Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wall Street Occupiers in for the Long Haul / Pepper-Spray Inquiries Launched

Occupy Wall Street Protesters Settle In, Despite Weather And Police Clashes
by Alexander Eichler
NEW YORK -- The members of Occupy Wall Street are not allowed to use megaphones, so they've adopted a low-tech workaround.

At their twice-daily general meetings in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan's financial district, whoever has an announcement to make speaks slowly and clearly, with a pause every few seconds, so that everyone within earshot of the speaker can repeat back what he or she just said -- amplifying it for the crowd of hundreds to hear.

That crowd, which in some ways resembles an indie-rock concert audience -- mostly young people, with a smattering of Baby Boomers, and a higher than average quotient of hair dye -- has been gathered here, steps from Wall Street, since September 17. They've been addressing a mishmash of concerns and causes -- from war to income inequality to corporate influence in politics -- that has left many onlookers bewildered.

The occupiers' speak-and-repeat technique is time-consuming, but their willingness to use it suggests a group not easily discouraged. Many of the protesters have been camped in this park for what is now nearly two weeks, sleeping on foam pads, cardboard boxes, and a ragtag collection of mattresses and furniture.

Despite lousy weather, media skepticism and clashes with the police -- including an ugly incident this past Saturday in which an officer pepper-sprayed several young women during a march -- the faithful seem to be in it for the long haul.

"Indefinitely," said Shon Botado, one of the protesters staffing the first aid station, a couple of tables spilling over with donated cold medicine, vitamins, tampons and other paraphernalia, when asked how long he was planning to be there. "Until change is made to the financial structure."
What that change might look like, no one can say for sure.

Whatever one might say about Occupy Wall Street, it's hard to accuse it of being a single-issue movement. The crowds of people in and around Zuccotti Park have as many different reasons for being there as you can name.

Some said they have come to register their dismay over the environment. Some are there to protest military occupations in other countries. At least a few were moved to attend after the September 21 execution of Troy Davis.

But economic concerns seem paramount for many. Several hand-lettered placards express outrage that banks and bankers weren't punished more severely in the wake of the financial crisis. And the protesters speak often of the national wealth gap -- the vast differences in income that separate the richest 1 percent of Americans from everybody else.

But the group is also devoting considerable energy simply to keeping itself going.

There are about 200 people sleeping in this one-block park every night, eating donated food and running into nearby restaurants to use the bathroom. An internal structure has emerged, one that seems to be getting more sophisticated every day.

At a megaphone-free meeting Wednesday afternoon, delegates from various committees stood and offered updates, assessments, encouragement and advice.

The Comfort committee, which handles bedding and clothing, needed donations. A woman from the Food committee said that her group was just fine on donations, but asked if anyone was willing to make their kitchen available.

"We have a lot of food that could be cooked and brought back here," she said. It was not an outlandish request: A number of New Yorkers have opened their apartments to the protesters, letting them shower and charge their electronics indoors.

Someone from Community Relations reported that local Financial District residents had voted down a resolution against the protesters at a community board meeting -- a welcome signal of support. But, the speaker added, some locals were still concerned about noise at night, so members of Occupy Wall Street were going to sit down and meet with them.

One young woman weighed in with a grim weather report: The forecast called for rain, followed by plummeting temperatures on Friday. "We are going to have to pick some useful strategies to deal with this weather that we know is coming," she said.

Someone stood up to announce a group meditation session happening later that afternoon. Someone tried to lead the group in a song, which was tabled for after the meeting. Someone else declared that his ukulele had gone missing.

It wasn't exactly a Parliamentary session -- and with everything first being said, then repeated en masse, it took twice as long as it otherwise might have -- but most of those present seemed committed to the process.

With the group's priorities so diverse, it's unclear how long the Occupy Wall Street movement will actually stick around. The group has yet to formalize a list of demands or conditions under which it might disperse.

Yet the protesters seem to be thinking in terms of months, not days. Botado, who has been in Zuccotti Park since the movement launched on September 17, said that the group is open to the idea of spending the winter there.

And while the protesters' run-ins with law enforcement seem like they might deter curious outsiders -- in addition to the pepper-spraying incident, at least 80 members of Occupy Wall Street have been arrested in the past two weeks, and several people have been injured by police batons -- many of the people present on Wednesday said they didn't get involved until after these confrontations.

While this is going on, the cause is gaining momentum outside New York. Similar protests have been held or are being planned in dozens of other cities.

The lack of clear direction may eventually prove a stumbling block to the occupiers, but the mood in lower Manhattan this week was one of cheerful energy. A sign -- one of perhaps 100 strewn about the square, or being waved to and fro by demonstrators -- read, "DEMOCRACY MAY BE HARD BUT AT LEAST WE ARE DOING IT."

"What's change?" said Rob, a protester who said he has worked in minimum wage jobs all his life, and asked not to be identified by his full name. "What isn't change? We're here. That's change.""We're here for the long haul," said Patrick Bruner, a protester and student at Skidmore College in upstate New York, who is among those camped out in a private park near One World Trade Center.


Occupy Wall Street: Inquiries Launched as New Pepper-Spray Video Emerges
NYPD officer Anthony Bologna faces two investigations as video emerges of a second pepper-spray incident

The senior New York police officer at the centre of the Occupy Wall Street pepper spray controversy fired the gas at protesters a second time just moments later.

After new video emerged on Wednesday showing the second incident, New York police commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters that the Civilian Complaint Review Board would investigate the officer, deputy inspector Anthony Bologna.

The New York Police Department's own internal affairs bureau also plans to open an investigation, the New York Times reports.

The investigations were announced after bloggers and activists drew attention to video posted online which showed that Bologna fired pepper spray on two occasions last Saturday as officers broke up a protest march through Greenwich Village.

The first footage shows him targeting a group of female protesters who were being penned in by officers on East 12th Street. The latest video shows another incident on the same street, shortly after the first, when he fired more pepper spray towards at least one of the same women, after they were recovering from the first incident.

On both occasions, the officer appears to have violated New York Police Department guidance on how the gas should be used.

In response to the Guardian's appeal to readers to help us reconstruct Saturday's events on East 12th Street, one protester wrote to say that she was sprayed with gas by the officer both times.

The protester, Ashley Drzymala, also sent us a link to this raw footage, which shows - at about the 3:56 mark - the officer spraying protesters as they retreated from the area of West 12th Street where he had used the gas on another group about a minute earlier.

Drzymala, 21, a student at a state university outside New York, told the Guardian that she had also been sprayed in the first incident.
We saw police throw a guy who had a video camera into a car. I remembered a police officer pushed the kid and he was trying to get away he was just videotaping, he was not inciting anything. I was saying "What are you doing? Stop it, we're peaceful" I kept saying "what are you doing" They shoved him into a car, they just attacked him, it was uncalled for." Then the girl next to me was pulled through the net by police. She had a black-t-short and black curly hair. Then she was dragged across the ground.
Drzymala, who was also shooting video, said she captured an image the woman in the black t-shirt before the attack, when she was calling police fascists and she was uninjured, and afterwards, when they were trying to leave the pavement, her mouth was bloody.

"I was watching her and then I looked up and I saw the police officer, the one in the white shirt coming up with his hand up and he had a vial in his hand."

Her own video shows the first use of pepper spray quite clearly, although her camera was pointing away from inspector Bologna when he sprayed her the second time.

Drzymala added that since she was in Cairo as an exchange student in January and took part in the Tahrir Square protests, she managed to escape the worst of the pepper spray. Being teargassed in Egypt had taught her to turn her head away, she said.

Asked about the first, more highly-publicized use of pepper spray by Bologna, the NYPD commissioner said on Wednesday, "I don't know what precipitated that specific incident."

Chelsea Elliott, who was among the first group to be sprayed, drew our attention to this raw footage, which shows more of what the women were doing moments before the gas was fired at them - arguing with police officers.

The section of the NYPD patrol guide that outlines how pepper spray should, and should not, be used, was posted online in a 2000 report on the matter by the Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency that examines allegations of police misconduct.
According to the guidance, officers are permitted to use pepper spray when "necessary to effect an arrest of a resisting suspect, for self-defense or defense of another from unlawful force, or to take a resisting emotionally disturbed person into custody." The patrol guide also specifies that officers should "not use pepper spray on subjects who passively resist."

Officers with special training, however, do have latitude "in the use of pepper spray for disorder control."

Donna Lieberman, director of New York Civil Liberties Union, said: "There's no excuse for using pepper spray in the faces of peaceful demonstrators whether or not they are engaging in minor disorderly conduct. The use of pepper spray appears to be gratuitous and in violation of police department rules. What the video demonstrates how harmful it is for the police to engage in excessive force against protesters because it causes fear and how harmful it is for the police department itself."

The NYPD were forced to change some of their policing practices during demonstrations, specifically their use of pens, after a lawsuit brought by NYCLU which accused them of excessive restrictions in movements of protesters during the February 2003 anti-war protests in New York.

According to recent statistics, 1722 people complained of being wrongfully pepper-sprayed by New York police officers between 2006 and 2010. Of that number, the civilian review board substantiated just 22 complaints.

What's Behind the Scorn for the Wall Street Protests?

It's unsurprising that establishment media outlets have been condescending, dismissive and scornful of the ongoing protests on Wall Street.  Any entity that declares itself an adversary of prevailing institutional power is going to be viewed with hostility by establishment-serving institutions and their loyalists.  That's just the nature of protests that take place outside approved channels, an inevitable by-product of disruptive dissent: those who are most vested in safeguarding and legitimizing establishment prerogatives (which, by definition, includes establishment media outlets) are going to be hostile to those challenges.  As the virtually universal disdain in these same circles for WikiLeaks (and, before that, for the Iraq War protests) demonstrated: the more effectively adversarial it is, the more establishment hostility it's going to provoke. (

Nor is it surprising that much of the most vocal criticisms of the Wall Street protests has come from some self-identified progressives, who one might think would be instinctively sympathetic to the substantive message of the protesters.  In an excellent analysis entitled "Why Establishment Media & the Power Elite Loathe Occupy Wall Street," Kevin Gosztola chronicles how much of the most scornful criticisms have come from Democratic partisans who -- like the politicians to whom they devote their fealty -- feign populist opposition to Wall Street for political gain.

Some of this anti-protest posturing is just the all-too-familiar New-Republic-ish eagerness to prove one's own Seriousness by castigating anyone to the left of, say, Dianne Feinstein or John Kerry; for such individuals, multi-term, pro-Iraq-War Democratic Senator-plutocrats define the outermost left-wing limit of respectability.  Also at play is the jingoistic notion that street protests are valid in Those Bad Contries but not in free, democratic America.

A siginificant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal.  Indeed, the loyalists of both parties have an interest in marginalizing anything that might serve as a vehicle for activism outside of fealty to one of the two parties (Fox News' firing of Glenn Beck was almost certainly motivated by his frequent deviation from the GOP party-line orthodoxy which Fox exists to foster).

The very idea that the one can effectively battle Wall Street's corruption and control by working for the Democratic Party is absurd on its face: Wall Street's favorite candidate in 2008 was Barack Obama, whose administration -- led by a Wall Street White House Chief of Staff and Wall-Street-subservient Treasury Secretary and filled to the brim with Goldman Sachs officials -- is now working hard to protect bankers from meaningful accountability (and though he's behind Wall Street's own Mitt Romney in the Wall Street cash sweepstakes this year, Obama is still doing well); one of Wall Street's most faithful servants is Chuck Schumer, the money man of the Democratic Party; and the second-ranking Senate Democrat acknowledged -- when Democrats controlled the Congress -- that the owners of Congress are bankers.  There are individuals who impressively rail against the crony capitalism and corporatism that sustains Wall Street's power, but they're no match for the party apparatus that remains fully owned and controlled by it.

But much of this progressive criticism consists of relatively (ostensibly) well-intentioned tactical and organizational critiques of the protests: there wasn't a clear unified message; it lacked a coherent media strategy; the neo-hippie participants were too off-putting to Middle America; the resulting police brutality overwhelmed the message, etc. etc.  That's the high-minded form which most progressive scorn for the protests took: it's just not professionally organized or effective.

Some of these critiques are ludicrous.  Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power -- in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions -- is destroying financial security for everyone else?  Beyond that, criticizing protesters for the prominence of police brutality stories is pure victim-blaming (and, independently, having police brutality highlighted is its own benefit).

Most importantly, very few protest movements enjoy perfect clarity about tactics or command widespread support when they begin; they're designed to spark conversation, raise awareness, attract others to the cause, and build those structural planks as they grow and develop.  Dismissing these incipient protests because they lack fully developed, sophisticated professionalization is akin to pronouncing a three-year-old child worthless because he can't read Schopenhauer: those who are actually interested in helping it develop will work toward improving those deficiencies, not harp on them in order to belittle its worth.

That said, some of these organizational/tactical critiques are valid enough as far as they go; the protests could probably be more effective with some more imaginative, concerted and savvy organizational strategies. The problem is these criticisms don't go very far -- at all.
* * * * *
There's a vast and growing apparatus of intimidation designed to deter and control citizen protests.  The most that's allowed is to assemble with the permission of state authorities and remain roped off in sequestered, out-of-the-way areas: the Orwellian-named free speech zones.  Anything that is even remotely disruptive or threatening is going to be met with aggressive force: pepper spray, mass arrests by highly militarized urban police forces, and aggressive prosecutions.  Recall the wild excesses of force in connection with the 2008 RNC Convention in Minneapolis (I reported on those firsthand); the overzealous prosecutions of civil disobedience activists like Aaron Swartz, environmentalist Tim DeChristopher, and Dan Choi; the war being waged on whistleblowers for the crime of exposing high-level wrongdoing; or the treatment of these Wall Street protesters.

Financial elites and their political servants are well aware that exploding wealth inequality, pervasive economic anxiety, and increasing hostility toward institutions of authority (and corresponding realization that voting fixes very little of this) are likely to bring London-style unrest -- and worse -- to American soil; it was just two weeks ago that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that the unemployment crisis could trigger "riots."  Even the complacent American citizenry -- well-trained in learned impotence and acquiescence to (even reverence for) those most responsible for their plight -- is going to reach a tipping point of unrest.  There are numerous weapons of surveillance and coercion that have been developed over the last decade in anticipation of that unrest: most of it justified in the name of Terrorism, but all of it featuring decidedly dual-use domestic capability (illustrating what I mean is this chart showing how extensively the Patriot Act has been used in non-Terrorist cases, and how rarely it has been used for Terrorism).

In sum, there is a sprawling apparatus of federal and local militarized police forces and private corporate security designed to send this message: if you participate in protests or other forms of dissent outside of harmless approved channels, you're going to be harmed in numerous ways.  As Yves Smith put it this week:
I’m beginning to wonder whether the right to assemble is effectively dead in the US. No one who is a wage slave (which is the overwhelming majority of the population) can afford to have an arrest record, even a misdemeanor, in this age of short job tenures and rising use of background checks.
This is all designed to deter any meaningful challenges to the government and corporate institutions which are suffocating them, to bully those who consider such challenges into accepting its futility.  And it works.  In an excellent essay on the Wall Street protests, Dennis Perrin writes:

The dissident children were easily, roughly swept aside. Their hearts are in a good place. Their bodies a minor nuisance. They'll stream back to prove their resolve. And they'll get pepper sprayed and beaten down again. And again.
I admire these kids. They're off their asses. Agitating. Arguing. Providing a living example. There's passion and feeling in their dissent. They're willing to be punished. It's easy to mock them, but how many of you would take their place? . . . .
Yet I have doubts. The class war from above demoralizes as much as it incites. Countless people have surrendered. Faded from view. To demonstrate or occupy corporate turf doesn't seem like a wise option. You'll get beaten and arrested. For what? Making mortgage payments is tough enough.
Given the costs and risks one incurs from participating in protests like this -- to say nothing of the widespread mockery one receives --  it's natural that most of the participants will be young and not yet desperate to cling to institutional stability.  It's also natural that this cohort won't be well-versed (or even interested) in the high arts of media messaging and leadership structures.  Democratic Party precinct captains, MBA students in management theory and corporate communications, and campaign media strategists aren't the ones who will fuel protests like this; it takes a mindset of passionate dissent and a willingness to remove oneself from the safe confines of institutional respectability.

So, yes, the people willing to engage in protests like these at the start may lack (or reject the need for) media strategies, organizational hierarchies, and messaging theories.  But they're among the very few people trying to channel widespread anger into activism rather than resignation, and thus deserve support and encouragement -- and help -- from anyone claiming to be sympathetic to their underlying message.  As Perrin put it:

This part of Michigan [where I live] was once militant. From organized labor to student agitation. Now there's nothing. Shop after shop goes under. Strip malls abandoned. Legalized loan shark parlors spread. Dollar stores hang on. Parking lots riots of weeds. Roads in serious disrepair. Those with jobs feel lucky to be employed. Everyone else is on their own. A general resignation prevails. Life limps by.
Personally, I think there's substantial value even in those protests that lack "exit goals" and "messaging strategies" and the rest of the platitudes from Power Point presentations by mid-level functionaries at corporate conferences.  Some injustices simply need anger and dissent expressed for its own sake, to make clear that there are citizens who are aware of it and do not accept it.

In Vancouver yesterday, Dick Cheney was met by angry protests chanting "war criminal" at him while he tried to hawk his book, which prompted arrests and an ugly-for-Canada police battle that then became part of the story of his visit.  Is that likely to result in Cheney's arrest or sway huge numbers of people to change how they think?  No.  But it's vastly preferable to allowing him to traipse around the world as though he's a respectable figure unaccompanied by anger over his crimes -- anger necessarily expressed outside of the institutions that have failed to check or punish (but rather have shielded and legitimized) those crimes.  And the same is true of Wall Street's rampant criminality.

But for those who believe that protests are only worthwhile if they translate into quantifiable impact: the lack of organizational sophistication or messaging efficacy on the part of the Wall Street protest is a reason to support it and get involved in it, not turn one's nose up at it and join in the media demonization.  That's what one actually sympathetic to its messaging (rather than pretending to be in order more effectively to discredit it) would do.  Anyone who looks at mostly young citizens marching in the street protesting the corruption of Wall Street and the harm it spawns, and decides that what is warranted is mockery and scorn rather than support, is either not seeing things clearly or is motivated by objectives other than the ones being presented.

The Men We Trusted to Lead Us

Now he tells us. On Wednesday Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke referred to the nation’s unemployment rate as a “national crisis,” an obvious if depressing fact of life to the 25 million Americans who have been unsuccessfully attempting to find full-time employment. 

But to finally hear those words from the man George W. Bush and Barack Obama both appointed to lead us out of the great recession is a bracing reminder of how markedly the policies of both those presidents have failed: “We’ve had close to 10 percent unemployment now for a number of years, and of the people who are unemployed, about 45 percent have been unemployed for six months or more,” Bernanke said. “This is unheard of.”

But why is Bernanke just now discovering this after having overseen the Fed’s purchase of trillions in toxic mortgage-backed securities from the too-big-to-fail banks that sacrificed people’s homes in a giant Ponzi scheme? Why did he throw all of that money at the banks without getting anything back in the way of relief for the people the bankers swindled?

The housing meltdown, which has robbed Americans of a considerable portion of their net worth, has led to the continued depressed consumer confidence that is the prime cause of crisis-level unemployment. In another of his too-late-to-matter moments, Bernanke acknowledged that “strong housing policies to help the market recover” would “clearly be very useful,” but he failed to suggest any.

Bernanke, along with then-New York Fed President Timothy Geithner, helped implement the Bush strategy of saving the banks in the hope that their rising tide would lift our little boats. That remained the strategy when President Obama rewarded Geithner for having saved AIG and Citigroup by naming him treasury secretary in the incoming government.

With the Geithner appointment, and the even more disturbing selection of Lawrence Summers to be his top economic adviser, Obama sealed his own fate as president.
By turning to those disciples of Clinton-era Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, a prime enabler of Wall Street greed, the new president fatally betrayed his promise of hope.

If you still need confirmation of just how decisive a betrayal those appointments were, check out Ron Suskind’s new book, Confidence Men, a devastating insider account of the Obama White House that clearly identifies as the source of this president’s failure “Rubin’s B-Team,” Summers and Geithner, “two men whose actions had contributed to the very financial disaster they were hired to solve.” Suskind quotes then-Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., one of the few who dared stand up to the Wall Street lobbyists, as telling Obama, “I don’t understand how you could do this; you’ve picked the wrong people!”

Of course the Democrats from the Clinton era don’t bear all of the responsibility for the radical deregulation of the financial industry that ended the sensible restraints on greed installed by Franklin Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression. Indeed, the inspiration came from Republicans led by Phil Gramm, the then-senator from Texas who as head of the Banking Committee authored the legislation that Wall Street lobbyists had long pushed unsuccessfully.

The mayhem they wrought and the subsequent big-money rewards to Rubin and Gramm do not seem to have shocked this president or the leading contenders for the Republican presidential nomination. Rubin became chairman of Citigroup and was rewarded with $120 million while he guided the bank to the edge of bankruptcy. Gramm went to a leading position at the Swiss-based UBS, the continually troubled institution now in the midst of its latest scandal, involving fraudulent trading. In addition to a $45 billion direct TARP bailout, Citigroup got $99.5 billion, and Gramm’s UBS $77.2 billion from a $1.2 trillion secret Fed loan fund.

Gramm and Rubin were partners in what should be considered the crime of the century, speaking in moral and not legal terms since, as regards the financial world, the bad guys get to write the laws. Thanks to their efforts, which allowed the creation of the “too-big-to-fail banks” and a totally unregulated derivatives market in toxic home mortgage securities, we entered the Great Recession, but neither of its authors has ever been held seriously accountable for the enormous suffering he caused.

On the contrary, Gramm and Rubin’s “just free Wall Street to do its thing” ideology still dominates the economic policies of both major political parties. Rubin’s acolytes have controlled the Obama administration’s economic strategy of saving Wall Street by betraying Main Street, and Gramm, who recently endorsed his former student at Texas A&M, Rick Perry, for president, remains the free-market-mayhem guru for Republicans.

On Election Day, whoever wins, we lose.

Why Tax the Rich to Pay for More War?

Ordinarily, I think of myself as a card-carrying liberal. But lately, I'm getting the feeling that Liberal America had a meeting to decide on our current priorities and peace advocates weren't invited. I open my email and it's full of rallying cries about the urgency of taxing the rich. When was it decided that taxing the rich was the marquee demand of Liberal America at this juncture? Were peace advocates invited to this meeting? I see no evidence that we were.

In a different political juncture, I would be happy to march behind the banner of taxing the rich. But at this political juncture, when the war budget is half of federal discretionary spending, and when because of the Budget Control Act and the Supercommittee, we have a historic opportunity to cut the war budget - a much better prospect, at present, than our prospects for raising tax rates on rich people - I ain't marching for this dogwhistle anymore.

Suppose there were a massive government program to dump truckloads of dioxin in Lake Michigan. And suppose that - in addition to the direct effects of poisoning a major source of drinking water - this program were tremendously expensive in blood and treasure. Suppose that since October 7, 2001, more than five thousand American workers had been killed carrying out the Lake Michigan-poisoning project, with tens of thousands of American workers counted as wounded, and the real toll of wounded American workers many times higher. And suppose that the budgeted cost so far of the massive government program to dump poison in Lake Michigan were over a trillion dollars so far, with the real financial cost to society, when you count things like the future health costs of the poisoned American workers, much higher.

Would the marquee demand of Liberal America be to make Warren Buffett pay his fair share for the Lake Michigan-poisoning program? Or would the marquee demand of Liberal America be to stop dumping poison in Lake Michigan?

If we're going to use the money to kill, imprison, and otherwise oppress people in other countries who have done us no wrong, I would just as soon let Warren Buffett keep his money. Maybe he will donate some of it to a good cause. But even if he uses it to buy caviar, that would be better than continuing the war in Afghanistan, which is, on a routine basis, violating the basic human rights of the Afghan people, in addition to killing and maiming Americans for no good reason.

Item: in the November issue of the Atlantic, Matthieu Aikins makes a compelling case that the Pentagon is violating the Leahy Amendment by arming the forces of Afghan warlord Abdul Raziq, given that Raziq's forces have a history of gross human rights abuses as long as your arm. But this Pentagon activity has proceeded unmolested by the Leahy Law.
Why should we take money from Warren Buffett to pay for this? Shouldn't we just stop it?

Item: in a recent article in Truthout, Gareth Porter demolishes the claim that U.S. "night raids" in Afghanistan - that's when U.S. forces smash into people's homes in the middle of the night, shooting anyone who might appear to resist - are "precisely targeted," noting that a key target of the night raids is not insurgents, but civilians who might know insurgents, a blatant violation of the laws of war; and that moreover, people are targeted based not on their identity, but based on their phone records. So if somebody calls someone linked by the U.S. to the insurgency from your phone, U.S. forces can smash into your house, kill you and your relatives, and claim success: "Taliban killed."

Why should we take money from Warren Buffett to pay for this? Shouldn't we just stop it?
At this juncture in our history, why should we make common cause with the warmongers against the Tea Party? Wouldn't it be more righteous to make common cause with the Tea Party against the warmongers?

What's particularly striking at this juncture is this: House Democrats appear to be ahead of Liberal America on this issue right now. Seventy Representatives - mostly Democrats - have written to the debt-reduction Supercommittee, urging them to end the wars. Why isn't our email full of urgings to support the seventy Representatives in their demand that the Supercommittee end the wars?

On October 7, 2011, we'll have been at war for ten years. There will be protests around the country. Let us first end the wars. Then I will gladly march behind the banner of taxing the rich.

Is the US a Police State?

Honorable people like to debate whether the United States of America is a “police state,” but when it comes to shutting down the expression of ideas on the political left, there’s little room for argument.

We are inundated in this country with propaganda boilerplate about being the greatest democracy in the world. No, we’re not a police state like our friends in Saudi Arabia or our former friends, and current enemies, in Iran. Our police agencies have figured out how to accomplish police state repression in a “softer,” more sophisticated manner.

Look at the video in the September 26 report by Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC on what he describes as a “violent burst of chaos” caused by armed “troublemakers” from the New York Police Department.

It was a peaceful demonstration against Wall Street greed. At least it started out that way. All evidence suggests it was, then, sent careening into chaos by the police strong-arming of young protesters who had done nothing but express their views in public.

In one incident, young women on the sidewalk observing the arrest of a young man in the street are corralled by cops using orange plastic nets. White-shirted Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, then, walks up, un-holsters his pepper spray gun and shoots one of the women full in the face. He re-holsters his weapon and walks away. Another video shows him doing the same thing indiscriminately to others in a clear violation of NYPD rules that say the spray is only authorized to disable someone resisting arrest. Over 100 people were arrested in the melee.

The MSNBC video also shows a young man with a camera being violently slammed into a parked Volvo for videotaping the actions of the police. As O’Donnell emphasizes, videotaping cops is a completely legal activity. In fact, the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month on exactly this situation in a case involving a man who videotaped cops beating a man in Boston Commons. (For a PDF of the ruling, go )

The case is instructive. It began with a federal lawsuit brought by Simon Glik, a Russian immigrant who had become a lawyer in the US. He saw cops beating a man and took out his cell phone to videotape them. He was told to stop and he refused. Police arrested him, confiscated his phone and deleted the video. They charged him with illegal wiretapping since his recording included audio.

The district court scoffed at the wiretapping charge and concluded just because “officers were unhappy they were being recorded during an arrest … does not make a lawful exercise of First Amendment rights a crime. … [The] First Amendment right publicly to record the activities of police officers on public business is established.”

The City of Boston and the individual police officers involved appealed the ruling, and the 1st Circuit upheld the district court. The justices pointedly demolished the notion often used by police officers that the law on the matter is unclear.

As to whether videotaping cops beating people on a public street is constitutionally protected behavior, they wrote: “Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative.”

And this protection applies to everyone – including “bloggers” and other private citizens with cameras or cell phones. Again, contrary to what police agencies like to say when confronted with cameras in embarrassing situations, one does not have to be a credentialed mainstream media journalist with a government-obtained “press badge” to qualify for First Amendment protection.

As to citizens making their displeasure about police actions known, the 1st Circuit cites a Houston case from 1987: “The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principle characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.” That is, one has a clear right to make faces or express disfavor at police actions – as long as one doesn’t physically interfere with those actions.

The justices emphasized “the fundamental and virtually self-evident nature of the First Amendment’s protections in this area.” Citing another 1st Circuit ruling from 2009, they wrote: “We thus have no trouble concluding that ‘the state of the law at the time of the alleged violation gave the defendants [the police officers] fair warning that their particular conduct was unconstitutional.’ ”

The court is saying all this is so clear cops should know slamming a man against a Volvo for videotaping is a violation of law.

In the Wall Street melee, white-shirted commanders popped up a lot in videos as the worst abusers. As leaders, these officers should be informing their subordinates that this sort of “police state” activity is culpable behavior and, as frustrating as it may be, cops simply have to learn to live under the gaze of citizens’ cameras.

MSNBC’s O’Donnell was dogged in his coverage of the story. About the man with the video camera being slammed against the Volvo by a white-shirted commander, he said: “There’s a very brave man in this picture and it’s not the guy in the white shirt.”

Thanks to all the coverage, the NYPD has had to back off its initial dismissals that all the pepper spraying was “appropriate” and declare it will open an investigation, especially of Deputy Inspector Bologna. O’Donnell was rightfully skeptical such an investigation would be anything but a traditional whitewash.

What’s going on here?
The best explanation for all this is in a 1990 book called The Police Mystique: An Insider’s Look At Cops, Crime and the Criminal Justice System by Anthony Bouza, a man who served in a host of leadership roles in the NYPD, closing his career as chief of police in Minneapolis. The “mystique” he describes involves the ironic power of the cops at the bottom of the police hierarchy and the great discretion extended to them to accomplish their mission.
Here’s some of Bouza’s insights gained from 36 years managing cops:
“[Police] work is peculiar in that the greatest power and autonomy exists at the lowest rank level. … The system, in order to accommodate the need for action, is notably understanding of the errors that are bound to occur. Thus cops develop the sense that they can exercise power without too great a risk of being called too strictly into account for its use.”
 … Their temptation to cow those whose behavior they’re trying to control into compliance often proves irresistible.”
“Cops don’t take real or imagined assaults on their authority lightly. … A favorite ploy [of experienced cops] is to provoke an angry citizen into sufficiently loud outbursts to justify an arrest for disorderly conduct. The challenge is to push the target over an imaginary line that instinct will tell him or her constitutes a breach of something. The ability to maneuver the unwary into a trap is well known to cops but rarely realized by outsiders.
“[Cops have] the additional comfort of being able to rely on the substantial tolerance of a system that wants action and knows that it must be willing to tolerate errors in order to get it.”
“Police power assumes its most formidable aspect when cops deal with the underclass. This is the group they’ve been pressured, implicitly, to control. … A society, for example, that permits scores of millions to be undereducated and unemployed will not be patient with those who call upon it to attack these ills with more equitable distributions of wealth, social programs, and other ‘liberal’ schemes. … The overclass prefers to see the problems attacked through the highly visible ‘law-and-order’ methods that promise easy solutions.”
“The people’s power, normally hard to define and difficult to see, can be a fearful thing once unleashed, particularly when aimed at the police department.”
Watch the MSNBC video again and you’ll see all of this played out in the streets near Wall Street.

When Deputy Inspector Bologna walks up and, absolutely unprovoked, sprays a young woman bystander in the face with pepper spray, besides any personal unsavory and sadistic impulses he might have harbored, he is undertaking a variant of the “favorite ploy” to provoke that Chief Bouza describes.

In fact, the whole Monday melee can be seen as a case of cops poking and shoving citizens to “cow” them and “push the target over an imaginary line” — using rude provocation to turn a peaceful protest into a scene of chaos and havoc that, then, can be blamed on the “underclass.” In this case, that underclass is young, non-affluent Americans fed up with the direction of their society and the absence of venues to do anything about it — and courageous enough to speak out in public.

The result is a peaceful protest is turned into a melee justifying arrests.

How did we get to this place?
Anthony Bouza wrote his book in 1990, a much more “innocent” time of relative peace after the fall of the Soviet Union and before the Gulf War. Then came the 9/11 attacks, the Bush Administration’s declaration of a Global War On Terror (“You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.”) and the astonishing rise of a globally based Homeland Security apparatus noted for the unprecedented linkage of military forces, civilian contractors and federal, state and local police agencies into a massive and frightening leviathan that operates in secret and is totally out of control.

On Sunday September 25th, 60 Minutes, a journalistic enterprise that more and more does shameless flak for the Pentagon and the Homeland Security leviathan, did a piece on NYPD Chief Raymond Kelly and the department’s vast anti-terrorism capacities. The story was the exact opposite in tone from Chief Bouza’s honest realism. Chief Kelly and his police were national heroes working to secure New Yorkers from another horror like 9/11. No questions about civil liberty issues were raised.

In such a climate of military/police paranoia, it’s not surprising that the day after the 60 Minutes fluff piece the NYPD is seen whacking citizens around for expressing views contrary to the flag-waving norm.

Those on the top in this society are trying desperately to hold onto all the power and wealth they’ve accumulated. They’re like deer caught in the headlights of history. So it’s not surprising to see NYPD cops who, by now, must be so thoroughly brainwashed in post-9/11 paranoia they’re ready to play out the things Chief Bouza speaks of on a scale he could not have imagined in 1990. We see NYPD cops near Wall Street attacking harmless, peaceful street protesters simply expressing a desire for economic justice. When have we seen a right wing Tea Party demonstration calling for an end to taxes and programs for the poor attacked like this?

Which takes us back to the opening of this story. Whether a society is seen as a “police state” depends entirely on whose ox is being gored. To cite an egregious example, the powerful and elite in Guatemala during the 1970s and ‘80s did not see their society as a police state – at least not in a critical way. Instead, this class saw what the police and military were doing (in this case, slaughtering and “disappearing” thousands) as necessary for their security, necessary to keep a massive, poor Native American population and their leftist supporters in check.

Right wing police defenders might take this as a reason to praise this country. See! Our police and military are not slaughtering people by the thousands. That’s because, again, we’re a sophisticated, “soft” police state. But the identical dynamic works here: The police use the power they have and the discretion they are given, as Chief Bouza makes clear, to do what cops feel is necessary to check “the group they’ve been pressured, implicitly, to control.”

Chief Bouza clearly sympathizes with cops in how they are placed by society between a rock and a hard place. Some cops clearly take personal joy in abusing leftists who would publicly demand justice. But cops are necessary in a society, and the job is not an easy one. Most cops are decent working men and women simply caught in the vice. That seems to have been the case in New York, with a few cops stirring things up to create a chaotic situation good cops were, then, compelled to address.

But it’s also tough being a leftist in America. The media is bought and sold by huge, cold-blooded, profit-making corporations and money runs our democracy to the point we have a government dominated by bullshitters and panderers. When a concerned citizens has had enough and takes to the streets, these days he or she is corralled and humiliated by a range of sophisticated and well-funded police agencies. Marginalization is assured.

What’s an American leftist to do?
What the young activists in New York are doing is a good model. You turn into Howard Beal and declare, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Everybody gets cameras and puts quotes from the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on posters or t-shirts. You realize the poor slob in uniform in front of you with the can of pepper spray is also a working man or woman and it’s him breaking the law when he pepper sprays you or slams you into a Volvo for using your First Amendment rights.

Since it’s against the law to employ your own pepper spray, you just have to take it like a Gandhi would. There’s no such thing as self-defense when it comes to cops, even when they are blatantly breaking the law.

The political left in America is on the ropes, and contrary to what some leftists would like to see, revolution does not seem on the horizon in America. That said, something is indeed happening, and the world is seeing more examples of bottom up expression.

Here’s what I think: The only thing that can save the United States of America from a dismal future the political right wants to lock us into is to rigorously debunk the slander of the left so the nation can begin to create a more healthy, economically just structure. That goes for ending the bankrupting state of endless war these same forces have collared us with.
Such a shift will do two important things: It will empower working people with health care and jobs so they’ll have security and money to spend, which will re-energize a capitalist engine; and in the spirit of a mixed economy, it will also mean a much needed injection of socialism into the economy – the sort of things Franklin Roosevelt had the courage to do.
Even one of the right wing’s most revered free-market economic gurus, Friedrich Hayek, conceded the healthy nature of a mixed economy in his famous 1944 polemic, The Road To Serfdom.
“There is no reason why,” he wrote, “in a society which has reached the general level of wealth which ours has attained the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom.” He defined that security as “security against severe physical deprivation (and) the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all.” He went on further to say: “[S]ome minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody. … [T]he case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong.”
Hayek’s view of a balanced economy sounds almost reasonable today and shows how very far to the right current thinking has gone after his beloved free market economy was driven into a ditch by greedy Wall Street pirates.

I plan to stand up for more economic justice with others in Washington DC starting on October 6th in Freedom Plaza, three blocks from the White House. Like others, I’ll have my camera with me. I hope DC cops don’t feel it’s necessary to slam me into a Volvo or shoot me in the face with pepper spray.

But if that’s how it has to be, that’s the cost of living free in a US police state.

The Mycelium Will Save the World

Mycologist Paul Stamets studies the mycelium -- and lists 6 ways that this astonishing fungus can help save the world. (It's only 18 minutes long. Do yourself a favor and watch the whole thing.--jef)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wall Street vs. Everybody

“Wall Street got drunk […] It got drunk and now it’s got a hangover.”
—George W. Bush
As usual, Bush got it wrong. Wall Street soberly and cynically got the rest of us drunk on dreams of homeownership, a robust stock portfolio and a cozy retirement. This slurry bacchanal was fueled by the housing bubble and, when that exploded in our faces, bailouts saved Wall Street from any hangover, so it’s us who will suffer through a torturous, decades-long headache of a ruined economy.

But who are us, exactly? Us are the poor and the middle class, unions, retirement funds and governments at all levels, federal, state and city. Us are 99%, according to the mostly young protesters at Liberty Park in NYC. Nearly everyone got ripped off, including the cops guarding these protesters. As a protest sign sweetly and innocently demands: “Say Sorry! To All of Us!”

After eight days of protest, over a hundred people have already been arrested. Several have been roughed up, with cops being caught on still and video cameras pepper spraying or yanking the hair of young women, or slamming people to the ground. Sadly, these cops are fighting against their own interest. Bankrupted by Wall Street, cities all over America are laying off policemen left and right. Why defend the crooks of Wall Street, cops, when they have directly caused many of your colleagues to be thrown onto the streets? When you yourself may end up on a park bench in the near future?

The conflict between cops and protesters can be partly attributed to a clash of styles, to the eternal jocks vs. freaks dichotomy, but dear policemen, these young people are actually on your side. In spite of their colorful or eccentric clothing, odd haircuts, tattoos or piercings, they are fighting for you, too. To their credit, the protesters have made overtures to these cops by offering them coffee and water, but the cops, keen to maintain separation, have declined.

During the massive protest at Tiananmen Square, there was initially much fraternization between protesters and soldiers. They conversed, established common cause and did not wish to harm each other, so the government had to truck in troops from distant provinces, many of them not even Han Chinese, to commit the massacre. Also, in that famous photo of the protester who stopped a line of tanks, recall the restraint of that tank driver. Though trained and brought in to kill, this soldier couldn’t do it, at least in that instance.

With these Wall Street skirmishes, and many more battles to come, one has to hope for that solidarity and fraternization. Though the belligerent will always gravitate towards jobs that allow them access to weapons, incorrigible psychotics are relatively few, for even in a gung ho uniform, most men aren’t overeager to inflict pains on another. In fact, before the Vietnam War, most soldiers did not even fire their rifles during battles, though improved reflexive trainings have “corrected” this natural reluctance to kill. United we must stand, Americans, clean cut cops and tattooed protesters alike, against that destroyer of America, Wall Street.

Last wednesday, there was a NYC protest against cuts to the public schools. It took place at Tweed Courthouse, only half a mile from the Occupy Wall Street rally, but unlike the anti-Wall Street activists, these protesters were mostly above 35-years-old, with many of them Black or Hispanic. It would have been wonderful had these public school teachers marched over to the Wall Street protest, for it is precisely Wall Street that has bankrupted their state and city, putting their jobs in jeopardy. Dear teachers, do join these brave young protesters, because Wall Street is also your enemy. Dearest everybody, Wall Street is the vampire who’s draining blood from all of our bodies.

Several commentators have pointed out the lack of clarity of the anti-Wall Street rally. What reforms are they after, exactly? Among the many signs at the site, there are those that attack the Federal Reserve, bank bailouts and Corporate Personhood, and for the restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, but these key demands are either diluted or enlivened, depending on your temperament, I suppose, by signs that are merely whimsical, vaguely philosophical or even antithetical to this protest. Though I smiled at “OPPOSITION IS TRUE FRIENDSHIP,” I had to cringe at “FREE IRAN! MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD IS NOT MY PRESIDENT!”

Whether Iran needs to be liberated or not, it’s not for me to say, but it is surely genocidal to appeal to Americans to “free” yet another Islamic country, and one that has been in Uncle Sam’s crosshair ever since it had the temerity to oust that CIA favorite, the Shah.

In addition to the many, many signs, there are also teach ins and book discussions, so a primary aim of this protest is to educate the public about the flaws of our system, and to articulate possible remedies. It’s crucial, then, that the most important messages not be drown out by irrelevancies and contradictions. There must be a way to keep the main points front and center at all times, so that even the most casual tourist will know what it is he is witnessing.

Saving the Rich, Losing the Economy

Economic policy in the United States and Europe has failed, and people are suffering.

Economic policy failed for three reasons:  (1) policymakers focused on enabling offshoring corporations to move middle class jobs, and the consumer demand, tax base, GDP, and careers associated with the jobs, to foreign countries, such as China and India, where labor is inexpensive; (2) policymakers permitted financial deregulation that unleashed fraud and debt leverage on a scale previously unimaginable; (3) policymakers responded to the resulting financial crisis by imposing austerity on the population and running the printing press in order to bail out banks and prevent any losses to the banks regardless of the cost to national economies and innocent parties.

Jobs offshoring was made possible because the collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in China and India opening their vast excess supplies of labor to Western exploitation. Pressed by Wall Street for higher profits, US corporations relocated their factories abroad.  Foreign labor working with Western capital, technology, and business know-how is just as productive as US labor. However, the excess supplies of labor (and lower living standards) mean that Indian and Chinese labor can be hired for less than labor’s contribution to the value of output. The difference flows into profits, resulting in capital gains for shareholders and performance bonuses for executives.

As reported by Manufacturing and Technology News (September 20, 2011) the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages reports that in the last 10 years, the US lost 54,621 factories, and manufacturing employment fell by 5 million employees.  Over the decade, the number of larger factories (those employing 1,000 or more employees) declined by 40 percent.  US factories employing 500-1,000 workers declined by 44 percent;  those employing between 250-500 workers declined by 37 percent, and those employing between 100-250 workers shrunk by 30 percent.

These losses are net of new start-ups. Not all the losses are due to offshoring. Some are the result of business failures.

US politicians, such as Buddy Roemer, blame the collapse of US manufacturing on Chinese competition and “unfair trade practices.”  However, it is US corporations that move their factories abroad, thus replacing domestic production with imports. Half of US  imports from China consist of the offshored production of US corporations.
The wage differential is substantial. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2009 average hourly take-home pay for US workers was $23.03. Social insurance expenditures add $7.90 to hourly compensation and benefits paid by employers add $2.60 per hour for a total labor compensation cost of $33.53.

In China, as of 2008 total hourly labor cost was $1.36, and India’s is within a few cents of this amount. Thus, a corporation that moves 1,000 jobs to China saves $32,000 every hour in labor cost. These savings translate into higher stock prices and executive compensation, not in lower prices for consumers who are left unemployed by the labor arbitrage.

Republican economists blame “high” US wages for  the current high rate of unemployment.  However, US wages are about the lowest in the developed world. They are far below hourly labor cost in Norway ($53.89), Denmark ($49.56), Belgium ($49.40), Austria ($48.04), and Germany ($46.52).  The US might have the world’s largest economy, but its hourly workers rank 14th on the list of the best paid. Americans also have a higher unemployment rate. The “headline” rate that the media hypes is 9.1 percent, but this rate does not include any discouraged workers or workers forced into part-time jobs because no full-time jobs are available.

The US government has another unemployment rate (U6) that includes workers who have been too discouraged to seek a job for six months or less.  This unemployment rate is over 16 percent.  Statistician John Williams ( estimates the unemployment rate when long-term discouraged workers (more than six months) are included. This rate is over 22 percent.

Most emphasis is on the lost manufacturing jobs. However, the high speed Internet has made it possible to offshore many professional service jobs, such as software engineering, Information Technology, research and design. Jobs that comprised ladders of upward mobility for US college graduates have been moved offshore, thus reducing the value to Americans of many university degrees.  Unlike former times, today an increasing number of graduates return home to live with their parents as there are insufficient jobs to support their independent existence.

All the while, the US government allows in each year one million legal immigrants, an unknown number of illegal immigrants, and a large number of foreign workers on H-1B and L-1 work visas. In other words, the policies of the US government maximize the unemployment rate of American citizens.

Republican economists and politicians pretend that this is not the case and that unemployed Americans consist of people too lazy to work who game the welfare system.  Republicans pretend that cutting unemployment benefits and social assistance will force “lazy people who are living off the taxpayers” to go to work.

To deal with the adverse impact on the economy from the loss of jobs and consumer demand from offshoring, Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan lowered interest rates in order to create a real estate boom. Lower interest rates pushed up real estate prices. People refinanced their houses and spent the equity. Construction, furniture and appliance sales boomed.  But unlike previous expansions based on rising real income, this one was based on an increase in consumer indebtedness.

There is a limit to how much debt can increase in relation to income, and when this limit was reached, the bubble popped.

When consumer debt could rise no further, the large fraudulent component in mortgage-backed derivatives and the unreserved swaps (AIG, for example) threatened financial institutions with insolvency and froze the banking system. Banks no longer trusted one another. Cash was hoarded. Treasury Secretary Paulson, browbeat Congress into massive taxpayer loans to financial institutions that functioned as casinos.  The Paulson Bailout (TARP) was large but insignificant compared to the $16.1 trillion (a sum larger than US GDP or national debt) that the Federal Reserve lent to private financial institutions in the US and Europe.

In making these loans, the Federal Reserve violated its own rules. At this point, capitalism ceased to function. The financial institutions were “too big to fail,” and thus taxpayer subsidies took the place of bankruptcy and reorganization.  In a word, the US financial system was socialized as the losses of the American financial institutions were transferred to taxpayers.

European banks were swept up into the financial crisis by their unwitting purchase of the junk financial instruments marketed by Wall Street. The financial junk had been given investment grade rating by the same incompetent agency that recently downgraded US Treasury bonds.

The Europeans had their own bailouts, often with American money (Federal Reserve loans). All the while Europe was brewing an additional crisis of its own. By joining the European Union and (except for the UK) accepting a common European currency, the individual member countries lost the services of their own central banks as creditors.

In the US and UK the two countries’ central banks can print money with which to purchase US and UK debt.  This is not possible for member countries in the EU.

When financial crisis from excessive debt hit the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain) their central banks could not print euros in order to buy up their bonds, as the Federal Reserve did with “quantitative easing.” Only the European Central Bank (ECB) can create euros, and it is prevented by charter and treaty from printing euros in order to bail out sovereign debt.

In Europe, as in the US, the driver of economic policy quickly became saving the private banks from losses on their portfolios.  A deal was struck with the socialist government of Greece, which represented the banks and not the Greek people. The ECB would violate its charter and together with the IMF, which would also violate its charter, would lend enough money to the Greek government to avoid default on its sovereign bonds to the private banks that had purchased the bonds.  In return for the ECB and IMF loans and in order to raise the money to repay them, the Greek government had to agree to sell to private investors the national lottery, Greece’s ports and municipal water systems, a string of islands that are a national preserve, and in addition to impose a brutal austerity on the Greek people by lowering wages, cutting social benefits and pensions, raising taxes, and laying off or firing government workers.

In other words, the Greek population is to be sacrificed to a small handful of foreign banks in Germany, France and the Netherlands.

The Greek people, unlike “their” socialist government, did not regard this as a good deal. They have been in the streets ever since.

Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the ECB, said that the austerity imposed on Greece was a first step.  If Greece did not deliver on the deal, the next step was for the EU to take over Greece’s political sovereignty, make its budget, decide its taxation, decide its expenditures and from this process squeeze out enough from Greeks to repay the ECB and IMF for lending Greece the money to pay the private banks.

In other words, Europe under the EU and Jean-Claude Trichet is a return to the most extreme form of feudalism in which a handful of rich are pampered at the expense of everyone else.

This is what economic policy in the West has become–a tool of the wealthy used to enrich themselves by spreading poverty among the rest of the population.

On September 21 the Federal Reserve announced a modified QE 3. The Federal Reserve announced that the bank would purchase $400 billion of long-term Treasury bonds over the next nine months in an effort to drive long-term US interest rates even further below the rate of inflation, thus maximizing the negative rate of return on the purchase of long-term Treasury bonds. The Federal Reserve officials say that this will lower mortgage rates by a few basis points and renew the housing market.

The officials say that QE 3, unlike its predecessors, will not result in the Federal Reserve printing more dollars in order to monetize US debt.  Instead, the central bank will raise money for the bond purchases by selling holdings of short-term debt. Apparently, the Federal Reserve believes it can do this without raising short-term interest rates, because back during the recent debt-ceiling-government-shutdown-crisis, the Federal Reserve promised banks that it would keep the short-term interest rate (essentially zero) constant for two years.

The Fed’s new policy will do far more harm than good.  Interest rates are already negative. To make them more so will have no positive effect. People aren’t buying houses because interest rates are too high, but because they are either unemployed or worried about their jobs and do not see a recovering economy.

Already insurance companies can make no money on their investments. Consequently, they are unable to build their reserves against claims. Their only alternative is to raise their premiums.  The cost of a homeowner’s policy will go up by more than the cost of a mortgage will decline. The cost of health insurance will go up. The cost of car insurance will rise. The Federal Reserve’s newly announced policy will impose more costs on the economy than it will reduce.

In addition, in America today savings earn nothing.  Indeed, they produce an ongoing loss as the interest rate is below the inflation rate. The Federal Reserve has interest rates so low that only professionals who are playing arbitrage with algorithm-programmed computer models can make money. The typical saver and investor can get nothing on bank CDs, money market funds, municipal and government bonds.  Only high risk debt, such as Greek and Spanish bonds, pay an interest rate that is higher than inflation.

For four years interest rates, when properly measured, have been negative. Americans are getting by, maintaining living standards, by consuming their capital. Even those with a cushion are eating their seed corn. The path that the US economy is on means that the number of Americans without resources to sustain them will be rising. Considering the extraordinary political incompetence of the Democratic Party, the right wing of the Republican Party, which is committed to eliminating income support programs, could find itself in power. If the right-wing Republicans implement their program, the US will be beset with political and social instability.  As Gerald Celente says, “when people have  have nothing left to lose, they lose it.”

The Nightly News - Infographics

by Jonathan Hickman ©2007 Pronea & Image Comics 

The infographics above came from the comic. The data they contain is accurate, for the most part--though some of the conclusions are obviously opinion and/or part of the story.
The TV graphic is one I made.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The 'Worm' That Could Bring Down The Internet

(Thanks to Jason On for the share--jef)

Terry Gross - Fresh Air from WHYY
NPR - September 27, 2011

For the past three years, a highly encrypted computer worm called Conficker has been spreading rapidly around the world. As many as 12 million computers have been infected with the self-updating worm, a type of malware that can get inside computers and operate without their permission.

"What Conficker does is penetrate the core of the [operating system] of the computer and essentially turn over control of your computer to a remote controller," writer Mark Bowden tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "[That person] could then utilize all of these computers, including yours, that are connected. ... And you have effectively the largest, most powerful computer in the world."

The gigantic networked system created by the Conficker worm is what's known as a "botnet." The Conficker botnet is powerful enough to take over computer networks that control banking, telephones, security systems, air traffic control and even the Internet itself, says Bowden. His new book, Worm: The First Digital World War, details how Conficker was discovered, how it works, and the ongoing programming battle to bring down the Conficker worm, which he says could have widespread consequences if used nefariously.

See If You're Infected
Learn more about the symptoms of the Conficker worm and test to see whether your computer is infected at the Conficker Working Group website.

"If you were to launch with a botnet that has 10 million computers in it — launch a denial of service attack — you could launch a large enough attack that it would not just overwhelm the target of the attack, but the root servers of the Internet itself, and could crash the entire Internet," he says. "What frightens security folks, and increasingly government and Pentagon officials, is that a botnet of that size could also be used as a weapon."

When Russia launched its attack on Georgia in 2008, Russian officials also took down communication lines and the Internet within Georgia. Egypt also took down its own country's Internet service during the uprisings last spring.

"It's the equivalent of shutting down the train system during the Civil War, where the Union troops and the Confederate troops used trains to shuttle arms and ammunition and supplies all over their area of control," says Bowden. "And if you could shut their trains down, you cripple their ability to function. Similarly, you could do that today by taking down the Internet."
The Conficker worm can also be used to steal things like your passwords and codes for any accounts you use online. Officials in Ukraine recently arrested a group of people who were leasing a portion of the Conficker worm's computers to drain millions of dollars from bank accounts in the United States.

"It raises the question of whether creating or maintaining a botnet is a criminal activity, because if I break into a safe at the bank using a Black & Decker drill, is Black & Decker culpable for the way I use the tool?" he says. "That's one of the tools you could use the botnet for. With a botnet of 25,000 computers, you could break the security codes for, you could raid people's accounts, you could get Social Security numbers and data — there's almost no commercial security system in place that couldn't be breached by a supercomputer of tens of thousands."

After Conficker was discovered in 2008 at Stanford, it prompted computer security experts from around the world to get together to try to stop the bot. The volunteer group of experts, which called itself the Conficker Working Group, also tried to get the government involved with their efforts. But they soon discovered that the government didn't have a very good understanding of what the worm could do.

"[They] began reaching out to the NSA [National Security Agency] and [the Pentagon] to see if they would be willing to loan their computers [to help them], and what [they] discovered was that no one in the government understood what was happening," says Bowden. "There was a very low level of cyberintelligence, even at agencies that ought to have been very seriously involved, who were responsible for protecting the country, its electrical grid, its telecommunications. These agencies lacked the sophistication not only to deal with Conficker, but even to understand what Conficker was."

At some point in early 2009, the Conficker Working Group learned that the Conficker worm could wreak havoc on April 1, 2009 — a date when the computers infected by Conficker would receive instructions from their remote-controlled operator.

"The assumption was that if Conficker was to do anything, that would be the day that it would be destructive to the Internet," says Bowden. "But on April 1, nothing happened."

The Conficker Working Group realized that the creator of Conficker had little interest in taking down the Internet or using its bot to create mass destruction.

"The people behind it apparently want to use it for criminal reasons — to make money," says Bowden.

But that doesn't mean that Conficker is controlled, says Bowden. No one knows yet who controls the worm or what its intentions might be.

"At any moment, Conficker could do something really threatening," he says. "[People fighting the bot] are trying to figure it out still. And every new day, as the worm makes its contacts, they generate long lists of computers that are infected — which still include big networks within the FBI, within the Pentagon, within large corporations. So they monitor it and keep track of where it's spread, and they're still working with the government to secure vital computer networks from botnets like Conficker."

Occupy Together/Occupy Dallas October 6th, 2011

Hope to see you there!--jef

Police Brutality at Occupy Wall Street--Disgusting

(This is police brutality. This is what happens when we protest in a Police State. This is why people have called police "pigs" for years. The brutality is extremely unjust, uncalled for and crossed a line because they did it for enjoyment--those people weren't breaking any laws, it's our right to protest. The brutality won't stop the protests, it will only bring out more people. The police work for the people we're protesting. We'll see what happens on Oct. 6. I'll be there.--jef)

Larence O'Donnell's The Last Word

Seriously? Taking a cop's picture is reason to be pepper sprayed? This asshole needs to find himself on the unemployment line, if not himself thrown in jail.