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Dec/29/2020 news: \\ political party law reformed: idea > individual; transparency; female % \\ Pashinyan responds to "not being enough pro-Russian" \\ who owns which business? \\ protests & snap elect. \\ burglary case & HHK MP \\ humanitarian aid for Artsakh \\ Vitalik flexes muscles \\ bills pass
Your 14-minute Tuesday report in 3589 words.
Pashinyan about pre-war negotiations and "avoiding" the war:
The idea that a flexible foreign policy could have avoided this war is being constantly circulated. Those [former officials] who believe in this thesis must answer at least one question: as a result of their "flexible" policy, why was it not possible to avoid the war of 2016, which was preceded by the unprecedented escalation of 2015 and 2014? The "flexible" policy adopted by Armenia for many years led to the introduction of Russian proposals in January 2016, which proposed the return of 7 territories (5 + 2) without any legal status for Nagorno-Karabakh. Why did Russia make such an offer? For one simple reason, as a result of Armenia's "flexible" policy, the Madrid process had come to a standstill because Artsakh could receive a Status outside Azerbaijan only with the consent of Azerbaijan. It was obvious to Russia and everyone else that Azerbaijan would not agree to this, so it was necessary to find ways to break the deadlock. And, by the way, if certain people claim that Armenia's foreign policy after 2018 was not sufficiently pro-Russian and this was the reason for the war, then why in the conditions of the "sufficiently pro-Russian" policy of 2016 were Russian proposals born and why did the April war take place? There was only one way to prevent this war: return the regions and forget about Artsakh's legal status. Now, after the war is over and we know the outcome, the number of supporters of [giveaway of 7 regions] is growing. What they forget is that if we gave away the lands to avoid the war, we would have the same situation in Syunik borders. They used to accuse us of "selling lands" [he means the contradictory statements like Nikol sold the lands, and why didn't Nikol sell the lands earlier to avoid the war]. The biggest failure by the supporters of the "flexible policies" is that they spent years trying to avoid a war instead of preparing for it. Our biggest failure is that we weren't able to recover enough embezzled public property in the past 2.5 years to help us better prepare for the war. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039231.html
businesses owned by opposition leaders
What are the known businesses owned by some of the famous people you might have seen in the public square lately?
20% share in Lorva Amrots Ltd which plans to operate two hydro-power plants on Dzoraget river. Manukyan purchased the shares in 2011 after being appointed by Serj as the head of the Public Council. In 2015-2016, he owned 30% shares in Vanavka Group. In 2015-2017 he had 30% shares in Jermakunq Group. These companies extracted and bottled water. At the time, the director of these companies was charged with illegal bottling and causing ֏55 million in damages to the state. The corruption case was sent to the IRS, which terminated the investigation after "not finding a crime". The companies export the products mostly to Russia.
Vanetsyan is a poor boy, according to the public declarations database. But if you have time, take a look at the investigative report I covered in Ap29/2020 news, according to which Vanetsyan's family allegedly used offshore firms and owns mining shares. More on that here. Here is a Hetq investigative report. Vanetsyan's father owns AV Group flower importing business. About a year ago, the police investigated several flower sellers near a stadium. An opposition outlet claimed that the sellers were "beaten and forced" to testify that Vanetsyan's father was running an underground business. This was never properly proven and the opposition's claim that Vanetsyan was about to be charged did not happen. The police confirmed that there was an investigation against several flower sellers. These flower sellers ended up hiring Vanetsyan's co-party-creator Arsen Babayan as a lawyer. Vanetsyan's father owns 50% shares of A B Export oil import company that began operating in 2017. It was a minor player that quit the market in 2019. Vanetsyan's father also owns 60% of A B Trans transportation company. In Nov/2019, CivilNet wrote about Arthur Vanetsyan's cousins' possible involvement with Zangezur Copper factory (massive business). The same offshore firm in Cyprus, which purchased Zangezur shares, was tied to Vanetsyan's cousins' another business in the same offshore. Vanetsyan's cousins also own a Switzerland-based Exoil wholesale cooking oil and shipping company. In 2019 it had a revenue of $148 million (11 billion Rubles). The cousins don't do this business in Armenia. Per 2019 registration, Arthur Vanetsyan himself owns one apartment, $10,000, and ֏1 million. Media reported in May/2020 that Vanetsyan's cousin purchased a ֏300 million mansion in Yerevan, which was donated to then-new political party "Hayreniq", co-founded by Arthur Vanetsyan and Arsen Babayan (the guy who is accused of helping HHK to fabricate documents in 2018 to hijack the Constitutional Court by appointing HHK MP Hrayr Tovmasyan as a judge). Arthur Vanetsyan's mother served as the chief of the personnel-management department in Serj and Pashinyan administrations, before quitting and working as Serj's aide. Vanetsyan's wife owns Villa Montessori preschool in Yerevan. She also runs the Young Education Center Ltd.
ARF Ishkhan Saghatelyan
Pashinyan appointed Saghatelyan as Gegharquniq governor for a brief period after the 2018 revolution, when Pashinyan created a unity-government, represented by all political parties. The honeymoon soon ended and each party went their way. Saghatelyan owns shares in i-mega Service Ltd. It's a tourism agency founded in 2006. It operates in Armenia, Artsakh, and Georgia. Saghatelyan founded Navasar company and serves as director. It's owned by his father. Saghatelyan family owns the Tsovasar hotel complex on Lake Sevan shores. It's 10,000 m2 (a hectare?). As of 2018, Saghatelyan declared ownership of 8 pieces of land, 2 apartments, ֏18.5 million, $45,000, and €15,000. Saghatelyan's father is the mayor of Gegharquniq's Geghamavan settlement. This municipality had recently sent a letter demanding Pashinyan's resignation. Saghatelyan used to be a shareholder of Shiman Ltd which is no longer active.
BHK leader Gagik "dodi gago" Tsarukyan
BUCKLE UP, KIDS! Overall, Tsarukyan runs 54 companies. Студент, комсомолец, спортсмен, u наконец, он просто красавиц. His business empire was covered in details here. Textile, gas stations, malls, Multi Group empire, Shangri-La Casino, Ararat Cognac & Wine Factory, BMW official office Euromotors (also Hyundai, Gazel, Niva), Multi Motors, Magas Invest, Multi Wellness, Olimpavan sports complex, Kotayk beer factory, TechnAlyumin door & window factory, Multi Rest House hotel chain, Paravon luxury restaurant, Onira Club, Zvartnot's airport's upper-level service company Avia Service, Farm Adama, Multi Pharm pharmacy, Multi Leon gas stations, Multi Solar solar panels. He owns shares in Frank Mueller Yerevan watch company, Fortsa, Multi Gold, Multi Diamond jewelry firms, several fish-breeding businesses. He also runs businesses in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Czechia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Latvia. Per official declaration, he owns $168 million, €29 million, ֏675 million, 14 pieces of land, 6 houses, 2 public buildings, 1 apartment.
Details for BHK MP Mikael Melkumyan and HHK Vahram Baghdasaryan in the link below.
The street demonstrations, organized by the former regime and its allies, continue. They demand Pashinyan's resignation and the appointment of their candidate Vazgen Manukyan as the Prime Minister for the duration of a year, after which they agree to hold new elections. ARF leader Artsvik Minasyan said they don't plan to discuss snap elections with Pashinyan. "Right now, our only demand is Pashinyan's resignation. We demand SIS to immediately hold every criminal accountable". The demonstrators gathered in front of the SIS building to present the demands. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039316.html
Pashinyan meets leaders of several opposition parties
felony case: ex-HHK MP charged with armed attack on ex-IRS official
In August of this year, Russia extradited a former HHK MP Alraghatsi Lyovik to Armenia. He was wanted for allegedly burglarizing and shooting at a senior IRS official a decade ago. At the time, his case was "frozen". It was relaunched in 2018. (magic wand) NSS says: suspect Lyovik, with the help of citizens AK and AN, organized an armed burglary against IRS Chief (?) Avetisyan in 2008. AK was in the United States. In 2004, he stole $150,000 from jewelry shops in Los Angeles. He got caught but managed to flee to Armenia. Once in Armenia, AK colluded with policeman AN to organize a similar criminal ring in Armenia. [MP] Lyovik personally knew AK, and learned about their burglaries. Since Lyovik had bad relations with the IRS chief (victim), he decided to punish the victim by urging AK to burglarize his house. Lyovik revealed the plot to his brother-in-law, who happened to be the victim's personal aide. The latter gave all the personal habits and details about the victim to the burglars. [read the article for the full story, or wait for a Hollywood movie in theaters near you] The burglars and organizers are charged with felonies. https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/203835 , https://youtu.be/brdozVbwQ6A , https://factor.am/274836.html , https://armtimes.com/hy/article/183522 , https://www.armtimes.com/hy/article/203835 ,
Russian Orthodox chapel will be built
... in the Armenian settlement near Nakhijevan where Azerbaijan had earlier shut down a Russian helicopter, which killed and wounded Russian pilots. It'll be on a hill in Yeraskh. Construction starts on January 6th. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039259.html
Vitalik Balasanyan will return the lands, kicks junkies, and restrict Facebook
Artsakh President Arayik earlier announced that he will allow his opponents to take jobs in the new coalition government. Kocharyan-ally Vitali Balasanyan became the Security Council chief. Vitalik: we will return Hadrut and Askeran region with the help of Russian and Armenian military-political efforts. We are in a better situation now to solve territorial issues. We will soon create border guard forces. It will report to MoD, which will report to the Security Council (his office). Drugs have no place in Artsakh. Drug users must quit or leave Artsakh now. We need to return to traditional values of giving women as wives after asking if the man had served in the army. No public official will be allowed to use Facebook during work. More: https://youtu.be/DceHyi4AB5g https://www.panarmenian.net/arm/news/289056/
search operations are paused / the "welcome to Azerbaijan" sign
Azerbaijan received criticism for refusing to allow search teams to enter the Hadrut region yesterday. They also prevented UNESCO from checking the status of several Armenian cultural sights, after complaining that UNESCO was "biased" against Azerbaijan during the war. HR Ombudsman: Any untrue information can not be a reason to disrupt the humanitarian process [referring to unconfirmed rumors on social media that Armenians opened fire at Azeris in Hadrut. An unofficial Iranian social media channel claims 3 Azeris were killed but due to an internal fight.] The Human Rights Ombudsman also criticized the Azeri troops for installing a provocative "welcome to Azerbaijan" sign on part of a road that went under Azeri control near Syunik borders. The Ombudsman says it's meant to intimidate the locals. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039233.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039237.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039244.html , https://factor.am/325511.html
Context: BHK MP Naira Zohrabyan referred to the majority of Armenian voters as human trash *(or as she says: impure), and called for the establishment of forced re-education camps so people won't vote for a "wrong party" again. The ruling QP party launched a process to terminate her chairmanship in Parliamentary Human Rights Committee. Read yesterday's thread for more details.* QP MP Arthur: the law states that the Parliament can appoint and terminate the chairman. The termination of this seat does not require the same procedures as in the case of MPs and Judges. Armenian Constitution states that in Armenia, human beings are of the highest value, and inalienable human dignity is the inseparable basis of their rights and freedoms. MP Zohrabyan's public conduct is against it. // The law gives the second-largest political party the mandate to appoint the chairman of this particular Committee. BHK, being the second-largest party, said they wouldn't appoint a replacement if Zohrabyan is voted out. QP MP Arthur: per rules, if BHK refuses to appoint a new candidate, the largest (QP) party will receive the mandate. // Parliament voted 78-4 to terminate Zohrabyan's chairmanship. BHK and LHK did not vote. BHK MP Zohrabyan: this termination was a Constitutional crime. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039245.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039264.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039304.html , https://factor.am/325132.html
Parliament votes: registering parties becomes easier / ideology instead of person / financial transparency
The goal of this reform is to have political parties that are more about ideology and less about an individual. The reform will boost internal democracy within parties; it will expand the powers of the Party Assembly. Parties will be required to add more anonymous voting mechanisms. The law also requires more financial transparency. The required membership to register a party is lowered from 800 to 300. Some of the public funding given to political parties will depend on the % of female members in the administrative boards. Parliament voted 99-1 to approve it. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039270.html , https://youtu.be/bPuZViCCCxo
Parliament votes: monthly fees towards soldiers' recovery are raised
Most workers pay a monthly 1000 Dram towards the Soldiers' Fund, which takes care of wounded soldiers and families of those who died. The govt found it necessary to raise the fee to cover thousands of new recipients. Here are the new fees and salary brackets: ֏1,500 for < ֏100k/month ֏3,000 for < ֏200k ֏5,500 for < ֏500k ֏8,500 for < ֏1 million ֏15,000 for > ֏1 million Parliament voted 89-0 to approve it. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039296.html
Parliament votes: ban on public smoking is delayed until 2022
The govt had adopted a law to ban smoking in public cafes and the public display of cigarettes in grocery shops. The ruling party wanted to delay parts of the bill that were set to go into effect in January, citing possible financial issues for businesses caused by the pandemic. QP MP: the cigarette industry pays $383 million to state coffers. Healthcare Ministry: it will be a mistake if you delay this bill for the sake of $10 million in tax revenues. Parliament voted 86-0 to delay the anti-smoking bill until 2022. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039295.html
Parliament votes: no tax on goods donated to Armenia
QP MP: When you donate a charitable product to the Republic of Armenia, you are exempt from customs duties and other tax payments, except for one payment, which we are trying to exempt with this bill as well. // Parliament voted 80-0 to approve it. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039297.html
how is the Judicial Branch doing?
The Supreme Court protects or punishes judges. It also handles complaints. It's separate from the Constitutional Court. bad boys 19 complaints against judges were heard, 14 of which were petitioned by Justice Ministry and 4 by Judicial Ethics Board. 10 judges ended up receiving disciplinary penalties, 3 received a warning, 3 were reprimanded, 2 were terminated, 4 were cleared. the system is overloaded 61 judges are handling 6470 felony cases. 86 judges handle 175,940 civil cases. 24 judges handle 17,390 administrative cases. The number of Arbitration cases rose from 3100 to 9900. finances This year, Supremes appointed 20 new judges. Supreme's budget remained the same this year. They returned ֏607 million in savings back to state coffers. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039249.html , https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039284.html
anti-corruption: SIS busts an IRS agent
SIS says: IRS border inspector took a bribe from a citizen to help him avoid paying Millions of ֏ in import taxes by splitting a large load into smaller pieces, so each piece would fall below the taxable threshold. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039293.html
Police and Nature Ministry have set up additional checkpoints as part of measures against whitefish poaching in Sevan. 24/7 monitoring on all alleys leading to the lake. They will also travel across markets to catch contraband whitefish. Why? It's the egg-laying season. Fishing is banned for now. The legally-allowed fishing tools were temporarily removed from the lake. https://youtu.be/8ZyRGpEazMQ https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039339.html
...the rest should have access to other jobs. There is an opportunity now because many businesses operate remotely. Call Center workers don't have to visit an office. Businesses would rather pay less to hire a rural remote worker than more to hire someone in a Yerevan office. The High Tech Ministry has an ongoing program to teach IT to 5,000 citizens. We must help workers to expand their skillset. We're working on a program to allow a worker to quit the job, not worry about the food on the table, and have enough time for education and learning new skills. The villagers should ideally lease their smaller lands to large agricultural producers," said Economy Minister Qerobyan. Full interview: https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039319.html
State regulators bust another price-fixing ring: fruit mafia
Yesterday, the Economic Competition Committee busted the egg industry's alleged price-fixing and anti-competitive practices. Today they say a similar collision was observed in the orange, mandarin, kiwi, lemon industry. The companies Best Fruits, Art-Fruits, and Promout were slapped with a ֏39 million in penalties for colluding to raise the prices for the products that had an increased demand during the pandemic period. http://www.competition.am/.../resources/Vo370_17_12_2020.pdf https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039269.html
Lenovo slapped for "anti-competitive practice"
The Economic Competition Committee heard a petition filed by Oazis Computer company against Lenovo. The latter was issued a warning for anti-competitive behavior. Public Regulator: "Lenovo" company had the ability to influence the process of importing Lenovo computers to Armenia from non-EAEU trade bloc countries. "Lenovo" took steps to reduce the import of Lenovo computers from non-EAEU states, by discriminating against Oazis Computer importer. Lenovo is given a month to correct the issue and fix the requirement and standards related paperwork. (Facebook next?) https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039333.html
Artsakh will also increase childbirth benefits
First child: ֏300k instead of ֏100k Second child: ֏300k instead of ֏200k (or ֏500k if one parent is disabled) As for monthly child care subsidy payments, it goes from ֏15k to ֏27k until the child turns 2. https://factor.am/325487.html
700 Artsakh families continue to live in 40 settlements of Gegharquniq province. The All Armenia Fund (HimnaDram.org) has provided food and household items to 241 families ahead of New Year. https://armenpress.am/arm/news/1039313.html
daily life in Syunik bordering villages Shurnukh and Vorotan
This is a compilation of all the posts by user ar_david_hh who summarises anti-Corruption news of the day along with other interesting news in one comment. It is linked from the sidebar->Interesting Threads->Anti-corruption. The list is ordered by date, newest first. Date format: D/M/YYYY. All credit goes to the sub's hero ar_david_hh Previous compilation threads: Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 Azerbaijan attacked Artsakh on 27 September 2020, making the war to be the main topic, the updates since this date are to be found in the daily Megathreads pinned at the top of the sub for now.
TL;DR: Man with too much time on his hands goes deep down the rabbit hole on a concept this sub already didn’t seem that enthusiastic about. If you really want to skip ahead, CTRL+F “verdict” and it’ll get you there. Two days ago, u/MrPhillyj2wns made a post asking whether USL should launch a D1 league in order to compete in Concacaf. From the top voted replies, it appears this made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. But I’ve been at home for eight weeks and I am terribly, terribly bored. So, I present to you this overview of what the USL pyramid might look like if Jake Edwards got a head of steam and attempted to establish a USSF-sanctioned first division. This is by no means an endorsement of such a proposal or even a suggestion that USL SHOULD do such a thing. It is merely an examination of whether they COULD. Welcome to the Thunderdome USL Premiership First, there are some base-level assumptions we must make in this exercise, because it makes me feel more scientific and not like a guy who wrote this on Sunday while watching the Belarusian Premier League (Go BATE Borisov!).
All D1 teams must comply with known USSF requirements for D1 leagues (more on that later).
MLS, not liking this move, will immediately remove all directly-owned affiliate clubs from the USL structure (this does not include hybrid ownerships, like San Antonio FC – NYCFC). This removes all MLS2 teams but will not affect Colorado Springs, Reno, RGVFC and San Antonio.
The USL will attempt to maintain both the USL Championship and USL League One, with an eventual mind toward creating the pro/rel paradise that is promised in Relegations 3:16.
All of my research regarding facility size and ownership net worth is correct – this is probably the biggest leap of faith we have to make, since googling “NAME net worth” and “CITY richest people” doesn’t seem guaranteed to return accurate results.
The most a club can increase its available seating capacity to meet D1 requirements in a current stadium is no more than 1,500 seats (10% of the required 15,000). If they need to add more, they’ll need a new facility.
Let’s pretend that people are VERY willing to sell. It’s commonly acknowledged that the USL is a more financially feasible route to owning a soccer club than in MLS (c.f. MLS-Charlotte’s reported $325 million expansion fee) and the USSF has some very strict requirements for D1 sanctioning. It becomes pretty apparent when googling a lot of team’s owners that this requirement isn’t met, so let’s assume everyone that can’t sells to people who meet the requirements.
(Known) USSF D1 league requirements: - League must have 12 teams to apply and 14 teams by year three - Majority owner must have a net worth of $40 million, and the ownership group must have a total net worth of $70 million. The value of an owned stadium is not considered when calculating this value. - Must have teams located in the Eastern, Central and Pacific time zones - 75% of league’s teams must be based in markets with at a metro population of at least 1 million people. - All league stadiums must have a capacity of at least 15,000 The ideal club candidate for the USL Premiership will meet the population and capacity requirements in its current ground, which will have a grass playing surface. Of the USL Championship’s 27 independent/hybrid affiliate clubs, I did not find one club that meets all these criteria as they currently stand. Regarding turf fields, the USSF does not have a formal policy regarding the ideal playing surface but it is generally acknowledged that grass is superior to turf. 6 of 26 MLS stadiums utilize turf, or roughly 23% of stadiums. We’ll hold a similar restriction for our top flight, so 2-3 of our top flight clubs can have turf fields. Seem fair? Capacity is going to be the biggest issue, since the disparity between current requirements for the second-tier (5,000) and the first tier (15,000) is a pretty massive gap. Nice club you have there, triple your capacity and you’re onto something. As a result, I have taken the liberty of relocating certain (read: nearly all) clubs to new grounds, trying my utmost to keep those clubs in their current markets and –importantly--, ensure they play on grass surfaces. So, let’s do a case-by-case evaluation and see if we can put together 12-14 teams that meet the potential requirements, because what else do you have to do? For each club’s breakdown, anything that represents a chance from what is currently true will be underlined. Candidate: Birmingham Legion FC Location (Metro population): Birmingham, Ala. (1,151,801) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Legion Field (FieldTurf, 71,594) Potential owner: Stephens Family (reported net worth $4 billion) Notes: Birmingham has a pretty strong candidacy. Having ditched the 5,000-seater BBVA Field for Legion Field, which sits 2.4 miles away, they’ve tapped into the city’s soccer history. Legion Field hosted portions of both the men’s and women’s tournaments at the 1996 Olympics, including a 3-1 U.S. loss to Argentina that saw 83,183 pack the house. The Harbert family seemed like strong ownership contenders, but since the death of matriarch Marguerite Harbert in 2015, it’s unclear where the wealth in the family is concentrated, so the Stephens seem like a better candidate. The only real knock that I can think of is that we really want to avoid having clubs play on turf, so I’d say they’re on the bubble of our platonic ideal USL Prem. Candidate: Charleston Battery Location (Metro population): Charleston, S.C. (713,000) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Johnson Hagood Stadium (Grass, ~14,700) Potential owner: Anita Zucker (reported net worth $3 billion) Notes: Charleston’s candidacy isn’t looking great. Already disadvantaged due to its undersized metro population, a move across the Cooper River to Johnson Hagood Stadium is cutting it close in terms of capacity. The stadium, home to The Citadel’s football team, used to seat 21,000, before 9,300 seats on the eastern grandstand were torn down in 2017 to deal with lead paint that had been used in their construction. Renovation plans include adding 3,000 seats back in, which could hit 15,000 if they bumped it to 3,300, but throw in a required sale by HCFC, LLC (led by content-creation platform founder Rob Salvatore) to chemical magnate Anita Zucker, and you’ll see there’s a lot of ifs and ands in this proposal. Candidate: Charlotte Independence Location (Metro population): Charlotte, N.C. (2,569, 213) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Jerry Richardson Stadium (Turf, 15,314) Potential owner: James Goodnight (reported net worth $9.1 billion) Notes: Charlotte ticks a lot of the boxes. A move from the Sportsplex at Matthews to UNC-Charlotte’s Jerry Richardson stadium meets capacity requirements, but puts them on to the dreaded turf. Regrettably, nearby American Legion Memorial Stadium only seats 10,500, despite a grass playing surface. With a sizeable metro population (sixth-largest in the USL Championship) and a possible owner in software billionaire James Goodnight, you’ve got some options here. The biggest problem likely lies in direct competition for market share against a much better-funded MLS Charlotte side due to join the league in 2021. Candidate: Hartford Athletic Location (Metro population): Hartford, Conn. (1,214,295) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Pratt & Whitney Stadium (Grass, 38,066) Potential owner: Ray Dalio (reported net worth $18.4 billion) Notes: Okay, I cheated a bit here, having to relocate Hartford to Pratt & Whitney Stadium, which is technically in East Hartford, Conn. I don’t know enough about the area to know if there’s some kind of massive beef between the two cities, but the club has history there, having played seven games in 2019 while Dillon Stadium underwent renovations. If the group of local businessmen that currently own the club manage to attract Dalio to the table, we’re on to something. Candidate: Indy Eleven Location (Metro population): Indianapolis, Ind. (2,048,703) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Lucas Oil Stadium (Turf, 62,421) Potential owner: Jim Irsay (reported net worth of $3 billion) Notes: Indy Eleven are a club that are SO CLOSE to being an ideal candidate – if it weren’t for Lucas Oil Stadium’s turf playing surface. Still, there’s a lot to like in this bid. I’m not going to lie, I have no idea what current owner and founder Ersal Ozdemir is worth, but it seems like there might be cause for concern. A sale to Irsay, who also owns the NFL Indianapolis (nee Baltimore) Colts, seems likely to keep the franchise there, rather than make a half-mile move to 14,230 capacity Victory Field where the AAA Indianapolis Indians play and expand from there. Candidate: Louisville City FC Location (Metro population): Louisville, Ky. (1,297,310) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Lynn Family Stadium (Grass, 14,000, possibly expandable to 20,000) Potential owner: Wayne Hughes (reported net worth $2.8 billion) Notes: I’m stretching things a bit here. Lynn Family stadium is currently listed as having 11,700 capacity that’s expandable to 14,000, but they’ve said that the ground could hold as many as 20,000 with additional construction, which might be enough to grant them a temporary waiver from USSF. If the stadium is a no-go, then there’s always Cardinal Stadium, home to the University of Louisville’s football team, which seats 65,000 but is turf. Either way, it seems like a sale to someone like Public Storage founder Wayne Hughes will be necessary to ensure the club has enough capital. Candidate: Memphis 901 FC Location (Metro population): Memphis, Tenn. (1,348,260) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Liberty Bowl Stadium (Turf, 58,325) Potential owner: Fred Smith (reported net worth $3 billion) Notes: Unfortunately for Memphis, AutoZone Park’s 10,000 seats won’t cut it at the D1 level. With its urban location, it would likely prove tough to renovate, as well. Liberty Bowl Stadium more than meets the need, but will involve the use of the dreaded turf. As far as an owner goes, FedEx founder Fred Smith seems like a good local option. Candidate: Miami FC, “The” Location (Metro population): Miami, Fla. (6,158,824) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Riccardo Silva Stadium (FieldTurf, 20,000) Potential owner: Riccardo Silva (reported net worth $1 billion) Notes: Well, well, well, Silva might get his wish for top-flight soccer, after all. He’s got the money, he’s got the metro, and his ground has the capacity. There is the nagging issue of the turf, though. Hard Rock Stadium might present a solution, including a capacity of 64,767 and a grass playing surface. It is worth noting, however, that this is the first profile where I didn’t have to find a new potential owner for a club. Candidate: North Carolina FC Location (Metro population): Durham, N.C. (1,214,516 in The Triangle) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Carter-Finley Stadium (Grass/Turf, 57,583) Potential owner: Steve Malik (precise net worth unknown) / Dennis Gillings (reported net worth of $1.7 billion) Notes: We have our first “relocation” in North Carolina FC, who were forced to trade Cary’s 10,000-seat WakeMed Soccer Park for Carter-Finley Stadium in Durham, home of the NC State Wolfpack and 57,583 of their closest friends. The move is a whopping 3.1 miles, thanks to the close-knit hub that exists between Cary, Durham and Raleigh. Carter-Finley might be my favorite of the stadium moves in this exercise. The field is grass, but the sidelines are artificial turf. Weird, right? Either way, it was good enough for Juventus to play a friendly against Chivas de Guadalajara there in 2011. Maybe the move would be pushed for by new owner and medical magnate Dennis Gillings, whose British roots might inspire him to get involved in the Beautiful Game. Straight up, though, I couldn’t find a net worth for current owner Steve Malik, though he did sell his company MedFusion for $91 million in 2010, then bought it back for an undisclosed amount and sold it again for $43 million last November. I don’t know if Malik has the juice to meet D1 requirements, but I suspect he’s close. Candidate: Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Location (Metro population): Pittsburgh, Penn. (2,362,453) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Heinz Field (Grass, 64,450) Potential owner: Henry Hillman (reported net worth $2.5 billion) Notes: I don’t know a ton about the Riverhounds, but this move in particular feels like depriving a pretty blue-collar club from its roots. Highmark Stadium is a no-go from a seating perspective, but the Steelers’ home stadium at Heinz Field would more than meet the requirements and have a grass surface that was large enough to be sanctioned for a FIFA friendly between the U.S. WNT and Costa Rica in 2015. As for an owner, Tuffy Shallenberger (first ballot owner name HOF) doesn’t seem to fit the USSF bill, but legendary Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Hillman might. I’m sure you’re asking, why not the Rooney Family, if they’ll play at Heinz Field? I’ll tell you: I honestly can’t seem to pin down a value for the family. The Steelers are valued at a little over a billion and rumors persist that Dan Rooney is worth $500 million, but I’m not sure. I guess the Rooneys would work too, but it’s a definite departure from an owner in Shallenberger who was described by one journalist as a guy who “wears boots, jeans, a sweater and a trucker hat.” Candidate: Saint Louis FC Location (Metro population): St. Louis, Mo. (2,807,338) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Busch Stadium (Grass, 45,494) Potential owner: William DeWitt Jr. (reported net worth $4 billion) Notes: Saint Louis has some weirdness in making the jump to D1. Current CEO Jim Kavanaugh is an owner of the MLS side that will begin play in 2022. The club’s current ground at West Community Stadium isn’t big enough, but perhaps a timely sale to Cardinals owner William DeWitt Jr. could see the club playing games at Busch Stadium, which has a well established history of hosting other sports like hockey, college football and soccer (most recently a U.S. WNT friendly against New Zealand in 2019). The competition with another MLS franchise wouldn’t be ideal, like Charlotte, but with a big enough population and cross marketing from the Cardinals, maybe there’s a winner here. Wacko idea: If Busch doesn’t pan out, send them to The Dome. Sure, it’s a 60k turf closed-in stadium, but we can go for that retro NASL feel and pay homage to our nation’s soccer history. Candidate: Tampa Bay Rowdies Location (Metro population): Tampa, Fla. (3,068,511) Time zone: Eastern Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Raymond James Stadium (Grass, 65,518) Potential owner: Edward DeBartolo Jr. (reported net worth $3 billion) Notes: This one makes me sad. Despite having never been there, I see Al Lang Stadium as an iconic part of the Rowdies experience. Current owner Bill Edwards proposed an expansion to 18,000 seats in 2016, but the move seems to have stalled out. Frustrated with the city’s lack of action, Edwards sells to one-time San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr., who uses his old NFL connections to secure a cushy lease at the home of the Buccaneers in Ray Jay, the site of a 3-1 thrashing of Antigua and Barbuda during the United States’ 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign. Breather. Hey, we finished the Eastern Conference teams. Why are you still reading this? Why am I still writing it? Time is a meaningless construct in 2020 my friends, we are adrift in the void, fueled only by brief flashes of what once was and what may yet still be. Candidate: Austin Bold FC Location (Metro population): Austin, Texas (2,168,316) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Darrel K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium (FieldTurf, 95,594) Potential owner: Michael Dell (reported net worth of $32.3 billion) Notes: Anthony Precourt’s Austin FC has some unexpected competition and it comes in the form of tech magnate Michael Dell. Dell, were he to buy the club, would be one of the richest owners on our list and could flash his cash in the new first division. Would he have enough to convince Darrel K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium (I’m not kidding, that’s its actual name) to go back to a grass surface, like it did from ’96-’08? That’s between Dell and nearly 100,000 UT football fans, but everything can be had for the right price. Candidate: Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC Location (Metro population): Colorado Springs, Colo. (738,939) Time zone: Mountain Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Falcon Stadium (FieldTurf, 46,692) Potential owner: Charles Ergen (reported net worth $10.8 billion) Notes: Welcome to Colorado Springs. We have hurdles. For the first time in 12 candidates, we’re back below the desired 1 million metro population mark. Colorado Springs actually plans to build a $35 million, 8,000 seat venue downtown that will be perfect for soccer, but in our timeline that’s 7,000 seats short. Enter Falcon Stadium, home of the Air Force Academy Falcons football team. Seems perfect except for the turf, right? Well, the tricky thing is that Falcon Stadium is technically on an active military base and is (I believe) government property. Challenges to getting in and out of the ground aside, the military tends to have a pretty grim view of government property being used by for-profit enterprises. Maybe Charles Ergen, founder and chairman of Dish Network, would be able to grease the right wheels, but you can go ahead and throw this into the “doubtful” category. It’s a shame, too. 6,035 feet of elevation is one hell of a home-field advantage. Candidate: El Paso Locomotive FC Location: El Paso, Texas Time zone: Mountain Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Sun Bowl (FieldTurf, 51,500) Potential owner: Paul Foster (reported net worth $1.7 billion) Notes: God bless Texas. When compiling this list, I found so many of the theoretical stadium replacements were nearly serviceable by high school football fields. That’s insane, right? Anyway, Locomotive don’t have to settle for one of those, they’ve got the Sun Bowl, which had its capacity reduced in 2001 to a paltry 51,500 (from 52,000) specifically to accommodate soccer. Sure, it’s a turf surface, but what does new owner Paul Foster (who is only the 1,477th wealthiest man in the world, per Forbes) care, he’s got a team in a top league. Side note: Did you know that the Sun Bowl college football game is officially, through sponsorship, the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl? Why is it not the Frosted Flakes Sun Bowl? Why is the cereal mascot the promotional name of the football game? What are you doing, Kellogg’s? Candidate: Las Vegas Lights FC Location: Las Vegas, Nev. (2,227,053) Time zone: Pacific Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Allegiant Stadium (Grass, 61,000) Potential owner: Sheldon Adelson (reported net worth $37.7 billion) Notes: Sin City. You had to know that the club that once signed Freddy Adu because “why not” was going to go all out in our flashy hypothetical proposal. Thanks to my narrative control of this whole thing, they have. Adelson is the second-richest owner in the league and has decided to do everything first class. That includes using the new Raiders stadium in nearby unincorporated Paradise, Nevada, and spending boatloads on high profile transfers. Zlatan is coming back to the U.S., confirmed. Candidate: New Mexico United Location: Albuquerque, N.M. Time zone: Mountain Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Isotopes Park – officially Rio Grande Credit Union Field at Isotopes Park (Grass, 13,500 – 15,000 with expansion) Potential owner: Maloof Family (reported net worth $1 billion) Notes: New Mexico from its inception went deep on the community vibe, and I’ve tried to replicate that in this bid. The home field of Rio Grande Cr---I’m not typing out the whole thing—Isotopes Park falls just within the expansion rules we set to make it to 15,000 (weird, right?) and they’ve found a great local ownership group in the Lebanese-American Maloof (formerly Maalouf) family from Las Vegas. The only thing to worry about would be the metro population, but overall, this could be one of the gems of USL Prem. Candidate: Oklahoma City Energy FC Location: Oklahoma City, Okla. (1,396,445) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark (Grass, 13,066) Potential owner: Harold Hamm (reported net worth $14.2 billion) Notes: There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow and it says it’s time to change stadiums and owners to make it to D1. A sale to oil magnate Harold Hamm would give the club the finances it needs, but Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark (home of the OKC Dodgers) actually falls outside of the boundary of what would meet capacity if 1,500 seats were added. Could the club pull off a move to Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma – home of the Oklahoma Sooners? Maybe, but at 20 miles, this would be a reach. Candidate: Orange County SC Location: Irvine, Calif. (3,176, 000 in Orange County) Time zone: Pacific Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Angels Stadium of Anaheim (Grass, 43,250) Potential owner: Arte Moreno (reported net worth $3.3 billion) Notes: You’ll never convince me that Rangers didn’t choose to partner with Orange County based primarily on its name. Either way, a sale to MLB Angels owner Arte Moreno produces a fruitful partnership, with the owner choosing to play his newest club out of the existing Angels stadium in OC. Another baseball conversion, sure, but with a metro population of over 3 million and the closest thing this hypothetical league has to an LA market, who’s complaining? Candidate: Phoenix Rising FC Location: Phoenix, Ariz. (4,857,962) Time zone: Arizona Stadium (playing surface, capacity): State Farm Stadium (Grass, 63,400) Potential owner: Ernest Garcia II (reported net worth $5.7 billion) Notes: We’re keeping it local with new owner and used car guru Ernest Garcia II. His dad owned a liquor store and he dropped out of college, which is making me feel amazing about my life choices right now. Casino Arizona Field is great, but State Farm Stadium is a grass surface that hosted the 2019 Gold Cup semifinal, so it’s a clear winner. Throw in Phoenix’s massive metro population and this one looks like a lock. Candidate: Reno 1868 FC Location: Reno, Nev. (425,417) Time zone: Pacific Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Mackay Stadium (FieldTurf, 30,000) Potential owner: Nancy Walton Laurie (reported net worth $7.1 billion) Notes: The Biggest Little City on Earth has some serious barriers to overcome, thanks to its low metro population. A sale to Walmart heiress Nancy Walton Laurie and 1.6 mile-move to Mackay Stadium to split space with the University of Nevada, Reno makes this bid competitive, but the turf surface is another knock against it. Candidate: Rio Grande Valley FC Location: Edinburg, Texas (900,304) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): McAllen Memorial Stadium (FieldTurf, 13,500 – 15,000 with expansion) Potential owner: Alice Louise Walton (reported net worth $45 billion) Notes: Yes, I have a second straight Walmart heiress on the list. She was the first thing that popped up when I googled “McAllen Texas richest people.” The family rivalry has spurred Walton to buy a club as well, moving them 10 miles to McAllen Memorial Stadium which, as I alluded to earlier, is a straight up high school football stadium with a full color scoreboard. Toss in an additional 1,500 seats and you’ve met the minimum, despite the turf playing surface. Candidate: San Antonio FC Location: San Antonio, Texas (2,550,960) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Alamodome (FieldTurf, 64,000) Potential owner: Red McCombs (reported net worth $1.6 billion) Notes: I wanted to keep SAFC in the Spurs family, since the franchise is valued at $1.8 billion. That said, I didn’t let the Rooneys own the Riverhounds based on the Steelers’ value and it felt wrong to change the rules, so bring on Clear Channel co-founder Red McCombs. Toyota Field isn’t viable in the first division, but for the Alamodome, which was built in 1993 in hopes of attracting an NFL franchise (and never did), San Antonio can finally claim having *a* national football league team in its town (contingent on your definition of football). Now if only we could do something about that turf… Candidate: San Diego Loyal SC Location: San Diego, Calif. (3,317,749) Time zone: Pacific Stadium (playing surface, capacity): SDCCU Stadium (formerly Qualcomm) (Grass, 70,561) Potential owner: Phil Mickelson (reported net worth $91 million) Notes: Yes, golf’s Phil Mickelson. The existing ownership group didn’t seem to have the wherewithal to meet requirements, and Phil seemed to slot right in. As an athlete himself, he might be interesting in the new challenges of a top flight soccer team. Toss in a move to the former home of the chargers and you might have a basis for tremendous community support. Candidate: FC Tulsa Location: Tulsa, Okla. (991,561) Time zone: Central Stadium (playing surface, capacity): Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium (FieldTurf, 30,000) Potential owner: George Kaiser ($10 billion) Notes: I’m a fan of FC Tulsa’s rebrand, but if they want to make the first division, more changes are necessary. A sale to Tulsa native and one of the 100 richest men in the world George Kaiser means that funding is guaranteed. A move to Chapman Stadium would provide the necessary seats, despite the turf field. While the undersize population might be an issue at first glance, it’s hard to imagine U.S. Soccer not granting a waiver over a less than a 10k miss from the mark. And that’s it! You made it. Those are all of the independent/hybrid affiliates in the USL Championship, which means that it’s time for our… VERDICT: As an expert who has studied this issue for almost an entire day now, I am prepared to pronounce which USL Championships could be most ‘ready” for a jump to the USL Prem. A reminder that of the 27 clubs surveyed, 0 of them met our ideal criteria (proper ownership $, metro population, 15,000+ stadium with grass field). Two of them, however, met almost all of those criteria: Indy Eleven and Miami FC. Those two clubs may use up two of our three available turf fields right from the outset, but the other factors they hit (particularly Silva’s ownership of Miami) makes them difficult, if not impossible to ignore for the top flight. But who fill in the rest of the slots? Meet the entire 14-team USL Premier League: Hartford Athletic Indy Eleven Louisville City FC Miami FC North Carolina FC Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC Tampa Bay Rowdies Saint Louis FC San Antonio FC New Mexico United Phoenix Rising FC Las Vegas Lights FC Orange County SC San Diego Loyal SC Now, I shall provide my expert rationale for each club’s inclusion/exclusion, which can be roughly broken down into four categories. Firm “yes” Hartford Athletic: It’s a good market size with a solid stadium. With a decent investor and good community support, you’ve got potential here. Indy Eleven: The turf at Lucas Oil Stadium is no reason to turn down a 62,421 venue and a metro population of over 2 million. Louisville City FC: Why doesn’t the 2017 & 2018 USL Cup champion deserve a crack at the top flight? They have the market size, and with a bit of expansion have the stadium at their own SSS. LCFC, you’re in. Miami FC, “The”: Our other blue-chip recruit on the basis of ownership value, market size and stadium capacity. Yes, that field is turf, but how could you snub Silva’s chance to claim victory as the first division 1 club soccer team to play in Miami? Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC: Pittsburgh sacrificed a lot to be here (according to my arbitrary calculations). Their market size and the potential boon of soccer at Heinz Field is an important inclusion to the league. Saint Louis FC: Willie hears your “Busch League” jokes, Willie don’t care. A huge market size, combined with the absence of an NFL franchise creates opportunity. Competition with the MLS side, sure, but St. Louis has serious soccer history and we’re willing to bet it can support two clubs. Tampa Bay Rowdies: With a huge population and a massive stadium waiting nearby, Tampa Bay seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up for the USL Prem. Las Vegas Lights FC: Ostentatious, massive and well-financed, Las Vegas Lights FC is everything that the USL Premier League would need to assert that it didn’t intend to play second fiddle to MLS. Players will need to be kept on a short leash, but this is a hard market to pass up on. Phoenix Rising FC: Huge population, big grass field available nearby and a solid history of success in recent years. No brainer. San Diego Loyal SC: New club? Yes, massive population in a market that recently lost an absolutely huge sports presence? Also yes. This could be the USL Prem’s Seattle. Cautious “yes” New Mexico United: You have to take a chance on New Mexico United. The club set the league on fire with its social media presence and its weight in the community when it entered the league last season. The market may be slightly under USSF’s desired 1 million, but fervent support (and the ability to continue to use Isotopes Park) shouldn’t be discounted. North Carolina FC: Carter-Finley’s mixed grass/turf surface is a barrier, to be sure, but the 57,000+ seats it offers (and being enough to offset other fully-turf offerings) is enough to put it in the black. Orange County SC: It’s a top-tier club playing in a MLB stadium. I know it seems unlikely that USSF would approve something like that, but believe me when I say “it could happen.” Orange County is a massive market and California likely needs two clubs in the top flight. San Antonio FC: Our third and only voluntary inclusion to the turf fields in the first division, we’re counting on San Antonio’s size and massive potential stadium to see it through. Cautious “no” Birmingham Legion FC: The town has solid soccer history and a huge potential venue, but the turf playing surface puts it on the outside looking in. Memphis 901 FC: Like Birmingham, not much to dislike here outside of the turf playing surface at the larger playing venue. Austin Bold FC: See the other two above. FC Tulsa: Everything’s just a little bit off with this one. Market’s slightly too small, stadium has turf. Just not enough to put it over the top. Firm “no” Charleston Battery: Small metro and a small potential new stadium? It’s tough to say yes to the risk. Charlotte Independence: A small new stadium and the possibility of having to compete with an organization that just paid over $300 million to join MLS means it’s best for this club to remain in the USL Championship. Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC: When a club’s best chance to meet a capacity requirement is to host games at a venue controlled by the military, that doesn’t speak well to a club’s chances. El Paso Locomotive FC: An undersized market and a turf field that meets capacity requirements is the death knell for this one. Oklahoma City Energy FC: Having to expand a baseball field to meet requirements is a bad start. Having to potentially play 20 miles away from your main market is even worse. Reno 1868 FC: Population nearly a half-million short of the federation’s requirements AND a turf field at the hypothetical new stadium makes impossible to say yes to this bid. Rio Grande Valley FC: All the seat expansions in the world can’t hide the fact that McAllen Memorial Stadium is a high school stadium through and through. Here’s who’s left in the 11-team Championship: Birmingham Legion FC Charleston Battery Charlotte Independence Memphis 901 FC Austin Bold FC Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC El Paso Locomotive FC Oklahoma City Energy FC Reno 1868 FC Rio Grande Valley FC FC Tulsa With MLS folding the six affiliates it has in USL League One, the league is a little bit thin (especially considering USSF’s requirements for 8 teams for lower level leagues), but seems definitely able to expand up to the necessary numbers with Edwards’ allusions to five new additions this year: Chattanooga Red Wolves SC Forward Madison FC Greenville Triumph SC Union Omaha Richmond Kickers South Georgia Tormenta FC Tucson Format of Assorted Leagues – This (like everything in this post) is pure conjecture on my part, but here are my thoughts on how these leagues might function in a first year while waiting for additional expansion. USL Premier – We’ll steal from the 12-team Scottish Premiership. Each club plays the other 11 clubs 3 times, with either one or two home matches against each side. When each club has played 33 matches, the top six and bottom six separate, with every club playing an additional five matches (against each other team in its group). The top club wins the league. The bottom club is automatically relegated. The second-bottom club will enter a two-legged playoff against someone (see below) from the championship playoffs. USL Championship -- 11 clubs is a challenge to schedule for. How about every club plays everyone else three times (either one or two home matches against each side)? Top four clubs make the playoffs, which are decided by two-legged playoffs. The winner automatically goes up. I need feedback on the second part – is it better to have the runner-up from the playoffs face the second-bottom club from the Premiership, or should the winner of the third-place match-up get the chance to face them to keep drama going in both playoff series? As for relegation, we can clearly only send down the last place club while the third division is so small. USL League One – While the league is so small, it doesn’t seem reasonable to have the clubs play as many matches as the higher divisions. Each club could play the other six clubs four times – twice at home and twice away – for a very equitable 24-match regular season, which would help restrict costs and still provide a chance to determine a clear winner. Whoever finishes top of the table goes up. And there you have it, a hypothetical look at how the USL could build a D1 league right now. All it would take is a new stadium for almost the entire league and new owners for all but one of the 27 clubs, who wouldn’t feel that their property would be massively devalued if they got relegated. Well that’s our show. I’m curious to see what you think of all of this, especially anything that you think I may have overlooked (I’m sure there’s plenty). Anyway, I hope you’re all staying safe and well.
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Just take a hard left at Daeseong-dong…5
Continuing “Hey, Viv!”, I say, as we’re all being shuttled onto the bus which will take us to our hotel, “Toss me one of those miniatures, if you please. Yeah. Of course, Vodka’ll do. It’s bloody dusty round these parts.” Viv chuckles and asks if anyone else wants anything. He’s a consummate scrounger and somehow sweet-talked a demure and pulchritudinous female Air China cabin attendant out of her phone number, Email address, and a case of 100 airline liquor miniatures. That he looks like a marginally graying version of Robert Mitchum in his heyday and speaks fluent Dutch, French, and Italian might explain his success. I mean, a guy with four ex-wives can’t be all wrong, right? He’s a definite outlier in this crowd. We could be characterized as a batch of aging natural geoscientists who collectively, sans Viv, add up to an approximate eight on the “Looker” scale. Besides the years, the mileage, the climatic, and industrial ravages, it’s a good thing we all have expansive personalities, as most of us are dreadful enough to make a buzzard barf. But, save for Viv, no one presently here is on the make. Oh, sure; we’ll all sweet talk some fair nubile into a free drink or a double when we really ordered a regular drink, but we’re all married, most terminally, that is, over 35 years and counting. The odd thing is that save and except for Viv, none of us married folk had ever been divorced. That is strange, considering that the global divorce rate hovers around 50%, and we are often called to be apart from kith and kin for prolonged periods. However, we are always faithful and committed to our marital units and those vows we spoke all those many long decades ago. But, hey, we’re all seriously male and not anywhere near dead; and there’s no penalty for just looking, right? Continuing. We’re all loaded on a pre-war, not certain which war, by the way, bus which stank of fish, kimchee, and diesel fuel. We really don’t care even a tiny, iotic amount. It’s free transport, we’re tired of traveling, and not keen on walking any further than we absolutely have to. Viv has been passing out boozy little liquor miniatures, and I’ve been handing out cigars since I bought a metric shitload back in Dubai Duty-Free and somehow got them all through customs. We didn’t light up, as there was neither a driver nor handler present. So, we figured we’d all just wait on the cigars, and concentrate on having a little ground-level “Welcome to Best Korea” party until the powers that be got their collective shit together and provided drivers, herders, and handlers. We sat there for 15 long minutes. Being the international ambassadors of amity and insobriety, we started making noises like “Hey! Where’s our fucking driver?” and “I am Doctor Academician! Of All State Russian Geological Survey! How dare you make me wait? ” Suddenly, a couple of characters in ill-fitting gray suits and fake Rays Bans are outside the bus having a collective meltdown. Somehow, someone fucked up and put us on a ‘regular’ bus and not the ‘VIP’ bus. In other words, we got to see what the locals really got to ride around Pyongyang on instead of our supposed to be impressed by the bus that wasn’t there; but was now just arriving. A spanking new purple-and-chrome Mercedes long-haul bus shows up. It even has our group name emblazoned above the placard that normally tells where the bus is headed or who it is for: “’국제 석유 지질 과학 연합’ [Gugje Seog-yu Jijil Gwahag Yeonhab] or ‘International Union of Petroleum Geological Sciences’”. We are brusquely ordered off our present bus and into the opulent, obviously bespoke, bright yellow faux-leather interior Mercedes-Benz Tourismo RH M. It’s so new and so obviously a ploy to get us to think that all things here are so new and opulent, it even smells of that new car, ah, bus, aroma. “Well, we’ll take care of that soon enough”, I muse, as the bus is equipped with ashtrays and we’re going on the scenic route to our hotel, which is only 25 or so kilometers from the airport. However, it was announced that it’ll take us about 2 hours to get to our hotel since we need to see the city in its best light and get a feeling for the town if we should ever find ourselves lost and alone. We all know what’s going on. They’re getting our rooms ‘ready’ for our arrival and need some extra time to make sure everything’s all wired in and transmitting properly. “Guys”, I muse to our new handlers, “I’ve been to the Soviet Union, pre-wall fall. I stayed in places where I was definitely among the first westerners ever to grace their porticos. We’re a busload of natural scientists, of eight different nationalities, covering the economic spectrum from staunch capitalism to sociable socialism to hard-core communism. You even think for a second we’re going to spill any beans about anything you’d find interesting or useful? Think again.” In fact, it would become a running joke between us all to see what sort of fake bombshells we could drop into the normal conversation what would give the listener’s the greatest case of the jibblies. But for now, our bags were all loaded into the cargo compartment of this very, very nice, I must admit, mode of conveyance. Our handlers: ‘Yuk’, ‘No’, ‘Man’, and ‘Kong’, are all seated upfront and please with their latest tally of bodies. We have a couple of shady fellow travelers with the knock-off Ray-Bans and shiny gray suits that just appeared out of the woodwork in the back, seated by the loo, watching over all of us, and we’re going on a fucking city tour, whether we like it or not. We’re all present and accounted for. Let’s keep our camera in our bags for the time being as the drinking and smoking lights had just been lit as the bus fired up its new German-engineered and machined precision diesel engine. The bus rumbled to life and after a moment or two of checking that all dials, gauges, and indicators were where they were supposed to be; without so much as a cursory glance, we pulled out into traffic. Except there was none. Not another bus, pushbike, tap-tap, scooter, car, truck, hover-board, or motorcycle in sight. Nothing. Seems we were a big deal. They shut down the main drag so we wouldn’t be encumbered by such proletariat things like traffic jams or people-things cluttering the roadway, clambering for a look at the Western scientific cadre. So, away we whizzed, sans traffic and into the very belly of the beast, and onward; eventually, towards our hotel. Our handlers were very kind to point out passing scenes of interest. “Look, look! There’s the Potong River. Notice all the lovely birds, ‘eh what? See the Norwegian Blue? Beautiful plumage!” “See here, look. Here’s the Taedong River. Many forms of fish in the river. Maybe we’ll see some fishermen. If you like, we can stop, and ask them about today’s catch.” We all declined, as we were certain that the fish the ‘random fisherman’ we’d talk to was flown in fresh from elsewhere earlier in the day. Besides, we were comfortable. We had our drinks, our cigars, and we were leaving the driving to someone else. After being driven around the city and seeing all the wonderful monuments, like the faux Arch of Triumph, which looks exactly unlike its namesake Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile in Paris. The Arch of Reunification, a monument to the goal of a reunified Korea, which, by necessity, is unfinished. Then there’s the Tomb of King Tongmyŏng, where people are lining up, just dying’ to get in. Finally, we all called for our hotel, the Yanggakdo, after yet another mausoleum, the Kumsusan Memorial Palace of the Sun. Arches or tombs. Such a stunning array of monuments and places of less than moderate interest. We were interested in Mirae Scientists street (Future Scientists street). It is a street in a newly developed area in Pyongyang to house scientific institutions of the Kim Chaek University of Technology and its employees. But we were told that it was too late, there was not much there to see, we needed to express written permission to visit, and we’d be going there tomorrow or next week. We wheel into the parking lot of the Yanggakdo Hotel and are immediately unimpressed by the pseudo-Baroque concrete fiasco that appears to stand, wobbly, before us. It’s a page right out of the Soviet Construction-For-The-Masses Handbook. A cold, gray concrete edifice with multitudes of seemingly little, tiny windows. A perfect metaphor for our travels thus far; look at the expansiveness of Best Korean wonders, through this pinhole. However, we judged too soon. We were told to go inside and check-in, whilst our luggage would be de-bussed for us and handled by the expertly efficient hotel staff. The lobby was opulent, tastefully laid out in earth tones of facades of veneers of marble, granite, some garnet-mica schist, if my hand lens doesn’t lie, some Prepaleozoic anatectic migmatite, displaying intricate and intense plication, xenoliths, and graphic delineation of minerals by segregation through melting points. There was a gigantic well-appointed and well kept up aquarium, complete with snuffling sharks and nuclear-submarine sized groupers. Very handsome indeed. Impressions increasing slightly. Then we see that there’s a bloody casino on the bottom floor of the hotel, several bars interspersed throughout the hotel, and karaoke, of which I’m not terribly fond, but some of my European counterparts almost swooned at the prospect. There are a large pool and weight rooms/gymnasia, saunas and places to relax outside of one’s room, but still under the watchful eye of the thousands of ill-concealed video cameras at every turn. “Covert surveillance” may be a thing in Best Korea, but it’s a practice still leaves a lot to be desired. The Eastern Siberian Russians back before the wall fell were more covert with their obvious button audio microphones woven into the fabric covering the headboard of your Intourist bed than the Best Koreans here. Their cameras were ‘disguised’ as flower arrangements, overhead lights, and speakers inexplicably placed into things like standing ashtrays, refuse bins, and randomly placed holes in the wall. The floors were all covered with exquisite what looked to be hand-woven rugs of most vibrant crimson and gold; the usual Communistic colors. Always with some sort of floral pattern or pattern that’s supposed to be reflective of nature, as I was told. Evidently, for workers to remember what nature was as they don’t get out much with 14 to 16 hours workdays here in the Worker’s Paradise. Enough of the travelogue; we all wander up to the front desk, and each with their own passport in hand, request our reserved rooms. We supposed that we would all have rooms on different floors as the reservations were made, expired, re-made, juggled, rebooked, allowed to expire, re-jiggered, and finally formalized a scant week before we left the UK. Nope. No such luck. We were all on the 39th floor. The place boasts 47 floors, of which, the top floor is a revolving restaurant. Evidently, food tastes better when you’re rotating. However, it won’t spin unless you first buy a drink. We had that thing whirling like a NASA centrifuge after its discovery the second night. Yeah, all 12 of us are bivouacked on the 39th floor. A floor with approximately 30 rooms. I guess we could have played “Room Roulette” and see who got which room and who’s luggage. Or we could switch every day or two to drive our handlers nuts. Or, we could just take our assigned rooms, which were conveniently located one empty room apart. Meaning, no one had adjoining rooms. Why? Fuck if I know. We didn’t spend much time in our rooms, and that time was either sleeping or showering. We’d all meet at the bar, casino, restaurant, karaoke, bowling alley (all three lanes) or actual meeting rooms every once in a while when we thought we should get together and compare notes. It was the most inexplicable situation. Plus, we spent an inordinate amount of time waiting on the fucking elevators to take us to our room. These elevators, and if you think you’re going to get a batch of aging senior scientists to schlep it up 39 floor’s worth of stairs, think again; are the slowest elevators in the civilized world. And that was the consensus of scientists representing not only Europe and North America, but Russia as well. 15-25 minutes added to each journey, up or down; stopping on every floor, except 5, on the way down.. Jesus Q. Fuck, dudes. If you can’t construct a bleedin’ elevator that works better than those at the Sozvezdie Medveditsy Guest House in Lesosibirsk, Eastern Siberia; then I suggest you seriously rethink your plans for world domination and new world order. Grako and Erwin once, while waiting for the fucking elevator, figured out that we were earning some US$25 each just to wait for the lift to arrive and take us to our rooms. Every day. Sometimes several times per day. With that, we all agreed to toss our “waiting time” funds into a kitty and on our last day of captivity here, blow it all in the hotel casino. Whatever became of that would be donated to the Koreans we thought most deserving of our largesse. Would it be our handlers? How about the Korean Scientists we’d be meeting? The affable and most accommodating concierge? Or that plucky little Korean charwoman who was always on our floor and kept everything spotless, right down to our freshly laundered and pressed field clothes and newly polished field boots; done without our requesting or knowledge? Only time would tell. It could be a fortune or it could be bupkiss. Just like our expectations of the Heavenly Kingdom where we were currently sequestered. As it was, with our official protestations, they kept only photocopies of our passports as we roundly refused and threatened a full-scale karaoke battle right here in the lobby if they didn’t relinquish our passports immediately. I had broken out my nastiest cigar and was primed to offend. With that, we all had our keys and trooped over to the elevators for our first, of many, inexplicable waits. We made many uncharitable and potentially nasty remarks about the Anti-Western posters that made up some of the wall décor. Once we finally made it to our floor, we all fanned out to find our rooms. Viv found his first and was quite pleased to report to the rest of us that there was a “Welcome” basket in his room. We all hoped that we would be receiving one a well. I was in room 3914; which I considered a close call, but later only wondered as there was no 3913. Upon entering, I saw it was 1980s Hotel 6 opulent, but with an excellent over-city view. True it was late, dark, and the city was only somewhat lit up; I was looking forward to the view of the town in full daylight. The room had a ‘king’ bed; that is if the king in question was Tutankhamen, the stubby, Egyptian boy king. The bed had no mattress pad and no box spring but it was hard enough for my liking. Many of my compatriots didn’t agree and complained bitterly. They eventually received thin mattress pads for all their kvetching. There was an ancient Japanese color television, which only had 2 English language channels - Al Jazeera and the BBC, which was on a dated news loop. Watching the local channel is amusing though; the ads for ‘personal enhancements’ were hilarious, even without understanding a word of the language. There were a couple of chairs and a low table, built-in dresser drawers for our clothes, a rusty and probably unusable room safe with corroded batteries, a small table built out of the wall that would serve as my travel office, and would-you-believe, a rotary telephone; how’s that for nostalgia? There was an old-model radio built into the nightstand next to the bed. I was very surprised to find it not only received AM, FM but shortwave as well. I had brought along a pair of Bose headphones and during some rainy down days, spent many fun-filled, and I mean that sincerely, hours DXing from the comfort of my ‘enormous’ king bed. Beyond that, the room was very nondescript. Like any other of the millions of rooms in hotels around the world that unlike here, aren’t claiming a 5-star rating. I mean, it was clean, if not a little long in the tooth. But didn’t smell too terrible, even after I took care of that with my Camacho offerings. It was utilitarian, everything worked, even the water pressure, which surprisingly could strip off layers of one’s skin if you weren’t careful. The bathroom, though no Jacuzzi, had a large enough bathtub for the occasional soaking period. Western accouterments in the bathroom were also welcome additions. My knees can’t handle the traditional squat-holes any longer. There were an electric teapot and several brands of tea, but no coffee. A quick “Gee! I sure wish I had some coffee!” to the four walls and damned if 30 minutes later, a porter didn’t arrive to replenish my tea and courtesy in-room coffee… There was a small Japanese brand in-room refrigerator which I thought might house a mini-bar. Oh, no! It was actually a complimentary larder stocked with all sorts of Best Korean goodies. Multiple cans of Taedonggang beer. Several bottles of Pyongyang Soju, in various flavors ranging anywhere from 16.8 to 53 percent alcohol by volume. My fridge was skewed towards the right-hand side of the bell curve; the more heavy-duty boozy side. Evidently, my reputation had preceded me again. There was a selection of German-style wheat beers from the Taedonggang Brewery and the more familiar ales, steam beers, and lagers. There were some imported beers like Heineken, Bavaria, Pils, a couple of Japanese brands: Asahi and Kirin, and something called ‘Hello Beer’ from Singapore. There were also ‘sampler’ bottles of Apricot Pit wine, and a couple of high-alcohol fruity liquors made from constituents such as apple or pear, and mushrooms. There were also special medicinal liquors like ‘Rason’s Seal Penis Liquor’. That is going home with me unopened. There were a couple of bottles of local sake, called Chonju. Finally, there was a couple ‘samplers’ of homemade alcohol known as Makkoli. Plus there was something called ‘Corn Grotto’, which for the life of me, looks and tastes much like a very passable Kentucky Sippin’ Bourbon. I put our concierge on instant danger money the very next day. He’s yet to source me more than a fifth of the stuff so far. I found that there is a popular drink here which mirrors the Yorsch of Mother Russia. Beer and soju can be mixed to create *somaek’; a foamy, frothy, funky drink of many flavors, depending on the soju chosen. Is ethnoimbibology at thing? The science of how different cultures drink and the effects of drinking culture on different societies. If not, now I have another Ph.D. to pursue after I endow a chair at some likely Asian university. Anyways, in everyone’s room was a “welcome” basket, just chock full of Best Korean goodies. Postcards, stamps, ads for coin sets, stamp proofs and other goodies that could be purchased at the hotel. There was a field notebook, which I thought was a very nice addition, newspapers, cookies, crackers, biscuits, candies, fruit drinks, and some fresh fruit; although tamarind chewies and durian chips aren’t on my list of personal favorites. There were a couple of tour books, just chock full of staged photos. These were very nice as well, as so far, we haven’t had much time for shopping outside of government stores or smaller family-run shops in town or out in the boonies. A few of us were hungry and decided to see what the hotel had to offer room service-wise. Bupkiss. But, they did have a selection of restaurants. There is a Chinese restaurant, a European restaurant, and a Korean restaurant on site but they all serve the same food...a Best Korean attempt at western food. And it was weird being the only ones in the restaurant even though it was fully staffed. We grazed lightly and decided to do some late-night perambulations around our hotel. Our handlers admonished us to stay within the confines of the hotel, or see them if it was absolutely necessary to go walkabout. In the hotel, we were on our own. We found that there were tunnels in the hotel’s basement. The basement tunnels were a real bonus. There’s a bar with pool tables, a karaoke room, bowling, and a massage parlor, where I was beaten and pummeled into submission by tiny, diminutive, little Korean lassies fully 1/5th my size. It was wonderful. There was a hairdresser’s, who were completely befuddled by my shoulder-length silver-gray locks and full gray Grizzly Adams beard. They did provide a lovely shampoo/cranial massage though for the equivalent of US$2. There were a couple of shops selling Chinese goods rather than local stuff, which was sort of disappointing, a cold noodle bar, and another casino. No shops selling Korean Communist propaganda posters, as I wanted to augment my Soviet-era collection. Perhaps I’ll find something in-country later on. We were shocked to find that the casino had WiFi that was uncensored and we were able to access; after a fee of liquor miniatures and a cigar or two. We were supposed to have access to the global internet, not local intranet, from the universities that we would be visiting. However, all of that was under the heavily squinting eyes of handlers and guys in shiny suits wearing fake Ray-Bans. I still had my secret satellite internet lash-up available, but that was iffy, a pain in the ass to set up, and ridiculously expensive. However, it did work on the 39th floor and the times I used it instead of wandering down to the tunnels, no one appeared to be the wiser. Thus far. So typically, we’d just head to the basement casino with our laptops, iPads, and phones. Bam! Robert’s your Sister’s Husband, we could connect more-or-less free with the outside world; hence how you are reading this now. Herro! “Yes, I’d sure like another beer. This time a porter, if you please.” The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain. Or the more they put into locks, the easier they are to pick. Besides, we were told we’d have access to unfettered and free internet. OK, so we just found it for ourselves. Whaddya expect? We’re scientists, motherfucker, back off. Ahem. Back to reality. The breakfast buffet the next morning had a wide choice of Asian and Western food, although the choices seemed to be the same every day. The main event was to beat the Chinese tourists to the egg station every morning. Breakfast always included fried eggs, a limited selection of pork, kippered fish, potatoes, rice, fruit, and a very Titanium-dioxide-white white bread After a while, I took to going to the small market behind the lobby, buying some imported Chinese or Japanese nibbly bits and heading to the tunnels for a few breakfast beers before the long hard day’s work. It took almost a week, but I gained the trust of some of the workers in the tunnels and they showed me the on-site microbrewery at the hotel. It produced very passable, and very, very cheap beers of several varieties. Liquid bread. Beer. Is there nothing it can’t do? After breakfast our first day at the hotel, we were told to meet in the Conference Room “Il-sung” as we were going to have a ‘Welcome foreign imperialist scientists’ introduction and indoctrination. Besides our handlers and the shiny-suit squad, there were several Korean folks we didn’t recognize. These were students, scientists, and scholars from the Kim Chaek University of Technology, Kim Il-sung University, the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology; all hailing from Pyongyang, and the University of Geology from North Hwanghae Province. “Oh, marvelous”, Erlen remarked, “It’s going to be a bloody Chautauqua. We’ll be here all day.” “Well”, I replied, “It could be worse. We could be on a bus headed off on another unscheduled road trip.” As we found our seats, our Korean counterparts were busily setting up portable screens, like the ones your grandfather had for showing his 2.1 Googleplex worth of travel slides every Christmas or Thanksgiving get-together. They had a couple of ancient Chinese brand laptops that could have doubled for body armor, they were so thick and heavy. While they fiddled with running cords for the overhead projectors and 16mm film projector; yes, it was going to be movie time as well, the hotel’s restaurant folks wheeled in carts laden with scones, cupcakes, and other sweet sorts of bakery. Another cart was wheeled in with pump-pots of hot water, tea, and coffee. Usual scientific meeting fare. There was one final cart that made the day bearable. It held a pony keg of hotel micro-brewed beer on ice, with several dozen frosty mugs available for all who wanted to partake. There were instantly 12 mugs that were spoken for. I grabbed a cold beer and wandered around the conference room, sipping beer, chewing on an unlit cigar, and just trying to be pleasant to our hosts and their scientific guests. I was surprised when one North Korean professor, who spoke amazingly British-tinged English, offered me a light for my cigar. “Is smoking allowed here?” I asked. “Allowed?” he laughed heartily, “My good man, it’s practically a prerequisite.” “Here then”, I said, offering him a nice, unctuous Camacho, “Try one of mine.” Dr. P'ung Kwang-Seon of the North Korean University of Geology became my instant and lifelong friend at that moment. We had a very nice chat, much to the chagrin of the gray suit cadre, who could hear what we were talking about, but probably didn’t understand anything beyond every 8th word. After a while, we were asked to take our seats, after refreshing our drinks, and introduced to the group of Korean geoscientists we’d be interacting with during our stay here in Best Korea. I tried to record every name, but between the students, other scholars, and professors from the various universities, I decided I’d ask for a list of participants once the day had worn on. After all, they had all our names, references, and resumes if the thick folio they kept referring to was any indication. There were a couple of hours of introductions, as every one of the Korean geoscientists there introduced themselves, mostly through translators, told of their personal area of specialty, and their latest work. Most were what would be considered geoscientists, but oddly enough, not one that you would consider a petroleum geoscientist, however tangentially. There were geomorphologists, structural geologists, petrologists, mineralogists, marine geologists, engineering geologists, and seismologists. However, there were no stratigraphers, sedimentologists, paleontologists, or geochemists. We were all geoscientists, but apart from the obvious Korean:English disparity, it was as if we spoke different scientific languages as well. That would be our first hurdle to overcome. They had no oil industry here; none whatsoever, therefore why one would bother with the geosciences that fed directly into petroleum? That, in and of itself, would make it difficult to explore for oil in the country. Couple that with the fact that they’re so insular, think their version of ‘science’ is the best, at least that’s the official line, and think all other’s ‘science’ is capitalistic, substandard, and inferior doesn’t bode well for your country discovering anything either oily or gassy. We were having another conclave around the beer keg, ack, err…a ‘coffee break’ and I mentioned this fact to my scientific colleagues. “Guys”, I need input here, “We’re going to get precisely nowhere if they won’t even acknowledge that they have major problems from the start.” Ivan replies, “Very true. I’ve seen this before back home. You get a group so entrenched in their own little corner of science, they can’t even accept or acknowledge that others exist. Not only exist but actually know more about a certain problem than do you.” Dax joins the fray, “Sure, that’s very true, but who’s going to tell them this unfortunate fact? They could take that as a personal, national, and global insult. Imagine you’re at an international conference and a bunch of foreigners walk in just to tell you you’ve been doing it all wrong for the last 75 years.” I add, “Remember, though. These characters are scientists as well. I think it’ll be a good measure of seeing what sort of science and scientist we’re dealing with here. If they are truly researchers, they’ll listen to and evaluate what we say as for veracity and accuracy. If they’re just a bunch of Commie goons; no offense, Comrade Academician Ivan, they’ll get all pissed off, kick us out, and we get to go home and enjoy our triple Force Majeure pay.” Ivan walks over and deliberately steps on the toes of my newly polished field boots. “In Soviet Russia, field boots walk on YOU.” He laughs in his heavily inflected, and scary, Soviet-era speech… “Yes, I agree”, Joon adds, “But who is going to address this issue with our hosts? Perhaps one of our Russian comrades, as they are, or were, more politically aligned with our Korean friends and perhaps best understand the issue?” Ack speaks up, grinning maniacally, “No, I disagree. We should have the one person here who so encapsulates the ideologies and political leanings that they love to hate here so much. You know; the quiet, diminutive, and soft-spoken North American…” Dax recoils, “Oh, no! I’m not going out in front of this mob of ornery Orientals…” I smile wanly and tell Dax to cool out. “Relax, Dax. They’re talking about me.” “Oh, yes”, a collective group of voices replies, “Yes. Let out fearless Team Leader break the bad news to our Eastern Colleagues. That way we can gauge their reactions to being bounced around scientifically by a member of the Evil Capitalist Cartel.” “OK”, I reply, “I’ll do it. But be forewarned, my fine feathered fiends. I get stuck on a topic that’s not precisely my bailiwick, I’m going to throw your ass to the wolves. Remember, we’re all in this together.” Whoops, and catcalls were reduced to mumbles and ‘Aw, fucks.’. Chautauqua resumption was called and I asked for the floor. It was a bit off the agenda, but since they’ve been chewing the air for the last several hours, they understood it would be appropriate for us to at least try and get a word in edgewise. I downed my beer, and grabbed a fresh one as what I was going to say was going to be harsh, cut-and-dried, and rather pointed. But delivered in a pleasant manner. I hoped. This all had to be filtered through a series of translators, one for general conversational Korean and another for the more technical and scientific transliterations. I realized I was going to be up here for a while. So, I brought a cigar. One way or another, I was going to deliver our pronouncements and hell, I may as well be comfortable while doing it. . “Greetings and felicitations, my Eastern Colleagues. Let me first say how nice it is to be here in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as part of the ….” I’m going to fast-forward through all the flowery bullshit and introductory happiness; I’ll going to just cut to the guts of the matter. “…Now, you do know why there has been virtually no oil, gas nor any other hydrocarbon related deposit discovered here in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea?” I asked by way of a rhetorical question. I sipped my beer and lit my cigar. In for a chon, in for a won. I let the buzzing subside on the side of our eastern counterparts. “Because, and please do not take this as insulting or derogatory, but as a statement of irrefutable fact, no one with the proper training nor experience has been looking. You’re historically guilty of applying the science incorrectly and letting dogma and politics guide your search, instead of the scientific method and the facts. Geology, like all natural science, is just as truth based on the facts for a capitalist as it is for a communist. Reality is not influenced by your beliefs, be they scientific or political, secular or spiritual, ‘trusted’ rather than ‘thought’; any more than by your wish that it wouldn’t rain today during a raging thunderstorm.” Little Boy over Hiroshima was dropped with less effect. Our Democratic People's Republic of Korea colleagues erupted into a chaotic mixture of stuttering, internecine yelling, accusations, and sputtering. Calling for decorum, I figured that since I was this far gone, I may as well push the plunger all the way to the bottom. “Gentlemen, I do not denigrate the science of geology as taught and practiced here in Best Korea.” I actually said that, sort of a slip of the tongue. Continuing, “However, one would not fish for Bluefin tuna from a rowboat in a pond with a fly rod. One does not hunt bear in the city with a slingshot. Just as one doesn’t search for oil and gas with mining engineers, geomorphologists, and seismologists.” I let that sink in and after the translation, they calmed a bit and wanted to hear the rest of what I had to say. I could sense a couple was less than thrilled with what I had to say, but forging onward… “One fishes for Bluefin tuna in the deep ocean with huge rods, reels and a specialist boat captained by someone with deep experience in hunting the elusive fish. One hunts bear in the proper environment, the taiga or forest, with the proper tools and guided by one with the education, learnedness, and experience to know how to make the hunt come out successful.” Hit them with some analogies they can relate to and digest. Now, go for the carotid. “Just like one does not hunt oil and gas without stratigraphers, sedimentologists, geophysicists, petrophysicists, and other oil and gas experts who have the education, experience, and knowledge to know where to look. Knowing which environment looks most conductive to hide your quarry, if you’ll pardon the pun, and how best to find them, the guys who know how to corral and de-risk them once you find them, and the engineers and technologists who know how to bring them to the surface so they can be utilized.” They had stopped being irritated and were listening in rapt attention. “My colleagues and I have spent the last few days going over, in detail the geology of your country. There is nothing we can see that would preclude the development, entrapment, and preservation of economic quantities of oil and gas. Ture, the geology is quite complex as is the structural history of the entire peninsula. That’s one other thing you will have to accept. Geology doesn’t give the tiniest shit about political boundaries. One must look at the big picture, and that doesn’t stop at some man-made borders. Ignore that fact at your peril, because if you continue to view the geology here as not existing across political boundaries, you are preadapting yourself for failure.” Drs. Ivan, Volna, and Morse make certain that everyone sees the ex-Soviets agreeing with the bushy-bearded, cigar-chomping American capitalist. “So,” I said, hoping to bring this little spit-balling session to a fortuitous close, “If we can have an agreement; scientific agreement, on these points, then I am certain we can find a way forward with not only this discussion but the program we can devise for the best Korean (notice phase shift?) geologists to take the project forward both scientifically soundly and economically successful.” My North Korean counterpart gets up from his seat in the conference room, goes to the keg, taps a couple of beers and walks up to the podium where I was standing. “Thank you, Dr. Rocknocker, for saying what needed to be said”, he spoke in perfect English as he handed me a beer. I grinned and gratefully accepted the beer. “Why, Dr. Chang Kwang-Su”, I said, as that was his name, “You old fraud. You do speak English; and very well, I must add.” “Yes, almost all of us do”, he relayed, “But, as you said, we are most reserved. We were more or less under orders of the ‘most illustrious’, to play coy, and act as if we spoke no English.” “I see.” I said, “I’ve worked in several FSU countries as well as Russia and saw that there as well. I guess old habits die hard.” “That they do, Doctor.”, he replied, “But, we must now tell you the truth. We knew exactly what you said is true, and we agree. We are not as totally insulated from the outside world as some suspect.” “Well, I was going on what your superiors related to us. Like the police that had all their toilets stolen, I had nothing else to go on.” I replied. “Ah, ha! Quite!”, he chuckled, “We had long suspected that we were lacking in certain areas of scholarship. What you said cements that fact as it was an independent conclusion. We can now present that to our superiors with the caveat that unless we bolster work and training in these areas, the hunt of hydrocarbon resources here will be for naught.” “I am relieved”, I said, truthfully. “I was slightly concerned that some might take umbrage to being told their science is not up to specifications. I tried to be the bearer of that bad news but deliver it gently. Here, I find you need that to use that as a truncheon to smack one’s boss upside the head and tell him that an upgrade is required. And fast.” “Ah, so”, he replies, “We are in total agreement. Now that is out of the way, we would appreciate it if you’d help in designing a course of study for up and coming local geoscientists. Then, we can go forward with a great plan to search for oil and gas here in…Korea. Correct?” “Absolutely”, I remarked, “You’ve got over 400 man-years of science and exploration expertise here in this room alone. Let’s shoot for the moon, so to speak. Let’s get you up to speed on scientific journals and articles that are available out there in all of academia and industry. Let’s get you communicating on a global basis. Let’s prove that you can talk science with global scientists and still not have it affect your political or nationalistic aspirations one little bit. Let’s see if we can drag you, figuratively speaking, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.” “Doctor”, Dr. Chang remarked, “You are the embodiment of what we were always told what Americans are. Brash, loud, confident, and evil. Except for evil, you are American as we were led to believe.” “Hey, I take that as a compliment”, I exclaim. “You think that’s bad, I’ve got a bunch of earnest Europeans, raucous Russians, and a couple of cagey Canadians on my side as well. Before we’re finished here, we’ll have you ordering hachee, dining on Caldo Verde, snacking on salmiakki, drinking Russkaya vodka with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, eating poutine, and rooting for the Packers.” “Doctor, I don’t know what half of that means, but I hope it comes to pass. It sounds most fascinating.” Dr. Chang chuckles. The rest of the day was spent with various groups crystallizing and breaking off from the main crowd; then reforming as different groups. This was good, as it showed an interest across not only national borders but across ideologies and scientific specialties. Most everyone here spoke English with some degree of fluency, so the translators were called in only occasionally. I made certain they were included in everything that transpired that day. I want everyone to feel ‘part of the team’. How better to show the classlessness of Western science to include everyone in on both sides of every discussion and activity? To be continued…
Welcome to Lost in the Sauce, keeping you caught up on political and legal news that often gets buried in distractions and theater… or a global health crisis. Figuring out how to divide the COVID-19 content from the “regular” news has been difficult because the pandemic is influencing all aspects of life. Some of the stories below involve the virus, but I chose to include them when it fits into one of the pre-established categories (like congress or immigration). The coronavirus-central post will be made again this Thursday-Friday; the sign up form now has an option to choose to receive an email when the coronavirus-focused roundup is posted. House-keeping:
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Let’s dig in!
Congress passes stimulus
Last week started out with a Republican-crafted stimulus bill that was twice-blocked by Senate Democrats, who objected to the lax conditions of aid to corporations, too little funding for hospitals, and a $500 billion “slush fund” for big companies to be doled out by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin with no oversight. Conservative-Democrat Joe Manchin (WV) even criticized the GOP bill:
“It fails our first responders, nurses, private physicians and all healthcare professionals. ... It fails our workers. It fails our small businesses… Instead, it is focused on providing billions of dollars to Wall Street and misses the mark on helping the West Virginians that have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.”
Through negotiations, Democrats shifted the bill in a more-worker friendly direction. The version that passed includes the following Democrat-added provisions: expanded unemployment benefits, $100 billion for hospitals, $150 billion for state and local governments, direct payments to Americans without a phase-in (ensuring low-income workers get the full amount), a ban on Trump and his children from receiving aid, and oversight on the “slush fund” (see next section for more info). Senate Democrats also managed to remove a provision that would have excluded nonprofits that receive Medicaid funding from the small-business grants.
Further reading: After Senate Democrats blocked the Republican-crafted bill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led the House Democrats in releasing their own version, a best-case scenario of their dream coronavirus stimulus bill. It is interesting to contrast what the Democrats prioritized to what the Republicans focused on: “How the House Democrats' stimulus plan compares to the Senate's”
Echoing sentiments expressed during debate on the previous coronavirus bill (the second, for those keeping track), Republican senators derided the $600 a week increase in unemployment payments as “incentivizing” workers to quit their jobs. Sens. Ben Sasse (Neb.), Rick Scott (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) delayed passage of the bill in order to force a vote on an amendment removing the extra unemployment funding. "This bill pays you more not to work than if you were working," Graham said. Fortunately for American workers, the amendment failed and the improved bill passed the Senate and the House.
Note: In 2009 only three Republicans helped Obama pass his stimulus bill in his first month in office.
The giveaways in the bill
While Senate Democrats were able to add worker-friendly provisions, the bill still required bipartisan support to pass the chamber and some corporate giveaways remained in the final version.
NYT: “Senate Republicans inserted an easy-to-overlook provision on page 203 of the 880-page bill that would permit wealthy investors to use losses generated by real estate to minimize their taxes on profits from things like investments in the stock market. The estimated cost of the change over 10 years is $170 billion.”
NYT: “...if a company owns multiple hotels, even if the overall hotel or restaurant chain has more than 500 employees — the limit to qualify for treatment as a small business — it will still be able to take advantage of the small-business benefits offered in the rescue package. ...The provision could benefit the Trump Organization, which operates a relatively small chain, with six hotels in the United States in cities including New York, Washington and Chicago.”
“A provision for the FDA to approve ‘innovative’ sunscreens—which would benefit L’Oreal, which has operations in Kentucky—appeared in the bill, which was steered in the Senate by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.”
“The $25 billion allocated in loans and loan guarantees for the airlines will also benefit eligible businesses "approved to perform inspection, repair, replace, or overhaul services, and ticket agents.” The last two words — ‘ticket agents’ — mean that travel agents who book flights will also be able to apply for a piece of the $25 billion.”
“The credit reporting industry got a win by defeating a total ban on negative credit reports during the crisis. Instead, a watered down version made it into the final bill: Consumers wouldn't get a negative credit report if they have an agreement with a lender to delay payments or make partial payments.”
Trump’s signing statement
While signing the latest coronavirus relief bill, the president also issued a signing statement undercutting the congressional oversight provision creating an inspector general to track how the administration distributes the $500 billion “slush fund” money. The newly-created inspector general is legally required to audit loans and investments made through the fund and report to Congress his/her findings, including any refusal by the executive office to cooperate. In his signing statement, Trump wrote that his understanding of constitutional powers allows him to gag the special IG:
"I do not understand, and my Administration will not treat, this provision as permitting the [inspector general] to issue reports to the Congress without the presidential supervision required" by Article II of the Constitution.
The signing statement further suggests that Trump does not have to comply with a provision requiring that agencies consult with Congress before it spends or reallocates certain funds: "These provisions are impermissible forms of congressional aggrandizement with respect to the execution of the laws," the statement reads. While some have said that Congress fell short in this instance, one Democratic Senate aide told Politico that Congress built in multiple layers of oversight, including “a review of other inspectors general and a congressional review committee charged with overseeing Treasury and the Federal Reserve's efforts to implement the law.” Legal experts have pointed out that a signing statement is “without legal effect.” But that ignores the fact that oversight is not equal to enforcement. The problem, in my opinion, isn’t that Congress won’t be notified of any abuses of power by Trump. The problem is that congressional Republicans and the judiciary have largely failed to hold him accountable and enforce our laws even after learning of his abuses.
Concerns about the IG
Another potential weakness in the oversight structure is the inspector general position itself. The special inspector general for pandemic recovery, known by the acronym S.I.G.P.R., is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. As we’ve seen from Trump’s previous nominees, particularly judicial, many unqualified individuals have been confirmed. The Democrats will not have the power to stop the president and Mitch McConnell from jamming through a loyalist to fill the SIGPR role.
Former inspector general at the Justice Department Michael Bromwich: “The signing statement threatens to undermine the authority and independence of this new IG. The Senate should extract a commitment from the nominee that Congress will be promptly notified of any Presidential/Administration interference or obstruction.”
You may recall that Trump has already proven that he’s willing to interfere with the legally-mandated work of an inspector general. When the Ukraine whistleblower filed a complaint last year, the IG of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, investigated and determined the complaint to be “urgent” and “credible.” Atkinson wrote a report and gave it to Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to hand over to Congress. However, the White House and DOJ interfered and instructed Maguire not to transmit the report to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. Chairman Adam Schiff had to subpoena Maguire to turn over the report and testify before his committee. Further, there are already five IG vacancies in agencies that have a critical role in responding to the pandemic. The Treasury itself has not had a permanent, Senate-confirmed IG for over eight months now, and Trump hasn’t nominated a replacement. The Treasury Dept. has taken a lead role in the coronavirus response, with Secretary Mnuchin handling most of the negotiating with Congress on Trump’s behalf. The fact that the lead agency doesn’t have IG oversight should be troublesome in itself; replicating the situation with a special IG doesn’t seem to be a promising solution.
The other four coronavirus-related agencies without a permanent IG: Department of Health and Human Services’ IG has been vacant for nine months, Department of Defense’s IG has been vacant for four years, Department of Education’s IG has been vacant for one year, and Office of Personnel Management’s IG has been vacant for four years. Overall, there are twelve IG vacancies in the 37) presidentially-appointed offices.
UPDATE: The nation's inspectors general have appointed Glenn Fine, the Pentagon's acting IG, to lead the committee of IGs overseeing the coronavirus relief effort.
This is one of several oversight mechanisms built into the new law. They include: A committee of IGs (now led by Fine), a new special IG (to be nominated by Trump), a congressional review panel (to be appointed by House/Senate leaders)
Included in the stimulus bill is a $1200 one-time direct payment for all Americans who made less than $75,000 in 2019 (less than $150,000 if couples filed jointly). More details can be found here. I have read that the Treasury will use 2018 information for those who have not filed yet this year, but I am not 100% sure that’ll happen. Mnuchin has said that Americans can expect to receive the money within three weeks, but many experts expect that timetable to be pushed into late April. Additionally, that only applies to Americans who included direct deposit information on their 2019 tax returns. Those who did not include their bank’s information will have to be sent a physical check in the mail… which could take anywhere from two to four months. Other options are being discussed, including partnering the Treasury Dept. with MasterCard and Visa to deliver prepaid debit cards. Venmo and Paypal are reportedly lobbying the government to be considered as a disbursement option. Future payments? House Speaker Pelosi is already planning another wave of direct payments to Americans, saying that the $1,200 is not enough to mitigate the economic effects of the pandemic: “I don’t think we’ve seen the end of direct payments.” Republicans, meanwhile, are taking a ‘wait and see’ approach, using the next couple of weeks to measure the impact of the $2 trillion bill passed last week.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy: “What concerns me is when I listen to Nancy Pelosi talk about a fourth package now, it’s because she did not get out of things that she really wanted...I’m not sure you need a fourth package...Let’s let this work ... We have now given the resources to make and solve this problem. We don’t need to be crafting another bill right now.” For the fourth legislative package, Democrats have said they would like to see increased food stamp benefits; increased coverage for coronavirus testing, visits to the doctor and treatment; more money for state and local governments, including Washington, D.C.; expanded family and medical leave; pension fixes; and stronger workplace protections.
Trump’s signature Normally, a civil servant signs federal checks, like the direct payments Americans are set to receive. According to a Wall Street Journal report, Trump has told people that he wants his signature to appear on the stimulus checks.
War on the poor continues
Amid the coronavirus crisis, Trump has defended his continued support of a Republican-led lawsuit to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which would result in 20 million Americans losing health insurance if successful. The Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in the case this fall. Contrasting with his position that the ACA is illegal, Trump is considering reopening enrollment on HealthCare.gov, allowing millions of uninsured individuals to get coverage before potentially incurring charges and fees related to COVID-19. Joe Biden called on Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is leading the charge against the ACA, and President Trump to drop the lawsuit:
“At a time of national emergency, which is laying bare the existing vulnerabilities in our public health infrastructure, it is unconscionable that you are continuing to pursue a lawsuit designed to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance and protections under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the ban on insurers denying coverage or raising premiums due to pre-existing conditions.”
The Trump administration is also pushing forward with its plan to kick 700,000 people off federal food stamp assistance, known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). The USDA announced two weeks ago that the department will appeal Judge Beryl Howell’s recent decision that the USDA’s work mandate rule is “arbitrary and capricious." Additionally: The Social Security Administration has no plans to slow down a rule change set for June that will limit disability benefits, the Department of Health and Human Services still intends to reduce automatic enrollment in health coverage, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will continue the process to enact a rule that would make it harder for renters to sue landlords for racial discrimination.
Lawmakers’ stock transactions
The Justice Department and Securities and Exchange Commission are beginning to investigate stock transactions made ahead of the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. CNN reports that the inquiry has already reached out to Senator Richard Burr for information. “Under insider trading laws, prosecutors would need to prove the lawmakers traded based on material non-public information they received in violation of a duty to keep it confidential,” a task that won’t be easy. Sen. Burr is facing another consequence of his trades: Alan Jacobson, a shareholder in Wyndham Hotels and Resorts, sued Burr for allegedly using private information to instruct a mass liquidation of his assets. Among the shares he sold were an up to $150,000 stake in Wyndham, whose stock suffered a market-value cut of more than two-thirds since mid-February.
Using the pandemic as cover, the Trump administration has begun to more aggressively roll back regulations meant to protect the environment. These are examples of what Naomi Klein dubbed “the shock doctrine”: the phenomenon wherein polluters and their government allies push through unpopular policy changes under the smokescreen of a public emergency. On Thursday, the EPA announced (non-paywalled) an expansive relaxation of environmental laws and fines, exempting companies from consequences for pollution. Under the new rules, there are basically no rules. Companies are asked to “act responsibly” but are not required to report when their facilities discharge pollution into the air or water. Just five days before abandoning any pollution oversight, the oil industry’s largest trade group implored the administration for assistance, stating that social distancing measures caused a steep drop in demand for gasoline.
Monday morning update: In an interview with Fox News this morning, Trump said he was going to call Putin after the interview to discuss the Saudi-Russia oil fight. A consequence of this "battle" has been plummeting prices in the U.S. making it difficult for domestic companies (like shale extraction) to turn a profit. It's striking that the day after Dr. Fauci told Americans we can expect 100,000 to 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 (if we keep social distancing measures in place), Trump's first action is to talk to Fox News and his second action is to intervene in an international tiff on behalf of the oil and gas industry.
Gina McCarthy, who led the E.P.A. under the Obama administration, called the rollback “an open license to pollute.” Cynthia Giles, who headed the EPA enforcement division during the Obama administration, said “it is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.” The EPA is also moving forward with a widely-opposed rule to limit the types of scientific studies used when crafting new regulations or revising current ones. Hidden behind claims of increased transparency, the rule would require disclosure of all raw data used in scientific studies. This would disqualify many fields of research that rely on personal health information from individuals that must be kept confidential. For example, studies that show air pollution causes premature deaths or a certain pesticide is linked to birth defects would be rejected under the proposed rule change. Officials and scientists are calling upon the EPA to extend the time for comment on the regulatory changes, arguing that the public is unable to express their opinion while dealing with the pandemic.
“These rollbacks need and deserve the input of our public health community, but right now, they are rightfully focused on responding to the coronavirus,” said Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Other controversial decisions being made:
A former EPA official who worked on controversial policies returned as Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s chief of staff. Mandy Gunasekara helped write regulations to ease pollution controls for coal-fired power plants and vehicle emissions in her previous role as chief of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. In a recent interview, Gunasekara, who played a role in the decision to exit the Paris Climate Accord, pushed back on the more dire predictions of climate change, saying, “I don't think it is catastrophic.”
NYT: The plastic bag industry, battered by a wave of bans nationwide, is using the coronavirus crisis to try to block laws prohibiting single-use plastic. “We simply don’t want millions of Americans bringing germ-filled reusable bags into retail establishments putting the public and workers at risk,” an industry campaign that goes by the name Bag the Ban warned on Tuesday. (Also see The Guardian)
Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia passed laws putting new criminal penalties on protests against fossil fuel infrastructure in just the past two weeks.
The Hill: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Friday that it will extend the amount of time that winter gasoline can be sold this year as producers have been facing lower demand due to the coronavirus. It will allow companies to sell the winter-grade gasoline through May 20, whereas companies would have previously been required to stop selling it by May 1 to protect air quality. “In responding to an international health crisis, the last thing the EPA should do is take steps that will worsen air quality and undermine the public’s health,” biofuels expert David DeGennaro said.
NYT: At the Interior Department, employees at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have been under strict orders to complete the rule eliminating some protections for migratory birds within 30 days, according to two people with direct knowledge of the orders. The 45-day comment period on that rule ended on March 19.
WaPo: The Interior Department has received over 230 nominations for oil and gas leases covering more than 150,000 acres across southern Utah, a push that would bring drilling as close as a half-mile from some of the nation’s most famous protected sites, including Arches and Canyonlands National Parks… if all the fossil fuels buried in those sites was extracted and burned, it would translate into between 1 billion and 5.95 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide being released into the air. That upward measure is equal to half the annual carbon output of China
Press freedom case Southern District of New York District Judge Lorna Schofield ruled that a literary advocacy group’s lawsuit against Trump for allegedly violating the First Amendment can move forward. The group, PEN America, is pursuing claims that Trump “has used government power to retaliate against media coverage and reporters he dislikes.” Schofield determined that PEN’s allegation that Trump made threats to chill free speech was valid, providing as an example the White House’s revocation of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta’s press press corps credentials:
”The threats are lent credence by the fact that Defendant has acted on them before, by revoking Mr. Acosta’s credentials and barring reporters from particular press conferences. The Press Secretary indeed e-mailed the entire press corps to inform them of new rules of conduct and to warn of further consequences, citing the incident involving Mr. Acosta… These facts plausibly allege that a motivation for defendant’s actions is controlling and punishing speech he dislikes.”
Twitter case The president suffered another First Amendment defeat last week when the full 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review a previous ruling that prevents Trump from blocking users on the Twitter account he uses to communicate with the public. Judge Barrington D. Parker, a Nixon-appointee, wrote: “Excluding people from an otherwise public forum such as this by blocking those who express views critical of a public official is, we concluded, unconstitutional.” Trump-appointees Michael Parker and Richard Sullivan authored a dissent, arguing the free speech “does not include a right to post on other people’s personal social media accounts, even if those other people happen to be public officials.” Park warned that the ruling will allow the social media pages of public officials to be “overrun with harassment, trolling, and hate speech, which officials will be powerless to filter.” Florida’s felon voting U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ripped into Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s administration for failing to come up with a process to determine which felons are genuinely unable to pay court-ordered fees and fines, which are otherwise required to be paid before having their voting rights restored. “If the state is not going to fix it, I will,” Hinkle warned. He had given the state five months to come up with an administrative process for felons to prove they’re unable to pay financial obligations, but Florida officials did not do so. The case is set to be heard on April 28 (notwithstanding any coronavirus-related delays).
ICE, Jails, and COVID-19
ICE One of the most overlooked populations with an increased risk of death from coronavirus are those in detention facilities, which keep people in close quarters with little sanitation or protective measures (including for staff). Last week, U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee ordered the federal government to “make continuous efforts” to release migrant children from detention centers across the country. Numerous advocacy groups asked for the release after reports that four children being held in New York had tested positive for the virus:
“The threat of irreparable injury to their health and safety is palpable,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers said in their petition… both of the agencies operating migrant children detention facilities must by April 6 provide an accounting of their efforts to release those in custody… “Her order will undoubtedly speed up releases,” said Peter Schey, co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the court case.
On Tuesday, 13 immigrants held at ICE facilities in California filed a lawsuit demanding to be released because their health conditions make them particularly vulnerable to dying if infected by the coronavirus. An ACLU statement says the detainees are “confined in crowded and unsanitary conditions where social distancing is not possible.” The 13 individuals are all over the age of 50 and/or suffering from serious underlying medical issues like high blood pressure.
“From all the evidence we have seen, ICE is failing to fulfill its constitutional obligation to protect the health and safety of individuals in its custody. ICE should exercise its existing discretion to release people with serious medical conditions from detention for humanitarian reasons,” said William Freeman, senior counsel at the ACLU of Northern California.
Meanwhile, ICE is under fire for continuing to shuttle detainees across the country, with one even being forced to take nine different flights bouncing from Louisiana to Texas to New Jersey less than two weeks ago. That man is Dr. Sirous Asgari, a materials science and engineering professor from Iran, who was acquitted last year on federal charges of stealing trade secrets. The government lost its case against him, yet ICE has had him in indefinite detention since November.
Asgari, 59, told the Guardian that his Ice holding facility in Alexandria, Louisiana, had no basic cleaning practices in place and continued to bring in new detainees from across the country with no strategy to minimize the threat of Covid-19...Detainees have no hand sanitizer, and the facility is not regularly cleaning bathrooms or sleeping areas…Detainees lack access to masks… Detainees struggle to stay clean, and the facility has an awful stench.
Jails State jails are making a better effort to release detained individuals, as both New York and New Jersey ordered a thousand people in each state be let out of jail. The order applied only to low-level offenders sentenced to less than a year in jail and those held on technical probation violations. In Los Angeles County, officials released over 1,700 people from its jails. A judge in Alabama took similar steps last week, ordering roughly 500 people jailed for minor offenses to be released to lessen crowding in facilities. Unlike in New York and New Jersey, however, local officials reacted in an uproar, led in part by the state executive committee for the Alabama Republican Party and Assistant District Attorney C.J. Robinson. Using angry Facebook messages as the barometer of the community’s feelings, Robinson worked “frantically” to block inmates from being released.
Reuters: As of Saturday, at least 132 inmates and 104 staff at jails across New York City had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus… Since March 22, jails have reported 226 inmates and 131 staff with confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to a Reuters survey of cities and counties that run America’s 20 largest jails. The numbers are almost certainly an undercount given the fast spread of the virus.
Tribe opposed by Trump loses land
On Wednesday, The Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs announced the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s reservation would be "disestablished" and its land trust status removed. Tribal Chairman Cedric Cromwell called the move "cruel" and "unnecessary,” particularly coming in the midst of a pandemic crisis. Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.), who last year introduced legislation to protect the tribe's reservation as trust land in Massachusetts, said the order “is one of the most cruel and nonsensical acts I have seen since coming to Congress.” The administration’s decision is especially suspicious as just last year Trump attacked the tribe’s plan to build a casino on its land, tweeting that allowing the construction would be “unfair” and treat Native Americans unequally. As a former casino owner, Trump has spent decades attacking Native American casinos as unfair competition. At a 1993 congressional hearing Trump said that tribal owners “don’t look like Indians to me” and claimed: “I might have more Indian blood than a lot of the so-called Indians that are trying to open up the reservations” to gambling. More than his past history, however, Trump has current interests at play in the Mashpee Wampanoag’s planned casino: it would have competed for business with nearby Rhode Island casinos owned by Twin River Worldwide Holdings, whose president, George Papanier, was a finance executive at the Trump Plaza casino hotel in Atlantic City.
In the Mashpee case, Twin River, the operator of the two Rhode Island casinos, has hired Matthew Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a vocal Trump supporter, to lobby for it on the land issue. Schlapp’s wife, Mercedes, is director of strategic communications at the White House.
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