Friday, March 26, 2010

Signpost 1 -- Restrictions on Taking Money out of the U.S. and on Foreign Bank Accounts

Last week I introduced the topic for my next several blog posts -- 14 Signposts to Slavery, or signs that any given society might be slipping towards tyranny.

Where does the United States stand with these 14 issues?

In this post, I will examine Signpost 1.  I am not an expert on financial and travel law, but I am a concerned citizen doing my best to gain a more complete understanding of the landscape of liberty vs. tyranny in our nation.  I welcome comments from anyone reading this who has expertise in this area.

Signpost 1 -- Restrictions on taking money out of the country and on the establishment or retention of a foreign bank account by an American citizen. 
Part A of Signpost 1 -- Restrictions on taking money out of the country.

What I Found -- Though I wasn't able to find any specific law (not even on the custom's website), I found several references online to a $10,000 limit on the amount of money one can take with them without having to declare it to customs.  Apparently this restriction was imposed by Nixon in the early 1970's.  I was unable to find a reference to what the punishment is for infringing upon this rule.

Part B of Signpost 1 -- Restrictions on the establishment or retention of a foreign bank account by an American citizen.

Fact -- 
  • Here is what Wikipedia says about the U.S. PATRIOT Act restricting foreign bank account holdings (done in the name of preventing money laundering -- emphasis added) -- 
"Restrictions were placed on accounts and foreign banks. It prohibited shell banks that are not an affiliate of a bank that has a physical presence in the U.S. or that are not subject to supervision by a banking authority in a non-U.S. country. It also prohibits or restricts the use of certain accounts held at financial institutions.[70] Financial institutions must now undertake steps to identify the owners of any privately owned bank outside the U.S. who have a correspondent account with them, along with the interests of each of the owners in the bank. It is expected that additional scrutiny will be applied by the U.S. institution to such banks to make sure they are not engaging in money laundering. Banks must identify all the nominal and beneficial owners of any private bank account opened and maintained in the U.S. by non-U.S. citizens. There is also an expectation that they must undertake enhanced scrutiny of the account if it is owned by, or is being maintained on behalf of, any senior political figure where there is reasonable suspicion of corruption.[71] Any deposits made from within the U.S. into foreign banks are now deemed to have been deposited into any interbank account the foreign bank may have in the U.S. Thus any restraining order, seizure warrant or arrest warrant may be made against the funds in the interbank account held at a U.S. financial institution, up to the amount deposited in the account at the foreign bank.[72] Restrictions were placed on the use of internal bank concentration accounts because such accounts do not provide an effective audit trail for transactions, and this may be used to facilitate money laundering. Financial institutions are prohibited from allowing clients to specifically direct them to move funds into, out of, or through a concentration account, and they are also prohibited from informing their clients about the existence of such accounts. Financial institutions are not allowed to provide any information to clients that may identify such internal accounts.[73] Financial institutions are required to document and follow methods of identifying where the funds are for each customer in a concentration account that co-mingles funds belonging to one or more customers." 

Here is a link to the IRS website regarding foreign bank accounts --,,id=148849,00.html 

In other words, the U.S. government must be privy to all financial transactions of U.S. citizens via foreign banks, as well as be aware if anyone is taking over $10,000 in cash out of the country.

The restrictions imposed on financial transactions abroad may seem reasonable in light of threats of terrorism, and drug and arms trafficking.  But remember the saying -- The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Lastly, I would have a lot easier time swallowing these restrictions and the requirement of transparency in American citizens' finances if the government (and Federal Reserve) were required to be equally transparent in their expenditures and investments.

Signpost 1 -- CHECK

1 Signpost down, 13 more to go . . .

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fourteen Signposts to Slavery -- An Introduction

Today is a sunny, but chilly day here in Salt Lake City.  It's already mid-March, and my poor Floridian self is dying to go to the beach -- ANY beach!  I want to soak in that relaxed and peaceful vibe that comes with the sound of ocean waves and seagulls, and the feeling of the sun and sand on my skin!

For now, I'll have to settle for a Northern Utah Spring (which feels a lot like winter in Florida).

I went for a walk in my neighborhood the other day (it was in the 60's!), and I must admit I love a lot about where I live.  I enjoy seeing people at the park with their dogs, 20-something guys with their stunt bikes, and cute little kids stoked that they get to walk around outside without their coats on for the first time in forever!

Life goes on day by day and there is much to appreciate.  I am always glad when I stop to enjoy the little things.

Sometimes I realize that some of the "little" things I enjoy really aren't that small.  What a complete privilege it is to live in a time and a place where personal liberties are enjoyed to an extent unheard of by so very many!  If I wanted to get in my car and drive to California this weekend just to get a taste of the beach, I would be completely free to do so.  If I want to study a particular subject, no-one will stop me.  If I want to pursue a certain path, my biggest obstacle is only myself.

Living like we do in our society with all of our freedoms, it can be easy to forget how very precious they really are.

Like some of you, I have studied history and read horrifying accounts of nations and societies where freedoms are trampled and the people suffer atrocities.  In particular, I spent four years pursuing two Master's Degrees in Russian Language & Literature and Russian & East European Studies (for some reason, one Master's Degree wasn't enough for me).  I received a fairly in-depth education on Russian and Soviet history and literature during my studies.  Honestly, it was pretty traumatizing at times. 

I remember reading Kolyma Stories by Varlaam Shalamov -- a collection of semi-autobiographical short stories about life in the Soviet Gulag.  Outrageous, heart-rending, and horribly depressing.  Just read one of them and you'll be messed up for the rest of the day.

I read Journey Into the Whirlwind by Evgenia Ginzburg --  an autobiographical account of an 18-year stint in the Gulag and some of the events leading up to it.  A rank-and-file, card-carrying Communist Party member, Ms. Ginzburg had the misfortune of getting sledgehammered by Stalin's cannibalistic Purges in the 1930's in which well over a million loyal Communists were arrested in the night and accused of being enemies of the USSR.

Innumerable individuals*** were shot, imprisoned, and interred in slave labor camps in Siberia where their hair would freeze to the barrack walls in the winter nights and come out in clumps the next morning, where inmates would practically be eaten alive in the summer months by mosquitoes while building a railroad to nowhere in the Siberian steppe, and where hunger, abuse, and tortured death was a common, daily ocurrance. 

I lived in Russia in the late 90's, and saw first-hand the beauty and resilience of a people who can live through just about anything and know it.  I also observed the collective unhealed trauma of a nation determined to move forward, but dogged by unresolved pain from the past.

I gained so very much by my study of Russia, it's people, and it's history.  I came away with a greater appreciation for those who labor for freedom, sometimes at great cost to themselves and their families.

Last Spring I read an eye-opening book called None Dare Call It Conspiracy by Gary Allen, and was particularly impressed with a short section on the fourteen signposts to totalitarianism by a historian Dr. Warren Carroll and a refugee from Yugoslavian Communism, Mike Djordjevich.

Carroll and Djordjevich compiled this list sometime in the 1950's or 60's, and warned that the implementation of any of these fourteen policies is a step in the direction of totalitarianism, and "once a significant number of them -- perhaps five --  had been imposed, we can rationally conclude that the remainder would not be far behind . . ."

Where do we stand right at this moment in our nation, while so many assure us that everything is fine while others warn of impending gloom and doom?

I decided that over the next while, I will address each of these fourteen red flags to take a good, objective look. Here are the red flags themselves --

Fourteen Signposts to Slavery

This is a pretty big undertaking for me, requiring hours of research for each point.  I would like to ask any of my readers who have studied some of these issues to comment on this article or email me with resources and leads. I would like for this to be a collaborative effort at understanding the true state of our nation.

I am looking forward to it . . . 

***"According to the declassified Soviet archives, during 1937 and 1938, the NKVD detained 1,548,367 victims, of whom 681,692 were shot - an average of 1,000 executions a day (in comparison, from 1825 to 1910 the Tsarists executed 3.932 persons for political crimes).[55] Historian Michael Ellman claims the best estimate of deaths brought about by Soviet repression during these two years is the range 950,000 to 1.2 million, which includes deaths in detention and those who died shortly after being released from the Gulag as a result of their treatment in it. He also states that this is the estimate which should be used by historians and teachers of Russian history.[56]

According to Memorial society,[44] on the cases investigated by the State Security Department of NKVD (GUGB NKVD):
  • At least 1,710,000 people were arrested
  • At least 1,440,000 people were sentenced
  • At least 724,000 were executed. Among them:

    • At least 436,000 people were sentenced to death by NKVD troikas as part of the Kulak operation (see also figure of 376,202[37])
    • At least 247,000 people were sentenced to death by NKVD Dvoikas' and the Local Special Troykas as part of the Ethnic Operation
    • At least 41,000 people were sentenced to death by Military Courts
  • Among other cases in October 1936-November 1938:

    • At least 400,000 were sentenced to labor camps by Police Troikas as Socially Harmful Elements (социально-вредный элемент, СВЭ)
    • At least 200,000 were exiled or deported by Administrative procedures
    • At least 2 million were sentenced by courts for common crimes, among them 800,000 were sentenced to Gulag camps.
Some experts believe the evidence released from the Soviet archives is understated, incomplete or unreliable.[55][57][58][59] For example, Robert Conquest suggests that the probable figure for executions during the years of the Great Purge is not 681,692, but some two and a half times as high. He believes that the KGB was covering its tracks by falsifying the dates and causes of death of rehabilitated victims.[60]"
 -- Wikipedia "Great Purge" --

Saturday, March 13, 2010

On Nutritional Supplements, FDA Regulation, and Pharmaceuticals' Free Pass

In February Senator John McCain sponsored a bill to regulate nutritional supplements and the companies who manufacture them (The Dietary Supplement Safety Act of 2010, S3002), purporting that greater FDA oversight of the manufacture of supplements was necessary in order to prevent the injury and death of American citizens.  In particular, McCain is on the record stating that his goal with this bill was to protect athletes from tainted supplements, especially those laced with anabolic steroids. 

This bill is now dead in the water as McCain withdrew his support when Senator Orrin Hatch expressed his concern that the bill would negatively impact the nutritional supplement industry. 

Even though this bill now won’t be pushed through the legislative process, it appears that we can expect a continuing dialogue over nutritional supplement safety and regulation among members of Congress. 

Along with millions of other Americans, I am relieved that the McCain bill is no longer a threat but am concerned about future developments in this arena.  The thought of the FDA having any more oversight than it already does over natural products makes my stomach turn for a number of reasons.

Here are a couple --

First, there is a track record of overreaction to the dangers of nutritional supplements (supposed or real) in the media and among policy-makers. 

Let’s take the example of ephedra.  Ephedra is an herbal stimulant and thermogenic agent (increases body temperature) that people used for weight loss, sometimes with or without caffeine, and it was banned in 2004 because of a number of reported side effects, including hypertension, irritability, nervousness, hyperthermia, heart palpitations, seizures, and even a handful of deaths (1).

I am not defending ephedra as a supplement that is safe for all people under every condition, and I definitely believe it’s possible that it has caused problems for some people, fatalities including.  After all, if an herb or nutritional supplement has any sort of biological impact on the body at all, there are bound to be people who will have a negative reaction to it!

But let’s look at the media frenzy that surrounded the deaths of 3 athletes in the last decade, purportedly due to their use of ephedra. 

In 2001, Korey Stringer participated in a Minnesota Vikings training camp and died of heat stroke.  Even though his autopsy showed no traces of ephedra in his system at the time of death, the herb was widely blamed for killing the young athlete (2).

Professional baseball player Steve Bechler died on the field due to heat stroke in 2003.  Ephedra was blamed for causing his death, and indeed the toxicology report showed ephedra derivatives in his blood.  He also had a history of heat stroke, was overweight, was on some sort of liquid diet, and was at a practice in South Florida with brutal heat and humidity, which he was unaccustomed to, when he collapsed on the field and tragically passed away (3). 

The third high-profile death blamed on ephedra was that of college football player Rashidi Wheeler, who in 2001 collapsed during training exercises designed to push the athletes to the edge and died of exercise-induced bronchial asthma, which he had had problems with in the past.  Even though the coroner found ephedra in his system, it was deemed not to be a causative factor in his death (4).

The death of anyone, particularly someone as young as each of these three men were, truly is a tragedy.  I don’t have enough information to judge if ephedra caused any of their deaths, though ephedra’s role in killing two of them appears dubious.  Either way, the both the media and the FDA jumped on the anti-ephedra bandwagon and today it is considered an illegal substance.

A handful of possible death implications and a few thousand complaints of negative reactions -- that is reason for concern, to be sure!  Which is why the media and FDA's handling of a group of substances that kill between 100,000-200,000 people each year in our nation, and cause complications for far more, is puzzling.

Why is ephedra demonized and banned and herbs/nutritional supplements viewed as such a threat while young (and old) people all around us on prescription or over-the-counter drugs seem to be dropping like flies?  All the while, the very agencies and organizations crying foul on supplements are silent by comparison on the pharmaceutical issue!

Why have pharmaceuticals, including many of the pain killers, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety meds found in the bloodstream of young, dead actors (and many others who were less famous), been given a free pass?

The Emperor is naked, and few seem to care . . .

28-year-old Heath Ledger was found dead in his apartment in January 2008, and his death was found to have been caused by “an accidental overdose of prescription medications including painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills . . . ‘Mr. Heath Ledger died as the result of acute intoxication by the combined effects of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam, and doxylamine,’" (5)

Another young actor, Brittany Murphy, shocked the Hollywood scene when she suffered cardiac arrest and  passed away in her home in December 2009.  Her toxicology report states the following:  “Multiple medications were present in the blood, with elevated levels of hydrocodone, acetaminophen [Tylenol], and chlorpheniramine. L-methamphetamine was also present.  It should be noted that the pattern of use of these medications suggest treatment of symptoms of a cold or other respiratory infection. Acetaminophen and hydrocodone are components of Vicodin. Chlorpheniramine is the active ingredient in some over-the-counter medications. L-methamphetamine is a component of some inhalers.” (6)

Most recently, of course, is the tragic death of 80’s teen actor Corey Haim at age 38.  Haim collapsed and passed away at his mother’s home just a few days ago.  While no toxicology report will be available for a few weeks, bottles of prescription drugs (and no illegal drugs) were found in his home, making it at least possible that he just became the next high-profile death by prescription medication.(7)

When compared with the public cry against ephedra and any other herbal or nutritional supplement accused of injuring people, I have to wonder -- where is the outrage against these pharmaceuticals??  These few examples of famous people dying in their homes on legal drugs are just the high-profile, proverbial tip of an enormous iceburg.

When taking pharmaceutical drugs as prescribed is attributed to at least 106,000 death per year in America alone (and possibly as many as 200,000) (8) and the total number of deaths attributed to nutritional supplements since 1989 is 230 (9), why would anyone in their right mind want to waste our government’s time and resources on regulating nutritional supplements when the pharmaceutical industry is clearly in much, much worse shape?

Let me repeat -- there are a minimum of 106,000 deaths per year in America due to prescription drugs, and there have been 230 deaths due to nutritional supplements since 1989.  1989 was 21 years ago (we won't count 2010 in these figures since the year just began).  That means in the past 20 years there have been approximately 2.1 million deaths because of prescription drugs, and only 230 because of nutritional supplements, or 9,217 times more deaths due to drugs.  But there is not 9,217 times more outrage.  Somehow, much of the public has allowed its outrage to be focused on the 230 deaths instead of the 2.1 million!

Clearly, something isn't right here.

Even supposing there truly is a need for oversight and regulation in the nutritional supplement industry, why would we hand such a job over to the FDA when they’ve done such a poor job regulating drugs, allowing 2.1 million Americans in the last 20 years to die because of them?

Lastly, I am absolutely in support of companies who manufacture drugs, supplements, vaccines, and even food additives being required to be up front about injuries that they have been purported or proved to have caused (such as aspartame, or NutraSweet, which has over 10,000 complaints against it – more than complaints of all other substances combined) (10).  That aside, I have to wonder where the government derives the authority to tell us which substances we can and cannot take into our bodies. 

What it comes down to for me is this -- Washington, please leave me alone and let me take my herbs and supplements that healed me of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in 2005, kidney stones in 2008, swine flu and a mumps-like illness in 2009, chronic problems with headaches and skin, too many cold and flu-like illnesses to name just in the few years alone.  I don't want to worry about limited access or increasing prices that would be sure to come with greater regulation.  

And in return, let those who desire substances that are associated with well over 100,000 deaths per year in America have their pills.

(As a side note -- I am not implying that all pharmaceuticals carry the same level of risk.  I am of the opinion that in some circumstances a drug may be the most appropriate solution.  Even when it is not the solution I would choose for myself, I support peoples' freedom to choose how to take care of their own health.  But as with anything you put in your mouth -- a food, a supplement, or a drug -- it is always a good idea to do your research first and use wisdom.)  

Final comment -- allow me to briefly share my own personal experience with anti-anxiety and sleep medications.  When I was ill with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/fibromyalgia, I didn't sleep deeply for an entire year.  My doctor prescribed small doses of 3 drugs that seemed to do the trick for me (clonazepam, Neurontin, and Elavil/doxepin elixir) .  The problem was, I kept needing more (a common problem).  If I forgot to take the drugs with me on a trip, I would lie in bed all night with my heart racing, aware of every passing minute.  After being on these drugs for a few years, I actually began reading about them.  I discovered that 2 of the drugs had created a lot of problems for people, were highly addictive (in fact there are clinics to help people try to get off of clonazepam and other benzodiazapenes), and if I ever wanted to have kids I would have to go off of them first.  When I got married in 2004 I decided it was time to get off the drugs.  I planned on taking 3-4 months to wean off of them.  What I experienced during these 3-4 months (the first few months of my marriage -- happy happy joy joy) was withdrawal symptoms including altered perception as if I was tripping on drugs, mood swings and crying spells, and a returned inability to sleep.  When the prescription for these medications was handed to me 5 years earlier, I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into!  And because they seemed to work, I just went with it.

Thankfully, after my months of drug trips and emotional roller-coasters in 2005, I began to seek out natural solutions and found a nutritional supplement that INSTANTLY took away the bad withdrawal symptoms, but I still wasn't able to get off all of the drugs.  Months later, I came across some therapeutic-quality essential oils that healed my severe insomnia (meaning, after a period of time, I stopped needing ANYTHING for sleep), and I haven't had any problems since.  So you can see why I'm such a huge proponent of seeking out natural solutions instead of blindly trusting a doctor, even if he/she is well-intentioned.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Political Correctness -- Musings of an Anglo-Germanic-American

***Warning -- You are leaving the Politically Correct Zone.  Proceed at your own risk!!!***

A prominent politician is branded a racist when it is discovered he once said that Barack Obama stood a chance of being elected president because he was “light-skinned” and didn’t use a “Negro dialect.” 

Another prominent political figure is up in arms when the White House Chief of Staff calls those who oppose Democratic policies “(expletive) retarded”, and demands that he retract his words so as not to offend the mentally-handicapped and those who care for them.

Obama is blasted by the major of Las Vegas for making the comment that during an economic crisis, it’s probably not a good idea to run to Vegas and gamble away your college funds!


I’m not in to name-calling, foul language, labeling, racism, sexism, and a lot of other “isms”.  I think being kind to our fellow man, whether we agree with him or not, is pretty much the way to go.  But I find the epidemic of political correctness in our society absolutely maddening!

Can anybody say what they mean anymore without being labeled as a heartless scumbag who should immediately retract their words and issue a statement of apology, step down from any position of authority, or be taken to court?

I hate to compare everything that irritates me with the Soviet Union, but it’s a nasty habit I gained after engrossing myself in Soviet literature, history, and culture during my graduate studies, and seeing some of the same bizarre trends right here at home.

For those who aren’t familiar, the Soviet State was responsible for coining a prolific number of euphemisms to take the “edge” off of draconian policies and institutions. 

The system of forced labor camps in Siberia where starvation, privation, disease, squalor, and abuse of inmates was the norm and where millions of Soviet citizens rotted and perished was called the “Gulag”.  Translation – Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps.  Sounds a bit more innocuous than it really was, doesn’t it? 

(Kinda makes me think of the “Patriot” Act, Operation “Iraqi Freedom” recently re-worded  by Obama to Operation “New Dawn”, but let’s not digress . . .)

Those camps designed to house dangerous political dissidents (including Baptist choir masters and human rights advocates) were designated “Extraordinary Regime Camps”.

Extraordinary indeed were the measures used to control public thought and opinion of disgusting and even cruel practices and policies through strategic, euphemistic wording.

I believe the dangers of political correctness in our society are real.  Check out this incredibly informative video on the origins of political correctness (hint -- it originated with 20th century Marxist philosophers) -- 

In the USSR, calling things what they really were (or, how you perceived them to really be if your opinion differed from the state-sanctioned position) was risky business.  Authors, artists, scholars, and everyday people who challenged the politically correct Soviet position risked imprisonment and death.

Thankfully, in America we don’t necessarily see anti-Obama, anti-Bush, or guns rights activists routinely carted off to prison.  But in order to ensure this never, EVER takes place, let’s allow people to say what they mean – even if we find it offensive, even if we disagree!

I remember back in my grad school days at FSU, some friends of mine approached the door of a frat house right off campus and saw a sticker in the window saying “No Fat Chicks.” 

I wonder if that sticker is still up in the window, or if some plus-sized FSU co-ed sued the fraternity for psychological trauma . . .