Oregon Stand Off Trial Verdicts Are In

The verdicts are in this afternoon for the seven defendants on trial in Portland for their roles in the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge earlier this year.  The verdicts are as follows:

Ammon Bundy, not guilty on all counts

Ryan Bundy, not guilty on conspiracy charge, not guilty on firearms charge, no verdict on theft of property charge.

Jeff Banta, not guilty on all charges

Shawna Cox, not guilty

Ken Medenbach, not guilty on all charges

David Fry, not guilty on all charges

Neil Wampler, not guilty

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After Questions of Bias Arise, Juror Dismissed in Oregon Stand Off Trial

Yesterday in the trial of seven defendants accused of conspiring to impede federal employees from doing their jobs after the January 2, 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlfe Refuge, the jury sent questions to the judge.  One of those questions, hand written in all capital letters, was:

“Can a juror, a former employee of the Bureau of Land Management, who opens their remarks in deliberations by stating, ‘I am very biased…’ be considered an impartial judge in this case?”

The defense asked for the juror to be dismissed.  Judge Anna Brown met with the juror and the attorneys and decided she would not immediately dismiss the juror.  She gave the attorneys until 9am today to present case law to support the argument to dismiss the juror.  This is an unusual development, and has resulted in a flurry of discussion and speculation from all sides on how it will effect the trial.

Ammon Bundy’s defense lawyer, Marcus Mumford, filed a motion  to dismiss the juror this morning.  Many reporters in the court room tweeted that Judge Brown stated, “there is not a way forward that is not fraught with risk.”  Judge Brown asked that all parties agree to dismiss the juror on ‘good cause’ and she had a replacement juror chosen from a cup in preparation.  She said if the prosecution did not agree to dismiss the juror, she would hear oral arguments on the motion to dismiss.

Meanwhile, the jury continued to deliberate.  Judge Brown said if they reached a verdict while the court was deciding whether or not to dismiss the juror it would be yet another problem.

Finally, the prosecution agreed to dismiss the juror. The judge informed the jury that she had determined that juror 11 needs to be excused in the interest of justice, and that everyone would be back in court tomorrow morning for another round of jury instructions.  She told the jury they will have to set aside the conclusions they had already come to and start over.

 

While the Pentagon Wastes Billions of Dollars, Soldiers Are Forced to Repay Re-enlistment Bonuses

As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (and other countries) have dragged on for more than a decade, maintaining an all volunteer military force has become increasingly challenging.  The Department of Defense has relied on large cash incentives to keep the ranks filled, offering re-enlistment bonuses for soldiers in jobs that are in high demand.  (A former Air Force service member in the drone program told me about a re-enlistment, tax free, bonus of $72 thousand!)  Unfortunately, those bonuses were not always given to personnel that qualified for them.

Yesterday, it was reported by David S. Cloud in the Los Angeles Times that “nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses–and slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse–after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard at the height of the wars last decade.”  According to Cloud, these “bonus overpayments occurred in every state at the height of the two wars.”

Cloud goes on to discuss several soldiers now faced with repaying these bonuses they had no idea they didn’t qualify for when they received them.  These are veterans who deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them wounded while serving.  While some have attempted to appeal the decision, that has proven to be a long and difficult process.  Meanwhile, the interest on the amount owed continues to accrue.

One soldier, Bryan Strother, faced with a total of $25,010.32 owed “for mistaken bonuses and student loans,” filed a class action lawsuit in February.  Cloud writes that Strother filed the suit “on behalf of all soldiers who got bonuses, claiming the California Guard ‘conned’ them into reenlisting.”  His lawsuit seeks an injuction to stop further collection, as well as the return of money already re-payed.

Strother was notified in August that the Pentagon would not require him to repay the money he had received in enlistment bonuses, and shortly thereafter, lawyers for the US Attorney “petitioned the court to dismiss Strother’s lawsuit, arguing that it was moot since most of his debt had been waived.”  This motion is set to be decided on by January.  If the case is dismissed, that would take care of the injunction request for all soldiers who received bonuses.

Cloud writes, “even Guard officials concede that taking back the money from military veterans is distasteful.”

“At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard.  “We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts.  We just can’t do that.  We’d be breaking the law.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon remains unaccountable for vast sums of tax payer money.  Scot J. Paltrow wrote in this November 18, 2013 Reuters article, “the Pentagon is the only federal agency that has not complied with a law that requires annual audits of all government departments.  That means that the $8.5 trillion in taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996, the first year it was supposed to be audited, has never been accounted for.”

Matthew Gault wrote in his March 31, 2015 War Is Boring article that the Pentagon could not account for $45 billion of the $66 billion that was allocated to the Pentagon for the task of rebuilding Afghanistan.  Gault states, “the Pentagon has a history of wasting billions in the country [Afghanistan] on bad projects, corrupt business partners and disreputable construction companies.”

“It wasted five years and $20 million refurbishing an old Soviet prison that still isn’t finished. The Air Force blew half a billion dollars on transport planes that never flew. It sold the aircraft for $32,000 worth of scrap.”

All that waste, fraud, corruption, bad spending, and lack of accountability for billions of dollars is apparently acceptable.  But when the Pentagon resorts to bribery to maintain its volunteer force (after all, a draft would likely put a stop to these wars pretty quickly), 10,000 soldiers who were mistakenly given bonuses for re-enlisting are forced to repay the money they received.

Sure, that makes sense.

Homework, After More Than a Decade

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Today, for the first time in years, I had a homework assignment due.  When I say years, I mean more than a decade.  I have no idea what sort of grade I will receive for my work, but I enjoyed doing it.  This assignment was to attend an event and report on it as if I was writing a piece for a newspaper.  Not an easy thing for me as a blogger who enjoys a lot of freedom to editorialize all I want, and as a novelist who has the power to kill off any character that disagrees with me.  But the challenge is what made it so fun.

I chose an event that I thought would be interesting to me personally, but also worth writing about here at seeking redress.  I chose to ‘report’ on a presentation given in Bend, Oregon, on October 6, 2016, by the Rural Organizing Project.  There is a lot I would like to say about this presentation, about the atmosphere in the room, about the security team present, about this organization, about the responses I heard afterwards…but that was not the purpose of this assignment, so maybe another time.

I really wanted to focus on something positive that I saw during this event.  So, for my homework assignment, this is what I reported:

Community members come together in spite of differences to discuss solutions to common rural problems.

October 7, 2016

By Katie Aguilera

The Rural Organizing Project gave a presentation Thursday night in Bend at the Nativity Lutheran Church as part of their statewide “Beyond Burns: the Growing Patriot Movement” tour.  Following the presentation and a short question and answer session, members of the audience were divided into smaller groups to discuss the issues presented.

This led to a positive exchange between Central Oregon residents concerned about the Patriot and militia movements and leaders of several Oregon Patriot groups.  Both groups agreed they share more common ground than expected after talking with each other.  In spite of their different opinions, all agreed that further dialogue about solutions to local problems was both possible and necessary.

The presentation was given by Jessica Campbell, co-director of the Rural Organizing Project.  The problems she discussed included the lack of funding for basic services like emergency dispatch services, full time law enforcement services, the lack of jobs, and more.  Campbell explained how these often lead to numerous problems, including a growing sense of discontent and disenfranchisement in rural communities.

Campbell explained how Patriot and militia groups seek to fill these voids in order to spread their message and recruit new members.  These groups often organize community service projects to gain support and also work to get politicians supportive of their goals elected to local offices.

A brief introduction of various groups such as the Oath Keepers, Oregon Three Percenters, Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, and the Pacific Patriots Network was given.  Campbell went on to discuss confrontations that have occurred between these groups and law enforcement over the past two years, from Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management in Bunkerville, Nevada in 2014 over cattle grazing fees, to the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon earlier this year.

Another confrontation Campbell discussed occurred near Galice, Oregon, at a mine known as the Sugar Pine Mine, where various militia groups sought to prevent the Bureau of Land Management from shutting down operations at the mine.  This incident, occurring near Campbell’s hometown of Cottage Grove, brought the growing movements to Campbell’s attention, and led to Rural Organizing Project’s partnering with Political Research Associates of Somerville, Massachusetts, to co-produce the report, “Up In Arms: A Guide To Oregon’s Patriot Movement.”

People attended the presentation for various reasons.  Connie (Smith*) of Bend, said she came because she is concerned about the “mainstreaming of the [Patriot] movement,” and explained that while it is easy to recognize a member of a militia visually, it isn’t easy to recognize politicians supportive of the movement who are running for office.

Kathleen Brady, of Redmond, said she came to learn about the Rural Organizing Project.  She said she felt that much of the information presented was factually flawed, and while there was common ground between the Rural Organizing Project members and the Patriot movement, the methods of creating dialogue at the meeting were seriously lacking.

Bj Soper, also of Redmond, and founder of the Central Oregon Constitutional Guard and co-founder of the Pacific Patriots Network, said a lot of information was left out of the presentation, specifically in regards to the Sugar Pine Mine incident and another incident discussed that occurred at a mine in Montana.  However, he agreed the community could work together to solve problems faced by rural areas, stating, “we’re crazy not to try.”

The Rural Organizing Project was formed in 1993 in an effort to promote liberal democracy in what has largely been considered conservative rural areas of the state.  It began as a network of over 40 human dignity groups and formed a permanent staff to facilitate local organizing, communication, and political analysis.

The group will host four more presentations around the state, in Canyon City on October 7, Baker City on October 8, Lostine on October 9, and finally La Grande on October 10.  More information about the group can be found on their website at www.rop.org.

*I neglected to ask Connie her last name while speaking with her.