31 October 2011

Occupy San Francisco: the teenager who was refused cancer treatment | World news | guardian.co.uk

As Miran Istina puts it, she has been living on borrowed time since she was 14. Diagnosed with cancer, she was given just months to live after her health insurer refused to provide her with life-saving surgery.

Now 18, Istina, from the city of Sisters in Oregon, has spent the past three weeks living in a tent at the Occupy San Francisco protest and says she will stay there indefinitely, despite her illness.

She was inspired to take part in the protest by the refusal of her insurance company to pay for treatment for her chronic myelogenous leukaemia.

She said: "They denied me on the terms of a pre-existing condition. Seeing as I had only had that insurance for a few months, and I was in early stage two which meant I had to have had it for at least a year, they determined it was a pre-existing condition and denied me healthcare."

Treatment would require a bone marrow transplant and extensive radiation therapy and chemotherapy, at a cost of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. Coming from an ordinary middle-class background, her family has no way of paying for the surgery that would save her life.

Following her insurer's refusal, she spent three years travelling the US looking for a healthcare provider who would give her a chance at life.

Istina said: "I went all over the place, looking for someone to give a damn, really, someone to care enough to treat me. Because we were middle class, we couldn't afford to treat my disease. We'd be in debt for the rest of our family life."

After repeated refusals to offer her treatment, she said: "I decided I was going to spend the rest of my life doing whatever my heart wants."

The Occupy movement attracted Istina as she ties the corporate influence on American politics to the decision that has sentenced her to death.

She said: "The corporate influence on politics influences just about anything that happens, seeing as politicians write the plans that healthcare has to follow. It directly links the fact that insurers only pick and choose those who are actually worth it [financially]. I just happen to not be one of the ones they wanted to be around much longer.

"The decision was absolutely influenced by some corporation or some bank saying, 'we can't afford her. She's not worth our money.' In end terms, corporate greed is going to cost me my life.

"I used to be really upset about it. I'm not as much any more. I'm angry, for sure, but I think me being here might help it never happen again. That's why I'm here. It's that there are other people this is going to happen to if this movement doesn't succeed and that's not healthy. I'm done being the victim. However long I have left is dedicated heart and soul to this movement, no matter what it takes."

She has immersed herself in the movement, becoming the chief media relations officer for Occupy SF and organising fundraising events around the city. On Thursday afternoon she led a CNN television crew on a walk through the camp, to show how they were living, explain their motives and refute claims that the living conditions are unsanitary.

She said of her new life: "My heart is finally satisfied."

The Occupy San Francisco movement has seen up to 300 protesters take over the Justin Herman Plaza, at the Embarcadero in the downtown district since October 5.

The occupiers are given food by local restaurants and have received donations from supporters to provide supplies.

Health professionals from the San Francisco General Hospital are providing round-the-clock care for Istina, who needs strong pain killers and constant monitoring of her condition. Earlier in the month she suffered a kidney malfunction which required urgent hospital treatment.

Throughout the afternoon four police officers kept a watchful eye over the groups of tents and makeshift shelters but the atmosphere was relaxed. When the officers staged a walk-through some of the occupiers shared jokes with them. One said: "Please leave the automatic weapons outside the camp. This is a peaceful protest."

Another said: "We're not doing any harm. We're just a bunch of peace-loving hippies."

But a raid on the camp is possible at any time. San Francisco mayor Ed Lee has repeatedly insisted that the camp is illegal and all tents should be removed but so far little has been done to enforce the law.

He has threatened a raid and on Wednesday night occupiers expected police to move in, sparking a larger than normal demonstration. Two candidates for the upcoming mayoral election joined with the protesters but despite the presence nearby of riot police, the raid did not go ahead.

25 October 2011

Income growth before and after Reagan


PolitiFact Florida | Alan Grayson's defense of Occupy Wall Street is impassioned, but is it accurate?

Alan Grayson, an Orlando Democrat and former U.S. Representative running to reclaim a seat in 2012, emerged a big-time supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement after appearing on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher on Oct. 7, 2011. A couple of Maher's panelists, and even Maher himself, mocked the protesters for their worrisome bathroom situation, lack of media spokesperson, name choice, and proficiency (or lack thereof) in economics. Saying he was a former economist, Grayson jumped in, saying he had no problem understanding the protesters' grievances. "They're complaining about the fact that Wall Street wrecked the economy three years ago and nobody's held responsible for that," he said. "Not a single person has been indicted or convicted for destroying 20 percent of our national net worth accumulated over the course of two centuries. They're upset about the fact that Wall Street has iron control over the economic policies of this country. And that one party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street. And the other party caters to them as well. That's what they're upset about." It gets more interesting. P.J. O'Rourke, a political theorist and author, said, "Get the man a bongo drum. They've found their spokesman, okay. Take your shoes off, get a bongo drum, forget where to go to the bathroom, and it's yours." He got a few laughs. Then Grayson shot back with this: "Listen, if I am a spokesman for all the people who think we should not have 24 million people in this country who can't find a full-time job, that we should not have 50 million people in this country who can't see a doctor when they're sick, that we shouldn't have 47 million people in this country who need government help in order to feed themselves, and we shouldn't have 15 million families who owe more on their mortgage than the value of their home, okay, I'll be that spokesman." Maher's audience gave Grayson a standing ovation. His retort popped up on YouTube and then spread through Facebook and Twitter. Liberal bloggers praised him for his succinct explanation. You can see the video clip here. We decided to check Grayson's litany of claims about the economic plight of many Americans. (We previously checked a claim from Michael Moore that gets at Grayson's other major point, that no one associated with the 2008 economic collapse was arrested or indicted.) We'll take the economic claims one by one. 24 million people in this country can't find a full-time job A similar claim -- "More than 25 million Americans are unemployed" -- was presented in an article in the protester-produced Occupied Wall Street Journal, which we examined in a fact-check here. Grayson was wise to distinguish between the number of people who are "unemployed" and those who "can't find a full-time job." According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 14 million Americans were unemployed as of September 2011, which is how officials determine the unemployment rate. We pointed out in our fact-check that BLS methodology has been criticized for not expanding the definition of unemployment so that it includes people who have stopped looking for work or who are working part time, even though they would rather have a full-time job. An alternative measure called the "U-6" paints that picture. As of September, an additional 2.5 million Americans were deemed "marginally attached" to the labor force, and another 9.3 million are working part time but would prefer a full-time job. That adds up to 25.8 million people. In our item, we pointed out the Occupy Wall Street Journal article described the expanded definition of unemployment, not the traditional one. Grayson's statement is a little low at 24 million but more precise in its definition. 50 million people in this country can't see a doctor when they're sick Again, this is close to what is cited by the Occupied Wall Street Journal article but is a little different. That story claimed "more than 50 million live without health insurance," and we found that they were almost exactly right. A U.S. Census Bureau study called "Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage: 2010," found that 49.9 million Americans were uninsured in 2010. That's about 16 percent of the population. While Grayson's statement isn't exactly the same, his point seems clear enough to us. 47 million people in this country need government help in order to feed themselves Grayson is talking about what we know as food stamps, which has been called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program since 2008. The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds SNAP and the states administer it, sometimes by other names. The economic recession has forced more people into the program since 2008, and the numbers are climbing, according to this annual summary. In fiscal year 2008, 28.2 million people received nearly $35 billion worth of benefits. The program served 33.4 million in FY 2009 and 40.3 million in FY 2010. The most recent participation figure, for July 2011, is 45,344,946 people, with the most recent monthly allotment per household at $283.68. That enrollment figure isn't the program's highest number, but it's just 65,737 people short of the May 2011 record. "We are dealing with historic participation," said Regan Hopper, USDA Food and Nutrition Service spokeswoman. Grayson's figure is pretty close. He probably wasn't accounting for other government food programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children -- better known as WIC -- in his tally. But that USDA program provides low-income pregnant, post-partum and breastfeeding women, as well as infants and children up to age 5, with checks for certain kinds of food to supplement their diets. WIC served 8.9 million in July 2011, said Regan Hopper, a USDA Food and Nutrition Service spokeswoman. Further, USDA funds school lunch and breakfast programs, which provide free and reduced-price meals to some schoolchildren, and provides food and money through its Emergency Food Assistance Program to states for distribution in food banks, soup kitchens and the like. 15 million families owe more on their mortgage than the value of their home This housing phenomenon is also referred to as being "underwater" or "upside down" in mortgage payments. We asked a few companies that keep databases of mortgages and home loans, usually public records in counties, for the financial and property industries. Seattle-based Zillow.com puts the latest figure for these homes at 26.8 percent for the second quarter, which ended in June. That amounts to 15.3 million homes. It's down slightly from Zillow's first-quarter analysis, which put the number of underwater homes at 28.4 percent, or 16.2 million. We posed the same question to CoreLogic, a Sana Ana, Calif. firm. In a study released in September, CoreLogic reported that 22.5 percent of all homes with a mortgage were in "negative equity" in the same period. CoreLogic's number is roughly 5 million homes fewer than Zillow's, coming in at 10.9 million. The company found another 2.4 million borrowers at the brink of negative equity, or having less than 5 percent equity.

You may have noticed some disparity with those estimates.

Corelogic's data includes 48 million properties with a mortgage, accounting for more than 85 percent of all mortgages in the country. Zillow.com tries to provide an estimate for the country's total number of homes with outstanding mortgages, estimated by the U.S. Census bureau to be 50 million to 55 million. So part of the difference could lie in the 15 percent of homes CoreLogic does not cover.

There are also estimation errors to consider, said Zillow.com chief economist Stan Humphries, particularly in guessing the value of homes and current outstanding loan balance. A difference of about 4 percent between the companies' estimates is not really significant, he said.

"We think this is a critically important metric in understanding the housing market," he said.

The point remains that economists have never seen housing values fall so low. Housing data is scant for the Great Depression, but Humphries believes the ongoing crisis outranks that period. He says Depression-era down payments were higher in the 1930s, giving folks some cushion as the crisis set in.

Our ruling Grayson's defense of the Occupy Wall Street movement earned him praise from the left-wing blosophere and pundits for its pith. No pundit or official in the movement's first month had quite articulated the protesters' qualms -- high unemployment, expensive health care, poverty and underwater mortgage payments -- as Grayson did in 20 seconds on Maher's show. We examined each of his economic claims and found them accurate, point for point. We rate his claim True.

19 October 2011

Tea Party Nation Urges Businesses To Stop Hiring In Order To Hurt Obama | Right Wing Watch

Tea Party Nation sent to their members today a message from activist Melissa Brookstone urging businesspeople to “not hire a single person” to protest the Obama administration’s supposed “war against business and my country.” Brookstone writes that business owners should stop hiring new employees in order to stand up to “this new dictator,” the “global Progressive socialist movement,” Hollywood, the media and Occupy Wall Street.

Brookstone writes:

Resolved that: The Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Senate, in alliance with a global Progressive socialist movement, have participated in what appears to be a globalist socialist agenda of redistribution of wealth, and the waging of class warfare against our constitutional republic's heritage of individual rights, free market capitalism, and indeed our Constitution itself, with the ultimate goal of collapsing the U.S. economy and globalizing us into socialism.

Resolved that: President Obama has seized what amount to dictatorial powers to bypass our Congress, and that because the Congress is controlled by a Progressive socialist Senate that will not impeach one of their kind, they have allowed this and yielded what are rightfully congressional powers to this new dictator.

Resolved that: By their agenda and actions, those in our government who swore oaths to protect and defend our Constitution have committed treason against the United States.

Resolved that: The current administration and Democrat majority in the Senate, in conjunction with Progressive socialists from all around the country, especially those from Hollywood and the left leaning news media (Indeed, most of the news media.) have worked in unison to advance an anti-business, an anti-free market, and an anti-capitalist (anti-individual rights and property ownership) agenda.

Resolved that: Our President, the Democrats-Socialists, most of the media, and most of those from Hollywood, have now encouraged and supported "Occupy" demonstrations in our streets, which are now being perpetrated across the globe, and which are being populated by various marxists, socialists and even communists, and are protesting against business, private property ownership and capitalism, something I thought I'd never see in my country, in my lifetime.

I, an American small business owner, part of the class that produces the vast majority of real, wealth producing jobs in this country, hereby resolve that I will not hire a single person until this war against business and my country is stopped.

12 October 2011

Who's pitting who against who?


The “very scary” Iranian Terror plot - Salon.com

The most difficult challenge in writing about the Iranian Terror Plot unveiled yesterday is to take it seriously enough to analyze it. Iranian Muslims in the Quds Force sending marauding bands of Mexican drug cartel assassins onto sacred American soil to commit Terrorism — against Saudi Arabia and possibly Israel — is what Bill Kristol and John Bolton would feverishly dream up while dropping acid and madly cackling at the possibility that they could get someone to believe it. But since the U.S. Government rolled out its Most Serious Officials with Very Serious Faces to make these accusations, many people (therefore) do believe it; after all, U.S. government accusations = Truth. All Serious people know that. And in the ensuing reaction one finds virtually every dynamic typically shaping discussions of Terrorism and U.S. foreign policy.

To begin with, this episode continues the FBI’s record-setting undefeated streak of heroically saving us from the plots they enable. From all appearances, this is, at best, yet another spectacular “plot” hatched by some hapless loser with delusions of grandeur but without any means to put it into action except with the able assistance of the FBI, which yet again provided it through its own (paid, criminal) sources posing as Terrorist enablers. The Terrorist Mastermind at the center of the plot is a failed used car salesman in Texas with a history of pedestrian money problems. Dive under your bed. “For the entire operation, the government’s confidential sources were monitored and guided by federal law enforcement agents,” explained U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, and “no explosives were actually ever placed anywhere and no one was actually ever in any danger.’”

But no matter. The U.S. Government and its mindless followers in the pundit and think-tank “expert” class have seized on this ludicrous plot with astonishing speed to all but turn it into a hysterical declaration of war against Evil, Hitlerian Iran. “The US attorney-general Eric Holder said Iran would be ‘held to account’ over what he described as a flagrant abuse of international law,” and “the US says military action remains on the table,” though “it is at present seeking instead to work through diplomatic and financial means to further isolate Iran.” Hillary Clinton thundered that this “crosses a line that Iran needs to be held to account for.” The CIA’s spokesman at The Washington Post, David Ignatius, quoted an anonymous White House official as saying the plot “appeared to have been authorized by senior levels of the Quds Force.” Meanwhile, the State Department has issued a Travel Alert which warns American citizens that this plot “may indicate a more aggressive focus by the Iranian Government on terrorist activity against diplomats from certain countries, to include possible attacks in the United States.”

In case that’s not enough to frighten you — and, really, how could it not be? — some Very Serious Experts are very, very afraid and want you to know how Serious this all is. Within moments of Holder’s news conference, National Security Expert Robert Chesney – without a molecule of critical thought in his brain — announced that this “remarkable development” was “very scary.” Very, very scary. Chesney then printed large blocks of the DOJ’s Press Release to prove it. Self-proclaimed “counter-terrorism expert” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross tapped into his vast expertise to explain: ”Holder weighing in on the plot’s connection to Iran means the administration is deadly serious about it.” Progressive think-tank expert and Atlantic writer Steve Clemons decreed that if the DOJ’s accusations are true, then ”the US has reached a point where it must take action” and “this is time for a significant strategic response to the Iran challenge in the Middle East and globally,” which “could involve military.”

The ironies here are so self-evident it’s hard to work up the energy to point them out. Outside of Pentagon reporters, Washington Post Editorial Page Editors, and Brookings “scholars,” is there a person on the planet anywhere who can listen with a straight face as drone-addicted U.S. Government officials righteously condemn the evil, illegal act of entering another country to commit an assassination? Does anyone, for instance, have any interest in finding out who is responsible for the spate of serial murders aimed at Iran’s nuclear scientists? Wouldn’t people professing to be so outraged by the idea of entering another country to engage in assassination be eager to get to the bottom of that?

Then there’s the War on Terror irony: our Hated Enemy here (Iran) is a country which had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. Meanwhile, our close ally, the victim on whose behalf we are so outraged (Saudi Arabia), is not only one of the most tyrannical and aggressive regimes on the planet, but produced 15 of the 19 hijackers and had extensive and still-unknown involvement in that attack. If the U.S. is so deeply offended by the involvement of a foreign government in an attack on U.S. soil, it would be looking first to its close friend Saudi Arabia, where “elements of the government” were likely involved in an actual plot rather than a joke of a plot.

To make sure you understand just how dastardly and evil the Iranian plotters here are, the DOJ in its complaint highlighted that the used-car-salesman-Terrorist-Mastermind said that he preferred that nobody else be killed when the Saudi Ambassador was assassinated, but if it were absolutely necessary, he could accept some unintended deaths! Here’s how the NYT summarizes that:

The complaint quotes Mr. Arbabsiar as making conflicting statements about the possibility of bystander deaths; at one point he is said to say that killing the ambassador alone would be preferable, but on another occasion he said it would be “no big deal” if many others at the restaurant — possibly including United States senators — died in any bombing.

What kind of monster thinks that way, we are supposed to ponder. Behold the warped mind of the Terrorist! He’s actually willing to accept that others die besides his intended targeted! Is that not the mentality that drives U.S. behavior in multiple countries around the world every day? The U.S. flattened an entire civilian apartment building in Baghdad with a 2,000-pound bomb when it thought Saddam Hussein was there (he wasn’t — oops — but lots of innocent people were). NATO repeatedly bombed structures in Tripoli where it thought (mistakenly) Moammar Gadaffi was located, in the process almost certainly killing large numbers of unintended targets. The U.S. just killed one of its own citizens that it insists (not very credibly) it did not intend to kill in order to eradicate the life of Anwar Awlaki, and killed dozens of innocent people when it previously tried to kill Awlaki with cluster bombs.

The U.S. is the living, breathing symbol of this “collateral damage” rationale. It’s what drives all the multi-nation American wars and occupations and drone campaigns and assassinations that continuously pile up the corpses of innocent people. But we’re all going to gather in righteous disgust at the idea that this monstrous International Terrorist would be willing to incur some unintended civilian deaths in order to assassinate an official of the peaceful, freedom-loving Saudi regime. Really, for brazen irony, how can this be beat?

Tom Kean, former chairman of the 9/11 Commission said the alleged plot “surprises me.” Speaking to CNN’s Erin Burnett, Kean said the plot is “pretty close to an act of war. You don’t go in somebody’s capital to blow somebody up.

Meanwhile, President Obama decried this plot as “a flagrant violation of US and international law.” But maybe some Persian Marty Lederman in Tehran wrote a secret legal memo concluding that this was all in accordance with domestic and international law, which — as we know — is conclusive and provides a full shield of immunity.

So facially absurd are the claims here — why would Iran possibly wake up one day and decide that it wanted to engage in a Terrorist attack on U.S. soil when it could much more easily kill Saudi officials elsewhere? and if Iran and its Quds Force are really behind this inept, hapless, laughable plot, then nothing negates the claim that Iran is some Grave Threat like this does — that there is more skepticism expressed even in establishment media accounts than one normally finds about such things. Even the NYT noted — with great understatement — that the allegations “provoked puzzlement from specialists on Iran, who said it seemed unlikely that the government would back a brazen murder and bombing plan on American soil.” The Post noted that “the very rashness of the alleged assassination plot raised doubts about whether Iran’s normally cautious ruling clerics supported or even know about it.” The Atlantic‘s Max Fisher has more on why this would be so out of character for Iran.

But while some attention has been devoted to asking what motive Iran would have for doing this, little attention has been paid to asking what motive the U.S. would have for exaggerating or concocting the connection of Iran’s government to this plot. Aside from the benefits the FBI and DOJ receive when breaking up a “very scary” plot — the bigger, the better — it has been one of Obama’s highest foreign policy priorities to isolate Iran and sanction it further: as a means of placating Israel and punishing Iran for thwarting America’s natural right to rule that region (so monstrous is Iran that, as the U.S. has repeatedly complained, they actually continue to “interfere” in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan!). As Ignatius explains, the U.S. Government instantly converted this plot into a vehicle for furthering those policy ambitions:

With its alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Iran has handed the United States an opportunity to undermine Tehran at a moment when U.S. officials believe the Iranian regime is especially vulnerable. . . . “We see this as a chance to go out to capitals around the world and talk to allies and partners about what the Iranians tried to do,” the [White House] official said. “We’re not going to tolerate targeting a diplomat in Washington. We’re going to try to use this to isolate them to the maximum extent possible.”

Meanwhile, Joe Biden announced today that the U.S. is “working to unite the world” behind a response to Iran’s “outrageous” actions and that ”nothing has been taken off the table.” So Iran’s supposed involvement in this plot is the ideal weapon for the U.S. to advance its long-standing goals with regard to that country. Maybe that warrants some serious skepticism about whether the U.S. Government’s claims are true? But we all know that only Bad Muslim countries exploit foreign policy exaggerations or fabrications for political gain, and not the United States of America (especially not with Barack Obama, rather than a Republican, in the White House).

What’s most significant is that not even 24 hours have elapsed since these allegations were unveiled. No evidence has been presented of Iran’s involvement. And yet there is no shortage of people — especially in the media — breathlessly talking about all of this as though it’s all clearly true. If the Obama administration decided tomorrow that military action against Iran were warranted in response, is there any doubt that large majorities of Americans — and large majorities of Democrats — would support that? As I said when discussing the Awlaki killing, the truly “scary” aspect of all of this is that the U.S. Government need only point and utter the word “Terrorist” and hordes of citizens will rise up and demand not evidence, but blood.

UPDATE: Perpetual war-cheerleader Ken Pollack of Brookings says that, if true, this plot “shows that Tehran is meaner and nastier than ever before” and “would represent a major escalation of Iranian terrorist operations against the United States.” Also, he announces, this “should remind us that Iran also is not a normal country by any stretch of the imagination.” That — self-anointed arbiter of who is and is not a “normal country” — from a person as responsible as any pundit or think-tank expert for the attack on Iraq that killed at least 100,000 human beings, denouncing as Terrorists and abnormal a country that has invaded nobody.

UPDATE II: On NPR this morning, Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations — and Ken Pollack’s co-author on Iran — said this when asked if he has any doubts about the accuracy of U.S. government statements: “The only unusual aspect of this is actually having a terrorist operation on American territory. I don’t know what the evidence about this is, but I’m not in a position to doubt it.” That perfectly summarizes the political, media and “expert” class’ attitude toward U.S. Government claims: they’re keeping everything secret about their accusations, so there’s no reason to doubt what they’re claiming. The National Security Priesthood that uncritically amplified every U.S. Government claim and fanned the flames of war against Iraq is alive, well, and more mindless and dutiful than ever.

UPDATE III: The Christian Science Monitor details the many reasons why “Iran specialists who have followed the Islamic Republic for years say that many details in the alleged plot just don’t add up.”

11 October 2011

Police arrest more than 100 at Occupy Boston protest at Rose Kennedy Greenway

Officials want to keep the protesters out of the greenway, fearing they will ruin recently planted shrubs that cost the city $150,000. Because shrubs are more important than social justice or civil liberties!

Occupy Boston: Cops beat war vets

10 October 2011





What do these protesters want, anyway?


NYTimes Sues The Federal Government For Refusing To Reveal Its Secret Interpretation Of The PATRIOT Act | Techdirt

We've been covering for a while now how Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have been very concerned over the secret interpretation the feds have of one piece of the PATRIOT Act. They've been trying to pressure the government into publicly explaining how they interpret the law, because they believe that it directly contrasts how most of the public (and many elected officials) believe the feds are interpreting the law. While the two Senators continue to put pressure on the feds and to hint at the feds' interpretation, just the fact that the government won't even explain its own interpretation of the law seems ridiculous. Given all of this, reporter Charlie Savage of the NY Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out the federal government's interpretation of its own law... and had it refused. According to the federal government, its own interpretation of the law is classified. What sort of democracy are we living in when the government can refuse to even say how it's interpreting its own law? That's not democracy at all. Julian Sanchez points us to the news that Savage and the NY Times have now sued the federal government for not revealing its interpretation of the PATRIOT Act, pointing out that if parts of the interpretation contain classified material, the Justice Department should black that out and reveal the rest, but simply refusing to reveal the interpretation entirely is a violation of the Freedom of Information Act. You can bet that the feds will do everything they can to get out of this lawsuit, just as they did with the various lawsuits concerning warrantless wiretapping. Here's hoping the court systems don't let them. No matter what you think of this administration (or the last one) and how it's handling the threat of terrorism, I'm curious how anyone can make the argument that the US government should not reveal how it interprets the very laws under which it's required to operate.

Environmental deficit spending


Your government at work-- for rich folk only!


Pigs of Wall Street


Panic of the Plutocrats - NYTimes.com

It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America’s direction. Yet the protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general, and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent. And this reaction tells you something important — namely, that the extremists threatening American values are what F.D.R. called “economic royalists,” not the people camping in Zuccotti Park.

Consider first how Republican politicians have portrayed the modest-sized if growing demonstrations, which have involved some confrontations with the police — confrontations that seem to have involved a lot of police overreaction — but nothing one could call a riot. And there has in fact been nothing so far to match the behavior of Tea Party crowds in the summer of 2009.

Nonetheless, Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, has denounced “mobs” and “the pitting of Americans against Americans.” The G.O.P. presidential candidates have weighed in, with Mitt Romney accusing the protesters of waging “class warfare,” while Herman Cain calls them “anti-American.” My favorite, however, is Senator Rand Paul, who for some reason worries that the protesters will start seizing iPads, because they believe rich people don’t deserve to have them.

Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor and a financial-industry titan in his own right, was a bit more moderate, but still accused the protesters of trying to “take the jobs away from people working in this city,” a statement that bears no resemblance to the movement’s actual goals.

And if you were listening to talking heads on CNBC, you learned that the protesters “let their freak flags fly,” and are “aligned with Lenin.”

The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.

Last year, you may recall, a number of financial-industry barons went wild over very mild criticism from President Obama. They denounced Mr. Obama as being almost a socialist for endorsing the so-called Volcker rule, which would simply prohibit banks backed by federal guarantees from engaging in risky speculation. And as for their reaction to proposals to close a loophole that lets some of them pay remarkably low taxes — well, Stephen Schwarzman, chairman of the Blackstone Group, compared it to Hitler’s invasion of Poland.

And then there’s the campaign of character assassination against Elizabeth Warren, the financial reformer now running for the Senate in Massachusetts. Not long ago a YouTube video of Ms. Warren making an eloquent, down-to-earth case for taxes on the rich went viral. Nothing about what she said was radical — it was no more than a modern riff on Oliver Wendell Holmes’s famous dictum that “Taxes are what we pay for civilized society.”

But listening to the reliable defenders of the wealthy, you’d think that Ms. Warren was the second coming of Leon Trotsky. George Will declared that she has a “collectivist agenda,” that she believes that “individualism is a chimera.” And Rush Limbaugh called her “a parasite who hates her host. Willing to destroy the host while she sucks the life out of it.”

What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.

Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.

This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny — and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious, no matter how calmly and moderately, must be demonized and driven from the stage. In fact, the more reasonable and moderate a critic sounds, the more urgently he or she must be demonized, hence the frantic sliming of Elizabeth Warren.

So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.

The Kinks - Apeman 1970

I think I'm sophisticated 'Cos I'm living my life like a good homosapien But all around me everybody's multiplying Till they're walking round like flies man So I'm no better than the animals sitting in their cages in the zoo man 'Cos compared to the flowers and the birds and the trees I am an ape man I think I'm so educated and I'm so civilized 'Cos I'm a strict vegetarian But with the over-population and inflation and starvation And the crazy politicians I don't feel safe in this world no more I don't want to die in a nuclear war I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an ape man I'm an ape man, I'm an ape ape man I'm an ape man I'm a King Kong man I'm ape ape man I'm an ape man 'Cos compared to the sun that sits in the sky compared to the clouds as they roll by Compared to the bugs and the spiders and flies I am an ape man In man's evolution he has created the cities and the motor traffic rumble, but give me half a chance and I'd be taking off my clothes and living in the jungle 'Cos the only time that I feel at ease Is swinging up and down in a coconut tree Oh what a life of luxury to be like an ape man I'm an ape, I'm an ape ape man, I'm an ape man I'm a King Kong man, I'm a voo-doo man I'm an ape man I look out my window, but I can't see the sky 'Cos the air pollution is fogging up my eyes I want to get out of this city alive And make like an ape man Come and love me, be my ape man girl And we will be so happy in my ape man world I'm an ape man, I'm an ape ape man, I'm an ape man I'm a King Kong man, I'm a voo-doo man I'm an ape man I'll be your Tarzan, you'll be my Jane I'll keep you warm and you'll keep me sane and we'll sit in the trees and eat bananas all day Just like an ape man I'm an ape man, I'm an ape ape man, I'm an ape man I'm a King Kong man, I'm a voo-doo man I'm an ape man. I don't feel safe in this world no more I don't want to die in a nuclear war I want to sail away to a distant shore And make like an ape man.

09 October 2011

07 October 2011

Andrew Ross Sorkin’s assignment editor - Salon.com

The Occupy Wall Street protest has been growing in numbers, respectability, and media attention for several weeks now. Despite that, The New York Times‘ financial columnist who specializes in Wall Street coverage, Andrew Ross Sorkin, has neither visited the protests nor written about them — until today. In a column invoking the now-familiar journalistic tone of a zoologist examining a bizarre new species of animal discovered in the wild, Sorkin explains what prompted him to finally pay attention (via Michael Whitney):

I had gone down to Zuccotti Park to see the activist movement firsthand after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank last week, before nearly 700 people were arrested over the weekend during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.

“Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?” the C.E.O. asked me. I didn’t have an answer. “We’re trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this,” he continued, clearly concerned. “Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?

How interesting that when a CEO “of a major bank” wants to know how threatening these protests are, he doesn’t seek out corporate advisers or dispatch the bank’s investigators, but instead gets the NYT‘s notoriously banker-friendly Wall Street reporter on the phone and assigns him to report back. How equally interesting that if this NYT financial columnist can’t address the concerns and questions of a CEO “of a major bank,” he hops to it to find out what was demanded of him. Sorkin did what he was told, cautiously concluding:

As I wandered around the park, it was clear to me that most bankers probably don’t have to worry about being in imminent personal danger. This didn’t seem like a brutal group — at least not yet.

As I noted last week when critiquing the patronizing, dismissive and scornful attacks on these protests from establishment circles, the “message” is clear and obvious enough, and Sorkin had no trouble discerning a significant part of it: “the demonstrators are seeking accountability for Wall Street and corporate America for the financial crisis and the growing economic inequality gap.” He added: “that message is a warning shot about the kind of civil unrest that may emerge — as we’ve seen in some European countries — if our economy continues to struggle.” His CEO banking friend is right to be concerned: if not about this protest in particular then about the likelihood of social unrest generally, emerging as a result of their plundering and pilfering. That healthy fear on the part of the oligarchs has been all too absent.

Though it’s not evident in Sorkin’s column (nor in this characteristically snotty, petty, pseudo-intellectual condescension of yesterday from The New Republic), the prevailing media (and progressive) narrative about the protests has rapidly shifted from these-are-childish-vapid-losers to there-is-something-significant-happening-here. In part that’s because the protests have endured and grown; in part it’s because the participants are far less homogeneous and suscepitble to caricature than originally assumed; in part it’s because they are motivated by genuine and widespread financial suffering that huge numbers of Americans know intimately even though it receives so little attention from insulated media stars; in part it’s because NYPD abuse became its own galvanizing force and served to highlight the validity of the grievances; and in part because their refusal to adhere to the demands from the political and media class for Power Point professionalization and organizational hierarchies has enabled the protests to remain real, organic, independent, and passionate.

What will determine how long-lasting and significant is the impact of these protests is whether they allow themselves to be exploited into nothing more than vote-producing organs of the Democratic Party — the way the GOP so successfully converted the Tea Party into nothing more than a Party re-branding project. There is no question that such efforts are underway, as organizations that serve as Party loyalists try to glom onto the protests and distort them into partisan tools.

I have a hard time seeing that working. After all, the reason this is a street protest movement (rather than, say, a voter-registration crusade or an OFA project) is precisely because the protesters concluded that dedicating themselves to the President’s re-election and/or the Democratic Party is hardly a means for combating Wall Street’s influence, rising wealth inequality or corporatist control of the political process. Still, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that the reason these protests are now receiving more respect in establishment venues is because those venues now see some potential use to be made of them. Those dedicated to the original purpose and message of the protest – and Matt Stoller defined that as well as anyone here — will need to make resisting those efforts a top priority if they want to succeed.

Though the Tea Party was effectively annexed into the GOP, it did succeed in creating itself as a force within the Party which must be heeded and which cannot be entirely controlled by party leaders. Aaron Bady suggested today that perhaps that’s the best-case scenario to be realistically hoped for here: that these protests metastasize into a genuine protest movement that at least forces the Democratic Party to take heed, pay attention, and periodically make substantial concessions. That’s a reasonable view, but the unique value and promise of these protests is that they are independent of prevailing political institutions, and it’s difficult to see how these protests can simultaneously be fully integrated into those institutions while preserving that value.

The dynamics they are contesting are overwhelmingly systemic, not partisan. The call between Sorkin and his banking-CEO-friend that caused the NYT columnist to make his anthropological foray into the street jungle to report back on the discontented animals is a perfect symbol of the institutional forces that are the target of this unrest. Dedicating oneself principally to the Democratic Party’s electoral prospects or Barack Obama’s re-election campaign would seem a glaring non sequitur to those concerns.

04 October 2011