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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Monday, January 30, 2012

Franz Walsch Takes the Fall at firedoglake (Part 2) 

At breakfast over the weekend, I told my wife that I had visited a website where someone had called me a Department of Homeland Security agent. I haven't heard that sort of spontaneous, surprised laughter in awhile. I didn't have to elaborate any further about the site, firedoglake, or the person who did it, Jane Hamsher. Interestingly, I have participated in the rough and tumble comment pages of Marxist websites over the years and never encountered anything as persistently snarky and offensive as the accusations Hamsher directed towards me. Indeed, I have to say that, with a few exceptions, I've been treated pretty well. Could it be that some liberals, like Hamsher, have embraced the entertainment value of snark to attract visitors to their websites so much so that they can no longer distinguish understated, respectful commentary from the efforts of trolls?

In any event, I must not be too much of a threat, because I failed to receive any response to my request for assistance in closing my firedoglake account. I thereafter tried to scrub the entirety of Franz's works from the site in an obsessive attempt to disassociate myself from it, but failed, although I have been able to remove Franz's display name and replace it with -0-, which clears his record, at least. Unfortunately, I received a firedoglake solicitation e-mail, in the name of Hamsher herself, about 10 minutes after unsubscribing from an earlier one from Brian Sonenstein, the firedoglake Director on Online Activism. Upon seeing it in my inbox, I had the brief, eerie sensation of being stalked over the Internet, and I can only hope that I got it because of a delay in processing my request.

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What Happened in Oakland on January 28th? 

Kevin Gosztola, known for his extraordinary work in delivering assistance to occupations around the country and profiling them, has published a thoughtful account here. For reports from Occupy Oakland Media, go here. For access to numerous other personal accounts and video, go to the Twitter hashtags #occupyoakland, #occupysf and #pixplz, among others.

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Tear Gas, Flash Grenades, Rubber Bullets and Mass Arrests Used Against Occupy Oakland 

UPDATE (11:05 PM PST): There is a report of approximately 300 arrests today in Oakland.

INITIAL POST:

I was out all day, and don't know how things got to this point. At the time of this post, 7:30 PM PST, the Oakland Police Department is in the process of arresting about 100 people that have been kettled in front of the YMCA building in the downtown area near Oscar Grant Plaza. Apparently, there were confrontations earlier in the day that resulted in the police using tear gas, rubber bullets and flash grenades on protesters. All I know is that Occupy Oakland had previously announced plans to take over an abandoned building today and use it for housing and the provision of services, a building that turned out to be the Kaiser Civic Auditorium near Lake Merritt. For updates and links to livestreams and ustreams, use the hashtag #Occupy Oakland.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Franz Walsch Takes the Fall at firedoglake (Part 1) 

As some of the longtime visitors to this blog know, I am a fan of the films of the 1970s and early 1980s German director, Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Fassbinder aspired to show us the world as it is in order to encourage us to create a better one. He was personally inspired by his identification with the character of Franz Biberkopf in Alfred Doblin's 1920s novel, Berlin Alexanderplatz. Biberkopf was a thief, a murderer and a pimp, but he, and those with whom he lived, also represented the experience of the German lumpenproletariat during a period of rapid urbanization and extreme poverty during the Weimar era. Fassbinder said that, upon reading Alexanderplatz as a teenager, he felt as if his personal experience had already been written by Doblin. He eventually directed a TV series based upon the novel in 1980.

Prior to that time, Biberkopf allegorically appears in a number of Fassbinder's films as the character Franz Walsch, usually performed by Fassbinder himself, as in his debut film, Love is Colder than Death, with the last name being an homage to one of Fassbinder's favorite American directors, Raoul Walsh. One of the identifying characteristics of this character is his naivete, which results in him invariably being the fall guy in the classic film noir sense. After being reluctantly persuaded by one of my Occupy guests on KDVS last October, Mary McCurnin, to move beyond being a lurker at firedoglake and become a member, so that I could post comments and, possibly even diary entries, I took the name of Franz Biberkopf. I selected it to identify with the downtrodden who struggle through the perils of life, having forgotten the more specific noirish implications of it. I intended to communicate with others through comments and a stray diary entry here and there about Occupy as firedoglake has been a strong supporter of it.

Unfortunately, my apprehension about becoming a member of firedoglake was confirmed in the most incredibly surreal way. On Monday, Kevin Gosztola, a person who I have interviewed on KDVS as well, posted about his visit to Occupy Buffalo. He briefly addressed how Occupy Buffalo deals the question of admitting the homeless. As Franz Biberkopf, I commented upon it by responding specifically to a comment by Kevin, and, apparently, as you can see if you scroll down the post and peruse the comments, Jane Hamsher, the founder of firedoglake, wasn't too pleased with what I had to say, although I didn't understand the intensity of her displeasure at the time. Yesterday, Gosztola discussed the issue of Occupy Buffalo and the homeless in more depth, and I commented again despite an initial inclination not to do so because I felt an obligation to engage Gosztola's willlingness to continue to address the subject.

Of course, that was a mistake, similar to the kinds of mistake the allegorical Franz makes in Fassbinder's films, assuming the kind hearted good nature of those around him. Here is what transpired as Hamsher proceeded to imply that I am either an employee of the Department of Homeland Security or sympathetic to it:

Franz Biberkopf January 26th, 2012 at 1:44 pm 5
In response to CelestialNavigation @ 3

Yes, the challenge is to avoid considering the homeless as a monolithic group identified by a set of dysfunctional behaviors, which it appears that those involved in Occupy Buffalo does. I do, think, however, that John’s contrast between those who sleep outside as a statement against the government and the homeless who see it just personally advantageous is a bit reductionist. No one, including the homeless, should personally exploit the movement, but there has to be a point of contact that enables those in the movement to persuade others to embrace it and take responsibility for it as well, as best they can. Otherwise, you run the risk of that old left sectarian thing where you can’t even walk through the door unless you possess a completely realized political consciousness congruent with the movement. Think about this in terms of activism outside of Occupy. You know someone who has some personal problems, but is willing to hand out flyers or make some phone calls a few hours a week, and has the capability to do these limited tasks. Do you say, no thanks, or work with them as they are? Of course, there are some people with such difficulties that an occupation lacks the resources to deal with them and offer them the opportunity to participate, and they must regrettably be excluded. The sad reality is, as you observe, that the victims of this social order respond to that victimization in self-destructive ways, and this presents unique problems for any social movement that seeks to address it.

Jane Hamsher January 26th, 2012 at 1:54 pm 7
In response to Franz Biberkopf @ 5

I think it’s so great you’re out there putting yourself on the line every night like the people in Occupy Buffalo and show up here to give us the benefit of what you have learned from dealing with these same problems directly, and not some failed middle-aged blow-hard armchair activist who shows up here demanding that others expose themselves to danger for your philosophical beliefs.

What occupation do you live in that allows so much access to electrical power during the day? And what has your General Assembly done to deal with your homeless issues?

I know that the #1 way that government operatives undermine the occupations is to send people out to infiltrate them and demand that they take on more problems than they can handle by working their liberal guilt and castigating them for being insufficiently compassionate when they take steps to protect themselves — usually from the same compassionate agencies that are pouring violent, mentally ill and drug addicted homeless people into the camps and feeding them a steady diet of drugs and alcohol to exacerbate their problems.

What occupation did you say you were with again?

Jane Hamsher January 26th, 2012 at 2:04 pm 8
Hey you two have a real consistent tag-team going, Franz and Celestial. It’s great that both of you always show up to engage in a back-and-fort every time the subject of the homeless at occupations comes up, to reinforce just how cruel, selfish, short-sighted and insufficiently liberal the people who are out there in the occupation camps are when they take steps to protect themselves from the tactics of professional operatives who are exploiting the homeless. Which you both mis-characterize in the same (equally uncharitable) way.

Occupy Buffalo has become a rich target for government operatives because they have adopted tactics that keep infiltrators from working their game plan there as successfully as they have other places.

Do you work for Homeland Security, or just engage in their their tactics out of personal belief?

Franz Biberkopf January 26th, 2012 at 2:31 pm 9
I really don’t understand your hostility, because I’m not even sure that we disagree about very much. And, to malign me as a Homeland Security operative . . . well, I’m speechless and that doesn’t happen very often. After I interviewed her last October about Occupy Sacramento, Mary McCurnin suggested that I sign up to post comments here after I told her that I had lurked here for years. Not because I’m Homeland Security, mind you, but because I actually appreciate what you and the other people here have done. Anyway, that was apparently a mistake. I even made a small contribution to the site the other day and a larger one to the Occupy Supply fund. I’m no enemy or agent provocateur.

Needless to say, I wouldn't know where to begin to deconstruct Hamsher's comments, except to note the obvious, as I did, that they were indicative of an intensity of hostility that was incomprehensible. If you think that was the end of it, guess again, as Hamsher thereafter proceeded to abandon her claim that I am aligned with or sympathetic to DHS and substitute another one to the effect that I am part of a K Street, corporate lobby effort to disrupt Occupy Buffalo and firedoglake:

Jane Hamsher January 26th, 2012 at 11:39 pm 45
In response to Franz Biberkopf @ 9

I really don’t understand your hostility, because I’m not even sure that we disagree about very much.

That’s the exact thing they train the DLC guys to say to us when they debate us. It’s a canned response: “Try to sound reasonable and emphasize your similarities; characterize them as hysterical, out of control, extreme and angry for not acknowledging how alike you are.” Standard tactic for appropriating populist credibility on behalf of an elitist agenda.

It’s also the second time you’ve used that exact phrase. Perhaps it’s your first time at the rodeo?

FDL has been vigilant about keeping the place free of obvious political and corporate operatives (and their contractors) by booting people who show up and exhibit the warning signs. Where other sites have become overrun with propaganda-pushing trolls who tag-team messaging using virtual counterinsurgency tactics (“let the enemy know you care about them and you’re on their side”), FDL has adopted a zero tolerance policy when the warning lights go off.

You Mr. Franz are flashing bright fuschia, and I frankly don’t care if you’re working for STRATFOR or NMS or Palantir or Berico or it’s just a happy coincidence that you follow their script. You’re here for the second time to curl your lip and disrespect Occupy Buffalo for adopting tactics that protect them from such infiltration, and only dialed it back when you realized you were on thin ice.

This is your second warning. If you would like us to agree on something, I suggest the definition of zero tolerance.

Franz Biberkopf January 27th, 2012 at 1:31 am 46
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 45

This is so totally off base that it’s comical. But if you want to look into it, here’s my background. My name is Richard Estes, and I live in Sacramento, California. I have hosted a public affairs program on KDVS 90.3 FM in Davis since 1998, and interviewed a lot of people associated with progressive, liberal and left issues over the years. All on my own time, as KDVS is a volunteer, student and community run radio station. From firedoglake, I have interviewed Jon Walker and Mike Ross, and, more recently, Kevin Gosztola and Mary McCurnin in relation to Occupy, as well as occupiers and ustreamers from Occupy Sacramento, Occupy Oakland and Occupy SF. You can listen to me over the Net at http://www.kdvs.org at 5pm tomorrow when I interview a couple of people from Occupy SF as well as Jorge Mariscal of Project YANO, a counter-recruitment effort among people of color in San Diego. I have also participated in Occupy events whenever possible (you can go look up my post at the Occupy Oakland port shutdown if you are so inclined). If you take the time to check out my profile, you will see that I have a blog, http://www.amleft.blogspot.com

You might not agree with what I say there, but that’s not the point, I just mention it as yet another indication that I’m not a corporate shill. I just write what I really believe, and encourage the few people that visit to engage with it. I have also contributed to Occupy Supply as I said (out of my own pocket, no less), you can check with Brian on that, and even donated to firedoglake itself. Sometimes, you can just take what people say at face value, as if they really mean it, and not incorporate it into some sort of conspiracy theory. My e-mail address can also be found at my profile, and you can confirm what I say by using it if, again, you are so inclined. Anyway, here it is: restes1960@yahoo.com

On my end, I will give some thought about how I ended up sounding like a K Street corporate lobby firm. That’s definitely not my intention.

Poor Franz, always the fall guy. Circulating in shark-like waters where the Department of Homeland Security and K Street lobbyists are conspiring to destroy Occupy and firedoglake, Franz takes the fall for their crimes instead of the leftist ones that he committed. So far, I haven't heard anything more about it, and have sent an instruction to firedoglake for assistance in closing my member account.

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

The 2012 Election and the Evolution of Political Protest 

One of the most striking aspects of the 2012 electoral process is the fact that much of the public has realized that it has nothing to do with real issues of concern. It is now generally recognized as a form of social entertainment. It is, in short, a spectacle, one designed to give a facade of legitimacy to the governance of a country under the control of transnational elites. One pays attention to candidates like Obama, Romney and Gingrich, if at all, as another form of televised sports. And, just as one tunes out the World Series if you don't care about baseball, a lot of people are tuning out the 2012 election because they don't, for good reason, care about mainstream politics.

Spectacles like this are costly, especially when the producers are facing a headwind of indifference, so it comes as no surprise that President Obama will raise an amount of money close to the $770 million he raised for his 2008 campaign. By the early part of January, Romney has raised more than $56 million, an amount that is likely to increase substantially if it becomes likely that he will be the Republican nominee. Gingrich is receiving generous SuperPAC support from right wing, anti-union, arch Zionist Sheldon Abelson and his wife, Miriam, a reward for appalling, ill-informed political positions that he has expressed for decades. Gingrich can also expect an acceleration of contributions if it appears that he will be the nominee.

But this is background noise for most people, because they have already seen through the charade, the self-referentiality of a process whereby the same people who obsess over the debt and Iran enthusiastically promote candidates who mirror their beliefs. I know a number of people involved in partisan politics who follow it closely, including people involved in unions, and I rarely hear them say anything about the campaign. Sacramento, as the capital of California, is a political place, and yet those who one would expect to talk about it avidly are, by and large, silent. On the Internet, I have noticed that the number of comments in response to 2012 campaign posts over at firedoglake are down in comparison to the number of comments in response to 2008 ones, which is to be expected, I guess, but not this much. I should visit DailyKos to confirm, but I don't have the stomach for it. These are expressions of the post-partisan Obama legacy: the recognition that participation in the electoral process is useless.

Political protest strategies have evolved accordingly. Back in the early to mid-1990s, protest organizers worked on the assumption that elected officials could be influenced through public pressure. Hence, the effort against NAFTA. By the late 1990s, people were beginning to question this assumption. The protests against the WTO in Seattle in 1998 announced the introduction of disruptive direct action methods into the mainstream. Radical environmentalists had already discovered the futility of the conventional practices of protest marches, letter writing campaigns and visits to the offices of elected representatives, and they played a prominent role in the shutdown of downtown Seattle. Trade unionists, on the other hand, played the traditional march and rally game, consciously distancing themeselves, with some exceptions, from the police assaults upon locked down protesters in the central city.

Organizers of the protests against the impending Iraq war in February 2003 took the later approach, and, predictably, failed. Direct action undertaken immediately after the start of the war quickly fizzled out. More recently, there was a tremendous effort to push Congress towards the implementation of a meaningful health care reform. Contrary to Obama apologists who blame the victims by saying that we didn't do enough to make it pass a progressive measure, there was a tremendous, broad based effort to pressure the Congress and the White House. Beyond requiring the President and the Democrats in Congress to adopt public relations strategies to conceal their complicity in the bill as passed and adopted, it failed, too.

In the aftermath of the intransigence of the political system, we are now seeing people gravitate towards more confrontational and amorphous methods of protest. In California, UC students, angry over fee increases, dismiss the importunings of UC administrators to lobby the legislature, and instead seize campus buildings, call general strikes and attempt to storm meetings of the regents. Implicit within these actions is a condemnation of the hierarchies of privilege and access that are interwoven within the modernist university. Likewise, people in the East Bay angry over killings by the BART police sought to disrupt transit service, although they have made some effort to address the BART board in an attempt to get rid of these cops entirely.

Of course, Occupy has been the inevitable extension of these protest tactics in the face of the hostility of elected officials. By refusing to make demands, people involved in Occupy have expressed their contempt for the corrupted political process. Nihilism is the consequence of such an entrenched, corrupted elite, and the refusal to make demands is an obvious manifestation of it. Direct action, such as assisting people against threatened foreclosures (an activity that, admittedly, predates Occupy), is another one, as the participants have decided that they must help people themselves because the government will not do otherwise do so. Similarly, the seizures of abandoned buildings and properties undertaken by OWS, Occupy Oakland, and, possibly, Occupy SF, for the purpose of providing shelter and services (again, an activity that predates Occupy), highlight how the government and the economic system rely upon artificially imposed scarcity to generate poverty.

Occupy therefore represents the extent of the accumulated despair experienced by those who have suffered over the course of the ongoing recession, and the willingness of some of the victims to undertake actions that would have been imcomprehensible to them just a few years before. Consistent with this, there is, within Occupy, primarily among its younger participants, an emotional, philosophical rejection of contemporary capitalist society itself, one with echoes of May '68, social movements in South America, and violent protests in Greece and Algeria. It is but a thread, but a logical one in light of the refusal of those in power to address the concentration of wealth and power in fewer and fewer hands and the desperation that results from it. But it remains to be seen whether a nihilistic combination of enforced disassocation from the political process and the performance of direct action will provide a way forward to create a new, more humane, more egalitarian society.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

War with Iran? 

UPDATE: From a CNN report:

The lives of ordinary Iranians have been deeply touched by the Western sanctions. Several spoke to CNN about how they are coping with staggering inflation and a plunging national currency, although none felt comfortable being fully identified, fearful of the Islamic Republic's long reach into private lives.

Farhad, 47, was once comfortable, but things began sliding downhill when sanctions came and the foreign oil firm that employed him packed up and left.

As a taxi driver, he works hard but saves little money. With the latest round of U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran's Central Bank last month, he has seen staggering inflation; the price of meat and milk have skyrocketed by as much as 50 percent.

He and his wife have stopped having guests at their home or going out to eat. They can't remember when they bought new clothes and no longer send their suits to the cleaners.

I feel bad for the cleaners, he says. They must be suffering as a result of people like me not using their services.

Farhad has a savings account that is shrinking fast as he dips into it to make ends meet.

His 21-year-old son works two part-time jobs while he earns a degree in computer science. Farhad feels bad that he can't afford to buy him the computer equipment he needs.

I wait and pray for something to spark the economy and get it going, but I am not holding my breath, he says. Life must go on. We can only wait and see what the future has in store for us.

In the meantime, he says, the only way for his sons to live a decent life is to fall in with influential people or make shady business deals like trading foreign currency on the black market.

INITIAL POST: Alexander Cockburn believes that war with Iran is inevitable. Indeed, he maintains, as have a number of others, that the conflict has already begun. Beyond the black budget covert operations, there is the direct US assault upon the country's economy, as revealed by a precipitous decline in the value of the Iranian currency, the rial. The embargo of Iranian oil, to be enforced by punitive measures against international corporations that facilitate the sale of it, is beginning to inflict greater and greater hardship upon the Iranian populace, no doubt in the expectation that the real US objective, regime change, will soon be accomplished. The European Union, consistent with its history of hesitant support for US imperial action, has agreed to embargo Iranian oil this summer.

Meanwhile, voices for war in the US have privileged access to the media, with outlets like the New York Times, NPR and PBS providing a veneer of understated, urbane legitimacy to the more populist, shrill expressions of militarism found elsewhere. Journalists and foreign policy analysts perpetually reference a non-existent nuclear weapons program, subject only to subsequent, tepid criticisms buried within newspapers and websites. Furthermore, as noted by John Glaser of antiwar.com, while opponents of military action have been granted the opportunity to challenge the case for war, the media has confined the debate within the boundaries of the acceptance of the necessity to stop the Iranian nuclear research program.

Of course, the reason for such a circumscribed debate is obvious. As already noted, the real objective of US policy is regime change. Indeed, it would not be shocking if, upon the emergence of a new, acceptable Iranian government, the US, Europe and Israel permitted the nuclear research program to proceed. After all, as explained here last year, there are few endeavors so perfectly suited to the proliferation of the hierarchy of specialization and the accumulation of capital than the construction of nuclear research facilities and power plants. Iranian nuclear research scientists currently trying to avoid assassination would find themselves welcome at academic conferences and research programs around the world. Accordingly, the Iranian nuclear research program is merely a MacGuffin that accelerates the plot of the regime change narrative.

Hence, any public discussion in the US that would result in a candid discussion of the US relationship with Iran, and the true objectives of US policy, must be suppressed. Cockburn, for understandable reasons, analogizes current US policy towards Iran with US policy towards Japan before the attack upon Pearl Harbor. But, a more contemporary, and perhaps, more apposite one, is US policy towards the Allende government in Chile. Just as the US waged an economic war upon Chile in the early 1970s, the US is now doing so against Iran. But, as Pepe Escobar has recognized, the consequences of such economic warfare are as likely to hurt the G-20 countries as much as Iran because of the growth suppression associated with increased oil prices. He astutely notes that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner actually argued against the sanctions bill as it made its way through Congress. With characteristic hyperbole that contains grains of troubling insight, Escobar concludes: the name of the game in 2012 is deep global recession. Conversely, Iranians may be able to offset the inflated prices of imported goods with increased employment as a devalued rial makes domestically produced goods more competitive.

Unfortunately, that's the more optimistic scenario. As Behzad Yaghmaian said today:

The United States and its allies are using elaborate economic sanctions to drain the resources of the Iranian regime, ignite domestic revolt, and force the government to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Sanctions are, however, chocking the Iranian people. While the government continues enriching uranium, sanctions penalize the Iranian people through dizzying increase in the price of food, gasoline and other basic items in ordinary people’s basket of consumer goods. Food inflation in Iran is currently at 50%, more than double the official inflation rate.

Fear of new sanctions and war also created an exodus from the local currency to the dollar and other major currencies. The nearly 60% depreciation of the Iranian rial, and the embargo on Iran’s oil exports will further increase food and other consumer goods prices. The dire economic conditions of Iranians with fixed income is a painful reminder of standing in long line for hours to buy milk, oil, and other basic necessities during the war with Iraq.

Yaghmaian concludes with a warning, that the passivity of the Iranian people should not be misunderstood as support for military confrontation. In this, they possess an insight beyond many Americans, particularly those who respond to the exhortations of Republican presidential candidates for military action with applause. Even more troubling is the possibility that the economic elites of the G-20 have decided that Iran is the next great capital accumulation opportunity of disaster capitalism. Just imagine the prospects for private military contractors, private security and surveillance firms and construction companies. Exponentially more in billions await them than they received over the course of the Iraqi occupation. For now, they are still patient enough to find out if the sanctions will work because they can avoid the risks associated with military conflict. But, with no fear of significant public resistance, the way is clear for them to seek a military resolution if they fail.

Given the acquiescence of liberals and social democrats in the US and Europe, the likelihood of protests against such a war on the scale of February 2003 is nil. This is most terrifying aspect of the current situation in the Gulf, the fact that there is not even the pretense of a restraint upon their ability to launch an indefinite, tremendously destructive war in order to further concentrate their wealth and power. But what comes afterwards? The great variable is the response of the burgeoning population of young people around the world, the people who fight the police on the streets of Athens, Cairo, Rome, Manama, London, Oakland, Lyon and Santiago, among other places, the people who realize that their future is bleak because of the avariousness and violence of those who have come before them. What will they do? The success or failure of this hideous venture is dependent upon the answer.

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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Ustreaming Can Be Hazardous to Your Health 

Yesterday, Officer Ali of the San Francisco Police Department decided to club pfailblog, one of the ustreamers of the Occupy Wall Street West actions:

This is not something that happens by accident, a consequence of the turbulent emotions associated with political protest in a contentious urban setting like San Francisco. As elsewhere, like New York City, for example, the police know the livestreamers and ustreamers and harass them. In addition to pfailblog, another ustreamer was picked out of a protest and arrested, while Ali also shoved pixplz while he was ustreaming along California Street.

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Updates on Occupy Wall Street West 

Most recent at 10:20AM PST:

Occupy Bernal Shuts Down Bernal B of A Branch
10:11am -- 45 Occupy Bernal protestors led by four families fighting eviction and foreclosure delivered demand letter and shut down Bank of America branch at 3250 Mission and 29th Streets, heading to Wells Fargo branch at 22nd and Mission Streets.


Banner Blocking Downtown Traffic
10:04am -- Banner blocking intersection at Montgomery and California.


15 Protestors Lock Entrances at Bank of America
10:01am -- 15 protestors lock down entrances at Bank of America at 345 Montgomery.


Protestors Take to the Streets at Bank of America
9:57am -- Protestors take to the streets at Bank of America at 345 Montgomery.


20+ Protestors Gather at Bank of America Branch
9:54am -- Twenty to twenty-five protestors have gathered at the Bank of America branch at Powell and Market Streets.


Police Commander Confirms Seven Arrests at Wells Fargo Headquarters
9:22am -- Police Commander confirms seven arrests so far at Wells Fargo Headquarters entrance at 420 Montgomery.


Police Raid at Wells Fargo Headquarters
9:22am -- Police are blocking off access to Wells Fargo Headquarters entrance at 420 Montgomery and cutting protestors out of lock boxes to arrest them.


Foreclosure House Party
9:21am -- Foreclosure house party with music and furniture at 7th and Sansome Sts.


Protest Shutting Down Wells Fargo Headquarters
8:50am -- 40 protestors and some squids now blocking entrances at Code Pink action at Wells Fargo Headquarters, 420 Montgomery St (at California).

Go here for more updates over the course of the day. You can also stay informed on Twitter at #occupysf, #occupywallstwest, #OWSwest and #occupyoakland. Tweets there will direct you to ustreams and livestreams of actions as they happen. Occupy Network is currently broadcasting two streams out of downtown San Francisco. Yesterday's post also names some of the possible ustreamers and livestreamers. There are also Occupy the Courts protests taking place in other parts of the country as well, including one on the steps of the US Supreme Court.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Occupy Wall Street West 

UPDATE: For a flyer that sets out the location of planned actions, with explanations, go here. Scroll down for the map.

INITIAL POST: Tomorrow:

6:00am Occupy Wall St West!
Day-long Nonviolent Mass Occupation

When: Fri, January 20, 6am – 9pm

Where: San Francisco's Financial District (map)

Description: See http://www.Occu​pyWallStWest.or​g for developing details

San Francisco Financial District
DAYLONG NONVIOLENT MASS OCCUPATION
of the Wall St. banks & corporations attacking our communities
DON’T GO TO (OR WALK OUT OF) WORK AND SCHOOL

Organized groups will be coordinating specific direct actions and set their times and places. For members of the public/Occupy that are not part of an organized group, you can converge on Bradley Manning Plaza (Justine Herman) and join with others at any of these times, 6:00am, 12 Noon and 5:00pm.

For more background, go here and here.

Starting at 6am PST tomorrow, you can follow the day's events on Twitter at #OccupySF, #OWSWest and #OccupyWallStWest, among others. There will be at least 8 ustreamers providing video broadcasts of the actions over the course of the day, including pixplz, occupy-sf-maya, codeframeosf and mikeqtips, as well as the occupysf channel. Go to http://www.ustream.tv to find them. The Twitter feed will undoubtedly have links to these ustreamers and others as well as events unfold.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Who Killed the Public Option? 

I'm feeling a little nostalgic today, so much so that I found myself interested in a post over at firedoglake about Richard Kirsch, Health Care for America Now and the abandonment of the public option during the passage of health care reform. For those of you with any remaining doubt that over the lack of Democratic support for the public option, Talking Points Memo dispels it during the course of a review of Kirsch's recently released book about his experience:

The book is Fighting For Our Health, by Richard Kirsch, who directed the advocacy group Health Care for America Now during the push for reform. HCAN is a well financed umbrella group backed by scores of liberal groups, unions, and other reformers — making Kirsch a close witness to the entire saga. He confirms that the White House treated the public option like a bargaining chip with powerful industry players, and believes that when his group became most critical of the bill mid-way through the fight, that top White House aides sought to have him canned.

The White House had negotiated a number of deals with the health industry, designed to win their support for reform, including agreeing to oppose a robust public option, which would have the greatest clout to control how much providers got paid, writes Kirsch, largely confirming what has become an open secret in Washington.

Kirsch’s book is replete with similar stories. Thematically, it centers on contradictions within the Democratic party, and Obama himself, that gave rise to the infighting that marked the debate. To keep factions from spinning apart, Kirsch suggests, the administration was averse from the outset to the idea that progressives and sympathetic stakeholders should play an outside game, pressuring the President and problem Democrats in Congress to pass robust reforms.

By way of background, it is important to note that the public option was a watered down version of single payer, designed to provide an acceptable alternative for a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress. Perhaps, you recall that the passage of health care reform with a public option and the availability of generic drugs, also voted down in Congress, was mentioned by progressives as one of the reasons that it was essential for to vote for Obama and the Democrats in 2008.The public option, it seems, was more about creating a transfer station for those health care reform supporters traveling from single payer to the individual mandate than it was about an actual policy that could be effectively implemented.

Upon reading the Talking Points Memo review, one is immediately struck by the fact that the White House could not even tolerate the mild advocacy of an Obama friendly organization like HCAN. In the end, Kirsch got back in line, as HCAN urged its supporters to call Congress to get the final version of the bill passed, warts and all, as a visit to the HCAN homepage demonstrates. HCAN is therefore a cautionary story about how a progressive organization created for a particular, socially beneficial purpose ended up as an advocate for what it purportedly loathed, a neoliberal health care reform that places much of the costs on the middle class, although one can plausible argue that this was the true objective of those who created HCAN from the inception.

Not surprisingly, if the Talking Points Memo review of his book gives us an accurate impression of the scope of his book, Kirsch evades these unpleasant truths. Even today, it seems, Kirsch just can't be forthcoming with those who would support his objectives. Kirsch and HCAN refused, during the legislative process, to inform the public about what had already been done to the public option, and, in fact, continued to lead people to believe that, through public pressure, legislators could be induced to pass it. It was all just one big Kabuki show, where Kirsch and HCAN, with the support of labor unions like AFSCME and SEIU, and progressive groups like MoveON.org, mislead progressives and workers because they felt it was more important to dissemble and maintain an illusory influence with the White House than it was to be truthful with those who made phone calls, sent letters and organized rallies in support of the public option. Indeed, Kirsch is still being dishonest with this book, because, according to Talking Points Memo, it attributes the refusal of Obama to fight for a public option to a failure of political nerve and a misguided political strategy, when, instead, it is entirely consistent with the neoliberal, financial sector orientation of his policies.

Put bluntly, Kirsch and HCAN believe that people like you and me need to understand that we have to accept such manipulation as part of the effort to implement the progressive agenda. If this sounds familiar, it should. It is exactly what many of the Strauss influenced neoconservatives say about foreign policy. From this loss of credibility in the legislative process and the institutionalized progressive organizations that considered it pragmatic to manipulate their supporters for the benefit of the White House, we now have Occupy. The failure of the progressive mobilization for health care reform and a Keynesian stimulus plan for the economy induced many to draw the inescapable conclusion that the electoral process merely serves the purpose of legitimizing corporate control of the US political system. They embraced the direct action ethos of Occupy as a form of resistance.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Occupy Wells Fargo Live 

UPDATE 3 (2:03PM PST): There have been 5 arrests. The police have gotten out of the alley, and taken the arrestees to the nearby police station. Protesters are now in front of the station and demanding their release.

UPDATE 2 (1:55PM PST): Protesters have blocked the police paddy wagon trying to take away the arrestees in an alley.

UPDATE 1 (1:43 PM PST): Several cops have climbed up a fire truck ladder onto the roof, and taken the banners away. First arrests. Chants of let the people go, arrest the CEO!

INITIAL POST (1:02 PM PST): At 1:02 PM, California time, OccupySF is currently protesting foreclosures and evictions by Wells Fargo at the Wells Fargo branch right by the 16h Street and Mission BART station. Banners have been dropped and there are tents on the roof. he police have closed the parking lot with tape and tried to persuade activists to leave the roof without being arrested. For video, go here. Justin Beck, the public affairs director at KDVS in 1998 who put me on the radio, is the ustreamer. For twitter updates, go here.

OccupySF has described the purpose of this action as follows:

Thousands of renters and homeowners in San Francisco are being evicted by banks each year. San Francisco’s Mission District has been especially hard hit by the 1% banks preying on the 99% working class. Join Occupy SF Housing at Noon on January 14 to protest evictions of renters for condo conversions, which are being done by real estate speculators working with Wells Fargo Bank. We will demand that Wells Fargo stop all pending evictions which they are financing and to stop financing any more evictions for profit, where low & moderate income renters are evicted so affordable apartments can be converted into luxury condominiums for the wealthy.

Today's action is the first of what OccupySF has described as the Occupy Wall Street West campaign, which will culminate with planned mass occupations in the financial district on this upcoming Friday, January 20th.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Occupy Oakland and the American Licorice Strike 

On Tuesday, participants in Occupy Oakland joined workers from Baker's Workers Union 125 on the picket line at American Licorice, the manufacturer of Red Vines, in Union City. They had been striking for about 36 days over American Licorice's new contract proposal to increase the share of the employee heath care contribution for the coverage of their families in 2013 and 2014. According to OakFoSho, the plant is turning out Red Vines around the clock.

Noah Zimmerman described his experience:

The picket looked strong. Hundreds of people I guessed, stretching along Whipple and around the corner to their mailbox at 2477 Liston Way (American Licorice’s phone number is 510-487-5500 if you want to call and confirm the address). Food, tables and chairs were set up. The workers on strike were members of Bakery Workers Union Local 125. They were mostly Latino. I spotted Occupy Oakland picketing the main entrance. It looked like the two groups were self-segregating.

Union City police were out in force. So were Hayward, Fremont and Newark police. A mutual aid agreement between the departments. Everything looked heavy but at least the riot gear wasn’t out.

Then, I saw them behind the main gate where the Oakland Occupiers were on a moving picket. Goons. Hired goons. Three of them, observing the picketers from behind the gate. The Huffmaster Security Crisis Team. Red Vines, which everyone eats at the movie theater (if anyone can still afford to go out) not only pull fillings out of your teeth but make factory bosses to pull out their checkbooks for present-day Pinkertons.

One of them was built like a brickhouse. He looked like a creation of Vince McMahon’s steroid-addled imagination. Asshole #1, one of the workers said, gesturing to him. No name? I asked. Asshole #1. He shoves people. Interesting.

One fellow in a Carhartt jacket told me that American Licorice was hiring scabs through a temp agency in Emeryville. They had Huffmaster ferry them in a white van. I heard the workers hadn’t tried to block the scabs up until that day.

So workers and occupiers blocked them.

The Huffmasters used a manuever where they put their hands on the hood of the vehicle and backed into the crowd. Someone sat down in front of the vehicle. There was nothing they could do, especially with dozens of cell cameras witnessing everything, live, versus Huffmaster’s one puny Sony Handicam without an Internet connection. The vehicle was repulsed. Back to the American Licorice lot, scab wagon.

A win. It’s happening. Now.

Again, with another vehicle, a Sentra with a Huffmaster logo on the dash, trying to get in. Some goon squad middle manager. Sit down in front of the car. Asshole #1 is clearly the ringleader on the ground of this union-busting wrecking crew. He looks like ex-military, which Huffmaster brags about hiring on their website. He cracks a bit. His latern jaw twitches as he tries to back into the crowd. How about no? We rejected the last vehicle and we reject this one, too.

I'd like to be able to say that the workers at American Licorice prevailed, that the community support provided by Occupy Oakland turned the tide. But it didn't. The workers at American Licorice decided to accept the company's offer. Again, according to Zimmerman:

Personally, I more surprised than disappointed that this happened so quickly at the federal negotiation table in Oakland. Rene Castillo was disappointed but the union voted democratically to accept the offer. I agree with Rene that if they had voted to stay on the picket line a little longer, based on what I saw on the line yesterday, the workers had the momentum.

At the same time, one month in the middle of winter is an incredibly long time to hold down a nonstop picket. It’s costly to families to not have a normal income. It’s cold out. Food is expensive, gas is expensive, housing is expensive. Strike funds get drained, especially with 178 workers. The tenaciousness and reserve of the workers was difficult to put into words and I only saw second to last day of the strike. They’d been out there since December 5th.

I think that this experience working in solidarity with Local 125 is a learning process for both Occupy Oakland, Occupy as a whole and unions who ask for our support. The biggest lesson to me is that time is of the essence. I heard rumors about Local 125 asking for support perhaps a week ago yet it took until yesterday for us to get organized enough to get down there and support them. This isn’t to point fingers. I should have done something earlier instead of passively waiting for instructions or a committee. So should have you if you felt passionate about it.

Our tactics were effective. Occupy can do things that union members can’t, like sit down in front of vehicles crossing the picket line.

The biggest lesson that I took away from this is we absolutely cannot dawdle when workers’ rights are under attack and our brothers and sisters put a call out for our help. Our goal should be to be able to deploy ourselves and our resources the next day within the Bay Area to any union that requests support in a labor struggle.

This is the first time Occupy Oakland or any Occupation as far as I know of was specifically asked for help in a labor dispute. Despite the settlement agreement, I consider yesterday a success. We are learning and adapting. This movement is fluid, evolving and its many moving parts are becoming finely tuned. Our network and connections with others in the 99% are growing stronger. I liked the people on a personal level on the picket lines. I won’t forget Yolanda, Maria, Juana, Maria and Rene Jr. or Sr. I met new people from Occupy Oakland and the labor community. I broke bread with them. The humor and conversations I had with others with will stay with me. I live in Richmond and have only driven through Union City before yesterday. I have a feeling I’ll cross paths with these comrades again sometime soon.

I hope that Zimmerman's cautious optimism is justifed. Certainly, any successful attempt to transform American society requires the kind of mutual aid provided for the benefit of the American Licorice workers in Union City.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Who Will You Believe This Time? 

Despite his anachronistic social and economic perspectives, Ron Paul has performed a great public service by exposing the lies by which those in the military, the government and the media are using to try to persuade the public to support an attack upon Iran. To date, I haven't noticed any progressive organization, such as, for example, MoveON.org or Rebuild the Dream, say anything at all about it. My search query at the website for each, using the term Iran, humorously generated a Nothing Found result.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Occupy and the Urgency of Inclusion 

As noted here last month, Pham Binh posted an insightful examination of Occupy as a social movement, acknowledging its achievements while identifying potential weaknesses. For example, consider the following observation:

One of the most important elements that makes Occupy an uprising and not merely a mass movement is its alleged leaderlessness. Of course as Marxists we know that every struggle requires leadership in some form, and Occupy is no exception. The leaders of Occupy are those who put their bodies on the line at the encampments and get deeply involved in the complex, Byzantine decision-making process Occupy uses known as modified consensus. Occupy’s leaders are those who make the proposals at planning meetings, working groups, and General Assemblies (GAs) that attract enough support to determine the uprising’s course of action.

The people leading the uprising are those who are willing to make the biggest sacrifices for it.

Since Occupy is self-organizing and self-led by its most dedicated participants, attempts to make its decision-making process more accessible to those who are not willing or able to dedicate themselves to Occupy 24 hours a day, seven days a week will fall flat. All day, all week, occupy Wall Street! is not just a chant, it is a way of life for Occupy’s de facto leadership.

This reality has affected the class character of encampment participants, who tend to be either what Karl Marx called lumpenproletariat (long-term homeless, hustlers, drug addicts, and others who have fallen through the cracks of the capitalist edifice) or highly educated (white) students, ex-students, and graduate students. The former joined the encampments not just to eat and sleep in a relatively safe place but also because they hope the uprising will win real, meaningful change. The latter tend to dominate Occupy’s convoluted decision-making process and what motivates them is identical to what motivates the lumpenproletarian elements: hope that Occupy will win real, meaningful change. Many of these people are saddled with tremendous amounts of personal debt, have worked two or three part-time jobs simultaneously, or were unable to find work in their field despite their expensive, extensive educations. They were destined to be secure petty bourgeois or well-paid white-collar workers before the ongoing fallout from the 2008 crisis claimed their futures and put their backs against the wall. This is the material reality underpinning the determination of Occupy participants to keep coming back despite repeated arrests, beatings, and setbacks. Their determination is the stuff revolutions are made of.

In other words, Occupy is a social movement that purports to give expression to working class concerns in the absence of working class participation, with the limited exception of Occupy Oakland. Tiny of POOR Magazine in San Francisco describes the ambiguity of the movement for people whose lives are seemingly beyond the comprehension of those involved in Occupy:

Four sets of human arms shot out of the revolving doors of Wells Fargo Bank in downtown San Francisco, while 6 bodies hugged the sides of the building. Po’Lice officers stood at confused attention while customers and downtown workers skirted the perimeter of the Foreclose on Wall Street Rally which included over 2000 people in attendence. Wells Fargo employees stood on the other side of the glass in a collective freeze frame. Every chant by the people sitting at the mouth of the bank was matched with hundreds of echoes repeated by the huge crowd in front of them.

Co-editor of POOR Magazine, Tony Robles and me, both the children of poor workers of color, who never even had enough money to apply, qualify or think of getting a mortgage, much-less any kind of a bank loan, stood there in witness, mouths agape. My mother always joked that our indigenous family was lucky to stay in the cardboard hotels when we traveled and were so poor and herstorically landless that we would have to squat our burial place just to have somewhere to die.

And yet, the power of that moment, even if it wasn’t us or other always landless peoples they were speaking for, I know they were speaking truth to domination. Corporate, Racist, Exclusionary domination that is and has always oppressed so many poor peoples, indigenous peoples and communities of color since the beginning of the Other Occupation of all of the indigenous lands on Turtle Island that continues today.

After today, I am taking all of my money out of Wells Fargo, said Jessie, 81 an elder who stood quietly on the perimeter of the huge crowd with a sign that said simply I am the 99%.

POOR Magazine was in the march on this day, sadly with only three members, we did have four family members but several of our poor parents are houseless and jobless and so our fourth member had his phone cut off the night before and so we couldn’t find each other in the masses of people, and all of our other family members were working one of several jobs and hustles and so they didn’t even have the privilege to be there at all.

At first I was taken by the almost flawless organizing by Bay Area non-profit organizations. From the emcee to the turn-out from group after group, the whole event was wound tightly as a rope on a drum. Each act of civil disobedience, set-off at the mouths of Wells Fargo bank branches, were beautifully orchestrated stages of theatre and action. It was obvious that funded organizations with time and paid staff had organized this event down to the last balloon, slightly like a party we at POOR Magazine had never received an invitation to.

As we left the protest to get our young kids to school on time, Tony and I spoke about the power of the resistance that we had just been part of. I brought up how although I am excited and about all of the issues peoples were speaking and acting on I remain vexed by the fact that as poor peoples of color and indigenous peoples we are constantly in battle, in protest about the genocide and violence perpetrated on us and yet it is a struggle for us to get 50 people to show up for protests, so what is the difference? and what really is our role in all of these resistance occupations as poor peoples of color in struggle who are also in struggle with the occupation of our time due to no-wage and low-wage work, system abuse and ongoing criminalization and why do our resistance movements stay at the margins of what is important to show up for?

For many poor and working class people, Occupy remains on the other side of a window that they can only peer through, much like the Christmas toys and displays at a Union Square department store. So, how can Occupy reach them? How can Occupy provide a place for them that recognizes their experience and empowers them to participate in the creation of a new world? Such questions imply a social enterprise beyond the spectacular successes of Occupy like the Day of Action in Manhattan and the general strike and port shutdown in Oakland. Indeed, the port shutdown on December 12th was a classic instance of the glass being either half empty or half full, depending on one's perspective. The participation of many union members was impressive, and yet, there remains a tension between those associated with the bureaucratized methods of trade unionism and the spontaneity of Occupy activists, as touched upon here and here and here and here.

I have no answers for these questions, except to say that I hope that those involved in Occupy emphasize a flexible, inclusive method of activism, as they have successfully done in many instances, over one that exalts organizational forms. As correctly noted by Pham, Occupy has evolved into a form of organization that effectively excludes many who might otherwise participate, and, even worse, may ultimately result in a predominately middle class orientation over time. One hears echoes of such an outcome from some participants in occupations that see the problem primarily in terms of the need to reimpose the restrictions of the Glass-Steagall Act upon the financial sector, reverse the Citizens United decision so as to curtail the influence of corporate political contributions and get the police under control. It is the willingness of those involved in Occupy Oakland to recognize that there is a material basis for our current distress that makes it so politically appealing, rough edges, missteps and all.

While the port shutdown exposed tensions between unions and Occupy, many of the organizers understood how to effectively overcome them:

By reaching out to and including the voices of rank-and-filers and labor activists, we collaborated with them to build the community picket line, rather than scheming in secret about how to blockade them from going to work. As a result, we were able to weather the attacks in the weeks leading up to the action--a barrage that came not only from the 1 percent and the media, but from union leaders who repeatedly tried to stifle participation in December 12.

The port action committee had a well-organized plan in place for December 12. People in the committee organized picket teams, communications and food distribution. There were teams to plan for speakers and rallies, and to make sure signs and banners were printed and brought to the gates. Organizers were also in close communication with port workers about which terminals had ships and which did not, so we knew which gates to picket.

There was also explicit outreach to talk to self-identified anti-capitalist forces who had declared a march at the same time as the port action--to ask them to agree to the tactics decided for the day.

Ultimately, the proof of these preparations lies in the success of the event itself. Hundreds of people showed up before dawn to put up community pickets before the first shift, and even larger numbers came in the evening. No ILWU members crossed picket lines. Teamsters didn't show up that day, and hundreds of non-unionized truckers stayed away. As for truckers who were at the docks, many showed their support in various ways.

None of that could have been accomplished without the support of workers at the Port of Oakland.

Beyond this, there is the problem of the 24/7 activists. As explained by Bifo in After the Future, there is only one psychological destination for them: burnout and depression. In this, the 24/7 activists of Occupy are mirroring the capitalist, corporate world that they are rebelling against. Just as those who are willing to dedicate their lives in the service of the corporation rise to the highest rungs, to positions like Chief Financial Officer and Chief Executive Officer, those willing to spend their time almost exclusively upon Occupy attain the most influence. Corporate executives are treated by psychiatrists who prescribe them psychotropic medications, while activists probably self-medicate. In both instances, there is the risk of serious impairment of judgment. Bifo asserts that the financial catastrophes of last twenty years may have been partially caused by executives addicted to inhibition reducing drugs like Prozac and Zoloft, drugs that induced them to believe that any risk could be overcome. One wonders if the combination of self-medication and depression among activists is a contributing factor towards selecting confrontation with the police as a political strategy.

Of course, none of this should be construed as a criticism of those who have committed themselves to Occupy and released its revolutionary potential. Rather, it should be considered a warning as to what might happen if the movement does not successfully engage people like Tiny, her husband and others like them who possess an intense desire to change the world in which they live even as they struggle to survive from day to day. Only through such participation can we move beyond a social model that replicates the obsessive, representational qualities of capitalism in a disguised form. Such a utopian aspiration is no easy task, but is worth recalling that capitalism itself was a utopian enterprise, albeit a perverse one, for many centuries. An intensified emphasis upon the daily suffering of people, and an insistence that it be immediately addressed, as opposed to one centered around legalistic agendas based upon the regulation of financial capital and the electoral process, strikes me as essential to such an endeavor. Along these lines, it is worth noting that participants in Occupy Oakland walked the picket line in support of American Licorice workers in Union City.

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Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Birth Defects of Fallujah 

As I discussed in a post from July 2010, this is one of those successes of the US invasion and occupation that you don't hear publicized here very much. A doctor in Fallujah believes that a proliferation of children born with shocking birth defects is related to the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons in Fallujah in 2004:

Dr Samira Alani, a paediatric specialist at Fallujah General Hospital, has taken a personal interest in investigating an explosion of congenital abnormalities that have mushroomed in the wake of the US sieges since 2005.

We have all kinds of defects now, ranging from congenital heart disease to severe physical abnormalities, both in numbers you cannot imagine, Alani told Al Jazeera at her office in the hospital, while showing countless photos of shocking birth defects.

As of December 21, Alani, who has worked at the hospital since 1997, told Al Jazeera she had personally logged 677 cases of birth defects since October 2009. Just eight days later when Al Jazeera visited the city on December 29, that number had already risen to 699.

There are not even medical terms to describe some of these conditions because we've never seen them until now, she said. So when I describe it all I can do is describe the physical defects, but I'm unable to provide a medical term.

Most of these babies in Fallujah die within 20 to 30 minutes after being born, but not all.

Four-year-old Abdul Jaleel Mohammed was born in October 2007. His clinical diagnosis includes dilation of two heart ventricles, and a growth on his lower back that doctors have not been able to remove.

Abdul has trouble controlling his muscles, struggles to walk, cannot control his bladder, and weakens easily. Doctors told his father, Mohamed Jaleel Abdul Rahim, that his son has severe nervous system problems, and could develop fluid build-up in his brain as he ages, which could prove fatal.

This is the first instance of something like this in all our family? Rahim told Al Jazeera. We lived in an area that was heavily bombed by the Americans in 2004, and a missile landed right in front of our home. What else could cause these health problems besides this?

Dr Alani told Al Jazeera that in the vast majority of cases she has documented, the family had no prior history of ongenital abnormalities.

Alani showed Al Jazeera hundreds of photos of babies born with cleft palates, elongated heads, a baby born with one eye in the centre of its face, overgrown limbs, short limbs, and malformed ears, noses and spines.

Of course, as noted in the Al Jazeera article, there may be such clusters of birth defects to varying degrees elsewhere in Iraq as well, because the US did not limit the use of white phosphorus and depleted uranium weapons to Fallujah. Furthermore, according to Dr. Sharif al-Alwachi, cancer rates have escalated substantially in Babil Province in southern Iraq. Another doctor measured radiation rates in Basra and Kerbala, and the indicator on the Geiger counter went beyond the range. It is impossible to know the severity of the problem because of a lack of doctors and researchers available to conduct a comprehensive investigation, but 42 sites with high levels of nuclear radiation and dioxin contamination have been identified by the Iraqi government:

Southern Iraq, especially Basra, have been adversely affected by such contamination:

The environment minister, Narmin Othman, said high levels of dioxins on agricultural lands in southern Iraq, in particular, were increasingly thought to be a key factor in a general decline in the health of people living in the poorest parts of the country.

If we look at Basra, there are some heavily polluted areas there and there are many factors contributing to it, ­she told the Guardian. First, it has been a battlefield for two wars, the Gulf war and the Iran-Iraq war, where many kinds of bombs were used. Also, oil pipelines were bombed and most of the contamination settled in and around Basra.

The soil has ended up in people's lungs and has been on food that people have eaten. Dioxins have been very high in those areas. All of this has caused systemic problems on a very large scale for both ecology and overall health.

Unfortunately, the Guardian article does not explain the potential sources for the dioxin contamination, but, in regard to radiation, one one can reasonbly conclude that it probable that many parts of Iraq have experienced levels of radiation exposure and contamination substantially in excess what is known about Japan after the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdowns. And, it is important to recognize that the US did not first commence to subject Iraq to radiation contamination in 2003 as explained in this 2002 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article:

On the Highway of Death, 11 miles north of the Kuwait border, a collection of tanks, armored personnel carriers and other military vehicles are rusting in the desert.

They also are radiating nuclear energy.

In 1991, the United States and its Persian Gulf War allies blasted the vehicles with armor-piercing shells made of depleted uranium -- the first time such weapons had been used in warfare -- as the Iraqis retreated from Kuwait. The devastating results gave the highway its name.

Today, nearly 12 years after the use of the super-tough weapons was credited with bringing the war to a swift conclusion, the battlefield remains a radioactive toxic wasteland -- and depleted uranium munitions remain a mystery.

Although the Pentagon has sent mixed signals about the effects of depleted uranium, Iraqi doctors believe that it is responsible for a significant increase in cancer and birth defects in the region. Many researchers outside Iraq, and several U.S. veterans organizations, agree; they also suspect depleted uranium of playing a role in Gulf War Syndrome, the still-unexplained malady that has plagued hundreds of thousands of Gulf War veterans.

While the US military denies it, retired Major Doug Rokke believes that the use of depleted uranium during the 1991 Gulf War was responsible for subsequent cancer clusters in the Basra area:

Major Doug Rokke, now retired, was in charge of cleaning up American tanks hit by DU during the Gulf War—casualties of friendly fire. He said the DU dust got blown far away by the wind and entered the soil and water supply. Dr. Rokke, who holds a Ph.D. in physics, said many of the men in his cleanup crew developed the same kinds of cancers seen among Iraqi children.

The first member of our staff to develop cancer was sleeping downwind from where we collected the contaminated equipment, he said. This was in Saudi Arabia. He developed cancer of the larynx and throat within nine months. He was breathing in the dust, which we know goes tremendous distances. The first lung cancers were within two years and the first deaths were fairly rapid.

When DU hits a hard target, it creates a small, radioactive fireball.

Dr. Rokke believes depleted uranium poses a particular danger for children because their young bodies are more vulnerable. DU is both radioactive and a toxic, heavy metal. Children who breathe or eat even a small amount can be affected. He said using depleted uranium in Iraq may well cause serious health problems in years to come.

Andrew Kershaw of The Independent graphically described the horrific birth defects of the children in Basra in 2001:

I thought I had a strong stomach - toughened by the minefields and foul frontline hospitals of Angola, by the handiwork of the death squads in Haiti and by the wholesale butchery of Rwanda. But I nearly lost my breakfast last week at the Basrah Maternity and Children's Hospital in southern Iraq.

Dr Amer, the hospital's director, had invited me into a room in which were displayed colour photographs of what, in cold medical language, are called congenital anomalies, but what you and I would better understand as horrific birth deformities. The images of these babies were head-spinningly grotesque and thank God they didn't bring out the real thing, pickled in formaldehyde. At one point I had to grab hold of the back of a chair to support my legs.

I won't spare you the details. You should know because - according to the Iraqis and in all likelihood the World Health Organisation, which is soon to publish its findings on the spiralling birth defects in southern Iraq - we are responsible for these obscenities.

During the Gulf war, Britain and the United States pounded the city and its surroundings with 96,000 depleted-uranium shells. The wretched creatures in the photographs for they were scarcely human are the result, Dr Amer said.

He guided me past pictures of children born without eyes, without brains. Another had arrived in the world with only half a head, nothing above the eyes. Then there was a head with legs, babies without genitalia, a little girl born with her brain outside her skull and the whatever-it-was whose eyes were below the level of its nose.

Then the chair-grabbing moment - a photograph of what I can only describe (inadequately) as a pair of buttocks with a face and two amphibian arms. Mercifully, none of these babies survived for long.

For those born without such defects, Kershaw discovered that there was a dramatic increase in leukemia, and a lack of medication to treat them. If they did not die for lack of the medication, they subsequent died when they ran out of it.

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Thursday, January 05, 2012

Trust Fund Governor 

People may not realize it, but California Governor Jerry Brown was a trust fund kid before the term became commonly known. Son of former Governor Pat Brown, a man who should rightly be praised for his defense of leftists like Harry Bridges, his opposition to the internment and his commutation of death sentences, the world was open to him, the seminary, UC Berkeley, Yale Law School, studies in Central America and a clerkship with California Supreme Court Justice Matthew Tobriner. He was certainly talented, as he has demonstrated, but as a son of social and financial privilege, he was able to take advantage of opportunities that the rest of us can only imagine.

Furthermore, Brown cultivated an austere demeanor in marked contrast to the profligate stereotype associated with trust fund kids. Paradoxically, it has been this ascetic nature, the reverse side of the trust fund kid coin, that reveals his commonality with his spendthrift brethren, as both are expressions of the freedom from scarcity that defines trust fund status. Accordingly, he has always displayed an insensitivity towards those who depend upon the assistance of others, including the government, for their day to day survival and possible social advancement.

We first encountered it when Brown cynically criticized the Great Society when he ran for governor in 1974, and, then, upon his election, engaged in the small is beautiful exhibitionism of driving a Plymouth and living in a small apartment across for the capital. If everyone lived like me, he seemed to say, they would recognize that poverty is merely a state of mind that can be easily exorcised. Such was the implication of his notorious statement that public sector workers, suffering from the stagflation of the 1970s, should be satisfied with psychic income instead of real material improvements in their lives through collective bargaining.

Now, it is obvious that Jerry Brown 2.0 is merely a variation of the original release. He has balanced the budget on the backs of the poor and education, carrying out the Schwarzenegger blueprint more effectively by eschewing financial public relations gimmicks. He coerced public sector unions to agree to new collective bargaining agreements by and large on terms proposed by Schwarzenegger, and he is now proposing a pension reform substantially based upon increasing the age of retirement for full benefits for new hires to 67 and opening the door to private fund management of some employee contributions. Not surprisingly, prison guards and police officers are exempted from this essentially Republican inspired proposal.

And then, today, Brown released his proposed state budget for the 2012-2013 fiscal year:

Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday proposed more deep cuts to state welfare programs and Medi-Cal next fiscal year, and warned that spending on schools, universities and courts will be reduced by billions if California voters refuse to pass his tax plan in November.

Assuming the tax plan is passed, funding for higher education and courts would remain steady while K-12 schools would get an increase. But if lawmakers approve Brown's plan, spending on the state's welfare-to-work program would be slashed by nearly $1 billion, child care subsidies would be eliminated for 71,000 children and there would be deep reductions to publicly-funded health care.

These are painful reductions - mothers and kids will be getting same welfare check in real dollars that they got in 80's, and the same for the elderly, blind and disabled, Brown said. These are not nice cuts, but that's what it takes to balance the budget.

Jerry Brown has never had kids, never had to rely upon the public educational system for his education, never had to worry about getting retrained in order to reenter the workforce and never had to confront being sick with little or no money. No wonder he displays such a lack of understanding about the struggle of millions of people in this state to stay off the streets, feed themselves and educate their children. He remains, as he has always been, a self-absorbed trust fund kid incapable of maintaining any personal bond with the lived experience of the majority of people in this state. As for the rest of us, there are the haunting words of that prescient Sex Pistols song, No Future.

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Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Death of Gordon Hirabayashi 

Like Fred Korematsu, Hirabayashi refused to compy with President Roosevelt's internment order:

Mr. Hirabayashi, a son of Japanese immigrants, was a senior at the University of Washington when the United States entered World War II. He adhered to the pacifist principles of his parents, who had once belonged to a Japanese religious sect similar to the Quakers.

When the West Coast curfew was imposed, ordering people of Japanese background to be home by 8 p.m., Mr. Hirabayashi ignored it. When the internment directive was put in place, he refused to register at a processing center and was jailed.

Contending that the government’s actions were racially discriminatory, Mr. Hirabayashi proved unyielding. He refused to post $500 bail because he would have been transferred to an internment camp while awaiting trial. He remained in jail from May 1942 until October of that year, when his case was heard before a federal jury in Seattle.

Found guilty of violating both the curfew and internment orders, he was sentenced to concurrent three-month prison terms. While his appeal was pending, he remained at the local jail for an additional four months, then was released and sent to Spokane, Wash., to work on plans to relocate internees when they were finally released.

His appeal, along with one by Mr. Yasui, a lawyer from Hood River, Ore., who had been jailed for nine months for curfew defiance, made its way to the Supreme Court. In 1943, ruling unanimously, the court upheld the curfew as a constitutional exercise of the government’s war powers. Mr. Hirabayashi served out his three-month prison term at a work camp near Tucson.

The Supreme Court declined to rule at the time on Mr. Hirabayashi’s challenge to internment as well. (Mr. Yasui had contested only the curfew.) But in December 1944, in a case brought by Mr. Korematsu, a welder from Oakland, Calif., the court upheld the constitutionality of internment in a 6-to-3 vote.

Not surprisingly, Japanese Americans have played a prominent role in organizing opposition to post-9/11 measures that have resulted in the surveillance, detention and deportation of Muslims. It is also important to remember that the liberal, New Deal Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the internment, and that the Korematsu decision has never been overturned. In other words, it remains a legal precedent that may be invoked by the court in the near future to uphold presidential authority to kill or indefinitely detain people at home or abroad. Interestingly, Hirabayashi was also incarcerated for refusing induction into the military. He refused to renounce allegiance to the Emperor of Japan as required for induction, because he considered it racially discriminatory when no other ethnic groups were required to deny the possibility of loyalty to another country.

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

NYPD Raids OWS Livestream 

UPDATE 2: Turns out that 7 people were arrested at Grand Central Station. There is also a rumor that the NYPD is about to raid the Manhattan studio as well.

UPDATE 1: So far, only one person has been arrested at the NDAA protest at Grand Central Station. Hopefully, the NYPD will allow the participants to depart.

INITIAL POST: About four hours ago, the NYPD shut down the livestream studio of Global Revolution in Brooklyn, one of the sites of volunteer livestreaming of Occupy Wall Street activity. The reason? Continued occupation of the studio is imminently perilous to life. Curiously, the NYPD allowed everyone else using the building to remain. Meanwhile, the NYPD has already arrested someone participating in a protest against the National Defense Authorization Act, known as the NDAA, at Grand Central Station. For the livestream, go here.

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