Nov 082011



By Jason Motlagh

While work crews were busy replacing smashed windows and scrubbing graffiti off downtown walls late last week, Christopher Goodwin, 30, held up a copy of the Oakland Tribune with the headline “Violence, Vandals Divide a Movement” to a group of mostly first-time visitors to the occupied City Hall plaza. “The media can be our biggest ally or our biggest enemy, and right now they’re tying to figure out which route to take,” he declared, adding that he was going to propose a holding press conference to denounce violent tactics being used in the name of the Occupy movement. “That might be harder than it sounds,” interjected a skinny young man in the crowd, with noticeable irritation in his voice. “I’m 100 percent committed to nonviolence; I would never throw a rock at a police officer,” Paul, 21, a self-described anarchist from Los Angeles, explained afterward. “But at the same time, while I wouldn’t condone those tactics, I don’t delegitimize them either … a lot of [social] change was brought about by violence.” He cited the American Revolution and Civil War as examples.

Whether they be liberal, pacifist, marxist or anarchist, protesters in Oakland agree that the initial police crackdown of Oct. 25 backfired in a big way for the authorities. The publicity windfall generated when riot police shot projectiles that seriously injured an Iraq war veteran thrust the Oakland campaign to the forefront of the Occupy movement. That momentum gained more traction last Wednesday during the city’s general strike, when thousands turned out to march against economic inequality and police brutality and shut down the country’s fourth largest port — only to falter at night as the streets caught fire. Clashes broke out between police and masked agitators — allegedly members of a group called Black Bloc — that saw more than a hundred people arrested and dozens of businesses damaged, including some that had actively supported the protests. (See whether Oakland’s general strike would have legs.)

A majority of longtime Occupy participants have insisted the second confrontation was provoked by an unruly 1% of the 99%, bent on hijacking a nonviolent movement. A larger question looms, though, as to how the movement’s image may suffer if such outbreaks continue, and what can be done to prevent them. Kim Voss, head of the sociology department at the University of California, Berkeley, notes that radical elements of movements sometimes have a “net positive effect” at first because they draw greater support to more moderate groups and give authorities incentives to offer concessions. The defensiveness of city officials post–Oct. 25, when they allowed protesters to retake the plaza in front of City Hall, is a case in point. “However,” she adds, “the opposite dynamics also occur, in which the radical elements erode support for movements and additionally justify repression.”

The stakes are putting solidarity to the test. Over the weekend, some complained that a meeting scheduled to discuss the meaning of the violence and a strategy to contain it had been canceled, then hastily rescheduled, causing many to miss the gathering. Debate nonetheless carries on inside tents and along sidewalks about what the next steps might be. “You have to have some sort of leadership. Don’t confuse leadership with dictatorship,” says Alonzo, 24, a Black Panther activist. “When you put that leader thing in front of [someone], he’s gonna have an ego,” counters Ali, 38, who instead argues that individuals should take more initiative on their own when trouble is on the verge. Next time a major action is held, he says, he would form an ad hoc group to protect businesses around the plaza and pull the masks down of anyone wearing a bandana to ensure accountability. Rasta, another camp resident, is less conciliatory: “These anarchists are going to f— this up; we need to stop them by any means necessary,” he says, making a slicing motion with his hand. (Watch TIME’s video “What Happens After the Standoff at Occupy Oakland.”)




By Nicole Sander

I wish I could say that the problems that the Occupy movement is having with infiltrators and agitators are new. But they’re not. In fact, they’re problems that the Old Hippies who survived the 60s and 70s remember acutely, and with considerable pain.

As a veteran of those days — with the scars to prove it — watching the OWS organizers struggle with drummers, druggies, sexual harassers, racists, and anarchists brings me back to a few lessons we had to learn the hard way back in the day, always after putting up with way too much over-the-top behavior from people we didn’t think we were allowed to say “no” to.  It’s heartening to watch the Occupiers begin to work out solutions to what I can only indelicately call “the asshole problem.” In the hope of speeding that learning process along, here are a few glimmers from my own personal flashbacks — things that it’s high time somebody said right out loud.

1. Let’s be clear: It is absolutely OK to insist on behavior norms. #Occupy may be a DIY movement — but it also stands for very specific ideas and principles. Central among these is: We are here to reassert the common good. And we have a LOT of work to do. Being open and accepting does not mean that we’re obligated to accept behavior that damages our ability to achieve our goals. It also means that we have a perfect right to insist that people sharing our spaces either act in ways that further those goals, or go somewhere else until they’re able to meet that standard.

2. It is OK to draw boundaries between those who are clearly working toward our goals, and those who are clearly not. Or, as an earlier generation of change agents put it: “You’re either on the bus, or off the bus.” Are you here to change the way this country operates, and willing to sacrifice some of your almighty personal freedom to do that? Great. You’re with us, and you’re welcome here. Are you here on your own trip and expecting the rest of us to put up with you? In that case, you are emphatically NOT on our side, and you are not welcome in our space.

Anybody who feels the need to put their own personal crap ahead of the health and future of the movement is (at least for that moment) an asshole, and does not belong in Occupied space. Period. This can be a very hard idea for people in an inclusive movement to accept — we really want to have all voices heard. But the principles #Occupy stands for must always take precedence over any individual’s divine right to be an asshole, or the assholes will take over. Which brings me to….

3. The consensus model has a fatal flaw, which is this: It’s very easy for power to devolve to the people who are willing to throw the biggest tantrums. When some a drama king or queen starts holding the process hostage for their own reasons, congratulations! You’ve got a new asshole! (See #2.) You must guard against this constantly, or consensus government becomes completely impossible.

4. Once you’ve accepted the right of the group to set boundaries around people’s behavior, and exclude those who put their personal “rights” ahead of the group’s mission and goals, the next question becomes:  How do we deal with chronic assholes?

5. It is not wrong for you to set boundaries this way. You will get shit for this. “But…but…it looks a whole lot like a Maoist purge unit!”  No. There is nothing totalitarian about asking people who join your revolution to act in ways that support the goals of that revolution. And the Constitution guarantees your right of free association — which includes the right to exclude people who aren’t on the bus, and who are wasting the group’s limited time and energy rather than maximizing it. After all: you’re not sending these people to re-education camps, or doing anything else that damages them. You’re just getting them out of the park, and out of your hair. You’re eliminating distractions, which in turn effectively amplifies the voices and efforts of everyone else around you. And, in the process, you’re also modeling a new kind of justice that sanctions people’s behavior without sanctioning their being — while also carving out safe space in which the true potential of Occupy can flourish. …




By Chris Hedges, Truthdig

Faces appeared to me moments before the New York City police arrested us Thursday in front of Goldman Sachs. They were not the faces of the smug Goldman Sachs employees, who peered at us through the revolving glass doors and lobby windows, a pathetic collection of middle-aged fraternity and sorority members. They were not the faces of the blue-uniformed police with their dangling cords of white and black plastic handcuffs, or the thuggish Goldman Sachs security personnel, whose buzz cuts and dead eyes reminded me of the East German secret police, the Stasi. They were not the faces of the demonstrators around me, the ones with massive student debts and no jobs, the ones whose broken dreams weigh them down like a cross, the ones whose anger and betrayal triggered the street demonstrations and occupations for justice. They were not the faces of the onlookers—the construction workers, who seemed cheered by the march on Goldman Sachs, or the suited businessmen who did not. They were faraway faces. They were the faces of children dying. They were tiny, confused, bewildered faces I had seen in the southern Sudan, Gaza and the slums of Brazzaville, Nairobi, Cairo and Delhi and the wars I covered. They were faces with large, glassy eyes, above bloated bellies. They were the small faces of children convulsed by the ravages of starvation and disease.

I carry these faces. They do not leave me. I look at my own children and cannot forget them, these other children who never had a chance. War brings with it a host of horrors, including famine, but the worst is always the human detritus that war and famine leave behind, the small, frail bodies whose tangled limbs and vacant eyes condemn us all. The wealthy and the powerful, the ones behind the glass at Goldman Sachs, laughed and snapped pictures of us as if we were a brief and odd lunchtime diversion from commodities trading, from hoarding and profit, from this collective sickness of money worship, as if we were creatures in a cage, which in fact we soon were.

A glass tower filled with people carefully selected for the polish and self-assurance that come with having been formed in institutions of privilege, whose primary attributes are a lack of consciousness, a penchant for deception and an incapacity for empathy or remorse. The curious onlookers behind the windows and we, arms locked in a circle on the concrete outside, did not speak the same language. Profit. Globalization. War. National security. These are the words they use to justify the snuffing out of tiny lives, acts of radical evil. Goldman Sachs’ commodities index is the most heavily traded in the world. Those who trade it have, by buying up and hoarding commodities futures, doubled and tripled the costs of wheat, rice and corn. Hundreds of millions of poor across the globe are going hungry to feed this mania for profit. The technical jargon, learned in business schools and on trading floors, effectively mask the reality of what is happening—murder. These are words designed to make systems operate, even systems of death, with a cold neutrality. Peace, love and all sane affirmative speech in temples like Goldman Sachs are, as W.H. Auden understood, “soiled, profaned, debased to a horrid mechanical screech.” …




By Yves Smith, NakedCapitalism

As Adam Levitin remarked today (he and I are both speaking at the Americatalyst conference in Austin), the news has the same feel as of mid 2007 to early 2008, where market stresses are producing larger and larger numbers of casualties. Then it was subprime unravelling, which led to the failure of two Bear hedge funds, the freeze of the asset backed commercial paper market, the abortive Paulson SIV rescue program, the monoline death spiral, the auction rate securities market implosion, culminating in the first big crisis bailout, Bear Stearns.

Reader Swedish Lex was early to call that the crisis would turn critical when it engulfed Italy. And that point appears to be nigh. As market oriented readers no doubt noted yesterday, ten year Italian bond yields hit the new high of 6.68%, despite five ECB interventions during the day. A GoogleTranslate of LinkIvestia (hat tip Richard Smith):

Italy, rather than miss the resignation of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, should be concerned by the interventions of the European Central Bank (ECB). Today the Eurotower intervened six times in the secondary market, buying Italian government bonds at 3 and 10 years, trying to bring the returns of BTP levels last Friday. The attempt has failed substantially, as shown by the curve of Italian bonds. To make matters worse, the Treasury has thought that the 18 announced that the auction of Bot (Treasury bills) to three months, originally scheduled for November 10, will not take place. Regular auctions instead of bots to 12 months and that of BTP, scheduled for November 16. The stress on the bond market continues.

The next venture is not the risk of default, as erroneously been circulating on the net. The danger is that our refinancing becomes unsustainable, causing a leak from the voluntary market. To be sure, even at these higher interest rates on Italian debt is hardly sustainable. The ten-year bond yield is stable over 6% share, despite repeated secondary market purchases by the European Central Bank (ECB). Only now the Eurotower argued Italy for six times, but it was not enough. The spread between Italian government bonds (BTP) and Germany (Bund) fell below 470 basis points for only about 20 minutes. Last speech, full-bodied, the ECB has seen the market turn against, recording the opposite effect to that intended. In fact, the spread has increased from 478 to 487 basis points within a few minutes.

Another sign of strong pressure on the Italian government bonds has been the inversion of the yield curve of government securities at 5 and 10 years. At 17:30 today the BTP with a maturity of five years was at a rate of 6.7%, while that at ten years was 6.66 percentage points. Considering that, in general, the curve should be increased by the end of the bond, the reversal of this trend is a sign of stress in the short term. In addition to the failure of the operations of the ECB, has been a fact of considerable importance.

The Italian Treasury announced that the next competitive bidding on government bonds will not be held three months. According to the Ministry of Economy the decision not to place the Bot quarterly results from the absence of “specific cash needs.” …




By Leo Azambuja, The Garden Island

Mysterious emissions caused the Lihu‘e Airport to shut down for a few hours Thursday evening and sent several Transportation Security Administration staff to Wilcox Memorial Hospital emergency room.

“Some sort of fumes affected 11 TSA personnel,” said Friday Dan Meisenzahl, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, adding that the cause of the incident is yet to be determined.

But at least one person who was working at the airport Thursday suspects the culprit was a radiation leak in one of the TSA screening booths.

“I was there all day, I can guarantee you there was no smell,” said an airport worker who asked not to be identified for fear of being terminated.

The worker said all TSA personnel who felt ill were working next to a TSA screening booth. He took several pictures of a hazardous materials response team examining the same booth with equipment that he was told was to measure radiation levels.

“It started around 2 p.m., when two girls were sent home,” said the worker, adding that the women were standing next to the same machine the HAZMAT team had allegedly tested for radiation.

After that, a domino effect ensued, he said, resulting in 11 workers being treated for sickness.

The worker was concerned that he, his co-workers and the thousands of passengers who went through the same booth Thursday could have been exposed to unsafe radiation levels. …




By James Kwak 

I was looking at OECD health care data for something else I’ve been working on and wanted to share some of it. It’s well known that the United States spends a lot more per person on health care than comparable countries and that our actual health outcomes are anywhere from average to bad. See, for example, this chart from a 2008 paper by Gerard Anderson and Bianca Frogner. …




By Joshua Holland, AlterNet

A new study purporting to show that older households are doing much better than younger ones in terms of wealth and income threatens to spark an intergenerational class war, pitting Americans of different ages – people who have all been devastated by the crash caused by Wall Street’s recklessness — against one another. But there are serious flaws in how the research is being interpreted.

The analysis, by Pew Research, is being spun as evidence that the government “spends too much” on the elderly while leaving younger Americans hanging out to dry. It’s already becoming another weapon in the corporate right’s long-running battle against Social Security.

There’s no doubt that this economy is especially grim for young people. Unemployment among young adults continues to hover around 18 percent, and a report by the Federal Reserve found that full-time undergraduate students are borrowing 63 percent more for school than they did a decade ago. (Outstanding student-loan debt broke the trillion-dollar mark for the first time this year.) Young people have few prospects for decent jobs. This bleak situation is clearly a driving factor behind the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement; studies suggest that the “occupiers” skew young, don’t have a lot of income and suffer from a much higher rate of unemployment than the country as a whole.

The Pew study’s main finding is that, “in 2009, households headed by adults ages 65 and older possessed 42% more median net worth (assets minus debt)” than they did in 1984, but that trend was reversed in younger households. In 2009, “households headed by adults younger than 35 had 68% less wealth than households of their same-aged counterparts had in 1984.”

As a result, whereas older families had 10 times the accumulated wealth of those headed by people under 35 back in 1984, that ratio has now risen to 47-to-1. The authors acknowledge that people accumulate wealth as they get older, and that young people didn’t have a lot of it back in 1984, but economist Dean Baker told AlterNet that this fact renders the finding little more than a bit of trivia. “The idea of using a ratio is really problematic in this context,” he said. “Young people have no wealth. They had no wealth in 1984 and they have no wealth now. The fact that the ratio of the wealth of older households to younger households has increased hugely tells us almost nothing.”

It tells us even less because, as Baker noted, the study contains a serious flaw. Back in the 1980s, traditional, employer-managed pensions were the primary means of saving for retirement in the United States, but during the intervening years there was a huge shift toward 401(k)s (and similar accounts), which now represent over 80 percent of private retirement savings. Traditional pensions weren’t counted as part of a household’s net-worth, but 401(k)s are. So comparing the wealth of older households that didn’t include their nest-eggs in 1984 to those in 2009 which count the money people have socked away as part of their net worth is like comparing apples to oranges.

“It’s incredibly dishonest that the Pew study didn’t mention the impact of the switch from defined benefit pensions to defined contribution plans,” Baker said …




By Robert Borosage

… The supercommittee, the misbegotten offspring of the summer’s debt ceiling deal, is charged with reducing the deficit by a minimum of $1.2 trillion over 10 years by cutting spending or raising taxes. It must report before Thanksgiving and any report must be voted on before Christmas, with no amendments, no filibuster, no extended debate, majority rule. If it fails, then $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts in discretionary spending, split between domestic and Pentagon budgets, kick in. It provides a choice, as Newt Gringrich put it, between shooting yourself in the head and cutting off your right leg.

This choice is posed as the country is plagued with a faltering recovery, and severe mass unemployment—25 million people in need of full-time work. Having reduced interest rates to near zero, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke is pleading for action from the Congress to boost the economy. “It would be helpful if we could get assistance from some other parts of the government to work with us to help create more jobs,” he said. That would require spending money or cutting taxes—exactly the reverse of the supercommittee’s mission.

As Rep Jan Schakowksy put it, the supercommittee is mired in “yesterday’s conversation, frankly, the whole issue of the obsession with cuts and debt reduction,” when instead the Congress must be focused on jobs.

In fact, the economy already faces a severe hit from the folly of the deficit hawks. Republicans have obstructed every portion of the president’s modest job plan. Spending from the Recovery Act is ending. The first of the enforced spending cuts from the deficit deal are kicking in. Extended unemployment insurance is due to expire at the end of the year, as is the payroll tax cut. JP Morgan Chief U.S. Economist Michael Feroli estimates those measures will cut gross domestic product by about 1.7 percent in 2012, virtually driving the U.S. into recession. With companies sitting on $2 trillion in profits looking for customers, there is no indication the private sector will replace the jobs or demand.

The only agreement that would make any sense coming out of the supercommittee would start with a big jobs agenda. A massive initiative to rebuild America could take advantage of the opportunity offered by near-zero interest rates to renovate our decrepit infrastructure and employ idled construction workers. Direct public service jobs could insure that young people graduating from high school or college, or veterans returning from the war, get the discipline and sense of self-worth provided by work, rather than the despair and shame of unemployment. We should be expanding our investment in education from pre-K to affordable college, not slashing it.

And, in a sensible world, the trigger for turning to deficit reduction would not be an arbitrary date like January 2013, but linked to when people are going back to work. When unemployment gets back down to 5 percent or so and the economy is moving, then will be the time for sensible deficit reduction. …


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