Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

SYNDICATED COLUMN: We Would Never Have Had a National Conversation on Racial Profiling if People Hadn’t Rioted in Ferguson

Ferguson, Missouri offers a lesson for those of us who are trying to make life more fair: if you want the powers that be to pay attention, violent protest is more effective than nonviolence.

At this writing, race riots following the shooting of an unarmed young black man by a white cop in a suburb of St. Louis are dominating newspaper headlines and network news coverage. Federal and state officials have taken the rare step of chastising local police authorities, with the second-guessing going so far as to include a do-over of the autopsy of the 18-year-old victim, Michael Brown.

Violent demonstrators have the attention of the attorney general and the president of the United States, the latter of whom broke away from his vacation to call for both “respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protests.” (After his administration’s coordination of the brutal crackdown against the peaceful Occupy Wall Street movement, and his decision to shunt marchers at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic National Conventions into distant, hidden, caged “free speech zones,” Obama’s defense of the right to protest is a startling 180° turn.)

After years of ignoring the problem, we are finally beginning a national conversation about police racial profiling of African-Americans, especially young men. “Driving while black,” “stop and frisk” and the militarization of local law enforcement that always seems to fall heaviest against black communities (c.f., New Orleans during Katrina) have gone on for decades — but no one besides blacks seemed to care.

Thanks to Ferguson’s rioters, mainstream (white, wealthy) America is questioning those oppressive tactics.

This is a political breakthrough. And it’s only happening because people are throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks, and breaking windows and looting, and coming out night after night to confront the police even though — arguably because — the police are shooting tear gas and rubber bullets at them.

Michael Brown’s death fits a standard narrative: White Policeman Shoots Unarmed Black Youth. Happens all the time. White cops who kill unarmed black people are rarely charged with a crime; those who get charged are rarely convicted.

As far as I can tell, no white policeman in the United States has ever received a lengthy prison term for killing an unarmed African-American civilian.

Police shootings provoke anger among the black community — and there it remains. This is because black political and religious leaders usually persuade citizens to limit their tactics to peaceful protest.

Peaceful marches don’t scare the ruling classes. Which is why they don’t lead to meaningful change.

Nonviolent protest was the reaction last month when a NYPD officer killed 43-year-old Eric Garner, suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes, using an illegal chokehold. “We’re not gonna start fighting and pushing each other and breaking windows, right?” Garner’s mother urged at a rally.

So far, the protesters’ decision to respect private property rights has had zero effect. Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, yet the cop remains at work and uncharged.

Also in New York, another unarmed 18-year-old, Ramarley Graham, was shot to death by an undercover narcotics officer who broke into his apartment without a warrant in 2012. Protesters adhered to the usual nonviolent tactics. As usual, results were nil. From The Los Angeles Times: “A judge threw out a manslaughter indictment against the officer who shot Graham on a technicality. A second grand jury failed to indict the officer, saying there was insufficient evidence to charge him. Graham’s family and local lawmakers have called for the Justice Department to investigate.”

I’m a white guy, so I don’t have to worry about getting shot by cops if I’m in a car accident. As a black man, however, Manuel Loggins, Jr. wasn’t so lucky. After Loggins wrecked his SUV, an Orange County sheriff’s deputy shot him — he was unarmed — in front of his 9- and 14-year-old daughters because he had a “mean” expression. This was in 2012. Again, there were peaceful protests. As usual, the deputy was not charged.

This is how it always goes.

Ferguson’s protesters include old-school nonviolent civil rights types as well as younger activists who are fighting back against the police in kind. At a meeting, The New York Times reported, “clergy members despaired over the seemingly uncontrollable nature of the protest movement and the flare-ups of violence that older people in the group abhorred.” The paper quoted an older man from East St. Louis: “These kids do not understand why the nonviolence movement is the best way to get done what we need to get done.”

Given how quickly the young firebrands are getting results, the old folks are the ones who don’t understand.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Good Reasons to Hate Big Tech

We love computers and other electronics, but — not unlike an addict’s opinion of his dealer — we hate the companies that sell them to us. Now our contempt for Silicon Valley is expanding to include tech workers.

In San Francisco, where locals know the techies best, 30-year-old worker bees are taking as much heat as their billionaire CEO overlords.

Geographical familiarity breeds political contempt.

Just as Zuccotti Park gave birth to Occupy Wall Street’s clarion cry against the predator class henceforth to be known as the Banksters, San Francisco bus stops have become ground zero in a backlash against Big Tech. Oversized SUV-like buses that ferry Google staffers down the Peninsula provoke anger by clogging public transit stops in a city whose crumbling fleet of city vehicles is starved of funding. Private tech company buses have been blocked by protesters who object to gentrification fueled by the soaring rents paid by deep-pocked tech workers. A bus window got smashed. Across the bay in Berkeley, demonstrators even showed up at the home of a Google engineer to hold him to account for his dual role as tech dystopian (he runs Google’s creepy robot car project) and real estate developer.

Save for a window and a few Google worker tardy notices, nothing has been harmed. Days of Rage this ain’t.

Despite the relative mellowness of it all, any hint that American leftism is livelier than a withered corpse prompts establishmentarians into anxious fits that the streets will soon run red with the blood of fattened-on-organic-veal-and-green-smoothies technorati. In Salon, the usually steady Andrew Leonard lectured San Francisco’s dispossessed that street actions like slashing bus tires are “bullshit,” opining that “delivering passionate rhetoric at a public hearing on city policy toward private shuttles is part and parcel of how a democratic society operates.” (Or doesn’t operate, by his very own account.)

“This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking,” Tom Perkins, an 82-year-old venture capitalist who helped fund the initial launch of Google, wrote in an instantly infamous letter to the The Wall Street Journal, comparing dislike of 1%ers to Nazi attacks on Jews. “Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendant ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?” (Note to Perkins: You’re old enough to remember that Nazism was a right-wing movement.)

“With spokesmen like Mr. Perkins,” David Streitfeld responded in The New York Times, “the tech community will alienate the entire country in no time.”

Gallup’s 2011 poll of public perceptions found that Americans view the tech sector more positively than any other industry but that, I think, is not going to last. Because there are lots of good reasons to hate Big Tech.

The root of our contempt for the tech biz is that all our economic eggs are in their basket. Manufacturing is never coming back. Whatever chance the U.S. economy has of recovering from the 2008-09 collapse (and, for that matter, the 2000-01 and 1989-93 recessions) lies with the tech sector. But the technies don’t care. And they’re barely employing anyone.

Facebook has 6,300 employees, Twitter has 2000, Instagram has 13.

The Big Three auto companies each employ between 2.5 million and 3 million workers directly or through subsidiaries and contractors.

It’s not like Facebook couldn’t use more American workers. Because Mark Zuckerberg can never grab enough loot for himself, Facebook does without the basics, like customer service reps. They don’t even have a phone number.

It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about companies that don’t hire us, our neighbors or, well, anyone at all.

Or answer the phone.

Fair or not, we feel vested in tech. The average American spends thousands of dollars a year on electronics and tech-related services, including broadband Internet. Objectively, we spend more on housing, food and energy — but those expenditures feel impersonal. Unlike our devices, we’re not constantly reminded of them.

Smartphones, tablets and desktop computers are central to our minute-by-minute lives, serving as a constant reminder of our material support to the digerati.

Every time we pick up our iPhone, we recall the $400 we spent on it. (And the $300 on its once cool, now lame, two-year-old precursor.) This makes us think of historic, extravagant profits pocketed by their makers. We can’t help but remember the over-the-top paychecks collected by their makers’ CEOs, including the incompetent ones. Also popping to the front of our consciousness is the despicable outsourcing of manufacturing to slave labor contracting firms like Foxconn, where abused Chinese workers attempt suicide so often that the company had to install netting around dormitory windows. Charmingly, Foxconn began requiring new hires to sign an agreement releasing the company from liability if they kill themselves.

Few industries gouge consumers as ferociously as wildly profitable tech outfits like Microsoft, Adobe and Apple.

Not only have Americans been reamed by Big Tech — they know they’ve been reamed. Which sets the stage for big-time resentment.

In the past, wealthy companies and individuals mitigated populist resentment by paying homage to the social contract — i.e., by giving back. Henry Ford paid assembly line workers more than market rates because he wanted them to be able to afford his cars. 19th century robber barons like J.P. Morgan and Cornelius Vanderbilt built museums and contributed to colleges and civic organizations. These gestures helped keep socialism at bay.

Whether it’s due to the influence of technolibertarianism, pure greed or obliviousness, tech titans are relative skinflints compared to the manufacturing giants they’ve supplanted. Yes, there’s the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (though its “philanthrocapitalism” model is staggeringly ineffective). But Steve Jobs kept almost every cent. Facebook and Twitter are basically “non-players” in the philanthropy world. Google doles out roughly 0.02% of its annual profits in charitable grants.

Some say the techies aren’t cheap — just skittish. “A lot of the wealthy in Silicon Valley are newly wealthy,” said E. Chris Wilder, executive director of the Valley Medical Center Foundation in San Jose. “That money still feels a little too tenuous; still feels fleeting. And the economic downturn has reinforced that feeling.”

Whatever the cause, underemployed and overcharged Americans expect tech’s 1% to start stepping up.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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Adbusters Sells Out Occupy Wall Street

UPDATED: Turns out the email from “Adbusters” below was actually from another group. See my follow-up blog post for details.

So I got this email from Adbusters Magazine this morning:

What made this crass attempt to commercialize the crashed-and-burned OWS movement even ickier was that it recently followed this:

When I asked how much writers would be paid for their 50-300 word intimate confessions of their deepest, darkest psychic and psychological secrets, the answer came back: “nothing.”

Really.

Let’s sum up: Adbusters wants us to pay them money. While they pay workers — and writers are workers, especially when they’re working for a magazine that retails for $12 — nothing.

Please explain: What, exactly, is the difference between the Koch Brothers and Adbusters? Answer: The Koch Brothers don’t expect workers to work for free.

If the publishers and editors of Adbusters didn’t pay themselves anything, I might not bring this up. But that’s not the case. Which means they’re exploiting writers — emotionally fragile writers to boot! — for their own gain. There were divisions within the movement, but everyone would agree that this is NOT what Occupy Wall Street was/is about.

WTF?

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Coverage of the anti-NSA Protest is an Example of a New Way to Disseminate Government BS

Redirection to Water Down the Potency of Dissent

On Saturday, October 26th several thousand people gathered near the Capitol Building in Washington to protest National Security Agency spying against Americans. As juicy news, it didn’t amount to much: no violence, no surprises. Politically, it marked an unusual coalition between the civil liberties Left and the libertarian Right, as members of the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements stood side by side. But that’s not how it was framed.

The way U.S. media outlets chose to cover the march provides a fascinating window into a form of censorship they often use but we rarely notice: redirection.

The message of the marchers was straightforward. According to the British wire service Reuters, the protesters carried signs that read “Stop Mass Spying,” “Thank you, Edward Snowden” and “Unplug Big Brother.”

USA Today reported another sign —  “No NSA mass spying” — and that  marchers chanted “no secret courts” and “Hey hey, ho ho, the NSA has got to go.”

The message of the marchers was unambiguous: they demanded that the NSA stop spying on Americans, or be shut down. If the signs and the slogans and the things marchers said weren’t clear — “this isn’t about right and left — it’s about right and wrong,” USA Today quoted Craig Aaron — the group that organized the event is called “Stop Watching Us.”

Not “Keep Watching Us, Albeit With Increased Congressional Oversight.”

Stop laughing. I know, I know, no one in the history of protest marches has ever called for half-measures. U.S. Partly Out of Vietnam! Somewhat Equal Rights for Women!

Yet that’s how the media covered the anti-NSA event.

First line of USA Today‘s piece: “Thousands rallied against NSA’s domestic and international surveillance on Saturday by marching to the Capitol and calling for closer scrutiny of the agency as more details of its spying are leaked.” [My italics, added for emphasis.]

Associated Press headline: “NSA spying threatens U.S. foreign policy; protesters demand investigation of mass surveillance.”

MSNBC: “‘Stop Watching Us’ sees a chance to reform the NSA”

It is true that “Stop Watching Us” sent a letter to Congress. But there’s no way for a fluent English speaker to interpret their statement as “calling for closer scrutiny” or “reforming” the NSA. “We are calling on Congress,” the group wrote, “to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs.”

Unambiguous.

“Stop Watching Us” didn’t call for “reform.” Nor did the October 26th matchers. They called for the NSA to stop spying on Americans. Some of them called for the NSA to be closed.

No one called for less than a 100% end to domestic surveillance.

USA Today lied about the rally. So did the AP. As did MSNBC.

They did it by redirecting a radical, revolutionary impulse into a moderate, reformist tendency.

The U.S. is an authoritarian police state with democratic window-dressing. Stopping NSA spying on Americans would fundamentally change the system. There’s no way the government, or its mainstream media outlets, would voluntarily give up their info trolling. What they might do, however, is “pull this back,” as Al Gore said. “I think you will see a reining in.”

Categorizing strong political views of swaths of Americans as weaker, more moderate and watered down than they really are is a relatively new tactic for American media gatekeepers. Until recently, the standard tool of the U.S. censor when confronting dissent was to ignore it entirely (c.f., the 2003 protest marches against the invasion of Iraq and the long time it took for them to cover the Occupy movement of 2011). For activist groups and protesters, this might seem like an improvement. Which is what makes it pernicious.

Getting covered by the media isn’t always better than being ignored. If your radical politics get expressed in public as moderate reformism — and you tacitly acquiesce with this misrepresentation by your silent cooperation — you’re serving the interests of the system you oppose, making it appear open to reform and reasonable, and you less angry than you really are, though neither is true.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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Taking a Stand

It’s a little rich to watch the US — which routinely uses tear gas and pepper spray to crush peaceful protests (which are cordoned behind razor-wired “free speech zones” — protest the use of chemical weapons, and the crushing of political dissent — in Syria.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Failure of Tahrir Square 2011

Not a Revolution, Just a Useless Protest

Two years ago, when I was in the Occupy movement, my comrades and I argued about revolution. Was revolution necessary? What is it? The split that destroyed our movement — as it did the Left during the Sixties — pitted revolutionaries against reformists. The most frustrating part of the debate, however, wasn’t ideological. It was linguistic.

Even on the Left, few Americans know what revolution is: the violent overthrow of the ruling classes. In a revolution, everything — beginning with the power structure — changes.

The Tahrir Square encampments that led to the ouster of Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak were a huge influence on Occupy. But we couldn’t agree about what they meant. Was Tahrir a “revolution”?

No doubt, the 2011 Arab Spring was a powerful mass movement. Everyone agreed about that. For reformists — people who want to fix the system rather than replace it — Tahrir Square was a perfect example to emulate: a peaceful people-power transition that changed things for the better without shedding blood. Cut-and-paste the same phenomenon from Cairo to the United States — convince millions of peaceful demonstrators to camp out in American cities to demand change — and you’d get similarly dramatic results, reformist Occupiers urged. “Egypt had a peaceful revolution,” they said.

Revolutionaries — people who want to get rid of the existing system and start from scratch — countered that the Arab Spring uprisings were not revolutions at all and were thus insufficent. “Tunisia and Egypt,” I said, “were merely personnel changes.” The system, the way society, politics and the economy are organized, remained unchanged.

As recent events prove, the resignation of a president does not a revolution make.

In all the ways that matter, post-Mubarak Egypt remains the same. Those who were rich before are still rich; the same-old poor are the brand-new poor. Egypt’s generals, awash in billions of barely-audited American taxdollars and high-tech military hardware, continue to call the shots.

Egypt’s military brass is a canny lot. Corrupt and autocratic, they tack left and right along with the winds on the dusty streets. When Tahrir got big, they called back their rapists of demonstrators and told Hosni it was time to take a powder. When Mohammed Morsi won the election, they golf-clapped — until Mo’s numbers fell. Then it was his turn to vanish into house arrest.

The crowds in Tahrir cheered as fighter jets streaked overhead. Applauding their own oppressors.

Fools.

The proles get their concession. The figurehead performer everyone thinks runs the show, the big star who plays Mr. President on TV, gets fired after he turns stale. Yet, no matter how chaotic the politics, regardless of how much blood flows (spilled by projectiles made in the U.S.A.), the real bosses — the military, their business cronies, the publishers and owners of state media outlets — remain in charge.

Which now is plain as day.

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who overthrew Morsi in a coup that dare not speak its name (in Western countries, whose quaint 20th century human rights laws would otherwise require the severing of lucrative weapons contracts that benefit major campaign donors), has apparently gotten so caught up in the serious business of slaughtering members of the Muslim Brotherhood that he’s completely forgotten to pay lip service to restoring democracy.

In the ultimate symbol of restoration (or feeling so confident they feel free to tip their hand), the military’s old friend/employee Mubarak is out of prison and may soon be released.

As two visiting U.S. senators recently witnessed firsthand, power has gone to al-Sisi’s telegenic little head. This isn’t a crackdown, but rather an attempt to grind the Muslim Brotherhood into oblivion. Al-Sisi’s soldiers have arrested the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie, on brazenly trumped-up charges. And his fellow coup leaders are gearing up for a fascist-style ban of the party — another return to the Mubarak era.

As usual, Western liberals are smart enough to foresee future blowback from the Egyptian junta’s brutal campaign. “Attempts to exclude a party with the level of support recently secured by the Muslim Brotherhood will simply prolong Egypt’s agony. That is a tragic lesson from the history of Algeria in the 1990s,” Douglas Alexander writes in The Guardian.

Also as usual, Western liberals are too stupid to push for a stronger remedy than wouldn’t-it-be-nice hoping things will magically feel guilty and stop mass murdering. “The Muslim Brotherhood needs the opportunity,” Alexander continues, “to ‘get out of the streets and into the voting booth.’ Yet to do so, its supporters must believe there is a viable democratic path.”

Which of course there isn’t.

Which brings us back to Tahrir Square 2011. What should Egypt’s proto-Occupiers have done instead?

If their goal was actual change rather than new window-dressing, the protesters at Tahrir shouldn’t have settled for a personnel change at the pseudo-top. Mubarak’s departure wasn’t enough.

If you want to eliminate oppression, you must eliminate the oppressors. In Egypt, that would have meant rounding up every major official in the military as well as the government, and seizing control of the nation’s economy. Everyone who was anyone, rich and/or powerful, should have been imprisoned.

This would, of course, have required violence.

Revolution isn’t pretty. But as we’re seeing now in Egypt, neither is the alternative.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. Go there to join the Ted Rall Subscription Service and receive all of Ted’s cartoons and columns by email.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Lose Your House, Collect $300

Why Aren’t Rioters Burning Down the Banks?

One in ten Americans take such antidepressants as Prozac and Paxil. Among those in their 40s and 50s, it’s 23%. Maybe that’s why we’re so passive.

Like the blissed-out soma-sucking drones of Huxley’s “Brave New World,” we must be too drugged to feel, much less express, rage. How else to explain that furious mobs haven’t burned the banks to the ground?

Last week, as the media ginned up empty speculation about Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects, and wallowed in nuclear cognitive dissonance — Iran, which doesn’t have nukes and says it doesn’t want them, is repeatedly called a grave threat worth going to war over, while North Korea, which does have them and won’t stop threatening to turn the West Coast of the U.S. into a “sea of fire,” is dismissed as empty bluster, nothing to worry about — the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Reserve released the details of the settlement between the Obama Administration and the big banks over the illegal foreclosure scandal.

Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other major home mortgage lenders foreclosed upon and evicted millions of homeowners between the start of the housing collapse in 2007 and 2011. Millions of families became homeless, including 2.3 million children. The vast majority of these Americans are still struggling; many fell into poverty from which they will never escape.

Disgusting, amazing, yet true: the banks had no legal right to evict these people. In many cases, the banks didn’t have basic paperwork, like the original deed to the house. They resorted to “robo-signing” boiler room operations to churn out falsified and forged eviction papers. In others cases, people could have kept their homes if they’d been allowed to refinance — their right under federal law — but the banks illegally refused, giving them the runaround, repeatedly asking for the same paperwork they’d already sent in. Soldiers fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, protected from foreclosure under U.S. law, came home to find their homes resold at auction. In other cases, banks even repossessed homes where the homeowner had never missed a mortgage payment.

The foreclosure scandal helped spark the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Promising justice and compensation for the victims, President Obama’s Justice Department joined lawsuits filed by the attorneys general of several states.

Last year, Obama announced that the government had concluded a “landmark settlement” with the banks that would “deliver some measure of justice for those families that have been victims of their abusive practices.” The Politico newspaper called the $26 billion deal “a big win for the White House.” $26 billion. Sounds impressive, right?

So…the envelope, please.

How much will the banks have to pay? What will people whose homes were stolen — there is no other word — receive? Now we know the details.

Remember what we’re talking about. Your house is your biggest asset. You own tens of thousands, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity. One morning the sheriff comes. He throws you and your family out on the street. Your possessions are dumped on the lawn. You have nowhere to go. Your kids are crying. If you were struggling before, now you’re completely screwed. And the bank that did it had no legal basis whatsoever to do what they did.

They took your house, sold it, and pocketed the profits.

What would happen to you if you walked into Tiffany’s and stole a $200,000 necklace?

The details:

  • Even though they qualified for federal loan modifications, the banks seized 1.1 million homes, making 1.1 million families homeless after they were approved for refinancing. Since the average foreclosed home was worth $191,000, the banks stole $210 billion in homes. Under the “landmark settlement,” these wrongfully evicted Americans will receive $300 or $500 each, the value of a modest night out at a nice restaurant in Manhattan (two tenths of one percent of their loss).
  • 900,000 borrowers who were entitled under Obama’s Make Home Affordable program to refinancing were denied help and lost their homes. They get $300 or $600.
  • 420,000 homeowners who lost their homes while the banks intentionally dithered and “lost” their paperwork get $400 or $800.
  • 28,000 families who were entitled to protection against foreclosure under federal bankruptcy law, but got thrown out of their homes anyway, get $3,750 to $62,500.
  • 1,100 soldiers entitled to protection against foreclosure because of their military status get $125,000.
  • 53 families who weren’t late on their mortgages, never missed a payment, but got thrown out anyway, get $125,000.

So we’ve got more than 2.4 million families — that’s 5 million people — whose homes got bogarted by scumbag banksters. They’re getting a thousand bucks each on average. A thousand bucks for a two hundred thousand dollar theft! Not to mention the heartbreak and stress they suffered.

Why aren’t those five million people stringing up bank execs from telephone poles? It’s gotta be the Paxil.

But what really gets me is the 53 families who are getting $125,000 payouts for losing homes they were 100% up to date on.

Even if you’re a heartless right-winger, you’ve got to have a problem with a bank taking your house when you never missed a payment. Sorry, but these are multinational, multibillion dollar banks. They should pay these families tens of millions of dollars each.

Those 53 families should own Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

Some perspective:

Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit received $260 million in pay between 2007 and 2012, the height of the foreclosure scandal.

In 2011 alone, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon was given $23 million. In 2012, the company’s board of directors “punished” him for a $6 billion loss in derivatives trading by paying him “merely” $18.7 million.

In 2012 alone, Bank of America paid CEO Brian Moynihan $12 million; Wells Fargo paid $23 million to CEO John Stumpf.

Not bad for some of the worst criminals in history.

That’s how things work in the United States: the criminals get the big payouts. The people whose lives they destroy get $300.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Against Philanthropy

As Hurricane Victims Freeze, Billionaire Mayor Gives Away $1 Billion to Wealthy Med School

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made headlines over the weekend with his announcement that he has donated $345 million to Johns Hopkins University. Added to his previous donations, the media baron has given his alma mater over $1 billion – the largest charitable contribution to an educational institution in US history.

Bloomberg received plaudits for his generosity by the usual media sycophants. Along with death and taxes, another thing you can count on is being told to be grateful when masters of the universe give away some of their loot (even if none of it goes to you.) As pundits fawned, thousands of New Yorkers – residents of Queens whose homes got damaged by superstorm Sandy – were shivering under blankets in heatless homes in 15° weather because restoring electricity and housing storm victims isn’t one of the mayor’s top priorities.

Disgusting.

This was a man, New Yorkers remember, who wanted the mayoralty so badly that he subverted the people’s will, bribing and bullying the City Council into overturning term limits passed by an overwhelming majority so that he could keep the job a third term.

No one should claim that he didn’t want responsibility for those poor cold slobs out in the Rockaways.

If there’s anything more nauseating than watching this rich pig bask in the glow of his philanthropy while the citizens he is tasked with caring for turn into popsicles, it’s the failure of anyone in the system – columnists, local TV anchor people, even Bloomberg’s political rivals – to call him out. For $345 million the mayor could have put his city’s storm victims up at the Four Seasons for years.

Bloomberg’s donation to one of the wealthiest universities on earth, with an endowment of $2.6 billion, serves to remind us that philanthropy is evil.

You could argue that generous rich people are better than cheap rich people. And if you like the way things are, with the gap between rich and poor at record levels and spreading – you’d be right. But most people are not happy with our winner-take-all economy.

No one deserves to be rich. And no one should be poor. Everyone who contributes to society, everyone who works to the best of their skills and abilities, deserves to earn the same salary. Of course, I realize that not everyone adheres to such basic Christian – er, communist – principles. (Anyone who denies that Jesus was a commie never cracked open a Bible.)

But most people – certainly most Americans – agree there’s a line. That too much is too much. People like Michael Bloomberg and Steve Jobs and Bill Gates may have worked hard and created products that consumers purchased in great numbers – but no one can work $25 billion hard (Bloomberg’s estimated net worth). There aren’t that many hours in the day; the human skull doesn’t contain enough synapses; no idea is worth that much.

One of the big problems with charitable giving is that it mitigates the injustice of inequality: sure, maybe it’s a little crazy that Bloomberg has 11 luxurious homes while people are starving to death and sleeping outside, but at least he’s generous. He’s giving it away. The implication, that the chasm between rich and poor isn’t that bad, is a lie. It’s also evil: If inequality isn’t that bad, it’s not important to talk about – much less fix.

“For many people, the generosity of these individuals who made so much money eliminates the problem that wealth poses, inequality poses, in the society,” says Robert Dalzell, author of “The Good Rich and What They Cost Us.” “We tend to conclude that such behavior is typical of the wealthy, and in fact it’s not…This whole notion of ‘the good rich’ I think reconciles us to levels of inequality in the society that in terms of our democratic ideology would otherwise be unacceptable.”

It’s better for society when rich people are unlikeable jerks like Mitt Romney. Knock over old ladies, stiff the waitress, talk with a pretentious fake British 19th-century accent, install a car elevator. Bad behavior by our elite oppressors hastens the revolution.

Bloomberg’s billion-dollar gift to a school that doesn’t need a penny illustrates the inherent absurdity of capitalism: aggregating so much wealth and power in the hands of a few individuals. It’s obscene and morally reprehensible to allow a disproportional share of resources to fall under the control of the arbitrary whims of a few quirky rich dudes.

Why should National Public Radio, which received a $200 million bequest by the widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc, get all that cash while the Pacifica radio network – more avant-garde, better politics – teeters on the edge of bankruptcy? It’s nice that the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation fights AIDS in Africa, but who are Bill and Melinda Gates to decide that AIDS in Africa is worse than, say, diarrhea, which kills more people? It’s amusing to hear that the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune gave $100 million to an obscure poetry journal – but again, people are sleeping outside. Why not musicians? Or cartoonists?

People are dying because they can’t afford treatment by a doctor. People have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit and executed because they couldn’t afford a competent lawyer to defend them.

If a government agency were allocating public funds based on the personal whims of its director, there would be a scandal. Under the veil of “philanthropy” billions of dollars that could help millions of people are being spent in a haphazard manner – and we’re supposed to applaud because it’s up to the “private sector”?

In an ideal world no one would have that kind of power. We’d be as equal as the Declaration of Independence declares us to be. We’d make decisions about who to help and what problems to try to fix collectively. The most unfortunate people and the worst problems would get helped first –long before Johns Hopkins.

Our world isn’t perfect. But it is our duty to do everything in our power to make that way. Toward that end, billionaires like Michael Bloomberg ought to have their assets confiscated and redistributed, whether through revolutionary political change or – for the time being – high taxes.

If we can’t pull off nationalization or truly progressive taxation, if we are too weak, too disorganized and too apathetic to form the political movements that will liberate us, the least we should do is to denounce “generous” acts of philanthropy like Michael Bloomberg’s for what they are: arbitrary and self-serving attempts to deflect us from hating the rich and the inequality they embody.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Prequel to a Beginning

Why Occupy Wall Street Still Matters

      It was the middle of September. An ad hoc coalition of political groups, mostly left of center but not all, whose members mostly were young but not all, came together to express their opinions outside the officially approved two-party paradigm.

United by their anger and energy, these people held general assemblies (they called them “sit-ins.”) They marched. Throughout that fall and into part of the following year, they caught the attention of the news media, inspiring activists around the country. In the end, the powers that be did what power powers that be usually do: they sent in the cops. Beaten and swept away in mass arrests, the young activists drifted away. Voters, convinced by the system’s propaganda that the movement threatened law and order, turned to the right.

One year later, it was clear to most that the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley had failed.

Students had demanded that school administrators allow political organizations, including civil rights groups, to table and solicit contributions on campus. (In 1964 only the campus Democratic and Republican clubs were allowed to do so.) There was a concession: the acting chancellor grudgingly opened the steps of a single building for open discussion and tables, but only during certain hours. By the fall of 1966, however, UC had a new right-wing president and California was led by a new right-wing governor, Ronald Reagan, who had promised to “clean up the mess in Berkeley.”

Now we understand that the FSM was a prequel to a beginning. The FSM morphed into a campus movement that inspired widespread social unrest of the 1960s that centered on opposition to the Vietnam War. Everything that followed–feminists burning bras, gays rioting after the bust at the Stonewall Inn, America’s withdrawal from Vietnam–had its roots in that “failed” movement.

Keep the “failed” Free Speech Movement in mind as you read and watch this week’s coverage of the anniversary of Occupy. One year after activists set up the first Occupy Wall Street encampments in New York and Washington, D.C., the Occupy movement is described as in “disarray.” Indeed, it’s hard to remember how big OWS was. Were there really more than a thousand Occupations? Did 59% of the American public support OWS when it was barely a month old? What happened?

“I think they’re idiots. They have no agenda,” Robert Nicholson, who works on Wall Street, tells The Los Angeles Times. “They have yet to come out with a policy statement.”

“The movement [grew] too large too quickly. Without leaders or specific demands, what started as a protest against income inequality turned into an amorphous protest against everything wrong with the world,” argues the AP.

I was at Freedom Plaza in D.C. and Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. I’m a member of my local Occupy chapter on Long Island, Occupy the East End. (Yes, we’re still around.) I agree with Mikell Kober of Brooklyn, who was protesting in front of a Bank of America branch. She told a reporter that OWS is “about creating a public space where people could gather and have a conversation about the things that need to change.”

Coming up with a list of demands isn’t the point. Thinking outside the D vs. R box is. Now people know that electoral politics is theater. Real politics is in the streets. For the first time since the Sixties, we know that.

The flaw in Occupy, the seed of its future destruction, was its basic original premise: occupying public space nonviolently.

Occupying nonviolently is an oxymoron. If you decide to be nonviolent, you leave peacefully when the police show up to evict you. Which is what happened last winter to the OWS encampments.  If you are determined to occupy–and remain in–public space, you must resort to violence in order to defend yourselves from police violence.

OWS ought to have decided whether it wanted to be nonviolent or whether it wanted to occupy public space. If it chose nonviolence, it could have engaged in acts of resistance–flash mobs, demonstrations, strikes–that did not require setting up and defending encampments.

Also, a political movement is defined more by what it is not than by what it is. OWS was a movement outside of the duopoly, yet many “Occupiers” worked with, and got co-opted by, Democratic Party front groups like MoveOn.org who stole OWS’ “We are the 99%” slogan.Though the physical presence of OWS is a mere shadow of its presence a year ago, the Occupy idea remains colossally important–largely because the two major parties still refuse to engage the biggest problem we face: America’s growing poverty. “I don’t think Occupy itself has an enormous future,” Dr. Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University, told the Associated Press. “I think that movements energized by Occupy have an enormous future.”

Like the Free Speech movement nearly a half century ago, Occupy is the prequel to the beginning.

Of course, change doesn’t always mean progress and inspiration isn’t always positive. “Reagan’s political career owed a lot to the [FSM] people who used the [UC] campus as a radical base for political activity. It is an irony that helped elect him,” says Earl Cheit, executive vice chancellor at Berkeley from 1965 to 1969.

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)

COPYRIGHT 2012 TED RALL

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Sacramento Bee Cartoon: Wild Kingdom Revisited

I did this cartoon for The Sacramento Bee. The California state legislature enacted a series of bills aimed at protecting homeowners from banks and mortgage lenders. Banks are arguing it will only help a small number of homeowners, and hurt the rest by drying up credit, etc. Of course, all of us are touched by how much the banking industry cares for the plight of people trying to hold onto their homes.

Some Republicans that this is a bailout for mortgage holders who took reckless risks in buying homes they couldn’t afford. No doubt, some of those folks (and maybe some speculators) will benefit from the protections in this package. But where were Republicans in opposing the huge bailout of Wall Street? Hypocrisy on parade, as usual.

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