Sunday, November 13, 2011

If We Don't Solve the Jobs Crisis We May End Up With Our Streets in Flames and Society Dysfunctional

If We Don't Solve the Jobs Crisis We May End Up With Our Streets in Flames and Society Dysfunctional

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Employers added fewer jobs than was forecast in October, which has lots of folks scratching their heads over what to do about it.

In response to the latest unemployment figures, our nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, has again begun talking about additional stimulus measures, such as the purchases of mortgage backed securities (MBS) or a bond-buying program known as “QE3”. But neither of these measures worked before, so why should we expect more success this time?

The Fed’s policies are akin to putting a Band-Aid on a massive bleeding wound. Right now, the US economy is crushed by massive private indebtedness and sluggish job growth. What we really need are policies designed to promote job growth, so that people can service their debts and become open to spending again. Admittedly, the Fed isn’t the only problem. Our whole constellation of policy makers – the Fed, Congress, the Treasury and the White House – keep obsessing about the faux “costs” of the growing budget deficit, rather than the real costs of long term unemployment. And if they don’t give up this flawed economic thinking, then the burning streets and mass riots happening in Europe may soon be coming to a neighborhood near you.

The Fed’s Misguided Focus

Let’s start with the Fed. Ben Bernanke is a noted Great Depression scholar who ought to know a thing or two about unemployment crises. But when he looks at Japan’s long-term unemployment problem, for example, he unfortunately learns the wrong lessons. In 1999, Bernanke dubbed Japan’s struggling economy “a case of self-induced paralysis” that could only be solved through cutting government spending and deficit reduction. In reality, too much government spending hasn’t been Japan’s problem, but rather stop-start spending that seesawed the economy between hopeful improvement and harmful austerity measures that took money out of the hands of consumers. The great mistake in Japan has been the failure to jump-start its weak economy by putting people back to work.

In the US, the Fed has cut interest rates aggressively, and while this has marginally helped to reduce borrowing costs, it has also robbed savers, such as pensioners, of income from the resultant lower interest rates.

Along with the Treasury, the Fed has provided a plethora of “alphabet soup” programs – TARP, TALF, HAMP, “QE” and, most recently, “Operation Twist,” a maneuver in which the central bank concentrates its purchases on long term bonds in order to bring these down and thereby (in theory) lower borrowing costs. Trillions of dollars were offered up in the form of hidden financial guarantees and subsidies to Wall Street. In effect, the banks got risk-free money with which to speculate (in things like energy and food, which also diminished Main Street’s discretionary spending power).

In the case of the two installments of quantitative easing (“QE1” and “QE2”), the Fed bought trillions of assets from the banking system for the ostensible purpose of encouraging banks to make more low cost loans to consumers. How’s that working out for you so far?

Meanwhile, in the real world, unemployment remains stuck at 9%, and underemployment of 16% - hardly boom-time conditions. And now, realizing it's done about all it can do, the Fed admits that monetary policy can't do it all –which is exactly what Bernanke should have learned by looking at Japan.

Where do jobs come from?

At the same time, the Federal Reserve, like the President, Congress, the Treasury Secretary, and a slew of mainstream economists (most of whom completely missed the 2008 crisis) all disparage the one thing that could work – namely a large-scale jobs program. They all maintain the mistaken belief that the government's focus should be reducing the deficit instead of unemployment. Trying to reduce the deficit will never work because in times of economic decline, what are called “automatic stabilizers” kick in to keep the economy from going into free fall -- things like unemployment benefits or food stamps. A government can’t make these kinds of payments without increasing its deficit in the short-term. And that’s as it should be, because what you’re trying to do is get some money into the hands of consumers, whose purchases begin to help the economy adjust itself. But this reality, which a Great Depression scholar should certainly know, has been obscured by several decades of fantasy economics promoted by conservatives. That this kind of thinking persists is perhaps the greatest obstacle we face in boosting the economy.

The United States is in a much better position to deal with its economic problems than a country like Greece because it has its own currency. When you have your own currency, and don’t operate under the constraint of a gold standard, you can actually respond to a collapse in the demand for goods and services by increasing government spending on job creation. This has been done many times in history, with positive results, such as FDR’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). It has been 80 years since the Great Depression, and fortunately, it would now take exceptionally poor policy responses for even the current severe recession to deteriorate into a depression. But misguided and overly tight fiscal policies have unfortunately prolonged the restoration of output and employment.

The head of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recently stated the obvious: “Employment creation has to become a top macroeconomic priority.”

Bottom line: consumers have to have money in their pockets. If it doesn’t come from private sector growth, then it has to come through government spending. We often hear that businesses create jobs. But in reality, sales and demand are the main source of jobs. No matter how cheap labor is, firms will not employ if they do not have sales for the production. Restaurants won’t hire another employee if the tables sit empty. That is a fundamental reason why John Maynard Keynes and others opposed wage cutting as a way of stimulating employment.

Right now, we’re in a state of emergency. The country’s economic output is still below levels reached in 2007. We need 15 million more jobs just to replace what was lost in the last 3 years. Employment remains stagnant, but we are told to tighten our belts and stop "living beyond our means." We are squeezed, and squeezed again. We hear talk about "unsustainable entitlement programs," such as Social Security and Medicare as if these programs had something do to with the collapse in the US economy. They didn’t. The collapse occurred because the private credit bubble burst and households and firms began the long journey that will be necessary to restore the health of their balance sheets. It collapsed because the demand for goods and services was being driven by credit growth instead of real wages growth. That was always going to be an unsustainable growth path. Which can only mean one thing – there has to be more public spending – which should be targeted at maximizing the growth of decent and stable jobs.

What’s at Stake

The losses involved in enduring this persistent unemployment are so large that such interventions should be a priority. The majority of advanced nations are currently paralyzed by the political impasses and/or vehement pursuit of fiscal austerity. There is such a divide between what is needed and what is being done that it beggars belief.

Decades from now, historians may well wonder how we got so badly trapped into flawed economic thinking that the very things caused the problem in the first place are now being touted as the solution. Somehow we have got to remember the lesson that maximizing employment and output in each period of economic crisis has been a necessary condition for long-term growth.

Many of our young people will enter adult life having never worked and having never gained any productive skills or experience. If we don’t start thinking differently, we may end up with our streets in flames and our society dysfunctional. In trying to avoid becoming the next Greece, we ironically risk precisely that.

Congratulations Occupy Wall Street. You're Officially Making Companies Scared

Congratulations Occupy Wall Street. You're Officially Making Companies Scared

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Occupy ChicagoThe CME Group, which runs the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, is out with its 10-Q filing and the Occupy Wall Street movement is included in the report. [Footnoted via Dealbook]

It appears the Occupy Wall Street movement has garnered enough attention to be considered a new "risk factor" for the company, according to the regulatory filing.

Hacktivist group Anonymous was also mentioned in the company's filing.

From the CME Group's 10-Q filing:

Our role in the global marketplace may place us at greater risk for a cyber attack and other cyber security risks.

In connection with the continued economic uncertainty, groups such as Occupy Wall Street and Anonymous, have targeted the financial services industry as part of their protest against the perceived lax regulation of the financial sector and economic inequality. For example, the Anonymous group called on its supporters to launch a “distributed denial of service” attack to overwhelm website traffic on NYSE Euronext’s external Web site which resulted in a brief outage. While we have no evidence at this time that we are a specific target of a cyber attack, our role in the global marketplace places us at greater risk. Additionally, our role as a leading derivatives marketplace and the operation of our CME Globex electronic trading platform may place us at greater risk for misappropriation of our intellectual property. In September 2011, a former employee of CME Group was charged with two counts of theft of trade secrets in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury. We do not believe that any customer information, trade data or required regulatory information was compromised in this incident and we have no evidence that the trade secrets were distributed in connection with this matter. While we continue to employ resources to monitor the environment and protect our infrastructure against security breaches and misappropriation of our intellectual property assets, these measures may prove insufficient depending upon the attack or threat posed, which could result in system failures and delays that could cause us to lose customers, experience lower trading volume, incur significant liabilities or have a negative impact on our competitive advantage.

10 Ways the Occupy Movement Changes Everything

10 Ways the Occupy Movement Changes Everything

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Before the Occupy Wall Street movement, there was little discussion of the outsized power of Wall Street and the diminishing fortunes of the middle class.

The media blackout was especially remarkable given that issues like jobs and corporate influence on elections topped the list of concerns for most Americans.

Occupy Wall Street changed that. In fact, it may represent the best hope in years that “we the people” will step up to take on the critical challenges of our time. Here’s how the Occupy movement is already changing everything:

1. It names the source of the crisis.
The problems of the 99% are caused by Wall Street greed, corrupt banks, and a corporate take-over of the political system.

2. It provides a clear vision of the world we want.
We can create a world that works for everyone
, not just the wealthiest 1%.

3. It sets a new standard for public debate.
Those advocating policies and proposals must now demonstrate that their ideas will benefit the 99%. Serving only the 1% is no longer sufficient.

4. It presents a new narrative.
The solution is no longer to starve government, but to free society and government from corporate dominance.

5. It creates a big tent.
We, the 99%, are made up of people of all ages, races, occupations, and political beliefs, and we are learning to work together with respect.

6. It offers everyone a chance to create change.
No one is in charge. Anyone can get involved and make things happen.

7. It is a movement, not a list of demands.
The call for transformative structural change, not temporary fixes and single-issue reforms, is the movement’s sustaining power.

8. It combines the local and the global.
People are setting their own local agendas, tactics, and aims. But we also share solidarity, communication, and vision at the global level.

9. It offers an ethic and practice of deep democracy and community.
Patient decision-making translates into wisdom and common com-mitment when every voice is heard. Occupy sites are communities where anyone can discuss grievances, hopes, and dreams in an atmosphere of mutual support.

10. We have reclaimed our power.
Instead of looking to politicians and leaders to bring about change, we can see now that the power rests with us. Instead of being victims of the forces upending our lives, we are claiming our sovereign right to remake the world.

Like all human endeavors, Occupy Wall Street and its thousands of variations and spin-offs will be imperfect. There have already been setbacks and divisions, hardships and injury. But as our world faces extraordinary challenges—from climate change to soaring inequality—our best hope is the ordinary people, gathered in imperfect democracies, who are finding ways to fix a broken world.

This article is adapted from the book, This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street and the 99% Movement edited by Sarah van Gelder and the staff of YES! Magazine and published November 2011 by Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Sarah van Gelder and David Korten are co-founders of YES! Magazine; Steve Piersanti is publisher of Berrett-Koehler Publishers. This article is available under a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs (CC BY-ND) license, which allows for redistribution, commercial and non-commercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to the original publication of this book (photos not included). More on the book and other resources can be found at www.yesmagazine.org/owsbook.

How the War on Terror Militarized the Police

How the War on Terror Has Militarized the Police

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Over the past 10 years, law enforcement officials have begun to look and act more and more like soldiers. Here's why we should be alarmed.

machine-guns.jpg

Danny Moloshok / Reuters

At around 9:00 a.m. on May 5, 2011, officers with the Pima County, Arizona, Sheriff's Department's Special Weapons and Tactics (S.W.A.T.) team surrounded the home of 26-year-old José Guerena, a former U.S. Marine and veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, to serve a search warrant for narcotics. As the officers approached, Guerena lay sleeping in his bedroom after working the graveyard shift at a local mine. When his wife Vanessa woke him up, screaming that she had seen a man outside the window pointing a gun at her, Guerena grabbed his AR-15 rifle, instructed Vanessa to hide in the closet with their four-year old son, and left the bedroom to investigate.

Within moments, and without Guerena firing a shot--or even switching his rifle off of "safety"--he lay dying, his body riddled with 60 bullets. A subsequent investigation revealed that the initial shot that prompted the S.W.A.T. team barrage came from a S.W.A.T. team gun, not Guerena's. Guerena, reports later revealed, had no criminal record, and no narcotics were found at his home.

Sadly, the Guerenas are not alone; in recent years we have witnessed a proliferation in incidents of excessive, military-style force by police S.W.A.T. teams, which often make national headlines due to their sheer brutality. Why has it become routine for police departments to deploy black-garbed, body-armored S.W.A.T. teams for routine domestic police work? The answer to this question requires a closer examination of post-9/11 U.S. foreign policy and the War on Terror.

Ever since September 14, 2001, when President Bush declared war on terrorism, there has been a crucial, yet often unrecognized, shift in United States policy. Before 9/11, law enforcement possessed the primary responsibility for combating terrorism in the United States. Today, the military is at the tip of the anti-terrorism spear. This shift appears to be permanent: in 2006, the White House's National Strategy for Combating Terrorism confidently announced that the United States had "broken old orthodoxies that once confined our counterterrorism efforts primarily to the criminal justice domain."

In an effort to remedy their relative inadequacy in dealing with terrorism on U.S. soil, police forces throughout the country have purchased military equipment, adopted military training, and sought to inculcate a "soldier's mentality" among their ranks. Though the reasons for this increasing militarization of American police forces seem obvious, the dangerous side effects are somewhat less apparent.

Undoubtedly, American police departments have substantially increased their use of military-grade equipment and weaponry to perform their counterterrorism duties, adopting everything from body armor to, in some cases, attack helicopters. The logic behind this is understandable. If superior, military-grade equipment helps the police catch more criminals and avert, or at least reduce, the threat of a domestic terror attack, then we ought deem it an instance of positive sharing of technology -- right? Not necessarily. Indeed, experts in the legal community have raised serious concerns that allowing civilian law enforcement to use military technology runs the risk of blurring the distinction between soldiers and peace officers.

This is especially true in cases where, much to the chagrin of civil liberty advocates, police departments have employed their newly acquired military weaponry not only to combat terrorism but also for everyday patrolling. Before 9/11, the usual heavy weaponry available to a small-town police officer consisted of a standard pump-action shot gun, perhaps a high power rifle, and possibly a surplus M-16, which would usually have been kept in the trunk of the supervising officer's vehicle. Now, police officers routinely walk the beat armed with assault rifles and garbed in black full-battle uniforms. When one of us, Arthur Rizer, returned from active duty in Iraq, he saw a police officer at the Minneapolis airport armed with a M4 carbine assault rifle -- the very same rifle Arthur carried during his combat tour in Fallujah.

The extent of this weapon "inflation" does not stop with high-powered rifles, either. In recent years, police departments both large and small have acquired bazookas, machine guns, and even armored vehicles (mini-tanks) for use in domestic police work.

To assist them in deploying this new weaponry, police departments have also sought and received extensive military training and tactical instruction. Originally, only the largest of America's big-city police departments maintained S.W.A.T. teams, and they were called upon only when no other peaceful option was available and a truly military-level response was necessary. Today, virtually every police department in the nation has one or more S.W.A.T. teams, the members of whom are often trained by and with United States special operations commandos. Furthermore, with the safety of their officers in mind, these departments now habitually deploy their S.W.A.T. teams for minor operations such as serving warrants. In short, "special" has quietly become "routine."

The most serious consequence of the rapid militarization of American police forces, however, is the subtle evolution in the mentality of the "men in blue" from "peace officer" to soldier. This development is absolutely critical and represents a fundamental change in the nature of law enforcement. The primary mission of a police officer traditionally has been to "keep the peace." Those whom an officer suspects to have committed a crime are treated as just that - suspects. Police officers are expected, under the rule of law, to protect the civil liberties of all citizens, even the "bad guys." For domestic law enforcement, a suspect in custody remains innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, police officers operate among a largely friendly population and have traditionally been trained to solve problems using a complex legal system; the deployment of lethal violence is an absolute last resort.

Soldiers, by contrast, are trained to identify people they encounter as belonging to one of two groups -- the enemy and the non-enemy -- and they often reach this decision while surrounded by a population that considers the soldier an occupying force. Once this identification is made, a soldier's mission is stark and simple: kill the enemy, "try" not to kill the non-enemy. Indeed, the Soldier's Creed declares, "I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat." This is a far cry from the peace officer's creed that expects its adherents "to protect and serve."

The point here is not to suggest that police officers in the field should not take advantage of every tactic or piece of equipment that makes them safer as they carry out their often challenging and strenuous duties. Nor do I mean to suggest that a police officer, once trained in military tactics, will now seek to kill civilians. It is far too easy for Monday-morning quarterbacks to unfairly second-guess the way police officers perform their jobs while they are out on the streets waging what must, at times, feel like a war.

Notwithstanding this concern, however, Americans should remain mindful bringing military-style training to domestic law enforcement has real consequences. When police officers are dressed like soldiers, armed like soldiers, and trained like soldiers, it's not surprising that they are beginning to act like soldiers. And remember: a soldier's main objective is to kill the enemy.

Occupy Movement is Spreading and Growing

Occupy Movement is Spreading and Growing

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Our captured government won’t do its job. It doesn't keep Wall Street and banks and giant corporations from ripping us off and doesn't prosecute them after they do. It doesn't stop polluters - even as the effects of climate change increase. It doesn't enforce employment and labor laws, so all of us who work fall further and further behind. It doesn't take care of those in need even as more and more of us are in greater and greater need. It just helps the connected rich get richer. So people finally got fed up, and started "occupying." Now the occupy movement is spreading to more and more cities, growing with more and more people, and expanding people's understanding of the power that comes from speaking out.

It started with Occupy Wall Street, people rising up over the greed and inequality, the1% vs 99%. Labor joined, adding their voice and grievances. Veterans, teachers and others are showing up in greater and greater numbers now. Others are joining. Now it's everywhere: Hundreds of towns like Occupy Orlando and Chicago and Portland and Nashville and Asheville and Oakland and even little towns like Redwood City.

People are getting arrested as the powers-that-be react to the spreading and growing crowds. According to Chris Bowers at Daily Kos,

Arrests in Chicago, New York City, Fresno, Eureka, Denver, Portland, Boston, Seattle, Oakland, Ashville, Riverside and more cities over the weekend has brought the total number of arrests of Occupy protesters over 3,350.

Globalization Of Protest

The world feels the effect of their common wealth draining to shock-doctrine attacks from the 1%. Economist Joseph Stiglitz writes at Al Jazeera that in reaction to this we are seeing The globalisation of protest,

The protest movement that began in Tunisia in January, subsequently spreading to Egypt and then to Spain, has now become global - with the protests engulfing Wall Street and cities across America. Globalization and modern technology now enables social movements to transcend borders as rapidly as ideas can.

And social protest has found fertile ground everywhere: A sense that the "system" has failed, and the conviction that even in a democracy, the electoral process will not set things right - at least not without strong pressure from the street.

Stiglitz writes that around the world these protesters are sounding an alarm:

They are right that something is wrong about our "system". Around the world, we have underutilized resources - people who want to work, machines that lie idle, buildings that are empty - and huge unmet needs: Fighting poverty, promoting development, and retrofitting the economy for global warming, to name just a few. In America, after more than seven million home foreclosures in recent years, we have empty homes and homeless people.

The protesters have been criticized for not having an agenda. But this misses the point of protest movements. They are an expression of frustration with the electoral process. They are an alarm.

... On one level, today's protesters are asking for little: A chance to use their skills, the right to decent work at decent pay, a fairer economy and society. Their hope is evolutionary, not revolutionary. But, on another level, they are asking for a great deal: A democracy where people, not dollars, matter, and a market economy that delivers on what it is supposed to do.

Seniors Occupying Over Social Security & Medicare Cuts

More groups are expressing their own dissatisfaction with the captured government cutting back in order to preserve the tax cuts and other benefits of the top 1%. At The Huffington Post, Lizzie Schiffman reports in, Seniors Join Occupy Chicago, Protest Cuts To Medicare, Social Security

More than 1,000 senior citizens and their supporters marched from Chicago's Federal Plaza to the intersection of Jackson and Clark Street Monday morning to protest proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

… Amid chants demanding that the cuts be forestalled -- with suggestions for alternatives, including tax hikes -- 43 demonstrators were escorted from the intersection (see video, above) by police and issued citations for pedestrian failure to "exercise due care," or for blocking traffic. Those cited included four protesters using assisted mobility devices and at least one centenarian.

Moving Money From Banks

In conjunction with the Occupy Movement, people have started to move money from the too-big banks to non-profit credit unions that exist to actually serve the customers instead of the few at the top. 650,000 people moved from banks to credit unions just in October -- more than all of the prior year -- and early estimates of the recent November 5 action calculate that perhaps $60 billion was moved.

Occupy The Super Committee

Congress' supercommittee of the 1% is discussing how much money to take out of the economy of the 99% by cutting back on the things our government does for We, the People. They want to cut the deficits that resulted from tax cuts for the rich and huge increases in military spending -- without undoing those. So now a group is setting up to occupy the supercommittee. The Occupied Super Committee Hearing of the 99%

OccupyWashingtonDC to hold Occupied Super Committee Hearing for the 99%
Wednesday, November 9th at 11:00 AM

OccupyWashingtonDC.org will hold a hearing on the economy for the 99% that will examine how to create a fair economy for all Americans.

The Occupied Hearing will contrast with hearings on Capitol Hill which are destined to enrich the 1% and protect major donors.

The Occupied Super Committee Hearing for the 99% will examine critical issues facing the economy and the federal budget. The hearing will include testimony from people with great understanding of the issues facing the country as well as comments from the 99% who are directly affected by the economy.

Hundreds Of Thousands Of Views Of A Congressman's Occupy Video

How often does a member of Congress put a video on YouTube and quickly get hundreds of thousands of views? Keith Ellison (D-MN), Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, made a video for the "Congressional Youtube Town Hall" series, talking about the Occupy Wall Street movement. The video has received 340,000 views as of Tuesday morning.


Occupy Everywhere And Everything

Possible new Occupy actions include places that the government is ignoring its responsibilities, and people are sick of just taking it. Some ideas:

  • Occupying polluting companies, until they stop polluting.
  • Occupying privatized public functions -- jobs that have been handed to private contractors in order to pay people poverty wages, while making a few at the top very, very rich.
  • Occupying companies that refuse to hire the unemployed.
  • Occupying companies that refuse to hire people over 40.

    Encouraged by the Occupy Movement, more and more people are finding their voice and speaking out.

Why a Dollar & Euro Collapse Is Guaranteed

From Balfour to Obama: Colonial Thinking on Palestine

From Balfour to Obama: Colonial Thinking on Palestine

The Palestinian people never consented to be occupied.

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Nations that come into existence by dispossessing, imprisoning and slaughtering the indigenous population have two problems with history:

1. Its ugliness makes it hard to glorify.
2. Its shortness exposes the tenuousness of any claim that this is 'our land'.

--Paul Woodward, American and Israeli Exceptionalism (WarInContext.org)

By Roger Sheety

The phrase “British Mandate of Palestine” is as commonplace in Western and Zionist scholarship on Palestine as to be inoffensive and therefore barely given a second thought. Indeed, a quick internet search of this seemingly innocuous term reveals some two million results of wildly varying quality and usefulness.

There was, however, no such thing as “British Mandate” of Palestine; it was and remains a purely European/Western colonial construct, an abstraction with real and disastrous consequences. In reality, the Palestinian people never consented to be occupied by British colonials, never agreed to have their ancestral land partitioned and given away to other Europeans, and never asked to be “civilized” by an imperial government which was completely ignorant of their language, culture and history. The same could be said of “French Mandate” Syria and Lebanon or “British Mandate” Iraq.

The term “British Mandate” did have its uses, though. It allowed colonial historians and apologists to believe that Palestine was somehow destined for partition, which made it “legal” and thus sanctified. You see, there was a mandate to Britain given by the League of Nations in 1922 and so Britain, the greatest nation on earth, the model of Western enlightenment and progressive thought, was obligated to carry out its mission—or so the argument went. And what of the indigenous people of Palestine? As summed up by Lord Balfour in 1917, their aspirations, their rights and even their very existence were of little or no consequence:

“Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. We do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.”

It did not matter that Palestinians were still the majority population in 1948, despite decades of British-supported Jewish immigration from Europe and Russia. And nor did it matter that Palestinians were still the majority land owners in Palestine despite the fact that the Jewish National Fund, founded in 1901 in Basel, Switzerland, spent half a century desperately trying (and mostly failing) to buy land in Palestine for exclusive Jewish colonies. In colonialist thinking in general and in Zionist ideology in particular, self-evident and mythological “age-long tradition” and grand, rhetorical flourishes always outweigh historical facts and realities.

The same colonial/racist thinking remains prevalent in much of current mainstream Western discourse on Palestine. It is assumed, for example, that only the United States can somehow solve the Palestine “problem.” It is self-evident that only the world’s remaining superpower can act as an impartial arbitrator and mediator between two (supposedly) intransigent sides. Why? Because of American exceptionalism of course, because America is unique, a shining city on a hill, the standard-bearer of democracy—or so the argument goes. Never mind the fact that the United States government provides Israel with billions of dollars each year, arms it with the most advanced military hardware money can buy and excuses its continuing crimes against humanity with unlimited diplomatic cover and unconditional support. Just as with Balfour’s words in 1917, facts are made irrelevant by magical, incantatory language.

As with the so-called British Mandate and American exceptionalism though, colonialist language and discourse are deeply tied to actions, however unjust, immoral and violent. Take for instance Israel’s most recent plans to ethnically cleanse thirty thousand Palestinian Bedouin from their ancestral lands in the Naqab (Negev). Here is how just one headline in the June 2nd edition of Haaretz, a major Israeli newspaper and mainstream media outlet, puts it: “Netanyahu’s office promoting plan to relocate 30,000 Bedouin.” The sub-headline reads: “Plan aims to improve living conditions for Bedouins currently living in unrecognized villages lacking necessary infrastructure, which results in severe environmental and other problems.”

A plan of dispossession and ethnic cleansing thus becomes a “promotion” of “relocation” for better living conditions and concern for the environment. Buried deep in the story is the fact that the Bedouin are the actual owners of the land they are living on, an ownership which predates the Israeli state, but even this fact becomes a mere “claim.” Nowhere in the article is a word about who the Bedouin really are: a part of the indigenous people of historical Palestine.

Since the Bedouin are never Palestinian in Haaretz or in any Israeli mainstream media but simply “Arabs,” they can therefore be relocated (that is, ethnically cleansed) to wherever the Israeli state wishes; in other words they have no history, no connection to the land, and no relationship to other Palestinians throughout historical Palestine and the Diaspora. With this one word (“Arabs”) all these realities are made to disappear.

This constant denial of the Palestinian Bedouin identity and history is in reality an echo of Golda Meir’s racist assertion that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people” and Balfour’s equally odious characterization of Palestinians in 1917 as merely “the present inhabitants of the country.” In such a manner, the Bedouins of the Naqab are pulled out of their historical context and separated from other Palestinians. For how is the planned expulsion and dispossession of Palestinian Bedouin different from that of the majority of Palestinians expelled from Haifa, ‘Akka, Jaffa, Safad, Jerusalem or Beer al-Sabe’ (to name only a few examples) in 1948? The answer is simple: it is no different at all.

In fact, the shadow of the Nakba, the original expulsion of 1947-48, still looms large. Here, for instance, is Yosef Weitz, one of the architects of Plan Dalet, musing in 1941 on how to “remove” the indigenous people of Palestine, as well as take over significant parts of Syria and Lebanon:

“The Land of Israel is not small at all, if only the Arabs will be removed, and if its frontiers would be enlarged a little; to the north all the way to the Litani [River in Lebanon], and to the east by including the Golan Heights...while the Arabs should be transferred to northern Syria and Iraq” (Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 134).

Note how, just as with Balfour, the peoples of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, do not count at all in Weitz’s repugnant vision; they are nonpersons, objects to be shifted about here and there according to the whims of the Zionist leadership. Note as well the cavalier way in which Weitz ponders where to draw the borders of his future state with complete disregard for the peoples of the region, like some child drawing random lines on a piece of paper.

Now here is Tzipi Livni (one of the driving forces behind Operation Cast Lead), a supposedly moderate, progressive voice in current Israeli politics, in a speech to a group of high school students in 2008 on what might happen to Palestinian citizens of the state in the event of a two-state solution:

“My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic State of Israel is to have two nation-states with certain concessions and with clear red lines...And among other things, I will also be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Israeli Arabs, and tell them, 'your national solution lies elsewhere’” (Jerusalem Post, FM takes heat over Israeli Arab remark, December 11, 2008).

More than seventy years later and Zionist colonial thinking is unchanged—Palestinians are perceived as mere pieces on a game board that can be moved around in order to maintain the “Jewish and democratic State of Israel.” It naturally never occurs to Livni that there is nothing democratic or Jewish about ethnic cleansing, so internalized is her own propaganda. Perhaps she is more subtle than Weitz or Balfour in her choice of words, but the racism remains the same.

Indeed, Israel’s entire historical narrative is built on such colonial fabrications of myth, erasure of historical facts, euphemisms, evasions and outright denial of reality: Palestine was “a land without people for a people without a land,” “the Israelis made the desert bloom,” “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East,” “the Israeli army is the most moral army in the world,” “Israel is the light unto the nations,” “we’re in a tough neighbourhood,” “we have no partner in peace,” “Arabs only understand the language of force” and so on.

The almost daily attacks on Palestinians in both the Occupied Territories and in Israel itself, and the continuing theft of Palestinian land and culture are more often than not explained away using such linguistic evasions and blatant falsehoods, as has every Israeli war since the state’s inception. It brings to mind Tacitus’ famous maxim: “They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace.”

In the hands of colonizers and conquerors, language is always a weapon used against the colonized and the occupied. Within an imperial/colonial mindset, language is more often than not used by those in power to fabricate, confuse, dehumanize and dominate. It is a tool used to justify past crimes and to excuse future ones. With settler colonialism in particular, language is used to denigrate or even erase the history and culture of the indigenous population being usurped.

As the Israeli Professor of language and education Nurit Peled-Elhanan recently wrote, “[Israeli] apartheid is not only a bunch of racist laws, it is a state of mind, fashioned by education. Israeli children are educated from a very tender age to see ‘Arab’ citizens and ‘Arabs’ in general as a problem that must be solved, eliminated in one way or another….Israeli education succeeds in building mental walls that are far thicker than the concrete wall that is being constructed to incarcerate the Palestinian nation and hide their existence from our eyes….[Israelis] don’t consider Palestinians as human beings like themselves, but as an inferior species, that deserve much less” (Independent Online/Daily News, How racist laws imprison a nation, November 3, 2011).

If Israeli Jews sincerely desire a just and lasting peace they would do well to first shed once and for all this pervasive and pernicious colonial mentality and its accompanying delusory supremacist language and learn to see Palestinians as their full equals, nothing more and nothing less. On the other hand, do not expect Palestinians to accept their dispossession, their ethnic cleansing or their current occupied or second-class status on their own land as a final reality, for not only would this be unethical and unjust but—as this acceptance would be equivalent to surrender—it is also something that will never happen.

By Roger Sheety

November 08, 2011 "Information Clearing House" -- The phrase “British Mandate of Palestine” is as commonplace in Western and Zionist scholarship on Palestine as to be inoffensive and therefore barely given a second thought. Indeed, a quick internet search of this seemingly innocuous term reveals some two million results of wildly varying quality and usefulness.

There was, however, no such thing as “British Mandate” of Palestine; it was and remains a purely European/Western colonial construct, an abstraction with real and disastrous consequences. In reality, the Palestinian people never consented to be occupied by British colonials, never agreed to have their ancestral land partitioned and given away to other Europeans, and never asked to be “civilized” by an imperial government which was completely ignorant of their language, culture and history. The same could be said of “French Mandate” Syria and Lebanon or “British Mandate” Iraq.

The term “British Mandate” did have its uses, though. It allowed colonial historians and apologists to believe that Palestine was somehow destined for partition, which made it “legal” and thus sanctified. You see, there was a mandate to Britain given by the League of Nations in 1922 and so Britain, the greatest nation on earth, the model of Western enlightenment and progressive thought, was obligated to carry out its mission—or so the argument went. And what of the indigenous people of Palestine? As summed up by Lord Balfour in 1917, their aspirations, their rights and even their very existence were of little or no consequence:

“Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. We do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country.”

It did not matter that Palestinians were still the majority population in 1948, despite decades of British-supported Jewish immigration from Europe and Russia. And nor did it matter that Palestinians were still the majority land owners in Palestine despite the fact that the Jewish National Fund, founded in 1901 in Basel, Switzerland, spent half a century desperately trying (and mostly failing) to buy land in Palestine for exclusive Jewish colonies. In colonialist thinking in general and in Zionist ideology in particular, self-evident and mythological “age-long tradition” and grand, rhetorical flourishes always outweigh historical facts and realities.

The same colonial/racist thinking remains prevalent in much of current mainstream Western discourse on Palestine. It is assumed, for example, that only the United States can somehow solve the Palestine “problem.” It is self-evident that only the world’s remaining superpower can act as an impartial arbitrator and mediator between two (supposedly) intransigent sides. Why? Because of American exceptionalism of course, because America is unique, a shining city on a hill, the standard-bearer of democracy—or so the argument goes. Never mind the fact that the United States government provides Israel with billions of dollars each year, arms it with the most advanced military hardware money can buy and excuses its continuing crimes against humanity with unlimited diplomatic cover and unconditional support. Just as with Balfour’s words in 1917, facts are made irrelevant by magical, incantatory language.

As with the so-called British Mandate and American exceptionalism though, colonialist language and discourse are deeply tied to actions, however unjust, immoral and violent. Take for instance Israel’s most recent plans to ethnically cleanse thirty thousand Palestinian Bedouin from their ancestral lands in the Naqab (Negev). Here is how just one headline in the June 2nd edition of Haaretz, a major Israeli newspaper and mainstream media outlet, puts it: “Netanyahu’s office promoting plan to relocate 30,000 Bedouin.” The sub-headline reads: “Plan aims to improve living conditions for Bedouins currently living in unrecognized villages lacking necessary infrastructure, which results in severe environmental and other problems.”

A plan of dispossession and ethnic cleansing thus becomes a “promotion” of “relocation” for better living conditions and concern for the environment. Buried deep in the story is the fact that the Bedouin are the actual owners of the land they are living on, an ownership which predates the Israeli state, but even this fact becomes a mere “claim.” Nowhere in the article is a word about who the Bedouin really are: a part of the indigenous people of historical Palestine.

Since the Bedouin are never Palestinian in Haaretz or in any Israeli mainstream media but simply “Arabs,” they can therefore be relocated (that is, ethnically cleansed) to wherever the Israeli state wishes; in other words they have no history, no connection to the land, and no relationship to other Palestinians throughout historical Palestine and the Diaspora. With this one word (“Arabs”) all these realities are made to disappear.

This constant denial of the Palestinian Bedouin identity and history is in reality an echo of Golda Meir’s racist assertion that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people” and Balfour’s equally odious characterization of Palestinians in 1917 as merely “the present inhabitants of the country.” In such a manner, the Bedouins of the Naqab are pulled out of their historical context and separated from other Palestinians. For how is the planned expulsion and dispossession of Palestinian Bedouin different from that of the majority of Palestinians expelled from Haifa, ‘Akka, Jaffa, Safad, Jerusalem or Beer al-Sabe’ (to name only a few examples) in 1948? The answer is simple: it is no different at all.

In fact, the shadow of the Nakba, the original expulsion of 1947-48, still looms large. Here, for instance, is Yosef Weitz, one of the architects of Plan Dalet, musing in 1941 on how to “remove” the indigenous people of Palestine, as well as take over significant parts of Syria and Lebanon:

“The Land of Israel is not small at all, if only the Arabs will be removed, and if its frontiers would be enlarged a little; to the north all the way to the Litani [River in Lebanon], and to the east by including the Golan Heights...while the Arabs should be transferred to northern Syria and Iraq” (Nur Masalha, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 134).

Note how, just as with Balfour, the peoples of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, do not count at all in Weitz’s repugnant vision; they are nonpersons, objects to be shifted about here and there according to the whims of the Zionist leadership. Note as well the cavalier way in which Weitz ponders where to draw the borders of his future state with complete disregard for the peoples of the region, like some child drawing random lines on a piece of paper.

Now here is Tzipi Livni (one of the driving forces behind Operation Cast Lead), a supposedly moderate, progressive voice in current Israeli politics, in a speech to a group of high school students in 2008 on what might happen to Palestinian citizens of the state in the event of a two-state solution:

“My solution for maintaining a Jewish and democratic State of Israel is to have two nation-states with certain concessions and with clear red lines...And among other things, I will also be able to approach the Palestinian residents of Israel, those whom we call Israeli Arabs, and tell them, 'your national solution lies elsewhere’” (Jerusalem Post, FM takes heat over Israeli Arab remark, December 11, 2008).

More than seventy years later and Zionist colonial thinking is unchanged—Palestinians are perceived as mere pieces on a game board that can be moved around in order to maintain the “Jewish and democratic State of Israel.” It naturally never occurs to Livni that there is nothing democratic or Jewish about ethnic cleansing, so internalized is her own propaganda. Perhaps she is more subtle than Weitz or Balfour in her choice of words, but the racism remains the same.

Indeed, Israel’s entire historical narrative is built on such colonial fabrications of myth, erasure of historical facts, euphemisms, evasions and outright denial of reality: Palestine was “a land without people for a people without a land,” “the Israelis made the desert bloom,” “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East,” “the Israeli army is the most moral army in the world,” “Israel is the light unto the nations,” “we’re in a tough neighbourhood,” “we have no partner in peace,” “Arabs only understand the language of force” and so on.

The almost daily attacks on Palestinians in both the Occupied Territories and in Israel itself, and the continuing theft of Palestinian land and culture are more often than not explained away using such linguistic evasions and blatant falsehoods, as has every Israeli war since the state’s inception. It brings to mind Tacitus’ famous maxim: “They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace.”

In the hands of colonizers and conquerors, language is always a weapon used against the colonized and the occupied. Within an imperial/colonial mindset, language is more often than not used by those in power to fabricate, confuse, dehumanize and dominate. It is a tool used to justify past crimes and to excuse future ones. With settler colonialism in particular, language is used to denigrate or even erase the history and culture of the indigenous population being usurped.

As the Israeli Professor of language and education Nurit Peled-Elhanan recently wrote, “[Israeli] apartheid is not only a bunch of racist laws, it is a state of mind, fashioned by education. Israeli children are educated from a very tender age to see ‘Arab’ citizens and ‘Arabs’ in general as a problem that must be solved, eliminated in one way or another….Israeli education succeeds in building mental walls that are far thicker than the concrete wall that is being constructed to incarcerate the Palestinian nation and hide their existence from our eyes….[Israelis] don’t consider Palestinians as human beings like themselves, but as an inferior species, that deserve much less” (Independent Online/Daily News, How racist laws imprison a nation, November 3, 2011).

If Israeli Jews sincerely desire a just and lasting peace they would do well to first shed once and for all this pervasive and pernicious colonial mentality and its accompanying delusory supremacist language and learn to see Palestinians as their full equals, nothing more and nothing less. On the other hand, do not expect Palestinians to accept their dispossession, their ethnic cleansing or their current occupied or second-class status on their own land as a final reality, for not only would this be unethical and unjust but—as this acceptance would be equivalent to surrender—it is also something that will never happen.

Over 50% Of US Homeowners Are Effectively Underwater

Half of US Mortgages Are Effectively Underwater

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A new report on still-falling home prices today highlights the fact that the lower those prices go, the more American borrowers fall into an negative equity position; that is, they owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

Getty Images

Most analysts will tell you that negative equity is the number one problem in the housing market today, even worse than foreclosures, because it causes foreclosures, stymies consumer spending and traps potential home buyers and sellers in place.

Negative equity rose to 28.6 percent of single-family homes with mortgages in the third quarter of this year, according to Zillow. That's up from 26.8 percent in the second quarter. In real terms, that's 14.6 million borrowers.

Many of those borrowers are already behind on their mortgage payments, and some are likely already in the foreclosure process. The rest of them are in danger of defaulting, not because they can't pay their mortgages, but because they either won't want to (seeing as they will never see any real appreciation in their investment) or because any change in their economic or personal situation might force them into default (change of job, divorce).

While 14.6 million might seem like a lot, it's not the real number when you consider negative equity in housing's recovery. That's because it doesn't factor in "effective" negative equity, which is borrowers who have so little equity in their homes that they cannot afford to move.

Consider the following from mortgage analyst Mark Hanson:

On US totals, if you figure average house prices use conforming loan balances, then a repeat buyer has to have roughly 10 percent down to buy in addition to the 6 percent Realtor fee to sell. Thus, the effective negative equity target would be 85%. You also have to factor in secondary financing, which most measures leave out.

Based on that, over 50 percent of all mortgaged households in the US are effectively underwater — unable to sell for enough to pay a Realtor and put a down payment on a new purchase without coming out of pocket. Because repeat buyers have always carried the market as the foundation, this is why demand has not come back. It's as if half the potential buyers in America died over a two-year period of time.

The foreclosure crisis grabs most of the media attention these days, but in order for housing to recover, the market needs to see activity.

It's as simple as buying and selling. Negative and effective negative equity are causing stagnation, which may in the end be far more detrimental than foreclosures. The argument to solve this problem is principal forgiveness, and it is gaining traction politically and somewhat less in the banking sector.

Principal forgiveness, or lowering the balance of a large chunk of the nation's mortgages, would be costly at best but could be catastrophic at worst. "Those thinking principal reductions are a panacea have never originated a loan, done the street level research, and do not really know the borrowers behind their data," argues Hanson. "More than likely it would create a far greater number of new strategic defaulters than the number it would legitimately save from Foreclosure."

The right of citizens to videotape police

The right of citizens to videotape police

Actions against citizen videographers go against not just the Constitution but good public policy. Without a videotape, Rodney King would have been just another guy with a prior record claiming abuse.

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A demonstrator videos riot policemen at the "Occupy Denver" camp on Oct. 29 in Colorado. In Boston in August, the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unambiguously that the Constitution protects citizen videographers filming in public. (John Moore/Getty Images)

A demonstrator videos riot policemen at the "Occupy Denver" camp on Oct. 29 in Colorado. In Boston in August, the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unambiguously that the Constitution protects citizen videographers filming in public. (John Moore/Getty Images)


Twenty years ago, as Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police officers, a private citizen in a nearby apartment turned on his video camera. Largely because of that tape, four officers were criminally charged. In July, a homeless schizophrenic man died after a police beating in Fullerton. Audio from a cellphone video caught Kelly Thomas' cries for his father and helped force an investigation that resulted in a first-degree murder charge against one police officer.

FOR THE RECORD:
Recording: A Nov. 8 Op-Ed about citizens recording police activity misstated the charges brought against a police officer in Orange County in connection with the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The officer has been charged with second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter, not first-degree murder.

The increasing availability of cellphones and video cameras has fundamentally changed police abuse cases, creating vital evidence in cases that were once dismissed as matters of conflicting accounts between officers and citizens. With that change, however, has come a backlash from officers who, despite court rulings upholding the right of citizens to tape police in public, have been threatening or arresting people for the "crime" of recording them. In many states, prosecutors have fought to support such claims and put citizens in jail for videotaping officers, even in cases of police abuse.

In New York this year, Emily Good was arrested after videotaping the arrest of a man at a traffic stop in Rochester. Good was filming from her frontyard; an officer is heard saying to her, "I don't feel safe with you standing behind me, so I'm going to ask you to go into your house." When she continued to film, the officer said, "You seem very anti-police," and arrested her.

In Illinois last month, Brad Williams filed a lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department because, he said, he was beaten by police in response to his filming an officer holding and dragging a man down the street from inside a moving squad car. Ironically, Chicago has rejected complaints about the installation of thousands of cameras in the city that film citizens in public for use in prosecutions.

In Maryland in July, Anthony Graber got a well-deserved speeding ticket, but his real mistake was posting footage from his motorcycle helmet-cam on YouTube. It showed an irate off-duty, out-of-uniform officer pulling him over with his gun drawn. Prosecutors obtained a grand jury indictment against Graber on felony wiretap charges, which carry a 16-year prison sentence.

In Boston in August, the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unambiguously that the Constitution protects citizen videographers filming in public. In that case, attorney Simon Glik was walking past the Boston Common on Oct. 1, 2007, when he came upon three Boston officers arresting a man. Glik turned on his cellphone camera after hearing a witness say the police were being abusive. An officer told Glik to turn off his camera. When Glik refused, he was arrested for violation of the state wiretap statute, disturbing the peace and, for good measure, aiding in the escape of a prisoner.

The charges were dismissed after a public outcry, but in a later civil rights case, city attorneys fought to deny citizens the right to videotape police. The court rejected Boston's arguments and found that the police had denied Glik his 1st and 4th Amendment rights.

But other federal judges might not be so sure. Take Richard Posner, the intellectual leader of conservative judges and scholars who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago. Posner shocked many last month when he cut off an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, which had filed suit to challenge an Illinois law preventing audio recording of police without their consent.

The ACLU lawyer had uttered just 14 words when Posner barked: "I'm not interested, really, in what you want to do with these recordings of peoples' encounters with the police." Posner then added his concerns about meddling citizens: "Once all this stuff can be recorded, there's going to be a lot more of this snooping around by reporters and bloggers.... I'm always suspicious when the civil liberties people start telling the police how to do their business."

Many judges may privately share Posner's view of such confrontations. And the near-total silence of politicians in dealing with the question of the public's right to record what they see and hear suggests that many legislators may also find these cases inconvenient.

Actions against citizen videographers run against not just the Constitution but good public policy. Yet, without a videotape, Rodney King would have been just another guy with a prior record claiming abuse, against the word of multiple officers.

The outcome once was all but inevitable: no tape, no case. As long as police abuse is out of sight, it can also be out of mind. If successful, the backlash against citizens recording police could guarantee that Rodney King is never repeated — the officers' trial, that is.

The Story of Broke (2011)

The GOP War on Plaintiff Rights

The GOP War on Plaintiff Rights

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eah, I know, the GOP is at War against citizens rights to do just about everything that isn't US Chamber of Commerce approved these days. That's just one of the reasons citizens are finally taking to the streets to fight back. One of the ongoing Republican Wars getting very little attention is their War on the right of citizens to sue huge corporations for negligence, malfeasance, and other wrongdoing.

The week before last, I spent some time at a conference for mass tort plaintiff attorneys in Las Vegas, as hosted by my friend Mike Papantonio, the co-host of radio's "Ring of Fire" (along with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Sam Seder). Pap is one of the nation's premier class-action plaintiff attorneys, one of those folks willing to go to bat for the little guy when they're screwed over by huge conscience-free corporations.

I was invited to the conference to speak on a panel concerning the proposed $12 million hit scheme discovered earlier this year being plotted on behalf of the US Chamber of Commerce to turn tools developed by US government contractors for the "War on Terror" against US citizens like myself and my family. According to emails released on the Internet, the Chamber was working with mega-law firm Hunton & Williams and three federal cyber security firms (HBGary Federal, Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies) to smear, defraud, plant false documents and spy on their perceived political enemies such as myself and other progressive organizations.

The Chamber, which is all too happy to use mafia-like tactics to take down their perceived opponents, has also long been leading the charge on behalf of their enormous corporate members for so-called "tort reform," meant to do little more than make it next to impossible for citizens to fight back in a court of law against corporate abuse, neglect and malfeasance.

Among the many "reforms" being pushed by the Chamber and their bought-and-paid-for GOP cronies (both elected officials and judges - the Chamber is the nation's top funder of campaigns, with some 97 percent of their corporate millions going to Republican candidates and causes) are "caps" on damage judgments in such class-action suits.

The problem, as Rev. Al Sharpton pointed out during a very smart luncheon keynote address at the Vegas conference, is that the corporations being sued have no similar "caps" placed on the amount of money they are allowed to use to defend themselves in such lawsuits.

So, where a citizen who is, say, maimed or killed by corporate malfeasance is likely unable to personally have the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars it might cost to have an attorney take on a massive corporation with unlimited resources, law firms that might otherwise represent the plaintiff in a tort or mass tort are unlikely to do so on a pro bono basis if the firm is unable to both cover their own fees and make a profit at the end of the day, should they be meritorious in the case.

Make no mistake, the attempt to cap damage awards in such suits is meant to keep citizens from being able to bring such suits at all. Period. Even though it's often the only way to try and keep corporate abuse in check - particularly as government entities, which once might have done so, have largely been perverted, corrupted and defanged by the very same elected officials the Chamber helped put into office in the first place.

One case in point is the pending class-action suit against Bayer Pharmaceuticals that Papantonio's firm has now taken on. On the Friday we were at the conference, ABC news' "Nightline" happened to tell the story of Carissa Ubersox, a pediatric nurse who nearly died after taking YAZ, a birth control pill touted by Bayer as a "miracle" drug for its alleged ability to also treat acne and symptoms of PMS ...

According to "Nightline's" report, after Ubersox began taking YAZ, she ended up with "massive blood clots in both lungs" and fell into a coma which "lasted almost two weeks." When she awoke from the coma, she had gone blind, and now she's no longer able to work as a pediatric nurse as she rebuilds her life from scratch.

After the drug was touted in television ads by the company, and media outlets who bought into their PR, as a new "miracle pill" for PMS, sales of the drug immediately sky-rocketed to some $2 billion a year, making it Bayer's top-selling drug.

It was sold as "beyond birth control," in a massive and misleading television and print advertising campaign, for its supposed ability to fight acne (for which actually safe alternatives are available) and PMS (which the company was eventually forced to admit it didn't actually have any effect on).

After complaints were filed, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally forced Bayer to spend $20 million on corrective YAZ ads, admitting that the pill was "not ... shown to be effective" in countering symptoms of PMS, the very thing that helped it, along with targeted marketing to young girls as an acne treatment, become a $2 billion per year sensation.

Even with the $20 million penalty from the FDA (which has now reopened its investigation into the drug), Bayer's lies were extremely profitable for them. That is, unless they can be held accountable by a citizens' class-action suit going after a portion of that $2 billion dollars per year that Bayer took in.

While all birth control pills are known to offer a small risk of blood clots in users, Bayer insists that YAZ didn't offer higher risk than other birth control pills. However, the company's claims were based on their own (nonindependent) studies. As Boston University School of Medicine professor Susan Jick explains in the "Nightline" report, "two Bayer studies found no increase in risk, while the four independent studies all found increased risk."

Thousands of women are now suing Bayer, which claims no wrongdoing. The suit includes cases of women who were allegedly killed thanks to their use of YAZ, or acquired liver tumors, pulmonary embolism, gall bladder disease, strokes, organ failure, sudden death syndrome, and other deadly maladies, according to Papantonio.

But who would have the personal funds to go after Bayer and their unlimited funds (remember, YAZ alone brought them $2 billion per year in sales) that they are most certainly willing to pay attorneys to defend the company in a court of law? Certainly Ubsersox, the now-former pediatric nurse who lost her sight - and livelihood along with it - can't afford to do so. Not on her own. Not without a law firm willing to gamble hundreds of thousands of dollars with the hope of a payday at the end of the process should they be lucky enough to win.

If the US Chamber of Commerce and their Republican stooges have their way, nobody will be able to afford to do so.

Another featured speaker at Papantonio's conference was Susan Saladoff, the attorney and first-time filmmaker who decided to stop practicing law for two years in order to create "Hot Coffee," the eye-opening 2011 HBO documentary highlighting the corporate assault on citizen rights to bring such lawsuits.

Among the stories told in the film is the now-infamous story of the 81-year-old woman who was initially awarded $2.9 million - two days of coffee sales - in a lawsuit against McDonald's after she was severely burned by coffee served purposely and dangerously hot by the fast-food giant. That story, of course, has since become a joke among the public. It's been used by corporate media tools as one of the poster children for "frivolous lawsuits," "jackpot justice" and "lawsuit abuse."

But did you know that the woman whose case has become a national punch line was burned so severely that she required massive skin grafts after doctors didn't know if she would even live? That all she originally sued for was the $800 to recover the medical costs that her insurance and Medicare wouldn't cover?

Probably not.

Credit the massive PR campaign run by corporate spin-meisters to help assure that if you are seriously injured, maimed or killed by corporate neglect or malfeasance, you will have little recourse in the future.

If you've not seen the film (available on DVD November 1), do yourself the favor of at least watching the 2.5-minute trailer for it below ...

... and next time you hear about all of those "frivolous lawsuits" against corporate America, remember it's very likely no more than yet another well-funded attempt to rob you of yet one more of your dwindling civil and constitutional rights, by the very same liars, thugs and miscreants who pretend to be in favor of "freedom," when, in reality, they are interested in anything but - and willing to spend millions, if not billions, to take yours away from you.

Bank admits error after couple claims home was illegally taken

Bank admits error after couple claims home was illegally taken

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A major Wall Street bank is apologizing to a Maine couple who allege that the bank wrongfully claimed ownership of their second home on Green Mountain Road in Effingham. But the apology rings hollow for the Drew family.

Apparently, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. confused a little red house, owned by Travis and Paula Drew, at 529 Green Mountain Road, for a no-longer-existent mobile home at 519 Green Mountain Road.

The structures were owned by different people even though they once shared the same lot. The confusion led the bank's agents to change the locks on the Drews' home and remove $14,000 worth of belongings from the property.

The Drews don't live in the Effingham house. They live in Stow, Maine.

Another entity, called EMC Mortgage, had foreclosed on a mobile home in 2002. The bank-owned mobile home burned down in 2007. EMC Mortgage became a part of Chase when Chase acquired Bear Stearns in 2008.

The bank, which was apparently under the impression it owned the mortgage on the Drew house, sent a contractor to maintain the property.

"We apologize for the error and have reached out to the homeowner to resolve the issue," said Chase spokesman Michael Fusco to The Conway Daily Sun on Wednesday.

Fuscos' written statement doesn't specifically state what the error was or how it happened.

The Drews aren't impressed with Chase's admission of an error. As of Wednesday afternoon, Chase still hadn't explained itself to them. Bank employees told the Drews that a representative named Michelle would be in contact with them when the bank's investigation is complete.

"We are pleased with the fact that Chase admits fault; however, our stance is that they initiated contact with no resolve," stated Travis and Paula Drew in an e-mail. "We have been told of the great mistake they made but must wait for further information. Why did they initiate contact when they weren't really ready to speak with us? This is unacceptable."

Further, the Drews say the debacle has impacted Travis Drew's health. He is an Iraq war veteran who suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He retired from the Army in January.

"We have not been afforded the opportunity to talk with anyone who has information regarding the issue at hand or see a single piece of paper supporting Chase's position, yet we have supplied a pile on our behalf," said the Drews. "Every day this matter remains unresolved it compounds an already stressful situation and deteriorates Travis' medical issues."

The Drews are consulting with a local attorney.

Many other people from around the country are having similar problems with the big banks. According to a Washington Post story dated Sept. 29. 2010, J.P. Morgan Chase agreed to put on a freeze on its foreclosures in 23 states because of flawed paperwork. That decision impacted 56,000 borrowers. Further, a J.P. Morgan employee made a sworn deposition that "her team signed off on about 18,000 foreclosures per month without checking whether they were justified," the Washington Post reported.

The Drews' plight begins on Oct. 22, when Paula Drew's parents, John and Donna Rico, told the Drews about notes that appeared on the door of the little red house.

The notes stated that the property was managed by Chase Property Preservation and that a company called LPS Field Services had found the property to be vacant or abandoned and that the mortgage holder (Chase) had the right to have the home secured and winterized.

The notes shocked the Drews who weren't even Chase customers. The property at 529 Green Mountain Road didn't even have a mortgage. The Drews said they were initially frustrated with what they felt was law enforcement's slow response to their pleas for help.

"This whole thing baffles me as to how it was able to go so far without notification to anyone and that it was allowed to continue after the authorities responded," said Travis Drew.

This led Travis Drew to spray paint a message in bright orange letters on the roof of the little red house that read: "Home owners beware! This property is being robbed while authorities watch."

An Effingham police officer observed a contractor removing the Drew's property but the officer didn't ask for more identification than a business card. A sheriff's deputy didn't fill out a burglary report as requested, said the Drews.

After doing some research, the Effingham Police Department and Carroll Sheriff's Office began backing the Drews. After Travis Drew spray-painted the roof, Effingham police chief Joe Collins wrote a scathing police report about the bank's mistake.

The report, dated Oct. 26, states Chase confused the Drew's little red house at 529 Green Mountain Road for the trailer that had been at 519 Green Mountain Road. The police would not allow the bank or its agents to remove any more belongings from the little red house unless the bank could confirm the little house was the subject of a foreclosure. Collins told Travis Drew to sue Chase Bank in civil court.

"They messed up," said Collins in a phone interview about Chase. "It's their fault. The Drews didn't do anything wrong."

Before Chase admitted an error happened, Sheriff Christopher Conley had also gotten involved. He ordered the bank's agents to "stand down" — meaning they aren't supposed to interfere with the property.

"We didn't want to see them (the Drews) get jerked around," said Conley who personally knows the Drew family.

The Effingham police report says police spoke to a contractor who told them he was to maintain the property at 519 Green Mountain Road. "Mark," of "M and S Property Management" of Moultonborough, told police the bank gave him photos of the little red house and directed him to clean up that property. The Effingham police report itemizes the items that were taken. Those items included plowing equipment, chainsaws and a woodstove.

All the items have a combine value of about $14,000, according to the report. However, "Mark" told police he didn't think the items had much value.

Collins says this isn't a criminal situation. Rather, he believes that the bank made a mistake, which it will have to correct. As of Oct. 28, some of the Drews' belongings have been returned — but left outside uncovered.

A woman who answered the phone for M and S Property Management said her company had no comment.

U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte's office and Congressman Frank Guinta are also starting inquiries into the situation.

The history of the property that contains the little red house and had been the site of the moblie home is long and complicated.

Paula Drew's grandmother, Ethel Wilcox, had already paid for the land and the little red house decades ago.

Wilcox's daughter, Donna Rico, and her husband, John, purchased a 1988 Astro mobile home and put it on Wilcox's property. The Ricos refinanced the mobile home several times. In 1997, one of the banks involved required the Ricos to get a lease from Wilcox to allow them to put the mobile home on her land for nine years. In 2002, Bankers Trust Company of California and EMC Mortgage Corp. foreclosed on the Astro.

Probate and registry of deeds records show Wilcox retained ownership of the land until her death in 2005. Wilcox willed the land and the little red house to Donna Rico, who was the executor of the property, until 2007 when she deeded the land and the little red house to Paula Drew. The bank didn't attempt to seek money from Donna Rico after Ethel died, probate court records show.

In April of 2007, Paula Drew' s attorney, Jerome H. Grossman, of Rochester, sent a letter to EMC Mortgage (the then owner of the Astro) seeking rent in the amount of $4,000 based on a rate of $1,000 per month. Paula Drew sought rent because the bank was keeping the Astro on her property. Then mobile home burned down Memorial Day weekend of 2007.

In 2009, Travis Drew's name was added to the deed.

Chase's October surprise for the Drews came less than a year after Travis retired from the Army. He had served 28 months in Iraq.

State Rep. Frank McCarthy (R-Conway) is trying to rectify the situation. He says Travis Drew may be entitled to some protections from the bank under the soldiers and sailors relief act. Although Travis Drew has left the military, McCarthy believes Travis Drew would qualify for an extension because of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and his many months of combat duty. McCarthy is in the leadership of the local American Legion Post, of which Travis Drew is a member.

Effingham selectman Susan Slack, who is an attorney, said the town has no authority in this case as it's between the bank and the Drews.

Donna Rico says this snafu happened because of the deregulation of the banking system, which led to the rise of large monopoly banks to the detriment of little community banks.

"Chase of New York doesn't have a clue who I am or who my children are," said Donna Rico.

Drew family
Travis and Paula Drew with two of their four children.