Muscling What’s Left of Democracy

The Standard & Poor’s rating agency has downgraded European countries in a move that may force the governments to crack down more on their populations and divert more money to wealthy investors, thus helping the super-rich short-circuit what’s left of democracy, Danny Schechter reports.

By Danny Schechter

We Americans live in an increasingly degraded country. Our politics are degraded and have become a laughingstock to the word. Our military is demoralized and degraded with soldiers urinating on dead civilians and awaiting deployment orders for the next illegal intervention.

Our education system has been degraded with standards falling and pervasive defunding. Our transportation system, ditto. I could go on, but I don’t have to. We are all living the decline with downward mobility, jobless and foreclosures, to cite a few trends that make life so miserable for so many.

Now, our godlike financial ratings agencies have decided to degrade nine countries struggling to fix their financial crisis. The decision by Standard and Poor’s (Best renamed, “It is now Standard to Be Poor”) to downgrade credit ratings for France, Italy, Austria and six other European countries signals those nations that Wall Street has them by the cojones. Their costs for borrowing will go up.

These countries are being warned: We are in charge. Do as we say!

Unreported in all of this, is that many of the companies that loaned them the money are part of a U.S.- led financial oligarchy. The credit agencies the same ones that legitimated fraudulent sub-prime lenders with no accountability are part of the enforcement gang of today’s loan sharks who are squeezing Europe to pay up or else.

It’s been reported that when Greece finally gets a huge new loan from the European Central Bank and the IMF, most of the money will only touch down in Athens before being wired directly to London-based hedge funds that pushed the debt out in the first place. They now demand to be repaid first. The hell with Greece’s needs.

As The Financial Times reported, “The eurozone debt crisis returned with a vengeance on Friday as Standard & Poor’s downgraded France and Austria, two of the currency’s six triple A creditors, as well as other nations not in the top tier.”

S&P’s goal was not just about economics. It was political, to press Europe’s political leaders to move faster to please them, i.e., suspend democratic checks and balances if needs be, and do what Wall Street wants ASAP! It was an act of bullying. It was also punitive because, according to Bloomberg, Europe was actually making progress in getting its house in order:

“S&P acted at the end of a week in which signs grew that Europe’s woes may be cresting as borrowing costs fell, evidence of economic resilience emerged and the European Central Bank said it had quelled a credit crunch at banks.

“The result is that refinancing costs for certain countries may remain ‘elevated’ and credit availability and economic growth may fade, it said. ‘It’s not a catastrophe,’ French Finance Minister Francois Baroin told France 2 television, noting his country now has the same rating as the U.S.”

How reassuring. The U.S. is getting the same treatment. The problem is that the more the .001 percent financiers push, the more their borrowers may be forced to push back,

Bloomberg’s report ends with a quote about “dangers” that the article glosses over: “This decision could upset the positive developments we’ve seen in Europe in the last few weeks,” ECB Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said. “That’s the most dangerous thing in my view.”

In short, we are all in the same crunch, being pushed around by the same avaricious interests. Call it what it is: a system of financial terrorism.

Europe is not simply a passive victim here its elites have been collusive and complicit with the lenders, taking massive loans and often squandering the money. Satyajit Das, a brilliant author and derivatives expert, writes on NakedCapitalism.com, “ Europe is on a road to fiscal bondage.”

Satyajit Das said, “Financially futile, economically erroneous, politically puzzling and socially irresponsible, the December 2011 European summit was a failure. Only the attending leaders and their acolytes believe otherwise. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s post-summit homilies about the ‘long run’, ‘running a marathon’ and ‘more Europe’ rang hollow.

“The proposed plan is fundamentally flawed. It made no attempt to tackle the real issues the level of debt, how to reduce it, how to meet funding requirements or how to restore growth. Most importantly there were no new funds committed to the exercise.

“The centerpiece of the new plan was a commitment to a new legally enforceable ‘fiscal compact’ requiring government budgets to be balanced or in surplus, with the annual structural deficit not to exceed 0.5% of nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The language was Orwellian and incomprehensible in equal measure.”

While some get the stick, others enjoy the carrots. Matt Taibbi reports:

“Newspapers in Colorado today are reporting that the elegant Hotel Jerome in Aspen, Colorado, will be closed to the public from today through Monday at noon. Why? Because a local squire has apparently decided to rent out all 94 rooms of the hotel for three-plus days for his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.

The hotel’s general manager, Tony DiLucia, would say only that the party was being thrown by a ‘nice family,’ but newspapers are now reporting that the Daddy of the lucky little gal is one Jeffrey Verschleiser, currently an executive with Goldman, Sachs.”

He was also an executive at the now departed Bear Stearns, This particular “nice” padre was part of a double-dipping scheme exposed in The Atlantic:

“The traders were essentially double-dipping — getting paid twice on the deal. How was this possible? Once the security was sold, they didn’t have a legal claim to get cash back from the bad loans — that claim belonged to bond investors — but they did so anyway and kept the money.

“Thus, Bear was cheating the investors they promised to have sold a safe product out of their cash. According to former Bear Stearns and EMC traders and analysts who spoke with The Atlantic, Nierenberg and Verschleiser were the decision-makers for the double dipping scheme.”

Scratch beneath the surface and all the old players and financial gangsters come into view in an internationally interconnected and manipulated system. Unless something is done by those outside the system a more powerful global Occupy Movement for starters we will all be on what Satyajit Das calls “The Road To Nowhere.”

News Dissector Danny Schechter covers financial crime in his News Dissector blog His new book is “OCCUPY:” Dissecting Occupy Wall Street. His most recent film is Plunder that looks at the financial crisis as a crime story. Comments to dissector@mediachanel.org




On Occupying the New Year

For many people around the world, 2011 was a very tough year, as millions lost jobs, suffered foreclosures and faced austerity, while the rich did fine and corporations hoarded trillions of dollars in cash. But there were glimmers of hope in the emergence of resistance, writes Danny Schechter.

By Danny Schechter

Out with the old. I would say good riddance to 2011 even as I fear 2012 may be worse, given the financial trends, social chaos and political idiocy that we confront every day. Every time, I believe it can’t get worse, it does.

It seems so clear that the political system is moribund and paralyzed and the economic system may be in worse shape.

A tiny sliver of the 1 percent may be in charge although not in control. Their own short-term greed makes it unlikely that they can stabilize the system or do any longer-term planning. Their Titanic has hit its iceberg. Some new technologies may keep it afloat for now, but for how long? We lurch from crisis to crisis in an atmosphere of deep denial.

Barack Obama clearly has no new ideas, and the Republican candidates for the most part don’t know what an idea is, as they pander to a know-nothing base to prove that they can be as crass as they are. Television dutifully reports all this as if we should take it seriously. No wonder only 7 percent of the people approve of the money-dominated Congress.

The Republicans can’t get any nastier with each other and now the Democrats are moving in the same direction with the announcement that Dennis Kucinich, whose been gerrymandered out of his district, is now oh, no going after progressive Marcy Kaptur’s seat.

As I think about the year ahead, I am reminded of what I said at this time last year about what I called the year of the “Crumble.” Sound familiar? It’s not a long distance from “crumble” to collapse as democracy gives way to plutocracy.

I wrote then: “The economy continued to crumble for ordinary people with little hope for a quick turnaround, even as some markets surged. The hopes of the jobless for employment crumbled. The faith of the so many homeowners that they will find a way to stay in their homes facing foreclosure is crumbling.

“And so have the hopes of so many of us that our new ‘change is coming’ president would fight for us, would end the wars, would close Gitmo, would abandon torture, would make healthcare more affordable, would give us a government we could believe in; that, too, has crumbled.

“Look back at the devastation of the year gone by: its ugly election, bought and paid for by U.S. Supreme Court-sanctioned special interests; oil spilled by the Gulf-full; wars escalated; climate change unabated; and Wall Street unchecked, and we have to scratch our heads and wonder who is crazier, them or us.

“A year after the earthquake, rubble is still piled up in the streets of Haiti, which has received only two percent of the money raised to reconstruct it. We now have six active military operations underway, rating less and less coverage, only four percent of the network news fare, by one count.

“In contrast, the partisan wars are all TV news covered over and over again, with Fox charging, MSNBC responding, and Jon Stewart joking. There seems to be nowhere to go, but down.

“The pragmatic compromisers of the democratic center may convince themselves they are ‘getting it done’ in D.C., but they are also alienating the Democratic Party base and disgusting all those who believed it would be or could be different.

“Already, there are new escalations in Afghanistan, a rising military budget that goes uncommented upon, and more repressive laws on the way. There will be a price to be paid for their legacy of spinelessness and corporate complicity.

“The media still remains at the center of our conundrum, as we argued ten years ago when we founded the media issues network, Mediachannel.org (now Mediachannel1.org) to advocate for fundamental media change. So we are left where we started, as David Swanson argues, with the need to support independent media, arguing:

“‘[W]e need an alternative not only to Fox News but also to the rest of the corporate media. This is the easiest and most important project anyone can work on. The dream of persuading the labor movement (which can’t even strongly oppose corporate trade agreements when the president is a Democrat) to invest in a new television network should be abandoned. If the George Soros’s of the world haven’t figured out that there’s a communications problem, they never will. But we already have what we need; we just need to make it bigger, and we can do so. We should invest in TheRealNews.com, Thom Hartmann, Free Speech TV, Link TV, GRIT TV, Democracy Now, Pacifica Radio, community radio stations, blogs and web sites.

“‘We should make use of foreign outlets that, for their own reasons, are willing to provide decent coverage of U.S. politics: Al Jazeera, ATN, RT-America, etc. Unsubscribe from the New York Times, stop contributing to any purchasing of ads in it, stop reading it, and read the Guardian online instead. Get connected online, and people will send you the occasional good article or video that all lousy outlets produce. Share that one further, but promote a good website that’s hosting it, not the corporate source.’”

And let’s also get behind WikiLeaks as they fight for transparency and accountability by governments and media. We need to support not only Mediachannel1, but Pacifica Radio, Progressive Radio, Bill Moyers and Laura Flanders’ new shows and sites like OpEdNews.com, CrooksandLiars.com, Disinformation, Firedoglake.com, Global Research, ConsortiumNews, Real News, ZNet, Reader Supported News, etc., etc.

At the same time, we have to go back to an old idea for which online interaction and an email barrage is no substitute: organizing real people. There are more of us than there are of them, but they are organized and focused and we are mostly reactive and emotional.

As James Kwak wrote on The Baseline Scenario, there is a reason for this. Progressives are captured by symbolic politics while the Right is committed to substantive goals. He cites the view of Murray Edelman who divides the political sphere into insiders and outsiders.

“Insiders are basically special interests: small in number but well organized and with specific goals. Outsiders, or the ‘unorganized masses,’ are the rest of us: we have some interests, but we are poorly organized to pursue them and therefore are generally unsuccessful. In particular, Outsiders suffer from poor and limited information, and therefore are especially susceptible to political symbols.”

He cites Arnold Kling’s summary of Edelman’s insights:

“Given these differences, the Insiders use overt political dramas as symbols that placate the masses while using covert political activity to plunder them. What we would now call rent-seeking succeeds because Outsiders are dazzled by the symbols while Insiders grab the substance.”

Happily, this year which seems to be ushering in a year not of a crumble but a collapse, is also the year when Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots emerged so powerfully to capture the national imagination and create a force based in the 99 percent willing to fight the Wall Street crimesters and stand for social justice and equality.

I have been having a happier news year ever since OWS emerged. I have been following its bold initiatives in print and in the streets. I have just finished a new book called OCCUPY collecting my reporting for AlJazeera and other websites as well as my News Dissector.com blog.

Despite all the depressing things that are happening and the economic depression that so many of the wisemen of the punditry admit is arriving I am more hopeful than I have been in years. It feels good to be fighting back, and, not just online. The fact that this movement received the media attention it has is a sign that the people of this country are open to something new and will, if well communicated too and organized, join in to make the changes we need so desperately.

In 2012, we have to continue to occupy the high ground and occupy the mainstream. When people lead, others follow. Adelante! Forward! Or. As, Martin Luther King put it, “Tomorrow is Today”

News Dissector Danny Schechter writes daily at NewsDissedector.com. Information on his  latest film is at Plunderthecrimeofourtime.com. Comments to Dissector@mediachannel.org 




Police Close Berkeley’s Occupy Camp

Police cleared out the last major Occupy encampment in the San Francisco Bay area on Thursday with the removal of tents at a park in Berkeley and the roughing-up of some protesters. Dennis J. Bernstein interviewed a U.S. Army veteran who provided security at the camp.

By Dennis J. Bernstein

Berkeley Police gave Occupy Berkeley a troubling Christmas present in the form of a violent attack on and destruction of their encampment, located in Downtown Berkeley, across from City Hall, between the Berkeley High School and the Veterans Hall, in Martin Luther King Park.

I spoke with an member of the camp’s informal security detail, an Iraq vet, Corporal Nick Anthony Shaw, who had just been roughed up by the Berkeley Police, as they destroyed, and violently trashed Occupy Berkeley on Thursday. The cops threatened to arrest me and him, trying to disrupt the interview, and then turned the city sprinklers on us.

At least half the Berkeley encampment is homeless. A nice Merry Christmas for them!

DB: We just got back from Martin Luther King Park in downtown Berkeley, right across from the High School, the Veterans Administration, Veterans Hall, City Hall and the police were there shredding and destroying; they were putting the sprinklers on even as we began this interview. We did catch up with one of the defenders of the camp who also happens to be a veteran.

NAS: I’m former Corporal Nick Anthony Shaw, United States Army, I served from ’99 to 2003. I’m now a peacekeeper with Occupy S.F. and Berkeley, I suppose, now that S.F. is closed.  Well, the encampment is just temporarily moved other than what the police threw away and ran over. They gave us a ten o’clock time to be out, the protesters stayed. So they proceeded to enter the back of the park here with two squad cars and a white truck where they ran over three tents, pulling in and didn’t even bother to check if anybody was in there. Thank God, nobody got injured.

They threw three tents and a bunch of peoples’ personal belongings in the back of a truck and then when the protesters tried to stop them they sped off about eighty miles an hour down the road, hitting one protester with the truck and hitting another protester with the car door. Then they proceeded to drive the truck over to the police station where, God only knows why, they started throwing peoples’ things in a dumpster right in front of them.

The protesters went over, climbed over the side of the truck and started pulling their things out. That’s when the police came out and began, well the first one was a woman. When the police came running out of the station everybody backed up. They came over  and the one foreign-looking police officer which I can identify by face but not name proceeds to knock over a woman and hit her with his billy club.

And then they formed a line where several officers ran up into the crowd knocking people over, two women were seriously injured. About seven people were hit with billy clubs. I was personally hit in the elbow with a billy club and all I was doing was talking on a megaphone. So it was extremely violent. I know at least three officers who need to lose their job. And then they….

DB: Do you have their badge numbers?

NAS: We have them on live video. And then what they did was they came in today, and a lot of the people ran in fear, and a lot of peoples’ stuff was here, but if anybody wasn’t here to claim it they threw it in the garbage truck, and threw everything away. So we got a bunch of people still over here about thirty-five to forty on the sidewalk with all of their things who are afraid the police are going to take them.

Well, as you can see about seven or eight of us have already started putting our tents back up. We’re not going anywhere; we are not illegally lodging, this is a protest. We have a right to occupy the Earth and no government has a right to put a time limit on a public place. And I just think it’s ludicrous.

DB: You were in the military?

DAS: Yeah, four years, I made corporal.

DB: Four years. Are you…do you get the sense that the same forces, the same kind of weaponry, the same kind of attitude, shock and awe, that was being used against say in Iraq and Afghanistan is now being turned against the people here?

DAS: They have definitely militarized the police. I’ve read paperwork that the Department of Homeland Security actually beefed up eighteen cities and trained them how to squash the Occupy movement. As far as I know that’s against the Constitution, to militarize the police, but they have done it. And they are out here, in full riot gear beating unarmed non-violent protesters.

DB: And, of course, we’ve already seen them shoot and critically wound Scott Olsen, a veteran of the Iraq war. You said you got a warning at ten o’clock last night, is that correct?

DAS: Yes.

DB: And why, any sense of why you were cleared out? Did they say it was a danger to public safety? Anything like that?

DAS: They gave no reason whatsoever. I’ve actually got the eviction notice; the only thing that it says is that the park will be closed from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. Anyone left will be considered as an illegal lodger and their belongings will be seized and they will be arrested.

DB: So these tents up here are in jeopardy starting at ten o’clock given what you have already learned from the police.

DAS: Yes, as far as what the police say, as of ten p.m. tonight they’re going to seize all of our personal property and arrest us for illegal lodging.

DB: Say a little bit more about the people who were wounded. You mentioned that a number of people were hurt, can you give us a little bit more information about that?

DAS: Yes, we had one gentleman who had his elbow dislocated. One woman who badly tore up both of her knees and her hands being knocked to the ground, and there’s at least four others who have abrasions and bruises from being hit with billy clubs.

DB: And for you, former serviceman, what’s at the core of this? Why are you out here defending, in San Francisco, standing here, obviously ready to take it on again. What’s pushing this?

DAS: Well, for me personally, my fiance died September 4th last year. I lost my home because we were a two-income family. All the money that they gave to the banks could have paid off every mortgage in America. And now instead of that they foreclosed on millions of Americans. And there are more empty homes than homeless people.

We have an inherent right to be here. If they don’t want to give us somewhere to stay then we’re going to take back what’s ours. I mean, squirrels don’t pay rent in a tree and a bear doesn’t have to pay rent in the woods. Why do we have to pay to live somewhere that will never belong to us? And if we have to do that, why do you need to have a penny in your pocket to have somewhere to stay? And since when is it illegal to be homeless? I don’t understand that.

DB: In the bigger picture, you see this as a class war?

DAS: Oh, yes. They are definitely trying to segregate the classes. I mean a perfect example, the city of San Francisco the minimum wage is $9.96. For $9.96 you can’t afford the smallest studio apartment in that city. So that means even if you work a forty-hour week job you can’t afford to live in that city. That’s class segregation and that’s forced public transportation. You have to move to Oakland or share a no bedroom house with renters. I mean, how do you do that?
If minimum wage doesn’t afford you minimal housing in the city you live in, there’s gotta be a problem, and I didn’t fight for that.

DB: There seems to be a fear, particularly on the part of the authorities, when there is a unity between those people who are already homeless and perhaps those people who are afraid that soon they will be joining them. That the unity between those who may still have jobs but are afraid they won’t soon. Do you see that as something that really sends shivers, gives problems to the powers that be?

DAS: Yes, of course. They are scared. They know that if we all unite we’re stronger than them. There’s nothing they can do about it. And there’s nothing that can stop the 99 percent. I mean the power of the people can change the world. I personally quit a $15 per hour job to be a full-time peacekeeper for Occupy S.F. Not everybody out here is homeless just because of a reason. I mean I could easily go and share with three roommates a place in San Francisco, but why?

I have a right to occupy this earth, we all do. So if they don’t want to help us, then give us somewhere where all the people can go, the common people, the poor people. Then we’re going to take back city park, if they don’t want to give us that, we’ll take the state park, we’ll take the federal park. We’ll take every street in the country, in the world.  Egypt’s already winning, there’s no reason why we can’t, too.

DB: Finally, it’s ironic I’m looking right across at the Veterans Building, we’re across the street from City Hall, we’ve got Berkeley High School right behind us, we’ve got the police pushing us back, we’re not even in the park and the police are pushing us back because, obviously, they are afraid of a microphone too. But as I was saying, Berkeley High School, the Veterans Administration, City Hall, the court over there, it’s pretty ironic. You want to tell us as a vet what that sorta means to you, that image.

DAS: Well, I look around me at all these buildings designed to help people, and I don’t know who they are protecting anymore. To be honest with you, I am surrounded by police on a daily basis and I live in fear of them, not anyone here. I don’t understand why the politicians are wanting to force us out of a park that clearly belong to the public. I mean, what are we doing so bad? We are sitting here protesting, no one is lodging. I mean, there might be some people who are homeless but they are joining the cause. There’s nothing wrong with being a protester. I mean, heck, all these people here are the Time magazine Person of The Year.

DB:  The protester is Time magazines’ Person of The Year. Let me ask you, you’re in that community, you are a defender of these camps. You went to war, you risked your life, your thoughts on these cops using military weaponry to shoot down a veteran.

DAS: I think it’s tactics like that are exactly why we are going to win. And this is a war we’re going to win non-violently, without us firing a single shot. And the more they abuse us, the more people are going to come to our aid. The more people are going to see how wrong they are. It’s not the way it should be. It’s not the way it was intended and I don’t think that the only freedom in America should be the freedom to spend money if you make some.

DB: If you wouldn’t mind I’d like you to sign off, do you perhaps remember your dog tag number, or if you have information, please sign off from the military side?

DAS: Corporal Nick Anthony Shaw 0-274768460, no religious preference.

Dennis Bernstein is host and executive producer of “Flashpoints,” an award-winning radio show heard over Pacifica radio and originating from KPFA, 94.1, in Berkeley California.




‘It’s So Not Over,’ Say Occupy Protests

Three months into the Occupy Wall Street movement, protesters took their message uptown in a march that surprised the police and many Christmas shoppers, but helped explain what the economic crisis means to average people, writes Danny Schechter.

By Danny Schechter

December 17, 2011, marked the three-month birthday of Occupy Wall Street and the 24th birthday of Bradley Manning. It was one of those days that confirmed the validity of the chant: “All Day, All Week, Occupy Wall Street.”

Okay, maybe, it wasn’t a whole week but Saturday felt like a week in one day. The plan for the day, as announced, was to gather at Duarte Park at Sixth Avenue and Canal Street to attempt a RE-Occupation of vacant land owned by Trinity Church, more of a real-estate company than a house of worship.

For a few weeks, the Occupy Movement had been demanding that the Church allow the movement to take “sanctuary” on that land. There were earlier protests and even a hunger strike that made page one of the New York Times.

Police in riot gear had ousted the occupiers the last time they tried to take over the space a few weeks back, and, since then, there has been a rancorous standoff between a Church that is supported by many fat-cat one-percenters and OWS’s volunteer non-violent army of outrage.

The Church has repeatedly turned the movement down, despite support for the OWS demands from many clergy in New York and the most famous Episcopal priest in the world, South Africa’s Desmond Tutu,. (Tutu sent OWS a supportive message but, then later sent the Church a disclaimer of any attempt on his part to sanction violence.)

No doubt church lawyers were expressing worries about financial liability should there be any claims, but many of their trustees had political objections. They are Wall Streeters, including, a Vice President of Brookfield Properties, the owner of the “public” Zuccotti Park that had been the Movement’s home until they were unceremoniously and violently ejected by police in the dark of night.

Trinity Church may be there to serve God, but the defense of their real-estate portfolio seems to come before their pretensions at social justice.

The gathering at Duarte Park was predictably surrounded by cops, some in riot gear, while what looked like a Zuccotti Park alumni Association roamed around on a sliver of a city park next to the unholy Trinity site.

At least half of the crowd, which grew as the day progressed, appeared to be covering the other half with still or video cameras and tape recorders. The press was out in force too, no doubt hoping for a bloody confrontation. Pacifica Radio outlet WBAI was broadcasting live and its programming was played back at the crowd on boom boxes.

The librarians of the People’s Library where on hand with a few boxes of newly donated books, but, despite the rhetoric,  the scene seemed tired except for those who were dancing around or looking for action.

A few activists and clergy were arrested for climbing over the fence while others tried, but failed, to knock it down. (There were more than 50 arrests on Saturday,)

I was pretty discouraged by the relatively small turnout and the focus on getting to occupy a new tiny land base in an area with no real pedestrian traffic nearby, instead of finding more ways to reach out to mainstream America.

Saturday was a big Xmas Shopping day. While tens of thousands of New Yorkers were flocking to stores in Times and Herald Square. I thought that if you want to hit at economic power, you should be Occupying Macy’s or Toys R’Us. All the stores were putting on new sales after Black Friday turned out to be relative bust. Why not a march by Occupy Santas?

It all seemed unpromising when announced concerts at the park by Lou Reed and others didn’t seem to materialize, or at, least I missed them. But I left too soon. Unknown to me, the movement then launched a previously unscheduled march but, at the last minute changed its direction and headed uptown, catching the police unaware.

The Live Stream people went with them so what happened next was shown on the Internet. One of the live streamers was busted but kept his camera-computer going from inside a Police paddy wagon.

At one point, I saw coverage by three cameras. One view, in ironic counter-point, covered several cops defending the statue of the Bull on an empty Wall Street traffic junction. No one there was bullish. Bullshit anyone?

The cops attacked as the activists marched up Seventh Avenue at 29th Street, arresting some for marching when they should be walking, a crime that may soon by punishable by the crazed new National Defense Authorization Act measure treating the homeland as a battlefield.

The crowd then broke into smaller guerrilla-style groups, darting in and out of various streets, and ending up in a packed Times Square on a Saturday night at the height of the Christmas shopping season. This march was spontaneous, powered by the power of surprise. The police actually chased some out-of-towners out of Times Square to try to cut them off at the pass, but failed.

Before the men in Blue, led by men in White, could reassert their version of Law and Order, and while shoppers and tourists watched, the occupiers began “mic-checking,” with individual after individual shouting out “Why I Occupy,” and offering personal statements and testimony that were repeated several times.

In this way, individual members of the movement, from every class, color and gender,  spoke with eloquence about their reasons for protesting, personal reasons and social reasons, national reasons and global reasons, economic reasons and political reasons reached out to thousands.

They had to electrify whoever was watching. Their passion and sincerity was there for all to see. I watched the Live Stream of the event on a computer in Harlem and was moved, at some points, to tears by how articulate and reasonable they were. They later left the square and returned to Zuccotti Park for a late-night General Assembly meeting.

Not only was  this the best show on Broadway’s “Great White Way” for that hour, but it proved the correctness of a political claim, asserted in one of the OWS signs written after the police raided Zuccotti Park.

It reads: “It’s So Not Over.”

News Dissector Danny Schechter has been covering the Occupy movement for his News Dissector.com blog and other websites including Al Jazeera. He has collected his reporting into a new book, available next week, with a preface by writer Greg Palast. For more information and to comment: Dissector@mediachannel.org




Occupying Jesus and His Church

It is an inconvenient truth for mainstream and right-wing Christians that Jesus was crucified for taking his protest against income inequality to the power center of Jerusalem, where he challenged how money had perverted religious principles. Now, that tension is returning with the Occupy protests, Rev. Howard Bess says.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a magnificent building. Visitors swarm to visit this 400-year-old architectural wonder that is known as England’s Cathedral. Until recently people did not take note that it was located in London’s financial district, where it seemed God and mammon existed quite comfortably next door to each other.

Then came the protesters. The Occupy Wall Street movement has not simply spread all across America. It is a worldwide protest movement that covers the globe. More and more people of conscience do not believe that the wealth of the world should be controlled by a relatively small group of greedy, selfish super-rich.

In Christian teaching, greed is one of the seven deadly sins. From a more secular point-of-view, few believe that billions should live in poverty while the elite rich live in flagrant luxury.

When the protesters arrived in The City (as London’s financial district is known), their banners read “Occupy London Stock Exchange” and they encountered London police, who protected the banks and trading houses, as expected.

However, when the protesters took over the spacious courtyards of England’s Cathedral, another dynamic emerged. After all, Jesus was a protester in the courtyard of Jerusalem’s great Temple where he disrupted the business of the money-changers. Now, two millennia later, a new tension between Christianity and excess wealth was arising. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Would Jesus Join the Occupy Protests?

It takes a lot of money to support an operation like St. Paul’s. The Cathedral collects fees from it visitors and sells them memorabilia of their experience, clearing about $25,000 a day for those sources of income.

In an unintended consequence, the protesters shut down the entire operation, sending losses of income into hundreds of thousands of dollars. The graffiti they painted on the walls of the Cathedral was very upsetting, too. Probably as disturbing as Jesus overturning the money tables in Jerusalem’s Temple.

Should England’s Cathedral resort to calling in the London police? Should the Episcopalian authorities try to negotiate with their newest neighbors? Should their uninvited guests be allowed to use the Cathedral’s restrooms?

The Cathedral’s vacillation is recorded in their daily news releases. The Dean of the Cathedral has resigned. So also have other staff members. For the present, the Cathedral has decided to allow the protesters to stay through the end of the year. The final chapter has not been written. The conflict between God and mammon can become very real. (A similar standoff is developing between the ousted Occupy Wall Street protesters and Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan over a potential new protest site on church-owned Duarte Square.)

I confess that I would not have taken any note of the drama in London were it not for a friend of mine, Owen Vigeon, a retired Episcopal priest, who lives in London. Owen is a very fine poet who occasionally sends me some of his work. I like poetry, but I love poets.

I am reminded that almost all of the Old Testament prophets were poets. Poets can effectively speak truth in a way that mere preachers or politicians can never master. They say things so very nicely until you really think about it.

Owen sent me his latest poem. It is obviously inspired by the occupation of St. Paul’s. I am privileged to share it with you all:

MAGNIFICAT OF THE PROTESTERS 2011

A Song of the Word Made Flesh

“And the word was made human, and he pitched his tent among us.”  John 1:14

When I pitched my tent in the human race

And stirred in my mother’s womb,

Her soul was roused to prophetic grace

As she warned of impending doom.

When the mighty will lose their seat and power

And the meek and humble joyfully flower.

 

When the rag tag and bobtail pitched their tents

On St. Paul’s Cathedral holy gate

To register their discontents

With an un-egalitarian state,

 

My Clergy seemed somewhat perplexed

To know what ought to happen next

And truth to tell the English nation

Showed both disgust and admiration.

 

Yet in Cathedrals everywhere

There hung on the November air

The echo of My Mother’s prayer

That tells what Heaven thinks is “fair.”

 

Each waft of Chorus Evensong

Conveyed God’s sense of right and wrong

Who stuffs the hungry with bonus pay

While the rich he is sending empty away.

 

This, as My Dad confirms to me,

Is what life is like in eternity.

Til then I fear My Mother’s vision

Will still be met with indecision.

But those whose banner now display

The motto “WHAT WOULD JESUS SAY?”

Had better learn the gospel truth

Which I have practiced since my youth.

 

Whatever the questions you may have selected,

My answers will always be quite unexpected.

OWEN VIGEON  2011

 

Merry Christmas to all.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is hdbss@mtaonline.net




Liberating America’s Worldview

Occupy Wall Street protesters appealed to the broader U.S. population and even the police as fellow members of the 99 percent, but Phil Rockstroh observes that many Americans still fear breaking with the oppressive status quo and most police will follow orders in harsh crackdowns.

By Phil Rockstroh

Witnessing the acts and utterances of Republican presidential candidates can be regarded as a helpful psychological exercise, a type of “exposure therapy” involving the development of methods used to bear the presence of unbearable people who insist on evincing the history of human ignorance, duplicity and insanity.

“I can’t go on; I go on.”–Samuel Beckett

All alive are tasked with the challenge of, not only proceeding through life despite these kinds of insults to common sense and common decency, but to make a stand, in one’s own unique way, against prevailing forms of madness and oppression.

As a case in point, within the mainstream narratives of the corporate media and that of both major political parties, one bears constant witness to palaver involving the nebulous tyrannies of “big government”; although, incongruously, one scarcely receives from those sources focused complaints and critiques (much less probing investigative reports or congressional hearings) directed at the excesses of the national security/police state and Military/Big Media/Prison Industrial Complex.

The “big government” narrative is a misdirection campaign a smoke-screen serving to obscure corporate/military dominance of political life and its effects on the social criteria of everyday life in the nation. Accordingly, government is only as big as the 1 percent who own and operate it will allow it to be.

Therefore, due to the fact that elitist interests all but control the U.S. political class, in order to change government policies, a radical rethinking and revamping of the economic order of the nation must occur.

Although, at this late date in the life of empire, change will have to come from the streets, from uprisings by occupations by a restructuring of the entire system, from its cracked foundation, to rotting support beams, to corroding particle board, to lousy paint job.

Yet, this will be an organic process unpredictable, fraught with peril, freighted with the expansiveness of the novel, tinged with apprehensions borne of grief. But upheaval is inevitable because the present system is deep into the process of entropic runaway. And because uncertainty will be our constant companion, one is advised to make it an ally.

The neoliberal capitalist order is on a path towards extinction. And it will, most likely, die ugly. But it has lived ugly as well. The system never worked as advertised was more sales pitch than substance in its promise to increase innovation and deliver prosperity worldwide.

Conversely, the set-up leveled enslavement to powerful interests by means of a 21st Century version of company-town despotism e.g., workhouses, sweat shops, unhealthy mining towns and industrial wastelands where the laboring classes are shackled by debt-slavery to company store-type coercion.

This global company town criteria has inflicted sub-living wages, no benefit, no future jobs, yet the corporate state’s 24/7, commercial propaganda apparatus has the consumer multitudes of the U.S. convinced that they are “living the dream.” As a result, great numbers still believe their oligarchic oppressors actually believe their own lies about freedom, liberty and equal opportunity for all.

That’s right: Scheming princes simply love the peasants of their kingdom. They do, as long as those wretches continue to bow down in the presence of the powerful, do all they are commanded to do, and unthinkingly serve the interests of their vain, arrogant rulers.

Absurdly, large numbers in the U.S. still claim the burdensome economic yoke they bear is a glittering accessory of freedom gifted to them by their privileged betters. Often, one hears the assertion: Although the U.S. is an empire, it is, in fact, a benign sort of empire as far as empires go.

To the contrary, the nation’s post-Second World War, empire-building enterprise, as is the case throughout history with exercises in imperium, has leveled death-scapes abroad, corrupted the society’s elite and delivered anomie and alienation to the general population.

From the soulless, dehumanizing nothing-scapes of the U.S. interstate highway system and its resultant suburban project, to the douche-scapes of hyper-commercialized pop culture, empire’s legacy is as pervasive as it is dismal.

And all delivered and maintained by trading in the bartered blood of the innocent abroad by mechanisms of imperial plunder while serving to create a gallery of heartless, authoritarian-minded, consumerism-addicted grotesques at home. One suspects this is the reason discussions involving the true nature of empire are not considered a subject fit for nice company.

Often, by attempting to adapt to the burdensome daily obligations and the spirit-crushing, hierarchical structure of neoliberal capitalism, individuals will begin to internalize its pathologies.

In the age of corporate-state-dominated media, to ensure the circular, self-reinforcing nature of the noxious narratives of empire remain in place, faux populist, conservative media talk show hosts, talking heads and rightist pundits elitist bully boys and gals i.e., the bigot whisperers of the Right continually seed the dismal air with false narratives, contrived to misdirect anger and foment displaced resentments.

In turn, little bullies, out in the U.S. spleen-land, rendered resentful and mean of spirit by the incessant humiliation leveled by a class-stratified, exploitive economic system take up these self-defeating talking points that serve the 1 percent.

Accordingly, when, for example, participants in the Occupy Wall Street movement question the present social and economic structure, these downscale denizens of oligarchic rule personalize the critique; their identification with the system is so complete that they feel as though they have been attacked on a personal basis.

As a consequence, all too often, their defenses are raised and they return volleys of ad hominem attacks that serve to defend a status quo that demeans them.

This psychological phenomenon could be termed Authoritarian Simpatico Syndrome (ASS) a pathology suffered by personalities who have been traumatized by authority, but who endeavor to remedy the wounding and humiliation inflicted by a brutal, degrading order by identification with their oppressors.

To wit, the lack of outrage exhibited by the general public regarding the nations trudge toward a police/national security state. For example, the lack of deference displayed by city officials and local police forces regarding the First Amendment rights of OWS participants.

First off, lets clear the pepper-spray-fogged air on the matter: The vast majority of rank-and-file police officers do not now and, most likely, never will view themselves as part of the 99 percent.

Simply stated, police officers identify with their fellow cops. The vocation, by its institutionalized, militaristic, tribal nature, creates a wall of separation between its insider members and outsiders i.e., the civilian population at large.

It is an act of self-deception to insist that rank-and-file police officers, the so-called blue shirts, might even be tacit supporters of the 99 percent movement.

Good luck with that. But don’t be surprised if your entreaties are answered in the form of concentrated mists of pepper spray. In fact, as of late, that is exactly the reply we have received from the police, many times over.

Most police officers do not much identify with civilians. They harbor fealty to their careers and are indoctrinated to evince unquestioning loyalty to the department. Or as Bob Dylan presents the case in verse:

“Because the cops don’t need you and man they expect the same”–from Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues

On a cultural basis, after years of hyper-authoritarian indoctrination by mass-media sources and political influences, few, among the general public and in the political realm seem willing to demand openness and accountability from law enforcement organizations.

All too often, police (and U.S. soldiers as well) are viewed by a large percent of the general public as selfless heroes, noble souls, protecting life and liberty. And no matter how much evidence accumulates to the contrary, this image holds.

How is it that so many can cling to the illusion that cops and soldiers grownups, armed with deadly weaponry, and who have shown themselves willing to engage in acts of state-sanctioned violence and oppression are innocent victims of circumstance? Have we, in this nation, lost the concept of free will?

How did the perspective of a people become so upside down that heavily armed, body armor-enswathed men and women wearing uniforms of state power are viewed as blameless innocents while those they perpetrate brutality against are somehow regarded as the aggressors in the situation deserving of the violence inflicted upon them?

Let’s have a reckoning with reality regarding the nature of the forces coalescing against OWS and other global movements aligned against despotism: Authoritarian personality types detest the sight of freedom; its inherent uncertainties make them damn nervous. By reflex, they have a compulsion to lower a jackboot on its neck.

Or, in the words of one officer tasked with the duty of stifling the public’s right to free assembly at a recent OWS protest staged at the Winter Garden atrium of Brookfield Properties, within the World Financial Center located in lower Manhattan, “Don’t get in my face. I have a gun on me, okay? I don’t want any people coming that close to me.”

In acts of social and civic resistance, regardless of whether one evinces a Gandhi-like position of nonviolence or adopts a Malcolm X-influenced stance of “by any means necessary,” the enforcers of a corrupt authoritarian order regard any and all displays of dissent as an invitation to force dissenters face down on the pavement, zip-cuffed and bleeding, then be remanded into custody or worse.

At this critical point, it is imperative we let die our illusions involving the present order. Yet we must do so without becoming so disillusioned that we lack the resolve to remake the world.

Often, we cling to fictions involving the benign nature of power because the act spares us angst. To the contrary, we must bear witness to the collisions of our illusions and the realities of the day, because it is from the debris created by these collisions that the world will be built anew.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com. Visit Phil’s website: http://philrockstroh.com/ or at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000711907499 




Is Obama’s TR Rhetoric Just Talk?

In the same Kansas town where Teddy Roosevelt castigated his era’s financial speculators 101 years ago, President Barack Obama spoke to the concerns of America’s 99 percent, those who have struggled while the super-rich prospered. But is Obama’s new rhetoric just talk, asks Danny Schechter.

By Danny Schechter

Is Barack Obama changing? If so, many in the Occupy Wall Street Movement are patting their efforts on the back, and even claiming credit for what looks like a shift by the President towards a more engaged campaign discussing economic fairness.

Obama’s speech in Kansas was modeled on remarks made by the Republican Bull Moose Teddy Roosevelt in 1910. There’s nothing like quoting a Republican for credible centrist positioning. (Note: he quotes TR, not FDR.) Next, will he embrace GOP President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the Military Industrial Complex? Unlikely.

Still, Richard Eskow was quick to salute the new Obama: “Barack Obama channeled one of American history’s truly transformative figures by visiting the tiny Kansas town where Teddy Roosevelt gave his ‘New Nationalism’ speech over a century ago. It was refreshing to see the President invoke his predecessor, who was a powerful and fearless agent of change both inside and outside the White House.

“For the first time the President directly confronted the injustice of our growing economic divide, which were caused by the ongoing rapacity of the already-wealthy. He promised to take real action against the bankers who accepted our help after ruining the economy, then went on hoarding the nation’s wealth for themselves at everyone else’s expense.

“Teddy would have been proud.” (Of course, Roosevelt also was proud of his role in the Spanish-American War, which spilled over into a bloody counterinsurgency war in the Philippines, a version of the Vietnam War before the Vietnam War.)

Clearly it’s more heartening to hear the President’s new-found embrace of the needs of the millions being hurt by Wall Street’s crime spree, rather than watch his more devious collusion with it.

Still, his speech seemed more radical because of the way the Right attacked it. A columnist for the Wall Street Journal compared him to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, but also saw the speech for what it was a campaign posture, a technique for rallying a disenchanted base, not a promise of tough action by the White House.

Writes Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal, “Some will say hearing crude Chavista populism in the Obama speech is an overreaction. That once it’s understood the Kansas speech was the work of the party leader, not the president of the United States, it becomes easier to think about it without overreacting to its intense and vivid rhetoric.”

President Teddy Roosevelt was sincerely battling the monopolists of his time, not opportunistically playing politics.

“One of the fundamental necessities in a representative government such as ours,” Roosevelt said, “is to make certain that the men to whom the people delegate their power shall serve the people by whom they are elected, and not the special interests.”

He also said, “No man should receive a dollar unless that dollar has been fairly earned. Every dollar received should represent a dollar’s worth of service rendered-not gambling in stocks, but service rendered.”

Amen. But just recycling TR’s rhetoric isn’t the same as applying his trust-busting policies. Even Eskow admits that, noting “the Obama Justice Department sits idly by as the SEC continues to let major corporations pay slap-on-the-wrist fines for executive criminality fines that are often paid by the same shareholders they deceived while ‘neither admitting nor denying wrongdoing.’”

Yves Smith of the Naked Capitalism blog goes further: “Wow, I have to hand it to Obama’s spinmeisters. They’ve managed to find a way to resurrect his old hopium branding by calling it something completely different that still has many of the old associations.

“And we have a twofer in Obama’s launch of his new branding as True Son of Teddy Roosevelt. The second element of this finesse is that Obama is using the Rooseveltian imagery to claim he will pass legislation to get tough on Big Finance miscreants. That posture is, of course, meant to underscore the idea that you just can’t get the perps with the present, weak set of laws.”

Obama chastised “financial institutions whose business model is built on breaking the law, cheating consumers or making risky bets that could damage the entire economy” and declared “I’ll be calling for legislation that makes [anti-fraud] penalties count so that firms don’t see punishment for breaking the law as just the price of doing business.”

Sounds good, except there are laws and rules on the books right now that could be deployed!

Trying to get new “anti-business” legislation through the Republican Congress is sure to be a non-starter and only intended to give him a new club to attack his adversaries with, rather than crack down on Wall Street fraud.

Writes Smith, “No, it has plenty of tools, starting with Sarbanes Oxley. As we’ve discussed at length in earlier posts, Sarbox was designed to eliminate the CEO and top brass ‘know nothing’ excuse. And the language for civil and criminal charges is parallel, so a prosecutor could file criminal charges, and if successful, could then open up a related [civil] case.

“Sarbox required that top executives (which means at least the CEO and CFO) certify the adequacy of internal controls, and for a big financial firm, that has to include risk controls and position valuation. The fact that the Administration didn’t attempt to go after, for instance, AIG on Sarbox is inexcusable.”

We can go on and on detailing the many ways the President, reborn as Teddy Roosevelt, was anything but a rough rider charging up Wall Street hill. Writing on Huff Post, Jim Sleeper, a former journalist turned Yale professor, compared Obama’s speech to suggestions in an earlier article in the New York Times by Drew Westen, a critic telling him what he should be saying:

“Here are some of the lines that Westen suggested in his essay last summer. Following them are the ones Obama delivered this week.”

Westen last summer on what Obama should say:

“Many of you have lost your jobs, your homes, your hope. This was a disaster, but it was not a natural disaster. It was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and futures. It was made by conservative extremists who told us that if we just eliminated regulations and rewarded greed and recklessness.”

Obama last week:

“Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there’s been a certain crowd in Washington for the last few decades who respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. ‘The market will take care of everything,’ they tell us. If only we cut more regulations and cut more taxes – especially for the wealthy – our economy will grow stronger. …

“It’s a simple theory – one that speaks to our rugged individualism and healthy skepticism of too much government. Here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It’s never worked.”

Well, at least Obama is open to suggestions, but is it for a turnaround in the way he’s governing,  or is it to find new applause lines?

Writes financial analyst Ellen Brown, “The continued dominance of the Wall Street money machine depends on collective amnesia. The fact that this memory is surfacing again may be the machine’s greatest threat — and our greatest hope as a nation. Order his Attorney General to enforce the laws right now.”

News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs on NewsDissector.com. He directed Plunder, a film about Wall Street crime. (Plunderthecrimeofourtime.com) Comments to Dissector@mediachannel.org  Twitter: DissectorEvents




Cleansing Wall Street of Blame

The Right’s giant megaphone is reversing the narrative for today’s crisis: It is Barack Obama’s “food-stamp presidency” and the Occupy demands for fairness that are at fault for the hard economic times, not Wall Street’s unregulated greed increasing the need for food stamps and heightening the imperative for resistance as Phil Rockstroh explains.

By Phil Rockstroh

Regardless of the dissembling of corporate-state propagandists, free-market capitalism has always been a government-subsidized, bubble-inflating, swindlers’ game, in which, psychopathic personalities (not “job creators” but con-job perpetrators) thrive.

By the exploitation of the many, a ruthless few have amassed large amounts of capital by which they dominate mainstream narratives and compromise elected and governmental officials, thereby gaming the system for their benefit.

Historically, the system has proven so demeaning to the majority of the population that the elite, from time to time, have, as a last resort, due to fear of a popular uprising, introduced a bit of socialism into the system, allowing a modicum of swag to funnel downward, and, as a result, the ranks of the middle-class have been expanded.

For a time, the bourgeoisie are bamboozled by the sales pitch that one day they will be affluent enough to be freed from the taxing obligations of a dismal, debt-beholden existence, when, in fact, they sowed their fate (like those swindled by opening their bank accounts after receiving email from parties claiming to be momentarily cash-strapped Nigerian royalty) by their own greed, i.e. by their self-imprisonment within their own narrow, self-serving view of existence.

These stultifying circumstances will level an atmosphere of restiveness and nebulous rage. In general, the middle-class can be counted on to detest the poor blaming those born devoid of societal advantage and political influence for the impoverished circumstances that were in place long before the happenstance of their birth.

Moreover, in a bit of noxious casuistry, as despicable as it is delusional, all too many members of the middle-class have been induced by grift artists, employed by the ruling elite, to blame their own declining social status and attendant beleaguered existence on the poor.

“Be thine own palace, or the world’s thy jail.”–John Donne

This has proven to be an effective, time-tested grift: Because as long as the animus of the middle class remains fixated on the poor, the criminal cartels known as the economic elite can continue to ply their trade. Of course, in reality, by their greed and complicity, what the middle-class has gained is this: trustee status in the capitalist workhouse.

Although, there is no need to fret: The run of neoliberal capitalism is about over. Don’t mourn: This late-stage, rapacious, mutant economic strain has leveled destruction on community and the planet itself as well as the hearts and souls of too many of those imprisoned within its paradigm.

At this point, the situation comes down to this: paradigm shift or perish. The hour is amenable to reevaluate, reorganize and re-occupy. Doing so will prove helpful in withstanding false narratives.

Apropos: As of late, in my hours spent at Liberty Park, I’ve been witness to increasing numbers of tourists wandering in and repeating derisive, right-wing distortions regarding the OWS movement and its participants.

For example, the distortions allege that the OWS participants are a collection of whiny college students who want taxpayers to be responsible for picking up the tab for their student loans because they are too lazy and spoiled to work off their debt.

These tales are variations of the old canards involving welfare queens, mouths gleaming with taxpayer financed gold teeth, arriving at grocery stores lounging behind the steering wheels of late-model Cadillacs, and proceeding to purchase steaks and fifths of gin with food stamps.

Ronald Reagan spoke of this mythical figure often, affording her near supernatural powers: She, through indolence, guile and a welfare-state-bestowed sense of limitless entitlement, was the near singular cause of the nation’s economic woes; her very existence, not only depleted the U.S. Treasury of dollars, but drained the U.S. free enterprise system of vitality and the very will to compete. She was a succubus who arrived in the socialist haunted night to feed on and zap the very virility of capitalism.

Because of the wealth inequities inherent to capitalism, in order to prevent social unrest, the system is reliant on creating false narratives that foster misplaced and displaced class resentment. These tales are very potent, because they serve as palliatives for the enervating states of shame inflicted on the population at large by their enslavement to the free market.

Accordingly, because the vast majority of the populace are deemed “losers,” due to how the system is rigged, techniques must be created and maintained to displace the rage, born of a sense of powerlessness, that grips the system’s exploited underlings.

OWS is beginning to change the narrative align it with reality and that is an alarming development for the 1 percent; hence, the retooled, amped-up propaganda campaign we’re seeing signs of at present.

This is the reality the 1 percent endeavor to obscure: Capitalism is a pyramid scheme; by its very structure, only a few will ever receive its bounty that is wrung out of the exhausted hides of the vast majority. Fact is, capitalism, the neoliberal variety or otherwise, has never worked as promised; its innate structure ensures exploitation and inequity.

Therefore, time and time again, adding aspects of socialism (e.g., New Deal-era programs and reforms) have saved capitalism from itself. But, after a time, the plutocrats regroup and begin anew to launch a big money-financed, slow-motion coup d’état of government (e.g., the Reagan Revolution).

 

A vast disparity of wealth within a nation will all but ensure this societal trajectory. But that isn’t going to happen, this time. The planet cannot endure the assaults wrought by a system that requires exponential growth to be maintained.

The run of capitalism is nearly over. A more sustainable economic system, based on horizontal rule, is being developed, globally (e.g., the Icelandic model).

The vertical structure inherent to capitalism brings about the self-perpetuating reign of an insular elite who choose to go the route of empire and, by doing so, overreach and bring themselves down, but only after much unnecessary suffering, exploitation and death the calling card and ground-level criteria of imperium.

Yet, often within a declining empire, even as the quality of life grows increasingly degraded for the majority of the populace, questioning sacrosanct beliefs, such as, the myth that capitalism promotes societal progress and personal advancement, by means of the possibility of upward class migration, proves to be a difficult endeavor for many.

The reason: Even given the degraded nature of life as lived under late capitalism, the act of taking stock of one’s situation beginning to question how one arrived at one’s present station in life will engender anxiety, anger and regret.

Apropos to the shame-based Calvinism of the capitalist state: If I was duped in a rigged game, what does that say about me? The narrative of capitalism insists that if I work hard, applying savvy and diligence, at fulfilling my aspirations then I would, at some point, arrive in the rarified realm of life’s winners.

But if success proves elusive, then my flawed character must be the problem not the dishonest economic setup and miasmic shame descends upon me. Yet I can count on right-wing media to provide the type of provisional solace proffered by demagogues, i.e., imparting the reason that folks like me can’t get ahead is because scheming socialists have hijacked my parcel of the American Dream and delivered it to the undeserving thereby transforming my shame into displaced outrage.

And that must be the case; otherwise, it would behoove me to make the painful admission that I have been conned have co-signed the crimes committed against me. Worse, I would be compelled to question all my verities and beliefs all the convictions I clutch, regarding, not only the notions that I possess about myself and the methods I’ve adopted in approaching life, but also, the social structure that influenced my character.

Imagine: If you had to re-imagine your life. Imagine, how the act would unnerve your loved ones, threaten friendships, even endanger your livelihood.

What an unnerving task that would prove to be an ordeal certain to deliver heart-shaking anxiety, devastating regret and nettling dread directly into the besieged sanctuary of what is suppose to be the inviolable precincts of my comfort zone.

“At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.”–Albert Camus

Accordingly, I might turn to Fox News and other well-rewarded, professional dissemblers of the political Right, imploring them to dissolve my doubts and dread.

To escort and ensconce my troubled form back into my comfort zone by telling me the problem is not the iron boot of the corporate state upon my neck; rather, my oppression stems from the barefoot hippie lefties of OWS “who need a bath and a job”; it is their odious presence in our lives that has subdued my happy capitalist destiny by the pernicious act of laying down an effluvia (more demobilizing than pepper spray) of patchouli musk and has caused capitalism itself to weaken into an enervated swoon.

Yes, this has to be the case: The cause of my oppression. Those America-hating Occupy Wall Street hippies are actually the hidden hand that controls the global order and who possess a craven desire to smelt down the gleaming steel of the humming engines of U.S. capitalism into creepy, Burning Man statuary, who want to hold 24/7 Nuremberg-style rallies in the form of annoying drum circles.

In reality, it is those dirty hippies who are actually “The Man.” Withal, hippies crashed the global economy and pinned the blame on the selfless souls who ply their benign trade on Wall Street.

Now, you know why conservatives harbor such animus towards hippies. Don’t claim that Fox News et al those selfless souls who only desire to protect the glories of the present order, and who only have your best interest in mind, didn’t try to warn you.

“I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.” –Mark Twain

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com. Visit Phil’s website: http://philrockstroh.com/ or at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000711907499




Time for a Wall Street ‘Perp Walk’?

After the savings-and-loan debacle of the 1980s and the Internet bust a decade ago, hundreds of financial culprits were “perp-walked” to jail. But the big bankers who tanked today’s economy have escaped punishment, an omission that Danny Schechter says must change.

By Danny Schechter

Wall Street has become a battleground, defended by a battalion of New York cops and under surveillance around the clock. There’s a war under way after months of protests and assaults by the non-violent warriors of Occupy Wall Street. So, who’s winning?

On the surface, despite major layoffs and economic setbacks, you would have to say that the epicenter of our financial markets is alive, if not well. The exchanges and banks remain open for business, even if their costs for security are up, and their long-term optimism is way down.

Attempts by occupiers and activists to “shut it down” have so far failed, but they have slowed it down and forced its defenders on the defensive. A sharp critique of this out-of-control capitalism, which was barely heard in the media before the movement began, is now everywhere. The Movement has changed the national conversation.

The gluttons of greed are, at least temporarily, on the defensive. But, is the movement forcing reforms or restraint? Not yet. Europe’s pain so far seems to be America’s gain, as bailouts there drive stock prices here higher.

Also, as we are learning, there is not much that the Federal Reserve won’t do behind the scenes to keep big banks flourishing. We just found out, three years after the fact, that they pumped a whopping $17.7 TRILLION in no interest money into the coffers of financial institutions whose lobbyists and media decry big government intervention and the evils of socialism.

Down, the street, the Occupiers are winning a moral victory just by surviving. Their slogan du jour is now “It’s So Not Over,” even as they lost Zuccotti Park, which was their base and have suffered setbacks across the country by what seems like a coordinated municipal counter-offensive.

Public opinion seems to turn against protesters when there’s violence or conduct considered outrageous, but the New York Times reports, “The Occupy Wall Street protests continue to spread around the country, highlighting grievances some Americans have about banks, income inequality and a sense that the poor and middle class have been disenfranchised.

“A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that almost half of the public thinks the sentiments at the root of the movement generally reflect the views of most Americans.”

So, on one level, Wall Street is losing whatever positive reputation it still may have enjoyed, even if the Movement challenging it still lacks a specific program. What would winning consist of in this context?

For the financiers and the investors, it’s all about money and they are still making it, even if bonuses go down for a while. They continue to deepen inequality by transferring wealth from the rest of us into their pockets. The 1 percent is hardly hurting the way the 99 percent is hurting.

The lobbyists for the 1 percent and the politicians that follow their lead have managed to thwart any real financial reforms, mild as they were. Risky derivatives remain risky. The industry has succeeded in keeping a shadowy banking system non-transparent, despite the credit-rating agencies marking down the risks and the state Attorney Generals who are beginning to summon up the courage to file lawsuits.

Critics of Occupy Wall Street want the movement to grow up, be more focused and “pragmatic” as in engaging in policy debates defined by others. In a specious denunciation of “The Decadent Left,” Russ Douthat, one of the New York Times’ Op-Ed wags, snipes  that the “movement was dreamed up in part by flakes, and populated in part by fantasists.”

To him, being political means moving from the outside to the inside and losing the very qualities that built the Movement. It means not aligning with unions or building coalitions. It means playing the Game.

In contrast, I believe the Movement has to stay true to itself, while making all of these issues more personal to the American people who are suffering because of Wall Street’s manipulations. The people have to be told who is really responsible for their terrible distress:  the loss of jobs, pensions and homes.

The information is there, but the movement needs to find ways of dramatizing it and communicating it, the more specific and less rhetorical the better. It’s time for an economic justice campaign that names and shames the reprehensible Wall Street elite, a crew that constitutes less that .1 percent of the 1 percent.

We have to demand three I’s and a P:

–Investigate who stole what

–Indict wrongdoers

–Prosecute the guilty

–Incarcerate white-collar criminals

That’s how to send a signal to Wall Street:  Make it personal!

Demand that prosecutors in cities, states and the U.S. Justice Department explain why none of the big banksters responsible for our economic misery have, so far, gone to jail. (More than 1,700 fraudsters were imprisoned after the far less serious S&L crisis.) These CEO’s knew what they were doing and they are getting away with it!

This approach won’t transform the economy but it will make the targets of the campaign more concrete, visible and immediate. It raises demands for economic fairness that most Americans support.

The current system of government agencies agreeing to Wall Street settlements without anyone admitting responsibility has to stop. The cover-ups by politicians and the complicit of media have to stop. We have had bailouts. Now, its time for a “jailout!”

Talk about an issue that so many agree on but yet has been so politicized and so minimized by prosecutors seeking excuses. Yes, the industry has a flotilla of high-priced lawyers who know how to evade and avoid justice. Yes, they have rewritten the laws to make it hard to convict.

But, until now, there has been no one in the streets, with protests or pitchforks demanding justice. Occupy Wall Street has shown that you can influence the agenda. This issue is a no-brainer. Who will pick it up?

News Dissector Danny Schechter directed the DVD Plunder on financial crimes, (PlundertheCrimeofourtime.com.) His new book OCCUPY, with his many blogs and essays on Occupy Wall Street will be out soon (Newsdissector.com)  Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org




Three Pillars of a Revived Republic

Exclusive: As local governments shut down more Occupy encampments, the movement for the “99 percent” is at a crossroads. Some supporters advocate more civil disobedience; others urge a shift toward media outreach; and still others want a move into politics. But Robert Parry notes that all three approaches may be required.

By Robert Parry

American progressives are buoyed by Occupy Wall Street’s success in shifting the political debate from Republican demands for government austerity to the issue of concentrated private wealth at the top, but the question of what to do next is fraught with risks.

The discussion appears to be breaking down into which of three approaches should be pursued: activism (and civil disobedience), electoral (and legislative) politics, or outreach (via a stronger media infrastructure). Often the three are presented as somehow exclusive of one another.

For instance, the case for more aggressive activism often pits that priority against electoral politics and media outreach. Common arguments are that electoral politics were tried with Barack Obama’s 2008 election and failed, and that there’s already plenty of information in the public domain, so that doesn’t have to be a focus.

However, what these arguments miss is that all three components are necessary pillars for constructing a more equitable American society.

Clearly activism can dramatize social and political ills as the nationwide Occupy protests have done in their criticism of income disparity, out-of-control militarism, and erosion of civil liberties. Yet, the explication of these problems must go beyond carrying signs at rallies.

To have broad resonance, these narratives must be conveyed in a multiplicity of ways to the American public, which currently is fed a steady diet of contrary information from the powerful right-wing media and from much of the mainstream press.

In my view, one of the core mistakes of the progressive movement in the 1970s was after the Vietnam War ended to close down, sell off or downsize its media infrastructure of underground newspapers, radio stations, magazines, video production, think tanks and even a national wire service.

At the time, the Left had a strong advantage in its media outreach, which provided independent information to millions of young Americans and also put pressure on mainstream outlets to address some of these facts. Yet soon, key outlets like Ramparts and Dispatch News disappeared, and others like The New Republic continued to publish but under new neocon management.

Much of the Left bought into the notion that the key to the future was local organizing around local issues, under the banner “think globally, act locally.” Meanwhile, the Right, which was then in disarray, rebuilt itself by launching or buying up media outlets for outreach to the American people, essentially giving the Right the ability to frame national debates and rally nationwide support.

The Right’s Success

Three decades later, the results should be obvious. Union organizers have even complained that when they visit the homes of their members, they hear Fox News on the TV. Many middle-class salesmen and commuters have had their political views shaped by listening to right-wing talk radio as they drive from city to city.

Without the Right’s enormous advantage in messaging, it would impossible to explain why so many working- and middle-class Americans support policies that help the super-rich and hurt average people. Yet, the Left and especially wealthier progressives have done little to counter this dangerous imbalance.

So, the current proposal to emphasize activism over media under the assumption that Americans already “get it” and don’t need to have problems and possible solutions explained has been tried and it has failed. Indeed, many Occupy protesters recognized the value of information by making “people’s libraries” proud centers of their encampments.

The second argument for a near-exclusive emphasis on activism is that electoral politics and legislative reforms are a waste of time and that Democrats are as corrupt (or as “corporatized”) as Republicans; that the only value from an election would be to mount a third-party campaign. But that approach, too, possesses a troubling and tragic history.

In 1968, for instance, the American Left had plenty of reasons to be furious with the Democratic Party. President Lyndon Johnson had dramatically expanded the Vietnam War and the party bosses who still controlled much of the nominating process had pushed through Vice President Hubert Humphrey as the Democratic standard-bearer while young activists were getting clubbed in the streets of Chicago.

Thus, many leaders on the Left advocated either sitting out the election or voting for third-party candidates as a way to express their fury with the Democrats, even if that meant Richard Nixon would get elected. But what the Left’s strategy unintentionally did in 1968 was to enable Nixon to block Johnson’s negotiated end to the Vietnam War and thus extend the bloodshed for four more years.

We now know from declassified records and first-person accounts that Nixon’s campaign realizing how close Johnson was to ending the bloody conflict went behind the President’s back and got South Vietnamese leaders to boycott the peace talks.

In other words, Nixon, who had deceptively positioned himself as the peace candidate with a “secret plan” to end the war, was really planning an expanded conflict with the goal of getting South Vietnamese President Nguyen van Thieu a better deal than Johnson was ready to sign.

Having sabotaged Johnson’s pre-election peace deal, Nixon then eked out a narrow victory over Humphrey and pursued the Vietnam War for another four years before finally accepting settlement terms nearly the same as the ones Johnson was prepared to take in 1968. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Richard Nixon’s Darkest Secret.”]

In the interim, another 20,000 American soldiers died along with an estimated one million more Vietnamese. Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia also destabilized that country, leading to the rise of the hyper-violent Khmer Rouge and the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians.

At home, the United States was torn apart as Nixon pitted the “hard-hats” against the “hippies” and his “silent majority” against those who took to the streets seeking to stop the killing. Parents were turned against their children and hatreds that Nixon engendered poisoned U.S. politics up to the present day.

Bush v. Gore

A similarly unintended bloody consequence resulted from Ralph Nader’s Green Party campaign in 2000. At the time, many on the Left were frustrated with the Clinton administration’s centrist policies and angry about its military intervention in the former Yugoslavia. They wanted to show their anger by depriving Vice President Al Gore of their votes.

So, Nader campaigned on the slogan, “not a dime’s worth of difference” between Al Gore and George W. Bush, this despite Gore’s advocacy for strong action on global warming while Bush, an oil man, opposed international efforts to address the looming crisis. Bush’s election also meant putting the neocons back in power as they itched for a more militaristic policy in the Middle East.

Ignoring these risks from a possible Bush presidency, Nader even campaigned in crucial swing states such as Florida.

The result was that Gore’s vote was diluted enough to put Bush in a position to steal the election, especially in Florida where later studies showed that Gore should have narrowly won but “lost” because his margin was so slim that Bush could rely on his brother Jeb’s allies in Florida and his father’s friends on the U.S. Supreme Court to hand him the state’s decisive electoral votes.

If the bulk of Nader’s votes had gone to Gore, the Vice President’s margin in Florida would have almost surely been too large for Bush to steal the state. [For more on Election 2000, see Neck Deep.]

The consequences of Bush’s “victory” were devastating for the United States and the world. Arguably, Bush’s neglect of the climate crisis one of Gore’s top priorities may turn out to be the worst of these, since Bush’s inaction may contribute to the collapse of human civilization in the decades ahead.

But there was other, more immediate harm. Through radical tax cuts, Bush accelerated the concentration of wealth at the top, and by turning a large federal surplus into a massive deficit Bush advanced the right-wing goal of defunding government programs. If Republicans get their way, social safety net programs, including Social Security and Medicare, will be cut to shreds, leaving the sick, the poor and elderly to suffer.

Although it can’t be known for sure that Gore’s alertness to al-Qaeda’s threats would have averted 9/11, it’s extremely unlikely that he would have reacted the way that Bush and his neocon advisers did, by trampling constitutional rights and justifying attacks against foreign countries on false pretenses.

Last decade, Gore was one of the few national figures to speak out forcefully against both the violation of civil liberties and the invasion of Iraq. Yet, it was Bush, not Gore, who was in the White House, and that meant horrible deaths for possibly more than a million people in Iraq and elsewhere.

Hard Reality

So, the hard reality is this: differences between Republican and Democratic candidates even if some on the Left view them as not worth a dime can mean life or death for millions of innocent people around the world. Even if the two candidates’ policies were identical, temperament would also be important, since the U.S. president controls a nuclear arsenal that can literally end all life on the planet.

For American voters to pretend that they don’t have a responsibility to select the “lesser evil” among realistic choices for president is reckless. It is putting one’s sense of outrage or one’s desire for purity ahead of the well-being of people around the world.

If today’s polls are correct, it also appears the presidential choice in 2012 may be between President Barack Obama and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

As angry as some on the Left are with Obama and as much as they want to punish him for some of his policies the reality is that to do so could well mean that Gingrich with his radical plans for Social Security, Medicare and the poor will be empowered to implement them. Remember, Gingrich and his allies dismissed the Occupy protesters as losers who needed a bath.

A Gingrich presidency also would mean that neocons would again be given the reins of the U.S. military with a new war with Iran in their sights.

And there is Gingrich’s personality. Those who know him well often note his impulsive megalomania, his penchant for destructiveness, his readiness to demonize his adversaries, his tendency to make up facts, and his reckless talk about difficult social issues, like his recent denigration of poor children.

At a campaign stop in Iowa on Thursday, Gingrich said, “Really poor children in really poor neighborhoods have no habits of working and have nobody around them who works so they have no habit of showing up on Monday [for school]. They have no habit of staying all day, they have no habit of ‘I do this and you give me cash’ unless it is illegal.”

Gingrich sees himself as a figure of grand historical destiny and bristles at the slightest of slights, such as when President Bill Clinton gave him a seat near the rear of Air Force One. Gingrich’s strange mix of bizarre policy prescriptions and severe personality flaws could make him an extremely dangerous man to entrust with the powers of the U.S. presidency.

His petty vindictiveness could make him a modern-day Richard Nixon or worse. Millions could die or suffer unnecessarily under his presidency.

In other words, electoral politics do matter. Whether one likes it or not, elections are the way the United States apportions power and that power impacts the world. It also affects the well-being of Americans, as we have seen tax cuts and deregulation from Ronald Reagan through George W. Bush contribute to today’s economic crisis.

But the answer surely is not simply to trust the ballot. An elected politician, no matter how well-intentioned, can do little if the population is being systematically disinformed or if those who do understand the stakes behave as passive observers. Similarly, honest media alone has little impact if it’s just consumed by people who don’t act on it.

And, activism by itself won’t have a lasting impact if most Americans see the message as overly simplistic, impractical or lacking policy substance. At some point, successful activism over the centuries has reached out through the available media of the day to persuade a larger audience and to achieve concrete policy changes designed to make life better.

So, a realistic and responsible approach to the future requires upholding all three pillars simultaneously: activism, media out-reach, and electoral politics. No one pillar alone can achieve much. Each alone will almost surely fail. But all three can support a revitalized democratic Republic.

[For more on related topics, see Robert Parry’s Lost History, Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a three-book set for the discount price of only $29. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there.