish the Names of Terrorists or Mass Murders.”  I did this because I knew that many of the mass murders—such as the man in Connecticut, the guy in Colorado last year, and now this man at the Navy Yard—are killing people to join the ranks of John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, Son of Sam, etc.

Sadly, this issue remains painfully relevant.

These men lost their grip on reality and were/are insane. They didn’t commit such nightmarish acts for a first class ticket to the afterlife and a plethora of beautiful virgins; they are committing these horrific slaughters, in part, for the publicity.

In most locales, it is customary to have a Rape Shield Law. This shields the names of rape victims from the press. These Rape Shield Laws were found unconstitutional.  However, most newspapers and television stations do not report victims’ names, nor should they. I was relieved to see Time did not disclose that First Class Midshipman’s name who had to endure an Article 52 hearing, (ironically) at (now crime scene) Navy Yard two or three weeks ago.

Again, I want you to assist me in taking on a project for the avocation of a non-binding resolution from each state legislature and Congress that requests journalists and law enforcement agencies not to report the names of suspected or convicted mass murder or those who may have attempted the same.

I ask law enforcement to abide by these guidelines by not reporting the names of suspects or the convicted terrorist or mass murderer. I would ask the press not to publish names of suspects of these people or the names of those convicted.

I need assistance because I want Congress and all state legislatures to pass Joint Resolutions supporting this idea. Then no jihadist or person with a mental defect could be assured their name would be reported in the press, their families could live without retaliation for something not in their control, etc.

I would request this anonymity no matter whether the person was under arrest, on trial or convicted and sentenced.

Please remember the most recent ricin attack and the arrest of the first man in Mississippi His name was dragged through the mud for a week and then, finally and quietly, exonerated.

Another man is under arrest for the ricin attacks and tried by the press. In the first ricin poisonings, the FBI named a physician who had worked a Ft. Detrick; he was never arrested but suffered for six years until the FBI realized they royally screwed-up. There is a  new suspect in custody.

It then cost the government $6 million to pay the physician for the damage the government had caused to him, and money may help, but it will never undo the professional and personal harm he suffered.

We do not ask for a curtailment of First Amendment rights, just responsible journalism. Journalists; both in print and electronic media have abided by this code (usually) for rape victims.

It is imperative that the names of the suspects of those who shoot numerous innocent people and then commit suicide by cop or are under investigation and awaiting trial for doing these dastardly deeds do not get the publicity they may have sought.

After conviction, people guilty of mass killings should not be remembered. Their victims should be remembered.

Our society should shun the killers. Let’s not give them another fifteen minutes of fame when/if they are injected with lethal drugs.  Let’s just forget the names of the people who commit senseless acts of violence such as these.

An appropriate epitaph that could be reported on the news could easily be “The man convicted of the Boston Marathon bombing was put to death yesterday;” or, “The man found not-guilty by reason of insanity in the case of the Colorado Theater shootings died in custody yesterday of natural causes.”

New Study Finds High Levels of Arsenic in Groundwater Near Fracking Sites

Samuel Mutch

by Theodoric Meyer ProPublica, Aug. 8, 2013, 10:45 a.m.

A recently published study by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington found elevated levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in groundwater near natural gas fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale.

frackingWhile the findings are far from conclusive, the study provides further evidence tying fracking to arsenic contamination. An internal Environmental Protection Agency PowerPoint presentation recently obtained by the Los Angeles Times warned that wells near Dimock, Pa., showed elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater. The EPA also found arsenic in groundwater near fracking sites in Pavillion, Wyo., in 2009 — a study the agency later abandoned.

ProPublica talked with Brian Fontenot, the paper’s lead author, about how his team gasdrilling 2carried out the study and why it matters. (Fontenot and another author, Laura Hunt, work for the EPA in Dallas, but they conducted the study on their…

View original post 1,553 more words

New Study Finds High Levels of Arsenic in Groundwater Near Fracking Sites

by Theodoric Meyer ProPublica, Aug. 8, 2013, 10:45 a.m.

A recently published study by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington found elevated levels of arsenic and other heavy metals in groundwater near natural gas fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale.

frackingWhile the findings are far from conclusive, the study provides further evidence tying fracking to arsenic contamination. An internal Environmental Protection Agency PowerPoint presentation recently obtained by the Los Angeles Times warned that wells near Dimock, Pa., showed elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater. The EPA also found arsenic in groundwater near fracking sites in Pavillion, Wyo., in 2009 — a study the agency later abandoned.

ProPublica talked with Brian Fontenot, the paper’s lead author, about how his team gasdrilling 2carried out the study and why it matters. (Fontenot and another author, Laura Hunt, work for the EPA in Dallas, but they conducted the study on their own time in collaboration with several UT Arlington researchers.) Here’s an edited version of our interview:

What led you guys to do the study?

We were sort of talking around lunch one day, and came up with the idea of actually going out and testing water in the Barnett Shale. We’d heard all the things that you see in the media, all the sort of really left-wing stuff and right-wing stuff, but there weren’t a whole lot of answers out there in terms of an actual scientific study of water in the Barnett Shale. Our main intent was to bring an unbiased viewpoint here — to just look at the water, see if we could find anything, and report what we found.

What kind of previous studies had been done in this vein?

The closest analog that I could find to our type of study are the things that have been done in the Marcellus Shale, with Rob Jackson’s group out at Duke University. Ours is set up very similarly to theirs in that we went out to private landowners’ wells and sampled their water wells and assayed them for various things. We decided to go with a list of chemicals thought to be included in hydraulic fracturing that was actually released in a congressional report. Our plan was to sample everyone’s water that we could, and then go through that list of these potential chemical compounds within the congressional list.

How did you do it?

We were able to get a press release put out from UT Arlington that went into the local newspapers that essentially called for volunteers to be participants in the study. For being a participant, you would get free water testing, and we would tell them our results. We were upfront with everyone about, you know, we don’t have a bias, we’re not anti-industry, we’re not pro-industry. We’re just here to finally get some scientific data on this subject. And we had a pretty overwhelming response.

From there we chose folks that rt_pennsylvania_gas_drilling_300x200_100127we would be able to get to. We had to work on nights and weekends, because we had an agreement with EPA to work on this study outside of work hours. So we spent quite a few weekend days going out to folks who had responded to our call and sampling their water. But that wasn’t quite enough. We also had to get samples from within the Barnett Shale in areas where fracking was not going on, and samples from outside the Barnett Shale where there’s no fracking going on, because we wanted to have those for reference samples. For those samples we went door to door and explained to folks what our study was about.

We have people that were pro-industry that wanted to participate in this study to help out — saying, you know, ‘You’re not going to find anything and I’m going to help you prove it.’ And we also had folks that were determined to find problems. We have the whole gamut of folks represented in our study.

We would take a water well, and we would go directly to the head, the closest we could get to the actual water source coming out of the ground, and we would purge that well for about 20 minutes. That ensures that you’re getting fresh water from within the aquifer. So we didn’t take anything from the tap, and nothing that had been through any kind of filtration system. This was as close to the actual groundwater as we could get. We took some measurements, and then we took several samples back to UT Arlington for a battery of chemistry analyses. That’s where we went through and looked for the various volatile organic compounds and heavy metals and methanols and alcohols and things like that.

What did you find?

We found that there were actually quite a few examples of elevated constituents, such as heavy metals, the main players being arsenic, selenium and strontium. And we found each of those metals at levels that are above EPA’s maximum contaminate limit for drinking water.

These heavy metals do naturally occur in the groundwater in this region. But we have a historical dataset that points to the fact that the levels we found are sort of unusual and not natural. These really high levels differ from what the groundwater used to be like before fracking came in. And when you look at the location of the natural gas wells, you find that any time you have water wells that exceed the maximum contaminate limit for any of these heavy metals, they are within about three kilometers of a natural gas well. Once you get a private water well that’s not very close to a natural gas well, all of these heavy metals come down. But just because you’re close to a natural gas well does not mean you’re guaranteed to have elevated contaminate levels. We had quite a few samples that were very close to natural gas wells that had no problems with their water at all.

We also found a few samples that had measureable levels of methanol and ethanol, and these are two substances that don’t naturally occur in groundwater. They can actually be created by bacterial interactions underwater, but whenever methanol or ethanol occur in the environment, they’re very fleeting and transient. So for us to be able to actually randomly take a grab sample and detect detectable methanol and ethanol — that implies that there may be a continuous source of this.

You found levels of arsenic in areas with fracking that were almost 18 times higher than in areas without fracking or in the historical data. What would happen to someone who drank that water?

Arsenic is a pretty well-known poison. If you experience a lot of long-term exposure to arsenic, you get a lot of different risks, like skin damage, problems with the circulatory system or even an increased risk of cancer. The levels that we found would not be a lethal dose, but they’re certainly levels that you would not want to be exposed to for any extended period of time.

What about the other stuff you found?

Troan-oil-drillinghe heavy metals are a little bit different because they are known to be included in some fracking recipes. But they’re also naturally occurring compounds. We think the problem is that they’re becoming concentrated at levels that aren’t normal as a result of some aspect of natural gas extraction.

It’s not necessarily that we’re saying fracking fluid getting out. We don’t have any evidence of that. But there are many other steps involved, from drilling the hole to getting the water back out. A lot of these can actually cause different scenarios whereby the naturally occurring heavy metals will become concentrated in ways they normally wouldn’t. For example, if you have a private water well that’s not kept up well, you’ll have a scale of rust on the inside. And if someone were to do a lot of drilling nearby, you may find some pressure waves or vibrations that would cause those rust particles to flake out into the water. Arsenic is bound up inside that rust, and that can actually mobilize arsenic that would never be in the water otherwise.

Methanol and ethanol are substances that should not be very easy to find in the groundwater naturally. We definitely know that those are on the list of things that are known to be in hydraulic fracturing fluid. But we were unable to actually sample any hydraulic fracturing fluid, so we can’t make any claims that we have evidence fluids got into the water.

Have you talked with the homeowners whose wells you sampled?

We have shown those homeowners the results. I think most of the folks that had high levels of heavy metals were not necessarily surprised.  You hear so much I think maybe they were expecting it to come back with something even more extreme than that. I don’t want to say they were relieved, but I think they all sort of took the news in stride and realized, OK, well, as a private well owner there’s no state or federal agency that provides any kind of oversight or regulation, so it’s incumbent on that well owner to get testing done and get any kind of remediation.

Do you think fracking is responsible for what you found?

Well, I can’t say we have a smoking gun. We don’t want the public to take away from this that we have pegged fracking as the cause of these issues. But we have shown that these issues do occur in close relation, geographically, to natural gas extraction. And we have this historical database from pretty much the same exact areas that we sampled that never had these issues until the onset of all the fracking. We have about 16,000 active wells here in the Barnett Shale, and that’s all popped up in about the last decade, so it’s been a pretty dramatic increase.

We noticed that when you’re closer to a well, you’re more likely to have a problem, and that today’s samples have problems, while yesterday’s samples before the fracking showed up did not. So we think that the strongest argument we can say is that this needs more research.shale-gas-and-fracking-full-sized-map

Sharing PHI with Attorneys: Okay Under HIPAA?

The single largest group of healthcare whistle-blowers are healthcare personnel themselves, including, nurses, doctors, dentists, the various therapy professionals and billing professionals, who encounter fraud on the job.

The major question facing these healthcare professionals, is whether health care workers violate HIPAA by disclosing patient protected health information (“PHI”) when blowing the whistle?

First the obvious answer is, there is no need to disclose protected health information to whomever they are making the complaint.  Logically, it helps to work with knowledgeable legal counsel from an early stage in the process.

HIPAA privacy rules penalize only “covered entities” in the law which includes specified natural persons like doctors and nurses, who pass along PHI without patient authorization.  Natural persons, the living, breathing kind (not the Supreme Court kind of “corporate persons”) can be covered entities, but are not always.  A whistle-blower who is not a covered entity (or a non-medical business associate or attorney of a covered entity) is not subject to HIPAA rules.*

Second, for individuals who are covered entities, HIPAA rules provide disclosure “safe harbors” including the following:

  • A covered entity is not considered to have violated [HIPAA] if a member of its workforce or a business associate discloses protected health information, provided that:
    • The workforce member or business associate believes in good faith that the covered entity has engaged in conduct that is unlawful or otherwise violates professional or clinical standards, or that the care, services, or conditions provided by the covered entity potentially endangers one or more patients, workers, or the public; and
    • The disclosure is to:
      • A health oversight agency or public health authority authorized by law to investigate or otherwise oversee the relevant conduct or conditions of the covered entity or to an appropriate health care accreditation organization for the purpose of reporting the allegation of failure to meet professional standards or misconduct by the covered entity; or
      • An attorney retained by or on behalf of the workforce member or business associate for the purpose of determining the legal options of the workforce member or business associate with regard to the conduct described in paragraph (j)(1)(i)….

While it is possible that an individual relator could be a covered entity under HIPAA, HHS Reg. 164.502(j), specifically authorizes covered entities to share PHI (“protected healthcare information”) with their attorneys in whistle-blower cases.

HHS’ Covered Entity Charts and associated regulations state that natural persons can be covered entities if they “furnish, bill or receive payment for, health care in the normal course of business and (send) any covered transactions electronically.”   The question that doesn’t seem to be addressed anywhere is whether an individual employee of a healthcare provider provides healthcare “in the normal course of business” for purposes of the regulation.

For what it’s worth, I have never heard of a False Claims Act whistleblower being held in violation of HIPAA regulations for disclosing PHI to his or her attorneys or to law enforcement authorities, including the Office of Special Counsel or the Agency’s Office of Inspector General.   One way around the PHI-disclosure concerns is to redact PHI from medical billing records for use in court filings and disclosure statements provided to the Department of Justice.

It is important to keep in mind, however, that beyond HIPAA there are various hidden federal document-removal and document-sharing traps.  For example, it is becoming more common for employers to sue whistle-blowers for breach of confidentiality agreements in employment contracts or company policy manuals.  They may also sue for misappropriation of trade secrets.  Likewise, some state computer privacy laws make it a crime for employees to access company computers or databases without authorization. Each of these potential traps must be addressed on its own terms.

It is fair to say that would-be whistle-blowers are normally safest not attempting to access any company documents — in hard-copy or electronic format — which they are not authorized to access as part of their normal job responsibilities.  It is also important to obtain legal advice early the process to work through evidence-related issues on the front end.

In Brunotte v. Tangherlini, Civil Action No. 08-0587 (D.C.), the parties settled a Privacy Act case prior to trial. This case, in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, involved allegations that employees of the General Services Administration and its Office of Inspector General committed violations of the Privacy Act in an apparent attempt to interfere with a GSA employee starting a new job at the Government Printing Office. Under the settlement agreement, the government will pay $585,000 to resolve the claims.

The Brunotte case involved several allegations of violations of The Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. §552a. This statute restricts how government agencies can collect, retain and disseminate information regarding individuals, including federal employees, and gives individuals the ability to sue the government in the cases where these restrictions are violated. Depending on the nature of the violation, remedies available can include money damages where “actual damages” have occurred (which includes relief such as back pay and out-of pocket expenses, but not emotional pain-and-suffering damages or the like), orders modifying the government records in question and reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and costs. In addition, some of the most serious violations of the Privacy Act are subject to criminal penalties.

In the Brunotte case, two of Brunotte’s claims were set for trial after the GSA’s attempts to have her claims dismissed on summary judgment were denied. The first claim alleged that GSA violated the Privacy Act when an agent of the GSA OIG contacted an agent of the GPO OIG to provide false negative information concerning Brunotte. The second claim alleged that GSA violated the Privacy Act by collecting information concerning Brunotte’s application to work at GPO without trying to get the information from Ms. Brunotte herself, as the Privacy Act requires.

Brunotte claimed that, as a result of these violations, GPO rescinded its job offer to her.

Under the January 29, 2013, settlement agreement, the government will pay $400,000 to Brunotte, plus an additional $185,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.  Ms. Brunotte’s attorneys are Joe Kaplan and Andy Perlmutter.

This case serves as a reminder that government agencies may be just as careless in dealing with PHI as private employers.  Whether public or private employers must be careful in protecting private information concerning individuals, even if the individuals are federal employees  The Privacy Act can carry steep consequences when those restrictions are violated.

* HIPAA is not the only legal hazard for would-be whistle-blowers. State-level privacy laws also lurk.

 

The Grand Illusion: Secretary of State Kerry’s “Two-State Solution”

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.   ~ Jeremiah 6:14

Jeremiah was right.  The greatest lie of all is when the oppressed are told that the matrix of oppression is the path to peace.

For decades we have been told by Israel and all U.S. Administrations, including the current one, that the “two-state solution” is the way of peace. Many faith-based organizations, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), have adopted statements supporting that path. But Palestine has been chopped up into tiny unsustainable fragments by Israeli occupation, ethnic cleansing and expansionism.  Given this reality, how can the “two-state solution” be considered anything other than a cruel joke? Enter the fallacy of “investment” without the removal of Israeli policies that strangle the possibilities for a genuine sustainable economy in Palestine.

The facts on the ground make the “two-state solution” a grandiose illusion even for the most die-hard supporters of Israeli expansionism. This week, U.S. policy, as stated by Secretary of State Kerry, has turned to boosting the peace process by investment in the Palestinian economy.  The new language being used to distract from the reality of ethnic cleansing and apartheid is “positive investment.”

The Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) warns against use of this investment strategy as potentially enabling and maintaining of the status quo, a brutal military occupation now in its fifth decade. The strategy is eerily reminiscent of strategies employed to quell calls for the end to apartheid in South Africa.

The latest diversionary statement, A Prophetic Peacemaking Strategy, published by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PFMEP) is more of the same propaganda aimed at preserving the oppressive status quo in Palestine.

What PFMEP and other promoters of the “positive investment” sleight-of-hand fail to recognize is how momentum towards justice for the oppressed is building, and that they are falling further and further on the wrong side of history.  Everyone likes the proposition that investment can indeed be positive: entrepreneurs want their money to go to positive successful pursuits.

However, now is the time for American Christians and Jews to recognize that they cannot have it both ways.  We cannot call for investment in Occupied Palestine while at the same time reaping financial benefit from our funds invested in the very apparatus that continue to maintain the occupation of Palestine.  What keeps this fantasy alive, of course, is an age old church trick: Infuse an area with benevolence dollars and call it “investment” when it really is nothing more than traditional church mission funding dressed up in new clothing, with no return for investment.

Groups like PFMEP and others have been talking up “positive investment” since as early 2006 but they have yet to show any success.  After all, in Palestine, Spanish-funded solar panels have been destroyed by Israel; Polish-funded water cisterns have been destroyed by Israel, and so on.  What serious entrepreneurs are going to invest in this kind of atmosphere? Palestinian economic leaders are industrious and creative enough to make real investment pay off, but they are telling the world that the obstacle of the matrix of occupation needs to be dismantled before they can succeed.

In the famous contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18), the difference between the two was that while Elijah had the truth, justice and righteousness of God on his side, the hapless pagan priests had nothing but empty rhetoric.   There is no doubt that “positive investment” proponents see their stance as prophetic. When compared to the actual facts on the ground in Palestine, their claims are nothing more than empty rhetoric.

Morality: is it Public and Private or Joint Morality?

One pundit claims the United States is “still legislating and regulating private morality, while at the same time ignoring the much larger crisis of public morality in America.”

I agree to a point but I also believe that there is only one type of morality and that is a morality that is both private and public, thus it is a joint morality.

If people on Wall Street and within the securities and banking businesses had their own private morality it would have carried over into the public sector and there would be no need for us to legislate “Public Morality.”

Last week, JPMorgan Chase, the nation’s and one of the world’s largest banks, was found to have misled its shareholders and the public about its $6 billion “London Whale” losses in 2012.  There an officer of the bank thought “greed” was the only manner in which to get ahead in the business, even after seeing what happened in 2008.  She covered-up a $ 6 billion “mistake.”

This is the same JPMorgan that’s leading the charge against the Dodd-Frank Act, designed to protect the public from another Wall Street meltdown and taxpayer-funded bailout.

Lobbyists, or the “Amoral Army,” for the giant banks have been systematically kicking the teeth out of Dodd-Frank, leaving nothing but the gums.  Our federal legislators are still dependent on the Amoral Army, is that a surprise?

The so-called “Volcker Rule,” intended to prevent the banks from making risky bets with federally-insured commercial deposits — itself a watered-down version of the old Glass-Steagall Act — still hasn’t seen the light of day.  If the people had their way the Glass-Steagall Act would be reenacted.

Last week, Republicans and Democrats, in a surprising act of bipartisanship, on the House Agriculture Committee passed bills to weaken Dodd-Frank — expanding exemptions and allowing banks that do their derivative trading in other countries (i.e.,JPMorgan) to avoid the new rules altogether.  But why you ask, is the House Agriculture Committee dealing with derivative trading?  Ask the Amoral Army and your local farm state representative in Congress.  $$$

Meanwhile, House Republicans voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act in its entirety, as part of their budget plan.  Speaker Boehner (correct pronunciation in Saxon German is “bo-ner.”)

And still no major Wall Street executives have been held accountable for the wild betting that led to the near meltdown in 2008.  Attorney General Eric Holder says the big banks are too big to prosecute.  Maybe they are too big to serve.  Maybe they are too big to bank in the United States.

Our friend the pundit calls the members of Congress who speak about private morality out of one side of their mouth and then vote for against public morality the “Morality Brigade.”  Why doesn’t the Morality Brigade complain about the rampant greed on Wall Street that’s already brought the economy to its knees, wiping out the savings of millions of Americans and subjecting countless others to joblessness and insecurity — and seems set on doing it again?

What people do in their bedrooms shouldn’t be the public’s business. Women should have rights over their own bodies. Same-sex couples should be allowed to marry and adopt children who need two parents.  People should have the right to say what they believe-in.  The Amoral Army and Congress should look at Newtown and say enough is enough.

Is what powerful people do in their boardrooms is the public’s business?  Our democracy needs to be protected from the depredations of big money to keep the Amoral Army from running Congress. Our economy needs to be guarded against the excesses of too-big-to-fail banks.

In recent weeks right-to-life state legislators, most of whom are male, have decided to thwart the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right control their own bodies and to keep old men from legislating what woman can do and not do with their bodies.

Now woman can have an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually around 24 weeks into pregnancy, and later if medically necessary.  The common law recognized that a fetus was not a person and a person was only a living person, a baby who had been delivered.  That was until some old men in our various legislators made fetuses living people in the Nineteenth Century.

Last week legislators in North Dakota passed a bill banning abortions after six weeks or after a fetal heart beat had been detected, and approved a fall referendum that would ban all abortions by defining human life as beginning with conception.

Wait a minute. WHO is running North Dakota? the people, the legislators or has the state succeeded and joined the Holy See?

Lawmakers in Arkansas have banned abortions within twelve weeks of conception–that never happened when Bill Clinton was governor!

The Morality Brigade worries about fetuses, but not what happens to children after they’re born.

They and other conservatives have been cutting funding for child nutrition, healthcare for infants and their mothers, and schools. See how WIC was one of the first victims of the sequestration?

The new House Republican budget gets a big chunk of its savings from programs designed to help poor kids. The budget sequester already in effect takes aim at programs like Head Start, designed to improve the life chances of poor kids.  The Amoral Army and its Morality Brigade are on the warpath.

Meanwhile, the Morality Brigade continues to battle same-sex marriage.  Why? Are they afraid they may have to fess-up and marry their boyfriends? Are they afraid homosexuality is contagious?

Despite the Supreme Court’s willingness to consider the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, no one should assume a majority of the justices will strike it down. The Court could just as easily decide the issue is up to the states, or strike down California’s law while allowing other states to continue their bans.  In the past the only time the federal government interfered with state control of marriage was when it kept Utah a territory until it banned polygamy.  Why did those Nieteenth Century Legislators who were well known cocks-men, ban a practice that they practiced but called it adultery?

Morality Brigade and the Amoral Army don’t want women to have control over their bodies or same-sex couples to marry, but they don’t give a hoot about billionaires taking over our democracy for personal gain or big bankers taking over our economy.

Yet these violations of public morality are far more dangerous to our society because they undermine the public trust that’s essential to both our democracy and economy.

Three years ago, at the behest of a right-wing group called “Citizens United,” the Supreme Court opened the floodgates to big money in politics by deciding corporations were “people” under the First Amendment.  Does the corporations heart ever beat?

A record $12 billion was spent on election campaigns in 2012, affecting all levels of government.  Much of it came from billionaires like the Koch brothers and casino-magnate Sheldon Adelson, hardly a member of the Morality Brigade but surely a member of the Amoral Army, by seeking fewer regulations, lower taxes, and weaker trade unions.

Morality Brigade and the Amoral Army didn’t entirely succeed but the billionaires established a beachhead for the midterm elections of 2014 and beyond.

If people had private morality there would be no need for public morality.  Yet, no one should confuse the two.  Many publicly amoral people may have a private morality that does not see stealing from the poor to give to the rich as amoral.  What the pundit is saying is that this country needs to merge its public and private morality and be as generous with our neighbors as we would have them be to us.

GRU vs. cyberwarfare

My post, via

Over the past decade I have become more concerned about cyberattacks to U.S. defenses, industry, infrastructure and my own companies’ IT systems. As a Gainesville resident for 39 years and a former city planning director, I am also very concerned about cyberattacks against the city, Gainesville Regional Utilities and the systems that make up “command centers” for our governmental infrastructure within the city.

About two years ago an Iranian cyberwarfare group attacked the IT system of the Saudi Arabian national oil company Aramco. This attack destroyed more than 30,000 individual computers, all internal networks, the storage capacity for the information technology of that company and its ability to recover its information. This was not well publicized, as most cyberattacks are not publicized. Aramco was able to renew its IT system but at great expense and great loss of income.

A recent cyberattack was made on the Federal Reserve System. This attack retrieved the computer passwords used by bankers and banking institutions to obtain access to the Federal Reserve’s IT system, placing our monetary supply at risk. This was in fact an attack by a belligerent power against the finances of the U.S. and the entire world.

Last May, I attended a conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. One of the main presentations was from the newly appointed department head for the Department of Cyber-Warfare at the academy. His department is teaching a class for the entering plebe class (freshman class) and one to the first-class midshipmen (senior class). Those classes are the limits of the department’s capabilities at present. He emphasized that within three years there would be an academic major provided for midshipmen in cyberwarfare. An entirely new building will house this department.

The computers within the department are not connected to the Internet nor are they even connected to the academy’s intranet. The department does this so there can be no hacking into its programs or systems.

There are thousands of attempts each day to hack into the computers of the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, among other federal departments and agencies. The Defense Department and other agencies responsible for national defense have thousands of “troops” involved in identifying cyberattacks and countering them. Most of these attacks originate from China, Iran, countries of the former Soviet Union and such non-state belligerents as al-Qaida.

The easiest way to destroy the ability of the United States to defend itself from a paralyzing “first strike” is to attack two sectors of our economy that are poorly defended. An attack against our financial markets would throw the entire world economy into chaos and could make the great recession of 2008 look like a minor financial fluctuation.

The second and most important sector of the economy that is at risk is the U.S. electrical grid. We all remember the blackout of 2002 when one transformer or circuit switch in Ohio brought down most of the grid in the entire Northeast United States for about a day.

We, the owners of Gainesville Regional Utilities, need to know if there has been a national emphasis on protecting the infrastructure grid for electrical power. One strength of our electrical system is that electrical power can be transferred from one utility to another depending upon demand. However, this interconnection is one of the major dangers.

Grids are controlled by stations that permit power to flow from one utility to the next. If a cyberattack were to be made upon one or more of these centers, the U.S. grids could be brought down and equipment could be destroyed. The U.S. would be placed into a situation that it has not been in since the turn of the 20th century, when most of the country was not served by an electrical system.

Think of what would happen to industry, transportation, health care and the other sectors of the great American economy. Manufacturing industries would be shut down until energy could be restored. Traffic signals around the U.S. would be nonfunctional and traffic would gridlocked in urban areas. All transportation would come to an end once the fuels available to each vehicle were consumed and if there was no electricity to pump fuels at service stations. You can imagine the problems with health care, education and all the other sectors of the economy that depend on electricity.

My concern for GRU is whether it has a plan for the effects of a cyberwarfare attack upon the electrical grids. The City Commission, as the GRU board of directors, must ensure that senior management will immediately look into this issue.

A cyber-defense bill has never made it through Congress. With the stalemate in Congress, I believe that it is imperative as a progressive community, like Gainesville, to immediately address this issue. We will all face cyberwarfare and the effects of attacks as this form of warfare becomes more prevalent in the future. Gainesville needs to act before it is engulfed in the international cyberwarfare that is presently in its beginning stages.

Samuel Mutch lives in Gainesville.