Occupy Oakland: Kittens vs. Teargas

this is reposted from Washington’s CityPaper, a good view of the difference between what’s going on in the street and what has been much of the mainstream media’s reporting of it, although I was surprised and happy to see that The New York Times has some great coverage of the Occupy Oakland’s clash with police on Tuesday night as well as the arrests at Occupy Atlanta, and they do the commendably thorough job we expect from the Times; thank you NYT, for doing your job!

Oakland Police Love Kittens, Teargas

Posted by Shani Hilton on Oct. 26, 2011 at 9:50 am

Last night I was following along with the #occupyoakland tweets from some folks who were at the protest in Northern California. One attendee—a journo-cartoonist (yes, that is a thing, yes, it is awesome) I’ve edited in the past named Susie Cagle—even tweeted as she was being teargassed and later posted a short video:

Funny enough, this morning the Post’s print coverage of the events last night amounted to an AP picture of your friendly local Oakland police officer petting a kitten and a headline which read: “Protesters Wearing Out Their Welcome Nationwide.”

Note: The digital edition coverage is better.

Photo by Shani Hilton

Naomi Wolf Arrested — for walking on the sidewalk?

Reprinted from an article by Matt Wells in the Guardian:

Author Naomi Wolf is arrested in New York at an Occupy Wall Street protest

Author Naomi Wolf and her partner Avram Ludwig are arrested in New York at an Occupy Wall Street protest. Photograph: Mike Shane

The feminist author Naomi Wolf has criticised the erosion of the right to public protest in the United States after she was arrested alongsideOccupy Wall Street demonstrators in New York.

Wolf was led away in handcuffs after addressing protesters outside an awards ceremony held to honour New York’s governor, at which she was a guest.

The author had disputed claims by police that a permit granted to the event – organised by the Huffington Post website on Tuesday night – allowed them to clear the sidewalk outside the venue in the Soho district of Manhattan.

Inside, the New York state governor, Andrew Cuomo, was being presented with the “game-changer of the year” award by the Huffington Post. A group of protesters had arrived from the Occupy Wall Street group’s camp in Zuccotti Park to demonstrate against his opposition to extending New York State’s “millionaire’s tax”, and his support of the contentious process of extracting natural gas from shale, known as fracking.

Wolf, who staged an attempt in 2008 to read the US constitution using a megaphone in New York’s Union Square and discovered it was illegal, emerged from the event to lend her support and advice to the demonstrators.

She told the Guardian on Wednesday: “When I came out, the protesters had been pushed across the street. This happens in Britain, too, with kettling. Police keep inventing this right to barricade people in and tell people where to protest, but in the United States this is wrong: it’s against the first amendment rights of freedom of assembly.

“So I walked over to where they were – they were backed up against the wall. Police said there was a permit saying they couldn’t walk on the sidewalk. There was this giant phalanx of police.”

After discussing the issue with officers, Wolf said she established that the event’s permit did not prevent people from walking on the sidewalk outside the venue. Along with a small number of other protesters, she started to pace up and down the sidewalk.

“Then, a huge group of men in white shirts, who seem to be affiliated to the New York police department, but who are not self-evidently so – bigger and fitter than the rank-and-file blue-shirted officers – came in droves. About 30 or 40 of these men appeared.

“They got a megaphone – which the protesters are told is illegal – and they started shouting that we were illegally disrupting an event and we should disperse.”

Wolf said she “calmly” disputed the order with one of the officers in white shirts, who are more senior than those in blue shirts. “By this time I was surrounded by them. One of them asked me if I was going to get out of his way. I didn’t think consciously that I couldn’t step away, but I froze. My conscience froze me.”

Officers then detained Wolf, and took her to a precinct where she said she spent about half an hour in a cell. Her partner, the film producer Avram Ludwig, was also arrested. Both were later released with a summons for “refusing a lawful order”.

Wolf, who held the 2008 event while researching her book Give Me Liberty, said there was an “array of anti-dissent permits and restrictions” in New York, preventing the use of megaphones and restricting the right of assembly. “It’s a completely opaque process. If your permit is refused, you can’t find out who refused it and why. It’s completely Stalinist.”

The scene outside the Soho restaurant was just the latest in one of many curious moments as the Occupy Wall Street movement grabs the attention of the New York chattering classes: later the same evening, the actor Alec Baldwin turned up at the protesters’ Zuccotti Park encampment to demonstrate his approval for their actions.

[Sara’s note:  Ugh, poor Alec! This embarrassing-by-proxy interaction is truly cringeworthy – and please note, the guy talking to Alec is NOT representative of all the folks participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement!]

Earlier on Tuesday, it was revealed that a New York Police Department investigation had censured a police officer who used pepper spray on Occupy Wall Street protesters last month.

Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna faces losing 10 vacation days after the incident on 24 September near Union Square, shortly after the protests began in lower Manhattan, according to the Associated Press.

Video from the protests shows a small group of mostly women corralled by orange netting used by officers to control crowds. Bologna approaches and seemingly without warning blasted a cluster of women with pepper spray. Two of the women crumple on the sidewalk in pain.

Occupy Wall Street Has Already Won – according to Eliot Spitzer

I love this man!!  If you all remember about him is the unfortunate sex scandal (why can’t they ever keep it in their pants?? And why, oh why, is it always the Democrats who get busted, when the evidence of Republicans visiting prostitutes is just as rampant? Methinks it’s sort of like the phenomenon of religious zealots poring over album lyrics and books to find, and interpret, the dirtiest words and ideas they can find. I’m just sayin… Does it need to be said? Obviously, if you’re pious enough to be offended by someone else’s personal expression or private habits, why are you spending your time looking for sexual content?) anyway, if all you remember about Eliot Spitzer is the unfortunate sex scandal that spawned a tv show (CBS’ The Good Wife with Mr. Big and Julianna Margulies) please watch The Inside Job, an extremely well-made documentary about the crash of our economy. It should be mandatory viewing for all Americans, in my opinion, if for no other reason, just to prove that regular people can understand what happened on Wall Street. Don’t believe anyone who tells you “it’s too complicated for you.” About anything, because a) how patronizing is that? But in particular about our economy because b) it’s our country, we live here, and we are the ones trying to make a living, pay our rent and figure out how to make enough money to pay the phone bill or the gas bill or even the babysitter so we can go to a $12 movie and forget our troubles for a couple of hours for godssakes!

reprinted from an article in Slate by Eliot Spitzer

Occupy Wall Street has already won, perhaps not the victory most of its participants want, but a momentous victory nonetheless. It has already altered our political debate, changed the agenda, shifted the discussion in newspapers, on cable TV, and even around the water cooler. And that is wonderful.

Suddenly, the issues of equity, fairness, justice, income distribution, and accountability for the economic cataclysm–issues all but ignored for a generation—are front and center. We have moved beyond the one-dimensional conversation about how much and where to cut the deficit. Questions more central to the social fabric of our nation have returned to the heart of the political debate. By forcing this new discussion, OWS has made most of the other participants in our politics—who either didn’t want to have this conversation or weren’t able to make it happen—look pretty small.

Surely, you might say, other factors have contributed: A convergence of horrifying economic data has crystallized the public’s underlying anxiety. Data show that median family income declined by 6.7 percent over the past two years, the unemployment rate is stuck at 9.1 percent in the October report (16.5 percent if you look at the more meaningful U6 number), and 46.2 million Americans are living in poverty—the most in more than 50 years. Certainly, those data help make Occupy Wall Street’s case.

But until these protests, no political figure or movement had made Americans pay attention to these facts in a meaningful way. Indeed, over the long hot summer, as poverty rose and unemployment stagnated, the entire discussion was about cutting our deficit.

And then OWS showed up. They brought something that had been in short supply: passion—the necessary ingredient that powers citizen activism. The tempered, carefully modulated, and finely nuanced statements of Beltway politicians and policy wonks do not alter the debate.

Of course, the visceral emotions that accompany citizen activism generate not only an energy that can change politics but an incoherence that is easily mocked. OWS is not a Brookings Institution report with five carefully researched policy points and an appendix of data. It is a leaderless movement, and it can often be painfully simplistic in its economic critique, lacking in subtlety in its political strategies, and marred by fringe elements whose presence distracts and demeans. Yet, the point of OWS is not to be subtle, parsed, or nuanced. Its role is to drag politics to a different place, to provide the exuberance and energy upon which reform can take place.

The major social movements that have transformed our country since its founding all began as passionate grassroots activism that then radiated out. Only later do traditional politicians get involved. The history of the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, labor movement, peace movement, environmental movement, gay rights movement, and, yes, even the Tea Party, follow this model. In every instance, visceral emotions about justice, right, and wrong ignited a movement. Precise demands and strategies followed later. So the critique of OWS as unformed and sometimes shallow may be correct, but it is also irrelevant.

Just as importantly, most of those who are so critical of OWS have failed to recognize inflection points in our politics. They fail to recognize that the public is responding to OWS because it is desperate for somebody to speak with the passion, and even anger, that has filled the public since the inequities and failures of our economy have become so apparent.

Will the influence of OWS continue? Will it continue to capture the imagination of the public? Will it morph into a more concrete movement with sufficiently precise objectives that it can craft a strategy with real goals and strategies for attaining them? These are impossible questions to answer right now.

Could it launch a citizen petition demanding that a Paul KrugmanJoseph Stiglitz, or Paul Volcker be brought into government as a counterweight to or replacement for the establishment voice of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner? Maybe. Could OWS demand meetings with top—government officials? Could it demand answers to tough questions—from the specific (explain the government’s conflicting statements about the AIG-Goldman bailout) to the more theoretical (why “moral hazard” is a reason to limit government aid only cited when the beneficiaries would be everyday citizens)?

There is much ground to cover before real reform, but as a voice challenging a self-satisfied, well-protected status quo, OWS is already powerful and successful.

Matt Taibbi’s advice to Occupy Wall Street protestors

THANK YOU MATT! This is an intelligent and much-needed articulation of what many have been thinking – that the movement needs to create a list of demands, or something actionable for the government to do.  The expression of frustration and anger at an unjust system, corruption and outright criminal acts is good (and about time!), but I believe that in order to actually change the way things are, we have to figure out WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT.

by Matt Taibbi, reprinted from article in Rolling Stone

I’ve been down to “Occupy Wall Street” twice now, and I love it. The protests building at Liberty Square and spreading over Lower Manhattan are a great thing, the logical answer to the Tea Party and a long-overdue middle finger to the financial elite. The protesters picked the right target and, through their refusal to disband after just one day, the right tactic, showing the public at large that the movement against Wall Street has stamina, resolve and growing popular appeal.

But… there’s a but. And for me this is a deeply personal thing, because this issue of how to combat Wall Street corruption has consumed my life for years now, and it’s hard for me not to see where Occupy Wall Street could be better and more dangerous. I’m guessing, for instance, that the banks were secretly thrilled in the early going of the protests, sure they’d won round one of the messaging war.

Why? Because after a decade of unparalleled thievery and corruption, with tens of millions entering the ranks of the hungry thanks to artificially inflated commodity prices, and millions more displaced from their homes by corruption in the mortgage markets, the headline from the first week of protests against the financial-services sector was an old cop macing a quartet of college girls.

That, to me, speaks volumes about the primary challenge of opposing the 50-headed hydra of Wall Street corruption, which is that it’s extremely difficult to explain the crimes of the modern financial elite in a simple visual. The essence of this particular sort of oligarchic power is its complexity and day-to-day invisibility: Its worst crimes, from bribery and insider trading and market manipulation, to backroom dominance of government and the usurping of the regulatory structure from within, simply can’t be seen by the public or put on TV. There just isn’t going to be an iconic “Running Girl” photo with Goldman Sachs, Citigroup or Bank of America – just 62 million Americans with zero or negative net worth, scratching their heads and wondering where the hell all their money went and why their votes seem to count less and less each and every year.

No matter what, I’ll be supporting Occupy Wall Street. And I think the movement’s basic strategy – to build numbers and stay in the fight, rather than tying itself to any particular set of principles – makes a lot of sense early on. But the time is rapidly approaching when the movement is going to have to offer concrete solutions to the problems posed by Wall Street. To do that, it will need a short but powerful list of demands. There are thousands one could make, but I’d suggest focusing on five:

1. Break up the monopolies. The so-called “Too Big to Fail” financial companies – now sometimes called by the more accurate term “Systemically Dangerous Institutions” – are a direct threat to national security. They are above the law and above market consequence, making them more dangerous and unaccountable than a thousand mafias combined. There are about 20 such firms in America, and they need to be dismantled; a good start would be to repeal the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and mandate the separation of insurance companies, investment banks and commercial banks.

2. Pay for your own bailouts. A tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all trades of derivatives would generate enough revenue to pay us back for the bailouts, and still have plenty left over to fight the deficits the banks claim to be so worried about. It would also deter the endless chase for instant profits through computerized insider-trading schemes like High Frequency Trading, and force Wall Street to go back to the job it’s supposed to be doing, i.e., making sober investments in job-creating businesses and watching them grow.

3. No public money for private lobbying. A company that receives a public bailout should not be allowed to use the taxpayer’s own money to lobby against him. You can either suck on the public teat or influence the next presidential race, but you can’t do both. Butt out for once and let the people choose the next president and Congress.

4. Tax hedge-fund gamblers. For starters, we need an immediate repeal of the preposterous and indefensible carried-interest tax break, which allows hedge-fund titans like Stevie Cohen and John Paulson to pay taxes of only 15 percent on their billions in gambling income, while ordinary Americans pay twice that for teaching kids and putting out fires. I defy any politician to stand up and defend that loophole during an election year.

5. Change the way bankers get paid. We need new laws preventing Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront for deals that might blow up in all of our faces later. It should be: You make a deal today, you get company stock you can redeem two or three years from now. That forces everyone to be invested in his own company’s long-term health – no more Joe Cassanos pocketing multimillion-dollar bonuses for destroying the AIGs of the world.

To quote the immortal political philosopher Matt Damon from Rounders, “The key to No Limit poker is to put a man to a decision for all his chips.” The only reason the Lloyd Blankfeins and Jamie Dimons of the world survive is that they’re never forced, by the media or anyone else, to put all their cards on the table. If Occupy Wall Street can do that – if it can speak to the millions of people the banks have driven into foreclosure and joblessness – it has a chance to build a massive grassroots movement. All it has to do is light a match in the right place, and the overwhelming public support for real reform – not later, but right now – will be there in an instant.

This story is from the October 27, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.

Officer Friendly

My second day at the Occupy Wall Street protests, on September 21, 2011, which is Day 5 of the protest in NYC. No arrests have been made at this point. I was down there shooting video of the mostly quiet streets, and ran into this very friendly policeman, who asked me what was my definition of hypocrisy. Love the part where he says some people don’t like cops; “if I wanted to be loved, I shoulda been a fireman.”

It’s very quiet in the financial hub of the world, lots of barricades and empty streets – sort of eerie, almost like a ghost town in some areas. There were WAY more cops than protestors; maybe a few dozen demonstrators and at least four times that many police.

My cousin is a cop in Seattle, and I have seen some of the pressures of his job and the complexities of situations involving cops and large numbers of people, such as protests, so I have sympathy for policemen – I know I would not want to be a member of the NYPD right now, that’s for sure. They are mostly just folks trying to get by, like the rest of us, and not getting paid all that much to be shot at, screamed at and hated while putting their lives on the line to protect us. However, there’s a douchebag in every crowd, and that goes for crowds of law enforcers as well as demonstrators.

On Wall Street, Protesting…?


Sign of the times

At the request of a couple west coast friends on Facebook, I went down to the Wall Street protests today and couldn’t find anyone protesting anything.

The streets around the stock exchange were massively barricaded and heavily guarded with masses of police, but there was not a soul who seemed to be demonstrating for anything.  I asked a cop where the demonstration had gone – he said, “Probably went on lunch break.”

Really??