Wednesday, November 30, 2011

World AIDs Day: From Ryan White to the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act

Today, December 1, is recognized as World AIDs Day, which has been commemorated since 1988 as the world's first global Health Day. It is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate people who have died. An estimated 33.2 million people worldwide live with HIV today, making it one of the most pervasive epidemics in recorded history. Despite improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic still claims an estimated 2 million lives each year, about 13% of whom are children.

The HIV epidemic looks very different than when it was first identified in the early 1980s, when it was known variously as “Gay Related Immune Deficiency” and “Gay Bowel Syndrome” (Immunologists have since determined that deaths from AIDs were actually occurring in the 1950s, but were not yet accurately identified). During the 1980s, entire neighborhoods were decimated as the virus spread, with little understanding as to how it was transmitted or how to control it. At the height of the crisis, 50% of Americans believed that patients with HIV should be quarantined. In 1992, while running for the US Senate from Arkansas, Mike Huckabee echoed this sentiment when he declared,

If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague…. It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.

But perhaps no chapter in American history displays the degree of fear and widespread ignorance of HIV transmission than the storm surrounding Ryan White.

Ryan Wayne White (December 6, 1971 – April 8, 1990) was a teenager from Kokomo, Indiana who contracted HIV from tainted blood received in a transfusion (Ryan had hemophilia). After his initial diagnosis, Ryan’s health improved and his mother asked if he could return to school. 117 parents (from a school of 360 total students) and 50 teachers signed a petition asking school leaders to ban Ryan from school, and the school prohibited him from attending. The Indiana State Department of Education insisted that school permit Ryan to attend.

When Ryan tried to return to school, many parents and teachers continued to oppose his attendance, even though medical authorities at the Center for Disease Control assured them that there was no danger. The New England Journal of Medicine published a study on HIV transmission that concluded,
“…the risk of infection was minimal to nonexistent, even when contact included sharing toothbrushes, razors, clothing, combs and drinking glasses; sleeping in the same bed; and hugging and kissing…”

Nonetheless, the school required him to eat with disposable utensils, use separate bathrooms, and waived his requirement to enroll in a gym class. When a bullet was fired through the Whites' living room window, the family decided to leave Kokomo, and Ryan enrolled in a new school in Cicero, Indiana. Ryan would win his court battles, but died in April 1990 – just one month before his graduation.

In his honor, Congress passed the Ryan White Care Act, which remains the largest program providing care for those with HIV in the United States.

Unfortunately, the fear and marginalization of people with HIV continues.

On August 2, 2011, we reported in this blog on the draconian – even medieval – law passed in Iowa in 1998 that criminalized potential HIV transmission as a Class B felony. The sentence designated the ‘carrier’ as a felon, imposed a sentence of up to 25 years in prison, and assigned him or her lifelong sex-offender status, even if the contact was consensual. Under this law, a person aware of his or her positive HIV status does not actually have to transmit the HIV virus, they only have to engage in intimate contact with another person, whether or not that contact is consensual, to be found guilty. The penalty exceeds that for manslaughter. Since the law was enacted, 26 people have been convicted under the law and nine people currently sit behind bars. [Iowa is not alone. 34 states have prosecuted individuals for criminal transmission (or potential transmission) of HIV.]

Seven weeks after we reported on the Iowa convictions, on September 23, 2011, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California) introduced H.R. 3053, the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act. This bill would require a review of all federal and state laws, policies, and regulations regarding the criminal prosecution of individuals for HIV-related offenses. It is the first bill to take on the issue of HIV criminalization, and provides incentives for states to explore repeal or reform of laws and practices that unfairly target people with HIV for consensual sex. Forty different medical and care-giving organizations have signed on to support the bill. This bill recognizes that the earlier criminalization statutes are based, wholly or partially, on prejudice, ignorance, and poor science.

The following sound reasons have been offered for ending this criminalization of HIV positive people:

1) Criminalizing HIV increases the stigma associated with the illness. Increasing the stigma means that people will be less likely to reveal their status and obtain treatment.

2) HIV is no longer the death sentence it was in the 1980s, nor does it necessarily lead to AIDs. Modern antiretroviral drugs have turned HIV into a lifelong medical condition, not unlike diabetes and high blood pressure. Most state criminal statutes have wrongly assumed that transmitting HIV is akin to murder, and the penalties are excessive.

3) The more cases that come to court, the more people will believe that the responsibility for having safe sex should lie solely with HIV positive people. Safe sex should always be a shared concern.

4) The law has little effect on people's sexual behavior; it does, however enable lovers to use the law as a way of exacting revenge.

5) Prosecuting positive people for reckless transmission provides a disincentive for getting tested: those who know of their positive HIV status are liable under the law, but those who remain ignorant - even purposefully – are not.

6) Most laws do not understand the ways in which HIV is transmitted. Some apply to actions such as spitting (HIV can not be transmitted through saliva), and most apply to anyone who is HIV positive, even though scientific studies have shown that many of those on regular mediation are unable to transmit the virus.

7) Imprisonment does nothing to help people accept their HIV and take a safer attitude towards sex. In addition to imprisonment costs, taxpayers would be forced to cover HIV medical costs of approximately $35,000 per inmate per year. While in prison, the sharing of needles for injecting drugs and the high incidence of male rape and sex between men in prisons makes it likely that an increase in HIV transmission will actually take place behind bars.

8) Criminal cases require the police to investigate the background of anyone they suspect of having transmitted HIV. Accused persons could suggest any number of other possible partners as sources for HIV transmission; this represents a serious invasion of privacy for all actual or potentially named sexual partners – including those who claim to be supportive of such laws.

9) No other illnesses are treated with the same hysteria as HIV, and few people are ever criminalized for transmitting them. No state has ever prosecuted an employee of a nursing home for coming into work with a contagious flu and giving it to the residents, even if several of those residents subsequently died. HIV is only singled out in criminal cases because the stigma associated with it.

10) Statistics show that women often know their status through attending health clinics more frequently than men. As a result, an HIV positive man may accuse his female partner of infecting him, because she was diagnosed first, even if he infected her and was not diagnosed until much later.

Sign the Petition to Pass the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act


Hallelujah Corporations...A Musical Satire

If any music video deserves to go viral, it's this one: a fantastic parody performed at the Grover Cleveland Dinner, held by the Carroll County (NH) Democrats (Funny, Great singing, and subtitles for ease of understanding)


Sunday, November 27, 2011

33rd Anniversary: Assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone

Statement, November 27, 2011 by Stuart Milk, nephew of Harvey Milk, co founder of the Harvey B. Milk Foundation

My uncle Harvey Milk gave us his life 33 years ago, knowing that the first of any civil rights movement, who so clearly and loudly proclaim their right to equality, most often meets a violent and sudden end. George Moscone was a steadfast ally and friend of both my uncle and to the core principles of equality that Harvey represented.

Today the memory of both men stand as beacons of light not just in San Francisco, not just in California and not just in the US, but across the globe to all who are diminished for simply being authentic. I am frequently asked if I am deeply saddened that my uncle Harvey did not get to see all those who eventually would proclaim a right to live openly and thereby come to stand on his shoulders or that he also did not see all the places where the light of equality would burn brighter than the darkness of antiquated prejudice-and I have long replied, he did see all those open and proud people living an authentic life and he did see those cities and states and nations that would etch equality into both their laws and their societal values, for he could not have given his life without his seeing and visualizing the dream of that day and he has left us, all of us, with a compass based on hope, hope born of bullets, not smashing into his brain, but smashing our masks and our fear of authenticity.

We also offer timely reflection today on my uncle’s ground breaking collaborative work and his understanding and explanation that we are not weakened by our differences, in fact that our potential is only reached when the full diversity of all those that make up our communities are celebrated. Today his legacy is not of a people or community or a nation being better then another, but communication and teaching of the knowledge that we are so much less when we do not embrace, without qualification, all members of our unique and varied humanity.

My uncle’s legacy has many monuments, not the least of which are the openly LGBT public officials who, through their willingness to serve and live a publicly visible life, continue to offer Harvey Milk style leadership to a world yearning for these examples. And all our strong allies, like President Obama and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi here in the US, and our many new allies across the continents who fight everyday to keep us all embraced. And monuments to Harveys legacy are given light each day with every new young gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered person who comes out and lives an authentic life – these are real tangible living monuments to Harvey’s legacy that have the clear impact to effect change, a real enduring societal change. For as my uncle said, when they know us, when we are visible to all in our lives, hate diminishes.

Today we both mourn our loss and celebrate the legacy we were left with. The memory of Harvey and George burns bright and they have inspired equality minded communities across the country and out onto the global stage to keep alive both Harvey’s dream of a truly inclusive society, without qualification and to follow the example of enduring and selfless collaboration that marked the life of both Harvey Milk and George Moscone.


Sunday, November 20, 2011

UC Davis Police Lie re: Pepper-Spray outrage; Facts and Law suggest Officer Pike is Liable

The video (in post below) of the unprovoked pepper-spray attack on peaceful protesters at UC Davis by Lt. Pike has now gone viral, being picked up even by the major news outlets that have so far offered cavalier and tepid coverage to the Occupy movement. Accordingly, the official police “spin” of the unprovoked pepper-spraying has begun.

Charles J. Kelly, a former Baltimore Police Department lieutenant who wrote the department's use of force guidelines, said pepper spray is a "compliance tool" that can be used on subjects who do not resist, and is preferable to simply lifting protesters.

"When you start picking up human bodies, you risk hurting them," Kelly said. "Bodies don't have handles on them." (How considerate of him to prefer chemical warfare as against traditional police work.)

After reviewing the video, Kelly said he observed at least two cases of "active resistance" from protesters. In one instance, a woman pulls her arm back from an officer. In the second instance, a protester curls into a ball. Each of those actions could have warranted more force, including baton strikes and pressure-point techniques.

"What I'm looking at is fairly standard police procedure,"
Kelly said.

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said the decision to use pepper spray was made at the scene.

"The students had encircled the officers," she said Saturday. "They needed to exit. They were looking to leave but were unable to get out." A similar statement suggested that the Officers were "cut off" from their "support."

The above statements are the Lies of a Gestapo Police State attempting to cover its collective ass.

Watch the Video.

1) The students had not ‘encircled the officers.’ At least 8 officers are clearly visible to the left of all pictures and videos. Clad in riot gear with guns, batons, and chemical agents, they had a clear path of exit behind them. They were not looking to exit.

2) Even if they needed to exit, the officer sprayed students sitting on the ground, not students standing in their way.

3) When they left, the exited in the opposite direction of where the students were seated.

4) They DID hurt people…two students ended up hospitalized for chemical burns; one was still coughing up blood 45 minutes after the attack.

5) Bodies may not “have handles,” but the Police found a way to force open the mouth of one protester and spray down his throat, in spite of manufacturers warning that pepper spray should not be used – even by law authority – less than three feet from the victim.

What IS true, as Kelly said, is that this has become “fairly standard police procedure.” Unfortunately, we don’t often pay attention, because the police are brutalizing suspected criminals, drug users, prostitutes, and individuals that “nice people” don't care too much about (unfortunately).

But now they’ve gone public. In the few weeks of the Occupy Movement, we’ve seen:

Four young women “kettled” behind orange fencing and sprayed in the face in NYC;

An 84-year old in Seattle sprayed for not moving fast enough;

A young man’s head profusely bleeding from baton brutalization (The ridiculously slanted NY Daily News had a headline blaming the victim for creating a “Bloody Nuisance.”)

Seated, peaceful students at UC Davis sprayed in the face.

Scott Olson, an Iraqi war veteran shot in the head in Oakland, with resultant fractured skull and speech difficulties, whose injuries were ignored by the police who caused them.

Kayvan Sabeghi, another Iraqi War Veteran, chased and pursued by an Oakland officer who beat him with a billyclub.

Press beaten, detained, and having their press passes confiscated by NYPD officers refusing to give names or badges.

A suspect in a parking garage brutally kicked 13 times, and now hospitalized in critical condition.

A NYC Police trial where undercover investigators admitted to routinely planting drugs on innocent suspects in order to meet an arrest quota.

This is Your Police State, Amerika….

This, in spite of clear 9th Circuit Federal Court Guidelines against such brutality:


No. 98-17250. January 11, 2002
Before:  BRIGHT,PREGERSON, and W. FLETCHER, Circuit Judges.
"During three nonviolent protests against the logging of ancient redwood trees in the Headwaters Forest, plaintiffs-appellants (“protestors”) linked themselves together with self-releasing lock-down devices known as “black bears…

… Beginning in the fall of 1997, defendants began using olesoresin capsicum aerosol (“OC” or “pepper spray”) to cause the protestors to release themselves from the “black bears.” The use of pepper spray under these circumstances was entirely unprecedented:  in California, its use was “limited to controlling hostile or violent subjects” and it had never been used in Humboldt County, the State of California, or anywhere in the country against nonviolent protestors.

At issue in this case are three protests that occurred in the fall of 1997, in which defendants used pepper spray on the protestors, and then refused to give them water to wash out their eyes, in order to force the protestors to release themselves from the “black bears.”

...We...conclude that it would be clear to a reasonable officer that using pepper spray against the protestors was excessive under the circumstances. The Fourth Amendment permits law enforcement officers to use only such force to effect an arrest as is “objectively reasonable” under the circumstances.  Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 397, 109 S.Ct. 1865, 104 L.Ed.2d 443 (1989) (citations omitted).   “[T]he essence of the Graham objective reasonableness analysis” is that “ ‘[t]he force which was applied must be balanced against the need for that force:  it is the need for force which is at the heart of the Graham factors.’ ”  Liston v. County of Riverside, 120 F.3d 965, 976 (9th Cir.1997) (quoting Alexander v. City and County of San Francisco, 29 F.3d 1355, 1367 (9th Cir.1994)) The facts reflect that:  (1) the pepper spray was unnecessary to subdue, remove, or arrest the protestors;  (2) the officers could safely and quickly remove the protestors, while in “black bears,” from protest sites;  and (3) the officers could remove the “black bears” with electric grinders in a matter of minutes and without causing pain or injury to the protestors.

Defendants asserted at trial that the protestors' use of “black bears” constituted “ ‘active’ resistance to arrest,' ” meriting the use of force.   The Eureka Police Department defines “active resistance” as occurring when the “subject is attempting to interfere with the officer's actions by inflicting pain or physical injury to the officer without the use of a weapon or object.” 240 F.3d at 1202-3.   Characterizing the protestors' activities as “active resistance” is contrary to the facts of the case, viewing them, as we must, in the light most favorable to the protestors:  the protestors were sitting peacefully, were easily moved by the police, and did not threaten or harm the officers. In sum, it would be clear to a reasonable officer that it was excessive to use pepper spray against the nonviolent protestors under these circumstances.

Defendants' repeated use of pepper spray was also clearly unreasonable.   As we recently concluded, the use of pepper spray “may be reasonable as a general policy to bring an arrestee under control, but in a situation in which an arrestee surrenders and is rendered helpless, any reasonable officer would know that a continued use of the weapon or a refusal without cause to alleviate its harmful effects constitutes excessive force.”  LaLonde v. County of Riverside, 204 F.3d 947, 961 (9th Cir.2000)… Finally, it would have been clear to any reasonable officer that defendants' refusal to wash out the protestors' eyes with water constituted excessive force under the circumstances."
The Court concluded by reaffirming its decision that in spite of Police generally being immune from lawsuits, they were, in fact, liable for such an unnecessary and egregious use of force:

"...we conclude that Philip and Lewis are not entitled to qualified immunity because the use of pepper spray on the protestors' eyes and faces was plainly in excess of the force necessary under the circumstances, and no reasonable officer could have concluded otherwise."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Peaceful UC Davis Students sitting on ground Pepper-Sprayed by Police; Call for Chacellor's Resignation

In yet one more incident of police state terrorism, students peacefully sitting on the ground were pepper-sprayed by police. The unbelievable footage of this raw abuse of authority was captured clearly on the below video:

The Assaulting Officer:

Lieutenant John Pike

Police around the nation have been arrogant and brutal in their efforts to squash growing protests. Officers, "Following Orders" is no longer an excuse. Take heed: Americans are not going to simply turn tail and run.

The U S. Declaration of Independence:

when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government

NH Constitution, Article 10 - Right of Revolution:

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind. The Tennessee and North Carolina Constitutions say the same.

Police: Do you hear this? Those of us who were raised as patriotic Americans will NOT slink away into silent obedience in the face of tyranny.

18 November 2011

Linda P.B. Katehi,

I am a junior faculty member at UC Davis. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of English, and I teach in the Program in Critical Theory and in Science & Technology Studies. I have a strong record of research, teaching, and service. I am currently a Board Member of the Davis Faculty Association. I have also taken an active role in supporting the student movement to defend public education on our campus and throughout the UC system. In a word: I am the sort of young faculty member, like many of my colleagues, this campus needs. I am an asset to the University of California at Davis.

You are not.

I write to you and to my colleagues for three reasons:

1) to express my outrage at the police brutality which occurred against students engaged in peaceful protest on the UC Davis campus today

2) to hold you accountable for this police brutality

3) to demand your immediate resignation

Today you ordered police onto our campus to clear student protesters from the quad. These were protesters who participated in a rally speaking out against tuition increases and police brutality on UC campuses on Tuesday—a rally that I organized, and which was endorsed by the Davis Faculty Association. These students attended that rally in response to a call for solidarity from students and faculty who were bludgeoned with batons, hospitalized, and arrested at UC Berkeley last week. In the highest tradition of non-violent civil disobedience, those protesters had linked arms and held their ground in defense of tents they set up beside Sproul Hall. In a gesture of solidarity with those students and faculty, and in solidarity with the national Occupy movement, students at UC Davis set up tents on the main quad. When you ordered police outfitted with riot helmets, brandishing batons and teargas guns to remove their tents today, those students sat down on the ground in a circle and linked arms to protect them.

What happened next?

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

This is what happened. You are responsible for it.

You are responsible for it because this is what happens when UC Chancellors order police onto our campuses to disperse peaceful protesters through the use of force: students get hurt. Faculty get hurt. One of the most inspiring things (inspiring for those of us who care about students who assert their rights to free speech and peaceful assembly) about the demonstration in Berkeley on November 9 is that UC Berkeley faculty stood together with students, their arms linked together. Associate Professor of English Celeste Langan was grabbed by her hair, thrown on the ground, and arrested. Associate Professor Geoffrey O’Brien was injured by baton blows. Professor Robert Hass, former Poet Laureate of the United States, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, was also struck with a baton. These faculty stood together with students in solidarity, and they too were beaten and arrested by the police. In writing this letter, I stand together with those faculty and with the students they supported.

One week after this happened at UC Berkeley, you ordered police to clear tents from the quad at UC Davis. When students responded in the same way—linking arms and holding their ground—police also responded in the same way: with violent force. The fact is: the administration of UC campuses systematically uses police brutality to terrorize students and faculty, to crush political dissent on our campuses, and to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly. Many people know this. Many more people are learning it very quickly.

You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011. As I said, I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds.

On Wednesday November 16, you issued a letter by email to the campus community. In this letter, you discussed a hate crime which occurred at UC Davis on Sunday November 13. In this letter, you express concern about the safety of our students. You write, “it is particularly disturbing that such an act of intolerance should occur at a time when the campus community is working to create a safe and inviting space for all our students.” You write, “while these are turbulent economic times, as a campus community, we must all be committed to a safe, welcoming environment that advances our efforts to diversity and excellence at UC Davis.”

I will leave it to my colleagues and every reader of this letter to decide what poses a greater threat to “a safe and inviting space for all our students” or “a safe, welcoming environment” at UC Davis: 1) Setting up tents on the quad in solidarity with faculty and students brutalized by police at UC Berkeley? or 2) Sending in riot police to disperse students with batons, pepper-spray, and tear-gas guns, while those students sit peacefully on the ground with their arms linked? Is this what you have in mind when you refer to creating “a safe and inviting space?” Is this what you have in mind when you express commitment to “a safe, welcoming environment?”

I am writing to tell you in no uncertain terms that there must be space for protest on our campus. There must be space for political dissent on our campus. There must be space for civil disobedience on our campus. There must be space for students to assert their right to decide on the form of their protest, their dissent, and their civil disobedience—including the simple act of setting up tents in solidarity with other students who have done so. There must be space for protest and dissent, especially, when the object of protest and dissent is police brutality itself. You may not order police to forcefully disperse student protesters peacefully protesting police brutality. You may not do so. It is not an option available to you as the Chancellor of a UC campus. That is why I am calling for your immediate resignation.

Your words express concern for the safety of our students. Your actions express no concern whatsoever for the safety of our students. I deduce from this discrepancy that you are not, in fact, concerned about the safety of our students. Your actions directly threaten the safety of our students. And I want you to know that this is clear. It is clear to anyone who reads your campus emails concerning our “Principles of Community” and who also takes the time to inform themselves about your actions. You should bear in mind that when you send emails to the UC Davis community, you address a body of faculty and students who are well trained to see through rhetoric that evinces care for students while implicitly threatening them. I see through your rhetoric very clearly. You also write to a campus community that knows how to speak truth to power. That is what I am doing.

I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.


Nathan Brown
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Program in Critical Theory
University of California at Davis


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Prop 8 Ruling: Conservatives have standing to sue, case proceeds to 9th Circuit Court

The California Supreme Court has ruled that “Protect Marriage,” a conservative citizens group, has the legal right to defend California’s Proposition 8 in court. This means that the controversial ballot question, which banned same-sex marriage in California, will now be heard by the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The State of California had recognized same-sex marriage, but conservative citizens petitioned to have the issue put before voters. The ballot question, called “Prop 8,” was approved, which then ended same-sex marriage in California. Gay rights groups appealed the ballot initiative, and a Federal Court Judge declared that Prop 8 was Unconstitutional. In that suit, the “defendant” was the State of California, since it was the State that was defending its own laws in federal court. When the State lost, it chose not to appeal the decision, which would have normally meant the end of Prop 8 and a re-recognition of same-sex marriage.

However, conservative citizen groups were outraged that the State was not defending its law on appeal, and stepped in and filed an appeal at the 9th Circuit Court. The Circuit Court was unclear as to whether the group had “standing to sue,’ ie, if they had the right to appeal the law.

The issue of standing is a very narrow question of deciding “who” has the right to sue in court. If Jack and Jill have a contract concerning carrying a bucket of water, and Jack refuses to carry out his part of the deal, then all courts agree that Jill has the right to sue Jack. The question in this case, however, is whether someone who is not a party to the original case can also: can Jill’s best friend Sally sue Jack because of the injury suffered by Jill, if Jill chooses not to sue…especially if Sally believes it will affect her? In essence, that is the question the court needed to decide. The Federal Court then asked the California State for guidance on this issue.

In the end, the California Supreme Court (a state court) ruled that the conservative citizens group does in fact have standing to sue, which means that the appeal will now continue at the 9th Circuit (the federal court).

It also means that the issue as to whether or not same-sex marriage is a federal Constitutional Right – or not – will probably reach U S Supreme Court level in the not-too-distant future.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Federal Reserve Bank Secretly Lent 16 Trillion to US & Foreign Banks

The first top-to-bottom audit of the Federal Reserve uncovered eye-popping new details about how the U.S. provided a whopping $16 trillion in secret loans to bail out foreign, as well as American banks since 2008. The audit of the Federal Reserve was carried out in the past few months largely due to the bipartisan efforts of libertarian Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul and socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

"As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world," said Sanders. "This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you're-on-your-own individualism for everyone else."

Among the investigation's key findings is that the Fed unilaterally provided $16,000,000,000,000 dollars in financial assistance to foreign banks and corporations from South Korea to France and Scotland, according to the GAO report. From the period between December 2007 and June 2010, the Federal Reserve secretly bailed out these institutions, referring to them as loans, but virtually none of the money has been returned - it was loaned out at 0% interest.

Why the Federal Reserve had never been public about this or even informed the United States Congress about the $16 trillion dollar bailout is obvious - the American public would have been outraged to find out that the Federal Reserve bailed out foreign banks while Americans were struggling to find jobs.

Make no mistake: The Federal Reserve System is the most powerful financial and economic institution in the world, with virtually no accountability to democratic processes.

As proof, the value of all good and service produced in the United States in the course of a year ("Real GDP") is 14 Trillion. The Fed gave away 16 trillion in Bailouts.

The non-partisan, investigative arm of Congress also determined that the Fed lacks a comprehensive system to deal with conflicts of interest, despite the serious potential for abuse. In fact, according to the report, the Fed provided conflict of interest waivers to employees and private contractors so they could keep investments in the same financial institutions and corporations that were given emergency loans.

For example, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase served on the New York Fed's board of directors at the same time that his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed. Moreover, JP Morgan Chase served as one of the clearing banks for the Fed's emergency lending programs.

In another disturbing finding, the GAO said that on Sept. 19, 2008, William Dudley, who is now the New York Fed president, was granted a waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric at the same time AIG and GE were given bailout funds. In other words, the Fed chose to use taxpayer money to grant funds to institutions in which the NY Fed President had personal investments and a vested interest.

The Fed outsourced virtually all of the operations of their emergency lending programs to private contractors like JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. The same firms also received trillions of dollars in Fed loans at near-zero interest rates. Altogether some two-thirds of the contracts that the Fed awarded to manage its emergency lending programs were no-bid contracts - they were just "appointed" by Fed bamkers to receive and process the bailouts funds. Morgan Stanley was given the largest no-bid contract worth $108.4 million to help manage the Fed bailout of AIG.

The list of institutions that received the most money from the Federal Reserve can be found on page 131 of the GAO Audit and are as follows..

Citigroup: $2.5 trillion ($2,500,000,000,000)
Morgan Stanley: $2.04 trillion ($2,040,000,000,000)
Merrill Lynch: $1.949 trillion ($1,949,000,000,000)
Bank of America: $1.344 trillion ($1,344,000,000,000)
Barclays PLC (United Kingdom): $868 billion ($868,000,000,000)
Bear Sterns: $853 billion ($853,000,000,000)
Goldman Sachs: $814 billion ($814,000,000,000)
Royal Bank of Scotland (UK): $541 billion ($541,000,000,000)
JP Morgan Chase: $391 billion ($391,000,000,000)
Deutsche Bank (Germany): $354 billion ($354,000,000,000)
UBS (Switzerland): $287 billion ($287,000,000,000)
Credit Suisse (Switzerland): $262 billion ($262,000,000,000)
Lehman Brothers: $183 billion ($183,000,000,000)
Bank of Scotland (United Kingdom): $181 billion ($181,000,000,000)
BNP Paribas (France): $175 billion ($175,000,000,000)

Green Party candidate Jill Stein defends First Amendment

In spite of efforts by police across the nation to silence the media during their coordinated assault on protesters, videos made by ordinary citizens and posted on YouTube have gone viral and provided all the evidence that is needed to show the excessive brutality exercised by The Police State against American citizens last night: Pepper spray used on an octagenarian who was moving too slowly, thousands of books destroyed, protesters roused and rounded up at night, press passes confiscated, individuals with official court restraining orders punched in the face by uniformed officers, a NY city Councilor beaten...and the list goes on.

The Republicans continue to dismiss the people with total disdain, while Obama's Department of Homeland Security coordinates with City Police forces to storm the protests.

In the midst of this, the Green Party alone has had the courage to stand up and oppose these gestapo-like tactics. I reprint, in its entirety, the official statement released by Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President:

"The aggressive, needless police actions across the country against Occupy Wall Street (OWS) are an assault on civil liberties and an effort to suppress a much needed movement for economic justice and democracy. The courageous protesters who have stood up to intimidation by lethal force are standing up for us all.

The use of police in full riot gear with helicopters buzzing overhead to arrest peaceful and largely sleeping protesters is frightening commentary on the militarization of state and municipal security. Unprovoked police violence against citizens practicing peaceful civil disobedience - clearly documented on videos gone viral on the internet - is deeply alarming: young women being corralled and pepper sprayed on Wall Street, students at University of California Berkeley being attacked with nightsticks, Iraq veteran Scott Olsen who served two tours of duty supposedly defending freedom, yet whose own freedom was assaulted in a police attack at Occupy Oakland that fractured his skull and rendered him unable to speak.

In conducting these raids, public officials are suppressing rights of free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of the press. Routinely, reporters were physically prevented from observing the raids. Many of those who managed to get in to the sites were reportedly intimidated or arrested. If access to public ways and public health and safety concerns were significant, other non-military solutions were available to deal with them. The lack of such efforts belies the excuse that these concerns justified police raids.

As the OWS protesters have said, the defenders of the 1% can evict the protesters, but they can't evict an idea. The protest is here to stay. I call upon the mayors of the occupied cities to follow the example of Green Party Mayor Gayle McLaughlin of Richmond, California, who welcomed the local occupation, and to allow the Occupy gatherings to continue.

Throughout American history public assemblies by the people have been essential to the advance of our civil liberties and to the defense of our freedoms.

Coxey's Army in 1894 marched from Ohio to DC, demanding public jobs for the unemployed in the midst of a recession. In 1932, the Bonus Army of 17,000 World War I veterans and their families, in the third year of the Great Depression camped in DC demanding the immediate cash-payment redemption of their World War I bonuses that were scheduled to be paid in 1945. In 1968, the Poor People's Campaign, a legacy of recently assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, set up a shantytown in DC known as "Resurrection City" in support of an Economic Bill of Rights, seeking full employment, a guaranteed annual income, and affordable low-income housing. In 1985-86, students erected and camped in anti-apartheid shantytowns on college campuses to protest investments in corporations in apartheid South Africa.

Some of the OWS protesters are homeless. Many more are young and jobless, often carrying unconscionable college-loan debt burdens. They are the tip of the iceberg of insecurity that is increasingly intolerable for growing numbers of the American public, with the upper 1 percent of Americans now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year and controlling 40 percent of the nation's wealth. Income disparity in the US now exceeds that before the Great Depression. Thus, the anguish that compels protesters to sleep on the cold hard ground is not going away.

The political parties of the 1% are showing signs of neither understanding the protest, nor acting to address the root economic causes. I challenge President Obama to forbid all Federal involvement in these disturbing violations of civil liberties, and to urge all elected officials to respect the right of citizens to peacefully assemble to petition their government for redress of the economic grievances caused by rule by the 1%."

Jill Stein for President Campaign


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NYPD clears Occupy Wall Street

This is how a Fascist Police State Operates:

Shortly after midnight, the Mayor has a secret meeting, calling NYPD, NYFD, and Public Works Departments to City Hall.

NYPD shut down all subways, subway stations, and the Brooklyn Bridge at 1:20 am. All New Yorkers held hostage by the NYPD.

NYPD amass in riot gear at Broadway and Canal, 1:43 am. Snipers take position on rooftops.

In spite of Constitutional provisions guaranteeing Freedom of the Press, Press are barred from entering Zuccotti Park to record the imminent raid at 2:07 am, and Press helilcopters are evicted from airspace. Defiant reporters rounded up by NYPD: one pepper sprayed at 2:03 am, at least one New York Times Reporter demanding to exercise his 1st Amendment rights is arrested and removed at 2:22 am. Press several blocks have press badges confiscated; police refuse to give badge numbers or names.

The NYPD assault on Zuccotti Park, which is private property, begins.

5,000 Books discarded in a dumpster at 2:42 am. Bulldozers move into Zuccotti Park. NYC Council Member Ydanis Rodríguez arrested and bleeding from head, 2:44 a.m

Remaining Occupiers chain themselves to tree, which had been protected by Occupiers throughout. The tree is cut down by NYPD at 2:55 am. Fire Hoses are brought in at 3:08 am.

Doormen at area residential apartments ordered by police to prevent residents from leaving (confirmed by NBC news at 3:37 am)

130 police in Riot Gear surround Zuccotti Park. Deputy Mayor and Legal Counsel in Oakland, California, resign in protest of Oakland raids on Occupiers...raising the question of a nationally orchestrated 'cleansing' campaign.

Combined action by government entities, in the dead of night. Silencing of the Press. Cutting off of transportation routes. Destruction of books. Sweeping of private property by government thugs. Pepper spray, arrests, assaults.

Call (212) NEW-YORK. Sheldon Silver 212-312-1420. Christine C. Quinn - City Council (212) 564-7757 Brookfield Properties(212) 483-0771


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Japan Gov't Forcing Radiated Food on School Children

One would think that the government of a nation that experienced firsthand the biological horrors of nuclear radiation from atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be vigilant in protecting their people from this past year’s nuclear power plant meltdowns.

Instead, in the Fukushima region, they are forcing schoolchildren to consume radiated milk and rice as an act of “patriotism,” and publicly shaming those who, in obedience to their parents, refuse.

As reported by Ruthie Iida, an American teacher in Japan,

“Many mothers, mistrustful of food safety standards (food is simply labeled “safe”, and the exact level of radiation does not appear on produce ) would prefer their children to eat box lunches from home, made from foods carefully chosen ( preferably from faraway prefectures ) and carefully prepared….Teachers in Fukushima, however, insist that their students eat the school lunches (made with locally-grown produce) to show their loyalty to the prefecture. Children are torn between their mothers’ wishes and their fear of humiliation and punishment. This sounds hard to believe, but it’s been reported in various blog sites…and was unanimously confirmed by the Fukushima mothers that I met on Sunday. Worse yet, one mother reported that students who refuse to eat school lunches are now bullied by their peers as well as berated by their teachers.”
Kanagawa Notebook

A video of Japanese Parliamentary budget hearings from Sept 29 with English subtitles confirms this report:

Meltdown history

The Japanese Government’s response to the meltdowns at Fukushima following the horrific earthquakes and tsunami in March of this year has been permeated by missteps, conflicting reports, and the white-washing of safety issues, going back to the early days of the disaster.

After the March 11, 2011 earthquake, the Fukushima Daiichi power plant site was inundated by a 49-foot high tsunami wave. The connection to the electrical grid was broken, as the Tsunami destroyed the connecting power lines. With the loss of power, the nuclear reactors could not be cooled, and began to overheat.

The disaster was not unforeseeable.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex had been at the center of a 2002 falsified-records scandal, including serious unreported safety issues and inspections that were overdue by more than a decade. The scandal led to the resignations of number of senior executives of the plant’s parent company, TEPCO. In a document released by Wikileaks, it was revealed that in the wake of the scandal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conveyed grave concerns about the ability of Japan's nuclear plants to withstand seismic activity. At the same time, the Japanese government was opposing a Japanese Court order to close a nuclear plant in the west part of the country over doubts about its ability to withstand an earthquake.

Just five weeks ago, the Japanese Government released an internal TEPCO report admitting that TEPCO knew that the plant could not withstand a tsunami as low as 18 feet, and, that based on previous seismic activity, they knew such a tsunami was highly possible.

Radioactive measurements throughout Fukushima, and a Government in Denial

Following the March 2011 tsunami, reactors 1, 2 and 3 experienced full meltdown and multiple fires broke out at Reactor 4. Fuel rods stored in pools in each reactor building began to overheat as water levels in the pools dropped, and radioactivity releases led to the evacuation of people in a 12 mile radius around the plant. The government would later admit that dangerous levels of radioactive Cesium were actually being measured up to 30 miles away from the plant. Measurements taken by the Japanese science ministry and education ministry showed Cesium levels high enough to force the issue: food grown in the area was banned from sale, and tap water was deemed unsafe for children.

It was estimated by New Scientist that the initial daily release of Cesium from Fukushima was of the same magnitude as those from Chernobyl in 1986. And yet, Japanese government officials initially assessed the accident as only a “Level 4” on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), which runs from 1-7. Other international agencies challenged Japan, and the government grudgingly raised the level to a 5. Finally, pressured by scientists from around the world who determined it will take decades to clean up the radiation in the Fukushima region, the government finally admitted that its emergency was at the maximum level of 7. Article, UK Daily Mail

Government changes children’s exposure standards

As explained by physician Carolyn Roy-Bornstein,

“Children are at greater risk of the dangers of radiation for many reasons. Their minute volumes, or the amount of air they breathe in one minute, are greater than adults, causing them greater exposure to radioactive gases. They also live and breathe closer to the ground and therefore closer to nuclear fallout as it settles to earth. Radioactive Iodine is readily transmitted to human breast milk. (Cesium has been detected in the breast milk of seven women in the Fukushima area.) Cow’s milk also becomes quickly contaminated when radioactive materials settle onto grazing fields.”
(Carolyn Roy-Bornstein)

[Blogger's note: In July, over 100 cows raised 60 miles from the Fukushima site were fed Cesium-laced hay, and were sold at market for consumption. While the “safe limit” of Cesium is pegged at 500 bcq/kg, the hay registered at 97,000 bcq/km. The pollen from Cedar trees some 27 miles from the site measured at 175,000 bcq/km]

Prior to the Fukushima accident, the acceptable limit of exposure for children to Cesium was 1 millisievert (mSv) per year. As the accident unfolded, the Fukushima prefecture was directed to change that standard to 20 mSv per year, the same dose allowable for adult workers at nuclear power plants. Physicians for Social Responsibility issued a statement calling the move "unconscionable." Professor Tatsuhiko Kodama, head of the Radioisotope Center at the University of Tokyo, testified on July 27th before the Japanese Committee on Welfare and Labor that the uranium leak from the Fukushima Daiichi plant amounted to the equivalent of 20 Hiroshima atomic bombs. He further testified that he was frustrated in his work, as his team was told that the government could only provide him with a single Geiger counter. Further investigation showed that the US Army donated 20 such Geiger counters, which were withheld from him and kept in storage.

First, irradiated Milk forced on children; Now, Rice

Normally, radioactive Cesium washes out of the body relatively quickly in sweat and urine. But rather than being comforting, this becomes disturbing when one realizes that 8 months after the disaster, Japanese women continue to evidence Cesium in their breastmilk - suggesting that they are ingesting Cesium at a greater rate than their bodies can excrete it.

Cesium does, in fact, readily accumulate in food: in particular, it remains in concentrated form in plant and mushroom tissues, and an accumulation of cesium in water bodies has been a high concern since it was noted after the Chernobyl disaster. (Smith, Jim T.; Beresford, Nicholas A.. Chernobyl: Catastrophe and Consequences. Berlin: Springer. ISBN 3-540-23866-2.) Experiments with dogs showed that a single dose of 140 MBq/kg of caesium is lethal within three weeks, while smaller amounts cause infertility and cancer. (Redman, H. C.; McClellan, R. O.; Jones, R. K.; Boecker, B. B.; Chiffelle, T. L.; Pickrell, J. A.; Rypka, E. W. (1972). "Toxicity of 137-CsCl in the Beagle. Early Biological Effects")

It is all the more outrageous, then, that in order to compensate Fukushima rice farmers, government officials are buying rice from this toxic area and foisting it upon school children – in spite of the fact that USA Today reports elevated levels of Cesium in rice as far as 30 miles from the Fukushima site. Starting this Tuesday, Koriyama City schools will start using this year’s locally-grown rice in the city in all school lunches. This is a region where 500,000 bcq/kg of radioactive cesium was found in the rice hay. (Reminder: the ‘safe’ level of consumption is 500 bcq/kg)

Response by the Japanese People

As teacher Ruthie Iida so poignantly writes,

“…Fukushima families that managed to survive the quake and tsunami intact have been torn apart by circumstance and necessity; children have spent nearly eight months already living apart from their fathers. Women that I talked to said that even families who have stayed together in Fukushima are often divided in their thinking, with mothers hoping to evacuate and fathers wanting to stick it out. I watched an NHK special last week on a small company in Fukushima run by a group of men who have been friends since childhood; they have evacuated their wives and children and are staying on in Fukushima to keep their company going. This seems to be a common pattern, with men choosing financial stability and loyalty to the workplace rather than taking the risk of starting fresh with their families. Either choice is a hard one, and residents of Fukushima City are on their own, with no financial assistance from the central government (they are outside of the evacuation zone), and the situation complicated by community ties to the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

As Saeko told me, “I wish I had more friends working with me to halt the spread of the nuclear industry, but so many in Fukushima work for the company itself, or have connections.”

There is tension between husbands and wives, tension among friends, tension between teachers and students, and tension among students. It’s obvious by now that the central government is unable and unwilling to take responsibility for the chaos that has ensued since the meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi. They are busy making plans to build and sell new, improved nuclear reactors in third-world, energy-starved countries. One mother that I spoke with recalled her own incredulity when she realized that families in her city had literally been abandoned by the government.

”Is there anyone at all that you trust in the Prime Minister’s cabinet?” I asked.

Saeko and her friends looked at each other and agreed, “No, no-one. “

Following the pattern established at Occupy Wall Street, growing numbers of Japanese women are coming together and demanding a more honest, effective, and empathetic response from the Japanese Government. Their demands are simple and clear:

- Provide government assistance for the evacuation of children from Fukushima. The ‘official’ evacuation zone is only 12 miles, while serious radiation is being found three times that distance from the plants. Thousands of families, bearing mortgages and having no relatives in other regions, feel trapped and forgotten.

- Keep the TEPCO nuclear power plants off-line.

And if the Japanese government’s treatment of its own children has not been poor enough, they are about to go global with irresponsibility: to bail out Japan's fisheries, there is now a government effort to export canned fish with excessive levels of Cesium to third-world countries. The unbelievable video footage, via a French news service with English subtitles, is embedded below:

And it doesnt stop at fish; it includes crops from Fukushima:

What Can You Do?

Pressure the Japanese Government to swallow its stiff-necked pride, admit the extent of the catastrophe taking place, and cease forcing toxic food on its own and the world’s children in the name of national pride. Contact these men and express your outrage:

Ambassador of Japan to the United States 
2520 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20008
Phone: 202-238-6700

Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations

H.E. Mr. Tsuneo NISHIDA
Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary
Permanent Representative of Japan
to the United Nations


H.E. Mr. Kazuo Kodama
Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary
Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan
to the United Nations


H.E. Mr. Jun Yamazaki

866 U.N. Plaza, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10017
Tel: (212) 223-4300


Friday, November 11, 2011

A Veteran's Day Reality Check

It’s Veteran’s Day, so, in accordance with our Civil Religion, we will all be saying our obligatory “Thank-yous” in a variety of ways. The morning news broadcasts are showing crowds waving flags; WABC just asked us to thank everyone we see in uniform, and send a picture into the station; my facebook friends are posting all the right pictures honoring the day; and later today I will be singing in a community concert honoring our veterans.

If I sound I sound cynical, it’s not so much cynicism as it is frustration with the easy and superficial treatment we afford the larger questions of the American military experience and impact on human lives.

We will justify what we have done to a generation of young soldiers and their families by ‘thanking them’ for ‘preserving our liberties,’ or some such sentiment. We will honor them by calling them heroes, and teach our young children to look upon them with awe and reverence. We will convince ourselves that they are fighting for our freedoms, and that we should be grateful and support a continuation of their mission, as we always do.

Let's never forget what General Dwight D. Eisenhower had to say about war:

“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

I understand that today is not to celebrate war, but to honor the veterans that sacrifice so much to serve in our nations’ military.

In the most recent conflicts, that sacrifice has included the following:

By August 2011, 4,683 young American soldiers – three-quarters of whom were under age 30 – were dead from our participation in “Operation Enduring Freedom” and “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” (names that sound like they were invented by a Ministry for Propaganda.) That's over four thousand fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, cut down in the prime of their life.

32,799 more are injured: feet blown off from landmines, arms amputated, eyes missing, and severe burns; otherwise healthy young men and women now using wheelchairs and artificial limbs for life to function as normally as possible.

2,293 active duty military personnel have committed suicide in the last 10 years, and the rate of suicide is increasing at a troubling rate.

When our soldiers come home as veterans, their troubles do not magically end, no matter how many flags we wave:

One-third of all homeless adults in the United States are veterans. In the course of any give year, the V.A. estimates that 214,000 Veterans will be homeless. Upon returning home, the Unemployment rate is higher among veterans (12%) than it is among the general labor force (9%)…and keep in mind that homeless vets are not included in that statistic.

Up to 30% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans return home suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or other forms of stress and war-induced mental illnesses. The backlog of disability claims at the Veteran’s Administration has topped 1,000,000 unprocessed requests for help by veterans.

These soldiers return to their home towns and families having seen the horror of war, and living with the guilt and conflicted loyalties of having visited those horrors upon others.

Do we really think that a “thank you,” a patriotic song, and wearing red white and blue makes this all better?

We convince ourselves that while war is terrible, it is necessary to preserve our freedoms, and that our young soldiers are fighting for “us.”

Yes, we tell ourselves that, and the old men who send our young people to fight tell our soldiers that, too. But in the current engagements, it is a horrible lie.

The Constitutional Right against Unreasonable Search and Seizure is not being preserved by soldiers routing out the Taliban. Rather, the same Congress that sends our youth to Asia has systematically used these conflicts as justification to degrade these rights themselves through the “Patriot Act.”

Our Right to Vote is not being enhanced by protecting government buildings in Baghdad. In fact, those politicians who favor continuing the conflicts seem to be the ones most likely to support voter-suppression legislation, now pending or enacted in almost half of the American states.

Our Freedom of Speech is not being guarded by sweeping for landmines in Kandahar. Instead, our federal government is using the conflicts to squash speech, from the jailing of soldier Bradley Manning, to ‘security concerns’ expressed at protests on American soil. Ironically, there are a growing cadre of veterans, sparked by Marine Shamar Thomas’ outrage at the NYPDs treatment of Occupy Wall Street protesters, that has organized to preserve Free Speech here in the United States, where it appears to be needed more so than in Iraq.

You really want to honor Veterans today?

Demand that your Congress and President restore Constitutional Rights.

Demand that they bring our soldiers back HOME.

Demand that they treat veterans for their injuries and suffering.

Demand an initiative that provides them with jobs.

Demand a solution to our housing crisis, so that our vets do not end up living in cardboard boxes.

And by all means, stop repeating the self-comforting lie that this is all necessary to ‘preserve our freedoms.’ The current conflicts have nothing to do with preserving our freedoms, and, in fact, have been used as an excuse to restrict them. The current conflict is destroying lives while enriching corporate industrial interests.

And no one has borne these costs greater than our young soldiers.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Republicans Lose Critical Elections All Night

On ballot issues ranging from statewide elections to union bargaining rights and voter access, Republicans took a beating in all corners of the nation tonight.

Perhaps the most closely watched ballot initiative was in Ohio, where voters rejected “Issue #2,” a Republican-supported initiative that would have severely restricted the rights of unions to pursue collective bargaining agreements. The vote was not even close, as voters in this swing-state rejected Republican Governor John Kasich’s bill by more than a 2:1 margin.

At the same time, voters in Maine have decisively rejected conservatives efforts to eliminate same-day registration for voting by a margin of 60% - 40%.

And in Kentucky, a state that saw a Republican Senate win in a special election just last year, voters elected to give four out of five statewide offices to Democrats. And in New York's Suffolk County (Long Island), where Republicans made the County Executive race a "referendum" on President Obama, the Republican candidate was losing by a surprisingly large margin of 55%-45% with roughly 40% of all precinct reporting. Further south in Virginia, that state elected its first openly gay State Senator, Adam Ebbin.

[Update from the West: Russell Pearce, the Arizona state senator from the Republican-dominated suburbs of Phoenix who wrote Arizona's controversial immigration law lost, was recalled last night 55%-45%. The election was widely seen as a referendum on tough measures against illegal immigrants.]

Nationally, Republicans have waged multi-state campaigns to restrict collective bargaining rights, oppose gay rights, impede voters from accessing the polls, and fomenting anti-immigrant sentiment. In my home state of New Hampshire, the Republican-dominated legislature supported all such measures.

When one considers that off-year elections tend to result in losses for the President’s party….and considering that the lower turnouts associated with these off-year elections almost always benefit Republicans...and considering the continuing economic malaise – these results should send a very clear message to the GOP:

Americans may not be thrilled with how Obama has handled his Presidency so far - in fact, they may be downright unhappy, frustrated, and/or disappointed - but by even greater numbers they completely reject the agenda of the current extremist Republicans.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Onsite at #OccupyWallStreet: 10 Myths Debunked

Over 35 years ago, Jerry Mander wrote a landmark book titled, “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.” One of those arguments was that with TV, the media now had the power to edit the variety of pictures they showed to the public, thus enabling them to create whatever ‘story’ they wanted based on what they chose to show.

Today, my partner and I finally got to Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan and joined in the Occupy Wall Street encampment. And I have to admit that what I saw was not at all what I had read or seen in the media reports. Thus, my post today is meant to debunk some of the myths I have heard over and over.

Myth #1: The Protesters have ‘taken over’ Manhattan’s Financial District and are interrupting and burdening normal activities.

Wrong. OWS “occupiers” are compactly situated in Zuccotti Park, a plaza about two short blocks north of Wall Street. It is plaza that is normally “occupied” by the public. For the last eight years I have taken student groups to Manhattan, and each year we have had lunch at the plaza. The sidewalks surrounding the plaza are clear, and there is no interruption of vehicular or pedestrian traffic. From as close as one block away, we had no idea that anything unusual was taking place.

Myth #2: OWS is destroying the “park.”

Those unfamiliar with the park may incorrectly imagine this to be a grassy oasis in the midst of lower Manhattan. But there is not a blade of grass in the ‘park’ – it is a 100% paved plaza. The tents that have been erected are not compacting soil, killing vegetation, or being secured into the ground with pegs; rather, they are simply weighted down by their contents on the pavement. The Occupiers have taken great care to protect a planter of flowers and the small locust trees that have been planted around the plaza.

Myth #3: These protesters are just a bunch of spoiled young brats.

No, actually the group is as amazingly diverse as New York City and America are. Occupants are black, white, asian, and latino. They are students, war veterans (actually, veterans are present in significant numbers), grandmas knitting in chairs, economists in ties & suit jackets, middle –aged laborers, and senior citizens. My favorite sign, held by one middle-aged man with a great sense of humor, read, “Another green-haired, deer-hunting, real estate developer in support of OWS.”

Myth #4: They may be diverse, but they’re simply whiners looking for handouts.

No, these people are heroes. With temperatures falling below 40 and wind whipping through lower Manhattan, it is very cold right now. It is also very cramped: with over 100 tents squeezed together, occupiers barely have room to stretch out. They lack most of the creature comforts that the majority of us take for granted and go home to each night, without complaint. Rather than whining, these people are enduring hardship for all of us – hardship that many Wall Street Executives have never experienced.

Myth #5: OWS has no clear focus or message.

Nonsense. The diverse interests that make up OWS have a consistent thread: – opposition to corporate domination of the American political system. This opposition manifests itself in various ways: opposition to fracking, nuclear power, and the Keystone pipeline; indictments of corporate refusals to hire veterans; student loan burdens, and the exclusion of such loans in bankruptcy proceedings; the imprisonment of Bradley Manning; the Citizens United Court ruling; the irony of lower wages in a time of higher corporate profits; and the capture of both major political parties by corporate donors. Diverse causes, yes…but all undergirded by the influence of large corporations in government decisions.

Myth #6: OWS is disorganized and aimless.

A mere walk through the Occupy Camp shows an incredible amount of organization: there is a large lending library, a medical tent, a welcome table, a press tent, on-site legal assistance, scheduled teach-ins, addiction assistance, a food tent, a sanitation crew, and an energy operation. OWS has managed to create a voluntary, need-based, consensus-embraced camp, in spite of Mayor Bloomberg’s cutting them off from heat & energy sources and sanitary facilities.

Disorganized? Lacking electricity, OWS participants are peddling used, stationery bicycles to create electricity that is being stored in car batteries to continue their computer feeds – an effort in which your Blogger participated. This is impressive creativity, not disorganization.

Myth #7: OWS is hurting New York’s image and its economy.

First of all, the exercise of Constitutional Rights is not subject to image niceties. However, it is fair to say that not only is OWS not hurting New York’s image and economy – it has become a tourist attraction in and of itself. Located in the shadow of the newly-rising World Trade Center Building #1, tourists ringed Zuccotti Park the entire time I was there, snapping pictures, taking videos, speaking with Occupiers. The mobile food carts that have always been located on the south edge of the park remain there and are thriving….as are an increased number of street vendors that are set up across the street on the east side of Broadway.

Myth #8: These people are really anti-capitalist Communists.

To be sure, there are some Occupiers sporting Che Guevara signs and anti-capitalist slogans. There are also a number selling t-shirts, pins, souvenirs, and even refrigerator magnets. More than anti-capitalist (many of them are engaging in entrepreneurial activities), they are anti-corporatist, pro democracy, and promoting new approaches to wealth disparity. More than anything, they value social responsibility and paying a laborer what he or she is worth – a very American principle that has been sorely upended in the last two decades.

Myth #9: The Occupation has become unsanitary and a health hazard.

There’s no doubt that Zuccotti Park is messy & cramped – though hardly more cramped than some 6 x 10 student hostel rooms I’ve stayed in. And tents and canvas and signs and wind and a “camping” situation that is now 6 weeks old will not look like Martha Stewart’s living room. But “Unsanitary?” No. OWS has instituted recycling, composting, and its own “Sanitation Department,” complete with cleansing agents, brooms, and a garbage collection squad. On each side of the Park, very large “Good Neighbor Policy” signs are posted, clearly spelling out behavioral expectations. Considering it is the City of New York that blocked the delivery of port-a-potties (Bette Midler offered to pay for them), it is rather disingenuous of them to then suggest that the plaza is ‘unsanitary.’ (Ironically, *this afternoon* it was announced that port-a-potties will be located on the loading dock of the United Teacher’s Federation building, about two blocks away)

Myth #10: Crimes are going unreported (said Bloomberg today), and it is a lawless community.

I just have to laugh at this one. Police cars, trucks and at least one Police Tower are parked side-by-side along the north side of the park. TV trucks, with cameras looking down from twenty-foot-high booms, line the south side. Police stand on the sidewalks on all sides. There are more police at Zuccotti Park per square foot than in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot. To suggest that Zuccotti Park is crime-ridden in the face of the videos, cameras, cell phones, TV crews, and round-the-clock police presence, would tell us more about the ineffectiveness of the NYPD than about the Occupiers.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

TD Bank Announces Higher Customer Fees

In the controversies that have swirled around bailouts, foreclosures, customer fees and executive pay, one bank that has avoided much attention is TD Bank. The parent company, more properly known as “Toronto-Dominion Bank” (hence, “TD”), is headquartered in Canada, and has tended to play by more traditional banking rules and avoided American media attention.

But today, one day after the Bank of America aborted their plan to increase customer fees, TD Bank sent letters to depositors announcing an increase in the types and amounts of customer fees that they will be charging.

We are in an era of financial crisis, in which the largest financial institutions have been declared to be “too big to fail.” And yet, TD Bank is a glaring example of a multinational bank that is the result of the mergers or purchase of dozens of once-small, community banks. At least 39 once-independent financial and insurance institutions in the United States alone (listed at the end of this post) have been gobbled up by this behemoth.

Today, TD Bank is the 6th largest bank in North America, and the second largest in Canada. Over 41% of the company is owned by Financial investment houses and other banks. It is the largest bank in Maine (controlling over 40% of the market share); within 1% of the being the largest bank in Vermont (with a 21% market share); the second largest in New Hampshire (with a 19% share, it is larger than Bank of America); the third largest in New Jersey; and fifth largest in Massachusetts.

In 2009, due to “industry trends” and the global financial crisis, Toronto-Dominion Bank responded by cutting Chief Executive Ed Clark’s salary by 5.5%, to a “mere” $10.4 million Canadian Dollars ($9.8 million US). This, I guess, should make us feel better about large banks.
Meanwhile, Yahoo Financial Analysts predict that TD Banks profit will increase 354% by this month next year.

Part of that profit-enhancing plan includes the following new fees on customers:

Money Orders: increase from $4 to $5

Bank Checks: increase from $4 to $8

Incoming Wire Fee: increase from Free to $15

Stop Payment Fee: increase from $25 to $30

Printed Check images with statements: increase from Free to $24 per year

Telephone or online bill pay: increase from Free to $9.00 per transaction for all transactions beyond 6 per month

Last year TD Bank was the subject of a class action suit for the manner in which it charges overdraft fees. Customer Donald Kimenker claimed in his complaint that TD Bank “deceptively reorders” an account’s debit card transactions in its computers to maximize overdraft fees. Such fees are processed from highest dollar amount to lowest, rather than in chronological order of purchases, according to the complaint.

“Charging the largest debits against available funds ahead of smaller debits results in more overdraft fees, as available funds decrease faster than they would otherwise, thereby generating hundreds of millions of dollars in additional overdraft fees for TD Bank,” according to the complaint.

Kimenker claims that a customer with $1,150 in an account who makes six debit transactions totaling $180 and then writes a $1,100 rent check would have overdrawn her account by $130. Rather than charging a single $35 overdraft fee on the rent check, TD Bank processes the rent check and then charges five separate $35 fees for a total of $175, according to the complaint.

It’s never too late to Move Your Money to a Credit Union


The once-local institutions that have been swallowed into TD Bank are as follows:

Portland Savings Bank, People’s Savings Bank (Lewiston, Maine), Rockland Savings Bank, Penobscot Savings, Waterville Savings, Franklin County Savings Bank (St. Albans VT), Lamoille County Bank & Trust Company, Woodstock National Bank, First Vermont Bank & Trust Company, Granite Savings Bank & Trust Company, Howard National Bank & Trust Company (Burlington, VT), Northeast Leasing, six branches of Casco Northern Bank, First Coastal Bank (Portsmouth, NH) Merchants National Bank (Dover NH), First National Bank of Portsmouth (NH), Oxford Bank & Trust Company, Mid-Maine Savings (Auburn, Maine), Bankcore, Inc / North Conway Bank (NH), Bank of New Hampshire, Family Bancorp (Haverhill, Mass.), Atlantic Bancorp (Portland, Maine), CFX (Keene, NH, originally Cheshire County Savings Bank,), Springfield Institution for Savings Springfield, Mass.). Farmington National Bank (NH), Evergreen National Bank (Glens Falls NY), Andover Bancorp (Mass.), 17 branches of MetroWest (Mass.), Ipswich Bancshares (Mass.), Warren Bancorp (MA), Community Insurance Agencies, Inc., Bancorp Connecticut, American Savings Bank (New Britain, CT), Cape Cod Bank & Trust, Boston Federal Savings Bank, acquired Hudson United Bank (Mahwah, NJ), Middletown Savings Bank (NY), Interchange Financial Services Corp (NJ), Boothby & Bartlett Insurance (Waterville, Maine), and Commerce Bancorp (Cherry Hill, NJ)