laws


It’s been almost four weeks since the hostage situation took place at the Morrison County Government Center.  This fish still feels shaken by that event and will try not to comment directly on it further other than to say that the Morrison County Record did a fine job of covering the various angles of the situation.  (If you want to find the Record’s articles, just go to its website and type Gordon Wheeler into the search feature.)

What I’d like to do, instead, is discuss property rights because this is ostensibly what was at the root of the event.  When it comes to owning property, most Americans believe that property owners should be able to do whatever they want with their property.  In direct opposition to this thought is the belief that we also get to decide what our neighbors do with their property.  (How often have you found that your lawn aesthetic doesn’t match that of your neighbor’s?  Or complained about how that neighborhood feed lot is going to decrease the value of your property?)

So, which is it?  Do we get to do what we want with our property, or are we going to set up rules that restrict what our neighbors do?  There are no easy answers to this question, yet, when there is a dispute over property rights, someone has to step in and make some sort of decision.

That’s where our govenment officials come in – our county commissioners, city administrators, planning & zoning officials, and inspectors.  Not only are these officials concerned with making decisions about individual property rights, they also have to keep an eye on what’s good for an entire community, plus make sure their decisions square with local ordinances and state laws.  The latter can be notoriously difficult to interpret due to vague language that’s meant to cover all possible situations.

These officials juggle all of the aforementioned requirements and variables in making their decisions and sometimes their decisions don’t sit well with the property owner or with the public.  Then what?  Well, the property owner and public can learn to live with the decisions or the decisions can be appealed to a higher authority.  Perhaps a particular law in question needs to be revised, in which case those concerned with the issue can head to the legislature and work that angle.  If a property rights decision seems particularly unfair, but can’t seem to be resolved with a particular set of government officials, perhaps it’s time to use the power of the vote to bring new leaders into the situation.  The point is that there are all sorts of potential solutions to a property rights disagreement.

The real crux of the matter, however, is that property rights decisions are notoriously contentious because of the underlying premises I mentioned at the beginning of this post.  Sometimes there just isn’t an easy fix, no matter how thoughtfully officials contemplate an issue, and no matter how hard a property owner works to get a decision changed in his/her favor.  What we need to change is our idea of owning property.  While we may legally “own” a piece of property, we don’t really own it.  We’re just borrowing it for a time.  It behooves us to think about who will be using the land next and start making decisions not simply for our own selfish needs, but for the needs of its future inhabitants.

I’ll share my reef, if you’ll share yours,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

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On 3/25/2008, the Morrison County Record printed an article written by columnist Peter Graham in Farming and Your Freedom with the headline Can Iraq Rebuild its Ag Economy? 

In his article Graham refers to a story published in the High Plains/Midwest Journal and writes, “it will take millions to put them back on their feet and help them become productive again. It will also take enlightened government policy-on the part of the Iraq and the U.S. governments.”

The operative words being enlightened government policy.

 Unfortunately, in his 400 day stint as administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) (the American body that ruled the “new Iraq” in the early days of the U.S. invasion) Paul Bremer issued a series of directives known as the “100 Orders”. These orders established the blueprint for the new Iraq.  Among the items contained in the 100 Orders relevant to Graham’s original question is Order # 81, officially titled: Amendments to Patent, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law.*** (Enacted by Bremer on April 26, 2004.)

Order 81 is a legal tweak establishing strong intellectual property protections on seed and plant products that a company like Monsanto (producers of genetically modified (GM) seeds and other patented agricultural goods) required prior to moving into new markets like Iraq.  

In a nutshell, Order 81  mirrors the business conditions created years earlier in India, conditions leading Monsanto to highly profitable success within that region while simultaneously unleashing a pandemic proportioned onslaught of suicides among Indian farmers, the subject of the PBS documentary The Dying Fields.  

While the U.S. stopped short of mandating Iraqi farmers to purchase from corporations like Monsanto, basic laws of nature coupled with Order 81 could quickly and easily leave American agribusiness claiming rights on Iraqi farm fields regardless of where they obtain their seed supply.

Percy Schmeiser, a Saskatchewan farmer found himself tangled with Monsanto in a lawsuit after a few rogue GM seeds blew from a truck passing by his land. Monsanto didn’t care how the Roundup® Ready plants got there, as far as the company was concerned, Schmeiser was in possession of an agricultural product whose intellectual property belonged to them and they didn’t care how it happened. Monsanto sued Scheimer for $400,000.00 .  

 

In 2005 the Centre for Food Safety(CFS) reported that Monsanto had a 10 million dollar budget and a staff of 75 devoted to investigating and prosecuting farmers. Monsanto admits to aggressively investigating farmers it suspects and according to the CFS report, evidence suggests that the number of farmers investigated reachs into the thousands.

Prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq it was illegal to patent seeds. Now, under U.S. decree all that is necessary to obtain a patent is to be the first to “describe” or “characterize” the plants.*

While technically, Iraqi farmers are not being stopped from saving and sharing seed from their traditional crops as they have always done, there is now nothing stopping Monsanto, Cargill, Dow, Bayer and other multinationals from “describing” or “characterizing” Iraq’s traditional seeds. Once this is done Iraqi farmer will be prohibited from saving and sharing the very seeds that have been cultivated and passed down in their country for generations and they will be forced  to buy them from who ever owns the patent.   Also, Iraqi farmers can be sued by companies like Monsanto if they discover their non-GMO crops polluted by GMO crops planted in their vicinity like Percy Schmeiser did.

It is important to note that prior to Abu Graib’s infamous tabloid debut that the city was once host to Iraq’s seed bank. In 1996, Iraqi botanists packed up 200 kinds of seed and sent them to Syria for safekeeping. When the Iraq war began the Abu Graib seed bank was looted, all that remains of Iraq’s long, rich agricultural heritage are the seeds held by its farmer and those shipped to Syria.

While it would be nice to think that the intentions of the U.S. government are honorable, the broader U.S. plan appears to be geared more towards incorporating Iraqi agriculture into the massive web of U.S. agribusiness, leaving Iraq to grow a few high-yield cash crops for export instead of growing basic crops to feed the Iraqi people. Subsequently, under the U.S. policy the state-run food companies (who had traditionally provided a food basket to every Iraqi household rich or poor), will be privatized under the policy, farm subsidies will be eliminated and the traditional Iraqi food baskets assured to every household, will only be provided to the poorest of Iraq’s people.

While Graham’s article insinuates that the U.S. is working to ensure that Iraq regains its capacity to feeds its own people, exporting high-yield cash crops has not proven to be a successful mean of reaching this objective.

Graham ends his column with, “Root suggested that we make our research available to Iraqi farmers and where practicable send experts over to help. He believes, though, that there may be more value in bringing the Iraqis to America to be trained and then to be sent back to revitalize their agriculture and begin feeding their own people. Who wants to see an Extension specialist blindfolded and awaiting execution for helping farmers to farm?” 

If Graham is truly that naïve it is perhaps time he retire his column. It took nothing more than a cursory glance at the sources used by the High Plains Midwest Journal to see that the universities commenting on Iraq were departments notorious for being heavily financed by the multinational corporations who stand to profit from Order 81.

In the end maybe extension specialist will find themselves blindfolded and awaiting execution in Iraq because the 100,000 Indian’s who committed suicide between 1993 and 2003, some of whom died in their fields after ingesting their last bottle of Roundup, failed to capture any real attention.

*The Hague Regulations requires that an occupying power “re-establish and insure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.” The imposition of major structural economic reforms is viewed by legal scholars around the world as a violation of international law.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing as how I gave you the full rundown of stories pertaining to Mr. Gordon Wheeler’s legal issues as they appeared in the Morrison County Record, I thought I should link you up to the final (I hope) story in the saga.  The headline says it all:  Wheeler v. Morrison County case dismissed; restrictions set.   If I had legs, I’d do a giant happy dance of glee.

As reported by Matt Perkins in the Record:  “Gordon Wheeler Sr. will no longer be able to file complaints against Morrison County unless they are either endorsed by an attorney or approved in advance by the court.”

Yes!!!!!

What does this say about the attorney who allowed Mr. Wheeler to bring forth this case?

The final paragraph of the Record article is a summation of Judge John Scherer’s decision.  Quoting the judge, it says, “The three lawsuits in this case appear to continue a trend, established by Wheeler in his previous action against the County, of meritless suits which serve no purpose other than to harass county officials, cause needless expense and squander judicial resources.”

You go, Judge Scherer!  Thank you for seeing right through Wheeler’s tactics and for upholding the spirit of the law (and for keeping an eye on the purse strings of citizens).

While I said I had hoped that this would be the final story in the Wheeler saga, I realized while writing this post that Judge Scherer’s decision does not deal with Wheeler’s $1 billion case against the State of Minnesota, in which he and his wife are citing “crimes against humanity.”  If the powers that be are communicating properly, hopefully Judge Scherer’s decision in this case will reach the ears of those working on the State’s case.  Judge Scherer dismissed the county case for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”  I’d say the whole “crimes against humanity” thing falls into the same category.

Aside from dismissing that case outright, the only thing that would make me happier is if the judge in the State’s case would require the Wheelers to make a sizable donation to the local food shelf.  (Hey, a fish can dream.)  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Crimes against humanity, ha!

The murky waters of the pond just got a little clearer,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

In this week’s issue of the Morrison County Record, there is a long article on page 12 of section A about preventing identity theft.  There’s some good advice in the article, although in some instances of identity theft, I’m not sure how people can really protect themselves more than they already are.  I mean, if the State Department of Motor Vehicles is allowed to sell our names and addresses and an identity thief gets hold of one of these lists, there’s not much we can do about that now, can we?

Anyway, I made it through to the end of the article and discovered these final words:

“For more information, go to”

That’s it.  Empty space.  Nowhere to go to.  Apparently, identity thieves have stolen the end of the sentence and don’t want us to learn any more about their tricks.

Where did I put my eel-skin wallet?

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

P.S.  The identity thieves didn’t get to the online version of the story, where the sentence comes to this conclusion:  “the Minnesota Attorney General’s Web site at www.ag.state.mn.us.”

Al Franken made a campaign stop in Little Falls, Minnesota, today.  Our special Fish Wrap correspondent Black Molly was on the scene to get the story.  Here is her report.

P.F.A.P.

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Al Franken in Little Falls, MN  Fish Wrap card with Al Franken’s signature 

Photo on the left:  Al Franken greeting voters at the Royal Cafe in Little Falls, MN.  The woman seated facing the camera is Cathy Adamek.

Photo on the right:  An official Fish Wrap postcard signed by Al Franken.

Click on photos for a larger view.

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Let me say right out of the starting gate that Al Franken is punctual.  His website said that he would be in Little Falls, MN, at the Royal Cafe at 11:30 p.m. and, by golly, he was.  Al is running as a Democratic candidate for a seat in the U.S. Senate.  He greeted sixty-plus Morrison County residents personally at today’s event – literally.  As soon as he arrived, he systematically made his way around the room and shook hands with each person.  Even looked us in the eye, he did.

Once Al was through with hand-shaking, Bob Keeton, chair of the Morrison County DFL, formally introduced Al to the crowd.  When Al started speaking, the room was a-hush with people hanging on every word.  Al started his speech by talking about Mrs. Molin, his 4th grade teacher who has appeared in one of his television ads.  He said that the ad has gone viral, with people calling campaign headquarters trying to find her.  He told those assembled, “If Mrs. Molin plays her cards right, she’ll be a very wealthy woman,” because of the ad.

Al then proceeded to state his beliefs and the things he’ll work to accomplish when he becomes the next U.S. Senator from Minnesota.  (Notice that I didn’t use the word “if.”  This guy’s going all the way.)  He did this in a refreshingly concise, clear, and logical manner, covering a lot of issues in a fairly short time, and throwing in his signature satire to boot.  (I’m playing straight-man here because there’s not a chance in H-E-double hockey sticks that I’ll be able to communicate his humor.)

Al believes that No Child Left Behind and the large sizes of classes in schools have prevented teachers from teaching.  He wants to emphasize education during his time in the Senate because he believes a good education will allow us to compete in the global economy and help us to solve sticky societal problems.  He also wants to work on making college affordable again, saying that Pell grants used to cover 86% of the cost of a college education, whereas today, Pell grants only cover around 40%.

He said that if you want to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, “First you’ve got to have the boots.”  Government should assist people in getting those boots.

Al believes in the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – which is a huge issue in Morrison County.

He wants to work for universal health care and cited these statistics from the World Health Organization:  The United States is ranked 37th among the nations of the world for the quality of our health care system and dead last for preventative medicine.  We can do better than that.

Al discussed how the current White House administration has been anti-science.  He will work to pass a law that states that the administration can’t change scientific reports without first getting the approval of scientists.  This topic morphed into a discussion on global warming, alternative energy sources, and green transportation.  Al believes in wind turbines, rail all over the state and electric cars.

Al is anti-torture and anti-invading-other-countries-for-no-good-reason.  He’s for our constitutional rights.

He wants us out of Iraq, but he wants us out in a thoughtful and responsible way.  He wants our foreign policy to be proactive and based on diplomacy.

Al said that this election, this period of time, is our Sputnik moment – a moment of truth in which we can turn this country around, undo what the current administration has done, and move on to better things.  He wants the United States to be the greatest country in the world once again.

I think Al Franken is well on his way to that goal.  After having lived with continually decreasing amounts of hope over this last seven or so years, Al Franken has given me something to be hopeful about again.   For that, he’s getting my vote.  (The punctuality doesn’t hurt either.)

Your Fish Wrap Correspondent,

Black Molly

Ever read a story in the newspaper that was so outrageous that you wanted to fling the entire paper across the room?  I did in last week’s Morrison County Record, the January 13, 2008, issue.  The headline says it all – “Wheeler brings $1 billion lawsuit against the state”.  (That’s the headline in the paper version, not the online version of the story.)

For those of you who haven’t been following the Gordon Wheeler saga, this is the latest in a long process that involves Wheeler’s businesses outside the gates of Camp Ripley, including the Camp Bar, Krazy Rabbit and Lookin’ Fine Smut and Porno.  Wheeler was found guilty of prostitution-related offenses in his Camp Bar business and sentenced to 90 days in jail.  Further, the County Board denied him a liquor license.  By following the string of lawsuits he has filed against the county, county employees, and now the State of Minnesota, it’s obvious that he’s steaming mad.  (Links to articles at the end of this post.)

In the article about his suing the State, a list of the offices Wheeler is targeting with this lawsuit includes the Attorney General, Dept. of Natural Resources, Governor, Dept. of Education, Dept. of Health, Public Safety, Military Affairs, Insurance Commissioner, Human Services, Board on Judicial Standards and Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board.  What?  No MNDOT?  No Secretary of State?

Wheeler and his wife Kathleen are citing “crimes against humanity” in their case against the State.  In the words of Kyle Broflovsky’s mom on South Park – “What, what, WHAT!?!”  Exactly how is being held accountable for illegal activities considered “crimes against humanity”?  Shouldn’t that designation be reserved for something like genocide?

Kim Slater submitted a letter to the editor of the Record this week that expresses her outrage over the Wheeler matter and she brings up many of the things I’ve been thinking  about the issue.  She says the following:

“I would like to see a “landmark case” brought against you [the Wheelers] for wasting taxpayer dollars and the time of the judicial system once again.”

I concur with you, Kim.  Class-action lawsuit, anyone?  Frankly, though, I’d like to see the Wheelers’ lawyer included in such a lawsuit.  Does this person not have a shame bone in his/her entire body?  Dumb question, I know.  This is precisely the sort of thing that gives lawyers a bad name.

I’d like to give the Wheelers a little advice, but I’ll start with one of Dr. Phil’s stock questions.  “How’s that workin’ for ya?”  Rather than wasting your money (and MINE!) by suing everyone you lay eyes on, why don’t you move to Nevada, where prostitution is legal, and start over by running the business you’d like to run?  Of course, there are laws there that you’d have to follow, but at least you wouldn’t have to work to get a really big one changed.

Here is a list of articles and documents related to the legal issues the Wheelers have had:

Findings of Fact, Conclusions & Recommendation from the State of MN – Office of Administrative Hearings – for Morrison County in the matter of the non-renewal of the liquor license of Gordon K. Wheeler, Sr., d/b/a the Camp Store/Bar/Cafe

Court document related to Gordon K. Wheeler’s request to dismiss or stay proceedings related to non-renewal of liquor license

By typing Gordon Wheeler into the Morrison County Record’s search feature, I got 33 hits between  January 1, 2005, and January 20, 2008 (the current issue).  Here are the stories relevant to the case.

Six arrested for prostitution

Prostitution suspects arrested

Formal charges filed in Camp Bar prostitution case 

Commissioners discuss Camp Bar liquor license

Court order prohibits adult use business

Hearing on liquor license for Camp Bar is postponed

Camp Bar owner, dancer arrested

Commissioners approve three month liquor license for Camp Bar
Commissioners deny Camp Bar liquor license

County pursues injunction against Camp Bar

Commissioners deny liquor license to any Camp Bar applicant

County to seek outside help in Wheeler appeal

Commissioners approve outside council in Wheeler appeal

Dancers, bar owner, testify as prostitution trial gets underway

Wheeler trial breaks new ground for Morrison County

A travesty of justice for Wheeler

Wheeler drops liquor license appeal

Wheeler gets 90 days for prostitution-related crimes

Camp Bar closed

MN court of appeals rules against dancing lounge

Commissioners prepare to reject Wheeler liquor license

Commissioners reject liquor license

Wheeler restraining order petition tossed

Wheeler petitions appeal to supreme court

County discusses new facets to adult use ordinance

County board keeps Krazy Rabbit’s doors sealed

Liquor license precedent set by County Board

Former bar owner claims county corruption

Lawsuit against Morrison County dismissed

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted just from reading through those headlines.  If you find a link that doesn’t link up to the proper story, let me know and I’ll fix it.

The shame bone’s connected to the guilt bone,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

The folks at the Morrison County Record are demanding change.  Someone at the newspaper has a lead foot and wants to put it to use.  In the Our View section of this week’s paper, the lead footed make a case for increasing the speed limit on Haven Road.

Haven Road, for those of you unfamiliar with Little Falls, is actually a continuation of First Street Northeast, one of the main roads through downtown.  The road becomes Haven as soon as one crosses the railroad tracks on the north end of town, very near City Hall.  This road was widened and repaved this past summer.  Now that it has been improved, the Record notes that “the new design of that stretch invites people to speed up, and most people drive between 35 and 40 mph.”  The Record continues with the following:

“That being the case, we believe that the speed limit should be increased to 40 mph east of the railroad tracks.  To leave it at 30 mph is to invite disrespect for the law, which is never a good thing.”

Let’s get this straight.  The Record is arguing that the speed limit should be increased on this stretch of road because people are already going over the speed limit and we don’t want them to disrespect the law.  Are you serious?  [Phineas continues reading.]  I guess so, because toward the end of the article, the Record states, “Laws need to be reasonable and fit the norms of public behavior.”  Well, that’s interesting.  Have you noticed that no matter where the speed limit is increased, people have a tendency to go five to ten miles per hour over the posted limit?  The Interstate has a speed limit of 70 mph, but people regularly go 75 to 80.  Just because something seems to be a public norm, it doesn’t mean that we should automatically give in to that norm.  If you jack the speed limit on Haven Road up to 40 mph through this area, it’s a guarantee that people will speed up to 45 or 50.

Let’s set aside the argument that we should increase the speed limit on Haven Road because everyone is driving that speed anyway and examine the situation from a different perspective.  My Fish Wrap colleague Suckerlip Blenny and I took a little drive on Haven Road to check things out.   We wanted to figure out why the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) thought it would be appropriate to set the speed limit at 30 mph through this stretch.

As we drove over the tracks, we hit the mileage counter to see how long the stretch in question was.  We were looking to see when the speed limit changed.  From the track to just past 13th Avenue Northeast, the speed limit was 30 mph.  Once past 13th Avenue Northeast, a speed limit sign indicated an increase to 45 mph.  The distance between the tracks and the 45 mph sign was approximately half a mile.  Between the tracks and the 45 mph speed limit sign, we noted that we moved from a residential area into a business area.  There are new apartment buildings in this stretch along the river.  There is a Casey’s gas station, Charlie’s Pizza, Dairy Queen (which is getting a full face-lift), and the Crestliner boat manufacturing plant.

Is it possible that MNDOT looked at these businesses and figured that with all the traffic coming and going, the wisest decision was to keep the speed limit at 30 mph?  Have you noticed all the kids that frequent the Dairy Queen in the summer?  How about all those cars streaming out of Crestliner, off of 13th Avenue Northeast, when the shift changes?  Having driven through this stretch myself during busy times of the day, I think MNDOT made the right decision.

But, Suckerlip Blenny and I weren’t done yet.  It was time to strain our brains with MATH.  What kind of time might people save if the speed limit increased from 30 mph to 40 mph for this half-mile stretch?  It takes 2 minutes to travel one mile driving 30 mph.  It takes 1.5 minutes to travel a mile driving at 40 mph.  Divide those minutes in half to get the time it takes to travel a half-mile.  It takes one minute to travel a half-mile going at 30.  It takes 45 seconds to travel a half-mile at 40 mph.  The difference between those amounts is the time you would save by speeding up – a mere 15 seconds.  If anyone enters Haven Road from 13th Avenue Northeast in front of you, you’re going to have to slow down, which will eat up those 15 seconds.

If you haven’t got 15 seconds to spare in a day, you need to torch up some incense and schedule a weekend at a Zen center for some meditation and introspection, ’cause your life is just waaaaay too busy.

Glub, glub, ohmmmmmmmm . . . .

Phineas F. A. Pickerel