Terrorists with Tiki Torches

As I write this, encouraging news is coming from Boston, where anti-racism protesters overwhelmingly outnumbered a right-wing free speech rally.  I think it is important not to downplay how seriously scary the emboldened white supremacists, Nazis and KKK who marched in Charlottesville are, nor President Trump’s unwillingness to disavow them, claiming violence happened on both sides and some of those carrying tiki torches were “innocently” protesting and there were “very fine” people on both sides of the rallies the next day.

It’s important to watch the Vice News/HBO video Charlottesville: Race and Terror if you already haven’t. Vice reporter Elle Reeve is embedded with Christopher Cantwell and rest of the Unite the Right crowd. Former KKK leader David Duke even makes a guest appearance.

To anyone who thinks the tiki torch protesters at the evening rally were peaceful, or at least laughable posers – let’s see: an angry mob chanting slogans like “You will not replace us. You will not replace us.”, “Jews will not replace us. Jews will not replace us.” and the Nazi slogan “Blood and soil. Blood and soil.” (Note that other anti-Semitic statements are made by the organizers, including a rather scary rant by Chris Cantwell about Ivanka Trump’s marriage to Jared Kushner.)

While Chris Cantwell did get peppersprayed a couple of times by counter-protesters (or “communists” as he prefers to call them) at the daytime rally last Saturday, it is the hate groups armed with sticks, shields and helmets (and guns – Cantwell displays at least 5 he had, and a knife near the very end of the video).  As the New York Daily News reported (providing video and pictures), a young black man “Deandre Harris, 20, was attacked in a parking lot by a group of white supremacists who kicked him, punched him and pummeled him with metal poles.” Video below of Deandre Harris interviewed by The Real News:

The ViceNews/HBO video clearly shows the car driven by James Alex Fields accelerate and drive straight into the crowd, killing Heather Heyer, a young woman who by all accounts routinely stood up for justice, and injuring at least 19 others. All of which makes Chris Cantwell’s defense of Fields in the HBO video more disturbing (as it was immediately after, true, he may not have seen that footage, but his response is to claim someone struck the driver’s vehicle, who saw no way to escape and hit the gas, which is not at all the case). This was after displaying all his weapons and saying “I’d say the fact no one died on our side is points for us.” He also said: “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here, frankly.”

Of course, Christopher Cantwell was singing another tune when he found out he was wanted by the police:

Seriously? What options do you have? How about stop being a bigot and a bully? You are terrified by the police? How about not terrorizing other people? In case you’re worried, he has apparently successfully and peacefully turned himself in. Oh, and OKCupid banned him. #whyIdonttryinternetdating (OK, at least OKCupid banned him when they found out.)

The good news is that so many have come out against the white supremacists and Nazis, including a great many Republicans. Yet, Trump continues to play to his base. That they are emboldened is a huge issue, even though, thankfully, they don’t have much support.

 

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Northwest Love for Bernie

So after a night of Springsteen, a couple days off. Time for some quiet. Get away from the maddening crowds. . . Oh wait, Bernie Sanders is coming to town, finally on a day I have off!  Then the next day is caucusing, and I switched days off so I can come in person.

Spoiler alert. . .Seattle loves Bernie, really loves Bernie. . .and the rest of Washington State. . . loves him more. . .

First, though he got some Portland, Oregon love. . .They put a bird on it . . .A real bird on it. . .

We didn’t have a bird. We had a long and winding line. . . and a guy with a goat. . .a guy with a goat named Deer. . .who can’t vote. . .Not sure if he made it past the Secret Service check point. . .

It took awhile to get us all in. Bernie did not disappoint. . .healthcare, jobs,  income inequality, racial injustice, getting money out of politics . . . for starters. . .and without taking money from big donors or forming PACs. . .from we the people, averaging $27 donations.

Funny, some people were claiming it was all over before this.

Caucus lines were long too the next morning, too. . .looping around the neighborhood of the middle school where mine and a lot of other caucuses voted.

Almost in! Beautiful old school. Caucusing for Bernie '16

A post shared by Colleen Roman (@java_colleen) on

Total chaos, started over an hour late with everyone coming in, and how were all the precincts assigned to the gym going to caucus in such a small space?

The scene at this point. Line still not in yet! Go Bernie! Caucus '16. . .

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Actually, my precinct went out to form a circle on the basketball court. All five of our delegates went to Bernie! Even counting the absentee ballots (allowed for those working, having religious services, military duty or ill), Hillary had only 6 votes, less than 1% with 15% needed for even a single delegate. Bernie had, I think, 75. We voted for 5 delegates and 5 alternates (who have to show up for the next two meetings of Legislative District and King County so we don’t lose our delegates).

Washington went overwhelmingly for Bernie – 72.7% to 27.1% Hillary. What I found interesting was the margin was even higher in the rest of the state, in rural areas, than in King County (where Seattle is located).

http://www.wa-democrats.org/caucus-results

Is it a crazy way to pick candidates instead of elections? YES. Is it unfair, leaving a lot of people out? OH, HELL YES. Crazy and crowded as it was, as Danny Westneat pointed out in his column, only about 5.8% of registered voters show up. Do I think the WA State Democrats should get rid of it and go to primary elections, by mail, like everything else? YES. It seems to me ironic they tell us we’re packed in such small places and need money from us to pay for the rather expensive rent as there still are a lot of buildings that needed to be rented and they’re not cheap, when the party could save the money buy just letting the ballot we’re still going to get by mail actually count.

Don’t get me started on superdelegates.  Although I’m sure I will later. So far all our elected officials who are superdelegates are going for Hillary.

Remembering Pearl Harbor and Xenophobia

I don’t suppose it was any accident that Donald Trump chose December 7, the anniversary of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack, to call for “the United States to bar all Muslims from entering the country until the nation’s leaders can ‘figure out what is going on’ after the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, [California],” according to the New York Times.

I’m glad the New York Times called him out on it:

A prohibition of Muslims – an unprecedented proposal by a leading American presidential candidate, and an idea more typically associated with hate groups – reflects a progression of mistrust that is rooted in ideology as much as politics.

It’s still disturbing, if not surprising, as pointed out by Slate:

For starters, Trump has already suggested the government may need to shutter U.S. mosques and create a mandatory registry to track Muslims in the United States. While many of his rivals took issue with those remarks, they don’t sound all that different from him on the stump. Many have called for the same type of no-Muslims religious test for Syrian refugees looking to resettle in the United States. Ben Carson has proposed a similar test for future presidents (while also likening Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs”). And Ted Cruz has vowed to “shut down the broken immigration system that is letting jihadists into our country.”

I don’t take Pearl Harbor lightly. My father was a veteran of the attacks, stationed at the nearby Hickam Field Air Base (and had a hard time convincing his buddies they were being strafed by live fire that Sunday morning, until they saw the Japanese rising sun insignias on the planes).

Still, my father opposed the internment of Japanese Americans.

What did George Takei’s family, or the families of any of my Japanese American friends or colleagues have to do with the bombing of Pearl Harbor? Absolutely nothing.

What do the young Muslim American students interviewed by KUOW have to do with the attacks in San Bernardino? Or what do any of my Muslim American friends and colleagues? Absolutely nothing.

Similarly what do this Syrian American family, also interviewed by KUOW, newly arrived to safety in Seattle, or those interviewed in the International Rescue Committee video below arriving in Greece following a dangerous journey by water, have to do with the attacks in Paris? Absolutely nothing. In fact, they are fleeing ISIS, as well as Assad, and the destruction of their country.

Do they go through screening before they’re admitted to America? Of course.

When white, Christian, Americans “self radicalize” (and/or are crazy) and commit mass murder do we target all white Americans or all Christians? Of course not.

Can’t Make It Here & Having Us a Time

I’m way behind in music blogging –  on old & new favorites, tours, festivals & local heroes.  Seeing James McMurtry at the Neptune back in September seems a good place to start. A couple of his songs keep running through my mind, and one in particular seems especially relevant . . .

We Can’t Make it Here:

I like McMurtry’s songwriting and this song gets to the heart of the downsizing of America.  I’ll save my own rant for another day, but the working poor, those in poverty and the homeless don’t even count into most political equations.

That being said, Obama, like most of the Democrats, does at least throw us a few crumbs, saved Detroit (though the auto execs probably got too good a deal) and tried to get jobs programs through congress that were blocked by the Republicans.

I wasn’t going to get into a partisan political rant on this post, but the ad below on the right appeared while I was searching for the YouTube video above for my post:

Vote Romney-Ryan because our country needs jobs? Jobs?  Romney? Unless your idea of a job is training your replacement worker in China, that isn’t going to happen.

Especially ironic seeing the Romney = jobs ad next the We Can’t Make It Here video:

Should I hate a people for the shade of their skin
Or the shape of their eyes or the shape I’m in
Should I hate ‘em for having our jobs today
No I hate the men sent the jobs away
I can see them all now, they haunt my dreams
All lily white and squeaky clean
They’ve never known want, they’ll never know need
Their shit don’t stink and their kids won’t bleed
Their kids won’t bleed in their damn little war
And we can’t make it here anymore

All right, more music. “I don’t want another drink, I only want that last one again. . .”

I like the story telling in McMurtry’s songs. That one line above has already been running through my mind for my own “Can’t Make It Here” experiences (not to worry about me, it’s true “minimum wage. . .won’t pay for a drink,” or at least only a rare one). Obviously the song has been running through my mind this past week due to Hurricane Sandy. My heart goes out to those lost and the survivors. Glad, for the most part, people are coming together to help. Especially glad to see Occupy members pull together for those forgotten in housing project. More about that in another post, but we need more of that.

All these solo videos would give you the idea James McMurtry show was somber and acoustic. The Gourds opened it and got things going real good. Seattle-ites dancing! Who knew? McMurtry brought his band, too, and they rocked the rest of the night away.

In addition to my own ambivalence on trying to kick my photo taking at shows habit (or at least my excessiveness), I didn’t think cameras were allowed at the Neptune, nor that McMurtry would drop his video ban, so I didn’t bring my camera. Glad he did, as the YouTube clip below highlighting the band probably wasn’t authorized, either.

Fans don’t take pictures, post videos and blog in an attempt to piss off their favorite musicians. At least most of us, honestly!

All right. One more song I wanted us to include, and I did mention having us a time – Choctaw Bingo!

Wait, it’s that woman for Romney again. The one in the baseball cap telling us he’ll bring us jobs. This time it’s a video ad before the video. . .

There are a whole bunch of women in the ad voting for Romney, binders of them!

Hmm. Does that mean Mitt approved this message?: “Strap them kids in, give ’em a little bit of vodka in a cherry coke. . .”

Mitt & Ann, please leave the dog home, though. . . Aww. . .

In the words of Devo, Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro!

Hey, maybe we’ll get Slate writer Ron Rosenbaum’s wish and Choctaw Bingo will become our new national anthem!

Ann and Lynn come down from Baxter Springs
That’s one hell raisin’ town way up in Southeastern Kansas
Got a biker bar next to the lingerie store
That’s got them Rolling Stones lips up there where everyone can see ’em
And they burn all night you know they burn all night you know they burn all night

. .  . and we’ll have us a time!

Shout out to Easy Street Records, who I won a pair of tickets from! Also my friend, Merri Ann, for buying me a drink. I was a shameless freeloader that night. . .

Not proud of that, just a little broke. . .though not as much as now, while I’m contemplating yet another show tonight after I figure out my finances. . .

Live music is one of my few vices. . .

Actually am proud of that!

Debating Conventional Wisdom About the Debate

I finally got around to watching the first Presidential debate this morning, as I was working last night. Maybe I’m just a wonk, as I neither found it as boring, nor thought Obama did as bad a job as many people, especially on the left (friends and progressive media), seemed to believe.

When I got home and checked first the news sites, then Facebook, everyone seemed agreed it as awful. One friend mentioned wanting to poke her eyes out during the debate, another posted a video of Charlie Brown’s teacher speaking to show what the debate sounded like to her and Andy Borowitz reported in The New Yorker  that “[m]illions of Americans lost consciousness on Wednesday night between the hours of 9 and 10:30 P.M. E.T., according to widespread anecdotal reports from coast to coast.”

James McMurtry’s pre-debate post made me smile, and seemed like it would have been the best way to watch the debate:

Decided to let Johnny D’s run the debate close captioned while I play. Never tried that. Should be interesting. Might even sync up. Come on out.

You Can’t Make It Here and Choctaw Bingo sounded like the perfect sound track for the state of our nation, which has only slowly turned around (and only on some issues) under President Obama.

Then the Tom Morello/Crosby, Stills & Nash concert to support California unions right to support candidates and defeat Proposition 32 in California Rolling Stone reported this morning also happened last night seemed even more relevant.

Not that I wouldn’t have loved to be at either concert, but I’m glad I finally watched the debate online.

I thought President Obama was considerably better than reports from, say:

Joan Walsh in Salon:

A subdued, deferential, over-prepared President Obama ceded the first debate to Mitt Romney on style and substance.

or Matthew Rothschild in The Nation:

[Obama] was sluggish and dull and let Romney box him all over the ring.

While I thought Obama was stronger on the issues than the left-wing pundits gave him credit for, I agree that he was too unwilling to attack Romney when he had an opening. I have mixed feelings about that, as I think it has a lot to do with Obama wanting to be a nice guy and play fair, and longing for a bi-partisanship that doesn’t exist any more.

I’m in full agreement that Obama should have fought back, for example as Truthout‘s William Rivers Pitt points out “when Mr. Romney re-re-re-re-re-told the $716 billion Medicare liearound 43 minutes into the debate.” I think President Obama is a little too hesitant to “[t]ag a liar for being a liar,” but he could have brought up the facts, without getting personal.

From the PolitiFact article Rivers Pitt links to:

Neither Obama nor his health care law literally cut funding from the Medicare program’s budget. Rather, the health care law instituted a number of changes to try to bring down future health care costs in the program.

What kind of spending reductions are we talking about? They were mainly aimed at insurance companies and hospitals, not beneficiaries. The law made significant reductions to Medicare Advantage, a subset of Medicare plans run by private insurers. Medicare Advantage was started under President George W. Bush, and the idea was that competition among the private insurers would reduce costs. But the plans have actually cost more than traditional Medicare. So the health care law scales back the payments to private insurers.

Then there was Romney’s hypocritical critique of the Wall Street bail out and the “too big to fail” banks, which I didn’t fully understand at the time, but struck me as odd coming from a venture capitalist (who has shipped jobs to China, something else Obama should have got him on).

In his column, Romney’s Obscene Posturing As a Wall Street Critic, George Zornick of The Nation takes it on, and explains what Obama should have in his response to Romney.

As Zornick points out:

Romney—the private equity veteran running a presidential campaign funded by Wall Street, on a platform that contains a full repeal of every financial regulation over the past four years—positioning himself as an opponent of those big “New York banks” was a historic moment in presidential debate cravenness. (And a real missed opportunity for Obama to wallop his opponent).

It turns out with the Dodd-Frank legislation “too big to fail” banks are subject to more regulation.

Dodd-Frank has two provisions regarding too-big-to-fail that Romney is talking about here. The first is the ability of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, created by the legislation, to name financial institutions “systemically significant.” This means they are so big that their failure could threaten the health of the financial sector, and that designation subjects them to heightened regulation and higher capital requirements.

The big banks hate this requirement, for obvious reasons—they come under increased scrutiny and restrictions. So Republicans have been dutifully attacking it. (Romney’s running mate, Representative Paul Ryan, repeatedly blasted it before joining the ticket). The GOP argument, as you heard Romney deliver it, is that by giving them the “systemically significant label, the government is officially “designating” banks as too-big-to-fail—a very bad-sounding thing indeed!

The banksters need more regulation, not less; not that I think Obama and the Democrats have done enough, with both parties too much in bed with Wall Street and corporations.

What I do feel Obama did a pretty good job of defending was the Affordable Health Care Act (or Obamacare, as even he is calling it):

And let me tell you exactly what Obamacare did. Number one, if you’ve got health insurance, it doesn’t mean a government takeover. You keep your own insurance. You keep your own doctor. But it does say insurance companies can’t jerk you around. They can’t impose arbitrary lifetime limits. They have to let you keep your kid on their insurance — your insurance plan until you’re 26 years old. And it also says that you’re going to have to get rebates if insurance companies are spending more on administrative costs and profits than they are on actual care.

Number two, if you don’t have health insurance, we’re essentially setting up a group plan that allows you to benefit from group rates that are typically 18 percent lower than if you’re out there trying to get insurance on the individual market.

Further pointing out:

… the irony is that we’ve seen this model work really well in Massachusetts, because Governor Romney did a good thing, working with Democrats in the state to set up what is essentially the identical model and as a consequence people are covered there. It hasn’t destroyed jobs. And as a consequence, we now have a system in which we have the opportunity to start bringing down costs, as opposed to just leaving millions of people out in the cold.

Romney, in response claims “I like the way we did it in Massachusetts. I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together.” He complains that the Affordable Health Care Act was passed without a single  Republican vote, and talks about “[w]hat we did in a legislature 87 percent Democrat, we worked together”. . .

There’s a major difference with the Republicans in Congress, though, and Obama rightly comes back with “I agree that the Democratic legislators in Massachusetts might have given some advice to Republicans in Congress about how to cooperate, but the fact of the matter is, we used the same advisers, and they say it’s the same plan.”

Above quotes from Washington Post’s transcript: http://apps.washingtonpost.com/politics/transcripts/2012/presidential/live/739/?wpisrc=nl_politics

While I wish it was stronger, the Affordable Health Care Act is a start and one of the things Obama tried to do. Like with jobs, there was a lot of push back from the Republicans in Congress.

Of more concern, with Obama (and even more so with Romney), are all the issues still not covered in this debate. Yes, I know I’m voting for the lesser of two evils. While I’m on the “for voting for the lesser” side of the progressive debate, I don’t feel like we should downplay (in addition to corporate influence) wars, drones, the NDAA, Guantanamo. . .

Oh, yeah, to take off my partisan hat for a moment, and switch to my favorite non-profit, how did we do with Amnesty International’s Human Rights Presidential Bingo?

Amnesty International Presidential Bingo
Amnesty International Presidential Bingo

Darn! A losing ticket again. . .

Just wish the stakes weren’t so high.

Occupy Town Hall – Establishment Tells The Ki. . .MIC CHECK!

The words to The Times They Are a Changin’ were running though my mind at Town Hall Saturday night, especially the lines “Your old road is rapidly agin’/Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.” I’ll admit at times being frustrated and/or befuddled the mostly young Occupy Seattle members, but I was always inspired.

JM Wong from Occupy Seattle Speaks

While I may not fully understand the people’s mic (everyone echoing what the speaker says), or at least the usefulness of it when there are real microphones, the fact that everyone learns to really listen seems to really have made the movement “leader-full” as they put it, rather than leaderless.  We have not seen a generation of young and/or marginalized people find their voice like this since the 60s. . .and. . .they weren’t taking any guff (or sound bite management) from the establishment (some of whom, well, maybe Nick Licata at least, may have been those young people fighting the establishment in the 60s).

Councilmember Nick Licata Moderates

Now, Nick is one of our better politicians, but I had to acknowledge that even he represented the status quo or establishment Saturday night. I came even more around to seeing the young people’s point of view when I just checked out who the other establishment members of the panel were, other than Nick Licata and Lynn Dodson of the Washington State Labor Council, both of whom I’ve voted for in the past. While I appreciate the unions being out there on this, and, in fact am more likely to be involved in a protest they and some of the other more established groups are involved in, I was glad to see that Occupy Seattle members were not willing to be co-opted by the unions or Democratic operatives.

But, who else was on the panel, from the establishment side? I checked the Town Hall event page tonight before I blogged to figure that out. . .

Occupy Town Hall

Why were a venture capitalist (Nick Hanauer) and a, umm, yes, Democratic operative (Frank Greer), chosen as part of the panel in an Occupy Seattle discussion?

Frank Greer

Greer, who it turns out was a consultant for both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, especially grated as he tried to lecture the Occupy movement into developing neat little, sound bite ready, goals. While I appreciate his involvement in the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, it was considerably more of an inspired movement and struggle than the couple laws eventually passed he claimed it was all about.

Mic check!

Mic Check!

Come to think of it, the Occupy people were right on with their mic check that anti-establishment paper The Stranger so lampoons.

Vote on People's Mic vs Real Mic

While you can count me as one of those people who didn’t see the point of having a people’s mic when we had a real mic (hey, I’m over 50, long past the age you can trust me), and it did take a bit of time out of the discussion to have the vote (which turned out to be in favor of using real microphones), only a few people left over it, and the room remained packed, with the people engaged. Many in the audience were older  than me and didn’t seem at all offended by the young people (and for that matter, there were members of Occupy Seattle, older than me, voting with them).

People's Assembly Signals

We also got instructions on all the hand signals for an Occupy Seattle People’s Assembly, including twinkling (with raised fingers) instead of clapping in agreement. Something missed by The Stranger reporter was that most of the cheering or booing was by us those of us who weren’t really Occupy-ers (though, by hand count early on, most of us in the room consider ourselves Occupy-ers. . .well, maybe at least we’re part of the 99%). Occupy folks used their hand signals, including the hurry it up signal for Greer, which he complained about. The groaning earlier on about his sound bite strategy came from many of the non-active Occupy-ers in the room as well.

While I think the Occupy Seattle folks should take into account, that especially to the un-initiated, heading straight into a people’s mic style might not always be the best way to communicate (and the world does need to hear what they are saying), I also think the rest of the panel represented the status quo, lesser-of-two evils system that brought us to this point.  I think at least a couple of the other panelists said they were waiting for this movement to come along. Yet now that it has, they want to change it, back into their image, of sound bites and Democratic party politics; which hasn’t been working well (maybe because the Democrats are owned by Wall Street almost as much as the Republicans?).

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the Occupy Seattle folks are camping out in the cold for. . .

. . .and I’ll admit, I don’t get the long-term camping out strategy; especially as I’m hoping to avoid ending up in a tent city as the economy tanks and my worker retraining funding seems shaky. I am impressed at how dedicated these Occupy people are, and that they’re not willing to be co-opted.

Josh Farris

I think Josh Farris of Occupy Seattle made an important point when he responded to the other panelists trying to craft the Occupy movement into what they wanted it to be, which is why don’t they go out and do what they think needs to be done themselves? I think there are two points to that. One, why were already established organizations like the unions waiting for something to come along (and, I think, are too willing to let the Democrats they elect sell out)? Second, now that the Occupy movement is shining a light on the inequities and the corruption of Wall Street money and corporate greed on the system; why not take a strong stand, maybe in coalition with Occupy and others?

I’m heartened to hear that even the people I’m calling the establishment panelists are going down to Olympia to fight Governor Gregoire’s new budget, with its draconian cuts once again; but. . .are they just going to take the establishment line, like our Democratic Governor whom most of us voted for, that we can’t raise any taxes because of the Republicans?We can’t ask all those businesses we let go tax-free, including Chase getting an in-state tax break just for buying WAMU at a fire sale (while laying off thousands of Washington state workers), to pay any taxes. We  have to instead make a Sophie’s choice of which group of societies most vulnerable we cut and send off to Nickelsville.

Seriously, according to the Seattle PI, we now have families with children living in the Nickelsville tent city. Families who have had their safety net totally cut away in the last round of budget cuts, with a lifetime cap on assistance some of them have already reached.

We can’t have corporations like Chase pay their taxes, though. . .

Mic check!

Occupy – Reason for Real Hope?

I am inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement and the local gatherings like Occupy Seattle.  I have hope, almost (which is scary, because I remember what happened last time, or rather, what didn’t . . . on so many issues). Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and friends playing Occupy Wall Street at Columbus Circle reminded me of those heady days when so many of us thought “Change” was possible.

Yet, that is part of the hope, both in seeing what the people did via so much grass-roots activism in getting Obama elected, and in the realization of most of us this time not to put our faith in a candidate and on the Democrats being different enough from the Republicans. Turns out too many of them are owned by Wall Street, too (and that is one of the most crucial things that needs to change, which is indeed a formidable goal).

Occupy Seattle March

Why are people occupying and marching? Is it really as vague, incomprehensible and unreasonable as some pundits make it? Personally, I think the “We are the 99%” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out” slogans do a pretty good job of explaining why people are so upset.

Lets see, according to The Atlantic, “Half of all workers made less than $26,364, the median wage in 2010,” and “The size of the missing workforce is 10 million. ” In spite of being bailed out at public expense, banks are raising fees and trying to foreclose on people they talked into loans with unfair terms, even “losing” paperwork so they can foreclose, as in the case of Dixie Mitchell and her husband in Seattle which was reported in the PI (and fortunately, Washington CAN is helping them fight).

Alternet‘s article, Which Bank is Worst for America? details how the banks congressional influence led to the collapse.

One of its biggest coups was the overturning of the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that created a firewall between investment banking and the commercial banks that hold deposits and make loans.

How much of our tax dollars went to the bailout?

Among our big five, Citigroup was the largest beneficiary of these funds, with $45 billion, but even Goldman Sachs got $10 billion. Wachovia/Wells Fargo and JP Morgan got $25 billion each, while Bank of America got $30 billion. According to ProPublica’s calculations, the big five have all paid back their TARP funds.

Oh, they’ve paid it all back? Wait, there’s more.

But TARP was only one way in which the federal government subsidized the big banks. The Federal Reserve also handed out trillions in unsupervised loans during the so-called crisis period.

And if those numbers weren’t big enough, just this August Bloomberg reported even more secret Fed loans to the big banks: “The $1.2 trillion peak on Dec. 5, 2008 — the combined outstanding balance under the seven programs tallied by Bloomberg — was almost three times the size of the U.S. federal budget deficit that year and more than the total earnings of all federally insured banks in the U.S. for the decade through 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

Just a coincidence, I’m sure, that so many in Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans, had large donations from Wall Street.

Just who are the recipients of all this largesse? There are many, but most play key roles on Congressional committees that oversee their businesses. Consider just one example: Senator Chuck Schumer, D-New York, one of the most powerful members of Congress (Schumer is known as “the senator from Wall Street”).

According to the National Journal‘s rankings, Schumer is tied with two others as the 10th “most liberal” member of the upper chamber. But he owes his career to Wall Street.

The article also notes that “(t)wo of Obama’s top bundlers are also connected to Goldman Sachs,” but “Mitt Romney is the clear favorite candidate of Wall Street this year, having taken in $2,339,588 from securities and investment companies.” Don’t despair, or rather, do despair, if you’re not a Wall Street banker, because the Washington Post reports that:

. . .Obama has brought in more money from employees of banks, hedge funds and other financial service companies than all of the GOP candidates combined, according to a Washington Post analysis of contribution data.

As the Washington Post notes in another article:

(I)n the tug of war between Main Street and Wall Street, Obama has made his loyalties clear. Just take a look at the long list of Wall Street contributors to his campaign. Unfortunately, Mr. President, you are the company you keep.

How corrupt is Congress? According to the Spectator:

Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, our Congressional parties now post prices for key slots on committees. You want it — you buy it, runs the challenge. They even sell on the installment plan: You want to chair an important committee? That’ll be $200,000 down and the same amount later, through fundraising. Unlike most retailers, though, Congressional leaders selling committee positions never offer discounts. Prices only drift up over time.

Bank of America is trying to get more taxpayer funds, to cover their derivatives, which apparently many be ready to blow.

Why is Bank of America moving derivatives from Merrill Lynch to an insured subsidiary? Is it because the derivatives could blow up at any time leaving Merrill with gigantic, unsustainable losses? If that’s the case, then it would make perfect sense to shift them into a depository institution that’s covered by the FDIC. That way, the taxpayers would wind up paying for the damage and no one would be the wiser.

Back to the Occupy movement. I’m inspired that people are on the street, especially because they’ve got the rest of us talking. That is something that cannot be taken away, even though some jurisdictions are trying to crack down on protesters and Twitter may or may not be censoring trends (and maybe even tweets, although that may be my own paranoia and lack of sleep at the time; more at a later date).  What is going to be exciting is what changes are we going to be pushing for?  No matter how impossible it seems, getting money out of politics has got to be a major one if any other changes are going to work.

The Response and Military Tribunals

We’ve had a couple recent forums on human rights over the past week and a half that I went to. On February 17 Amnesty International showed the Oscar-nominated short documentary The Response, with a panel discussion on military commissions. Then on February 23, Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon, who tried to bring former Argentine dictator Augusto Pinochet to justice spoke at the UW Law School.

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Sara Schmidt, our field organizer from the San Francisco office, introduced the panel, who spoke briefly before the film, which we watched next.

The Response is based on transcripts from actual military tribunals, and highlights a procedure that is administrative (they can only rule if the prisoner has been properly categorized, not on whether he or she should be held), and allows for evidence the prisoner isn’t allowed to know the details of nor the source of to refute.

As Amnesty International notes, about the the commission system formed under the Military Commissions Act:

Notably, it strips the right to a speedy trial, permits the use of evidence obtained through compulsory self-incrimination, and restricts defense access to materials used to prosecute the defendant. There is no right to confront accusers, no exclusion of evidence based on the failure to obtain a warrant, and hearsay evidence is permissible.

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Joseph McMillan & Jamie Mayerfeld

Our panel included Arsalan Bukhari, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Jamie Mayerfeld, Associate Professor of Political Science at UW; Joseph McMillan Legal Defense for Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden’s personal driver; and Tom Parker, Policy Director: Terrorism, Counterterrorism & Human Rights, Amnesty International.

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Arsalan Bukhari & Tom Parker

We talked about how both the US in other instances, and other countries like Britain have dealt with terrorism with regular courts (and without torture).  Ironically, the US courts are a far more effective way of prosecuting terrorism. According to the New Security Action website, “Only 3 detainees at Guantanamo have been convicted of any crime through the military commissions system,” while “(t)he Federal court system has convicted 195 terrorists since 2001.”

Arsalan also brought up the issue of profiling Muslims since September 11, and even before, like, ironically, after the Oklahoma City bombing, before it came out that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were responsible. Tom brought up a number of cases of recent right wing terror attacks and attempts that most of us and the general public has never heard of.

Ironically, again, the next day a right wing anti-tax fanatic flew a plane into an IRS office in Austin, Texas. I don’t see any difference. There are even people who see the man as a hero. Again, not much different from al Quaida or any other terrorist. Should we start rounding up clean cut white guys who are angry with the government, based on innuendo from their neighbors or co-workers who they won’t be able to confront, and hold them indefinitely because of what they might do? Or is that un-American?

We also talked about what has been a major disappointment for me, that President Obama has back tracked on Guantanamo and issues like military commissions and indefinite detention. One of the things that impressed me about Obama during the primary was that he had been a constitutional law professor who understood the importance of habeas corpus and other legal issues relevant to Guantanamo and the “war on terror.” I realize he’s getting a lot of pressure from the right, but still thought he would stand his ground because it is so important.

We collected postcards to send to President Obama at The Response screening, and you can take action online at:

http://www.amnestyusa.org/counter-terror-with-justice/fair-trials/page.do?id=1041195

We had co-sponsorship by and shared tabling with a number of good groups, including CAIR, the WA State Religious Campaign Against Torture, Veterans for Peace and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The conversation continued out to the reception in the lobby another hour, making it difficult for the young man sent to clean up and put our tables and chairs away.

Coming next (and hopefully soon), Judge Garzon’s visit.

Afghans & American Veterans Say No to War

While it came as no surprise when President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan last night, it still, as a friend put it, felt like a punch in the gut.  It felt like betrayal.  I voted for this President, and to be fair, I still believe he’s the best we could have gotten in there at this point in American history.

Why do Democrats still feel they have to compete with Republicans on being macho, on how many we can kill to show we’re tough, whether it’s war or the death penalty? 

The people of Afghanistan have endured violence for decades. They’ve been confronted with occupation — by the Soviet Union, and then by foreign al Qaeda fighters who used Afghan land for their own purposes.  So tonight, I want the Afghan people to understand — America seeks an end to this era of war and suffering. 

So why are we sending more troops? Of course, theoretically, we’re sending more troops so we can get out of there.  Where have we heard all this before?

Ahh, yes.  Vietnam.  I’m old enough to remember a great deal of it, although I was a kid at the time.  I have many veteran friends who unfortunately were old enough to have been sent over and fought in it.

Bill Moyers ran this episode a couple weeks ago, detailing through audio tapes how then President Johnson took my friends and other young men and women into the quagmire that was Vietnam.  What’s amazing, or maybe not, is that nobody seemed to think it was a good idea, or even winable – neither the President nor his advisors.

Why did Johnson get us into it?

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Well, I opposed it in ’54. But we’re there now, and there’s only one of three things you can do. One is run and let the dominoes start falling over. And God Almighty, what they said about us leaving China would just be warming up, compared to what they’d say now. I see Nixon is raising hell about it today. Goldwater too. You can run or you can fight, as we are doing. Or you can sit down and agree to neutralize all of it.

So he gets the country deeper and deeper into the quicksand, even though he really on some level knows better.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: It’s damned easy to get in a war but it’s gonna be awfully hard to ever extricate yourself if you get in.

But you can’t appear to be weak!

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: But they say that, well a fellow like A.W. Moursund said to me last night, -damn, there’s not anything that’ll destroy you as quick as pulling out, pulling up stakes and running, that America wants by God, prestige and power. And they don’t want-I said, yeah, but I don’t want to-I don’t want to kill these folks. He said, I don’t give a damn. He said, I didn’t want to kill ’em in Korea, but said, if you don’t stand up for America, there’s nothing that a fellow in Johnson City-or Georgia or any other place-they’ll forgive you for everything except being weak.

RICHARD RUSSELL: Well there’s a lot in that. There’s a whole lot in that.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Goldwater and all of ’em raising hell about go on, let’s hot pursuit. Let’s go in and bomb them […]

RICHARD RUSSELL: It’d take a half million men. They’d be bogged down in there for ten years. And oh hell no.

Then the Gulf of Tonkin and an incident which later turns out to be overblown. . .

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: My fellow Americans–

BILL MOYERS: He announces that U.S. fighter jets, for the first time, have attacked naval and oil facilities in North Vietnam.

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: Our response for the present will be limited and fitting. We Americans know, although others appear to forget, the risk of spreading conflict. We still seek no wider war.

Sound familiar?  President Obama as well seeks no wider war. . .

Like President Obama, President Johnson worries about the young men (and now women, but we had women in the war as combat nurses even then):

LYNDON B. JOHNSON: I do not find it easy to send the flower of our youth, our finest young men, into battle. I have spoken to you today of the divisions and the forces and the battalions and the units. But I know them all, every one. I have seen them in thousand streets, of a hundred towns, in every state in this union – working and laughing and building, and filled with hope and life. I think that I know, too, how their mothers weep and how their families sorrow. This is the most agonizing and the most painful duty of your President.

This is no Vietnam, according to President Obama, or is it?

BILL MOYERS: Now in a different world, at a different time, and with a different president, we face the prospect of enlarging a different war. But once again we’re fighting in remote provinces against an enemy who can bleed us slowly and wait us out, because he will still be there when we are gone.

Once again, we are caught between warring factions in a country where other foreign powers fail before us. Once again, every setback brings a call for more troops, although no one can say how long they will be there or what it means to win. Once again, the government we are trying to help is hopelessly corrupt and incompetent.

And once again, a President pushing for critical change at home is being pressured to stop dithering, be tough, show he’s got the guts, by sending young people seven thousand miles from home to fight and die, while their own country is coming apart.

And once again, the loudest case for enlarging the war is being made by those who will not have to fight it, who will be safely in their beds while the war grinds on. And once again, a small circle of advisers debates the course of action, but one man will make the decision.

We will never know what would have happened if Lyndon Johnson had said no to more war. We know what happened because he said yes.

And now, a week and a half later, President Obama is saying yes to a wider war in Afghanistan.  Of course, like Vietnam, it isn’t supposed to get wider. . .

So, is there a way to stop this now, or must we repeat history (ours and the Soviet Union’s – Afghanistan was their Vietnam)?

Brave New Foundation, in a coalition with Credo and True Majority, has a website called Rethink Afghanistan and a petition to Congress telling them to stop the escalation.

Watch the video and see what the Afghan people and some of our veterans think about escalating the war in Afghanistan.

Tell Congress to say no to the war in Afghanistan!

http://rethinkafghanistan.com/?f=25

Ray McGovern: Accountability for Torture

On November 12 I went to hear former CIA analyst Ray McGovern speak on “Why Accountability for Torture is Crucial for Human Rights, Our Security and Our Souls,”  an event sponsored by the Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture (WSRCAT) and co-sponsored by our local Amnesty International groups among others.

As the evening’s program notes:

Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years. He is active in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and has been an outspoken critic of the flawed intelligence used to justify the Iraq war and of the use of torture.

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Rep. Jim McDermott

Representative Jim McDermott spoke before Ray McGovern. McDermott was one of the few members of congress willing to speak out on the lies leading up to the Iraq War, as well as against the use of torture.

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Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern spoke of the documents now available online detailing the Bush Adminstration’s justification and use of torture, including:

The Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody:

http://levin.senate.gov/newsroom/supporting/2008/Detainees.121108.pdf

The International Committee of the Red Cross Report on the Treatment of  Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody:

http://www.nybooks.com/icrc-report.pdf

The Department of Justice memos (available on the ACLU website):

http://www.aclu.org/accountability/released.html

and the CIA Inspector General’s Special Review of Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001 – October 2003):

http://luxmedia.vo.llnwd.net/o10/clients/aclu/IG_Report.pdf

Torture does not provide reliable information, so McGovern raised the question of “Why torture?”  As he noted, it’s great for getting unreliable information.  in the build up to the Iraq War, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was sent to Egypt to be waterboarded and confessed that Saddam Hussein was training  Al Qaeda operatives. This “intelligence” was used by the Bush administration to justify the war.

As Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff of the Department of State during the term of Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed in May (shortly before the d:

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee “was compliant” (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just “committed suicide” in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi….)

McGovern stressed to importance of speaking out, and before the question and answer session, Rob Crawford from WSRCAT came out to tell us what we could do locally, and another WSRCAT member handed out action sheets to contact members of the Obama administration and congress.

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Rob Crawford

During the q&a, someone asked about what had changed for Ray McGovern, given his 27 years in the CIA, that he was now speaking out.  Interestingly enough (and I recall Bob Baer on the Amnesty International panel in San Francisco), McGovern didn’t have a problem with what he had been doing as an analyst with the CIA, which was providing accurate intelligence information to the White House. His job, as he noted, was “to speak truth to power.” Of course, often the President for other political reasons didn’t listen.  One case he noted was Johnson’s bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam, which none of the CIA analysts thought would work.

What the problem was (and Baer said this too), was adding in the former spies to the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency, who’s mission was to provide accurate intelligence in one place.  Also, Presidents telling the CIA to start wars, which totally goes against the mission of providing objective information.

Another reason for torture that McGovern brought up in the q&a session was the intimidation factor.  Citing the case of John Walker Lindh, who was the first person tortured in “the war on terror,” McGovern raised the issue of whether they really expected to get any information from Lindh, a misguided young man who had only recently joined the Taliban?  The green light was given despite the fact of Lindh being an American citizen.  Part of the message was “Don’t mess with us,” as McGovern notes, not only to those abroad, but to those in the US who might question what they were doing.

A major change McGovern sees is that we no longer have a free media reporting on what’s happening in DC and around the world (“the fawning corporate media”, is how he refers to them). I know others have noted how even papers like the New York Times and Washington Post have become stenographers for those in power, not questioning.  On the other hand, as McGovern notes, if you know your way around the web, you can find out considerably more than was possible in the past. Information most of the American public doesn’t see.

In closing, Ray McGovern said he did see the glass as half full, and was encouraged by the steps Obama has taken in releasing documents and letting Holder investigate in the face of pressure not to. Also, that it is up to us to hold Obama and the rest of our government accountable.

Ray McGovern’s whole lecture from November 12 is currently online, thanks to Talking Stick TV, and I’ve included it above. 

I wish I could say my memory would be this good a week and a half after the event, but the truth is, I just watched it again and took notes.