Sunday, May 12, 2013

While Wall Street soars, jobs market still scarred

Don’t let the soaring stock market and applause from politicians over a slight dip in the unemployment rate fool you. A deeper dive into government data underscores just how bleak the picture still is in today’s labor market.
The unemployment rate in April was 7.5 percent, two full percentage points below where it stood at the end of the Great Recession in June 2009. The Obama administration touts the creation of 6.8 million jobs over the past 38 months. At the same time, the stock market has roared back from recession depths, the Dow Jones index of industrial stocks this week closing above 15,000 for the first time.
On the face of it this is good news.
But the improving headlines mask a scarred labor market. One out of five American families reported last year that not a single family member had a job. About 102 million Americans are completely out of the work force. And by a number of measures, participation in the labor market remains at or near modern lows.
“Most of the improvement that we’ve seen in the unemployment rate hasn’t been due to increased job opportunities. It’s been due to people dropping out of, or never entering, the labor market because of weak opportunities,” said Heidi Shierholz, a labor economist for the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank. “Most of that decline is not coming from what would really be considered meaningful improvement in the unemployment rate.”
There are several aberrations present in today’s labor market.
For one thing, the fact that the unemployment rate has fallen two full percentage points since June 2009 omits the darker fact that it’s a share of a workforce of 155 million that’s smaller than it was at the start of the recession. If people who’ve dropped out of the workforce were included, the jobless rate would be higher.
“The fact is that we’re 2.6 million jobs short of where we were at the start of the recession. And that doesn’t even count five years of population growth,” said Chad Stone, chief economist for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a center-left think tank.
It’s also 10 million jobs short of what the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected eight years ago.
One explanation is that there are a smaller number of people in the job market, either employed or looking for work, when counted as a percentage of the total working-age population.
In recent decades, about 67 percent of the working age population has been in the job market, the labor force participation rate.
In April, just 63.3 percent were in the job market. That’s well below the 65.7 percent at the end of the recession in June 2009, and from the 66 percent in June 2007, more than a year before the U.S. financial crisis.
Even with the 528,000 additional workers in the labor force since June 2009, the actual percentage of Americans participating in the labor force in April contracted by 2.4 points.
The labor force participation rate was already weakening before the Great Recession. The 2000-2007 economic expansion that followed the prior recession was dubbed a jobless recovery, in part because of the lagging recovery of the labor force participation rate.
Another sign of deep labor-market troubles comes from the Employment-Population Ratio. It reflects the proportion of working-age adults who are actually employed, and for that reason it is considered a better gauge for measuring how successfully the economy provides jobs for working-age Americans.
In April, this ratio stood at 58.6 percent, vs. 59.5 percent in June 2009 and 63.1 percent in June 2007.
“That’s not really much progress,” said Keith Hall, who was commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2008 to 2012.
In fact, only 11 states in 2012 had an employment-population ratio above the 63.1 percent in June 2007 before the financial crisis. Twenty-four states had an employment-population ratio last year that exceeded April's 58.6 percent. States with the highest percentage of working-age employment tended to be oil and farm states, with North Dakota and Nebraska having the highest ratio. The lowest ratios last year belonged to West Virginia at 50.3 percent, Alabama at 53.4 percent, and both South Carolina and Mississippi at 53.7 percent.
In fact, during the recession of 1974-1975, this number bounced around slightly above 58 percent, pretty much where it is now. But that was before the full-blown entrance of women into the workforce in the 1980s, which pushed this ratio to well above 60 percent.
Looked at another way, 41.4 percent of 245.2 million working-age adults, or 101.6 million, weren’t employed in April.
That’s almost 102 million people who were in college, retired, independently wealthy or living off of family or friends.
On top of that, 20 percent of the 80.1 million U.S. families had no one working last year, according to Labor Department numbers released last month. That’s up from the 17-18 percent of families with no one working between 2001-2008.
“There are 16 million families where nobody has a job,” said Hall, now a researcher at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center in Virginia. “That just seems to me to be remarkable.”
In these measures, differences are usually measured in tenths of a percentage point, rather than several percentage points.
“When multiplied over a labor market with 155 million people in it, even a 1 percentage point move is a huge number of people who are not in the labor force,” said Shierholz of EPI.
Shierholz has researched the so-called “missing workers” among the 102 million Americans not counted as employed or part of the workforce. About 4.4 million of these could eventually return, she estimates.
These “missing workers” are in addition to the 4.4 million long-term unemployed in April, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To be considered long-term jobless, a worker must be out of work for six months or longer. As a percentage of the 11.7 million unemployed in April, they represent a frighteningly high percentage.
“It’s come down some (to 37.4 percent in April), and it’s still at levels that are higher than we’ve ever seen,” said Stone of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “Before this (downturn), the highest it had ever been was 26 percent in the aftermath of 1981-82 (recession).”
Ohio’s Ken Demchik knows all this too well. The Cleveland resident has run businesses, isn’t afraid of hard work and at 52 is willing to change careers, if some employer would just give him a chance. He’s worked part time off and on for three years as he seeks a full-time job.
“It’s very frustrating when I wake up every day and I don’t have anywhere to go. I want to work. I want to make a company better. I know I can get the job done,” said Demchik, who has experience in retail sales and management. “I want people to know what is going on out there.”

Read more here:

Foreclosure Crisis Still Has Millions in Its Grip

Five years after the mortgage meltdown sparked a wave of home foreclosures, millions of Americans are still in housing "limbo," battling to save their homes despite government programs meant to help them.
Courtney Scott is one of them. Having fended off three foreclosure attempts by her lender, she said she was hopeful that a recent national review of troubled loans ordered by bank regulators would help resolve her long-running effort to modify the loan on her modest suburban Atlanta home.
So the retired nurse and grandmother filled out the paperwork late last year, sent it in and waited.
In January, the government abruptly canceled the review, agreeing to settle a two-year-old enforcement action with 14 lenders over widespread mortgage processing violations. In return, the lenders agreed to make $3.6 billion in payments to borrowers who were harmed, averaging about $1,000 each. Scott got a letter this week which promised her a payment but didn't say how much, she said.
Like many of the more than four million homeowners originally targeted by the review, Scott is still living "in limbo," she said, and no closer to an affordable mortgage.
"I thought there was going to be some method to resolve issues that were still outstanding rather than just a payment," she said. "I mean a payment is great, but that's not really going to help. In my case I still need a loan modification."
More than two years after regulators confirmed widespread reports of abusive mortgage practices, the government is making only halting progress in fixing the problem, according to homeowners, their attorneys, housing counselors and public officials. It's not only a dilemma for the people caught in the foreclosure noose; it's also holding back a broader housing recovery and slowing the nation's economic recovery.
The scope of the systemic failure has been widely known for much longer, followingwidespread reports of lax procedures; flawed, inaccurate or missing documentation; and poor communication with borrowers. In April, 2011, the nation's top bank regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, issued a sweeping enforcement action to address "failures and deficiencies" and ordered 14 lenders to fix them "swiftly and comprehensively."
A year later, targeting many of the same practices, the Department of Justice and 49 state attorneys general signed a detailed agreement with five of the nation's largest mortgage lenders to adhere to comprehensive new standards in dealing with mortgage borrowers, known as the National Mortgage Settlement.
Lenders were barred from foreclosing while a borrower was applying for a loan modification. Bank representatives notarizing documents had to personally review all relevant information. Lenders were required to provide timely information on the status of a loan and give homeowners a single point of contact, among other new rules.
But despite detailed new procedures and guidelines, lenders have yet to fully comply with the requirements, according to Joseph Smith, a former North Carolina banking commissioner appointed a year ago to monitor the mortgage lenders.
"Things are better, but we aren't there yet," he told NBC News. "There are too many examples of situations that are not acceptable."
That's also the conclusion of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who announced Monday his office had documented 339 violations of the new standards since October, 2012, by two of the nation's largest lenders, Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
"They feel like they can get away with anything now, let's face it," Schneiderman told CNBC. "Law enforcement has not done a very good job of telling the banks you're subject to the same set of rules as everyone else. And we're going to go after you when you violate the rules."
Bank of America said it would review the customer service complaints cited by Schneiderman "which we take seriously and will work quickly to address."
Wells Fargo said it "is committed to complete compliance with the National Mortgage Settlement and its associated standards' and "will continue to provide transparency into the progress we are making to provide relief to consumers."
Schneiderman said he believes violations of the new standards are widespread.
"I'm only suing on behalf of a few New Yorkers," he said. "I think this is a nationwide problem. And I think you will see more evidence of this as we proceed. "
But some attorneys defending homeowners also say they see little progress in adherence to the new standards.
"The foreclosure crisis is ongoing; the behavior of the banks hasn't changed," said Michael Wasylik, a Tampa attorney who defends homeowners in foreclosure actions. "This whole exercise is to convince the public that the problem is solved."
A more complete picture of the extent of ongoing violations may emerge later this month. That's when Smith is scheduled under terms of the settlement to issue a report on the five bank's performance in adhering to the standards. (Smith said that report may be delayed until early June.)
The settlement gives banks cited for violations a chance to correct any problems Smith finds. If they fail to do so, Smith can then bring them to the district court overseeing the settlement to press for fines or other legal sanction.
"It is a slow moving process relative to people concerns," said Smith. "People expected—which I understand—quick action but I can't promise that because of the way we're set up."
Foreclosure pipeline
Though the pace of new foreclosures has subsided since the worst of the crisis, the pipeline has slowed to a crawl in many states. The average foreclosure now takes a record 477 days, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate research site. In New York, the slowest state, the average foreclosure takes nearly three years.
Another 70,000 new cases entered the pipeline in April, and more are on the way. Despite a tentative recovery in the housing market in some parts of the country, some 3 million borrowers are behind in their monthly payments and at risk of foreclosure, according to a recent report from the Congressional Budget Office.
The result is a steady trickle of distressed sales that continues to hold back a wider housing market recovery.
Many had high hopes that the government's review of more than four million troubled mortgages would help break the legal logjam that borrowers like Scott find themselves in. But after spending more than two years and $2 billion, regulators at the Office of the Controller of the Currency abruptly canceled the review in January.
In addition to issuing checks to homeowners who were harmed, lenders agreed to pay billions more in "soft dollar" help for struggling borrowers, including loan modifications. But the actual cost to lenders will be only a fraction of that amount thanks to the formula used to credit that relief.
Some members of Congress have criticized the OCC's decision to cancel the loan review and have asked the regulator for more information on how it arrived at the settlement amount when the scope of the damage to homeowners is still poorly understood.
"They have refused to give us the information we need to make a determination as to whether this figure is fair—and whether the categories (of damage) are fair," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md. "And there's no appeals process (for borrowers.)"
Cummings recently introduced a bill calling for a special monitor to oversee lenders' payments to homeowners who were harmed.
OCC officials have said they had collected enough information before the review was canceled to arrive at a fair level of compensation.
But a Government Accountabilty Office report last month didn't support that conclusion. The agency found that inconsistencies in the way loans were reviewed made it impossible to determine how many mistakes were made and how many borrowers were harmed.
"The data does not allow us to render any conclusions about error rates at a particular servicer or make comparisons across services despite what's been reported in the press," Lawrance Evans, director of financial markets and community investment at the GAO, told a Senate hearing last month
Government Writedowns?
Meanwhile, Congress is about to revive a long-simmering debate over whether writing down the balances of government-backed mortgages would keep struggling borrowers in their homes, save taxpayers the cost of a default and stem the impact of future foreclosures on neighboring properties.
"Imagine if we removed these two or three million potential foreclosures how much more quickly the housing recovery would occur," said John Taylor, president of the National Community Redevelopment Coalition. "That's what's going to help this housing recovery accelerate and support the overall economic recovery in the country."
The debate over government relief to help struggling homeowners—which dates back to the $700 billion bank bailout in 2008—was revived last week when the Obama administration nominated Rep. Mel Watt, (D-N.C.), to replaced Edward DeMarco as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. The FHFA oversees the government's two sprawling mortgage agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Together, the two agencies hold or guarantee some 57 percent of the roughly $50 billion in mortgage loans outstanding.
A year ago, DeMarco found himself at the center of a fierce debate after he rebuffed a Treasury department proposal to write down some loan balances. Some analyses, including a 2012 report by Freddie Mac's inspector general and a report this month by the Congressional Budget Office, have found that targeted principal reductions could save taxpayers billions of dollars.
But in June, DeMarco rejected the plan, arguing that the "anticipated benefits do not outweigh the costs and risks" to taxpayers, a decision promptly criticized by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.
Supporters of the idea say troubled borrowers aren't the only ones who would reap the benefits.
"There are millions of people heading toward foreclosure who—but for a principal reduction or interest rate cut—would remain as viable homeowners, paying real estate taxes and not further contributing to the deterioration of other properties in the neighborhood," said Taylor.
In December, Watt was one of 19 members of Congress who wrote a letter to the White House and Congressional leadership supporting the idea of writing down balances on some government-backed mortgages.
Watt's nomination to head the FHFA has already drawn opposition from some Senate Republicans.
"I could not be more disappointed in this nomination," said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), a senior member of the Banking Committee, said shortly after the nomination was announced. "This gives new meaning to the adage that the fox is guarding the hen house."
Scott, meanwhile, says she and her lawyer are still trying to work with her lender to refinance her mortgage to a more affordable monthly payment. But her case is stuck in legal limbo, she said.
"We still don't know who is holding the title to this house," she said.

Economic Weapons of Mass Destruction: Mortgages in the Era of Mass Terror

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Terrorism is a tricky act to define, particularly when household appliances have become weapons of mass destruction. Earlier in April, as the National Guard and Boston Police scoured the city’s suburbs in search of two men believed to have planted the fatal marathon bombs, another story of violence and mass insecurity surfaced.
As the New York Times reported, “The banks that created risky amalgams of mortgages and loans during the boom — the kind that went so wrong during the bust — are busily reviving the same types of investments that many thought were gone for good.”
In other words, the well-heeled boys are back in town, peddling predatory mortgages to be bundled and sold on Wall Street. Even the Times, generally bullish on business, struck a cautionary tone. “The revival also underscores how these investments, known as structured financial products, have largely escaped new regulations that were supposed to prevent a repeat of the last financial crisis.”
Warnings of a repeat of the last financial crisis — printed on the front page of the New York Times?
Yet, unlike the 24-7 coverage of Boston, the national response to the threat of economic mass destruction has been muted. That’s because almost no one openly discusses the ongoing foreclosure crisis in terms of domestic terrorism. But that’s exactly what it is, and we must recognize this if we want to prevent banks from causing more damage.
The Department of Homeland Security has the most comprehensive definition of terrorism , which explains that these acts must fulfill the following criteria.
The term “terrorism” means any activity that—
(A) involves an act that—
(i) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and
(ii) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and
(B) appears to be intended—
(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.
If you ask Helen James, a Chicago woman who has lived both on the streets and in shelters, being without a house in the U.S. is clearly dangerous to human life. When we spoke last summer she talked of untreated hemorrhoids and sleeping on benches during freezing Chicago winters. “I just don’t want to die,” she said.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 700 people without addresses die each year from hypothermia alone.
More Americans have frozen to death since the economic crisis began than have died in all terrorism attacks on U.S. soil in the last two decades—September 11th, included.
As for the question of legality, Griggs Wimbley, a resident of small town North Carolina, is an expert on how the wave of recent foreclosures were in violation of U.S. criminal laws. He spent the better part of a decade investigating and fighting his own fraudulent foreclosure. “I’ve seen nothing but cheating,” he said. He called Wall Street’s reign throughout 2000s “a ten-year crime spree.”
The hundreds of investigations and lawsuits over lending fraud, forgery (remember that robo-signing scandal?) and servicing regulations back up Wimbley’s own experiences. And that’s not to even mention the industry’s widespread violation of the Fair Housing Act and other laws intended to prevent race-based housing discrimination, which was rampant in the lead-up to the financial crisis.
Lastly, Marcella Robinson and Nicole Shelton, co-founders of the grassroots homeowner group, Mortgage Fraud NC, can attest that the entire point of evictions is to produce widespread fear among civilians. Robinson, whose home was in foreclosure when we spoke, told me that she slept with a baseball bat at her bedside for the sense of security. Shelton, who had already been evicted from her home, said she was living in “a constant state of fear.”
Why would Wall Street intend to intimidate millions of civilians? The rationale is that if people aren’t terrified of being thrown out of their homes, they won’t continue to repay the astronomical debts that are apparently the only thing keeping our economy afloat.
This argument has indeed influenced the policy of the U.S. government. Ed DeMarco, the head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency has been one of the most vehement opponents of homeowner relief, warning that the government must wield the specter of eviction or everyone will decide to default on their mortgages. As for the issue of “affect[ing] the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping,” bankers don’t need to resort to kidnappings; they’ve already taken the global economy hostage.
Since 2007, Wall Street has evicted four million families — approximately ten million people — from their homes. Millions more are ensnared in ongoing foreclosures. Over the last year, I’ve listened to the stories of hundreds of these families, and the most common experience I’ve heard is the feeling of insecurity and psychological terror.
Loss of security. State of fear. These are the same words, the same phrases that we are hearing people in Boston express. If mass insecurity and terror of default were what the banks wanted: it’s mission accomplished. Yet, the banks aren’t accused of terrorism. Nor are their financial products classified as WMDs.
Perhaps you’re thinking that Wall Street isn’t accused because terrorists must use bombs rather than bonds, because there’s no such thingas  economic terrorism, is there? The Pentagon certainly believed so, when in 2011 it issued a report positing that some unknown parties may have helped pushed the United States into the 2008 economic crisis through “financial terrorism.” It’s no surprise that the report’s suspects included Islamic jihadists, the Chinese and Venezuela rather than AIG or Goldman Sachs.
That same year, American union organizer Steven Lerner himself became brand an economic terrorist when he suggested that homeowners band together for a mortgage strike. Conservative media called it an “ECONOMIC TERRORISM PLAYBOOK”    (yes, in all caps), while a Utah congressman urged Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate these threats because they “clearly constitute domestic terrorism.”
In other words, advocating for homeowner security amounts to acts of terrorism, while ensuring Wall Street’s stability — even if that means kicking people out of their homes and blaming Venezuela for the mortgage meltdown — is simply U.S. policy.
The place that most clearly demonstrates this double standard is Detroit, where Michigan’s governor recently imposed a state of martial economics — a suspension of democracy to ensure financial security. With an emergency financial manager single-handedly running a city of more than 700,000 people, Michigan shows that today’s underlying security question isn’t physical. It’s financial.
As local pastor Reverend David Bullock explained, “It’s no longer ’68 and ’69 — the hot riot summers. [The rich] are no longer worried about physical security. They are worried about their money.”
That fact that the nation is experiencing widespread financial terrorism does not in any way make the attacks in Boston any less tragic. But it should make us angrier that Wall Street bankers are busy reviving the same weapons it unleashed on the nation only a few years earlier — and that our government is doing nothing to stop them.

Spain is officially insolvent: get your money out while you still can

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I'd not noticed this until someone drew my attention to it, but the latest IMF Fiscal Monitor, published last month, comes about as close to declaring Spain insolvent as you are ever likely to see in official analysis of this sort. Of course, it doesn't actually say this outright. The IMF is far too diplomatic for such language. But that's the plain meaning of its latest forecasts, which at last have an air of realism about them, rather than being the usual dose of wishful thinking.
Let's take the projected budget deficit first. This is expected to decline quite steeply this year to 6.6 per cent of GDP, but that's mainly because the cost of bailing out the banking sector fell substantially on last year's budget. On a like-for-like basis, there has in fact been very little fall in the underlying deficit. And nor on the present policy mix is there ever likely to be, for that's where the deficit is projected to remain until the end of the IMF's forecasting horizon in 2018.
Next year, the deficit is expected to be 6.9 per cent, the year after 6.6 per cent, and so on with very little further progress thereafter. Remember, all these projections are made on the basis of everything we know about policy so far, so they take account of the latest package of austerity measures announced by the Spanish Government.
The situation looks even worse on a cyclically adjusted basis. What is sometimes called the "structural deficit", or the bit of government borrowing that doesn't go away even after the economy returns to growth (if indeed it ever does), actually deteriorates from an expected 4.2 per cent of GDP this year to 5.7 per cent in 2018. By 2018, Spain has far and away the worst structural deficit of any advanced economy, including other such well known fiscal basket cases as the UK and the US.
So what happens when you carry on borrowing at that sort of rate, year in, year out? Your overall indebtedness rockets, of course, and that's what's going to happen to Spain, where general government gross debt is forecast to rise from 84.1 per cent of GDP last year to 110.6 per cent in 2018. No other advanced economy has such a dramatically worsening outlook. And the tragedy of it all is that Spain is actually making relatively good progress in addressing the "primary balance", that's the deficit before debt servicing costs.
What's projected to occur is essentially what happens in all bankruptcies. Eventually you have to borrow more just to pay the interest on your existing debt. The fiscal compact requires eurozone countries to reduce their deficits to 3 per cent by the end of this year, though Spain among others was recently granted an extension. But on these numbers, there is no chance ever of achieving this target without further austerity measures, which even if they were attempted would very likely be self defeating. IN any case, it seems doubtful an economy where unemployment is already above 25 per cent could take any more.
In the past, the IMF has been guilty of being far too optimistic about Spain, both on the outlook for growth and the public finances, so it's possible it is now committing the reverse mistake of undue pessimism. Yet somehow I doubt it. Spain is chasing its tail down into deflationary oblivion.
All this leads to the conclusion that a big Spanish debt restructuring is inevitable. Spanish sovereign bond yields have fallen sharply since announcement of the European Central Bank's "outright monetary transactions" programme. The ECB has promised to print money without limit to counter the speculators. But in the end, no amount of liquidity can cover up for an underlying problem with solvency.
Europe said that Greece was the first and last such restructuring, but then there was Cyprus. Spain is holding off further recapitalisation of its banks in anticipation of the arrival of Europe's banking union, which it hopes will do the job instead. But if the Cypriot precedent is anything to go by, a heavy price will be demanded by way of recompense. Bank creditors will be widely bailed in. Confiscation of deposits looks all too possible.
I don't advise getting your money out lightly. Indeed, such advise is generally thought grossly irresponsible, for it risks inducing a self reinforcing panic. Yet looking at the IMF projections, it's the only rational thing to do.
PS. I don't include creditors of the British arm of Santander in this warning, who are ring fenced from the mothership back bome in Spain, theoretically at least.

Fearlessness Grows From the Grass Roots: US Protest Movement against the Banksters

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As more people see that the government represents Wall Street and concentrated wealth, instead of them; that the government continues to give the banksters who crashed the economy a break while cutting access to basic necessities, that the government continues to put big energy profits ahead of protecting the planet – more people are becoming fearless.

Last week, front-line environmental groups including climate justice activists, opponents of tar sands, mountaintop renewal and many others who oppose the extraction economy that poisons our land, water and air while risking climate change, announced “Fearless Summer.”  They announced a week of actions from June 24 to 29 to begin “an epic summer of actions.” The rising tide of courage in the environmental justice movement is one we also see growing in many communities on many issues.

When people stand up against the destructive extraction industries of big energy interests, we gain community support and sometimes we win. This week in New York communities got a lot of power when a court upheld their right to ban fracking. This happened because people stood up for their communities.

Long-time activist, George Lakey, describes how he and 17 colleagues protested Mountaintop Removal at the PNC Bank shareholder meeting. They broke all the middle class rules, gave a mocking-award to the outgoing CEO and sang songs. Efforts to drown them out failed and in the end, the meeting was adjourned – and the protest was covered in the media, forcing the bank to respond for the first time. Now, their accountability campaign focused on bank board members will escalate. There are lots of lessons for all of us in this experience.

Another group that has awakened in the last year has been members of the first nations. Ever since the Idle No More campaign began last December, native Indians have been standing up across the continent. One issue that Indians are focused on is the extraction economy and the KXL pipeline in particular which will cross hundreds of indigenous sacred spiritual sites and burial grounds, as well as two major sources of drinking water, the Ogallala aquifer and the Mni Wiconi water line for the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations.

From Chicago to Detroit, from San Jose to Portland, from Oakland to Newark, IL people are standing up and saying “NO” to austerity. Whether it is school closures, mass lay-offs or cuts to essential programs – people are protesting.  People know that austerity ensures the economy will remain in collapse; and they know that the real cause of the budget problems are corporate tax loopholes, low tax rates on the wealthy and giveaways to crony capitalists. People also know – it does not have to be this way.

Students are also standing up.  For years there have been protests against tuition hikes and mass student debt. This week students at Cooper Union, who are assured of free tuition, are standing up not for themselves but for the students that follow and demanding that Cooper Union continue the 144 year old mission of its founder that college education should be free. This week they took over and occupied the president’s office to protest plans for tuition at the school. We believe college education should be free for all.

Low wage workers, almost always without a union, are protesting across the country. Most recently they protested in DetroitSt. Louis and ChicagoWal-Mart workers, taking a lesson from the Civil Rights Freedom Rides, are planning bus caravans to the annual meeting of Wal-Mart shareholders on June 7.  And, now people are realizing that the federal government is the largest employer of low-wage workers, (full-time workers paid under $24,000 annually) and that President Obama could change that with a stroke of a pen. He talks about raising wages, but so far he is only talk.

Among the lowest paid and most mistreated workers are farm workers, but after years of organizing they are beginning to win victories in their fight for justice.  In 2011, The United Farm Workers, after a 200-mile, 13-day march through California, won state legislation which protects workers from employer intimidation during union votes. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has been organizing tomato growers in Florida since 1994, has been winning battles against individual corporations for fair wages and treatment of workers, most recently Chipotle Mexican Grill and Trader Joe’s. Now their targets are Publix and Wendy’s.  And, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee has been winning better working conditions for thousands of cucumber pickers through successful boycotts and strikes aimed at Campbell’s, Heinz, and Mount Olive Pickle Company. Standing up, organizing and mobilizing improves people’s lives.

People who are homeless are also organizing for respect and justice. Here is a group of homeless advocates working for civil rights, e.g. not being harassed for being in public and not being provided lawyers who do not push them to plea bargain. They advocate for housing when they see thousands of vacant homes around them, and they advocate for community land trusts which would keep housing affordable.

And, activists are coming to the aid of people threatened with eviction and foreclosure. This week in Seattle and Los Angeles people stood up against the big banks seeking to put people on the street.

You do not hear about these revolts happening across the United States because the corporate media does not want you to know that America is in revolt.  But, if you think the media is bad now, watch what happens if the Koch brothers are able to purchase a large chain of newspapers that includes the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and many others. People in LA are not waiting to find out, they are organizing protests now; and writers at the Times are pledging to quit rather than work for the extreme right wing Kochs.

What we are reporting in this weekly review is something we have seen in previous weeks, indeed for the last several years, even before Occupy began.  A popular resistance is developing throughout the nation; and the more the government fails to listen, the more the media fails to report it, the bigger the explosion of resistance will be.  We’ve been working with some of the best resistance activists in the nation and will soon be announcing a new project to help bring the popular resistance to a new level.  The success of this effort depends on you getting involved.  Sign up now, so you are there to help make transformation from a money-centered oligarchy to a people centered democracy and an economy that works for all of us a reality.

NYPD Sergeant Says 'Guilty Until Proven Innocent' Is Just The Price We Pay For A 'Free Society'

from the nothing's-more-'secure'-than-a-jail-cell dept

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We've been dealing with the New York police department lately, thanks to the mayor and thepolice chief using the recent Boston bombing as an excuse to increase surveillance efforts and enact other policies to further encroach on New Yorkers' civil liberties. Whenever something terrorist-related occurs, it seems as though the NYPD's reps can't keep their opinions to themselves, even as the department itself drifts further and further away from being a sterling example of How Things Should Be Done. 

In a recent Christian Science Monitor article dealing with "teenagers, terrorism and social media" (focusing on the recent Cameron D'Ambrosio arrest for making "terrorist threats" via some improvised rap lyrics posted to Facebook), Sgt. Ed Mullins of the NYPD shows up to make some very disturbing statements about your rights and responsibilities as a (mere) citizen. It starts with the worst kind of "policy" and goes downhill fast.
Using a zero tolerance approach to track domestic terrorists online is the only reasonable way to analyze online threats these days, especially after the Boston Marathon bombing and news that the suspects had subsequently planned to target Times Square in Manhattan, Mullins says. The way law enforcement agencies approach online activity that appears sinister is this: “If you’re not a terrorist, if you’re not a threat, prove it,” he says.
"Zero tolerance" is never "reasonable." It never has been and it never will be. In fact, it's the polar opposite. Zero tolerance policies simply absolve the enforcers of any responsibility for the outcome and grant them the privilege of ignoring mitigating factors. It allows them to bypass applying any sort of critical thinking skills (the "reason" part of "reasonable") and view every infractions as nothing more than a binary IF THEN equation. 

Mullins goes even further than this, though, asserting that the burden of proof lies with the person charged, not the person bringing the charges. This flips our judicial system on its head (along with the judicial systems in many other countries) and, if applied the way Mullins views it, puts accused citizens in the impossible position of trying to prove a negative. This is just completely wrong, and it's a dangerously stupid thing for someone in his position to believe, much less state out loud. (Mullins also heads the Sergeants Benevolent Association, the second-largest police union in New York City.) 

Believe it or not, Mullins is not done talking. What he says next doubles up on the "dangerous" and "stupid."
This is the price you pay to live in free society right now. It’s just the way it is,” Mullins adds.
No. It isn't. 

This is the price Mullins is charging to live in the NYPD's severely stunted version of a "free" society. The NYPD has been harassing young minorities at the rate of 500,000 impromptu stop-and-frisks per year for the better part of the last decade. For the past 10 years, the NYPD has been regularly trampling citizens' civil liberties simply because they attend a mosque. The NYPD and Mayor Bloomberg have worked ceaselessly to make New York the most-surveilled city in the U.S. 

That's the price New Yorkers are paying. It has nothing to do with living in a free society. The NYPD takes liberties away and high-ranking cops like Mullins have the gall to suggest there's some sort of equitable exchange occurring. Mullins doesn't seem to understand (or just doesn't care) that if you take away freedom you no longer have a free society. 

It has been said that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, but "eternal vigilance" isn't shorthand for oppressive surveillance and zero tolerance policies that make freedom less "free." "Eternal vigilance" isn't treating the Constitution like a relic too worn and tattered to serve any purpose in these "dangerous" times. And being an officer of the law isn't an excuse to shut your intellect off and allow your brain stem and broad policies to "work" in concert in order to treat loudmouth teens on Facebook like a guy with a trailer home full of explosives. 

This "vigilance" is supposed to be put to use by citizens in order to prevent authorities like Mullins from encroaching on our liberties. It's not solely limited to a united military effort against foreign powers. There are plenty of people apparently willing to attack our freedom from the comfort of the home front.