Saturday, February 4, 2012

Monday, January 30, 2012

Occupy D.C. Braces for Camping Ban

The two sites that comprise Occupy DC -- McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza have remained long after many high-profile occupations across the country have been disbanded -- sometimes violently -- by police in riot gear wielding clubs, pepper spray, tear gas, and even flash grenades.

In January, Congressman Issa, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Interior demanding to know why the National Parks Service had allowed D.C. protesters to violate a no-camping rule.*  The letter explained that the McPherson Square had been recently restored, and the campers were damaging the grass.

Issa also called for a congressional hearing.  After the hearing, National Parks (that is, the Obama administration) agreed to enforce the no overnight camping ban, but tolerate tents that were symbolic of speech and not used for sleeping.   Any sleepers would be evicted from McPherson Square Park. (Incidentally, city laws don't prevent sleeping on the sidewalks as long as the sleeper doesn't pose an obstruction.)

Why was sleeping tolerated long after other Occupy campsites were disbanded?  With the approach of an election year, the White House did not want to alienate a politically conscious group comprising many who voted for Obama in 2008.

It can also be observed that keeping Occupy DC alive, even as the administration gave nodding approval to the destruction of other Occupy sites, enhanced the prominence of Occupy DC.  You can imagine how this might have served the interest of the administration.

"Occupy Wall Street" is as much a problem as an opportunity for the Obama administration.  Wall Street has given more money to Barack Obama than any other politician -- Republican or Democrat.  In 2008 Wall Street accounted for 1 in 5 dollars spent by the Obama campaign.

The genius of Occupy Wall Street was targeting the parasitic financial institutions that brought ruin to the economy and continue to suck the oxygen out of the American political system.  OWS drew attention to grotesque income inequality; to the fact that an industry that provides few social benefits dominates politics and the economy.   The Obama administration would surely have liked to have focused the energy of the Occupy movement into support for the Democratic Party, directing anger away from their Wall Street benefactors and towards the obstructionist politicians of the Republican Party (also in the pocket of Wall Street).

However, Occupy DC had been careful to target the tentacles of the corporate dominance.  Protesters targeted the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, banks, lobbyists (McPherson Square is on K-Street).   In spite of its proximity to the political establishment, Occupy DC remained true to the founding principle of the movement.

* One wonders how Congressman Issa's committee found time to investigate damaged grass, but not the financial industry.   

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Undercover Police Infiltrate Occupy Supreme Court Protest

January 21st marked the second anniversary of the Citizens United Vs Federal Election Commission ruling that has made it easier than ever for corporations to fund political campaigns.

Occupy DC staged a demonstration in front of the Supreme Court challenging decisions such a Citizens United that have served to further entrench political power in the hands of corporations.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

OWS Protesters Occupy Congress

Jan. 17th marked the first day of a new session of Congress.   The Occupy or OWS movement scheduled a rally to coincide with the opening.

The decision was not without controversy.  Occupy began as a movement directed against Wall Street, against the too-powerful institutions that have come to have enormous influence over Congress.   To shoot at mere political representatives could be seen to miss the target.   But then again, it is argued that in today's corporate state it's hard to say where business ends and politics begins; if Congress is viewed as an extension of Wall Street, bringing Occupy Wall Street to Congress seems like a sensible idea.

One fact besides the weather made it convenient for demonstrators to come to D.C. in the middle of January:  two "Occupy" encampments have remained in the city.

Tax dollars at work.   As usual, security was excessive.

Protesters outside Rayburn Office Building.  Other protesters went inside to meet with their representatives.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Occupy General Assembly at Washington Monument

Police helicopter shines its spotlight on the General Assembly.

Protesters gathered near the Washington Monument for General Assembly (GA) the evening prior to  Occupy Congress.

From the monument you could count four helicopters hovering over the city below. President Obama had been moving around town.  One helicopter approached the monument every ten minutes only to back off before it got really close.  After the passing of the motorcade along 17th Street adjacent to the World War II memorial below, only this helicopter remained in the sky.  Suddenly it flew over the protesters and shone its spotlight directly on the gathering.  Protesters turned to face the light.

The banner proclaims the right of protesters to hold their meeting.   

General Assembly at the Washington Monument.

The White House (not visible) is to the far right.  The GA was streamed on live video to the world.  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mass arrests as Occupy DC takes on K-Street

Photos of the Occupy DC demonstration Tuesday on K-Street.

Over 70 protesters were arrested in Washington D.C. Tuesday when Occupy DC took over a section of K-Street around noon. Protesters blocked intersections with tables, newspaper vending boxes, and their own bodies. Mass arrests took place in the early afternoon.

Traffic was snarled in the capital both on account of the protest on K-Street and the fact many roads had been blocked of as a security measure for a political event at a nearby hotel. 

The police had the decency not to show up in riot gear or send any military trucks.

"I'll be out in time for the General Assembly tonight.  I'm not going to miss that," a protester said.  

I asked onlookers how many protesters lay on the street. Estimates ranged from thirty to forty.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Video of Obama speech in Osawatomie, Kansas

I had the hardest time finding the video so thought someone should post it. 

Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011, President Barack Obama called for a renewal of the "New Nationalism" at the core of the Progressive agenda outlined by former president Theodore Roosevelt in 1910. Obama, like Roosevelt, gave the speech (transcript) in the small town of Osawatomie, Kansas.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Photos: Parks police pull Occupy DC winter shelter

U.S. Parks police arrested 31 people Sunday at Occupy D.C. in McPherson Park after some members of Occupy D.C. raised a barn. Washington Post:
Occupy D.C. participants said Sunday that the structure’s only purpose was to provide a warm gathering place for protesters as winter weather sets in and that it had been designed by volunteer architects to comply with federal park regulations, which require any structure to be temporary and easy to move. It was built on stilts with no foundation.
Jotman took some pictures:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NYPD kills journalism and that's not news


There's a story missing here:

Where's the story about how they weren't allowed to report the story?

But throughout the day Tuesday mainstream media reports had nothing much to say about this development.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, New York City reporters described 1) feeling too intimidated to report what the police were doing; and 2) incidents in which police physically prevented the press from doing its job--two characteristics of a police state.  A third characteristic of a police state is when news organizations conceal the fact that their reporters are not free to report stories.

In a police state, news editors direct their scribes to collect quotations from official government sources.  The journalist is but a cog in the state propaganda machine.   There's no place for reporters in a police state.

Increasingly, journalism in the U.S. amounts to distributing excerpts of interviews with public officials or members of Washington's "revolving door class."  Think CNN correspondent Barbara Starr telling viewers what the Pentagon and its corporate partners wants them to hear.   Or a retired general tasked by CNN to explain the true meaning of a video the Pentagon has been covering-up.  In important respects, U.S. media coverage of police campaigns against citizen protesters has come to resemble the media's coverage of military operations abroad.  Nine times out of ten, Americans hear only their own government's perspective on a drone campaign against "terrorists."   Needless to say, the militarization of domestic journalism is happening at the precise historical moment when Americans are waking up to the militarization of their local police.

On more than one occasion I have noticed national broadcast media is conspicuously late to the scene after word of an impending crackdown on an Occupation has been announced.  Concerning coverage of the dispersal of Occupy Portland,  I tweeted:

In the case of the police operation against OWS, CNN did not go live until three and a half hours after the paramilitary operation against OWS was underway.  This was New York City, not a remote and inaccessible frontier settlement like Portland, Oregon.  And it is not as if OWS wasn't already one of the big political stories of the year in the U.S..

The OWS movement is ostensibly leaderless.  But this fact provides no justification for the media to behave as if there is only one authoritative side to an OWS story.    Given that seeking out OWS friendly viewpoints is actually not that difficult, it appears the news media is finding it convenient not to make the effort.   For example, a CNN story about the Occupy Wall Street movement --the top story on the CNN homepage for some time Monday--quoted thirteen sources, only two (2) which were not government officials (one was a broadcaster, the other an official who had recently resigned).

Tuesday, the New York Times and the Washington Post both published accounts of how city officials masterfully orchestrated raids on Occupy Wall Street camps from coast to coast. A story titled "Mayors, police chiefs talk about ways to deal with Occupy Wall Street protests, tent camps," published in the Washington Post, quotes seven government officials.  However, only one supporter of the OWS movement is given a voice in the article:
One protester says he was injured when he fell and police dragged him from the scene.
Under the new paradigm of American journalism, mistreatment of citizens by police is not witnessed, it something alleged by a supposed victim, if it is mentioned at all. The same story also refers to "badly injured" Iraq War vet Scott Olsen, yet the paper does not attempt to describe how he was struck in the head.  The reader is led to assume Olsen was merely a victim of "a protest turned violent."

In the WaPo article, increased violence at Occupy Portland is substantiated by this paragraph:
In Portland, for example, protests were initially peaceful gatherings. Then the city’s large number of homeless people moved in, transforming the camp into an open-air treatment center for drug addiction and mental illness.
Since when was the establishment of "a treatment center" an example of a project turned against peace?     

Equally deplorable is a story published in the NY Times entitled, "After an Earlier Misstep, a Minutely Planned Raid." This article quotes only four sources, all of which are government or police (one of which is kept anonymous).  The 12th paragraph of the story is both an example of "burying the lede" and lazy fact-checking:  
Reporters in the park were forced to leave. Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said it was for their safety. But many journalists said that they had been prevented from seeing the police take action in the park, and that they had been roughly handled by officers. Mr. Browne said television camera trucks on Church Street, along the park’s western border, were able to capture images. 
The authority quoted by the NY Times on the subject of  television camera placement is a "a police spokesman."  One would think the "newspaper of record" would have sought the opinion of a television cameraman.  

It's clear the New York Times cannot tell us what happened in parts of Lower Manhattan during and for some time after the crackdown.   Even devoting half of the front page to an event does not change the fact the NYPD prevented the paper's own reporters from covering the story. This paragraph sums up the problem with the newspaper's reporting of the whole event:
No arrests were made in the park until about 3:30 a.m., Mr. Kelly said. The clearing operation was complete about 75 minutes later, the police said.
That's it.  The police told the NY Times what happened in the park, the newspaper printed it. 

Reading these stories, the diligent reader asks: to what extent might the FBI and Homeland Security have been involved in coordinating moves against the protesters?  Yet this reasonable question is not raised in mainstream news stories chalk full of quotes from every variety of police and government official.  These questions--the answers to which could have disastrous consequences for the Obama administration--are left for tweeps and bloggers to explore.

It is an amazing commentary on the times that for aggressive broadcast journalism, Americans have few alternative apart from Russia's RT:  

Monday, November 14, 2011

OccupyDC in photos

Some photos of OccupyDC at McPherson Square (15th and K Streets) in Washington D.C..  

The permit.

The tents.

The kitchen.

The fountain.

The flag.

The General Assembly.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tweeps react to Twitter's creepy new "Activities" feature

After the jump you can see what my Twitter "Activities" feed was showing two minutes ago.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Protesters to Obama: Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline!

On Sunday afternoon Washington D.C. saw a remarkably large turnout for a protest against the planned Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline would carry crude oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta to a refinery in Texas.  President Obama was expected to make a decision on the pipeline by December of 2011.

However, it is becoming apparent that any decision by the president to go forward with the pipeline will be perceived as poke in the eye by important constituencies of the Democratic Party.  Obama sided against environmentalists on smog regulation in September.  In order to understand the depth of outrage environmentalists feel about the planned pipeline, it helps to consider the issue within the context of the overall track record of the Obama administration on climate change and environmental issues.   There is growing speculation that Obama will delay disappointing environmentalists until after the 2012 election.

Little noted in the mainstream media, twelve hundred pipeline protesters were arrested outside the White House over the course of two weeks in early September. Although there were no arrests Sunday, attendance far exceeded that of any previous demonstration against the pipeline.

The recent protest got some mainstream media coverage.  Wikipedia has background on Keystone XL Pipeline controversy.

Friday, October 7, 2011

OWS takes on the US Chamber of Commerce

Protesters brought their own letters.

A large number of anti-war protesters and Occupy Wall Street (OWS) supporters joined forces in a march through downtown Washington D.C. Thursday.  The event kicked off "Occupy Washington D.C."

The protesters marched from Freedom Plaza (HQ for Occupy Washington) past the US Treasury building to the White House.  They then made their way across Lafayette Park to the United States Chamber of Commerce building.

There they stopped.

The Chamber of Commerce lobbies hard for deregulation on behalf of the country's largest corporations.  On the front side of the building facing the White House are massive signs that spell out the word "JOBS."

US Chamber, meet Anonymous.
Packed together tightly on the street, the protesters shouted:  "Where are the jobs?"

The sign had been up there two years.  It was a very good question.
Members of the US Chamber of Commerce have plenty of cash, but they aren't hiring American workers.

For years, the US Chamber of Commerce has lobbied hard for laws that make it easy for companies to outsource American jobs and bring in low-paid temporary workers from overseas.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

President Obama's easiest betrayal was his worst

Melissa Harris-Perry, a Princeton professor and MSNBC commentator, recently proposed a hypothesis to explain Obama's declining poll numbers.  Even though the professor's explanation is familiar, it may come as a surprise:
President Obama has experienced a swift and steep decline in support among white Americans—from 61 percent in 2009 to 33 percent now. I believe much of that decline can be attributed to their disappointment that choosing a black man for president did not prove to be salvific for them or the nation. His record is, at the very least, comparable to that of President Clinton, who was enthusiastically re-elected. The 2012 election is a test of whether Obama will be held to standards never before imposed on an incumbent. If he is, it may be possible to read that result as the triumph of a more subtle form of racism.
She writes, "His re-election bid, however, may indicate that a more insidious form of racism has come to replace it." Harris-Perry claims Obama's poll numbers are falling on account of white racism.  By way of evidence, the professor suggests Obama is doing no worse job than Bill Clinton.   Needless to say, the evidence on this score is not at all convincing.    More people are unemployed and more suffer civil rights abuses under Obama than Clinton.  As a blogger wrote in response to the Harris-Perry article, "Saying that Barack Obama is 'just as competent' as Clinton is like saying that an ostrich can fly just as well as an eagle."  The new Obama biography by Ron Suskind comes to the same conclusion in more words.

As for the explanation for Obama's declining poll numbers, I'm not impressed when someone hangs their credentials on an untested hypothesis.   People should be less interested in Harris-Perry explanation's for the Obama poll numbers than the larger tragedy her whole argument overlooks.  

President Obama hasn't done enough improve the economic situation for poor and middle class Americans generally, and the African American community in particular.  The numbers tell us so.  Blacks face astoundingly high unemployment, and the demographic was dealt a serious blow by a housing crisis for which there has been scant relief at the bottom. 

The Obama administration has acted as if it can take black voters for granted.  Of course, other groups in the Democratic Party "base" have likewise been ignored: unionized workers, environmentalists, civil libertarians, etc.   To the extent it fills the hearts of many African Americans with pride to see a black man in the White House, Obama may enjoy considerable leeway with the demographic.   That's simply human nature and the politics of identity.  For example, to some extent JFK could take the Irish-Catholic vote for granted.

But just because a particular leader can take a particular demographic for granted doesn't make the practice acceptable. Absolutely, it should be condemned whenever the demographic in question faces greatly diminished prospects, as has been the case with blacks under President Obama.

Rather than making excuses, I think Harris-Perry would be doing many African Americans--along with the vast majority of Americans--a far greater service if she focused on holding the Obama administration accountable for its spectacular ideological capitulation to the right.

African-American support for the president appears to be slipping.   WaPo reports:
New cracks have begun to show in President Obama’s support amongst African Americans, who have been his strongest supporters. Five months ago, 83 percent of African Americans held “strongly favorable” views of Obama, but in a new Washington Post-ABC news poll that number has dropped to 58 percent. That drop is similar to slipping support for Obama among all groups.
Assuming the poll is correct, and blacks are losing confidence in Obama at the same rate as whites, this fact would seem to destroy Harris-Perry's hypothesis that white racism explains the drop in support for Obama among white voters. Support for Obama among blacks has long been higher. It seems Obama is increasingly perceived as a failed leader across all demographic groups.

In one act, Obama could yet prove himself the world-historical leader we need him to be. And he could fulfill his 2008 campaign promises of "hope and change."  Obama need only withdraw from the 2012 presidential contest.  That would restore our hope -- at least for a time.

Hope. Anybody remember what that felt like?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Leaning Tower of Washington?

Jotman's photo of the Washington Monument taken 4pm Tue.
I've posted a brief report on the health of the Washington Monument in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mystery of S&P downgrade of US explained?

 "The US downgrade by S&P is so bizarre and unwarranted" - Robert Reich

The S&P downgrade of the United States never made sense to me.  I wasn't the only one confused.  Usually when something is downgraded, investors don't rush to by it.  But that was how international investors responded to the downgrade.   Demand for US debt actually rose.  As if deaf to S&P, investors worldwide continued to regard US treasury bonds as safe -- extremely safe.

We had a mystery on our hands: Why the unwarranted downgrade?  It seemed as if S&P was behaving politically.   But why would any corporation enter the political arena at the invariable cost of further degrading its already tarnished reputation?  It just didn't add up.

However, there could be another explanation. Today the NY Times reports:
The Justice Department is investigating whether Standard & Poor’s rated mortgage securities improperly leading up to the financial crisis...
Our natural reaction to reading this news is to question the timing of the investigation.  It sure looks like a retaliatory move by the Obama Administration against S&P.   Many commenting on the story agree.

But one sentence in the article seemed to dispel that theory (whilst planting the seed of another):
The people with knowledge of the investigation said it had picked up steam early this summer, well before the debt rating issue reached a high pitch in Washington. 
S&P and other ratings agencies deserve to be investigated by the Justice Department for their key role in propping up worthless mortgage-backed securities.  What really cannot be easily explained is not the timing of any investigation of S&P, but one rating agency's decision to downgrade of the world's biggest economy.

Why did S&P downgrade Uncle Sam?  Might its intent have been to politicize a looming Justice Department investigation?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bleary eyed sense

One morning this week I opened the Washington Post to its op-ed page and as I read, to my astonishment, it all made sense. A columnist had written:
[T]he country is ruled by a cabal... democracy is a sham... politicians and the... newspapers are tools of... financial interests.... The entire system deserves to be overthrown...
American newspapers seldom present this perspective.  I was still only half awake though.  I rubbed my eyes, took another sip of coffee and examined the passage more carefully:
In contemporary America, we also have people who are — and I am inventing this word here — illegitimists: They believe that the president of the United States is illegitimately elected, or that the country is ruled by a cabal that is in turn controlled by some other sinister force or forces. In the past, left-wing illegitimists were quite common, and in fact Marxism is a classic, paranoid version of this creed. The illegitimist Marxist argument goes like this: Bourgeois democracy is a sham; bourgeois politicians and the bourgeois newspapers are tools of shadowy financial interests. The entire system deserves to be overthrown — and if a few people die in the course of the revolution, it’s all for a good cause. 
I had overlooked considerable verbiage, words and phrases such as: "sinister force or forces," "Marxist," "bourgeois" this and "bourgeois" that, "die" and "revolution."   I saw that the idea that had first jumped off the page at me was, in fact, almost completely buried under prolixitous grandiloquence

I saw that in the next paragraph, the columnist proceeded to compare the original argument to the toxic fruits of America's right-wing lunatic asylum:
There is also a right-wing version of this argument, one that has been honed to perfection by novelist Charles McCarry (in Lucky Bastard, he imagines that the Bill Clinton-like American president is a Communist agent and his Hillary-like wife is his controller). More recently, right-wing illegitimism has taken the form of birtherism. The attempt to prove that Barack Obama isn’t American-born was, at base, an attempt to prove that he is illegitimate and that he therefore deserves to be removed from power — somehow. Birtherism is also linked to other forms of illegitimism, such as the belief that Obama is a Muslim,...
Straightforward hypothesis: America is not in the hands of its people, but powerful financial interests.   That hardly seems like an outrageous claim to make in late July 2011.

But if your boss is the corporate media, first you cloak reasonable suspicion in the jargon of Karl Marx.  Second, you juxtapose it with the insane rants and racist conspiracy theories of the far right.   Some days I wonder why I still buy newspapers. 

UPDATE: Last week a columnist for the Independent had a crisis of faith.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A short visit to the heart of the beast

I paid a visit to the gallery of the US House of Representatives Wednesday evening.  Congress was debating a GOP-tabled bill to defund the Endangered Species Act. You're probably wondering what wild animals have to do with the debt ceiling crisis.

Breaking protocol to address the CSPAN television audience, a Democratic Congresswoman asked: "Why are the Republicans forcing us to spend the next 140 hours to debate a pointless and very destructive interior bill at this time? The country is at imminent risk of default on the debt because of the intransigence of Republicans."

The debate that followed was quite astounding. The Republicans were looking for ways to defund parks, forests, and clean water. A Democratic Congresswomen said, "Republicans want to destroy the program that has protected the bald eagle -- the symbol of our great country!" At first it appeared as if the Republicans were willing to cut anything at any long-term cost to reduce the deficit. That's what I thought until the last twenty minutes of my visit. The truth is more disturbing.

The Republicans tabled amendment after amendment intended to rescind funding from federal programs intended to protect species, municipal water supplies, and ecosystems. Anything that wasn’t about fighting forest-fires was fair game. The Democrats were fighting back.

A GOP instigated House rule stipulates that any increase in the budget in one area requires a specified budget cut somewhere else. Members of Congress trying to fund clean water for towns in Oregon or support wetland preservation in Florida have to propose an equal cut in funding for another program. In reply to a Congresswoman from Hawaii, a Congressman from Idaho said, “As much as I would like to fund preservation of your beautiful tropical ecosystem in Kawaii [annual rainfall 180 inches], I believe the best way to save forests is to preserve the budget for fighting forest-fires.”

After a long while, a Republican Congressman from Kansas stood up to propose an amendment to increase spending. I leaned forward in my gallery seat. I wanted to catch every word of this.

The GOP Congressman's argument was the best way to fight forest fires is to reduce opportunities for them to happen. He said that taxpayers can save having to pay for fighting forest fires by reducing the size of the forests. The phrase he used to describe his proposal was “forest restoration” (i.e. logging). This Republican congressman wanted to increase spending to pay corporations to cut down the forests.

Republicans claim the United States is going broke. Yet they are not content to sell-off  America's assets for peanuts, they use tax dollars to pay their friends to take them.  

It doubt the ridiculous bill they were debating has any chance of become law during this Congress. But the spectacle suggested to me that the difference between Republicans and Democrats has never been starker. A widening gap of sensibility between parties coincides with a presidency that downplays differences in the never-ending pursuit of “bipartisanship."  Something is deeply amiss.