Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How The Economy Works: The Necessity Of Crime

Go To Original

The economy is merely a sum of money, not practices that sustain the oikos, and the money that makes up the sum is equally valued whether it results from virtuous or vicious, good or bad, constructive or destructive, humane or inhumane, legal or illegal, beneficent or malevolent practices. Whether people benefit or are injured is never an economic concern. People, like everything else that is not monetary, are irrelevant.

Once upon a time, as all good morality legends begin, mankind lived in a natural habitat. People toiled, but none worked at anything like what is today called a job. They hunted, fished, trapped and gathered berries, fruits and edible roots. Later people learned to cultivate land and domesticate and herd animals. Yields were shared with all members of their clans—the young and the aged, the able and the disabled, the well and the ill. From each according to his ability; to each according to his needs was common practice, not an ideological precept. And the human race flourished. Villages around cultivated plots grew into towns and towns into cities. But somewhere in the progression, something went horribly wrong. People stopped sharing! People with a this began to trade with others for a that, and what is now known as commerce began.

Trouble is, having been removed from a natural habitat to an unnatural, artificial one, everyone didn't have a this to trade for a that. The haves became distinguished from the have-nots. What were the have-nots to do? Well, they could beg or sell themselves or revert to being what they would have been in their natural habitat—hunters and gatherers! But now the prey were the haves and their property became gatherable. So what were the haves to do?

They could have gone back to sharing, but they didn't! Instead, they developed ways of guarding what they had. They assigned some to enact rules and others to enforce them. Some people got jobs, rulegivers and guards. Whenever a rulebreaker was caught, s/he had to be tried. More jobs were created—lawyer and judge. When convicted, the rulebreaker had to be punished, and prisons came into being with their wardens and guards. When prisoners were released, they had to be monitored so now probation officers were needed. All of this costs the haves a lot. Wouldn't sharing have been cheaper?

Perhaps, but people couldn't revert to that now. For all of these guard-workers, as they are now often called in the literature, constitute an economic activity in itself. To go back to sharing would turn them all into have-nots. But these are now important and powerful people. Judges, lawyers, legislators! Have-nots? Heavens no! Although loath to think of themselves in this way, these people are nothing but ballyhooed security guards. Compared to fish, they are the aquarium's bottom feeders. What would they be without crime?

The commercial enterprise of guard-working is like every other commercial enterprise. To profit, it must grow; but to grow, crime must increase. Without increasing crime, guard-working atrophies. What came into being in order to control crime now requires it. Crime has become a necessary part of the economy. It can't be eliminated; it can't even be reduced without affecting the economy adversely. Economists love it. So do lawyers, legislators, and judges. But they won't admit it! The commercial activity of guarding the haves and their property has to be fed.

Oh, poppycock some reader will say. Perhaps, but lets abandon the once upon a time and return to now is the time.

Why are some members of Congress intent not only on reducing the social safety net but eliminating it? Because keeping the backs of have-nots to the wall increases their likelihood of becoming criminals to be fed to the guard-workers? And why are these same members of Congress unwilling to curtail the activities of the military-industrial complex? Well, AK-47s come from there and they are productivity enhancing technologies. They make guard-workers and criminals more efficient. And economists? Well, consider how domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy, is measured.

Gross domestic product (GDP) is the market value of all goods and services bought in a given period. In short, it measures how much money is spent. When more money is spent GDP goes up, when less is spent, GDP goes down. When GDP goes up, the economy is said to be growing, when GDP goes down, the economy is said to be shrinking. This implies, of course, that "the economy" is nothing but a number.

Well, what's wrong with that? Here's what:

Say an arsonist sets a huge building on fire and the fire causes so much damage that the building can't be repaired. The owner hires a vendor to tear it down and remove the refuse. The cost of doing that is domestic product. In a sense, destroying something makes it into a product. Joseph Alois Schumpeter, the Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger of economics, called it "creative destruction"—stuff is destroyed to create domestic product. In reality, crime creates a huge amount of domestic product. The cost of the weapons and tools used by criminals is domestic product. If caught, the cost of an accused's trial is domestic product. If convicted, so is the cost of her/his incarceration.

But it's even worse. The murder of a person creates domestic product. A century or so ago, especially in America's Midwest, when a person died his family found a pleasant spot behind the homestead and dug a grave. Today that can't be done; today death is a moneymaker. First the services of an undertaker is required, next a coffin must be purchased, then a cemetery plot and flowers for the viewing are acquired. A person's death makes domestic product grow and grow. The economy gets better and better. Absurd!, you say. Yes, it is, but that's exactly how the economy works.

So think about it. When a group of Saudi's brought down the World Trade Center, they created domestic product, a lot of it. Most Americans consider these people as terrorists, but from an economic perspective, they are job creating entrepreneurs. Count all the people employed in cleaning up the site and rebuilding the buildings. It's a fulfillment of Schumpeter's dream, but he should have called it "destructive creation."

If you want to know why Americans can't have gun control, think Schumpeter's dream. So-called legitimate businesses make money from death in America. Killing in America is an economically creative activity. It takes human beings and turns them into domestic products. GDP grows with every crime. Without crime, GDP would plummet.

So what is the moral of this legend? How about, "If you want to make the economy better, go out and kill a lot of people." It won't do much for the country or its people, but GDP will explode and economists will salivate over how good the economy's fundamentals are.

Can you imagine anything more absurd? No matter, because that's how the economy really works. It has no relationship to people and their welfare. Money made by a destructive activity is just as good as money made from a creative one. Money made by stealing is just as good as money made honestly (as every banker knows). Laundered money is just as good as clean money. Money made by killing (here or abroad) is just as good as money made by giving birth. That's how the economy works. Neither people nor the quality of anything matters; only the money made does, and the political chorus chants,

Money, money, money, money.

Money, money, money, money,

all this in a nation comprised of people, eighty percent of whom claim to be followers of a deity who proclaims that the love of money is the root of all evil, and not a single cleric complains.

That, dear reader, is how America works. The economy is merely a sum of money, not practices that sustain the oikos, and the money that makes up the sum is equally valued whether it results from virtuous or vicious, good or bad, constructive or destructive, humane or inhumane, legal or illegal, beneficent or malevolent practices. All of that lucre is filthy. Whether people benefit or are injured is never an economic concern. People, like everything else that is not monetary, are irrelevant which makes this economy totally immoral. This message from a prominent financial advisor proves it:

"As investors, we absolutely must not let our political beliefs, the news media, or anything else stand in the way of our quest to grow our hard-earned money into lasting wealth."

Ex-TARP Overseer Denounces US Government Cover-Up Of Wall Street Crimes

Go To Original

In interviews prompted by the publication of his new book (Bailout) on the $700 billion US bank bailout scheme—the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)—the former special inspector general for the program, Neil Barofsky, has denounced bank regulators and top officials in the Bush and Obama administrations for covering up Wall Street criminality both before and after the financial crash of September 2008.

In an interview last Thursday with the Daily Ticker blog, Barofsky accused Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner of facilitating the banks’ manipulation of Libor, the global benchmark interest rate, when he was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2007-2008, prior to his joining the Obama administration. Recently published documents show that as early as 2007, Geithner knew that London-based Barclays Bank was submitting false information to the Libor board to conceal its financial weakness.

Geithner merely wrote to the Bank of England suggesting certain changes in the Libor rate-setting mechanism, but made no public statement and failed to notify regulators at the US Justice Department, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission, even though major US banks were alleged to be involved in the rate-rigging fraud.

In his interview, Barofsky rejected Geithner’s claims to have acted appropriately. Calling the Libor scandal a “global conspiracy to fix one of the most important interest rates in the world,” the former TARP inspector general said, “[Geithner] heard this information and looked the other way. Geithner and other regulators should be held accountable, they should be fired across the board. If they knew about an ongoing fraud, and they didn’t do anything about it, they don’t deserve to have their jobs. I hope to see people in handcuffs.”

In the same interview and others given over the past week, Barofsky has spoken in scathing terms of the domination of Washington by Wall Street and the subservience of both major parties to the financial elite. “It was shocking,” he told the Daily Ticker, “how much control the big banks had over their own bailout and how they often would dictate terms of some of the TARP programs and the overwhelming deference shown by Treasury officials to the banks. I saw no differences in these core issues between the Bush and Obama administrations.”

In an interview with CBS News’ Charlie Rose on July 23, Barofsky referred to key elements of his account of TARP, including the lack of any restrictions on the banks’ use of bailout funds and the fact that they were not even required to tell the government what they were doing with the taxpayer money that had been handed to them.

“When I got to Washington,” he said, “I saw that it had been hijacked by a small group of very powerful Wall Street banks... It’s not Democratic, it’s not Republican, it’s across political barriers… [Geithner] oversaw a policy that saw our largest banks, the too-big-to-fail institutions, get bigger than ever and more powerful, more politically connected.”

In his book, Barofsky derides the cynicism of the claims made when President Bush, candidate Obama and congressional leaders of both parties were seeking to ram through the TARP law over massive popular opposition that the bailout would benefit Main Street as well as Wall Street. He notes, for instance, that the government’s mortgage modification program—billed as a means to help millions of homeowners—has disbursed only $3 billion out of the $50 billion set aside for it.

Barofsky, who served as the Treasury Department’s special inspector general for TARP until his resignation last February, is well placed to document the collusion of the government with the banks. He issued numerous reports while in his TARP post exposing the lack of any real government oversight over the taxpayer money funneled to the banks, as well as decisions ensuring that Wall Street firms such as Goldman Sachs recouped tens of billions of dollars in potential losses at the public’s expense.

Deprived of any enforcement powers under the TARP law drafted by Wall Street lawyers and ratified by Congress, Barofsky was simply ignored by Geithner and the Obama administration and his reports were largely buried by the media.

Barofsky’s book has received a similar response from the media, as did reports issued last year by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations documenting in detail fraudulent and illegal activities by the banks in the lead-up to the financial crash of 2008.

Four years after the crisis precipitated by the banks, not a single top banker has been prosecuted, let alone convicted. Meanwhile, the same bankers, and the government officials who shielded them and ensured that they grew even richer, are demanding that American workers accept the “new normal” of wages at $13 or less, along with the destruction of pensions, health care and working conditions.

For all of his exposures, Barofsky, a Democrat, fails to draw the requisite conclusions, suggesting that popular rage can “sow the seeds for the types of reform that will one day break our system free from the corrupting grasp of the megabucks.”

The criminality of the financial system and the complicity of all of the official institutions are not, however, mere aberrations or blemishes on an otherwise healthy system. They are expressions of the putrefaction and failure of the capitalist system itself. Its mortal crisis is reflected above all in the ever-greater scale of social inequality.

There is no way to break the power of the financial oligarchy outside of a mass working class movement, including the seizure of the ill-gotten wealth of the financial mafia and the nationalization of the banks and major corporations under the democratic control of the working population.

11 Signs That Time Is Quickly Running Out For The Global Financial System

Go To Original

Are we rapidly approaching a moment of reckoning for the global financial system? August is likely to be a relatively slow month as most of Europe is on vacation, but after that we will be moving into a "danger zone" where just about anything could happen. Historically, a financial crisis has been more likely to happen in the fall than during any other time, and this fall is shaping up to be a doozy. Much of the focus of the financial world is on whether or not the euro is going to break up, but even if the authorities in Europe are able to keep the euro together we are still facing massive problems. Countries such as Greece and Spain are already experiencing depression-like conditions, and much of the rest of the globe is sliding into recession. Unemployment has already risen to record levels in some parts of Europe, major banks all over Europe are teetering on the brink of insolvency, and the flow of credit is freezing up all over the planet. If things take a really bad turn, this crisis could become much worse than the financial crisis of 2008 very quickly.

All over the world people are starting to write about the possibility of a major economic crisis starting this fall.

For example, a recent article in the International Business Times discussed how some economists around the globe are fearing the worst for the coming months....

The consensus? The world economy has entered a final countdown with three months left, and investors should pencil in a collapse in either August or September.

Citing a theory he has been espousing since 2010 that predicts "a future lack of policy flexibility from the monetary and fiscal side," Jim Reid, a strategist at Deutsche Bank, wrote a note Tuesday that gloated "it feels like Europe has proved us right."

"The U.S. has the ability to disprove the universal nature of our theory," Reid wrote, but "if this U.S. cycle is of completely average length as seen using the last 158 years of history (33 cycles), then the next recession should start by the end of August."

The global financial system is so complex and there are so many thousands of moving parts that it is always difficult to put an exact date on anything. In fact, history is littered with economists that have ended up looking rather foolish by putting a particular date on a prediction.

But without a doubt we are starting to see storm clouds gather for this fall.

The following are 11 more signs that time is quickly running out for the global financial system....

#1 A number of very important events regarding the financial future of Europe are going to happen in the month of September. The following is from a recent Reuters article that detailed many of the key things that are currently slated to occur during that month....

In that month a German court makes a ruling that could neuter the new euro zone rescue fund, the anti-bailout Dutch vote in elections just as Greece tries to renegotiate its financial lifeline, and decisions need to be made on whether taxpayers suffer huge losses on state loans to Athens.

On top of that, the euro zone has to figure out how to help its next wobbling dominoes, Spain and Italy - or what do if one or both were to topple.

#2 Reuters is reporting that Spanish Economy Minister Luis de Guindos has suggested that Spain may need a 300 billion euro bailout.

#3 Spain continues to slide deeper into recession. The Spanish economy contracted 0.4 percent during the second quarter of 2012 after contracting 0.3 percent during the first quarter.

#4 The unemployment rate in Spain is now up to 24.6 percent.

#5 According to the Wall Street Journal, a new 30 billion euro hole has been discovered in the financial rescue plan for Greece.

#6 Morgan Stanley is projecting that the unemployment rate in Greece will exceed 25 percent in 2013.

#7 It is now being projected that the Greek economy will shrink by a total of 7 percent during 2012.

#8 German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble says that the rest of Europe will not be making any more concessions for Greece.

#9 The UK economy has now plunged into a deep recession. During the second quarter of 2012 alone, the UK economy contracted by 0.7 percent.

#10 The Dallas Fed index of general business activity fell dramatically to -13.2 in July. This was a huge surprise and it is yet another indication that the U.S. economy is rapidly heading into a recession.

#11 As I have written about previously, a banking crisis is more likely to happen in the fall than at any other time during the year. The global financial system will enter a "danger zone" starting in September, and none of us need to be reminded that the crashes of 1929, 1987 and 2008 all happened during the second half of the year.

So is there any hope on the horizon?

European leaders have tried short-term solution after short-term solution and none of them have worked.

Now countries all over Europe are sliding into depression and the authorities in Europe seem to be all out of answers. The following is what one eurozone diplomat said recently....

"For two years we've been pumping up the life raft, taking decisions that fill it with just enough air to keep it afloat even though it has a leak," the diplomat said. "But now the leak has got so big that we can't pump air into the raft quickly enough to keep it afloat."

The boat is filling up with water faster than they can bail it out.

So what is the solution?

Well, some of the top names in economics on both sides of the Atlantic are urging authorities to keep the debt bubble pumped up by printing lots and lots more money.

For example, even though the U.S. government is already running trillion dollar deficits New York Times "economist" Paul Krugman is boldly proclaiming that now is the time to print and borrow even more money. He is proud to be a Keynesian, and he says that "you should be a Keynesian, too."

Across the pond, the International Business Editor of the Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, is strongly urging the ECB to print more money....

Needless to say, I will be advocating 1933 monetary stimulus à l'outrance, or trillions of asset purchases through old fashioned open-market operations through the quantity of money effect (NOT INTEREST RATE 'CREDITISM') to avert deflation – and continue doing so until nominal GDP is restored to its trend line, at which point the stimulus can be withdrawn again.

But is more money and more debt really the solution to anything?

In the United States, M2 recent surpassed the 10 trillion dollar mark for the first time ever. It has increased in size by more than 5 times over the past 30 years.

Unfortunately, our debt has been growing much faster than GDP has over that time period.

For example, during the second quarter of 2012 U.S. government debt grew by 274.3 billion dollars but U.S. GDP only grew by 117.6 billion dollars.

Our problem is not that there is not enough money floating around.

Our problem is that there is way, way too much debt.

But this is how things always go with fiat currencies.

There is always the temptation to print more.

That is one of the big reasons why every single fiat currency in history has eventually collapsed.

Printing more money will not solve our problems. It will just cause our problems to take a different form.

In the end, nothing that the authorities can do will be able to avert the crisis that is coming.

A lot of people are starting to realize this, and that is one reason why we are seeing so much economic pessimism right now.

For example, according to a new Rasmussen poll only 14 percent of all Americans believe that children in America today will be "better off" than their parents.

That is an absolutely stunning figure, but it just shows us where we are at.

Our economy has been in decline for a long time, and now we are rapidly approaching another major downturn.

You better buckle up, because this downturn is not going to be pleasant at all.

Chomsky: The Most Powerful Country in History Is Destroying the Earth and Human Rights

Go To Original

Down the road only a few generations, the millennium of Magna Carta, one of the great events in the establishment of civil and human rights, will arrive. Whether it will be celebrated, mourned, or ignored is not at all clear.

That should be a matter of serious immediate concern. What we do right now, or fail to do, will determine what kind of world will greet that event. It is not an attractive prospect if present tendencies persist -- not least, because the Great Charter is being shredded before our eyes.

The first scholarly edition of Magna Carta was published by the eminent jurist William Blackstone. It was not an easy task. There was no good text available. As he wrote, “the body of the charter has been unfortunately gnawn by rats” -- a comment that carries grim symbolism today, as we take up the task the rats left unfinished.

Blackstone’s edition actually includes two charters. It was entitled The Great Charter and the Charter of the Forest. The first, the Charter of Liberties, is widely recognized to be the foundation of the fundamental rights of the English-speaking peoples -- or as Winston Churchill put it more expansively, “the charter of every self-respecting man at any time in any land.” Churchill was referring specifically to the reaffirmation of the Charter by Parliament in the Petition of Right, imploring King Charles to recognize that the law is sovereign, not the King. Charles agreed briefly, but soon violated his pledge, setting the stage for the murderous Civil War.

After a bitter conflict between King and Parliament, the power of royalty in the person of Charles II was restored. In defeat, Magna Carta was not forgotten. One of the leaders of Parliament, Henry Vane, was beheaded. On the scaffold, he tried to read a speech denouncing the sentence as a violation of Magna Carta, but was drowned out by trumpets to ensure that such scandalous words would not be heard by the cheering crowds. His major crime had been to draft a petition calling the people “the original of all just power” in civil society -- not the King, not even God. That was the position that had been strongly advocated by Roger Williams, the founder of the first free society in what is now the state of Rhode Island. His heretical views influenced Milton and Locke, though Williams went much farther, founding the modern doctrine of separation of church and state, still much contested even in the liberal democracies.

As often is the case, apparent defeat nevertheless carried the struggle for freedom and rights forward. Shortly after Vane’s execution, King Charles granted a Royal Charter to the Rhode Island plantations, declaring that “the form of government is Democratical,” and furthermore that the government could affirm freedom of conscience for Papists, atheists, Jews, Turks -- even Quakers, one of the most feared and brutalized of the many sects that were appearing in those turbulent days. All of this was astonishing in the climate of the times.

A few years later, the Charter of Liberties was enriched by the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, formally entitled “an Act for the better securing the liberty of the subject, and for prevention of imprisonment beyond the seas.” The U.S. Constitution, borrowing from English common law, affirms that “the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended” except in case of rebellion or invasion. In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the rights guaranteed by this Act were “[c]onsidered by the Founders [of the American Republic] as the highest safeguard of liberty.” All of these words should resonate today.

The Second Charter and the Commons

The significance of the companion charter, the Charter of the Forest, is no less profound and perhaps even more pertinent today -- as explored in depth by Peter Linebaugh in his richly documented and stimulating history [4] of Magna Carta and its later trajectory. The Charter of the Forest demanded protection of the commons from external power. The commons were the source of sustenance for the general population: their fuel, their food, their construction materials, whatever was essential for life. The forest was no primitive wilderness. It had been carefully developed over generations, maintained in common, its riches available to all, and preserved for future generations -- practices found today primarily in traditional societies that are under threat throughout the world.

The Charter of the Forest imposed limits to privatization. The Robin Hood myths capture the essence of its concerns (and it is not too surprising that the popular TV series of the 1950s, “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” was written anonymously [5] by Hollywood screenwriters blacklisted for leftist convictions). By the seventeenth century, however, this Charter had fallen victim to the rise of the commodity economy and capitalist practice and morality.

With the commons no longer protected for cooperative nurturing and use, the rights of the common people were restricted to what could not be privatized, a category that continues to shrink to virtual invisibility. In Bolivia, the attempt to privatize water was, in the end, beaten back by an uprising that brought the indigenous majority to power for the first time in history. The World Bank hasjust ruled [6] that the mining multinational Pacific Rim can proceed with a case against El Salvador for trying to preserve lands and communities from highly destructive gold mining. Environmental constraints threaten to deprive the company of future profits, a crime that can be punished under the rules of the investor-rights regime mislabeled as “free trade.” And this is only a tiny sample of struggles underway over much of the world, some involving extreme violence, as in the Eastern Congo, where millions have been killed in recent years to ensure an ample supply of minerals for cell phones and other uses, and of course ample profits.

The rise of capitalist practice and morality brought with it a radical revision of how the commons are treated, and also of how they are conceived. The prevailing view today is captured by Garrett Hardin’s influential argument [7] that “freedom in a commons brings ruin to us all,” the famous “tragedy of the commons”: what is not owned will be destroyed by individual avarice.

An international counterpart was the concept of terra nullius, employed to justify the expulsion of indigenous populations in the settler-colonial societies of the Anglosphere, or their “extermination,” as the founding fathers of the American Republic described what they were doing, sometimes with remorse, after the fact. According to this useful doctrine, the Indians had no property rights since they were just wanderers in an untamed wilderness. And the hard-working colonists could create value where there was none by turning that same wilderness to commercial use.

In reality, the colonists knew better and there were elaborate procedures of purchase and ratification by crown and parliament, later annulled by force when the evil creatures resisted extermination. The doctrine is often attributed to John Locke, but that is dubious. As a colonial administrator, he understood what was happening, and there is no basis for the attribution in his writings, as contemporary scholarship has shown convincingly, notably the work of the Australian scholar Paul Corcoran. (It was in Australia, in fact, that the doctrine has been most brutally employed.)

The grim forecasts of the tragedy of the commons are not without challenge. The late Elinor Olstrom won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 for her work showing the superiority of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins. But the conventional doctrine has force if we accept its unstated premise: that humans are blindly driven by what American workers, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, bitterly called “the New Spirit of the Age, Gain Wealth forgetting all but Self.”

Like peasants and workers in England before them, American workers denounced this New Spirit, which was being imposed upon them, regarding it as demeaning and destructive, an assault on the very nature of free men and women. And I stress women; among those most active and vocal in condemning the destruction of the rights and dignity of free people by the capitalist industrial system were the “factory girls,” young women from the farms. They, too, were driven into the regime of supervised and controlled wage labor, which was regarded at the time as different from chattel slavery only in that it was temporary. That stand was considered so natural that it became a slogan of the Republican Party, and a banner under which northern workers carried arms during the American Civil War.

Controlling the Desire for Democracy

That was 150 years ago -- in England earlier. Huge efforts have been devoted since to inculcating the New Spirit of the Age. Major industries are devoted to the task: public relations, advertising, marketing generally, all of which add up to a very large component of the Gross Domestic Product. They are dedicated to what the great political economist Thorstein Veblen called “fabricating wants.” In the words of business leaders themselves, the task is to direct people to “the superficial things” of life, like “fashionable consumption.” That way people can be atomized, separated from one another, seeking personal gain alone, diverted from dangerous efforts to think for themselves and challenge authority.

The process of shaping opinion, attitudes, and perceptions was termed the “engineering of consent” by one of the founders of the modern public relations industry, Edward Bernays. He was a respected Wilson-Roosevelt-Kennedy progressive, much like his contemporary, journalist Walter Lippmann, the most prominent public intellectual of twentieth century America, who praised “the manufacture of consent” as a “new art” in the practice of democracy.

Both recognized that the public must be “put in its place,” marginalized and controlled -- for their own interests of course. They were too “stupid and ignorant” to be allowed to run their own affairs. That task was to be left to the “intelligent minority,” who must be protected from “the trampling and the roar of [the] bewildered herd,” the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders” -- the “rascal multitude” as they were termed by their seventeenth century predecessors. The role of the general population was to be “spectators,” not “participants in action,” in a properly functioning democratic society.

And the spectators must not be allowed to see too much. President Obama has set new standards in safeguarding this principle. He has, in fact, punished more whistleblowers [8] than all previous presidents combined, a real achievement for an administration that came to office promising transparency. WikiLeaks is only the most famous case, with British cooperation.

Among the many topics that are not the business of the bewildered herd is foreign affairs. Anyone who has studied declassified secret documents will have discovered that, to a large extent, their classification was meant to protect public officials from public scrutiny. Domestically, the rabble should not hear the advice given by the courts to major corporations: that they should devote some highly visible efforts to good works, so that an “aroused public” will not discover the enormous benefits provided to them by the nanny state. More generally the U.S. public should not learn that “state policies are overwhelmingly regressive, thus reinforcing and expanding social inequality,” though designed in ways that lead “people to think that the government helps only the undeserving poor, allowing politicians to mobilize and exploit anti-government rhetoric and values even as they continue to funnel support to their better-off constituents” -- I’m quoting [9] from the main establishment journal,Foreign Affairs, not from some radical rag.

Over time, as societies became freer and the resort to state violence more constrained, the urge to devise sophisticated methods of control of attitudes and opinion has only grown. It is natural that the immense PR industry should have been created in the most free of societies, the United States and Great Britain. The first modern propaganda agency was the British Ministry of Information a century ago, which secretly defined its task as “to direct the thought of most of the world” -- primarily progressive American intellectuals, who had to be mobilized to come to the aid of Britain during World War I.

Its U.S. counterpart, the Committee on Public Information, was formed by Woodrow Wilson to drive a pacifist population to violent hatred of all things German -- with remarkable success. American commercial advertising deeply impressed others. Goebbels admired it and adapted it to Nazi propaganda, all too successfully. The Bolshevik leaders tried as well, but their efforts were clumsy and ineffective.

A primary domestic task has always been “to keep [the public] from our throats,” as essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson described the concerns of political leaders when the threat of democracy was becoming harder to suppress in the mid-nineteenth century. More recently, the activism of the 1960s elicited elite concerns about “excessive democracy,” and calls for measures to impose “more moderation” in democracy.

One particular concern was to introduce better controls over the institutions “responsible for the indoctrination of the young”: the schools, the universities, the churches, which were seen as failing that essential task. I’m quoting reactions from the left-liberal end of the mainstream spectrum, the liberal internationalists who later staffed the Carter administration, and their counterparts in other industrial societies. The right wing was much harsher. One of many manifestations of this urge has been the sharp rise in college tuition, not on economic grounds, as is easily shown. The device does, however, trap and control young people by debt, often for the rest of their lives, thus contributing to more effective indoctrination.

The Three-Fifths People

Pursuing these important topics further, we see that the destruction of the Charter of the Forest, and its obliteration from memory, relates rather closely to the continuing efforts to constrain the promise of the Charter of Liberties. The “New Spirit of the Age” cannot tolerate the pre-capitalist conception of the Forest as the shared endowment of the community at large, cared for communally for its own use and for future generations, protected from privatization, from transfer to the hands of private power for service to wealth, not needs. Inculcating the New Spirit is an essential prerequisite for achieving this end, and for preventing the Charter of Liberties from being misused to enable free citizens to determine their own fate.

Popular struggles to bring about a freer and more just society have been resisted by violence and repression, and massive efforts to control opinion and attitudes. Over time, however, they have met with considerable success, even though there is a long way to go and there is often regression. Right now, in fact.

The most famous part of the Charter of Liberties is Article 39, which declares that “no free man” shall be punished in any way, “nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers and by the law of the land.”

[10]Through many years of struggle, the principle has come to hold more broadly. The U.S. Constitution provides that no “person [shall] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law [and] a speedy and public trial” by peers. The basic principle is “presumption of innocence” -- what legal historians describe as “the seed of contemporary Anglo-American freedom,” referring to Article 39; and with the Nuremberg Tribunal in mind, a “particularly American brand of legalism: punishment only for those who could be proved to be guilty through a fair trial with a panoply of procedural protections” -- even if their guilt for some of the worst crimes in history is not in doubt.

The founders of course did not intend the term “person” to apply to all persons. Native Americans were not persons. Their rights were virtually nil. Women were scarcely persons. Wives were understood to be “covered” under the civil identity of their husbands in much the same way as children were subject to their parents. Blackstone’s principles held that “the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing.” Women are thus the property of their fathers or husbands. These principles remain up to very recent years. Until a Supreme Court decision of 1975 [11], women did not even have a legal right to serve on juries. They were not peers. Just two weeks ago, Republican opposition blocked [12] the Fairness Paycheck Act guaranteeing women equal pay for equal work. And it goes far beyond.

Slaves, of course, were not persons. They were in fact three-fifths human [13]under the Constitution, so as to grant their owners greater voting power. Protection of slavery was no slight concern to the founders: it was one factor leading to the American revolution. In the 1772 Somerset case, Lord Mansfield determined that slavery is so “odious” that it cannot be tolerated in England, though it continued in British possessions for many years. American slave-owners could see the handwriting on the wall if the colonies remained under British rule. And it should be recalled that the slave states, including Virginia, had the greatest power and influence in the colonies. One can easily appreciate Dr. Johnson’s famous quip that “we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes.”

Post-Civil War amendments extended the concept person to African-Americans, ending slavery. In theory, at least. After about a decade of relative freedom, a condition akin to slavery was reintroduced by a North-South compact permitting the effective criminalization of black life. A black male standing on a street corner could be arrested for vagrancy, or for attempted rape if accused of looking at a white woman the wrong way. And once imprisoned he had few chances of ever escaping the system of “slavery by another name,” the term used by then-Wall Street Journal bureau chief Douglas Blackmon inan arresting study [14].

This new version of the “peculiar institution” provided much of the basis for the American industrial revolution, with a perfect work force for the steel industry and mining, along with agricultural production in the famous chain gangs [15]: docile, obedient, no strikes, and no need for employers even to sustain their workers, an improvement over slavery. The system lasted in large measure until World War II, when free labor was needed for war production.

The postwar boom offered employment. A black man could get a job in a unionized auto plant, earn a decent salary, buy a house, and maybe send his children to college. That lasted for about 20 years, until the 1970s, when the economy was radically redesigned [16] on newly dominant neoliberal principles, with rapid growth of financialization and the offshoring of production. The black population, now largely superfluous, has been recriminalized [17].

Until Ronald Reagan’s presidency, incarceration in the U.S. was within the spectrum of industrial societies. By now it is far beyond others [18]. It targets primarily black males, increasingly also black women and Hispanics, largely guilty of victimless crimes under the fraudulent “drug wars.” Meanwhile, the wealth of African-American families has been virtually obliterated [19] by the latest financial crisis, in no small measure thanks to criminal behavior of financial institutions, with impunity for the perpetrators, now richer than ever.

Looking over the history of African-Americans from the first arrival of slaves almost 500 years ago to the present, they have enjoyed the status of authentic persons for only a few decades. There is a long way to go to realize the promise of Magna Carta.

Sacred Persons and Undone Process

The post-Civil War fourteenth amendment [20] granted the rights of persons to former slaves, though mostly in theory. At the same time, it created a new category of persons with rights: corporations. In fact, almost all the cases brought to the courts under the fourteenth amendment had to do with corporate rights, and by a century ago, they had determined that these collectivist legal fictions, established and sustained by state power, had the full rights of persons of flesh and blood; in fact, far greater rights, thanks to their scale, immortality, and protections of limited liability. Their rights by now far transcend those of mere humans. Under the “free trade agreements,” Pacific Rim can, for example, sue El Salvador for seeking to protect the environment; individuals cannot do the same. General Motors can claim national rights in Mexico. There is no need to dwell on what would happen if a Mexican demanded national rights in the United States.

Domestically, recent Supreme Court rulings [21] greatly enhance the already enormous political power of corporations and the super-rich, striking further blows against the tottering relics of functioning political democracy.

Meanwhile Magna Carta is under more direct assault. Recall the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, which barred “imprisonment beyond the seas,” and certainly the far more vicious procedure of imprisonment abroad for the purpose of torture -- what is now more politely called “rendition,” [22] as when Tony Blair rendered [23] Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj, now a leader of the rebellion, to the mercies of Qaddafi; or when U.S. authorities deported [24]Canadian citizen Maher Arar to his native Syria, for imprisonment and torture, only later conceding that there was never any case against him. And many others, often through Shannon Airport, leading to courageous protests in Ireland.

The concept of due process [25] has been extended under the Obama administration’s international assassination campaign in a way that renders this core element of the Charter of Liberties (and the Constitution) null and void. The Justice Department explained that the constitutional guarantee of due process, tracing to Magna Carta, is now satisfied by internal deliberations [25] in the executive branch alone. The constitutional lawyer in the White House agreed. King John might have nodded with satisfaction.

The issue arose after the presidentially ordered assassination-by-drone of Anwar al-Awlaki, accused of inciting jihad in speech, writing, and unspecified actions. A headline [26] in the New York Times captured the general elite reaction when he was murdered in a drone attack, along with the usual collateral damage. It read: “The West celebrates a cleric’s death.” Some eyebrows were lifted, however, because he was an American citizen, which raised questions about due process -- considered irrelevant when non-citizens are murdered at the whim of the chief executive. And irrelevant for citizens, too, under Obama administration due-process legal innovations.

Presumption of innocence has also been given a new and useful interpretation. As the New York Times reported [27], “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” So post-assassination determination of innocence maintains the sacred principle of presumption of innocence.

It would be ungracious to recall the Geneva Conventions, the foundation of modern humanitarian law: they bar “the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

The most famous recent case of executive assassination was Osama bin Laden, murdered after he was apprehended by 79 Navy seals, defenseless, accompanied only by his wife, his body reportedly dumped at sea without autopsy. Whatever one thinks of him, he was a suspect and nothing more than that. Even the FBI agreed.

Celebration [28] in this case was overwhelming, but there were a few questions raised about the bland rejection of the principle of presumption of innocence, particularly when trial was hardly impossible. These were met with harsh condemnations. The most interesting was by a respected left-liberal political commentator, Matthew Yglesias, who explained [29] that “one of the main functions of the international institutional order is precisely to legitimate the use of deadly military force by western powers,” so it is “amazingly naïve” to suggest that the U.S. should obey international law or other conditions that we righteously demand of the weak.

Only tactical objections can be raised to aggression, assassination, cyberwar [30], or other actions that the Holy State undertakes in the service of mankind. If the traditional victims see matters somewhat differently, that merely reveals their moral and intellectual backwardness. And the occasional Western critic who fails to comprehend these fundamental truths can be dismissed as “silly,” Yglesias explains -- incidentally, referring specifically to me, and I cheerfully confess my guilt.

Executive Terrorist Lists

Perhaps the most striking assault on the foundations of traditional liberties is a little-known case brought to the Supreme Court by the Obama administration,Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project [31]. The Project was condemned for providing “material assistance” to the guerrilla organization PKK, which has fought for Kurdish rights in Turkey for many years and is listed as a terrorist group by the state executive. The “material assistance” was legal advice. The wording of the ruling would appear to apply quite broadly, for example, to discussions and research inquiry, even advice to the PKK to keep to nonviolent means. Again, there was a marginal fringe of criticism, but even those accepted the legitimacy of the state terrorist list -- arbitrary decisions by the executive, with no recourse.

The record of the terrorist list is of some interest. For example, in 1988 the Reagan administration declared Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress to be one of the world’s “more notorious terrorist groups,” so that Reagan could continue his support for the Apartheid regime and its murderous depredations in South Africa and in neighboring countries, as part of his “war on terror.” Twenty years later Mandela was finally removed [32] from the terrorist list, and can now travel to the U.S. without a special waiver.

Another interesting case is Saddam Hussein, removed from the terrorist list in 1982 so that the Reagan administration could provide him with support for his invasion of Iran. The support continued well after the war ended. In 1989, President Bush I even invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the U.S. for advanced training in weapons production -- more information that must be kept from the eyes of the “ignorant and meddlesome outsiders.”

One of the ugliest examples of the use of the terrorist list has to do with the tortured people of Somalia. Immediately after September 11th, the United States closed down the Somali charitable network Al-Barakaat on grounds that it was financing terror. This achievement was hailed one of the great successes of the "war on terror." In contrast, Washington's withdrawal of its charges as without merit a year later aroused little notice.

Al-Barakaat was responsible for about half the $500 million in remittances to Somalia, “more than it earns from any other economic sector and 10 times the amount of foreign aid [Somalia] receives” a U.N. review determined. The charity also ran major businesses in Somalia, all destroyed. The leading academic scholar of Bush’s “financial war on terror,” Ibrahim Warde,concludes [33] that apart from devastating the economy, this frivolous attack on a very fragile society “may have played a role in the rise... of Islamic fundamentalists,” another familiar consequence of the “war on terror.”

The very idea that the state should have the authority to make such judgments is a serious offense against the Charter of Liberties, as is the fact that it is considered uncontentious. If the Charter’s fall from grace continues on the path of the past few years, the future of rights and liberties looks dim.

Who Will Have the Last Laugh?

A few final words on the fate of the Charter of the Forest. Its goal was to protect the source of sustenance for the population, the commons, from external power -- in the early days, royalty; over the years, enclosures and other forms of privatization by predatory corporations and the state authorities who cooperate with them, have only accelerated and are properly rewarded. The damage is very broad.

If we listen to voices from the South today we can learn that “the conversion of public goods into private property through the privatization of our otherwise commonly held natural environment is one way neoliberal institutions remove the fragile threads that hold African nations together. Politics today has been reduced to a lucrative venture where one looks out mainly for returns on investment rather than on what one can contribute to rebuild highly degraded environments, communities, and a nation. This is one of the benefits that structural adjustment programmes inflicted on the continent -- the enthronement of corruption.” I’m quoting Nigerian poet and activist Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, in his searing expose of the ravaging of Africa’s wealth, To Cook a Continent [34], the latest phase of the Western torture of Africa.

Torture that has always been planned at the highest level, it should be recognized. At the end of World War II, the U.S. held a position of unprecedented global power. Not surprisingly, careful and sophisticated plans were developed about how to organize the world. Each region was assigned its “function” by State Department planners, headed by the distinguished diplomat George Kennan. He determined that the U.S. had no special interest in Africa, so it should be handed over to Europe to “exploit” -- his word -- for its reconstruction. In the light of history, one might have imagined a different relation between Europe and Africa, but there is no indication that that was ever considered.

More recently, the U.S. has recognized that it, too, must join the game of exploiting Africa, along with new entries like China, which is busily at work compiling one of the worst records in destruction of the environment and oppression of the hapless victims.

It should be unnecessary to dwell on the extreme dangers posed by one central element of the predatory obsessions that are producing calamities all over the world: the reliance on fossil fuels, which courts global disaster, perhaps in the not-too-distant future. Details may be debated, but there is little serious doubt that the problems are serious, if not awesome, and that the longer we delay in addressing them, the more awful will be the legacy left to generations to come. There are some efforts to face reality, but they are far too minimal. The recent Rio+20 Conference opened with meager aspirations and derisory outcomes.

Meanwhile, power concentrations are charging in the opposite direction, led by the richest and most powerful country in world history. Congressional Republicans are dismantling the limited environmental protections initiated by Richard Nixon, who would be something of a dangerous radical in today’s political scene. The major business lobbies openly announce their propaganda campaigns to convince the public that there is no need for undue concern -- with some effect, as polls show.

The media cooperate by not even reporting the increasingly dire forecasts of international agencies and even the U.S. Department of Energy. The standard presentation is a debate between alarmists and skeptics: on one side virtually all qualified scientists, on the other a few holdouts. Not part of the debate are a very large number of experts, including the climate change program [35] at MIT among others, who criticize the scientific consensus because it is too conservative and cautious, arguing that the truth when it comes to climate change is far more dire. Not surprisingly, the public is confused.

In his State of the Union speech [36] in January, President Obama hailed the bright prospects of a century of energy self-sufficiency, thanks to new technologies that permit extraction of hydrocarbons from Canadian tar sands [37], shale [38], and other previously inaccessible sources. Others agree. The Financial Timesforecasts a century of energy independence for the U.S. The report does mention the destructive local impact of the new methods. Unasked in these optimistic forecasts is the question what kind of a world will survive [39] the rapacious onslaught.

In the lead in confronting the crisis throughout the world are indigenous communities, those who have always upheld the Charter of the Forests. The strongest stand has been taken by the one country they govern, Bolivia, the poorest country in South America and for centuries a victim of western destruction of the rich resources of one of the most advanced of the developed societies in the hemisphere, pre-Columbus.

After the ignominious collapse of the Copenhagen global climate change summit in 2009, Bolivia organized a People’s Summit with 35,000 participants from 140 countries -- not just representatives of governments, but also civil society and activists. It produced a People’s Agreement, which called for very sharp reduction in emissions, and a Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth [40]. That is a key demand of indigenous communities all over the world. It is ridiculed by sophisticated westerners, but unless we can acquire some of their sensibility, they are likely to have the last laugh -- a laugh of grim despair.

The Fukushima Radiation Cover-Up Continues

Go To Original

The cat is out of the bag, as more evidence continues to emerge proving that clean-up workers at the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power facility in Japan deliberately covered up high radiation readings at the order of their superiors. And as more people become aware of this disturbing fact, Japanese authorities are trying to maintain the facade that the cover-up was an isolated incident, and that there was not a larger conspiracy to hide legitimate radiation readings from the public.

The Japanese news source Asahi Shimbun (AS) reports that a senior official working for Build-Up, a subcontractor hired during the Fukushima clean-up efforts, has admitted to instructing his workers to wear lead coverings over their dosimeters in order to shield accurate radiation readings. Dosimeters measure an individual's exposure to radiation, and indicate when it is no longer safe to be in the presence of a radiation source.

Recordings uncovered from a December 2 conversation between the official and his employees reveals that he coaxed them to use the lead coverings by claiming that he had used them many times before without issue. He also apparently told them that they would have to use them in future clean-up efforts as well, and implied that they should get used to using them now.

According to AS, the senior official also came up with an alibi that the workers could use to explain the coverings, should anyone inquire about the unusual presence of tape on their torn radiation protection suits. All the bases were covered, in other words, which was enough to convince four of the workers to go along with the plan.

Senior official's confession makes no sense, appears to be even more cover-up

But now that the media has blown the lid off the story, the senior official in question is now claiming that the incident was isolated, and that he came up with it himself on the fly in order to protect him and his team from radiation. What? Even though this explanation makes absolutely no sense, as dosimeters cover up radiation readings, not the radiation itself, this is the story he is now telling, and the mainstream media appears to be buying it.

When asked about this obviously contradictory statement, the senior official followed up his answer with another nonsensical one about how his workers were new at the job, and how he thought that telling them to wear lead coverings over the only thing that would have alerted them to dangerous levels of radiation would somehow quell their fears. Again, this explanation makes no sense, and appears to point to a cover-up as to who really instructed him and his team to wear the lead coverings.

So a senior official takes the hit for a cover-up intended to deceive the public into thinking that radiation levels were lower than they really were at the Fukushima plant. When asked to explain what he was thinking when he made this decision, he offers up senseless explanations that make no sense, and insists that he was the only one involved, for some unknown reason. Suspicious? You be the judge.

Scientists Warn It’s The ‘New Norm’ After Worst Drought In 800 Years

Researchers say bone-dry conditions could become commonplace in vital agricultural region

Go To Original

The signs of drought were everywhere, from shrivelled rivers and lakes in the American West to brittle brown lawns and parched farm crops in the Canadian Prairies.

Even the hardy, drought-tolerant pinyon pine forests of New Mexico turned grey as they withered and died, starved of water for far too long.

Anyone who weathered the stubborn dry spell that enveloped western North America from 2000 to 2004 knows it was harsh, but now a group of researchers has concluded it was the most severe drought in 800 years – bone-dry conditions that the scientists believe could become the "new norm" in this vital agricultural region.

"Projections indicate that drought events of this length and severity will be commonplace through the end of the 21st century," the group of 10 scientists from several American universities and the University of British Columbia wrote in a study published Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

"Even worse, projections suggest that this drought will become the wet end of a drier hydroclimate period."

If so, a "megadrought" that severely cuts crop production could be on the horizon, the scientists warn. Many farmers now in the throes of an extreme drought in the U.S. Midwest that is devastating corn and soybean crops and threatening to send food prices soaring might concur, although it's not yet clear whether this dry spell is part of the broader trend, noted Beverly Law, a professor of global change biology at Oregon State University and a co-author of the study.

For their research, the scientists examined historical drought-severity data based on tree-ring analysis. While there have been many bouts of hot, dry weather in the West, they found the drought that accompanied the start of this century was unlike any since 1146 to 1151.

The 2000-04 drought severely affected soil moisture, river levels, crops, forests and grasslands. Runoff in the upper Colorado River basin was cut in half and crop productivity in 2,383 counties in the western United States declined 5 per cent. The drought also reduced the land's ability to sequester carbon dioxide, by 51 per cent on average in the western U.S., Canada and Mexico, the scientists found. As trees, plants and crops withered, more carbon dioxide was released into the atmosphere.

Although the drought was not as long or as severe in Canada, it still caused widespread economic damage.

An analysis by the Drought Research Initiative, a temporary program that pulled together Canadian university and government scientists, found that agricultural production dropped an estimated $3.6-billion in 2001 and 2002, while net farm income was zero in Alberta and negative in Saskatchewan in 2002. Facing widespread scarcity of feed and water, many livestock producers had to sell off some or all of their herd. And in parts of the Prairies, the soil was so dry it swirled up into a storm of dust, obscuring the sky and even contributing to some traffic crashes.

Long-time Saskatchewan farmer Don Connick counts himself lucky during that drought. He has a small herd of Hereford cattle and grows a variety of crops, including wheat, barley and alfalfa, on 1,600 acres in the Cypress Hills, near the boundary with Alberta.

His hay and barley crop yields were poor those years and farming was a struggle, but he had more water than others. The Cypress Hills sit at a higher elevation and generally get more precipitation and cooler temperatures than the surrounding area.

"We're in a micro-climate, I guess you can say," Mr. Connick said.

But he is worried about what lies ahead if droughts become more common and more widespread. He has his eye on the parched conditions ravaging the U.S. Midwest.

"The concern I have is that drought seems to be heading north," he said. "We've had some pretty significantly wet years in these last five or six years but we're not immune to drought here."

You don't have to remind Saskatchewan farmer Paul Heglund of that.

Mr. Heglund farms on 3,600 acres near Consul, southwest of the Cypress Hills. It's the same land his grandfather homesteaded 100 years ago and the region has always been drought-prone, so much so the blistering dry spell a decade ago doesn't even stick out in his mind.

Food producers here long ago adapted to farming with scant water, a reality more might soon have to confront. Mr. Heglund only seeds half his land each year to allow moisture to build in the soil.

"It's kind of second nature," he said of coping with drought conditions. "We don't even notice it as something particular."

Anaheim's Tragic Kingdom

Go To Original

I knew something was horribly amiss in Anaheim—my beloved hometown, where my family has lived on and off for more than a century—a couple of years ago, when someone approached me to do a positive story. The person's name escapes my memory, but she was a bigwig in the city. She thought that since I was such a proud Anaheim High School graduate, I'd be delighted to write a story about a proposed multimillion-dollar renovation of the school's Cook Auditorium to return it "to its glory days," as she told me, whatever the hell that meant.

I laughed at the woman. I told her the last thing my alma mater needed was to refurbish the WPA-era building. Sure, it needs some TLC, but far more pressing were the needs of the students—better teachers, better programs, better graduation rates, better everything except for a pinche auditorium used only for assemblies. Far more needed for Anaheim were youth programs to steer them away from trouble, investments in our libraries, job opportunities—I went on and on, flabbergasted at how clueless she was about the needs of the city's residents. Unsurprisingly, she never contacted me again.

This anecdote is emblematic of the real problem that's currently afflicting the city. The shooting deaths over the previous weekend of 24-year-old Santa Ana resident Manuel Diaz and 21-year-old Joel Acevedo by police officers (the eighth within a year) have brought national attention upon Anaheim—not on the preferred façade of Disneyland, the Anaheim Convention Center and our sports teams, but on burning dumpsters in the middle of streets, angry protests, and video footage of terrified parents shielding their children from rampaging police dogs and the firearms of the riot squad. It's an easy story to tell: chaos in the land of Disney. Racist cops. Oppressed Latinos.

The national media is already running with this narrative, and that's okay. But it's ignoring the full, more-telling picture. It's not the police, but rather the lack of city leadership that has allowed a once-proud city to decay, to create the tense situation Anaheim is in today. Actually, scratch that: There has been city leadership, one so deluded it set the conditions that allowed Anaheim's long, hot summer to finally explode.

* * *

I try to not write about Anaheim politics, mostly because I have kith and kin who work for the city, and I want to shield them from any retribution caused by my rants, but mostly because—for once—the anger that accumulated over the years about what's going on rendered me silent. Not anymore. My beloved hometown has turned into a joke, and it's about damn time residents rise up.

Anaheim was never a perfect city, but it was one that worked—not a corrupt nightmare as is Santa Ana, not a Stepford community as is Irvine, but a living, breathing mini-metropolis of diversity, distinct neighborhoods and a shared sense of civic pride. Yeah, the City Council constantly preferred developers over residents, but at least prior incarnations understood the importance of caring for the whole city instead of just parts.

But during the past decade, the council (led for years by former mayor and eternal Great Whore of OC Politics, Curt Pringle, and over the past two years by a majority bloc that consists of Gail Eastman, Kris Murray and Harry Sidhu) has done its best to impersonate—take your pick of metaphorical elite ignorance—Marie Antoinette, Nero or the One Percent. It has awarded millions of dollars in subsidies to hotel and retail developers and dumped even more millions on the so-called Resort District, the area around Disneyland that's now slowly bulging into Angels Stadium. Within City Hall, staff has been directed to favor the well-to-do at the expense of the hoi polloi, all with impunity when it's not conducted in secret.

Meanwhile, the rest of the city has slowly crumbled. Residents have no faith in the City Council, mostly because four of its five members live in Anaheim Hills, the ritzy neighborhood isolated from the rest of the working-class city, and the council's attention is skewed toward that area. The Great Recession has left a generation of jobless youth that council members easily ignore because they don't live among it; the rest of us are suffering through a crime wave that, in my 33 years of living in Anaheim, has left the public fearful of our streets in a way I've never experienced.

The City Council's reaction? Recently, it approved the placement of "In God We Trust" over the city seal in its chambers. Now that's leadership!

Something is amiss in the Anaheim Police Department—a department that cares more about confiscating witness videos than tending to the still-twitching body of Diaz just moments after officers shot him in the head (as seen in video exclusively obtained by the Weekly) is one with serious problems. But police will be police (and a good force is desperately needed at a time when actual crimes plague Anaheimers). Far more nefarious are Anaheim's uncaring bureaucrats and politicians, and all the protests in the coming weeks, while necessary, won't amount to anything unless activists target City Hall. Burning small fires and chanting rattles the lords, but it does nothing to tear down the castle.

Anaheim Cops Send SWAT Teams to Face Off With Police Brutality Protesters

Go To Original

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside Anaheim PD Sunday to protest a spate of fatal cop shootings in their community—and all was peaceful, until the group tried to march towards Disneyland. That's when the riot cops showed up. LA Times [1]:

The protest took a dramatic turn when the crowd began marching en masse on Harbor Boulevard, saying they were headed to Disneyland. But police in riot gear corralled them, and many returned to police headquarters.

Authorities made nine arrests in connection with the protests, according to Anaheim police. Eight of them — including three men from San Bernardino, Escondido and San Diego — were arrested when, police said, they failed to disperse or they blocked traffic after authorities told them to get out of the street. A woman was arrested on suspicion of assaulting an employee and customers at a nearby gas station.

For many, the influx of SWAT as the neighborhood's low-income residents made way towards its world-renowed mega-moneymaker was symbolic. Anaheim native Gustavo Arellano, Editor in Chief of OC Weekly (and longtime writer of "Ask a Mexican!"), wrote in a recent, must-read piece that [2] the recent cop killings—of 25-year-old Manuel Diaz and 21-year-old Joel Acevedo, the latter of whom was unarmed—are simply a continuation of a long history of class and race friction in a deeply inequitable community fostered by neglectful politicians. Arellano:

It's not the police, but rather the lack of city leadership that has allowed a once-proud city to decay, to create the tense situation Anaheim is in today. Actually, scratch that: There has been city leadership, one so deluded it set the conditions that allowed Anaheim's long, hot summer to finally explode. [...]

Something is amiss in the Anaheim Police Department [3]—a department that cares more about confiscating witness videos than tending to the still-twitching body of Diaz just moments after officers shot him in the head (as seen in video exclusively obtained by the Weekly) is one with serious problems. But police will be police (and a good force is desperately needed at a time when actual crimes plague Anaheimers). Far more nefarious are Anaheim's uncaring bureaucrats and politicians, and all the protests in the coming weeks, while necessary, won't amount to anything unless activists target City Hall. Burning small fires and chanting rattles the lords, but it does nothing to tear down the castle.

It's such a good point, particularly when examining the events of yesterday, with fear in Anaheim's Latino communities so widespread that many are refusing even to speak to reporters. Also via OC Weekly [4]:

At a candlelight vigil held for Diaz Tuesday night [5], a man identifying himself as Diaz's brother pleaded with the crowd not to give any cellphone footage of the shooting to police.

"Those (videos) are for us," he shouted.

Meanwhile, at yesterday's protest, Teresa Smith, the mother of a man who was killed by police in 2009, joined the frustration that speaks to a divided community [1]:

In front of police headquarters earlier, Smith, wearing a T-shirt reading "In loving memory of my son," acknowledged that the community remains outraged after the recent clashes with police, but she said that acting out on that anger would only hurt the demonstrators' cause. "But it's their anger," she added, "and I understand the years of frustration.... I don't condone it, but I understand it."

Soon after the protest began, demonstrators congregated on the sidewalk just yards from the front entrance of police headquarters. The crowd chanted: "The whole system is guilty" and "Am I next?," touching on a sense of stewing ethnic and class divisions in the city.

Despite arrests Sunday, police refrained from shooting rubber bullets or unleashing K-9s into the crowd, as occurred at Tuesday's protest.

Billionaire Mayor Bloomberg Sues to Keep New Yorkers'

Go To Original

The world's 20th richest man declared recently [1] that a living wage bill passed (over his veto) by New York's city council was the next best thing to Communist central planning. Michael Bloomberg, who's also made news recently trying to ban large sodas, today took the next step in proving how serious he is about keeping wages low--I mean, keeping New York City a "business-friendly" climate.

Bloomberg is suing [2] to prevent not just the living wage bill, but a companion "prevailing wage" bill that the City Council also passed over his veto, from going into effect. The living wage bill requires employers that get more than $1 million in taxpayer subsidies to pay their workers at least $10 an hour with benefits or $11.50 an hour without them, and the prevailing wage bill would up wages to $20 an hour for certain building services workers in buildings that receive subsidies of over $1 million or where the city leases a significant amount of property.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

In the complaint filed in state Supreme Court in Manhattan, Mr. Bloomberg argued that the laws are overridden by state and federal laws. Because the state has its own minimum-wage law, for example, the city doesn't have the authority to require employers to pay higher wages, the lawsuit said. Mr. Bloomberg also argued that the laws unlawfully limit mayoral powers.

Council spokeswoman Zoe Tobin said the council is confident that it acted within its authority under state law and the City Charter. "These laws were passed over the mayor's veto with overwhelming support in the council and it is disappointing that the mayor has chosen to challenge these laws rather than enforce them," she said.

In April, Mr. Bloomberg delivered an unusually sharp rebuke to the council as he vetoed one of the bills, lecturing its backers on "the way the free market works."

Bloomberg would know how the free market works, after all--it apparently works by handing out millions of dollars of taxpayer money to big businesses so that they'll stick around and continue to pay low wages. FreshDirect, as we reported, got nearly $129 million in city money to stay in town, despite paying its drivers and warehouse workers around $8 or $8.50 an hour. (FreshDirect managed to get exempted from the living wage law anyway, as Council speaker Christine Quinn maneuvered to make it more palatable to business.)

Of course, Bloomberg is dead wrong on the merits--the "economic growth" that he claims to be protecting would in fact be boosted if New Yorkers could actually, you know, afford to spend some money. $8 an hour won't let them do that--nor, truly, will $10 an hour. A recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition recently noted that it would require 88 hours of work a week [3] to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in New York working at minimum wage--the same minimum wage that Bloomberg thinks these workers, at massively tax-subsidized companies, should get.