Saturday, November 26, 2011
The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy
The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class's venality
US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.
But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that "New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers" covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that "It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk."
In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on "how to suppress" Occupy protests.
To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.
I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors', city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.
Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.
That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.
The mainstream media was declaring continually "OWS has no message". Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online "What is it you want?" answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.
The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.
No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.
When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.
For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, "we are going after these scruffy hippies". Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women's wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).
In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.
But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the "scandal" of presidential contender Newt Gingrich's having been paid $1.8m for a few hours' "consulting" to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies' profitsis less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.
Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists' privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can't suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.
So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.
Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.
Foreclosed Homeowners Re-Occupy Their HomesGo To Original
San Francisco – Carolyn Gage was evicted from her foreclosed home in January. Earlier this month, she moved back in.
“I’ve been in here for 50 years. I know no other place but here. I left and it was just time for me to come back home,” said Gage, who is in her mid-50s.
Gage’s monthly payments spiked after her adjustable rate mortgage kicked in, and she could no longer afford the payments on her three-bedroom house in the city’s Bayview Hunters Point district. She says she tried to modify her loan with her lender, Florida-based IB Properties, but to no avail.
When Gage initially left about 10 months ago, she took some personal items with her, but left most of the furniture and continued paying for some utilities.
“It didn’t feel right for me to move. I just left my things because I knew I was going to return to them eventually,” she said.
She had to re-activate a few utilities when she returned, like the water, but found the process fairly easy.
Walking back into the house was an emotional moment for Gage, but a joyous one.
“I was like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; there’s no place like home,” Gage said. “It’s a family home; I plan to stay there.”
Gage was one of about two dozen homeowners who gathered Tuesday for a community potluck on Quesada Avenue for residents facing foreclosure and are refusing to leave their homes.
Homeowners expressed outrage at the way predatory lenders have targeted their community.
Residents of the Bayview are starting to see how the African-American community was especially victimized in the foreclosure crisis.
Gage believes that single women and elders in the black community were targeted for predatory loans. At the peak of the housing boom she was solicited for an adjustable rate loan to do some home improvements, even though she told the loan agent that she was on disability and did not have a steady income.
According to a report released last week by the Center for Responsible Lending, African Americans and Latinos were consistently more likely than whites to receive high-risk loan products. About a quarter of all Latino and African-American borrowers have lost their homes to foreclosure or are seriously delinquent, compared to under 12 percent for white borrowers.
Bayview residents Reverend Archbishop Franz King and Reverend Mother Marina King, who are founders of the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, are also facing foreclosure. Their eviction date is set for Dec. 22.
King expressed deep anger and sorrow at the situation facing the black community in the Bayview.
“First redevelopment moved us out of the Fillmore and now we’re losing our properties too? It’s like there’s nowhere for us to go,” he said.
Grace Martinez, an organizer with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) who helped to arrange the event, commented that banks have become increasingly hostile to their efforts. “They call the police on us; they laugh at us.”
Vivian Richardson, a homeowner on Quesada Avenue whose house was also foreclosed on, also has no intention of leaving. Her current eviction date is set for Dec. 31, but she, like many of her neighbors, is asking her lender to reduce the principal on her loan in order to make the monthly payments more affordable.
Richardson has been attempting to modify her home loan for the past two years. Earlier this month, tired of the lack of communication from the lender, Aurora Loan Services based in Delaware, she worked with ACCE to coordinate an e-mail blast to Aurora’s chairman.
On Nov. 3, over the span of one to two hours, approximately 1,400 emails were sent and more than 100 phone calls made, imploring Chairman Theodore P. Janulis to stop Richardson’s eviction. A spokesperson from the bank called her an hour after the blast and asked her to send an updated set of financial information so that they could review her case.
Two weeks have passed and she has yet to hear anything further. The bank spokesperson commented that Richardson’s case is still being reviewed internally and they hope to get back to her by the end of next week.
However, Richardson has lived in her house for 13 years and plans to stay regardless of the bank’s decision.
“I will defend the home,” she said.
On Dec. 6, there will be a national day of action, “Occupy Our Homes,” where people across the country facing predicaments similar to Gage and Richardson may follow their lead.
Partly inspired by the Occupy movement, the day of action is supported by various community organizations like Take Back the Land and ACCE. The call to action is for people to move back into their foreclosed properties and to defend the properties of families facing eviction.
Martinez commented on the growing anger people are feeling. “The idea is, 'I want what’s mine.'” She said many homeowners had trusted the banks and ultimately, “People were buying into a lie.”
Nearly Half of Americans Struggling to Stay Afloat
Nearly half of all Americans lack economic security, meaning they live above the federal poverty threshold but still do not have enough money to cover housing, food, healthcare and other basic expenses, according to a survey of government and industry data.
That breaks down to 39 percent of all adults and 55 percent of all children, the group found.
"This is a wake-up call for Congress, for our state policy-makers, really for all of us," said Donna Addkison, President and CEO of WOW.
"Nearly half of our nation's families cannot cover the costs of basic expenses even when they do have a job. Under these conditions, cuts to unemployment insurance ... and other programs families are relying on right now would push them from crisis to catastrophe."
The WOW survey compared 2009 pre-tax incomes to a budget of basic and essential monthly expenses for various families that it developed along with researchers at Washington University with funding from the Ford Foundation and W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
For example, in a budget for a family of one worker, it put housing expenses at $688 and food at $244. In a family of two workers with two young children, it assumed housing would cost $821 per month and food $707 a month.
It did not include nonessentials such as vacations, recreation, hobbies, college tuition, and other common expenses of the middle class.
A congressional effort to find $1.2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years failed on Monday, raising fears that emergency benefits for the long-term unemployed would not be extended when they expire next month.
Other social programs including Medicare are also under threat as lawmakers seek to slash the nation's huge debt.
Some economists said while they agreed that the debt had to the reduced, targeting programs that helped the low income group survive the harsh economic environment was not the correct path to take.
"I am in favor of austerity, but not in this area," said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit Research in New York. "This is the only austerity going on and this is hitting the long-term unemployed. It's not improving the long-term budget situation anyway."
Currently, the poverty threshold for the United States is an annual income of $22,314 for a family of four.
A little more than 15 percent of the country lives at or below that level, and the group wanted to look at the remainder, "many of whom live on the edge and are chronically at risk of financial crisis or falling into poverty."
More than four out of 10 adult women live in households that cannot cover those basic expenses, slightly more than the proportion of men, 37 percent.
That may be because in 2009 women's median earnings were 70 percent of men's median earnings, the group said.
More than 60 percent of single women live in economic insecurity, it added.
"While married women are more likely to have economic security than unmarried women, much of the stability is attained through a husband's earnings or other household income," the group reported, which can put those women in economic jeopardy if their husbands die or lose their job or if the couple divorces.
The group also found "that full-time work fails to provide economic security for 25 percent of adult workers," because of stagnating and falling wages over the last decade.
"A chief cause of economic insecurity is 1970s level wages that fail to cover modern expenses," it said.
While households with two full-time workers can help boost a family's economic security, 22 percent of adults with children who work full-time and have a partner who also has a full-time job cannot cover basic needs.
At the same time, 21 percent of homes headed by a college graduate lack economic security.
"In the past, threats to economic security were supposedly clear -- dropping out of high school, being a single parent or having a large family. In today's economy, we cannot assume we know who lacks security," it said.