Archive for November, 2009

How I got my FBI FIle

November 20, 2009

It was because of David Gassman.  David, whose parents were bona fide Communist Party members ( he was known as a ‘red diaper’ baby—but in actual fact—as he has informed me—there is  speculation about whether both his folks were ‘card carriers’), knew a couple of people who I knew.  At the time, I was really not ‘active’ in any radical political organizations. David knew my roommate, Gloria Smith, through SANE/FREEZE, the nuclear  weapons free area campaign.  David also knew Judy Freeman, who got me to be a board member for Uptown Recycling Station, on of the first community based recycling stations in the country.  This was started by Ken Dunn of Resource Center (RPCV Brazil).

It was 1987, but we had known each other several years, via both Gloria & Judy.  I don’t remember how it came up in conversation, but David told us he had requested his FBI file, to make the FBI do something for all the money they  got.  He suggested that both Gloria and I send for our files.

I didn’t think I had a file.  If there was anything, it would have been  because my  former husband, D.Craig Ledford, was General Secretary-Treasurer for the Industrial Workers of the World, and I owe my  membership  in the IWW to journalist Abe Peck, whom I met at The SEED underground newspaper.  He also taught me how to use an IBM SELECTRIC, one of the first ‘computer/word processors. Anyways, that is just background. I was in arrears after I bought my first dog grooming business, and stayed in arrears after we got divorced.  I couldn’t imagine what the FBI would want with me.  David admitted that there might not be anything,but he helped me file the Freedom of Information Act request, and we had to file several requests.

I didn’t really think much would come of it, but after several months, I did get a packet from the FBI.  It turns out I DID have an FBI file!  It had nothing to do with my ex-husband, and it appeared they had been spying on me quite recently!

Apparently, they were  actually interested in Gloria, who lived with me at the time. Gloria had been to Nicaragua with the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee, providing technical assistance to the Sandinistas.  Back in the 1980s, during the  Reagan Administration, we weren’t  at ‘war’ in Nicaragua, but Reagan used  his ‘descretionary funding’ to provide support for the CONTRAS, who were fighting  socialism.  He called them ‘freedom fighters’.  Never mind that there probably over a dozen political parties in Nicaragua at the time, & Daniel Ortega had won a ‘free & fair’ election.  Our ‘American’ attitude was tha the Nicaraguans had voted int he wrong guy and the wrong party!

The spying on American radical activists was a carryover from Nixon (apparently, there were so few criminals for the FBI to spy on, they had to spy on people doing nothing illegal). It was quite controversial.

So, anyways, Gloria had gone to Nicaragua, and was now living with me, and  according to the nonblacked out parts of the file, a couple of guys were watching the house.  How would we not know this?  We lived in west Lakeview at the time, before it became Yuppieville, and wouldn’t have noticed a strange car on the street due to all the activity What is  particularly funny about this is that they didn’t have photos of us, and they  followed my tenant. We’ll call her ‘Susan’.

Susan was a figure model (that’s how I knew her), art student, and delivered singing telegrams for extra income.  According to the FBI notes, they followed her from the house, dressed as a clown,  carrying helium filled balloons, down a circuitous route to  where she was going–thinking SHE was ME.

WE had a good laugh over it, & I believe I wrote to the FBI & told them they followed the wrong person, but I never heard back from them.  I still have the papers in my file cabinet.  Gloria never did file  the FOIA request for her file.

Even though I had to be fingerprinted to get into Peace Corps, and told them straight out that I had an FBI file, it didn’t matter at all.  One branch of the government rarely speaks to another branch.

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This is America?

November 6, 2009

I keep wanting to write about how I got to live in Malawi, but the news can not be ignored.

Just a few days ago, a man (black…. of course, this IS America—we know what goes on here), framed for a crime he did not commit, brought a case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court—because—I am incredulous—he was not allowed to bring suit against government lawyers in his state who used  false evidence to keep him in jail for over 20 years—while there was evidence against a well placed white person that  would have—in a free and fair society—led to an indictment & trial—that they ignored.  Can you believe that there is a question about this  being illegal?  But the attorneys said they could only prosecute  with the evidence they were given, &  apparently the police are off the hook, too.  Mind boggling.

I knew you could sue & harass anyone for no reason—but  charge someone criminally & put them in jail?  Face it:  this means that  there is a very high degree of statistical certainty that many—if not most–people of color in jail were framed.  Is this a great country, or what?

& then, yesterday, an Army psychiatrist went berserk at Fort Hood in Texas & shot a bunch of people.  He happened to be Moslem, & now the Moslems fear a backlash against them.  I totally understand. What I don’t understand is that there is no backlash against psychiatrists:  the foxes watching the henhouse, who’ve invented all sorts of disease models for bad behavior.  While I am sure  some psychiatrists & psychologists help some people.  Nobody is keeping any stats on the number of people NOT helped—who just gave money to a bunch of witch doctors.

But I  really decided to  write about how bad the economy is, and how the underlying reasons for why it won’t get better are not being addressed.

I am  ‘self-employed’ right now, and can manage to bring in about $250 a week…so I am really luckier than most.  I am not too proud to pick up aluminum cans.  I helped start a community based recycling center over 25 years ago, so I am used to it.  I also love buying low/selling high.  IN any case….interest rates are at historic lows.  I was looking forward to refinancing the house.

I thought the house was worth about $450,00.  $400,000 would have been my lowest guess.  I am paying 5.25%, and I owe about $85,000.  I  answered a few questions online & within minutes started getting calls from mortgage brokers—but all I had to say was  I DON’T HAVE A JOB, & they’d laugh & hang up.

A broker for a very small firm called Yale Mortgage( they advertise in the Chicago Tribune) felt that he could get me a mortgage.  I told him up front—I repeated it to him several times—that I do not have a job, I am self-employed.  He assured me he could qualify me for a 4.5% mortgage, I could get about $10,000 to redo my kitchen, & there was no application fee—& my monthly payment would be lowered by  $190 a month.  Too good to be true?  Yes.  After giving him my last 2 years tax returns, bank statements,  misc. info…he asked for my W-2s.  I swear, men don’t listen to women.  When I repeated to him that there were none for this year, he asked for a Profit & Loss Statement—so I had to cobble one together.  2 weeks go by,  3 weeks, & he calls that he can’t get me a loan.

I check out the ‘Making Home Affordable’ program that the government  coerced the lenders to offer.  This is a joke.  They do not even talk to you until you’ve missed at least 1 mortgage payment.  I have no excuse to do that.  I have $20.000 (or so) in liquid cash & another $80,000 not so liquid.

But I called Citimortgage anyhow.  In fact, I called them, because they sent me a letter that I underpaid my past  payment—which I did not do—I overpaid—but their computer system couldn’t reflect  this.  When the customer service rep asked me if there was anything else he could do for me, I said, “Refinance me.”

So I talk to another g employee, tell him the whole thing, & he tells me that—with my rent & bank statements proving I am on track to  make about $15,000 this year, Citi could refinance me. There was a $475 application fee.

So I asked him, “Now, you aren’t going to take my fee & then tell me you can’t refinance me at the rate you just told me, are you?”

“No!”  he said.  “We can do it.”  So, again, with tax returns, bank statements, insurance papers, &  things seem to be going along, & I get a packet from Citi…my  credit score is good, they are going to  send an appraiser, & settlement costs will be….$3890.  I felt that was high—but  a 4 year repayment on a 15 year loan, plus making the kitchen  more usable—it would be worth it.

That’s not exactly how it came down.  The appraiser said the house was worth $384,000. So, it lost about 36%  its value from its highest point.  Yes, I am still ahead, but you can’t go many place & buy a sound property for that amount in the metro Chicago area.  Detroit? Cincinnati?  Actually, if you live in a warm place—a place where  central heat is not needed, & you can get  about 1000 square fee with 2 bedrooms & at least  1.5 baths—with a yard, for under  $300,000—email me!

So that was the first thing.  Then, because the settlement costs were so high,  another Citibank employee told me to ask to have the  fees reduced.  So I called the  original guy I talked to , who had been on  vacation for  a week, and he told me that because the house had appraised lower than we expected,  & it was a 2 flat—and my  DEBT-TO-INCOME ratio was so low, they wanted 1.75 points at closing and another $1060 because it was becoming an FNMA loan.  & that meant the payback on this—to lower my payments $190 per month, would be a little over 2 years on a 15 year loan.  It would be a big gamble…in more ways than one.

Claude Levi-Strauss, the French anthropologist, died this past week.  He was over 100.  I thought he had been dead for decades.  The one thing he did of great significance was catalog all kinds of human behaviors and how they affect social dynamics.  You can be angry and frustrated, and how will that affect your behavior towards people.

I don’t know why Americans are so optimistic that life will get better and stay better.

The main reasons life was good for many  white Americans in the 1950s & 1960s was that they were white—and had  entitlement— white men didn’t have to compete with otherwise qualified women & minorities for jobs.  As the civil rights movement got the backing of the media—so more women and minorities were portrayed in nontraditional roles, there because more competition for jobs…and more jobs were NOT being created.

The way to get rid of surplus job seekers? The Viet Nam War.  Send them out of the country, kill them, off, bring the rest back maimed so they can’t compete.  It’s been that way ever since.

I’m old enough to remember. We were  horrified by the corruption of Nixon, & the fact that Ford was not elected…and at the end of the war the inflation spiral started.  We had to elect Jimmy Carter, who was so much of an outsider that nobody would step in to make things right.  Amazing inflation continued. I had clients buying homes with 17% interest rates.  They knew they would ultimately be  refinancing, but at least land rents continued to be low in relation to incomes middle class people generated.

Then Reagan cut a bunch of programs, and instituted  trickle down.  Cutting taxes for the wealthy so they could spend more. That the rich would benefit &  spend more on us—and we laughed, but really , that’s the way it always works, if you want to know the capitalist truth.  Reagan was an actor.  He  was not well educated, and knew nothing.  However, in a few years, things started smoothing out.  Never mind the  Iran/Contra  mess. We were ‘helping’  ‘freedom fighters’ to bring ‘democracy’ to the rest of the world.  Embarrassing.

Since most Americans can be frightened into voting for the wrong  guy, we had Bush I, and then,  some relatively good economic times with Clinton.  I was appalled that he really spent more time and energy on his sex life than on funding alternative energy  sources—and worse—now that we look back—allowed the non-regulation of the securities industry—but that’s how it was.  Remember, Gore did not lose the election.  He allowed Bush to steal it ‘for the sake of the country’, and look what happened.

All at the same time, we got 9/11, and the Enron/Arthur Andersen scams, and there was no recovery. It got worse.  & even though many people joined the military, as they could not find other jobs, and we sent them out of the country so they wouldn’t compete for jobs—-we continued to lose jobs under Bush.  He continued to pal around with ‘his  people’ who he knew were screwing us in terms of our energy future…he has virtually disappeared and allowed Dick Cheney to keep jabbing at Obama…but the fundamentals will not improve.

We knew that our land values were being bid up by speculators, and now, in most  urban areas…average people can’t afford to live.  Maybe Obama really will be able to address alternative forms of energy, but  it will be years before the infrastructure is in place.  Health Care?  It’s being voted on  now.  Amazing that the media lets the Republicans get away with  talking about how it will increase the deficit—but it’s ok to  increase the deficit by war–& the BILLIONS we give out in foreign aid that helps only elites.

As mor and more of us become less secure, and demoralized and angry, with nothing left to lose, there will be more violence and crime.  It’s obvious the police will just pick up someone and frame them for the bad YOU may do—especially if the police have evidence you are white.

Yeah, we may  have some economic stability for a few years, but it won’t last. It never does.  It won’t because some overly optimistic young people will choose to have more kids than they can provide for—so all of us childless people will have to pay a greater percentage of any income we have to support them—with schools and health care–maybe even food & shelter.

In many places in the world, you are not allowed to own the land in urban areas.  You get a 99 year lease. This keeps land values from affecting inflation.  Does it work?  I haven’t done any research on it.  I just know that the inflation  developing countries have is based mostly on their access to credit and energy costs.

After I got out of Peace Corps, I took a job with Women’s Self-Employment Project in Chicago.  We  lent money to very low income women to help them start microbusinesses. 20 years later, the track record is mixed, but one day, another  employee and I went to a  clothing recycling warehouse, bought a bunch of vintage clothing, and sold it.  It took about 4 hours.  I asked her what  she thought after we did it.  She told me we had made about $8  an hour.  “So what does that tell you?” I asked her.  She said—and I will always remember this, “We have to get smarter, faster.”

You can’t trust anything posted on the internet

November 3, 2009

I think I’ve mentioned a few times that the backyard dog pet breeders & animal brokers in the metro Chicago area hate me. HATE ME.  Since the advent of Craigslist, where you can post anything for free (except jobs), they’ve been able to sell what they breed without paying for advertising. Kijiji is free, too, but they post where ‘the light is better’.  More people check out CL.

People don’t do research anymore. They search the internet and just assume if it’s on the internet—like this blog—it’s true. So, saying this, you will wonder…but have you ever checked review for a service , on-line?  Like Yelp!  You register your persona and  and can post whatever you want…whether it’s true or not.  You are published.

Suppose you wanted to see how a business was reviewed, and all you read was  bad reviews. Say the business was …a dog groomer….& all the posts say the groomer was drunk, rude, injured your dog, KILLED YOUR DOG.  Would you call that dog groomer for an appointment?  I sure wouldn’t.  I’d wonder how that groomer stayed in business, but I would not call them.

Well, that business is/was my business.  Robyn’s Groom Room.  I had a posting on Petfinder.com, and all the  backyard breeders who  know I advise people to NOT buy puppies posted on Craigslist—because not only is posting animals for sale against the rules, they will be ripped off by unethical people—those people started posting these  false, negative, libelous reviews on my  Petfinder.com  site.  How did they find the link? A scumbag backyard breeder posted it on Craigslist and encouraged people to  post truthful reviews.  I don’t know these people.  I doubt they have dogs needing grooming.

You would think Petfinder.com would notice that all the  negative reviews were posted within days.  I have asked them to take the site down. It does me no good at all, and they don’t screen the reviews—but  Petfinder.com is owned by Discovery Channel, and I had to call their ethics hotline (after emailing them 3 times) to leave my complaint.

So—the unethical non- dog- loving backyard breeders & brokers win on this one. They were also able to  hack into a gmail account.  It’s very easy to do, actually.  Nobody checks to make sure  you are who you say you are when you ask for a password reset).

I fear, really, the commercial breeders are so slick & ruthless that in about 5 years or so, it will be impossible to  afford a well bred pet dog bred by hobby breeders.

In the mean time, I encourage anyone looking for a groomer to ask for references.  And—if they see a cute dog on the street with his owner—-stop the owner and ask them who groomed their dog.