Category Archives: The Media

I Was an Eighth Grade Communist (and Other Reasons to Vote for Bernie Sanders)

bernie

This really happened. In the eighth grade, prodded by Ms. Spiver, an enthusiastic teacher with an enlightened vision for an open classroom, I had the opportunity to research different governing systems.  I chose communism because the name sounded cool and appeared to frighten everyone. I read about Marx and Lenin and the proletariat of the state and the main idea which I glommed  was to ensure everyone’s basic needs were met. This seemed grand, generous and even beautiful. I quoted the Encyclopedia Britannica at length, and with a flourish, scribbled out three pages in long hand, ending the paper with a makeshift version of the iconic hammer and sickle.

I thought Ms. Spiver would be proud.

The next day I was called into a parent/teachers conference.  This was in Raleigh, North Carolina circa 1976 when the rabid anti-communist Senator Jesse Helms graced the Channel six news editorial spot which my father listened to every. single. night.

Ms. Spiver was all ‘tender mercies!’ and ‘Lord child!’ and ‘where did you get such ideas?’ and I wasn’t sure if she was as concerned about my paper and my education as the possibility that Mr. Creigh, who  substituted as an insurance agent on days when he wasn’t playing the principal, might take serious offense. But I explained, and even defended as best I could the idea of equality, and everyone getting what they needed, these all seemed like fine goals. What was the problem?  Ms. Spiver, to her credit, did not try to correct my initial interpretation, but merely advised that my opinion on the matter was somewhat out of step with the adult population of Raleigh, North Carolina circa 1976. Mom and dad ushered me home, silent in their Buick. Dad finally parked the car in the lot and turned and proceeded to give me the low down. “Communists are bad because they represent a totalitarian system. They don’t allow freedom.  You understand?”

I nodded my head.

“Okay?”

“Okay.”  That sounded like something to avoid. And the tone in my father’s voice was enough for me to forget my flirtation with alternate political systems until high school when we began looking at the social democratic governments, and I found myself once again intrigued by the idea that a government would be based on people getting what they absolutely needed; regardless of their jobs, social stations or life situations.

Denmark, Finland, Sweden, England, to a lesser extent, Germany and Spain. If all these countries pursued such programs, why didn’t we?

My father, with the patience of Job, once again explained what he thought should have been obvious.

“What if I just gave you a dollar every week instead of letting you earn a dollar by mowing the lawn? Hmmmm?”

“I’d have a dollar but I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn.”

Yes, he conceded, okay, but that’s not the point. The point is if you give people something for nothing they’ll take advantage of it. Like all those welfare queens.

By this time, Ronald Reagan was running for high office and was denouncing shady welfare queens that rode around in Cadillacs and bought caviar with tax payer’s money. This activity rankled the hell out of Jesse Helms who never missed an opportunity to denounce the welfare moochers.

Do you want to be a welfare queen?

I decidedly did not want to be a welfare queen. I gathered from my father’s tone that I was not supposed to like the idea of riding around in a Cadillac, eating caviar at the tax payers’ expense, no matter how much fun it might appear.

By the time I entered college, Reagan was in his second term. Taxes had been slashed and the poorer residents of mental homes were dumped onto the city streets.  Despite the loss of tax revenue, billions were being funneled into such patently absurd pursuits as an armed space shield; a so called ‘star wars’  shield that would provide cover for the Western Hemisphere by shooting down missiles aimed to blow up our cities. Since there were none and since billions were being funneled into a useless and unworkable program while the homeless and mentally handicapped were left to fend for themselves, (many times I stood in line with them at the local 7-Eleven), I wrote a few college paper editorials suggesting this kind of activity was ill-advised. I proudly signed my name.

My college Spanish teacher, a middle aged Cuban exile, caught up with me one day.

“I have read what you have written,” she whispered, “You are part of this nuclear freeze movement, too, no?”

“Yes.” I said. Sure I was. Who wouldn’t  be opposed to nuclear weapons lying around waiting to obliterate the world 200 times over?

“Are you a communista?”

Of course I wasn’t a communista! What had that to do with the nuclear freeze movement? But, for her, the nuclear freeze movement was loaded with fellow travelers and communist sympathizers and what not. I tried to ease her mind by telling her I wasn’t a communist, closer to a  democratic socialist, really. This did not appear to help matters.

“You know I come from Cuba. There, when Castro came to power, he forced my family into exile. We had a mansion and servants in Cuba, but when I came to this land, I had to cut my hair and sell it, just to survive. Can you imagine?”

I really couldn’t. “So you were very rich,” I said, “That must have been nice.”

“They stole everything!”

“Right. But now Cuba has much better infant mortality and death rates. It has one of the best medical systems even by Western standards. Cuban doctors help poor people all over the world.”

“So you are a communista!”

“No, I’m not. If I’m anything, I’m a social democrat, like in Finland.”

“It’s the same.”

“No, they’re really different.”

And so I went on to explain to her that one could be a social democrat without falling in lockstep with state run economies like in Cuba or the Soviet Union.  In fact, one of the best examples of social democracy operates as the capitalist heart of Europe: Germany. “They have what they like to refer to as a social market economy. They try to combine the virtues of a market system with the virtues of a social welfare system. You can get a free education, even free higher education, free healthcare and free retirement. Some of your basic essentials are guaranteed by the government, but other stuff, like where you work or what you make is dictated by a private sector economy. Of course, you pay taxes for these things, but the government operates to redistribute the money so it benefits everyone. That is social democracy in a nutshell.”

“It will never work,” she advised me, predicting Germany’s downfall by the end of the decade.

That was 1987. Germany’s still around. It’s 2015. Germany still provides free healthcare, free retirement and free higher education and it is still one of the strongest economies in Europe.  Our economy, conversely, is dogged by huge gaps of inequality, a dysfunctional healthcare system moderately improved by the ACA, insanely expensive higher education costs, and a retirement system whose paltry offerings are even now threatened by reactionary politicians. Our incarceration rate is the highest in the world. Our homicide rate is one of the highest. Our infant mortality rate is higher than Cuba’s and is comparable to Serbia. You read that right, Serbia. None of these things are natural or necessary. They are by design because we refuse to grow up like the rest of the civilized Western world and insist on the fairy tale version of capitalism that doesn’t require any funding for public infrastructure or social services beyond the absolute bare essentials. The only thing we want to pour money into is our vastly over sized military which has caused many more problems in the last few decades than it has solved.

The  majority of the Western industrialized world embraces some form of socialized democracy. In our own country the most successful government programs are inherently socialized: Medicare, Social Security. And, of course, our own Defense Department is an almost entirely socialized bureaucracy.  We have patches of socialism all over the place, but the rightwing has done an excellent job demonizing the term. In fact, the last time someone claiming to be a socialist ran for President was nearly a 100 years ago.   His name was Eugene V. Debs. He famously said when he was convicted of violating the Sedition Act in 1918, that “while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” Ringing words that beautifully encapsulate a social democrat’s world view.

It’s become increasingly obvious that a strictly free market agenda is disastrous for a people and an economy. One only need look at Kansas under Brownback’s ideological leadership. The state’s surplus has been turned into a catastrophic black hole of debt through a combination of tax cuts for the wealthiest and slashing of public funds. One could see the same disastrous pile up under George W. Bush’s leadership.

The Spanish teacher who accused me of being a communist told me that I needed to ‘grow up.’ The nice thing about Bernie Sanders candidacy is that it  is already grown up.  It assumes responsibility for everyone in the nation, not just those that manage to make the cover of Forbes.  He has tirelessly advocated for the poor and the underclass and, unlike the vast majority of American politicians, assumes it’s okay to travel coach class.  But don’t take it from me that Sanders knows what he’s talking about or that social democracy is a mature governing principle. Take it from that flagship of capitalism, the Economist. In a 2013 article, that magazine declared the social democratic Scandinavian countries, “probably the best governed in the world.”

So there’s no need to carry on with this charade that the ‘socialist’ option cannot win.  We can. Actually, in many areas, we already have. Si, se puede, baby. The only real question is, how soon before the rest of us grow up?

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The Telegenic Dead

MIDEAST-CONFLICT-GAZA-MEDIA

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images “Video cameras set up by International and Israeli media crews point toward the Gaza Strip from their vantage point on the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border….”

It is the last insult, of course. Not only must the over-worked Israeli government and its military arm deal with recent uprising in the Gaza strip, they must now contend with the televised facts of dead Palestinians. Despite getting a unanimous vote of support from the US Congress –a miracle of politics, in and of itself—there appear to be some gaps in the media coverage of current events such that—no matter who is fired and who is forced off the air because of an unfortunate interest in truth-telling– dead Palestinians are still showing up.

Dismayed by this turn of events, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained to reporters, tersely, that Hamas uses “telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.”

Now English isn’t his first language, so I suppose this might excuse the awkwardness of the phrase, but I suspect Netanyahu’s pronouncement, unfiltered by a prescient press agent, was exactly what he wanted to say. Something like, “We are losing the public relations war because the Palestinians we kill have the temerity to show off their dead bodies as, well … dead.”

Of course, they have a shortage of dead Israelis as well, but apparently that’s a problem they don’t have a keen interest in fixing. What are you going to do?

But I must say, Israel, with the help of many a media outlet, has done yeoman’s work in channeling their message. Just looking back over the last few days, we can see how fast someone called NBC News shortly after a journalist reported on four Palestinian boys on a Gaza beach who were shelled into oblivion by a naval bombardment. The unfortunate journalist made the mistake of actually reporting what he saw. For this act of actual journalism, he was relieved of duty in the Gaza strip and brought home—ostensibly for security reasons—even though a less seasoned reporter (and one presumably less inclined to report the actual news) was shortly put in his place. After much media exposure, the deactivated reporter was sent back to cover Gaza, but half the world had to know about NBC’s decision before the matter was set straight.

So it goes. CNN pulled correspondent Diana Magnay from covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reassigned her to Moscow on Friday, a day after she tweeted — and then deleted — that Israelis who were threatening her and were cheering at the bombing of Gaza were “scum.” Apparently, she made the mistake of having a conscience while reporting these events.

One final incident, last week, on ABC News, Diane Sawyer misidentified scenes of the aftermath of Israeli missile strikes in Gaza as destruction caused by Palestinian rocket fire. As Sawyer segued into the segment, she said, “We take you overseas now to the rockets raining down on Israel today as Israel tried to shoot them out of the sky.” Next to her was video footage not of Israelis or even Israel, but of Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. Sawyer then incorrectly described an image of a Palestinian family gathering belongings in the smoking debris of a missile-hit home in Gaza as “an Israeli family trying to salvage what they can.”

For a grace note on that report, Sawyer described another Palestinian woman surrounded by destroyed homes as “one woman standing speechless among the ruins,” with the implication that she was Israeli. It was a beautiful portrait. And a nearly perfect propaganda victory for Israel. You really can’t buy that kind of press.

Later, Diane Sawyer apologized and said it was an accident, wouldn’t happen again, and please don’t concern yourself with my multimillion dollar contract.

The real problem is that  these are not isolated incidents. Mistakes curiously pile up in favor of the ‘current news frame’….But social media is slowly making inroads. Communications are as fast as a twitter feed, so it becomes that much more difficult for state propaganda operations, or major news outlets with politically weighted boardrooms to slant the news. Eventually, the truth outs.

Israel is well aware of this, too. Like our own military, the IDF is concerned to present a good face to the general public. But if you look at their internal reports, abuse of Palestinians or Arab nationals is common place. The dehumanization of the Palestinian people takes place at the ‘edge of the sword’, where the military first makes contact with the population, and this attitude works its way back through their society. It’s been this way for years, and it’s a sad case. Israel knows it’s losing the propaganda war. That’s why they’ve been carpet bombing the web with complaints about media bias, and why Netanyahu complains about Hamas using dead Palestinians to promote their cause. But, you know, they can only do that when Israel provides the dead.

Intelligence Gathering 101: Ask the Right Questions

NSA-PRISM

A long time ago, before 9/11, analysts working for the NSA used to quip that the letters stood for “No Such Agency.” Their veil of secrecy was the counterpoint to what they did for years which was to lift the veil of secrecy on everybody else. The aborted program that John Poindexter put forward shortly after 9/11 was slapped down, probably for being too honest about its premise, as honest as the NSA ever is. They called the program ‘Total Information Awareness’ and the image that represented it on the PowerPoint that hit the web was the Masonic Pyramid with the single all-seeing eye. Although rejected, the NSA pretty much went ahead with the program under a new name: PRISM. In CNN’s latest “thought” piece, a leading question frames Edward Snowden’s release of information regarding the NSA’s PRISM program. It asks whether Snowden is a Traitor or a Hero?

But it’s the wrong question. And Snowden, I feel relatively confident, would be the first to tell you that it’s the wrong question.

Less than a year ago at a Senate hearing, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden asked James Clapper, nominal director of the hydra-headed National Intelligence Service, another question. “Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” To which Clapper replied: “No, sir.” After a head scratching pause (one helluva tell, I must say) he also added, “Not wittingly.”

At another hearing, General Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A., denied fourteen times that the agency had the technical capability to intercept e-mails and other online communications in the United States.
Of course, they were both lying.

Here’s another question. At what point do constraints of secrecy become lies in spy bureaucracies like the NSA or in our government in general?

Let me explain. At least one way the PATRIOT Act can subvert your average American is by forcing them to lie. The Act allows the FBI to not only request your records without a warrant but to forbid the provider of the records from ever revealing that the request was even made. This is 1984 territory: you must tell the truth to us, but you must never tell the truth to anyone else about us. Put less abstractly, it turns librarians and internet company officials into liars and stool pigeons under a legal seal of silence; a kind of legal blackmail. The threat to democracy lies not only in the evisceration of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process, the rights against self-incrimination and coerced confessions, and other rights that form the backbone of the criminal justice system, but also in eroding freedom of the press, seeing journalists and reporters as “aiding and abetting” the criminal telling of government secrets. Secrets, by the way, that shouldn’t even be secret. Steven King’s assertion that Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian should be jailed for his article on Snowden is but a crude manifestation of the ultimate logic of such ‘rules’.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden has known about PRISM for some time and been appalled, but could not speak openly about it because it is classified, and his pleas to fellow senators to do something about it were shamefully deep-sixed by his colleagues.

Here’s yet another question. Who actually benefits from all this ‘intelligence’? The Boston Bomber plot appears to have come off without a hitch, despite multiple emails, Facebook posts, tracking of Jihadi websites and the like. They left a trail your average Cheetos huffing hacker could have tracked with his eyes closed. Yet we have amputees and at least three dead. Hello, NSA? Seems we have a problem. You might make the argument that Osama bin Laden was successfully assassinated thanks to our super surveillance state, only that’s a lie too. His compound was a digital black hole, no internet access from there at all. Why? Because they knew all about electronic intercepts and wisely didn’t believe a word of James Clapper’s testimony. In some ways, the PRISM program is an exercise in intellectual masturbation. One ex-intelligence official, Coleen Rowley, put it succinctly, “it does not make it easier to find a needle in a haystack if you continue to add hay.”

Programs like PRISM and the tautologically named Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) don’t work because the hard work of analysis to figure what information is relevant and what is dross becomes continuously more difficult and longer with each new scoop of excess data. According to Rowley, “Researchers long ago concluded that the NIMD-type promise of detecting and accurately stopping terrorists through massive data collection was simply not possible.”

So why continue? Because there’s another answer to the question of who benefits from this intelligence.

Consider the following: Roughly 9-10 billion dollars a year are spent on the NSA’s electronic surveillance capabilities. That money doesn’t go to Federal employees however, or at least not the lion’s share. No, the vast majority, about 70% of that kingly sum goes to private firms, like, for example, Booz Allen Hamilton for whom Snowden worked. James Clapper, that magnificently lousy poker player, just happens to be the pioneer who helped Michael Hayden oversee this amazing privatization campaign.

Here’s a little history. According to the Nation, in the late 1990s, faced with a telecommunications and technological revolution that threatened to make the NSA’s telephone and radar-based surveillance skills obsolete, the agency decided to turn to private corporations for many of its technical needs.

The outsourcing plan was finalized in 2000 by a special NSA Advisory Board set up to determine the agency’s future and was codified in a secret report written by a then-obscure intelligence officer named James Clapper.

“Clapper did a one-man study for the NSA Advisory Board,” recalls Ed Loomis, a 40-year NSA veteran who, along with William Binney, Thomas Drake, and J. Kirk Wiebe, blew the whistle on corporate corruption at the NSA.

(By the way, they too are being prosecuted by Eric Holder and the Attorney General’s office.)

“His recommendation was that the NSA acquire its Internet capabilities from the private sector. The idea was, the private sector had the capability and we at NSA didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.”
Hayden, who was the NSA director at the time, “put a lot of trust in the private sector, and a lot of trust in Clapper, because Clapper was his mentor,” added Loomis. And once he got approval, “he was hell-bent on privatization and nothing was going to derail that.”

Clapper, of course, has denounced Snowden’s Guardian leaks as “reprehensible.” He called the disclosures, “literally gut-wrenching” and said they had caused “huge, grave damage” to US intelligence capabilities. But this is dubious at best: Al Qaeda was well aware US intelligence service intercepts. Really, even the extent of domestic spying isn’t a surprise to those of us who have been paying attention.

As the inimitable Charles Pierce has noted, “All Snowden did was tell us what we’d been paying for, and (maybe) remind “our adversaries” to use disposable cellphones, which they could have picked up from any episode of Law And Order after 1995. Maybe we should indict Jack McCoy for treason.”

None of this has to do with ‘effectiveness’ of responding to ‘threats’ or gathering information against those threats. It has to do with the appearance of effectiveness, and, naturally, money. Privatization is an ideology which is also a path to riches for pliant officials–one reason they have such a fervent faith in the free market. And, as with Wall Street, the officials feeding at the trough are entirely bipartisan.

According to the New York Times: “As evidence of the company’s close relationship with government, the Obama administration’s chief intelligence official, James R. Clapper Jr., is a former Booz Allen executive. The official who held that post in the Bush administration, John M. McConnell, now works for Booz Allen.”

That’s the revolving door in its purest form, flipping between private and public troughs, depending on the party in power. And there’s a lot of money to be made. Last February Booz Allen Hamilton announced two new contracts with Homeland Security, worth a total of $11 billion, for “program management, engineering, technology, business and financial management, and audit support services.”

Yet Booz Allen is only eighth on the list of the top 100 government contractors. Think about that.

Dana Priest and William Arkin conducted an intensive two-year investigation of national security for the Washington Post. They identified 1,931 private companies working in “about 10,000 locations” around the country, with 854,000 of their employees holding top-secret clearances.

They also found enormous redundancy and waste, along with an inability for human beings to effectively absorb and use all the information produced. Analysts were then publishing some 50,000 intelligence reports each year. And since this report was completed nearly three years ago, things can only have grown worse.

The huge drain on public coffers is only one of the downsides of this intelligence behemoth. Another is the lack of accountability when private employees do government work. According to the New York Times:

“The national security apparatus has been more and more privatized and turned over to contractors,” said Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group that studies federal government contracting. “This is something the public is largely unaware of, how more than a million private contractors are cleared to handle highly sensitive matters.” Even the process of granting security clearances is often handled by contractors, allowing companies to grant government security clearances to private sector employees.

All this is significant and should raise concerns, but it’s not the important question. The important question came from a writer named David Foster Wallace who in 2007 began to see the shape of things to come and asked this:

Is it worth it?

“What if we chose to regard the 2,973 innocents killed in the atrocities of 9/11 not as victims but as democratic martyrs, “sacrifices on the altar of freedom”? In other words, what if we decided that a certain baseline vulnerability to terrorism is part of the price of the American idea? And, thus, that ours is a generation of Americans called to make great sacrifices in order to preserve our democratic way of life—sacrifices not just of our soldiers and money but of our personal safety and comfort?”

Wallace goes on to argue that we willingly accept 40,000+ domestic highway deaths each year as the price of a mobility in our society. In terms of concrete deaths for abstract ‘rights’, we appear to love the Second Amendment to such a degree that we’ll accept 30,000+ deaths by guns and still not demand a simple universal process for background checks, much less a gun registry.

Wallace continues: “Why now can we not have a serious national conversation about sacrifice, the inevitability of sacrifice—either of (a) some portion of safety or (b) some portion of the rights and protections that make the American idea so incalculably precious?

Where and when was the public debate on whether they’re worth it? Was there no such debate because we’re not capable of having or demanding one? Why not? Have we actually become so selfish and scared that we don’t even want to consider whether some things trump safety? What kind of future does that augur?”

There was no debate because no one asked permission. Because the relevant agencies kept their program shrouded in secrecy (No Such Agency!), even when their first efforts were soundly rejected. But now we have an opportunity to have this discussion. To answer this last question:

Are we willing to sacrifice our constitution on the altar of a dubious national security state in a pyrrhic effort to feel safe?

The question isn’t whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a traitor. The correct question is, what are we?

Going into 2012

As things settle down after the holidays, we get back into gear by planning for a new year and contemplating the time that’s rushing past us, so I think both of these articles are good.

Why Libertarians Must Deny Climate Change
George Monbiot highlights the dichotomy between the ideology and practice of conservatives dealing with property rights and environmental issues. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. “This is the point at which libertarianism smacks into the wall of gritty reality and crumples like a Coke can.”

In Commemorating Our Soon-to-Be Lost Vernacular, David Sirota thinks of his one-year-old son and considers the loss of a “harrowing 10”. Starting 2012 with a list like this is to say we have our work cut out for us!

Welcome back. I hope your last two weeks were great!

By the way, APV is having a January fund drive to raise $1,000. Click here to see how well we’re doing, and donate if you like!
DCKennedy

If We See It, and When

Trying to figure out what our leaders are attempting to accomplish from one week to the next is a daunting task that should, it seems to me, be much easier. Truthful accounts for the people to consider are not too much to ask. It is, after all, our country. But finding out the truth (even for our lawmakers) – about the Internet, Wikileaks, drone use and cluster bombs, or plans for regime changes, has become a harried dash through a maze of conflicting reports, where the “best guess” approach is all we have.

At some point, like this picture, it just boils down to if we can see it, and when.

The current presidential debates have been no comforting indication that our leaders will have a grip on reality any time soon. I find myself watching them anyway, and sometimes they’re the only good comedy on.

The thing is, as long as our government is permitted to have secret laws, secret distribution of our money, and secret plans for global expansion that are so covert our Generals are shocked to learn about them, the “best guess” approach will probably include reports that seem incredible.
I know that one year ago I didn’t believe some of what is today’s common knowledge, including 26 TRILLION dollars in bank bailouts!

And by the way, with everything else that’s going on, just the thought of equipping our police forces with domestic drones gives me the creeps.

Anyway, these DemocracyNow! War and Peace Reports from yesterday cover several concerning issues of domestic and foreign policy, and the guest is Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon Magazine. Deciding who is “in the know” and who isn’t, is getting ridiculous, but I like these two sources because they report on pretty much everything and have a good track record. So, see what you think.

WikiLeaks Wins Major Australian Journalism Prize

And this one: Glenn Greenwald: Is Obama Fulfilling the Neocon Dream of Mass Regime Change in the Muslim World?

One more thing … and this is really important. Congress is set to change the internet from what we have now to something very different. SOPA and PIPA are acts that threaten the structure of the web with the use of DNS filtering. Please do what you can to stop them from going through. Here’s a video about it and an urgent message from DailyKos with a link to where you can help.

And for the daunted, a little pep talk from Howard Zinn. We can do this!

Thanks from APV. We hope you get involved, and have a great week!
DCKennedy

Wait! Here’s an update from APV member, Katherine Walker. I love this one. It’s short and it’s a great share!

And now … the envelope, please.

Our Ridiculous Media


(h/t Lisa Vincenti )
DCK

Patriots’ Dream

Bill Moyers: “Our Politicians Are Money Launderers in the Trafficking of Power and Policy”

If you haven’t seen this heartfelt speech until now, it might be because it was hacked shortly after it went up on Thursday. The culprit probably wasn’t an Arlo Guthrie critic, so my guess is someone feeling protective of a broad group of plutocrats. Anyway, take the time while it’s still up to read this well-respected, time-tested gentleman’s assessment of what has happened to our country, and the lyrics he looked to for inspiration.

He speaks passionately about America’s plutocracy, “where political power is derived from the wealthy and controlled by the wealthy to protect their wealth.”

Moyers and many others believe it was a plan that got its big kick-off from Lewis Powell, Jr.’s confidential memorandum, Attack of American Free Enterprise System. A copy of it is in an earlier post remembering the manifesto’s fortieth anniversary. It’s surprisingly short for all the damage it’s done, whether or not Powell realized its horrific potential.

Another interesting, infamous memo, sent only to its wealthiest customers, was from Citigroup in 2005. In The Plutonomy Symposium Rising Tides Lifting Yachts, global strategist Ajay Kapur came up with the term “Plutonomy” describing our massive income and wealth inequality. He discusses the advantages for the wealthy almost gayly, advising patrons that “… these wealth waves involve great complexity exploited best by the rich and educated of the time.” The arrogance in the two-part memo is deafening:

This imbalance in inequality expresses itself in the standard scary “global imbalances”. We worry less.

Also, in part 2, on March 5, 2006, some of the no-nos for their beloved “Plutonomy” are shared. Though it wasn’t intended for the 99% to see, it’s interesting how their risk list stacks up today.

RISKS — WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Our whole plutonomy thesis is based on the idea that the rich will keep getting richer. This thesis is not without its risks. For example, a policy error leading to asset deflation, would likely damage plutonomy. Furthermore, the rising wealth gap between the rich and poor will probably at some point lead to a political backlash. Whilst the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfranchisement remains as was — one person, one vote (in the plutonomies). At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising wealth of the rich. This could be felt through higher taxation on the rich (or indirectly though higher corporate taxes/regulation) or through trying to protect indigenous [home-grow] laborers, in a push-back on globalization — either anti-immigration, or protectionism. We don’t see this happening yet, though there are signs of rising political tensions. However we are keeping a close eye on developments.

Copies of the Citigroup memo disappear quickly from the internet, but I found them for now. (Part One, Part Two) If those are taken down, there are excerpts in The Wall Street Journal and Daily Kos.

And then, of course, the lovely lyrics and song by Arlo Guthrie ~ Patriots’ Dream

DCKennedy

Bated Breath

On Tuesday night, as if Thomas Jefferson had been waiting to exhale for 235 years, we seem to have won a debate that would give him the go-ahead. The question posed was: Is the US Declaration of Independence illegal?
In the winning argument, American lawyers concluded:

Under basic principles of “Natural Law”, government can only be by the consent of the people and there comes a point when allegiance is no longer required in face of tyranny.

The legality of the Declaration and its validity is proven by subsequent independence movements which have been enforced by world opinion as right and just, based on the fundamental principles of equality and self-determination now reflected in the UN Charter.

For this century, though, a better question might be: How is independence declared at all, and especially in a way that does not involve violence?

Resulting from a deportation conflict with the U.S. government in 1972, John Lennon and Yoko Ono tried it this way:

Looking back at their agenda and the motive behind the deportation effort, uncomfortable thoughts of negligence and procrastination came to mind and I wondered if anything has changed at all.

Injustices around the world prompted Lennon to use “his popularity for fund raisers, voter-registration drives, and anti-war rallies and concerts. These activities were planned to take place in many of the presidential primary states in 1972, and this deeply troubled Richard Nixon and the Republican Party. Consequently, many Republicans feared that Lennon, through these motivated activities, would jump-start the anti-war movement, resulting in the majority of young Americans voting against Nixon in the upcoming election.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, it was revealed that on February 4, 1972, Senator Strom Thurmond wrote a memo, classified as secret, citing Lennon as a danger to the Presidents’ 1972 reelection campaign. So what could the Republicans do to prevent this? Easy they thought – just revoke Lennon’s visa. Thurmond said further that “if Lennon’s visa is terminated, it would be a strategy counter-measure.” He further advised that “caution must be taken with regard to the possible alienation of the so-called 18-year-old-vote if Lennon is expelled from the country.”

[…] Was John Lennon successfully deported – no. However, in 1975, the chief counsel of the INS resigned, and after doing so, publicly stated that the United States government, i.e., the Republican Party, spent millions of tax dollars, and conducted a more vehement attempt to deport John Lennon than it did in trying to throw out Nazi war criminals. It should be noted too, that all activities involving Lennon, or his intended activities, were protected under the First Amendment, which extends this protection to both citizens and non-citizens alike. John Lennon broke no laws in trying to fight for the many injustices he believed in. ~by John T. Marck, I Am The Beatles, John Lennon the Immigrant


(click to enlarge FBI files)

So … in spite of taxpayer-funded dirty tricks, they were actually successful – a comparatively irrelevant gain, though, ending in the tragic loss of a dearly precious life. But can we conclude that John Lennon’s deportation experience and the declaration of Nutopian independence demonstrate that standing symbolically and nonviolently against injustice, corruption, secrecy and abuses of law enforcement is a noble endeavor worthy of us all? I believe so. And I think we’re headed in the right direction.

But what about entire nations declaring independence? According to one American historian:

The source of the powers of congress is to be sought solely in the acquiescence of the people, without which every congressional resolution, with or without the benediction of popular conventions or state legislatures, would have been a mere brutum fulmen; and, as the congress unquestionably exercised national powers, operating over the whole country, the conclusion is inevitable that the will of the whole people is the source of national government in the United States, even from its first imperfect appearance in the second continental congress.. Cyclopædia of Political Science. New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co., 1899.

In theory, then and now, the people rule collectively – at least in America. As surely as the American lawyers argued Tuesday night, “Under basic principles of “Natural Law”, government can only be by the consent of the people….” We either legitimate our congress, our popular government, or their decisions are mere inert thunder.

That’s a nice theory, but unfortunately somewhere along the line, and especially with corporate personhood, the rule of the people was given over to the rule of the money, and inert thunder is accepted as the law of the land.

Looking to the Tibetan people’s struggle for independence (a people who have positively moved in the direction of non-violence), returning to an independent sovereign state has proven to be a futile effort in the “principles of equality and self-determination” that validate a Declaration of Independence – this also argued by our lawyers.

“China’s policy of occupation and oppression has resulted in no more or less than the destruction of Tibet’s national independence, culture and religion, environment and the universal human rights of its people. But having no representation in the United Nations, the world largely stood by and allowed China’s occupation and destruction to happen.” Issues facing Tibet* today describes the human rights and environmental atrocities that afflict a nation of once proud and self-determining people – and frankly, some of it is way too close to home.

And so, our lawyers argued for validity on the basis of “subsequent independence movements which have been enforced by world opinion as right and just”, and are “now reflected in the UN Charter”, but that was more or less a convenient and exclusive argument reserved for the elite nations backed by a document that is neither abided by nor enforced by our own government. It was certainly not a point inclusive of what is “right or just” for the people of Tibet.

When people’s rights, values and money are consumed by states and corruption, of course the pattern for violence is more concentrated in recovery efforts well after the fact than in efforts to regulate and prevent a corrupt government’s economic and legislative overreach.

Of the many examples of violent recovery efforts from such overreach, the people of Southern Sudan have been plagued with civil war on and off since 1955. Two million are dead and four million have been displaced since 1983, resulting overall in the mass destruction of a lovely people and culture. Whether or not nonviolence will last in a nation fraught with war for generations of citizens is questionable, as also exemplified in areas like Israel and Palestine. Attrition ensures that the people themselves have no standard for living in peace. Chronically bad situations during the prolonged catastrophe of war with its societal disorganization, malnutrition and disease, crime and overwhelming fear, often result in a people characterized as living almost for safety alone. The natural rhythm and balance afforded a life in peace and safety is unrealized, and even after the danger subsides, our human preference for the familiar tends to render the people of those war-torn nations as unsafe children in their desire for safety, and in that way they remain vulnerable, abused children of violence and war.

On the other hand, and more recently, a better result will come for the people of Iceland, who have been standing up together to face the economic and social injustices brought on by their corrupt state. Being progressive, they’ve taken “the bull by the horns”, and their noble and nonviolent correction is ending that economic injustice and the ruining debt imposed on the nation’s people in a way that will serve and protect generations to follow. And the Icelandic people have written a new constitution, independent of their parent country, Denmark.

When social and economic injustice come to the people of a nation and they do not stand together and act to correct it, if inequality results in abuses and the exploitation of social weaknesses, if the flow of information is controlled, if the validity of elections is questionable, if the allegiance of elected officials can be purchased, … and all while knowing that violence and war can be the default result of the people’s negligence and procrastination in facing those abuses, then generations to come, tomorrow’s children and theirs, are not being given a fair opportunity to live in peace … whether or not a congress or a declaration of independence is legal or approved by the oppressors.

DCKennedy

Occupy Wall Street with or without MSM – Days 4/5

Updated from here.

We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence, or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight. ~Martin Luther King Jr. delivered 4 April 1967, Riverside Church, New York City

Whatever Occupy Wall Street is, it is full of people willing to work hard and suffer at downright insulting odds, to try create something better for people. There is pizza. They have blankets. The medic appears promptly when someone twists an ankle. Looking up from the plaza one sees only vast towers of wealth; looking round about one sees a struggle. Maybe they are having fun. Maybe it’s misery. Probably it’s both. Whatever it is, it exists where it did not before, which is always a marvel. ~Joel Chaffee, Common Dreams, Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Some of you may know Kevin Zeese, above, as a Facebook friend. He’s a devoted activist for change in America, discussing in the video our plight with the media and plugging an upcoming event, October2011.org, a non-violent, anti-war occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, October 6, 2011.

Building on what we already have in place, not waiting for the media to announce, “Coming soon to a protest near you!” seems like a smart move toward hastening solidarity. But fizzled efforts and false starts aside, the movement to change what’s ailing us is underway and it’s not going to stop just because the media ignores it. Whiners, complainers and activists alike – we can all do something to help energize those marching on Wall Street today.

And though it’s been a tough day or two, they’re still there and doing the best they can with no thanks to good ole American coverage. I find it terribly disturbing that the reporting and articles not slanted to demean protest efforts are coming from international sources and bloggers. Even Rachel Maddow didn’t cover Occupy Wall Street. Her guest, Michael Moore, brought it up quite incidentally while commenting on his new book.

Daily Kos had a thing or two to say about it yesterday, though:

And what could possibly be more embarrassingly unsavvy than taking seriously the ambitions of a band of granola-eating missed-the-60s dirty bleeping hippie wannabes — crazy enough to think that they can change the world.

And so actually changing the world is something that only happens halfway around the world, in places like Cairo.

It can’t happen here.

Maybe some editors somewhere can put down their slice of Ray’s Pizza for a minute and think about the news brownout in lower Manhattan in the context of Tahrir Square, and what are the big-picture things that are really important in America in 2011. Like deep unrest over the wrong track this nation is headed down.  Maybe one or two of those newsroom chiefs will be ashamed at how it’s played out so far, but I kind of doubt it.

“The space was not surrendered.
To the Party of Wall Street: see that light at the end of the tunnel? It’s a train.

And that, my friends, is what democracy looks like.

The video below shows the kind of coverage that I think turns people away from critical issues. There’s no encouragement to it. Both sides are talking, but it’s just a time-slot partisan argument indirectly promoting division.

Aside from the fact that the protesters on Wall Street are persevering, there is some other good news. “Samuel Cohen, a civil rights lawyer with the firm Wylie Law, offered pro bono assistance to the activists stating, “Our top priority is in being sure this is allowed to continue. What these people are doing really is the essence of the First Amendment.”
That alone is a good reason to get involved:

One setback that happened yesterday – for whatever reason – is that Yahoo admittedly blocked transmission of all emails relating to “OccupyWallSt”, a hash tag for communicating protest information. Later in the day they said it was an accident, and that it would take some time to get it straight. Not being able to anticipate and adjust their spam filters by day 4 in a situation like this reflects some technological incompetence at best, if in fact that’s what happened.

There’s also been a bigger dose of the NYPD for the protesters to contend with lately – some arrests, some injuries, and what seems like a lot of harassment. If they haven’t had a chance to get their second wind, some may not stay the night or come back tomorrow. But somehow, even in their calls for reinforcement, they seem to be getting more determined. I hope that’s the case. And I hope they’re feeling some justified satisfaction.

Outside in the cold Tuesday morning, the demonstrators continued their fourth day of the protest with a march amidst a heavy police presence and the ringing of an opening bell at 9:30 a.m. for a “people’s exchange,” just as the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange is rung. While the bankers remained secure in their bailed-out banks, outside, the police began arresting protesters. In a just world, with a just economy, we have to wonder, who would be out in the cold? Who would be getting arrested? ~Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now!

And yet … here’s how the protests and our first amendment right to peaceably assemble are being framed by neoliberals: “American radicals are planning hundreds of simultaneous violent uprisings to topple our system of capitalism … I’m talking about anti-capitalist terrorists in our own country.” ~Ron Arnold of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise

An Invitation for the Weekend from OccupyWallStreet: Come take the square with us at Liberty Plaza.

DCKennedy

Update – Wall Street protest

Updating from here. New update here.

September 17, 2011, The crowd seems peaceful, diverse, and informed.
A side note: On September 17, 1787, forty-two of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention held their final meeting. Only one item of business occupied the agenda that day, to sign the Constitution of the United States of America.

The protesting seems to have been an overall good experience so far. It’s peaceful and all accounts, other than in the MSM, agree that the protesters are intelligent and deeply concerned about our government. “Like many of the protestors, Laxon expressed strong disappointment with President Obama, but said the Republican presidential field was even more demoralizing. “They’re a social psych experiment.”

Yesterday, comedian Roseanne Barr made an appearance to support and thank the protesters and call for a government with basic compassion.

The good news is, they are still on the job today. The livestream is here, but with numbers varying between 3,000 and 5,000 viewers, audio and video have been going on and off. The feed at the bottom of it is reporting that picketers have gone through the light barricades that the NYPD put in place identifying “an inadequate amount of space” allowed for use by protesters. Those bottlenecks were said to be responsible for several arrests.

An officer reaching for a man who was later arrested on charges of jumping a police barrier and resisting arrest at the protests in the financial district Monday morning. (Robert Stolarik/The New York Times)

Media reports have called this movement “Marxist,” “Guerrilla” … Indeed, it is quite apparent, that these protestors love their country and stand united against … cronyism economics. It is clear that everyone was there as part of a movement that is simply You Vs. Wall Street. Chants of “Occupy Wall Street,” and “Banks get bailed out, we get sold out” were chanted as hundreds of people paraded by the NYPD …”

People protesting the economic system flood financial district behind cramped barricades as office workers head to work on September 19, 2011 in New York City.

The “sentiment is likely global in scope. Tourists strolled through the park throughout the day yesterday, inquiring about the demonstration. Many agreed with the protesters’ message.”

“The financial industry has messed up not only their own country,” said Miriam Dervan, visiting New York City from Ireland, “but also ours and the rest of the world.”

“Food and supplies have been donated from supporters across the country and around the globe. Liberato’s Pizza, located a few blocks from the park occupied by protesters, reported yesterday that their phones had been ringing off the hook. People had been calling in from all over the world placing orders for pizza to be sent to the park encampment.”

It also seems like the protesters are a pretty good mix of Americans. “There are many young people in their 20’s and 30’s, but there are also a fair number of baby boomers and veteran activists. There are students, professionals, workers, and unemployed among them. In the crowd, one can find disillusioned Democrats, Ron Paul Republicans, third-party and Independent political activists, anarchists and members of the hacktivist collective Anonymous, among others.”

Hacker collective Anonymous has released a fresh statement and live video feed explaining and chronicling its involvement:

(If you are not too familiar with Anonymous, start here, and hang on to your hat.)

Together we can defend ourselves so that our privacy is not overrun by profiteering gluttons. Your hat can be white, gray or black, your skin and race are not important. If you’re aware of the corruption, expose it now, in the name of Anti-Security. ~Anonymous

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said, “As long as they do it where other people’s rights are respected, this is the place where people can speak their minds, and that’s what makes New York, New York.” Then, in typical corporatist, security-state style, he had the police partition “Wall Street’s pedestrian walkway throughout the weekend, preventing the protesters from gaining a toehold there.”

The problem with that, as many see it, is the city sidewalks belong to the people – you, me and protesters, not Wall Street or any other protected entity in our government’s favor. You do not need a permit to occupy or peaceably assemble on public sidewalks. According to a 2000 federal court ruling, the use of “public sleeping as a means of symbolic expression” is allowed on public sidewalks in New York City as long as you do not block pedestrians or doorway entrances and exits. See METROPOLITAN COUNCIL, INC., Plaintiff, -against- HOWARD SAFIR, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, et al., June 12, 2000 [99 F. Supp. 2d 438; 2000 U.S. Dist.]

I am delighted by the protesters and the action they’re taking. It’s serious business for obvious reasons and I hope they have energy and stamina, good luck and good weather. It’s our right and obligation to protest wrongful actions by our government, and they are “taking the bull by the horns” – setting a good example for Americans young and old.
Their way has been paved and they’ve earned our support.

Kent State, May 4, 1970

DCKennedy