Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cosmic Electronic

While the news is resplendent with the hypocrisy, falsehoods, distractions and manufactured anger of one party against another, and our weak (or complicit) president is wedged between a corporate rock and a hard place, we’ll explore the underside of these issues with wisdom culled from the best reporting and analysis to be found on the web, as always.

Take a journey from the psychedelic to the cosmic electronic.

PLAYLIST
In the Hall of the Mountain King – The Mysterions
Trust Us (Take 9) – Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band
Kulu Valley (Ambient Remix) – London Philharmonic Orchestra
I´d Wait A Million Years – The Grass Roots
Try My Patience – The Rockets
Ballad to an Amber Lady – Pearls Before Swine
As Long As You’re Here [Bonus] – Zalman Yanovsky
Tripmaker – The Seeds
Bad Trip – Fifty Foot Hose
Stuffed Aubergine – Vangelis
Dissidents [Edit] – Thomas Dolby
Earth, The Circle [Parts 1-2] – Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
Some Velvet Morning – Lydia Lunch & Rowland S. Howard
Signals – Gerhard Trede And His Electronic Instuments
In The Black Of Night – Slow Train
Aquatic Groove – Strange Fruit Project
Your Revolution – DJ Vadim feat. Sarah Jones
Turtle Soup (Wagon Christ Mix) – DJ Food
Nightcall – Kavinsky & Lovefoxxx
Rebeka – Stars
Consciousness – Synaesthesia
Industrial Warfare – Atmosphere
Helicopter Party – The Majesticons
Cosmic Raindance – Cybotron
Project Jazz – Hell Razah, Talib Kweli And Viktor Vaughn
Breaks Of Meditate – Beat Conductor
Laser Attack – Scientist

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-05-26: Cosmic Electronic by The Stranger on Mixcloud

In his remarks last week, John Boehner sought to take the offensive, saying that Democrats lacked the nerve to do what is right. And he promised that the House would vote before the election to extend the Bush-era tax cuts in an effort to put the Democrats on the defensive. Things may get a whole lot worse for the Speaker before they get better, however, and all his machismo may not be enough to dig him out. He seems to be ignoring polls and public opinion, including those in his own party.

Conservatives are in disarray! The tea partiers don’t agree with the neo-conservatives, the center-rights desperately try to talk sense into the monied elites for fear of losing crucial moderate independent votes, and the GOP risks looking like a vile machine of indifference and hate to their own constituents if they continue to push for tax cuts for the rich, enter another war in the Middle East, refuse to compromise by holding the country hostage (as they did last year and Mr. Boehner is threatening to do again), and make a general mess of Health Care and Financial Reform.

Now if we can do the same to the Democrats, and put both parties on the defensive against the reason, rationale, evidence and facts of the people, we may engender some real change.

For all his attacks on Romney for his connections to Bain Capital, Obama’s campaign and the joint fundraising operation he runs with the Democratic National Committee have received more than $152,000 from employees of Bain Capital and Bain & Company.

It’s all a drop in the bucket compared to the $2.5 million given to Romney’s campaign or Restore Our Future, the super PAC supporting him, by employees of Bain Capital (the private equity company founded and run by Romney) and Bain & Company (the business consulting firm where Romney got his start and where he returned as CEO, briefly, in the early 1990s). Employees of the firm have given the Romney campaign at least $154,000, and the Restore Our Future super PAC received at least $2.4 million. Employees of Bain & Company have chipped in another $123,050 to his campaign.

Overall, the 112th Congress speaks collectively at a 10th grade level, down from that of a high school junior in 2005, according to a Sunlight Foundation study released this week. Congress’ conservative members speak, on average, at the lowest grade level. Moderates from both parties tend to speak at the highest level.

And while Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett announced that he may keep Barack Obama off the ballot because of “questions” whether the president was born in America (he said the reason he started looking into it is because he got more than 1,200 emails asking him to do so), what about Mitt Romney?  What about the persistent rumors that Mitt Romney is in fact, a unicorn? There has never been a conclusive DNA test proving that Mitt Romney is not a unicorn.  We have never seen him without his hair — hair that could be covering up a horn

No, we cannot prove it.  But we cannot prove that it is not the case.  And if Mitt Romney is or may be a unicorn, he is not Constitutionally qualified to be president. The petition to investigate already has over 18,000 signatures.

All of this political drama is a farce to distract from the fact that both parties are working to cover up and ignore the crimes of the century (and it’s just the beginning of the century, too!)

“It is no exaggeration to say that since the 1980’s, much of the American (and global) financial sector has become criminalized, creating an industry that tolerates or even encourages systemic fraud. The behavior that caused the mortgage bubble and financial crisis was a natural outcome and continuation of this pattern, rather than some kind of economic accident.”
-Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation

For a generation, America’s political-economy has been gripped in a vicious cycle. Those at the top of the economic pile have taken an ever-growing share of the nation’s income, and then leveraged that haul into ever-greater political power, which they have in turn used to rewrite the rules of “the market” in their favor. Wash, rinse and repeat.

When economic inequality increases, the people who have become economically more powerful will often attempt to use that power in order to gain even more political power. And once they are able to monopolize political power, they will start using that for changing the rules in their favor.
MIT economist Daron Acemoglu

In almost every instance, senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes (PDF).
Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Princeton

As we saw last week, the courts are our last defenses against the corrupt systems of power. And yet a study by the Constitutional Accountability Center found that the Chamber of Commerce had won 65 percent of its cases heard by the court under Chief Justice John Roberts, compared to 56 percent under former Chief Justice William Rehnquist (1986-2005) and just 43 percent of the cases that came during the Burger court (1969-1986).

But that’s only the beginning. “The Roberts Court,” wrote Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, is “slowly but surely… giving corporate America a handbook on how to engage in misconduct. In case after case, it seems big companies are being given the playbook on how to win even bigger the next time.”

Many of the court’s rulings have overturned long-standing precedents. While conservatives constantly rail against judges “legislating from the bench,” it is far more common for right-leaning jurists to engage in “judicial activism” than those of a liberal bent. That’s what several studies have concluded. Media Matters offered a run-down of a couple of prominent ones:

A 2005 study by Yale University law professor Paul Gewirtz and Yale Law School graduate Chad Golder showed that among Supreme Court justices at that time, those most frequently labeled “conservative” were among the most frequent practitioners of at least one brand of judicial activism – the tendency to strike down statutes passed by Congress. Those most frequently labeled “liberal” were the least likely to strike down statutes passed by Congress. 

A 2007 study published by University of Chicago law professor Thomas J. Miles and Cass R. Sunstein… used a different measurement of judicial activism: the tendency of judges to strike down decisions by federal regulatory agencies. Sunstein and Miles found that by this definition, the Supreme Court’s “conservative” justices were the most likely to engage in “judicial activism” while the “liberal” justices were most likely to exercise “judicial restraint.”

In a recent opinion, two federal appeals court judges suggested that all efforts to protect workers, consumers or the environment were unconstitutional, including regulatory efforts by the states. Its advocates eschew the notion that human rights or economic fairness are inherently valuable factors for the law to consider.

In 1998, the Washington Post reported that:

“Federal judges are attending expenses-paid, five-day seminars on property rights and the environment at resorts in Montana, sessions underwritten by conservative foundations that are also funding a wave of litigation on those issues in the federal courts.”

If the economics and law movement were to become the standard in our legal culture, it would represent a massive upward redistribution of wealth. Not only would “transfer payments” – unemployment benefits, assistance for needy families and the like – be deemed unconstitutional, but so would minimum wages, job training programs, subsidized student loans and most of our already threadbare social safety net. And that environment will have been purchased for a princely sum by those who have profited so handsomely from America’s spiraling income inequality.

As Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, reports:

Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest. When supplemented with late fees (themselves subject to interest), the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.

Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America, who estimates that wage theft nets employers at least $100 billion a year and possibly twice that. As for the profits extracted by the lending industry, Gary Rivlin, who wrote Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. — How the Working Poor Became Big Business, says the poor pay an effective surcharge of about $30 billion a year for the financial products they consume and more than twice that if you include subprime credit cards, subprime auto loans, and subprime mortgages.

The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay. Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration. Some cities — most recently, Houston and Philadelphia — have made it a crime to share food with indigent people in public places.

Being poor itself is not yet a crime, but in at least a third of the states, being in debt can now land you in jail. If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage — a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: “sewer service.”

Once you have been deemed a criminal, you can pretty much kiss your remaining assets goodbye. Not only will you face the aforementioned court costs, but you’ll have a hard time ever finding a job again once you’ve acquired a criminal record. And then of course, the poorer you become, the more likely you are to get in fresh trouble with the law, 80%-90% of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, The further you descend, the faster you fall — until you eventually end up on the streets and get busted for an offense like urinating in public or sleeping on a sidewalk.

Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net. Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.

I’m not glorifying or exonerating the greedy Democrats, but the Republicans are measurably the worst of the bunch! The more radically evil of two evils. Even when Democrats tried to penalize those who would renounce their U.S. citizenship to dodge taxes has provoked fiery criticism from influential conservatives, who called them ‘nazis’, comparing them to Hitler or Stalin. The Wall Street Journal editorial board derided the legislation as “Soviet-style”

The Journal argued that the proposed Ex-PATRIOT Act would turn away the best and the brightest, bashing Schumer and Casey as “a pair of envy specialists” who are trying to “score political points by punishing the fleeing rich.”

Rush Limbaugh lamented, “It’s this whole class envy thing rearing its head again.”

“Expatriates like Saverin cannot continue to receive the benefits of doing business in the United States without any tax responsibility,” Schumer said upon unveiling the bill. “Citizenship is not for sale. The despicable trend that Saverin exhibits must be stopped dead in its tracks.”

Corrupt Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue says further regulation is the wrong response to news that banking giant JP Morgan lost billions of dollars speculating with depositor money. And though he allowed that the development raises legitimate questions about the size of major banks, Donohue defended JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon from the criticism he’s received since he announced the staggering losses 10 days ago.

“Nobody’s clear about the Volcker Rule,” Donohue told reporters at a Monday breakfast roundtable hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “It’s 270 some pages and if you gave it to six experts on the subject, they’d come back with seven interpretations what it means [but] I do also understand why the regulators start looking at the size of some of these places that they really worry.”

Derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction against the American people. The current crisis in Greece is partly due to these dangerous “weapons”. So why are banks and other companies participating in such risky behavior? Is the outcome really worth the risk? It is one thing when a strategy is unsuccessful and money is lost, but a strategy that has been known to bring down an entire economy should it not pan out—raises many concerns.

Financial institutions and other companies should not be able to gamble at will. There needs to be transparency and agencies established to regulate the activities of companies that dabble in derivatives trading.  The Volcker Rule was added to the section of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Act to restrict US banks from participating in activity not in the best interest of their customers; however exceptions have been made. Although new provisions to the rule have been addressed, a decision will not be made until the end of the year.

There remain signs that the tightened regulatory measures could still be undone, creating uncertainty about whether the actions that have helped to stabilize Wall Street will be in place when the next crisis hits. Two dozen bills in Congress seek to dismantle parts of the Dodd-Frank Act.

By September 2011, only a small portion of the law has taken hold. Of the up to 400 regulations called for in the act, only about a quarter had even been written, much less approved.

Key targets of the bill’s opponents include reining in the powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, reconsidering limits on debit card fees and restricting the budgets and growth of the S.E.C. and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. And some of the most powerful players in the derivatives market — which is closely controlled by just a small group of banks — argued that the government should allow a slow pace of changes for rewriting derivatives contracts.

Regulators are examining whether Morgan Stanley, the investment bank that shepherded Facebook through its highly publicized stock offering last week, selectively informed clients of an analyst’s negative report about the company before the stock started trading.

Rick Ketchum, the head of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the self-policing body for the securities industry, said Tuesday that the question is “a matter of regulatory concern” for his organization and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The top securities regulator for Massachusetts, William Galvin, said he had subpoenaed Morgan Stanley. Galvin said his office is investigating whether Morgan Stanley divulged to only some clients that one of its analysts had cut his revenue estimates for Facebook before the stock hit the market on Friday.

The financial press spent the week debating whether the machinations behind the scenes leading up to the botched public offering constitute outrightevidence of securities fraud or merely a toxic mixture of greed and incompetence.

Sometime in the run-up to the IPO, Facebook realized that it needed to downgrade its revenue projections for the second quarter because of difficulties selling ads on mobile phones — which are increasingly the access point of choice for Facebook browsing. This news was buried deep in an SEC regulatory filing, but it also may have been communicated directly to Facebook’s underwriters who, in turn, may have told their big clients — the institutional investors who usually make out like bandits on IPO day by buying stock at the offering price and then selling on the pop. The big investors accordingly decided that the price was a little too high and dumped their stock as quickly as they could.

The key parties involved in the screwing included Facebook’s three biggest underwriting banks, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

All this regulation talk has put the Obama administration in a sticky situation. According to a report by Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler:

The administration hasn’t specified any particular steps it would like regulators to take to shore up the so-called Volcker Rule —a bid perhaps to avoid an ugly public fight with powerful interests in an election year. But inaction — or a too-tepid response to JP Morgan’s losses — will hurt President Obama with key allies, who want to use the debacle to further rein in Wall Street.

Why on earth would the Obama administration want to “avoid an ugly public fight with powerful interests in an election year”? Shouldn’t the opposite be true? Shouldn’t the Obama administration be going out of its way to pick a fight with Wall Street? Could there be any better opportunity to tap enduring popular anger at the financial sector and draw a clear line demarcating Obama from his challenger, Mitt Romney?

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

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Feel Good

Good news, everyone!

In the wake of so much depressing and oppressing mainstream media, I thought I’d dedicate this week to some of the redemptive and hopeful items in our culture/class/info war. Appropriately, some happy-time feel-good music to make you move your feet!

PLAYLIST
In The Hall Of The Mountain King – Will Bradley and the Ray McKinley Band
Cheek to Cheek – Billie Holiday
Lambeth Walk – Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli
Stomping At Decca – Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli
I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm – Django Reinhardt & Stéphane Grappelli
I’m Perfectly Satisfied – Jack Hylton And His Orchestra
Feelin’ High And Happy – Gene Krupa
Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles
A Felicidade – Louiz Bonfa
Joy – Sun Ra
The Tide Is High – The Paragons
Rock-A-Hula Baby – Elvis Presley
Satisfy My Soul – Bob Marley
Surfboard Antonio – Carlos Jobim
Happy Together – The Turtles
Windy – Association
The Warmth Of The Sun – Beach Boys
Papa Gene’s Blues – Monkees
Love And Happiness – Al Green
Joy – Issac Hayes
Da Funk [Armand Van Helden Remix] – Daft Punk
19-2000 – Gorillaz
Tropicana – RATATAT
Satisfaction (Club Mix) – Benny Benassi
Besame Mucho – Dave Pike
You’ve Made Me So Very Happy – Blood, Sweat & Tears

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-05-19: Feel Good by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Romney is having trouble staying on message, buffeted from all sides for his forced radical right social obligation, his “experience” as one of the wealthy elites we love-to-hate, a job-destroying corporate raider at Bain Capital in the 1980s, and his record of status quo pandering not much unlike Obama’s.

Romney is trying to pivot from the incendiary social issues that dominated GOP primaries to the economy, which polls show is his strongest suit, Obama’s biggest vulnerability and the No. 1 election issue.

He wants to “reward job creators” on Day One as president, which is code for “job-destroying greedy plutocrats.” He would also approve the Keystone oil pipeline regardless of environmental impact and start rolling back Obama’s health overhaul to leave millions at the mercy of a corrupt insurance industry.

Both of these are steps away from the science and the economic evidence.

He also found himself having to refudiate a conservative independent group’s $10 million TV ad campaign recalling Obama’s ties to the controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It would have raised off-message race and religion issues.

After staying mostly quiet through the Republican primaries, Democrats are kicking off a new campaign to convince voters that Mitt Romney earned his fortune by exploiting workers at Bain Capital.

Formerly finance-friendly politicians are frenetically trying to straddle this hard line between populist appeasement and corporate donorship.

The Obama campaign has insisted repeatedly that its beef with Romney is about his specific business dealings and not private equity in general. But it can sound like a pretty thin distinction at times, especially to prominent Democratic donors who’ve worked in private equity themselves and are sensitive about being vilified as greedy corporate raiders.

Steve Rattner, who co-founded the Quadrangle Group, a successful private equity firm, hardly a fan of Romney in most circumstances, defended Bain Capital on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” as a model company and called Obama’s attacks “unfair” (though he did disagree with Romney’s claim that private equity creates jobs).

In a case of awkward timing, Obama attended a fundraiser Monday hosted by Tony James, a top executive at the world’s largest private equity firm, Blackstone Group. Like Rattner, James is on the record defending private equity from Obama.

But if President Obama is politically vulnerable on the weak recovery of the economy, Romney will be increasingly vulnerable in the presidential race for embracing Paul Ryan’s plan – if the Democrats make clear the dangers it poses for the vast majority of Americans, the servants at Romney’s “marvelous” policy buffet. Declaring the presidential race starkly as a “make-or-break moment for the middle class,” Obama told Associated Press editors in April that in the much-different budgets he and Ryan have proposed, voters face a “choice between competing visions of our future [that] has [not in recent memory] been so unambiguously clear.”

The Ryan-Romney plan is further to the Right – and more hurtful to average Americans – than anything from Ronald Reagan or Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, Obama said. Calling it “thinly veiled social Darwinism,” he argued that his “centrist” approach has historically drawn support even from Republicans, from Lincoln to Eisenhower, who saw government as a way to “do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.”

The Ryan budget will not only fail to do what it claims, but in most cases will do just the opposite. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman put it, the budget is “the most fraudulent in American history.”

Under the guise of cutting deficits and protecting health and retirement security, Ryan-Romney would change federal health insurance to reduce federal costs but only by shifting the burden back to individuals – especially the aged and poor – not by increasing efficiency. The budget would raise the eligibility age for Medicare in the future and replace Medicare with vouchers, turn over Medicaid to the states with inadequate, declining block grants, and invalidate most of the Affordable Care Act, including its expansion of Medicaid. As a result, as many as 27 million people would lose Medicaid coverage (according to the Urban Institute), and 33 million uninsured will not gain insurance promised through the Affordable Care Act.

These are the sorts of injustice that show where reform is necessary.

Powerful elites like Jaime Dimon have been working for years to destroy financial reforms, with a set of insidious tactics, recently outlined by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:
  • STEP 1: STRANGLE IT IN THE WOMB
  • STEP 2: SUE, SUE, SUE
  • STEP 3: IF YOU CAN’T WIN, STALL
  • STEP 4: BULLY THE REGULATORS
  • STEP 5: PASS A GAZILLION LOOPHOLES
Two years ago, when he signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, President Barack Obama bragged that he’d dealt a crushing blow to the extravagant financial corruption that had caused the global economic crash in 2008. “These reforms represent the strongest consumer financial protections in history,” the president told an adoring crowd in downtown D.C. on July 21st, 2010. “In history.”

The new law ostensibly rewrote the rules for Wall Street. It was going to put an end to predatory lending in the mortgage markets, crack down on hidden fees and penalties in credit contracts, and create a powerful new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to safeguard ordinary consumers. Big banks would be banned from gambling with taxpayer money, and a new set of rules would limit speculators from making the kind of crazy-ass bets that cause wild spikes in the price of food and energy. There would be no more AIGs, and the world would never again face a financial apocalypse when a bank like Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

Most importantly, even if any of that fiendish crap ever did happen again, Dodd-Frank guaranteed we wouldn’t be expected to pay for it. “The American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” Obama promised. “There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Period.”

And though Paul Volcker has said Jaime Dimon should give up his banking license, others are calling for him to stand trial.

Let’s put JPMorgan Chase chairman, president and CEO James “Jamie” Dimon on trial. Mr. Dimon has a reputation for being the sagest guy on Wall Street and an expert at managing risk. JPMorgan emerged from the financial crisis not just unscathed but secure enough to step in and rescue Bear Stearns when the government asked it to. (He gets very mad when you say that his bank got bailed out by the government, and he insists that the government made him take all that free money.) Then his bank somehow accidentally lost billions of dollars last week, whoops! And he is really embarrassed, but not embarrassed enough to fire himself. So, let’s put him on trial and force him to explain what good he and his bank are.

The FBI has opened a probe into trading losses at the biggest US bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co. The SEC is investigating the massive lossDimon might have to be hauled before Congress to answer questions.

“Wouldn’t it have been better if that $2 billion had been used for almost anything in the world besides shady mega-bank gambling that no one understands?” And, “Doesn’t it seem you guys could save a bit of money on salaries and so forth while still achieving basically the same results if you replaced your chief investment officer with some old people who play video slots all day?”

It seems like America was actually doing pretty well with there not being any such thing as credit-default swaps, which JPMorgan invented, in the 1990s, right before investment banks were allowed to merge with retail banks and do whatever they wanted with everyone’s money.

Also did Dimon lie during his first-quarter earnings call last month, or did he have no idea what sort of things his chief investment office was up to (even after their actions were reported in the press)? If he didn’t have any idea, shouldn’t he maybe step down to run a smaller bank, where he can keep a closer eye on everything? Dimon said initially that the stuff that lost all the money wouldn’t have violated the Volcker Rule, even though it plainly violates the spirit of the Volcker Rule but also he’s not sure if the bank broke any laws?

President Barack Obama said on Monday that the huge trading loss at JPMorgan Chase, demonstrated the need for Wall Street reform.

 So what can be done? In the 1930s, after the mother of all banking panics, we arrived at a workable solution, involving both guarantees and oversight. On one side, the scope for panic was limited via government-backed deposit insurance; on the other, banks were subject to regulations intended to keep them from abusing the privileged status they derived from deposit insurance, which is in effect a government guarantee of their debts. Most notably, banks with government-guaranteed deposits weren’t allowed to engage in the often risky speculation characteristic of investment banks like Lehman Brothers.

But with many lawmakers personally invested in JPMorgan Chase, can we expect any real change to be made in Washington?

Senators Minimum Maximum
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D) $1,000,001 $1,000,001
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D) $100,001 $250,000
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D) $52,003 $130,000
Sen. Tom Coburn (R) $17,003 $80,000
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) $15,001 $50,000
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) $15,001 $50,000
Representatives Minimum Maximum
Rep. Leonard Lance (R) $250,001 $500,000
Rep. Jim Renacci (R) $213,937 $213,937
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr (R) $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Peter Welch (D) $100,001 $250,000
Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) $50,001 $100,000
Rep. Mike Conaway (R) $50,001 $100,000
Rep. John Boehner (R) $30,002 $100,000
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) $30,002 $100,000
Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R) $17,003 $80,000
Rep. Connie Mack (R) $17,003 $80,000
Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R) $15,001 $50,000
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D) $15,001 $50,000
Rep. David McKinley (R) $15,001 $50,000

One of the most dogged Wall Street reformers on Capitol Hill says there’s a small but golden opportunity to close key loopholes in the 2010 financial reform law,

“We have felt like there’s two of us against hundreds of Wall Street lawyers working on this all day, every day — and that the public was disengaged from the issue,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said “Now the public is engaged. There’s a chance here — because the rules are supposed to go into effect in July — there’s a moment of possibility, we’re trying to do all we can to press it forward, say ‘seize this moment and get the rules right.’ Because once they’re put in place it’s very hard to change them.”

Merkley, along with Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), were the primary authors of the so-called Volcker Rule, meant to forbid federally insured banks from speculating with depositor money. But the regulators tasked with writing and implementing the rule, under pressure from the financial services industry, wrote exemptions into the draft that, if finalized, would allow firms to continue making the risky trades that got JP Morgan into trouble.

*******************************************

Meanwhile, from the Chicago Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) condemns a preemptive police raid that took place at approximately 11:30pm Wednesday in the Bridgeport neighborhood, and instances of harassment on the street, in which Chicago police are unlawfully detaining, searching, and questioning NATO protesters. The Bridgeport raid was apparently conducted by the Organized Crime Division of the Chicago Police Department and resulted in as many as 8 arrests.

According to witnesses in Bridgeport, police broke down a door to access a 6-unit apartment building near 32nd & Morgan Streets without a search warrant. Police entered an apartment with guns drawn and tackled one of the tenants to the floor in his kitchen. Two tenants were handcuffed for more than 2 hours in their living room while police searched their apartment and a neighboring unit, repeatedly calling one of the tenants a “Commie faggot.” A search warrant produced 4 hours after police broke into the apartment was missing a judge’s signature, according to witnesses. Among items seized by police in the Bridgeport raid were beer-making supplies and at least one cell phone.

“Preemptive raids like this are a hallmark of National Special Security Events,” said Sarah Gelsomino with the NLG and the People’s Law Office. “The Chicago police and other law enforcement agencies should be aware that this behavior will not be tolerated and will result in real consequences for the city.”

In another incident, 3 plainclothes police officers unlawfully stopped, handcuffed, and searched a NATO protester on Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive at approximately 2pm today. According to the protester, he did not consent to a search and there was no probable cause to detain him. The police also photographed and questioned him about where he was from, how he got to Chicago, how long it took, what he was doing here, where he was staying, who he was with, and how long he was planning to say in Chicago. The protester refused to answer any questions and was eventually released.

The NLG has received reports that at least 20 people have been arrested so far this week, and two people are still in custody, not including the Bridgeport residents who are still unaccounted for. One of the protesters currently being detained, Danny Johnson of Los Angeles, has been accused of assaulting a police officer during an immigrant rights rally on Tuesday afternoon. However, multiple witnesses on the scene, including an NLG Legal Observer, recorded a version of events that contradict the accusations of police.

During the week of NATO demonstrations, the NLG is staffing a legal office and answering calls from activists on the streets and in jail. The NLG will also be dispatching scores of Legal Observers to record police misconduct and representing arrestees in the event the city pursues criminal prosecutions.

And while these affronts to civil liberties enrage and outrage (as they should), while we report and protest, remember, these reactionary authoritative actions will only cost the system more when they inevitably lose.

The good news, according to Noam Chomsky, is that Occupy has created solidarity in the US.

The NYPD has lost its first Occupy Wall Street Trial. This case could have been a slam dunk for the NYPD, had it not been for one thing: the video showing police claims of disorderly conduct during an OWS protest to be completely untrue.

Hundreds have been arrested during the Occupy Wall Street protests, but photographer Alexander Arbuckle’s case was the first to go to trial – and after just two days, the Manhattan Criminal Court found him not guilty.

Arbuckle was arrested on New Year’s Day for allegedly blocking traffic during a protest march. He was charged with disorderly conduct, and his arresting officer testified under oath that he, along with the protesters, was standing in the street, despite frequent requests from the police to move to the sidewalk.

But things got a little embarrassing for the NYPD officer when the defense presented a video recording of the entire event, made by well-known journalist Tim Pool.

Pool’s footage clearly shows Arbuckle, along with all the other protesters, standing on the sidewalk. In fact, the only people blocking traffic were the police officers themselves

His lawyers said the video proving that testimony false is what swayed the judge, and the verdict a clear indication that the NYPD was over-policing the protests.

The irony of the case, however, is that Arbuckle was not a protester, or even a supporter of the Occupy movement. He was there to document the cops’ side of the story. A political science and photography major at NYU, Arbuckle felt the police were not being fairly represented in the media.

Also hearteningly, in a surprising letter (.pdf) sent on Monday to attorneys for the Baltimore Police Department, the Justice Department also strongly asserted that officers who seize and destroy such recordings without a warrant or without due process are in strict violation of the individual’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

The letter was sent to the police department as it prepares for meetings to discuss a settlement over a civil lawsuit brought by a citizen who sued the department after his camera was seized by police.

In the lawsuit, Christopher Sharp alleged that in May 2010, Baltimore City police officers seized, searched and deleted the contents of his mobile phone after he used it to record them as they were arresting a friend of his.

The right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties was essential to help “engender public confidence in our police departments, promote public access to information necessary to hold our governmental officers accountable, and ensure public and officer safety,” wrote Jonathan Smith, head of the Justice Department’s Special Litigation Section, who cited the Rodney King case as an example of police abuse caught on camera.

federal judge in New York has given the go ahead for a class action lawsuit to move forward against the city’s police department over allegations that its ‘stop-and-frisk’ program has continuously allowed officers to discriminate against minorities.

In a ruling made Wednesday by US District Judge Shira Scheindlin, the pending suit against the NYPD, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others was granted class action status.

When asked for his take on Judge Scheindlin’s decision, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly told the New York Times that he had no comment because the litigation was continuing, but offered one quip: “It is what it is.”

Elsewhere in her ruling, Judge Scheindlin says that the NYPD’s arguments in favor of the program appear “cavalier”and display “a deeply troubling apathy towards New Yorkers’ most fundamental constitutional rights.”

In a statement offered to the AP, the law office for the city of New York says, “We respectfully disagree with the decision and are reviewing our legal options.”

Another federal district judge, the newly-appointed Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York, issued an amazing ruling: one which preliminarily enjoins enforcement of the highly controversial indefinite provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last December. This afternoon’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by seven dissident plaintiffs — including Chris Hedges, Dan Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Birgitta Jonsdottir — alleging that the NDAA violates ”both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

In a 68-page ruling, US District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed on Wednesday that the statute failed to “pass constitutional muster” because its language could be interpreted quite broadly and eventually be used to suppress political dissent.

“There is a strong public interest in protecting rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Forrest wrote, according to CourtHouseNews.Com. “There is also a strong public interest in ensuring that due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment are protected by ensuring that ordinary citizens are able to understand the scope of conduct that could subject them to indefinite military detention.”

The Manhattan judge therefore ruled in favor of a group of writers and activists who sued US officials, including President Barack Obama. They claimed that the act, which was signed into law on December 31, makes them fear possible arrest by US armed forces.

The ruling was a sweeping victory for the plaintiffs, as it rejected each of the Obama DOJ’s three arguments: (1) because none of the plaintiffs has yet been indefinitely detained, they lack “standing” to challenge the statute; (2) even if they have standing, the lack of imminent enforcement against them renders injunctive relief unnecessary; and (3) the NDAA creates no new detention powers beyond what the 2001 AUMF already provides.

The court also decisively rejected the argument that President Obama’s signing statement – expressing limits on how he intends to exercise the NDAA’s detention powers — solves any of these problems. That’s because, said the court, the signing statement “does not state that § 1021 of the NDAA will not be applied to otherwise-protected First Amendment speech nor does it give concrete definitions to the vague terms used in the statute.”

The court found that the plaintiffs have “shown an actual fear that their expressive and associational activities” could subject them to indefinite detention under the law,and “each of them has put forward uncontroverted evidence of concrete — non-hypothetical — ways in which the presence of the legislation has already impacted those expressive and associational activities” (as but one example, Hedges presented evidence that his “prior journalistic activities relating to certain organizations such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban” proves “he has a realistic fear that those activities will subject him to detention under § 1021″). Thus, concluded the court, these plaintiffs have the right to challenge the constitutionality of the statute notwithstanding the fact that they have not yet been detained under it; that’s because its broad, menacing detention powers are already harming them and the exercise of their constitutional rights.

But even after a federal court deemed the NDAA unconstitutional, the US House of Representatives refused to exclude indefinite detention provisions from the infamous defense spending bill during a vote on Friday.

An attempt to strike down any provisions allowing for the US military to indefinitely detain American citizens without charge from next year’s National Defense Authorization Act was shot down Friday morning in the House of Representatives.

A colleague asked me how the government could blatantly disregard the courts (those that have not been stacked or bought). There’s not much they can’t do, and it’s getting a whole lot worse. With Big Brother street lamps, “incidental” drone spying on American citizens, and the US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) as well as the  Department of Homeland Security (DHS) considering collecting DNA from kids. Soon all of this information may be collated at the NSA mega-base in Utah.

“Even though information may not be collectible, it may be retained for the length of time necessary to transfer it to another DoD entity or government agency to whose function it pertains.”

You could just hack into the systems yourself, as can be easily done with CCTV, for example. But this says little of citizen empowerment, since about half of those that utilize this cyber-espionage will be criminals, and not protesters.

But don’t let all that make you feel bad. There are many groups out there (such as the EFF) fighting against such injustices. Join the fray. You’ll feel a lot better.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

Vinyl Night! (with Tuco)

Dusting off the eclectic old vinyl collection tonight with Tuco, reading this week’s most nefarious and sensational news. WILL YOUR BABIES BE TAKEN AND GROUND INTO POWDER FOR LONGEVITY PILLS IN CHINA!??? Probably not. Stay tuned anyway.

ALL-VINYL PLAYLIST
Edvard Grieg – In the Hall of the Mountain King
Jimi Hendrix – Wind Cries Mary
Hugo Montenegro – The Good, The Bad And The Ugly
Deep Purple – Child In Time
Various Artists – Scène de la Macumba
Stevie Wonder – Sir Duke
Spike Jones – Der Fuehrer’s Face
Ravi Shankar – Raga Smant Sarang
Pearl Bailey – The Physician
Blues Brothers – Rubber Biscuit
Warren Zevon – Excitable Boy
Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Benny the Bouncer
Louis and Bebe Barron – Forbidden Planet
Pink Floyd – Us and Them
Jethro Tull – My God
Arlo Guthrie – The Motorcycle Song
Paul Horn – Meditation
Sarah Vaughan – I’m Through With Love
Santana – Singing Winds, Crying Beasts and Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Magic
Martin Denny – Exotica
Willie Nelson – Always on My Mind

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-05-12: Vinyl Night (with Tuco) by The Stranger on Mixcloud

Though the digital remnants remain.. this podcast is all analog tonight, kiddies!

~The Stranger

thestranger@earthling.net

Free Radicals!

Groups and individuals are radicalizing all around us! Taking up arms, subverting laws to their own purposes, spying, organizing, stealing, indoctrinating, infiltrating every crack of our world society. Radical Islam, radical conservatism, radical Israel, radical plutocracy, radical protest, radical polarization, and my personal favorite, our radical race towards the future, perhaps our own demise!

PLAYLIST
Hall of the Mountain King – Ratmen
Let’s Get Radical – Gogol Bordello
International Sponge – Alien Planetscapes
Uprising – Muse
Free Radicals – The Flaming Lips
Oppression – Ben Harper
The Ghost of Corporate Future – Regina Spektor
Harvester of Sorrow – Apocalyptica
Megalomania – Black Sabbath
Youth Against Fascism – Sonic Youth
All You Fascists – Billy Bragg & Wilco
Attack – Deerhoof
Be a Sect Maniac – Thee Headcoats
Submission Complete – Bad Religion
Anarchy In The UK – Sex Pistols
The Conspiracy Song – Dead Milkmen
Fight – Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards
Blood On The Motorway – DJ Shadow
midnight in a perfect world – DJ Shadow
This Damn Nation – The Godfathers
Gangsters – The Specials
Fight For Your Right – Beastie Boys
Insaneology – Necro
The Age of Sacred Terror – Jedi Mind Tricks
Call Of Revolt – Benefit
Sneak Attack – DJ QBert
Revolutionary Warfare (Ft. Lake) – Nas
Attention [drum skit] – Head West
Third World Revolution – Gil Scott-Heron

Stranger in a Strange Land 2012-05-05: Free Radicals! by The Stranger on Mixcloud

A University of Maryland-led team of international experts, funded with $4.5 million from the U.S. Dep. of Defense, are empirically investigating ways to understand, prevent and reverse the radicalization of young people in destabilized areas of the world, and to keep them from embracing terror as a political tool.

“Ultimately, we hope to identify tactics that will help inoculate young people against terrorist recruiters who urge the use of violence as a legitimate political tool,”

Why don’t we have something like that already? Why isn’t there an entire political group organized around criticism and the deradicalization of our system, our parties, our media, and our national rhetoric? A political party that can criticize both Iran and Israel? Ok, and I know I’m not the first, by far, to point out that our own government uses terror to control us, but when we see shades of it in China, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Israel, it should give us pause.

Former PM Ehud Olmert and the recently-resigned Kadima leader Tzipi Livni have joined the chorus of past and present senior Israeli politicians criticizing the government and its warmongering policy against Iran.

Livni announced her resignation as leader of the centrist liberal Kadima party on Tuesday, saying in her speech that Netanyahu’s government is putting the existence of the Jewish state “in mortal danger” by ignoring growing international discontent.

“Israel is on a volcano, the international clock is ticking and you should not be the ‘chief of Shin Bet’ to understand that. The real danger is a politics that buries its head in the sand,” Livni said.

Meanwhile, former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who was in office in 2007 when a suspected nuclear site in Syria was attacked allegedly by Israel, has spoken out against the ill-considered attack on Iran. The fresh criticism comes just days after Israel’s former Shin Bet chief, Yuval Diskin, voiced his mistrust in the Israeli political elite in the harshest terms to date.

“I do not believe in a leadership that makes decisions based on messianic feelings,” Diskin said last Friday. “I don’t have faith in the current leadership of Israel to lead us to an event of this magnitude of war with Iran.”

“An Israeli attack would accelerate the Iranian nuclear race.” And here in this country, where we’ve born witness to a slow and decades-long, and yet no less drastic, radicalization to the right. With the corporate systems of power controlling our security forces, shouldn’t these fundamentalist (whether gun-toting right-wing Christians, Ayn Rand acolytes or deregulated greed-economics dogmatists) be considered a threat to national security? Our nation? Why would supremely powerful, connected and wealthy elites reigning over multinational corporations have any fealty to the US? They’re spying, bribing, extorting and blackmailing us and our leaders. Surely of more concern that than teenaged hackers and sign-carrying protestors?

The scandalous corporate crime wave continues, with one such hacker answering fabricating for his crimes. The UK parliamentary report on phone hacking practices at Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers is harsh — but it’s just one piece: the Leveson Inquiry, which has far more real power, and the five ongoing criminal investigations by the police, the Justice Department and FBI — already looking into News Corporation — will “pursue a rigorous investigation” of any violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. when its employees allegedly paid bribes to foreign officials such as police, law enforcement, and corporate sources.

Rupert Murdoch apologized for the phone hacking and admitted that there was a “cover-up” within the paper to shroud the extent of the hacking from poor, innocent, hapless, buffoonish senior executives such as himself.

The Inquiry has “a duty under the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996 to be satisfied that any person holding a broadcasting licence is, and remains, fit and proper to do so. And the findings are harsh, indeed. Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person,” and he and his company committed “willful blindness” “collective amnesia” and “tried to have it both ways” and “wished to buy silence” calling him “astonishing” “a huge failure” and “simply not credible.”

While the report itself is harsh, the committee was apparently split on party lines about at least some of its conclusions.

Rupert Murdoch has been shielded in a way because the scandal keeps unfolding an ocean away from his home and corporate headquarters. If, for instance, a U.S. congressional committee or regulator criticized Murdoch in the way that the British Parliament has, Wolff told TPM — “willfully blind” and “not a fit person” to lead an international company — “you would be thrown out or your company would collapse.”

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to the FCC this week demanding that the federal agency that oversees America’s airwaves suspend the more than two dozen licenses issued to News Corp. that permits them to publish content to Fox affiliates from coast-to-coast.

“Under US law, broadcast frequencies may be used only by people of good ‘character,’ who will serve ‘the public interest,’ and speak with ‘candor’,” reads the press release issued on Monday from CREW’s DC office. “Significant character deficiencies may warrant disqualification from holding a license.”

And ever since the financial crisis started, we’ve heard plenty from the 1 percent. We’ve heard them giving defensive testimony in Congressional hearings or issuing statements. They typically repeat platitudes about investment, risk-taking and job creation with the veiled contempt that the nation doesn’t understand their contribution. You get the sense that they’re afraid to say what they really believe. What do the superrich say when the cameras aren’t there?

Edward Conard, Romney’s old buddy at Bain Capital (his wealth is most likely in the hundreds of millions) aggressively argues that the enormous and growing income inequality in the United States is not a sign that the system is rigged. On the contrary, Conard writes, it is a sign that our economy is working. And if we had a little more of it, then everyone, particularly the 99 percent, would be better off. His could be the most hated book of the year. “They (I assume he means people or chattel or serfs) don’t recognize the benefits to consumers that come from investment.”

He advocates creating a new government program that guarantees to bail out the banks with taxpayer money if they ever face another run. As for exotic derivatives, Conard doesn’t see a problem. He argues that collateralized-debt obligations, credit-default swaps, mortgage-backed securities and other (now deemed toxic) financial products were fundamentally sound. Conard, for instance, insists that even the dodgiest financial products must have been beneficial or else nobody would have bought them in the first place. If a Wall Street trader or a corporate chief executive is filthy rich, Conard says that the merciless process of economic selection has assured that they have somehow benefited society. Because society is doing so well right now thanks to these freaks.

If their Ayn Rand philosophy feels grim and soulless, one in which art and romance and the nonremunerative satisfactions of a simpler life are invisible, it’s because it is.

Wealthy individuals and corporations are able to influence politicians and regulators to make seemingly insignificant changes to regulations that benefit themselves. In other words, to rig the game. Banks have enormous resources to constantly put explicit or subtle pressure on lawmakers and regulators so that regulation can eventually serve their interests.

Both could be true. The rich could earn a great deal of wealth through their own hard work, skill and luck. They could also use their subsequent influence to make themselves even richer at the expense of everyone else. What impetus do they have to benefit their “lessers” at even minor expense to themselves?

Romney has also said that rising inequality is not a problem and that the attention paid to the issue is “about envy. I think it’s about class warfare.”

Meanwhile, millionaire author Stephen King writes that the rich (such as himself) should be taxed, as an institutional motivation above and beyond any wishy-washy voluntary donation.

I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. It’s true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

He goes on to write that the rich are not only unwilling to donate, but those that individually do are incapable to systemic change.

What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.”

We don’t need them to apologize, we need them to admit that “you couldn’t have made it in America without America.”

But where the channels making such upward mobility possible are being increasingly clogged.

This has to happen if America is to remain strong and true to its ideals. It’s a practical necessity and a moral imperative. Last year during the Occupy movement, the conservatives who oppose tax equality saw the first real ripples of discontent. Their response was either Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) or Ebenezer Scrooge (“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”). Short-sighted, gentlemen. Very short-sighted. If this situation isn’t fairly addressed, last year’s protests will just be the beginning. Scrooge changed his tune after the ghosts visited him. Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, lost her head.

One the one hand, the conservatives tell us that Obama is bad because the recovery isn’t fast enough. Then they push for austerity, so that nobody can spend anywhere (except their elite friends).

But cuts in government spending are reducing domestic demand precisely at the time when consumers are reaching the end of their ropes and can’t spend more. Absent real wage gains, that spending pace can’t possibly continue. Consumer savings are down and their debt is up. Consumer confidence dropped last week to a two-month low.

The basic issue, says economist Paul Krugman, is a lack of demand. American consumers and businesses, aren’t spending enough, and efforts to get them to open their wallets have gone nowhere. Krugman’s solution: The federal government needs to step in and spend. A lot. On debt relief for struggling homeowners; on infrastructure projects; on aid to states and localities;

Part of it is that if you’ve been brought up to believe that capitalism is wonderful and perfect then the notion that it could use some help every now and then becomes alien to you, and there are a lot of people who are so deep into that mindset that it’s very hard for them to get out.

But besides, there is a great recovery happening: for the 1 percent.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit 13,338 Tuesday, it’s highest since December, 2007. The S&P 500 added 16 points. Wall Street will remember May 1 as a great day. But most of these gains are going to the richest 10 percent of Americans who own 90 percent of the shares traded on Wall Street. And the lion’s share of the gains are going to the wealthiest 1 percent.

Shares are up because corporate profits are up. Increasingly, the world belongs to those collecting capital gains.

They’re the ones who demanded and got massive tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, on the false promise that the gains would “trickle down” to everyone else in the form of more jobs and better wages.

None of this is sustainable, economically or socially. Or even physically.

Physicists like Tom Murphy claims that economic growth cannot continue indefinitely. physical limits assert themselves. resources—particularly energy, thermodynamic issues

Occupy protestors are filling the streets, decrying the corporate crime wavesquatting in foreclosed homes, fighting for the public, and opening free universities.

The systems of corporate control (the Empire) is striking back.

Five young men from Cleveland are now in jail, accused of plotting to “blow up a bridge in the Cleveland area,” according to the FBI’s triumphant press release/criminal complaint. As is always the case with FBI terror stings, the “sting” part involved the bureau’s informant/agent provocateur mostly inventing the plot the accused have now been arrested for.

The five planned to detonate smoke bombs as a distraction as they “toppled financial institution signs atop high rise buildings in downtown Cleveland.” But the informant (as usual, a sketchy unnamed character with a checkered past) strongly pushed the group to seriously consider different, more extreme plots.

The FBI’s affadavit suggests that there was never actually a serious “plot.” The gang tossed around the idea of “taking out” a bridge in order to stop people from getting to work, but they also thought maybe they could use their (pretend) C4 on a Klan rally, or a neo-Nazi organization, or an oil well, or the Federal Reserve Bank.

Many people question the radical responses of protestors to the (much more radical) corporate persons.

“How are you going to get anywhere if you refuse to create a leadership structure or make a practical list of demands? And what’s with all this anarchist nonsense – the consensus, the sparkly fingers? Don’t you realise all this radical language is going to alienate people? You’re never going to be able to reach regular, mainstream Americans with this sort of thing!”

History has shown that vast inequalities of wealth, institutions like slavery, debt peonage or wage labour, can only exist if backed up by armies, prisons, and police. Protest movements wish to see human relations that would not have to be backed up by armies, prisons and police. They envision a society based on equality and solidarity, which could exist solely on the free consent of participants.

  1. The refusal to recognise the legitimacy of existing political institutions.
  2. The refusal to accept the legitimacy of the existing legal order.
  3. The refusal to create an internal hierarchy, but instead to create a form of consensus-based direct democracy.

Most Americans are far more willing to embrace radical ideas than anyone in the established media is willing to admit. The basic message – that the American political order is absolutely and irredeemably corrupt, that both parties have been bought and sold by the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population, and that if we are to live in any sort of genuinely democratic society, we’re going to have to start from scratch – clearly struck a profound chord in the American psyche.

The worldwide protests have focused on four targets—extreme inequality of wealth and income, the impunity of the rich, the corruption of government, and the collapse of public services. And rapid population growth means a bulging youth population.

Employment growth is simply not keeping up with this population surge, at least not in the sense of decent jobs with decent wages. The unemployment rate for young people. In the United States, the overall unemployment rate is around 9 percent, but among eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds, it is a staggering 19 percent. As always, this does not include the part-time underemployed, underpaid, or the overqualified also burdened with student loan debt.

They have created an entire generation of progressive activists worldwide.

It’s not just the vast wealth at the top that they are questioning, but how that wealth was earned and how it’s being used to twist politics and the law.

Inequality of income has also led to inequality of political power, leading to governments that simply don’t care enough about the working class and poor to make the needed investments on behalf of the broader society. We have a vicious circle instead. The rich get richer and also more powerful politically. They use their political power to cut taxes and to slash government services (like quality education) for the rest of society. Wealth begets power, and power begets even more wealth.

The United States, alas, is a case of massive political failure. American society has everything imaginable: a huge, productive economy, vast natural resources, and a solid technological and educational base. Yet it is squandering these advantages because the rich have lost their sense of responsibility and are far more interested in their next yacht or private plane than in paying the price of civilization through honest and responsible taxation and investment. The result is an American society that is increasingly divided between rich and poor, with shrinking social mobility between the classes.

The political power of the rich has also led to an environment of impunity in which the Wall Street tycoons feel that they can break the law and get away with it.

Then again, a complete rejection of compromisebiases politics in favor of the status quo, even when the rejection risks crisis. I advocate using conservative rhetoric to fight conservative lies. Utilize O’Reilly-style railroading, ad hominem name-calling, and projection onto your political rivals. At least when we accuse them of waging a class war, there’s evidence to back it up.

It isn’t hard to argue, considering that the bailouts gave corporations trillions of our money, that neo-conservatists and corporatists are the real socialists. They socialize their debt, while binding corporate and governmental action together by secretive and elite means (but not too conspiratorial, much of this is all out in the open).

Do they really need trillions stored up? They’re not investing as much as they claim, and we don’t really reap any benefits, so stop lying to us about it!

I advocate pulling together the sane elements of Occupy, the old Alex Jones vanguard, and yes, even the Tea Party, to protect our constitutional rights and civil liberties. We should engage and contribute to building a society for everyone! Those sticky social issue debates aren’t going anywhere, and we’ll be contending with them for a long time. Don’t let any authority lie to you with twisted facts and ideologies and distracting messages.

It seems an odd strategy on their part, to push so hard to the “right” for austerity and the rich. It can only backfire and bounce back to leftist ideals (France, Greece). It seems an odd strategy to push hard anywhere, unless we’re just pushing back for our own survival, unless we’re just trying to get back to a rational middle-ground!

With soldiers and CEOs, protestors and religious zealots, it’s a damn shame that the nefarious few make the rest of us look so bad. Don’t be radical! Be moderate! Be reasonable! We don’t like tyrants, or terrorists, or demagogues or idealogues… Look outside (what may be) your own close-minded worldview, and always be self-critical, try to falsify your own precepts to make them stronger and weed out the bad ones. Just use your critical thinking and your innate moral compass to lead you to what is fair, just, and right.

So it doesn’t matter if you’re Jaime Dimon or the Koch Brothers or the GOP or Barack Obama or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the European Union or Al-Qaeda or Scientology or Loki, we refuse to bow to your wealth and power.

~The Stranger
thestranger@earthling.net

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” –Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Social Justice Bots

Robots make up over half of the web today. Crawlers keep a detailed history of our human accomplishments and failures, our deepest truths and most fanciful fictions. They cost only as much as processing and memory storage, worming their way around.

Corporate nonpersons run and own the world as we speak. Algorithms are creating and mediating more of our reality than ever before. Quants make up 70% of the stock trading on Wall Street while a quarter of our tweets, and most wikipedia edits, are created by machines.

“Corporations are not people  They are profit-making robots.” ~Cenk Uygur

While defense and intel will ramp up tax dollar usage in 2013, “nobody is hiring all the A.I. researchers.” Currently, defense agencies and digital dissidents are laughable in their use of A.I. But this is rapidly changing. We are getting better bots and better ideas.

The ethics of robotic entities will very soon be a major sociological question, with unmanned drones destabilizing geopolitical relations, driverless cars (named like horseless carriages) with better success than humans, and robocallers getting fines up to $100,000Automation is destroying the job market far more than any immigration threat.

We are already concerned with the ramifications of privacy, surveillance, corporate crime and digital record-keeping. This is to say nothing of the more fantastic risks of the singularity and possible disasters from grey goo to Skynet. The unpredictability of superintelligence alone should send our biological heads spinning. Even if things go smoothly, our connected future may have troubling repercussions for our human autonomy and identity.

Both to our pleasure and chagrin, even digital data erodes over time.

Chatbots are nearing passing grades on the Turing test, and robots like Deepblue and Cornell’s Watson impress us with their analytical skills, sometimes even superior to humans. We now have A.I.s is already learning how to write poetry, paint, score essays, do photography, journalismfarming, spy surveillance and data analysis, make war and run corrections facilities. Robots compete in their own sports and cyborgs will be olympiads and documentarians. It may not be long before the entertainment out of Hollywood is entirely created by artificial intelligence, which will be cheaper and easier. We already have the uncanny simulacra of deceased politicians, pandering from beyond the grave. Like most every other ‘fringe’ movement before, the distinction between true art and the new aesthetics will be blurred and disappeared.

But anyone attempting to learn the secrets of the cosmos, (or even carry a decent conversation) with a chatbot realizes the limitations of their cognition. How will an A.I. incorporate memories and experiences to reflect not only knowledge and communication, but creativity, problem-solving, and personality? Perhaps only now that we are fully mapping the brain will be able to either interface with the machine, build a theoretical facsimile, or simulate an exact copy.

Our brains and search engines are beginning to look very similar.

We have already seen the popularity of tablets and e-literature, both flash fiction and flash mobs, apps, tweets, meetups, crowdsourcing, more and more affordable technology (and yes, even piracy), allowing for a prosumer market and freelance economy, the rise of DiY culture bringing us hackerspaces, hacktivists, biohacking and 3D printing.

Social justice bots and civilian drones will be automated to fight against authoritarian regimes and peace viruses may infect and deactivate war bots.

Imminently we will be controlling robots by thoughts alone. We may augment our reality so much that it becomes indistinguishable from the computer simulations. We will need them to help us quickly expand, serve ourselves and our environment, explore space, mine asteroids and survive.