Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Crackdown On Occupy Protests And The Criminalization Of Dissent

The Crackdown On Occupy Protests And The Criminalization Of Dissent

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Throughout the United States, city administrations are moving to break up encampments of the Occupy protests, trampling underfoot the constitutionally protected right of assembly.

Police cleared out the Occupy camp in Oakland, California in a predawn raid on Monday, resulting in 32 arrests. This followed the shutting down of the Portland, Oregon encampment, in which 50 people were arrested. Last week, police used truncheons to hit unarmed students attempting to set up a camp at the University of California, Berkeley.

According to one tally, there have been over 3,600 arrests at Occupy protests, mostly in the United States, including 943 in New York City, 370 in Tucson, 352 in Chicago, 206 in Oakland and 153 in Boston.

Many of the raids have been carried out by police in riot gear, in some cases using rubber bullets and tear gas cases, as in last month’s attack on Occupy Oakland. Those arrested have been subjected to arbitrary and punitive measures, including high bail and trumped-up charges.

The violent clearing of the encampments has been carried out under trivial and false pretenses. Citing health and public safety concerns, and the enforcement of various local and municipal ordinances, the police, largely at the order of Democratic Party city administrations, are moving to deny freedom of speech.

The moves to shut down the Occupy movement are a clear demonstration of the indissoluble link between the fight for the social rights of working people and the defense of democratic rights. The expression of social and political opposition is increasingly incompatible with the structure of society in the United States, in which a tiny financial aristocracy has enriched itself through the impoverishment of the vast majority.

The past decade has seen a steady erosion of democracy in the United States, particularly in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11. The most basic constitutional freedoms have been undermined as the government has asserted the power to spy on the population, arrest and detain people without charge, and carry out raids on political groups on the flimsiest of grounds. This has been accompanied by a vast expansion of the military-police-intelligence apparatus.

This assault on democratic rights has been justified on the grounds of the “war on terror.” However its real target was the emergence of any opposition to the reactionary policies of the financial aristocracy that controls the political system.

The Occupy protests are only an initial expression of the opposition and anger felt by hundreds of millions of people throughout the United States—and billions throughout the world—to the growth of social inequality and the domination of the financial aristocracy. Yet the public expression of these mass sentiments is criminalized in a country whose government routinely uses democratic pretenses to bomb and invade sovereign states.

These are international questions. The police violence against protesters in the United States is part of a global crackdown on popular opposition to austerity and inequality. Last Wednesday, the city of London put into practice a plan referred to as “total policing” in response to a protest against the tripling of tuition at universities. Four thousand police were deployed—together with helicopters and ten-foot-high barricades—in response to a protest of only 8,000.

In Greece and Italy, the banks are carrying out a policy of regime change: replacing elected officials with so-called “technocrats” who, backed by the full force of the state, will seek to implement unpopular cuts to social programs, mass layoffs and wage cuts.

The reaction of the state to popular protests makes clear that the fight for social equality and the defense of democratic rights requires a struggle against the entire political establishment and all of its institutions. In the United States, the entire political system, including both the Democrats and Republicans, is impervious to the views, demands and needs of working people and youth. It is an instrument of the corporate-financial elite and cannot be swayed simply by protest.

The Democrats have been particularly duplicitous in this regard. Jean Quan, the Democratic mayor of Oakland, has repeatedly claimed to “support” the Occupy movement, even as she has overseen police repression and intimidation against protesters.

Obama plays the same role. While posturing as a supporter of the movement’s aims, he has remained silent while thousands are arrested, tacitly endorsing the repression. Meanwhile, the policies of the administration over the past three years have ensured that the banks and financial institutions are more profitable than ever, while the vast majority of the population suffers the impact of mass unemployment, declining wages and sweeping cuts in health care, education and pensions.

The increase in police repression is part of the drive to shut down and demobilize the Occupy movement. There is a two-pronged approach: ever-greater police repression on one hand, and the deliberate attempt by the trade unions and the various middle class pseudo-left organizations to subordinate the movement to the Democratic Party.

In contrast to the claims of these organizations, the issues that are beginning to be raised by the Occupy movement are intrinsically revolutionary. They come into conflict with the capitalist system and all of the political institutions dedicated to the defense of this system. The immense social inequality that corrupts American society and political life did not arise from nowhere. It is the natural outcome of capitalism.

The only social force capable of leading the fight against the political dominance of the financial elite and defending democratic rights is the working class. The fight against social inequality can find genuine expression only as an independent political movement of the working class that has as its aim the establishment of a workers government and the transformation of the economic system in the interests of social need rather than private profit.

PRESENTING: The Truth About Unemployment In America

PRESENTING: The Truth About Unemployment In America

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Money Game UNEMP Deck

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Everyone knows that the employment situation in the U.S. is miserable.

It's the most important issue for most people, and it has a huge impact on politics.

But how bad is it, really?

We've taken a deep dive into the numbers, looking at things like which industries are shedding jobs, which industries are adding jobs, how long people are staying unemployed, which regions are bad, and who's still making money.


Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider

Image: Eric Platt/Business Insider


Homeland Security Coordinated 18-City Police Crackdown on Occupy Protest

Homeland Security Coordinated 18-City Police Crackdown on Occupy Protest

National Coordination Goes Against Protection of Local Accountability

According to Oakland Mayor Jean said that 18 cities coordinated police crack downs on Occupy protests.

Wonkette reports that Homeland Security likely organized the crack downs:

Remember when people were freaking out over the Patriot Act and Homeland Security and all this other conveniently ready-to-go post-9/11 police state stuff, because it would obviously be just a matter of time before the whole apparatus was turned against non-Muslim Americans when they started getting complain-y about the social injustice and economic injustice and income inequality and endless recession and permanent unemployment? That day is now, and has been for some time. But it’s also now confirmed that it’s now, as some Justice Department official screwed up and admitted that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated the riot-cop raids on a dozen major #Occupy Wall Street demonstration camps nationwide yesterday and today. (Oh, and tonight, too: Seattle is being busted up by the riot cops right now, so be careful out there.)

Rick Ellis of the Minneapolis edition of Examiner.com has this, based on a “background conversation” he had with a Justice Department official on Monday night:

Over the past ten days, more than a dozen cities have moved to evict “Occupy” protesters from city parks and other public spaces. As was the case in last night’s move in New York City, each of the police actions shares a number of characteristics. And according to one Justice official, each of those actions was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.

[...]

According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.

***

(And for those who are understandably doubtful about Examiner.com as a news source, here’s an AP story from a couple hours ago that verifies everything except the specific mention of DHS coordination.)

Yves Smith notes:

The 18 police action was a national, coordinated effort. This is a more serious development that one might imagine. Reader Richard Kline has pointed out that one of the de facto protections of American freedoms is that policing is local, accountable to elected officials at a level of government where voters matter. National coordination vitiates the notion that policing is responsive to and accountable to the governed.

The Police State Vs. Occupy Wall Street: This Is Not Going To End Well For Any Of Us

The Police State Vs. Occupy Wall Street: This Is Not Going To End Well For Any Of Us

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Right now, we are watching the early rounds of a heavyweight fight between two extremely determined opponents. Occupy Wall Street has no plans of losing this fight and neither do law enforcement authorities. Perhaps those running the show actually believed that raiding Zuccotti Park and more than a dozen other "Occupy camps" around the nation would end these protests, but that is just not going to happen. Whatever your opinion of Occupy Wall Street is, everyone should be able to agree that this is one dedicated bunch. They are absolutely obsessed with their cause and in response to the recent raid on Zuccotti Park organizers are calling for “a national day of direct action” on Thursday. But if Occupy Wall Street protesters want to take things to "the next level", they should not underestimate the resolve of the police state. Over the past decade, the homeland security apparatus of the federal government has been slowly but surely turning this country into a "Big Brother" police state. Today, our law enforcement authorities are obsessed with watching us, listening to us, tracking us, recording us, and gathering information on all of us. We are constantly reminded that we live in a prison grid (just think about what they do to you before you are allowed on an airplane) and they are not about to put up with anyone challenging their authority or their control. Have you even known parents that constantly feel the need to prove that they are "the boss" of their children? Well, that is essentially what the homeland security apparatus in this country has become. All over the United States, law enforcement personnel are taught that every American is a potential terrorist and they are actually trained to "act tough", to bark orders at us and to not let anyone question their authority. If Occupy Wall Street believes that it can get the police state to "back down", they are sorely mistaken. Hopefully everyone will cool off a bit as the temperatures go down this winter. But if we do see a "cooling off", it probably will not last for long. As the U.S. economy continues to get worse, these kinds of protests are going to keep growing and they will become even more intense. Eventually, mass civil unrest will cause the streets of many of our major cities to closely resemble war zones. When it is all said and done, this is not going to end well for any of us.

The stunning police raid of Zuccotti Park at 1 AM on Tuesday morning made headlines around the world. Protesters were hauled off, tents were cut down and garbage trucks hauled off the personal possessions of those that had been encamped there. It was swift and it was brutal.

But it was just another in a long line of raids that we have seen over the past couple of weeks. Occupy camps in Portland, Oakland, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta and several other cities have also been raided.

There is an increasing body of evidence that these raids have been coordinated. For example, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan recently made the following statement during a recent interview about the Occupy movement....

I was recently on a conference call with 18 cities across the country who had the same situation

Does anyone want to guess who was running that conference call?

Heidi Bogosian, the executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, is convinced that the recent raids were coordinated at the federal level....

"We definitely feel, especially in a movement like this that has arisen so quickly in a number of cities, that there will be a coordinated national effort to try and shut it down"

Someone probably thought that cracking a few skulls and cutting up a few tents would probably make the hippies go away.

Yes, that might have worked in 1991.

But this is 2011. Whether you agree with Occupy Wall Street or not, one thing that should be clear to all of us is that these boys and girls are deadly serious.

In response to the recent raids, organizers have declared "a national day of direct action" on Thursday.

One of the "major actions" being planned is a "shut down" of Wall Street.

Of course that will not happen because thousands of law enforcement personnel will be dispatched to protect Wall Street if necessary.

But what does seem clear is that Occupy Wall Street seems determined to take things to the next level.

In this video, a wild-eyed protester can be seen making the following statement....

"On the 17th, we gonna burn this city to the ************* ground."

Later on in the video, the same protester makes an even more inflammatory statement....

“No more talking. They’ve got guns, we’ve got bottles. They’ve got bricks, we’ve got rocks…in a few days you’re going to see what a Molotov cocktail can do to Macy’s.”

That is a very frightening statement.

As I noted the other day, one recent survey found that 31 percent of all Occupy Wall Street protesters "would support violence to advance their agenda".

Let us hope that cooler heads prevail and that we don't see outbreaks of violence.

If we do see violence in the coming days, it will just give law enforcement authorities an excuse to crack down even harder.

Up to this point, local law enforcement authorities have been advised to seek "legal reasons" for evicting Occupy protesters.

Since just about everything is illegal in America today, that has not been too difficult. So far "zoning laws", "curfew rules" and regulations that target homeless people have been used as justifications to evict Occupy protesters.

In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has said that protesters can gather in Zuccotti Park, but that "the rules" do not allow them to have tents, sleeping bags or any sort of heavy equipment.

So will the protesters go along with this, or will this turn into a prolonged struggle over Zuccotti Park?

It is hard to say, but one thing is for sure - police all over the nation have already shown that they are prepared to use brutal force against these protesters in order to get their way.

We have seen tear gas used, we have seen pepper spray cannons used, we have seen rubber bullets used and we have seen flash-bang stun grenades used.

And they are just warming up. When it comes to protecting "national security", there is a vast array of technologies and weapons that law enforcement authorities have at their disposal.

Many Americans are cheering the crackdown on these protesters, but we all should remember that real people are getting seriously injured. For example, just check out this photo of 84-year-old Dorli Rainey after pepper spray was blasted directly into her face.

Rainey and several other Occupy Seattle protesters are still in the hospital.

Ready for another example?

You can see video of a female Occupy Cal protester being brutally yanked by her hair right here.

How would you feel if that was you?

We all need to realize that these confrontations are not just a bunch of "fun and games".

A lot of people have been sent to the hospital already, and this is just the beginning.

One of the key things that the American people will need to understand is that they don't have to pick sides.

When law enforcement authorities commit atrocities, we should denounce them.

When Occupy Wall Street protesters commit acts of violence or vandalism, we should denounce them.

It would be nice if all Occupy Wall Street protests would be 100% non-violent.

It would be nice if the police would be reasonable and would carry out their duties with gentleness and respect.

But sadly, those things are probably not going to happen.

The civil unrest we are seeing now is only the beginning.

Things are going to get a lot worse.

If things keep getting escalated to "the next level", eventually we will see martial law imposed in some of our largest cities.

Don't think that it can't happen.

The United States is increasingly becoming a very unstable place.

As America comes apart at the seams, this is not going to end well for any of us.

Returning To America After A Long Time Abroad, The Changes Hit You In The Head Like A Baseball Bat

Returning To America After A Long Time Abroad, The Changes Hit You In The Head Like A Baseball Bat

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Longtime readers know that I don’t spend much time in the United States; I usually swing by for a month or so each year to visit friends and family, and the period in-between visits can often stretch 6-months or more.

This is sufficiently long enough that I notice a lot of changes… some so drastic that they hit me in the head like a baseball bat.

For example, just last week when I was at Los Angeles International Airport, the police set up a checkpoint outside the main entrance as if we were in downtown Baghdad driving into the Green Zone.

And I couldn’t believe my eyes when, driving down Santa Monica Boulevard last Wednesday, I saw a police urban assault vehicle modeled after a US Army mechanized infantry fighting vehicle. It’s designed for one thing: maximum destruction.

It’s truly appalling how police forces across the country have become militarized. The concept of ‘peace officer’ no longer exists. Police are now paramilitary forces who only protect and serve the political class.

Because I’ve been out of the country for so long, I notice these changes more acutely; it’s like diving in head first into ice-cold water as opposed to wading in slowly. And this rise of the police state is accelerating.

Here’s the thing– when you look around the world, you can see a lot of chaos and turmoil. Hardly a day goes by when there’s not multiple riots and protests in the western world being met with overwhelming force from the government.

The government is sending a clear message: “We are in charge.”

It’s no wonder that, according to a recent Gallup poll, a record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being run. On a proportional basis, this is 25% higher than during the Watergate scandal.

What’s even more stark is that, according to the same poll, roughly HALF of Americans believe the federal government has become so large and powerful that it POSES AN IMMEDIATE THREAT to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.

This certainly explains why the government is increasing its offensive capabilities.

Now, clearly there are a lot of disgruntled Americans. There’s a lot of anger… even class tensions. The OWS movement is emblematic of this sentiment for sure, but in terms of taking action, most people still believe in the political process.

All of their angst and negativity will be taken out in the voting booth. Until then, it’s the calm before the storm. But the unfortunate reality is that no matter which way the 2012 election turns out, chaos will ensue.

If President Obama wins a second term, many conservative Americans will have reached their breaking points. If a republican candidate should win, a huge portion of Americans will feel they have lost their champion.

No matter what, though, people will quickly realize that absolutely nothing has changed. They’ll recognize that the insolvency of the United States government is a simple arithmetic problem; that social security is bankrupt; that the Treasury Department is a giant Ponzi scheme; and that there is. no. recovery.

For now, Americans are still investing in the political process. Come next year, though, all the hope that’s building up will turn quickly into disappointment… and then anger. Then they’ll take that anger to the streets.

This is what happens when governments go bust. It’s happened numerous times throughout history, and it’s playing out right now from Greece to Argentina.

Social unrest becomes commonplace. Governments engage in financial repression, giving rise to asset seizures, inflation, and capital controls. Militarized police states categorize ordinary citizens into combatants and non-combatants. Collateral damage becomes an acceptable risk. Society turns on itself, and crime rates soar.

Watching the farce of America’s political theater play out, it’s clear that this ticking time bomb will go off after Election Day 2012. As polarized as voters are, and as dismal the federal balance sheet is, there’s little chance of society keeping it together afterwards.

What’s happening right now is merely an overture… and you can mark a date on your calendar for when the real fun begins

"Raise Our Taxes!" Say Patriotic Millionaires As Super Committee Stalls

"Raise Our Taxes!" Say Patriotic Millionaires As Super Committee Stalls

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It's not hypocrisy for millionaires to support a progressive tax policy that eases the burden on the 99%--and increases theirs, fiscally speaking.

Instead, it's a statement of values: they'd rather see their country on track and their countrymen taken care of and not suffering than, say, build an extra wing on their house or buy a boat. And oh, they also recognize that stratification is bad for the economy.

That's not hypocrisy, it's rational. And that's why a group of moneyed "patriots" are going down to DC to do some lobbying that the right wing and the corporate media finds extremely counterintuitive:

Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength is sending 21 members to Washington to hopefully convince super committee senators and representatives that the rich need to pay higher taxes, the Los Angeles Times reports.

According to Erica Payne, a spokeswoman for the organization, the group wants taxes on millionaires to be raised to 39.6 percent from 35 percent -- at the very least.

Meanwhile, the Super Committee (you know, the bipartisan group tasked with the deficit, that thing everyone was fussing about before Occupy Wall Street happened) is "moving backwards" and the White House is bracing for failure.

Democrats want a balanced package, including a combination of spending cuts and new tax revenue, along with measures to address the top Democratic priority: job creation.

Republicans want massive spending cuts, no investments in the economy, and tax cuts — which move the super-committee further from its goal, not closer.

Europe Bans X-Ray Body Scanners Used at U.S. Airports

Europe Bans X-Ray Body Scanners Used at U.S. Airports

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The European Union on Monday prohibited the use of X-ray body scanners in European airports, parting ways with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, which has deployed hundreds of the scanners as a way to screen millions of airline passengers for explosives hidden under clothing.

The European Commission, which enforces common policies of the EU's 27 member countries, adopted the rule “in order not to risk jeopardizing citizens’ health and safety.”

As a ProPublica/PBS NewsHour investigation detailed earlier this month, X-ray body scanners use ionizing radiation, a form of energy that has been shown to damage DNA and cause cancer. Although the amount of radiation is extremely low, equivalent to the radiation a person would receive in a few minutes of flying, several research studies have concluded that a small number of cancer cases would result from scanning hundreds of millions of passengers a year.

European countries will be allowed to use an alternative body scanner, one that relies on radio frequency waves, which have not been linked to cancer. The TSA has also deployed hundreds of those machines – known as millimeter-wave scanners – in U.S. airports. But unlike Europe, it has decided to deploy both types of scanners.

The TSA would not comment specifically on the EU’s decision. But in a statement, TSA spokesman Mike McCarthy said, “As one of our many layers of security, TSA deploys the most advanced technology available to provide the best opportunity to detect dangerous items, such as explosives.

“We rigorously test our technology to ensure it meets our high detection and safety standards before it is placed in airports,” he continued. “Since January 2010, advanced imaging technology has detected more than 300 dangerous or illegal items on passengers in U.S. airports nationwide.”

Body scanners have been controversial in the United States since they were first deployed in prisons in the late 1990s and then in airports for tests after 9/11. Most of the controversy has focused on privacy because the machines can produce graphic images. But the manufacturers have since installed privacy filters.

As the TSA began deploying hundreds of body scanners after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009, several scientists began to raise concerns about the health risks of the X-ray scanner, noting that even low levels of radiation would increase the risk of cancer.

As part of our investigation, ProPublica surveyed foreign countries’ security policies and found that only a few nations used the X-ray scanner. The United Kingdom uses them but only for secondary screening, such as when a passenger triggers the metal detector or raises suspicion.

Under the new European Commission policy, the U.K. will be allowed to complete a trial of the X-ray scanners but not to deploy them on a permanent basis when the trial ends, said Helen Kearns, spokeswoman for the European transport commissioner, Siim Kallas.

“These new rules ensure that where this technology is used it will be covered by EU-wide standards on detection capability as well as strict safeguards to protect health and fundamental rights,” Kallas said.

Five-hundred body scanners, split about evenly between the two technologies, are deployed in U.S. airports. The X-ray scanner, or backscatter, which looks like two large blue boxes, is used at major airports, including Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy in New York and Chicago's O’Hare. The millimeter-wave scanner, which looks like a round glass booth, is used in San Francisco, Atlanta and Dallas.

Within three years, the TSA plans to deploy 1,800 backscatter and millimeter-wave scanners, covering nearly every domestic airport security lane. The TSA has not yet released details on the exact breakdown.

The Brave New World of Occupy Wall Street

The Brave New World of Occupy Wall Street

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We got word just after 1 a.m. Tuesday that New York City police were raiding the Occupy Wall Street encampment. I raced down with the “Democracy Now!” news team to Zuccotti Park, renamed Liberty Square. Hundreds of riot police had already surrounded the area. As they ripped down the tents, city sanitation workers were throwing the protesters’ belongings into dump trucks. Beyond the barricades, back in the heart of the park, 200 to 300 people locked arms, refusing to cede the space they had occupied for almost two months. They were being handcuffed and arrested, one by one.

The few of us members of the press who managed to get through all the police lines were sent to a designated area across the street from Zuccotti Park. As our cameras started rolling, they placed two police buses in front of us, blocking our view. My colleagues and I managed to slip between them and into the park, climbing over the trashed mounds of tents, tarps and sleeping bags. The police had almost succeeded in enforcing a complete media blackout of the destruction.

We saw a broken bookcase in one pile. Deeper in the park, I spotted a single book on the ground. It was marked “OWSL,” for Occupy Wall Street Library, also known as the People’s Library, one of the key institutions that had sprung up in the organic democracy of the movement. By the latest count, it had accumulated 5,000 donated books. The one I found, amidst the debris of democracy that was being hauled off to the dump, was “Brave New World Revisited,” by Aldous Huxley.

As the night progressed, the irony of finding Huxley’s book grew. He wrote it in 1958, almost 30 years after his famous dystopian novel, “Brave New World.” The original work described society in the future where people had been stratified into haves and have-nots. The “Brave New World” denizens were plied with pleasure, distraction, advertisement and intoxicating drugs to lull them into complacency, a world of perfect consumerism, with lower classes doing all the work for an elite.

“Brave New World Revisited” was Huxley’s nonfiction response to the speed with which he saw modern society careening to that bleak future. It seemed relevant, as the encampment, motivated in large part by the opposition to the supremacy of commerce and globalization, was being destroyed.

Huxley wrote in the book: “Big Business, made possible by advancing technology and the consequent ruin of Little Business, is controlled by the State—that is to say, by a small group of party leaders and the soldiers, policemen and civil servants who carry out their orders. In a capitalist democracy, such as the United States, it is controlled by what Professor C. Wright Mills has called the Power Elite.” Huxley goes on to write, “This Power Elite directly employs several millions of the country’s working force in its factories, offices and stores, controls many millions more by lending them the money to buy its products, and, through its ownership of the media of mass communication, influences the thoughts, the feelings and the actions of virtually everybody.”

One of the People’s Library volunteers, Stephen Boyer, was there as the park was raided. After avoiding arrest and helping others with first aid, he wrote: “Everything we brought to the park is gone. The beautiful library is gone. Our collection of 5,000 books is gone. Our tent that was donated is gone. All the work we’ve put into making it is gone.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office later released a photo of a table with some books stacked on it, claiming the books had been preserved. As the People’s Library tweeted: “We’re glad to see some books are OK. Now, where are the rest of the books and our shelter and our boxes?” The shelter, by the way, was donated to the library by National Book Award winner Patti Smith, the rock ‘n’ roll legend.

Many other Occupy protest sites have been raided recently. Oakland Mayor Jean Quan admitted to the BBC that she had been on a conference call with 18 cities, discussing the situation. Another report noted that the FBI and Homeland Security have been advising the cities.

A New York state judge ruled late Tuesday that the eviction will stand, and that protesters cannot return to Zuccotti Park with sleeping bags or tents. After the ruling, a constitutional attorney sent me a text message: “Just remember: the movement is in the streets. Courts are always last resorts.” Or, as Patti Smith famously sings, “People Have the Power.”

Congress Trading Stock on Inside Information

Capitol Gains

Are members of Congress guilty of insider trading—and does it matter?

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Image credit: Joseph Darrow

In 1995, when Alan Ziobrowski was an associate professor of finance at Lander University, in South Carolina, he found himself at home one night watching “one of those 60 Minutes–type shows.” That evening’s story caught his interest: Gregory Boller, a professor of marketing at the University of Memphis, had found some striking coincidences in which members of Congress, between 1990 and 1995, bought or sold stock in companies that could be affected by ongoing government activity.

According to Boller’s study, which Mother Jones also covered, Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D–Texas) had bought stock in a dairy processor and sold it 10 months later, days before the Justice Department began investigating the company for rigging bids to sell milk in public schools. Senator Bob Dole (R–Kansas) had purchased stock in Automatic Data Processing four days before President George H. W. Bush signed a law with new rules for military data processing. Representative Newt Gingrich (R–Georgia) bought Boeing stock just before he helped kill amendments that would have cut funding for the International Space Station—an outcome that helped Boeing secure a contract.

It all sounded very damning. And yet to Ziobrowski, Boller’s work didn’t seem completely fair. The examples were cherry-picked and could, in fact, have been mere coincidences. How many times, for example, had congressmen sold Lockheed Martin or AT&T right before passing laws that benefited the companies? To know whether members of Congress were turning insider knowledge into personal financial gain, you needed to look at all their trades—those made by the small fry as well as the presidential contenders, the losers as well as the winners. The real question, he thought, was whether a portfolio made up of stocks held by members of Congress would significantly outpace the market.

To find the answer, Ziobrowski recruited three other professors, including his wife, Brigitte, who oversaw the tedious process of actually turning the entries on the opaque disclosure forms into usable data. While the House forms were available in libraries, getting the records from Senate offices proved especially difficult. “We finally had to buy many of them at 20 cents a page,” Ziobrowski told me. And even after they got the forms, “it took years to go through and track all of those transactions,” Ziobrowski says.

Their results were necessarily approximate. Some members left office before selling shares; others would sell some, but not all, of their stock. “And then there are others who just don’t bother to tell you when they sell,” Ziobrowski told me. “You’ll see the portfolio change, but you don’t know why. There’s no watchdog, there’s no one who audits to check that they’re accurate.”

Even so, the professors eventually had a data set comprising all known senatorial transactions between 1993 and 1998. And what they found shocked Ziobrowski.

“Most of the time, you do studies like this, and you end up concluding that there are no abnormal returns. Call us naive, but the part that bothered me most about Boller’s work is that it suggests that they’re doing something sneaky, but it didn’t actually show that they were doing anything sneaky.” He chuckled. “None of us were betting our tenure on the results of this study.”

But when they’d completed their analysis, it looked like they—and at least a few members of Congress—had hit the jackpot. Their analysis of the Senate returns over the six-year period, published in the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis in 2004, showed that the Senate portfolio outperformed the market by approximately 12 percent a year. In April of this year, the team published a follow-up analysis of the House in Business and Politics, which showed that House members on average outperformed the market by a smaller but still impressive figure—roughly 6 percent a year.

These numbers are bigger than they sound. If you took $100 and invested it at 6 percent over a 40-year career, when you retired, that $100 would have increased almost tenfold … while if your portfolio averaged a steady 12 percent, your original $100 would have turned into more than $8,000. If you’ve looked at your 401(k) recently, you know most people don’t get such returns. And that was just the extra profits they made, over and above the 20 percent annual return that even a blind monkey with a dartboard and an E*Trade account was making back in the late 1990s. A study of corporate insiders, who presumably have lots of information about their firm’s performance, showed that their purchases earned abnormal returns of only about 6 percent a year. Senators seemed to be the greatest stock pickers since Warren Buffett.

But of course, Warren Buffett spends most of his days locked in his office in Omaha, pondering his investments. Senators had to get their stock deals done between rubber-chicken dinners and grip-and-grins at the state fair. Which made it hard to escape the conclusion that they were doing something a little worse than sneaky.

Or were they? A few years ago, after the Center for Responsive Politics made congressional disclosure forms available in an easily searchable data set, two graduate students in Harvard’s political-science department decided to revisit the question for the new millennium. Andrew Eggers and Jens Hainmueller, now assistant professors at the London School of Economics and MIT, respectively, had become interested in the emerging literature on whether politicians benefit financially from holding office, and they were just finishing their first paper, which used probate data to look at that question in the United Kingdom. (Answer: yes, at least if they were Tories in the House of Commons between 1950 and 1970.)

They eagerly attacked the U.S. data. Both of them got a big surprise. Their data, which covered 2004 through 2008, didn’t show Congress outperforming the market by 12 percent. In fact, they didn’t show it outperforming the market at all. For the five years they studied, Congress actually underperformed the market by 2 to 3 percent annually. On average, Congress did worse than an index fund, and about as well as your average stock-picking granny. If Congress was indeed trading on inside information in the late 1990s, it seemed to have stopped.

But, if all the data are right, why would congressional stock-picking have changed so much? That’s “the one fact that we cannot 100 percent nail down,” says Hainmueller ruefully, especially since Ziobrowski et al. haven’t released their painfully assembled data set. One of the papers could be wrong, of course, but it’s hard to adjudicate that when one group hasn’t released its data and the other’s paper hasn’t yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal—and anyway, neither group is openly disputing the other’s results. Still, Eggers and Hainmueller’s difficulty in explaining the difference may make it harder for them to get their own results published.

One possibility is that insider trading has gotten harder. As a risk-arbitrage trader at Goldman Sachs, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin made a living exploiting persistent anomalies between, say, the stock price of a company that was being acquired, and the price that the buyer was offering; now hedge funds are in a technological arms race to gain advantages that last for only milliseconds. Meanwhile, a booming political-intelligence industry scrutinizes Congress like a flock of half-starved vultures. Congressional information advantages may not persist long enough to let members profit from them.

Or perhaps uncovering the behavior changed it. This is the theory that Ziobrowski endorsed when I spoke with him, and it’s quite plausible.

Eggers and Hainmueller also emphasize that the earlier results were driven in large part by a few very heavy traders. To be sure, those traders might have been lucky—and indeed, when you go back and look at the original evidence that sparked Ziobrowski’s research, it’s not quite as lurid as it may first have appeared. Bob Dole’s suspicious trade turns out to have occurred well after Congress had passed the new law that benefited data-processing firms. And while Newt Gingrich may have helped save a program that eventually benefited Boeing, that happened before the contract had been awarded—and since Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, he could hardly count on being able to steer the Space Station business to Boeing.

On the other hand, some of the other trades—such as Bentsen’s dairy deals—still look pretty bad. Perhaps the Senate’s outsized results were driven by a few bad apples who, thankfully, didn’t spoil the rest. When they left Congress, or reformed under the threat of exposure, the excess profits went away.

It’s also possible that congressional insiders could have simply stopped reporting potentially dubious transactions once they knew people were paying attention. According to Ziobrowski, the forms still aren’t audited, and they’re woefully inadequate—for example, Eggers and Hainmueller say there’s no clear method for reporting short-selling, one of the major ways to profit from inside information. This won’t do. We can’t rely on watchdog groups and peer-reviewed papers that take years to get published. By the time we know whether our elected representatives are profiting from their position, it’s old news, and we have a new crop of Congress members to worry about.

Worse still, even if academic gumshoes did work faster, it’s not clear what we could do about congressional insider trading under current law. Ziobrowski et al. may have found evidence of insider trading. But they may not have found evidence of a crime.

That’s because insider trading is a strange offense. It wasn’t even really illegal until the 1930s; before then, insider trading was just assumed, and retail investors mostly aspired to get in on the action. Eighty years later, most people have a strong sense that it should be illegal, but they may have a hard time articulating why. It’s not necessarily obvious who is hurt by insider trading.

Take an insider who buys shares in advance of a merger. Most people intuitively assume that he has defrauded the shares’ sellers, who could have made more money if they’d held on. But of course, they’d already instructed their brokers to sell the stock. If anything, insider trading probably raises the price the sellers got (though in practice, a typical insider probably can’t buy enough to move the price).

Of course, if our insider buys shares, someone else doesn’t get them … but there’s no way of knowing whether that person would have held on to the stock until the merger was announced. So the insider could possibly profit without making anyone noticeably worse off—indeed, by raising the price closer to the stock’s “true” value, he’s actually made the market more efficient. It’s arguably the closest thing that modern finance has to a victimless crime.

The law reflects our confusion about the harm caused by insider trading. Stephen Bainbridge, a law professor at UCLA, says, “The most widely used theory by SEC and the courts is that [insider trading] undermines investor confidence in the integrity of the markets.” But Bainbridge argues that this doesn’t necessarily make much sense, especially if you look at the current state of the law. In 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that Vincent Chiarella, a printer who had profited from stock trades he made after deducing the identity of the companies involved in merger prospectuses he was printing, was not guilty of insider trading. It takes more than “material nonpublic information” to make you an insider—you also must have a fiduciary duty to keep the information secret. If you overhear two executives in the ladies’ room chatting about an earnings surprise, they may be in trouble, but you are free to use that information however you wish.

Unless it’s the ladies’ room at your employer. Six years after Chiarella v. United States, R. Foster Winans, who wrote The Wall Street Journal’s Heard on the Street column, was convicted on 59 counts of financial fraud for tipping off brokers about the contents before publication. The case was decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which ruled that Winans had breached the insider-trading rules even though he had no fiduciary connection to the companies he wrote about. Winans, the Second Circuit ruled, had illegally misappropriated information that belonged to his employer. (Chiarella’s verdict might also have been upheld if he’d been convicted on these grounds, but that argument wasn’t raised at trial.)

Yet Bainbridge notes that in ruling that The Journal had a property right in the contents of its articles, the Second Circuit left open the possibility that The Journal could legally trade on the basis of its own articles. “This is why it’s not a confidence issue,” Bainbridge told me. “Surely if The WSJ were allowed to trade, this would shake investor confidence even more [than if Winans were].”

But if insider trading represents a sort of theft from a client or employer, it raises something of a conundrum: members of Congress don’t really have an employer. The law professor Donna Nagy has argued that they have a fiduciary duty to U.S. citizens, which they violate if they participate in insider trades. Ethically, this seems to be certainly true. But legally, Bainbridge thinks it’s a little more murky. He believes that members of Congress are effectively fiduciaries of no one. “There’s at least a strong argument,” he says, “that congressional insider trading is not illegal under current law.”

Certainly, the guardians of our laws don’t seem eager to pursue the question. No member of Congress has ever been investigated for insider trading. Four times since 2006, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D–New York) has sponsored the STOCK Act, which would explicitly make congressional insider trading illegal, and require members of Congress to disclose significant trades within 90 days. It’s never even come to a vote.

If we can’t require members of Congress to report their transactions in real time, the way corporate insiders have to—and we can’t—then maybe they should have to put their holdings in a blind trust, as executive-branch officials like the Treasury secretary often must. Or at least in index funds that mirror the broad market, so that their fortunes rise and fall along with the contents of our 401(k)s. This requirement would curb the related temptation to use legislation to help companies they’re invested in, which must at least occasionally plague even the most honorable legislators.

Otherwise, given the weakness of the oversight, Americans will continue to suspect the worst. One reason that the findings of Ziobrowski et al. may not have triggered much response is that everyone already believed their legislators were crooks—morally, if not legally. And that’s corrosive. In the end, the problem with congressional insider trading isn’t that it undermines confidence in the market—Congress frequently does that openly. The problem with congressional insider trading is that it erodes confidence in our political institutions. We can’t really afford to deplete that pitiful stock much further.

This Is What Revolution Looks Like

This Is What Revolution Looks Like

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Welcome to the revolution. Our elites have exposed their hand. They have nothing to offer. They can destroy but they cannot build. They can repress but they cannot lead. They can steal but they cannot share. They can talk but they cannot speak. They are as dead and useless to us as the water-soaked books, tents, sleeping bags, suitcases, food boxes and clothes that were tossed by sanitation workers Tuesday morning into garbage trucks in New York City. They have no ideas, no plans and no vision for the future.

Our decaying corporate regime has strutted in Portland, Oakland and New York with their baton-wielding cops into a fool’s paradise. They think they can clean up “the mess”—always employing the language of personal hygiene and public security—by making us disappear. They think we will all go home and accept their corporate nation, a nation where crime and government policy have become indistinguishable, where nothing in America, including the ordinary citizen, is deemed by those in power worth protecting or preserving, where corporate oligarchs awash in hundreds of millions of dollars are permitted to loot and pillage the last shreds of collective wealth, human capital and natural resources, a nation where the poor do not eat and workers do not work, a nation where the sick die and children go hungry, a nation where the consent of the governed and the voice of the people is a cruel joke.

Get back into your cages, they are telling us. Return to watching the lies, absurdities, trivia and celebrity gossip we feed you in 24-hour cycles on television. Invest your emotional energy in the vast system of popular entertainment. Run up your credit card debt. Pay your loans. Be thankful for the scraps we toss. Chant back to us our phrases about democracy, greatness and freedom. Vote in our rigged political theater. Send your young men and women to fight and die in useless, unwinnable wars that provide corporations with huge profits. Stand by mutely as our bipartisan congressional supercommittee, either through consensus or cynical dysfunction, plunges you into a society without basic social services including unemployment benefits. Pay for the crimes of Wall Street.

The rogues’ gallery of Wall Street crooks, such as Lloyd Blankfein at Goldman Sachs, Howard Milstein at New York Private Bank & Trust, the media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, the Koch brothers and Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase & Co., no doubt think it’s over. They think it is back to the business of harvesting what is left of America to swell their personal and corporate fortunes. But they no longer have any concept of what is happening around them. They are as mystified and clueless about these uprisings as the courtiers at Versailles or in the Forbidden City who never understood until the very end that their world was collapsing. The billionaire mayor of New York, enriched by a deregulated Wall Street, is unable to grasp why people would spend two months sleeping in an open park and marching on banks. He says he understands that the Occupy protests are “cathartic” and “entertaining,” as if demonstrating against the pain of being homeless and unemployed is a form of therapy or diversion, but that it is time to let the adults handle the affairs of state. Democratic and Republican mayors, along with their parties, have sold us out. But for them this is the beginning of the end.

The historian Crane Brinton in his book “Anatomy of a Revolution” laid out the common route to revolution. The preconditions for successful revolution, Brinton argued, are discontent that affects nearly all social classes, widespread feelings of entrapment and despair, unfulfilled expectations, a unified solidarity in opposition to a tiny power elite, a refusal by scholars and thinkers to continue to defend the actions of the ruling class, an inability of government to respond to the basic needs of citizens, a steady loss of will within the power elite itself and defections from the inner circle, a crippling isolation that leaves the power elite without any allies or outside support and, finally, a financial crisis. Our corporate elite, as far as Brinton was concerned, has amply fulfilled these preconditions. But it is Brinton’s next observation that is most worth remembering. Revolutions always begin, he wrote, by making impossible demands that if the government met would mean the end of the old configurations of power. The second stage, the one we have entered now, is the unsuccessful attempt by the power elite to quell the unrest and discontent through physical acts of repression.

I have seen my share of revolts, insurgencies and revolutions, from the guerrilla conflicts in the 1980s in Central America to the civil wars in Algeria, the Sudan and Yemen, to the Palestinian uprising to the revolutions in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania as well as the wars in the former Yugoslavia. George Orwell wrote that all tyrannies rule through fraud and force, but that once the fraud is exposed they must rely exclusively on force. We have now entered the era of naked force. The vast million-person bureaucracy of the internal security and surveillance state will not be used to stop terrorism but to try and stop us.

Despotic regimes in the end collapse internally. Once the foot soldiers who are ordered to carry out acts of repression, such as the clearing of parks or arresting or even shooting demonstrators, no longer obey orders, the old regime swiftly crumbles. When the aging East German dictator Erich Honecker was unable to get paratroopers to fire on protesting crowds in Leipzig, the regime was finished. The same refusal to employ violence doomed the communist governments in Prague and Bucharest. I watched in December 1989 as the army general that the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had depended on to crush protests condemned him to death on Christmas Day. Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak lost power once they could no longer count on the security forces to fire into crowds.

The process of defection among the ruling class and security forces is slow and often imperceptible. These defections are advanced through a rigid adherence to nonviolence, a refusal to respond to police provocation and a verbal respect for the blue-uniformed police, no matter how awful they can be while wading into a crowd and using batons as battering rams against human bodies. The resignations of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s deputy, Sharon Cornu, and the mayor’s legal adviser and longtime friend, Dan Siegel, in protest over the clearing of the Oakland encampment are some of the first cracks in the edifice. “Support Occupy Oakland, not the 1% and its government facilitators,” Siegel tweeted after his resignation.

There were times when I entered the ring as a boxer and knew, as did the spectators, that I was woefully mismatched. Ringers, experienced boxers in need of a tuneup or a little practice, would go to the clubs where semi-pros fought, lie about their long professional fight records, and toy with us. Those fights became about something other than winning. They became about dignity and self-respect. You fought to say something about who you were as a human being. These bouts were punishing, physically brutal and demoralizing. You would get knocked down and stagger back up. You would reel backward from a blow that felt like a cement block. You would taste the saltiness of your blood on your lips. Your vision would blur. Your ribs, the back of your neck and your abdomen would ache. Your legs would feel like lead. But the longer you held on, the more the crowd in the club turned in your favor. No one, even you, thought you could win. But then, every once in a while, the ringer would get overconfident. He would get careless. He would become a victim of his own hubris. And you would find deep within yourself some new burst of energy, some untapped strength and, with the fury of the dispossessed, bring him down. I have not put on a pair of boxing gloves for 30 years. But I felt this twinge of euphoria again in my stomach this morning, this utter certainty that the impossible is possible, this realization that the mighty will fall.

The New, Old Class Warfare

The New, Old Class Warfare

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There is and has been a war raging inside the USA for over 160 years. The wealthy elite of the country are the side conducting the war. On the other side are the over 90 percent of the population who also happen to be the bottom 90 percent in terms of wealth.

This is not your typical war with cannons, high-altitude bombers, drones etc. Yet, there have been times in our history when the guns have been turned on those who dare to challenge the wealthy elite.

The war is called class warfare and it affects every one of us. I wish to avoid the terms "ruling class" and "working class" because they do not fully describe our condition. Rather, I will use the terms "wealthy elite" and "the rest of us," for that more accurately describes our condition. Class warfare describes the hostility the wealthy elite have exhibited toward the rest of us for over 160 years.

Warren Buffett, one of the world's richest persons, told The New York Times on November 26, 2006, "There is class warfare all right but it is my class, the rich class that is making war and we're winning." They are winning because most of the 90 percent refuse to believe there is class warfare and continue to believe the rich class has the best interests of the rest of us in mind even as it plots methods to steal all the wealth created or held by the rest of us.

It wasn't always this way. I use the 1850s as the starting point for the current class warfare because those years marked a leap in military-related production as well as of the USA's invasion of Mexico to wrest what are now California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Nevada away from Mexico. As always, the poorest of the country were targeted for enlistment with "promises" of land and an enlistment bonus to be paid to the family of the enlistee. Neither land nor bonus panned out.

During this period, the Communist Party was founded - in 1852, two years before the founding of the Republican Party and 55 years before the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. From 1852 to today, the word "communist" is used to paint anyone who desires peace, equality and justice as a radical not to be considered seriously. In the 1850s, there were some strikes forcibly broken by the local, state or federal governments. Strikes usually occurred in response to the wealthy elite's hunger for more profits achieved by lowering wages, extending hours or by firing workers and demanding that the remainder accomplish as much work as the previously larger workforce. This formula also required a rise in prices for basic goods, in an attempt to insure that workers wouldn't dare strike. In the 1850s, slavery had two forms: wage slavery in the North and chattel slavery in the South. The wealthy class used red baiting, race baiting and immigrant baiting to divide and attempt to conquer the rest of us as their primary strategies to maintain the upper hand.

It was the Civil War that created the wealth that still rules our lives today. The demand for war materials created astounding individual wealth never before witnessed on the planet. Industries such as steel making, ship building, railroads, meat packing, mining, manufacturing, communications and banking were the major beneficiaries.

The figure of J. Pierpont Morgan stands out among those of the original "robber barons." The shadow of Morgan looms large in the 160 years of class warfare. Today, the corporate JP Morgan exists as JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley - preeminent leaders in the world financial industry. Besides co-owning the US government, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and others now own the economies and, therefore, the governments of many European nations. This is accomplished as in the States simply by holding or otherwise controlling the debt of its many government clients. When we learn the market is "nervous," that means Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan Chase, and others want loan repayments to be the priority over the welfare of each countries' citizens. Hence, the demand to get rid of or to drastically reduce public benefits that accrue to all citizens.

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In his mid-20s, JP Morgan avoided serving his country in the Civil War by paying $300 to a substitute, who went in his place. Other young men who did the same thing included: John D. Rockefeller, Jim Fisk, Jay Gould, Andrew Carnegie, James Hill and Phillip Armour, all of whom led the so-called Industrial Revolution and amassed their fortunes on top of the 600,000 or more killed during the Civil War. War profiteering from the Civil War built the fortunes that control the rest of us even up to today. It was said at that time that the aforementioned leaders would have liked the war to continue, so great were the profits. Maybe that is why the USA has been at war or sponsoring a war elsewhere every year since the beginning of the nation.

I say so-called Industrial Revolution because that is one side of the story. What is important to note or discover is that there was an "Industrial Counter-Revolution" as well. Its leadership came from people engaged in farming, share cropping, shipping, mining, railroads, steel, manufacturing, retail etc. From the beginning, organized labor was hampered because nationally recognized labor leaders opposed striking, and banned blacks and women from joining. This, in spite of the valiant organizing efforts of women in the mills of the northeastern USA and the courageous efforts of black citizens to demand basic rights supposedly guaranteed by the Civil War and its aftermath. As early as the mid 1870s, the first nationwide union was formed, the Iron Moulders. Through very difficult organizing city by city, traveling by box car or any other conveyance he could hitch a ride on, William Sylvis finally achieved his objective in 1877. Sylvis also advocated full membership for black workers, realizing the truth that when one group is oppressed, all suffer. The fight to eliminate racism and the fight for justice and equality are the major battlefields in class warfare. The divide-and-conquer strategy serves only the wealthy elite. Most of us have lost between $5-$20 per hour over our lifetimes simply because we have proven ourselves to be susceptible to the divide-and-conquer strategy.

Employment has always been the main focus of the wealthy as a tool for winning the class war. Maintaining high unemployment along with a lack of job security among the employed creates an atmosphere of fear, which makes us vulnerable to crass manipulations. The wealthy elite have feasted on driving wages down; increasing production; nonpayment of overtime; cutting corners on safety issues (resulting in death, disabling injury or simply perpetual pain), and then they raise prices to starve us into submission.

Even this is not enough to satisfy the wealthy elite. They have sent manufacturing jobs first to Southern US nonunion locations and then out of the country in a never-ending search for nearly free labor; no safety regulations; and, best of all, no environmental regulations. These were good paying jobs: they strengthened communities, uplifted families and made it possible for young people to go to college. Oftentimes, the national union leadership along with the banks encouraged these moves in order to protect their pension investments. The disgrace is there was no fight from the national unions. Members at the local level were agitated, union members from many locals were coming together on this issue and the national unions poured ice water on it. How many communities look like bombed-out cities as a result of corporate flight? That is what class warfare looks like.

However, back in the late 1800s, every attack by the wealthy elite against the rest of us was met with strong organized resistance by workers and farmers. Some of the battles included the first nation-wide strike by railroad workers in 1877, the agitation for the eight hour day in the 1880s, which included the Haymarket bombing, many strikes in mines over safety and wages, the Pullman Strike, organization of the Sleeping Car Porters Union, the Western Federation of Miners and other actions. It should be noted that some of the most effective democratic organizations were formed and led by people who were basically illiterate. Many times immigrants fresh from Europe brought over to break a strike joined the strikers because they understood the nature of class warfare.

Almost every strike was characterized by the wealthy elite as a communist-inspired plot to overthrow the government. The wealthy have used this tactic for the past 160 years and it is devoid of truth. Martin Luther King Jr. was a communist; Huey P. Long was a communist - as were all their supporters. Union organizers were communists. People organizing for a better society were communists. We can recall the most effective period of commie naming - the late 1940s and the 1950s when the junior senator from Wisconsin succeeded in frightening the whole country about commies everywhere and destroyed many people's lives with his lies. These lies were supported by the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturing, the American Legion and - amazingly enough - by the American Federation of Labor and most of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The unions cooperated by identifying organizers as commies, then, by expelling them from membership. A variant of this procedure extended to entire unions. Seriously weakened unions, due to the firing of their most successful organizers, were the result as well as the failure to mount any sort of counterattack over the past 60 years. This venal appeal to fear which leads to hate has prevented us from bringing values such as compassion and cooperation into our public life in a meaningful way.

Our history of struggle in class warfare should give us reason to be optimistic. After all, it was our grandparents, our great-grandparents, our great-great-grandparents who fought against all odds to build a more just society. They did so at great sacrifice to themselves in order that their children would not have to suffer as they did.

During every strike, first, the wealthy elite began a commie smear campaign in hopes of neutralizing support for the strikers. Sometimes it worked; sometimes it didn't. The middle class were crucial to the success of a strike, but they were afraid of being accused of supporting commies or, worse, supporting blacks. Their fear of taking a courageous stand was the reason many strikes were broken. Today, we see their reward for not supporting strikes: the middle class has been decimated by the wealthy elite. Also, law enforcement and the military have always been there to provide brutal assistance to the wealthy elite. Many companies hired their own militias or relied on corporations like the Pinkertons to crush strikers. On many occasions, the Army was called back from killing Native Americans to kill strikers. This practice continued well into the 1930s. The story of the Republic Steel strike on Memorial Day 1937 is instructive. The Steel Workers Organizing Committee called for a strike against speed-up (safety), wage cuts and extended hours. Republic Steel and other steel plants spent $43,901.88 (1937 dollars) for machine guns, revolvers, tear gas and bombs to fight the strikers.[1] This does not include death materiel "donated" by the US military and law enforcement. The massacre that ensued on Memorial Day: ten murdered and scores wounded, was captured on film by Paramount. It can still be seen today [4], but not on corporate media. It is a true indictment of the lack of limits the wealthy elite impose on themselves.

The wealthy elite have always been busy consolidating their wealth. The banker JP Morgan was expert at creating monopolies, including General Electric, American Telephone and Telegraph, US Steel, in addition to dominating three major insurance companies. He bailed out the US government when its gold reserves were depleted - at a great profit. His representatives sat on the board of directors of 48 companies.[2] He could be called the founder of the Federal Reserve Bank, which still works very closely with - or for - Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase.

Despite Morgan's death in 1913, the interests of the House of Morgan Bank were key to US involvement in WWI. In spite of government-professed neutrality, Morgan began lending enormous sums of money to the British and French governments for war materials, which were manufactured in the US and then exported to Morgan's clients, the British and French. The British and French were in debt exceeding 2.5 billion dollars (1913-15 dollars) and not winning or losing the war. If Germany were to win the war, the House of Morgan would surely collapse and take the entire economy along with it. Instead, the US entered the war to preserve Morgan's billions, following an intense and vastly effective propaganda effort. Speaking against the war was made a federal offense. Amazingly enough, in spite of the massive propaganda, many people knew the war was for Morgan and not to preserve democracy. The very same propaganda model continues to be used against us to get us to do what we do not need to do. We even vote against our own interests (and for wealthy elite interests) with the help of this propaganda industry, which spends close to 30 billion a year to keep us "busy" supporting the very same people who are making war on us.

Frederick Townsend Martin's family was quite wealthy, thus, he traveled in the elite circles where only the wealthy elite venture. Somehow, he became sincerely interested with the welfare of the many poor in New York City. He wrote "The Passing of the Idle Rich" in 1911. In it, he summarized the method of control which well served the wealthy elite in class warfare: .".. It matters not one iota what political party is in power or what President holds the reins of office. We are not politicians or public thinkers; we are the rich; we own America; we got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it if we can by throwing all the tremendous weight of our support, our influence, our money, our political connections, our purchased senators, our hungry congressman, our public speaking demagogues into the scale against any legislature, any political platform, any presidential campaign that threatens the integrity of our estate ... The class I represent cares nothing for politics. In a single season a plutocratic header hurled his influence and his money into the scale to elect a Republican governor on the Pacific Coast and a Democratic governor on the Atlantic Coast."[3] We can see the same recipe being used today, especially the "public speaking demagogues."

That very same wealth is used today to continue to destroy all hard-won benefits. Those benefits represent the last vestiges of class warfare victories by a united, not divided, rest of us. Today, our wealthy elite have caused state and local governments to starve. Part of the strategy employed is to refuse to fund mandates from the federal to state and local governments. Then local governments are left to deal with fallout of taking money away from children as they are forced to reduce benefits or eliminate programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children. Grover Norquist, a political operative from the right-wing think-tank industry, has expressed his desire to starve the beast (us) and would delight in watching the last benefits disappear down the drain of a bathtub. We are not far from that event. It appears we are in the final stages of class warfare and losing badly, primarily because so many of us - consciously or unconsciously - collaborate with the wealthy elite. With one in five unemployed or underemployed, the federal government plays games with unemployment benefits (won during the 1930s) by refusing to extend the time a person may receive those benefits. Eighty-five percent or more of what used to be good-paying jobs have disappeared to other countries where production costs are minimal: today jobs which went to lawyers, involving proofreading court decision publications, have been moved to India. Presumably, graduates of law school in India proofread/edit the essential tools of law practice. On top of all this, fraud remains rampant in the financial industry. Financial fraud and unemployment are rampant throughout the history of this class warfare. One of the favorite frauds remains "pump and dump," whereby an asset is identified by a group of wealthy elite which organizes favorable news coverage of this hot asset. Finally, at some point in the ascent of the asset, the promoters sell their gigantic holdings, making huge profits, while ordinary mortals are left holding the bag. Sound familiar?

Perhaps the most telling declaration of our future can be found in the notion of a "jobless recovery." That description conveys that the economy has recovered, but the unessential jobs market - the apparently least important aspect of the economy - has not. We are now being groomed for a perpetually precarious existence. There will be some jobs, but not nearly enough for everyone who needs to work. This keeps all of us insecure and frightened, opens the competition of all against all and clears the way for the wealthy elite.

The Great Depression offers many parallels to our situation today. A financial crash, rampant unemployment, harsh suppression measures against those who fought back. We haven't seen such harsh repression because the fight back has so far been limited. However, legislation passed during Bush 2 provides the framework for a gigantic political gulag. Measures used against the rest of us in the 1930s included the Palmer Raids, which terrorized tens of thousands of activists; massacres in the Western mining states when mine workers organized; and the military, police and private militias were commonly used to suppress organizing. It was also the peak period for the Ku Klux Klan in the North as well as the South. The Klan went on a rampage, lynching blacks simply for being a human with black skin. Divide and conquer once more. In spite of this, people continued to organize. Workers, farmers and the unemployed came together, excluding no one because of skin color or sex. This was the opposite of the AFL, which then practiced exclusion - even excluding so-called unskilled workers.

Against these odds, people began organizing, especially from the ranks of the unemployed. Locally, the unemployed organized to agitate for public assistance, unemployment insurance and a stop to mortgage foreclosures. For example, from November 1931 to June 1932, 185,794 families were served with dispossess notices in New York City. Over 70,000 of these were moved back into their homes by the local Unemployed Council.[4] When strikes were called, the unemployed didn't rush to scab, instead many joined the picket line.

This behavior shocked the wealthy elite. For the first time, people were deaf to race baiting, immigrant baiting, communist baiting, and blacks and women were not barred from membership in the newly organized unions. In many cases, blacks and women were chosen as leaders because of their talents and skills. From 1933 to 1938, over five million workers joined the union at their work. Predictably, a wave of strikes swept the nation and the response was brutal. Yet, a new spirit had entered the hearts of people and compassion and cooperation prevailed over manipulation and competition. Thus, was the "New Deal" born.

The New Deal consisted of a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures; provision of unemployment insurance; public assistance programs; Social Security; minimum wage and hour laws; assistance to small farmers; and a massive public works program, including grants for artists of all types. It was surely a new beginning.

However, we have not defended these victories. Each program has been cut and cut until there is hardly anything left but Social Security - and that is next in their sights. It seems any program that reinforces the notion of collective responsibility and the welfare of the citizenry cannot be allowed because it demonstrates the value of mutual respect and compassion. We have taken the bait of divide and conquer and chosen to join forces with the wealthy elite to continue to suppress black- and brown-skinned people. We are not even agitated over the phrase "jobless recovery." We think it is normal given the "nature" of the mysterious market forces. It is jobless because the rest of us have no value to the wealthy elite save what can be exploited or stolen from us.

Beginning to fight back together for the first time in nearly 60 years means making changes - both personal and social. The best description of what we face was articulated by Frederick Douglass, a slave who escaped and went on to become a newspaper publisher, as well as one of the most important intellectuals in our nation's history:

"Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reforms. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of struggle. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."[5]

Today, our most important demand is to reclaim democracy. Without a vibrant movement for democracy, our condition will worsen. Democracy simply means "rule of the governed."

We can begin to take back the power by learning the truth ourselves. In the preface to "Leaves of Grass," Walt Whitman suggested one "dismiss whatever insults your soul." We do not ever need to "speak truth to power"; we need to "speak truth to the powerless," and that begins with ourselves. We can then begin to develop the conversation necessary to figure out where we are and where we need to go. The best place to do this is in our neighborhoods. We can greatly improve our ability to survive by cooperating with our neighbors to build an alternative economy. Also, starting in our neighborhood, we develop that base of people necessary to reclaim democracy.

We must think about withholding our support from the wealthy elite and search for ways to keep our money away from them. We are funding our own destruction due to our insatiable need to buy things. Remember Bush 2's answer to 9-11-2001? "Go shopping, America is open for business," he exclaimed, and we did. Our role as consumer instead of as a citizen is reinforced by the mammoth propaganda industry, which now targets children less than one year old to mould the perfect consumer. We continue to fund the military-corporate complex at the expense of necessary services and the dissolution of spiritual values. In the past 20 years, we have funded the bailout of the saving and loan industry, following deregulation of same; experienced the disaster known as the dot com meltdown (remember pump and dump); started an endless war against an idea - terrorism; and funded the multitrillion dollar bailout of the financial industry - benefiting Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase. In 2008, over 99 percent of the presidential vote went to the parties of empire. That sounds and looks like an endorsement of the wealthy elite's class warfare against the rest of us.

Any decision to counter attack the wealthy elite by stopping our financial support of them is a deeply personal one. It is also an example of what Douglass spoke about describing the "need for struggle." Boycotting is the means to get attention in order to present our demands developed through our neighborhood discussions. If we do not give our money to the wealthy elite and if we stop getting our information from corporate television, then how can the wealthy use the media to manipulate us? We can turn our backs on them; it is a matter of personal and social change.

The Venerable Prayudh Payutto wrote the book, "Buddhist Economics: A Middle Way for the Market Place." In 1992, he wrote:

"People who get richer and richer while society degenerates and poverty spreads are using their wealth wrongly. Such wealth does not fulfill its true function. It is only a matter of time before something breaks down - either the rich, or the society, or both must go. If people use their wealth wrongly, it ceases to be a benefit and becomes a bane, destroying human dignity, individual welfare and the community."[6]

We don't have much time left before we are driven to our knees. Our refusal to acknowledge class warfare for the past 60 years has encouraged the wealthy elite to grab control of the entire world economy. The lobotomization of the US population has been critical to that almost-complete effort. In view of our ancestors' heroic efforts and a moral responsibility to at least try to make a better world for our children and our neighbors' children, we need to become better informed, better educated, more agitated and better organized. Today, we have the highest inequality of wealth in our nation's history - along with the least resistance to its impact.

What will our answer be to the children when they ask, "What did you do during the class warfare?"