Fascism is the union of government with private business against the People.
"To The States, or any one of them, or to any city of The States: Resist much, Obey little; Once unquestioning obedience, at once fully enslaved; Once fully enslaved, no nation, state, city, ever afterward resumes its liberty." from "Caution" by Walt Whitman

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

2013-08-28 "NYPD Designates Mosques as Terrorism Organizations"

by ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZO from "Associated Press"
The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorist organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.

Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen "terrorism enterprise investigations" into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents. The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like.

Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organization with operating as a terrorism enterprise.

The documents show in detail how, in its hunt for terrorists, the NYPD investigated countless innocent New York Muslims and put information about them in secret police files. As a tactic, opening an enterprise investigation on a mosque is so potentially invasive that while the NYPD conducted at least a dozen, the FBI never did one, according to interviews with federal law enforcement officials.

The strategy has allowed the NYPD to send undercover officers into mosques and attempt to plant informants on the boards of mosques and at least one prominent Arab-American group in Brooklyn, whose executive director has worked with city officials, including Bill de Blasio, a front-runner for mayor.

De Blasio said Wednesday on Twitter that he was "deeply troubled NYPD has labelled entire mosques & Muslim orgs terror groups with seemingly no leads. Security AND liberty make us strong."

The revelations about the NYPD's massive spying operations are in documents recently obtained by The Associated Press and part of a new book, "Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD's Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden's Final Plot Against America." The book by AP reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman is based on hundreds of previously unpublished police files and interviews with current and former NYPD, CIA and FBI officials.

The disclosures come as the NYPD is fighting off lawsuits accusing it of engaging in racial profiling while combating crime. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that the department's use of the stop-and-frisk tactic was unconstitutional.

The American Civil Liberties Union and two other groups have sued, saying the Muslim spying programs are unconstitutional and make Muslims afraid to practice their faith without police scrutiny.

Both Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have denied those accusations. Speaking Wednesday on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Kelly reminded people that his intelligence-gathering programs began in the wake of 9/11.

"We follow leads wherever they take us," Kelly said. "We're not intimidated as to wherever that lead takes us. And we're doing that to protect the people of New York City."


The NYPD did not limit its operations to collecting information on those who attended the mosques or led prayers. The department sought also to put people on the boards of New York's Islamic institutions to fill intelligence gaps.

One confidential NYPD document shows police wanted to put informants in leadership positions at mosques and other organizations, including the Arab American Association of New York in Brooklyn, a secular social-service organization.

Linda Sarsour, the executive director, said her group helps new immigrants adjust to life in the U.S. It was not clear whether the department was successful in its plans.

The document, which appears to have been created around 2009, was prepared for Kelly and distributed to the NYPD's debriefing unit, which helped identify possible informants.

Around that time, Kelly was handing out medals to the Arab American Association's soccer team, Brooklyn United, smiling and congratulating its players for winning the NYPD's soccer league.

Sarsour, a Muslim who has met with Kelly many times, said she felt betrayed.

"It creates mistrust in our organizations," said Sarsour, who was born and raised in Brooklyn. "It makes one wonder and question who is sitting on the boards of the institutions where we work and pray."


Before the NYPD could target mosques as terrorist groups, it had to persuade a federal judge to rewrite rules governing how police can monitor speech protected by the First Amendment.

The rules stemmed from a 1971 lawsuit, dubbed the Handschu case after lead plaintiff Barbara Handschu, over how the NYPD spied on protesters and liberals during the Vietnam War era.

David Cohen, a former CIA executive who became NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence in 2002, said the old rules didn't apply to fighting against terrorism.

Cohen told the judge that mosques could be used "to shield the work of terrorists from law enforcement scrutiny by taking advantage of restrictions on the investigation of First Amendment activity."

NYPD lawyers proposed a new tactic, the TEI, that allowed officers to monitor political or religious speech whenever the "facts or circumstances reasonably indicate" that groups of two or more people were involved in plotting terrorism or other violent crime.

The judge rewrote the Handschu rules in 2003. In the first eight months under the new rules, the NYPD's Intelligence Division opened at least 15 secret terrorism enterprise investigations, documents show. At least 10 targeted mosques.

Doing so allowed police, in effect, to treat anyone who attends prayer services as a potential suspect. Sermons, ordinarily protected by the First Amendment, could be monitored and recorded.

Among the mosques targeted as early as 2003 was the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge.

"I have never felt free in the United States. The documents tell me I am right," Zein Rimawi, one of the Bay Ridge mosque's leaders, said after reviewing an NYPD document describing his mosque as a terrorist enterprise.

Rimawi, 59, came to the U.S. decades ago from the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"Ray Kelly, shame on him," he said. "I am American."

It was not immediately clear whether the NYPD targeted mosques outside of New York City specifically using TEIs. The AP had previously reported that Masjid Omar in Paterson, N.J., was identified as a target for surveillance in a 2006 NYPD report.


The NYPD believed the tactics were necessary to keep the city safe, a view that sometimes put it at odds with the FBI.

In August 2003, Cohen asked the FBI to install eavesdropping equipment inside a mosque called Masjid al-Farooq, including its prayer room.

Al-Farooq had a long history of radical ties. Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian sheik who was convicted of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks, once preached briefly at Al-Farooq. Invited preachers raged against Israel, the United States and the Bush administration's war on terror.

One of Cohen's informants said an imam from another mosque had delivered $30,000 to an al-Farooq leader, and the NYPD suspected the money was for terrorism.

But Amy Jo Lyons, the FBI assistant special agent in charge for counterterrorism, refused to bug the mosque. She said the federal law wouldn't permit it.

The NYPD made other arrangements. Cohen's informants began to carry recording devices into mosques under investigation. They hid microphones in wristwatches and the electronic key fobs used to unlock car doors.

Even under a TEI, a prosecutor and a judge would have to approve bugging a mosque. But the informant taping was legal because New York law allows any party to record a conversation, even without consent from the others. Like the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, the NYPD never demonstrated in court that al-Farooq was a terrorist enterprise but that didn't stop the police from spying on the mosques for years.

And under the new Handschu guidelines, no one outside the NYPD could question the secret practice.

Martin Stolar, one of the lawyers in the Handschu case, said it's clear the NYPD used enterprise investigations to justify open-ended surveillance. The NYPD should only tape conversations about building bombs or plotting attacks, he said.

"Every Muslim is a potential terrorist? It is completely unacceptable," he said. "It really tarnishes all of us and tarnishes our system of values."


Al-Ansar Center, a windowless Sunni mosque, opened in Brooklyn several years ago, attracting young Arabs and South Asians. NYPD officers feared the mosque was a breeding ground for terrorists, so informants kept tabs on it.

One NYPD report noted that members were fixing up the basement, turning it into a gym.

"They also want to start Jiujitsu classes," it said.

The NYPD was particularly alarmed about Mohammad Elshinawy, 26, an Islamic teacher at several New York mosques, including Al-Ansar. Elshinawy was a Salafist — a follower of a puritanical Islamic movement — whose father was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center attacks, according to NYPD documents.

The FBI also investigated whether Elshinawy recruited people to wage violent jihad overseas. But the two agencies investigated him very differently.

The FBI closed the case after many months without any charges. Federal investigators never infiltrated Al-Ansar.

"Nobody had any information the mosque was engaged in terrorism activities," a former federal law enforcement official recalled, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the investigation.

The NYPD wasn't convinced. A 2008 surveillance document described Elshinawy as "a young spiritual leader (who) lectures and gives speeches at dozens of venues" and noted, "He has orchestrated camping trips and paintball trips."

The NYPD deemed him a threat in part because "he is so highly regarded by so many young and impressionable individuals."

No part of Elshinawy's life was out of bounds. His mosque was the target of a TEI. The NYPD conducted surveillance at his wedding. An informant recorded the wedding, and police videotaped everyone who came and went.

"We have nothing on the lucky bride at this time but hopefully will learn about her at the service," one lieutenant wrote.

Four years later, the NYPD was still watching Elshinawy without charging him. He is now a plaintiff in the ACLU lawsuit, which was also filed by the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project at CUNY School of Law and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"These new NYPD spying disclosures confirm the experiences and worst fears of New York's Muslims," ACLU lawyer Hina Shamsi said. "From houses of worship to a wedding, there's no area of New York Muslim religious or personal life that the NYPD has not invaded through its bias-based surveillance policy."


Online: Documents

TEI Discontinuance: http://apne.ws/146zqF9

Informant Profiles: http://apne.ws/1aNfuyH

Elshinawy Surveillance: http://apne.ws/15fau4D

Handschu Minutes: http://apne.ws/1cenpD6

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bankers Dictatorship over the resources of the USA

2013-08-26 "The Leveraged Buyout of America: Giant bank holding companies now own airports, toll roads, and ports; control power plants; and store and hoard vast quantities of commodities of all sorts. They are systematically buying up or gaining control of the essential lifelines of the economy. How have they pulled this off, and where have they gotten the money?"
by Ellen Brown from "Common Dream" [www.commondreams.org/view/2013/08/26-2]:
In a letter to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke dated June 27, 2013, US Representative Alan Grayson and three co-signers expressed concern about the expansion of large banks into what have traditionally been non-financial commercial spheres. Specifically [http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/LetterToFedGoldmanUranium.pdf]: [begin excerpt] [W]e are concerned about how large banks have recently expanded their businesses into such fields as electric power production, oil refining and distribution, owning and operating of public assets such as ports and airports, and even uranium mining. [end excerpt]
After listing some disturbing examples, they observed: [begin excerpt] According to legal scholar Saule Omarova, over the past five years, there has been a “quiet transformation of U.S. financial holding companies.” These financial services companies have become global merchants that seek to extract rent from any commercial or financial business activity within their reach. They have used legal authority in Graham-Leach-Bliley to subvert the “foundational principle of separation of banking from commerce”. . . .
It seems like there is a significant macro-economic risk in having a massive entity like, say JP Morgan, both issuing credit cards and mortgages, managing municipal bond offerings, selling gasoline and electric power, running large oil tankers, trading derivatives, and owning and operating airports, in multiple countries. [end excerpt]
A “macro” risk indeed – not just to our economy but to our democracy and our individual and national sovereignty. Giant banks are buying up our country’s infrastructure – the power and supply chains that are vital to the economy. Aren’t there rules against that? And where are the banks getting the money?

How Banks Launder Money Through the Repo Market -
In an illuminating series of articles on Seeking Alpha titled “Repoed!” [http://seekingalpha.com/article/1109701-repoed-how-the-fed-and-depositors-fund-banks-big-bets], Colin Lokey argues that the investment arms of large Wall Street banks are using their “excess” deposits – the excess of deposits over loans – as collateral for borrowing in the repo market. Repos, or “repurchase agreements,” are used to raise short-term capital. Securities are sold to investors overnight and repurchased the next day, usually day after day.
The deposit-to-loan gap for all US banks is now about $2 trillion, and nearly half of this gap is in Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Wells Fargo alone. It seems that the largest banks are using the majority of their deposits (along with the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing dollars) not to back loans to individuals and businesses but to borrow for their own trading. Buying assets with borrowed money is called a “leveraged buyout.” The banks are leveraging our money to buy up ports, airports, toll roads, power, and massive stores of commodities.
Using these excess deposits directly for their own speculative trading would be blatantly illegal, but the banks have been able to avoid the appearance of impropriety by borrowing from the repo market (See my earlier article here [http://webofdebt.wordpress.com/2013/07/22/5835]). The banks’ excess deposits are first used to purchase Treasury bonds, agency securities, and other highly liquid, “safe” securities. These liquid assets are then pledged as collateral in repo transactions, allowing the banks to get “clean” cash to invest as they please. They can channel this laundered money into risky assets such as derivatives, corporate bonds, and equities (stock).
That means they can buy up companies. Lokey writes, “It is common knowledge that prop [proprietary] trading desks at banks can and do invest in a variety of assets, including stocks.” Prop trading desks invest for the banks’ own accounts. This was something that depository banks were forbidden to do by the New Deal-era Glass-Steagall Act but that was allowed in 1999 by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed those portions of Glass-Steagall.
The result has been a massively risky $700-plus trillion speculative derivatives bubble. Lokey quotes from an article by Bill Frezza in the January 2013 Huffington Post titled “Too-Big-To-Fail Banks Gamble With Bernanke Bucks" [http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-frezza/toobigtofail-banks-gamble_b_2424156.html]:
[begin excerpt] If you think [the cash cushion from excess deposits] makes the banks less vulnerable to shock, think again. Much of this balance sheet cash has been hypothecated in the repo market, laundered through the off-the-books shadow banking system. This allows the proprietary trading desks at these “banks” to use that cash as collateral to take out loans to gamble with. In a process called hyper-hypothecation this pledged collateral gets pyramided, creating a ticking time bomb ready to go kablooey when the next panic comes around. [end excerpt]

That Explains the Mountain of Excess Reserves  -
Historically, banks have attempted to maintain a loan-to-deposit ratio of close to 100%, meaning they were “fully loaned up” and making money on their deposits. Today, however, that ratio is only 72% on average; and for the big derivative banks, it is much lower. For JPMorgan, it is only 31% [http://www.valueline.com/Tools/Educational_Articles/Stocks/Getting_To_Know_A_Bank_With_Financial_Ratios.aspx]. The unlent portion represents the “excess deposits” available to be tapped as collateral for the repo market.
The Fed’s quantitative easing contributes to this collateral pool by converting less-liquid mortgage-backed securities into cash in the banks’ reserve accounts. This cash is not something the banks can spend for their own proprietary trading, but they can invest it in “safe” securities – Treasuries and similar securities that are also the sort of collateral acceptable in the repo market. Using this repo collateral, the banks can then acquire the laundered cash with which they can invest or speculate for their own accounts.
Lokey notes that US Treasuries are now being bought by banks in record quantities. These bonds stay on the banks’ books for Fed supervision purposes, even as they are being pledged to other parties to get cash via repo. The fact that such pledging is going on can be determined from the banks’ balance sheets, but it takes some detective work. Explaining the intricacies of this process, the evidence that it is being done, and how it is hidden in plain sight takes Lokey three articles, to which the reader is referred. Suffice it to say here that he makes a compelling case.

Can They Do That?
Countering the argument that “banks can’t really do anything with their excess reserves” and that “there is no evidence that they are being rehypothecated,” Lokey points to data coming to light in conjunction with JPMorgan’s $6 billion “London Whale” fiasco. He calls it “clear-cut proof that banks trade stocks (and virtually everything else) with excess deposits.” JPM’s London-based Chief Investment Office [CIO] reported [http://files.shareholder.com/downloads/ONE/2273239192x0x628656/4cb574a0-0bf5-4728-9582-625e4519b5ab/Task_Force_Report.pdf]: [begin excerpt] JPMorgan’s businesses take in more in deposits that they make in loans and, as a result, the Firm has excess cash that must be invested to meet future liquidity needs and provide a reasonable return. The primary reponsibility of CIO, working with JPMorgan’s Treasury, is to manage this excess cash. CIO invests the bulk of JPMorgan’s excess cash in high credit quality, fixed income securities, such as municipal bonds, whole loans, and asset-backed securities, mortgage backed securities, corporate securities, sovereign securities, and collateralized loan obligations. [end excerpt]
Lokey comments: [begin excerpt] That passage is unequivocal — it is as unambiguous as it could possibly be. JPMorgan invests excess deposits in a variety of assets for its own account and as the above clearly indicates, there isn’t much they won’t invest those deposits in. Sure, the first things mentioned are “high quality fixed income securities,” but by the end of the list, deposits are being invested in corporate securities [stock] and CLOs [collateralized loan obligations]. . . . [T]he idea that deposits are invested only in Treasury bonds, agencies, or derivatives related to such “risk free” securities is patently false. [ ... ] [I]t is no coincidence that stocks have rallied as the Fed has pumped money into the coffers of the primary dealers while ICI data shows retail investors have pulled nearly a half trillion from U.S. equity funds over the same period. It is the banks that are propping stocks.

Another Argument for Public Banking  -
All this helps explain why the largest Wall Street banks have radically scaled back their lending to the local economy. It appears that JPMorgan’s loan-to-deposit ratio is only 31% not because the bank could find no creditworthy borrowers for the other 69% but because it can profit more from buying airports and commodities through its prop trading desk than from making loans to small local businesses.
Small and medium-sized businesses are responsible for creating most of the jobs in the economy, and they are struggling today to get the credit they need to operate. That is one of many reasons that banking needs to be a public utility. Publicly-owned banks can direct credit where it is needed in the local economy; can protect public funds from confiscation through “bail-ins” resulting from bad gambling in by big derivative banks; and can augment public coffers with banking revenues, allowing local governments to cut taxes, add services, and salvage public assets from fire-sale privatization [http://webofdebt.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/bail-out-is-out-bail-in-is-in-another-argument-for-publicly-owned-banks/].
Publicly-owned banks have a long and successful history, and recent studies have found them to be the safest in the world [http://www.amazon.com/Public-Bank-Solution-Austerity-Prosperity/dp/0983330867/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1371913558&sr=1-1&keywords=public+bank+solution].
As Representative Grayson and co-signers observed in their letter to Chairman Bernanke, the banking system is now dominated by “global merchants that seek to extract rent from any commercial or financial business activity within their reach.” They represent a return to a feudal landlord economy of unearned profits from rent-seeking. We need a banking system that focuses not on casino profiteering or feudal rent-seeking but on promoting economic and social well-being; and that is the mandate of the public banking sector globally.

Monday, August 12, 2013

"America’s Disappeared"

Defend those without homes! [link]
This photograph was of an attack against a residents community for those without homes in Fresno (California) [link], one of several dispersed, with property of the residents stolen by security agencies, using bulldozers running over habitation, and kidnappings by security agents for possessing medicinal cannabis. The tag "3rd World" on the cart being carried by the houseless resident, as the attacking bulldozer pauses for a moment, points to the obvious truth.

"America’s Disappeared"

by Chris Hedges [http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/americas_disappeared_20130812]:
Big Frankie, Little Frankie and Al, three black men who spent a lot of time in prison and have put their lives back together in the face of joblessness, crushing poverty and the violence of city streets, abruptly stopped appearing at the prison support group I help run at the Second Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth, N.J. This happens in poor neighborhoods. You see people. You make plans to see them again. And then without explanation they vanish. They get arrested for something, often trivial, after the police randomly stop them, run a check and find they owe fines, missed a court date or a meeting with a probation officer, owe child support, violated probation or have a couple of ounces of pot. The big mechanical jaw of the legal system gulps them down. And since they are poor and cannot afford bail they stay locked up. And that appears to be what happened to Big Frankie, Little Frankie and Al.
The rumor on the street is that Little Frankie, whose name is Frank Clarke and who is of Hispanic descent, did not appear for a court date because he was afraid of being deported. But no one is sure, except about the being afraid part. The Union County Jail in Elizabeth says Big Frankie and Al were arrested for “possession of controlled dangerous substances.” But this does not mean they had drugs. They might have. But they might not have. Police plant drugs all the time. And if Big Frankie and Al did have drugs they did not have very much.
In America, when you are poor, you can instantly disappear like this into the subterranean rabbit holes of our vast jail and prison complex. You crawl out weeks, months or years later. You try to pick up where you left off. You avoid the cops. You look for work. There is no work. It is a constant cat-and-mouse game the state plays with the poor. The hunters. The hunted. The poor, no matter what they do, are always potential prey, minnows in a sea of sharks. It is not only the masses in the Middle East and the jihadists who despise us for our purported “values.” The vast, persecuted underclass, the human refuse callously cast aside by our corporate state, the legions of poor our bankrupt media have rendered invisible, the young, violent street toughs with no education, no jobs, no prospects also see through the empty rhetoric of the power elite when it speaks about our freedoms and democracy.
The arrest of Big Frankie—his legal name is James Gibbs—has rippled through poor sections of Elizabeth with a peculiar pain. Everyone knows what the state does not: Big Frankie, who is in his 40s, is a good man. He is one of the pillars of the drop-in section for the poor and the homeless at St. Joseph Social Service Center, down the street from Second Presbyterian. He normally goes there nearly every day to sort donated clothes. He leads the prayer group. He serves food, and because of his imposing bulk he provides security. He is revered, however, not for his strength and size but his compassion, because he is patient and gentle. When Big Frankie, who has a history of using illegal drugs, first went to prison he thought he was going for a year. But he says that because he “didn’t read and write too well” he signed a police confession and consequently was sentenced to 10 years in prison in Leesburg, N.J. He found Jesus while he was incarcerated. He got out in 2001. “The best thing in my life was finding Jesus,” he told me. “That’s who really saved me. And you know I wake up every morning and I pray. I do my best.”
“But you know what I found out when I got in there [prison] is that I lived good,” Big Frankie told me when we were having coffee a few days ago before his latest arrest. “I lived just as good in prison as I lived on the street. And that’s because I made it that way, not because they made it that way. But I know one thing: I’m not going to go back to find out if I’m going to like it again. And that’s what really makes it upsetting because a lot of people really don’t want to give people a chance because people tend to go one way, when they should go this way. You know, I decided when I was there that this was the last time I’m coming back. And one of the officers said, ‘Yeah, they all say that.’ I haven’t been back. ’Cause I know I don’t want to live like that no more.”
“I sold drugs all my life,” he said. “It just took me a long time to get caught. But, I don’t want to live like that, you know what I’m sayin’? And we sit and we talk, and we talk, and we talk, but nobody is really doing nothin’ about it. No one is really telling these young people that ‘We did this. You don’t have to do it.’ ... A lot of them don’t want to listen to it.”
“I don’t know if you know, but Generation X is very serious,” said a man who was there with us that morning and who goes by the name of Moses. “I’m 63. I’m older than all these guys. I’m 63. I’m blessed that my seven children, that between my mother and myself, they made it. They got their own homes, their own cars, the family, the whole nine yards, the whole story. They got it like that. But there’s a Generation X out there. No one left them anything. No one gave them any education or knowledge about anything. They’re doing it on the cuff. This is where they live.” He points to his arm. “Right here.”
“Living off the cuff means they are reactors,” Moses said. “And they are very serious. It needs to be takin’ focus. It really seriously needs to be looked at. Something needs to be done. It needs to be done in a hurry, because they’re getting ready to react. They’ll take lives. They already doin’ it. They already doin’ it. It’s plain. It’s simple. It’s wide open. But I’m trying to figure out why nobody is takin’ focus on this. And we keep talkin’ about the black-on-black—no, it ain’t the black-on-black crimes. You’ve got just as many whites, and Italians, and Spanish, and black. You’ve got all people out there, man. Matter of fact, when I watched the election, the re-election of Obama, let me tell you what I observed. Now I ain’t nobody. I saw a lot of young white students that rebelled against the old order of how [Americans] should think as whites.”
“The way I was brung up, I was brung up strict,” Big Frankie said. “My mother brung me up with an iron fist. I still went this way. So, a lot of times, you could bring your child up strict—‘You can’t go outside; you can’t do this’—but whatever they want to do, they’re going to do it when they get on their own. So it’s not always—I’m not disagreeing with you, my brother, but it’s not always that. A lot of times kids choose to go the wrong way. ’Cause I chose to go the wrong way. It was an easier life. It was easier to get out there and sell drugs. It was easier to rob people, you know what I’m saying?”
“We used to fight, and tomorrow we be friends,” Moses said. “My mother wasn’t going to a funeral [every week]. Your mother wasn’t going to a funeral. Today I’m scared to death. Let me tell you something. I’m old school. I’m scared. I’ll be in the house at 7 o’clock. When I come from work, from the church, I go in the house. ’Cause them young boys ain’t got no problem with puttin’ something hot in you.”
“You ever seen an associate of yours laying on the ground with his head open, wide open?” Al, whose full name is Albert Gordon, asked that morning. “Just picture his brain matter on you. Me and my friend, standing this close. I had my son with me; he was like 13 at the time. We was conversating, talking. Seen a truck come around. Wherever I’m at, I always observe my surroundings. Car going around, he go around twice. I say, ‘Yo, did y’all peep that car out?’ ‘Nah, you being paranoid.’ I said, ‘Something ain’t right.’ So as I’m getting ready to tell him I’m leaving, I pull my son this way, the car come around, I say, ‘Yo, get down.’ I grabbed my son. All I heard was boom, and I felt something wet. And, I called my son name and he said, ‘Dad, I’m all right.’ I look over and my friend is laying there, his head wide open. I got his brain matter all on my face, all on me and shit. Pardon my French. Get us on the bus, coming home police pull the bus over. Had to go back. They questioned me what happened. I said, ‘I don’t know, me and my son stopped. I was talking to a friend of mine. We started walking, heard a gun go off.’ Like I said, in my area [in the old days], we fought with hands, next day we talk, we cool. Now, they shoot and they kill you. They going kill you. If you pull a weapon out, you pull it out to shoot and kill, not to show and tell. It’s just—that image [of the murdered man] stayed in my mind and sometimes when I’m talking now I can see it. It’s crazy. It’s really crazy.”
“I done been shot before,” Big Frankie said. He lifted his shirt to show the scar from a gunshot wound in his chest. “And even when the guy had the gun on me, I didn’t care, you know. It’s like I know you, you’re not robbing me, and he still shot me.”
“A lot of people don’t believe that I have changed,” said Al, who like his cousin Big Frankie has a past marked by drug abuse. “I knew who had money. I would walk right up on you, ‘Could you tell me what time it is?’ When you go to look down. …” Al slammed his fist into his palm.
“If he can change, anybody can change,” Big Frankie said of Al.
“I hated myself,” Al said. “I took all the mirrors down in my house because I didn’t want to look at me. I hated myself. I was one of the worst characters you would want to be around. And I would just sit there and I’d scope. And I would start stuff. Just out of the blue. I didn’t like myself. Now I can walk with my head held high. And you know at one time people would give me respect because they feared me. The way I used to be. They give me respect now because they know I’m a changed man.”
But there are things Big Frankie, Little Frankie and Al cannot change. They cannot change being black and poor. They cannot change their prison records. They cannot change their powerlessness in the face of oppression. They cannot change the cruelty of corporate capitalism or the racism of the police, who Al says threw him to the ground, kicked him repeatedly in the head and called him a “nigger” as he was being arrested the last time. They cannot change the fact that they were denied an education and are denied work at which they can make a living wage. They cannot change the system. And to the system, Big Frankie, Little Frankie and Al remain what they have always been—the condemned.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Indications that Facebook monitors and interferes with politically expressive leftists and constitutionalists

Throughout the social network administered by Facebook.com, there are frequently discussed suspicions and incidents which show how frequently Facebook.com appears to censure people who voice opinions and facts that counter the current fascist regime in the USA.
For insight, read the following archive:
"Facebook, AT&T censor "LegitGov.org" online journal" [link]

Mark M., 2014-04-08: I am under political attack on Facebook. Some people are reporting my opinions to FB. Attempts are being made to shut down my political views. If I disappear from FB, know that it is due to being politically targeted. -- I don't know who it is or what their agenda is, but I did appear on TV a few days ago with criticism for Israeli policies in the West Bank, critical of the illegal Israeli settlements. I don't know if my public vocalization of Israeli crimes prompted the current attack, but someone, somewhere is coordinating an attack. "Israeli govt to recruit students as undercover agents on social media" [link]

Mark M., 2014-04-09: My free speech is now blocked by Facebook. I am unable to post any YouTube videos. I am under political attack on FB by someone or some group that is reporting my postings as "inappropriate." I have been outspoken on FB and in the international media regarding Israeli and US war crimes.

"March Against Monsanto Event Removed by Facebook"
2013-08-20 by Lauren Berlekamp  [http://ecowatch.com/2013/facebook-censors-march-against-monsanto/]:
Facebook has been accused of being a facade for free speech as it has been known to censor controversial content. For example, earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg was called out for practicing censorship when a Facebook ad by CREDO Mobile was pulled for criticizing his financial and political ties to the Keystone XL pipeline.
The group March Against Monsanto announced yesterday on their Facebook page that Facebook removed an event page promoting a rally in St. Louis, MO, where the biotech giant is headquartered.

The rally is set to take place on Saturday, Oct. 12, with a broad coalition of regional groups and solidarity activists planning to converge at the company’s corporate headquarters. While the event did not contain derogatory or inappropriate content, it was removed for violating Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. The group has since created a new event page for the rally.
Back in May, history was made when 2 million people participated in solidarity protests across the globe to raise public awareness of Monsanto’s toxic legacy in genetically engineering (GE) the food supply. The protests also aimed to promote sustainable farming while exposing the company’s predatory corporate farming and corrupt business practices.
Not only has the outrage over Monsanto driven people to the streets, but it is also driving people to the polls. More than 90 pieces of legislation to label GE ingredients were proposed in at least 26 different states across the U.S. over the past year, with Washington State’s Yes on 522 campaign pushing to let voters decide on mandatory GE labeling. The increased consumer demand for labeling is also driving down Monsanto’s stock price as it becomes increasingly risky for long term investors.
It’s safe to assume that the censorship by the media will continue as critical mass awareness is being reached on the issues that are challenging systemic corruption. But with March Against Monsanto planning more than 600 solidarity events worldwide with an estimated 3.6 million people pledging participation, it is also safe to assume that no amount of censorship is going to keep that awareness from growing.

2013-08-21: Malaika is an organizer residing within San Francisco who works against extra-judicial executions by police against non-violent citizens. Her postings are not as frequent like other, non-political people who have not had similar problems, with whom the United States Facism blog's proprietor has aquantance with on Facebook.


Friday, August 9, 2013

2013-08-09 "Detroit bankruptcy plunders city's art treasures! Defend workers' pensions and culture!"

by Catherine Wilkerson [http://www.pslweb.org/liberationnews/news/detroit-bankruptcy-plunders.html]:
"History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created." —William Morris
Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s benevolent dictator, as he calls himself, has devised a sinister strategy to push through his plan to transfer more of the Motor City’s wealth from the workers to the capitalists. One aspect of this is to pit pensioners, city workers and poor people against preservationists of culture.
On July 18, Detroit became the largest city in U.S. history to file for bankruptcy. In what was nothing short of a coup, Gov. Snyder appointed Orr emergency manager of Detroit in March, seizing power from democratically elected officials. Snyder granted Orr control over the 83 percent Black city, including all of Detroit’s assets. Among those assets are 60,000 pieces of artwork in the city-owned Detroit Institute of Arts.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, here is how bankruptcy lawyer Orr, compensated $275,000 a year as EM, sums up Detroit and the working class: “For a long time the city was dumb, lazy, happy and rich. Detroit has been the center of more change in the 20th century than I dare say virtually any other city, but that wealth allowed us to have a covenant [that held] if you had an eighth grade education, you’ll get 30 years of a good job and a pension and great health care, but you don’t have to worry about what’s going to come.”
Orr has already terminated union contracts, started privatizing public services and announced that retirees’ health care and pensions are to be cut drastically. And to pay off Detroit’s more than $18 billion debt, its assets are likely to go up for sale to the highest bidder.
At the forefront of the assault on Detroit are the simultaneous raids looming on the pensions and cultural treasures, both of which belong to the people. Pensions are deferred income, money paid either entirely or mostly by the workers themselves, and represent the fulfillment of a social contract between workers and owners. Culture is the means of expression of the people, the manifestation of human creativity. Cynically, the media portray this as a matter of tough choices between art and human needs for the material necessities of life, as if these cultural gems have no value to the people of Detroit.
This false dichotomy is voiced by people like Mark Young, president of the Detroit Lieutenants and Sergeants Association, representing 500 mid-level managers in Detroit’s police department. “The Van Gogh must go,” said Young. “We don’t need Monet—we need money.”

False dichotomies and lies -
The assault on Detroit is based on such false dichotomies as well as outright lies. Among the lies are the claims that there is no money to bail out Detroit, that the pensions are insolvent and that the cause of Detroit’s devastation, as articulated by Orr’s vile remarks, is inept governance and greedy, lazy workers.
The pension funds are controlled by the very banks that are first in line to be paid off in the bankruptcy process, banks that made hundreds of millions through managing these funds. What is more, a recent analysis determined that Detroit’s pensions are not in the dire straits claimed by those seeking to slash them. According to the Bond Buyer, a Wall Street publication, “the pension funds' optimistic assessments fall mostly within accepted industry standards.”
The Obama administration refuses to bail out Detroit. Yet the cost of bailing out Detroit amounts to less than 10 days of U.S. military spending, one-fifth of the auto bailout, and one-thousandth of the estimated total cost of rescuing the banks. The fate of Detroit, its people and its assets has been thrown to the wolves.
In May, Orr ordered an appraisal of the DIA artwork which the city may lose in the bankruptcy process. Also to go could be the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Historical Museum as well as Belle Isle Park and the Detroit Zoo, the latter for the land, as the animals are considered to have no commercial value.
The estimated value of the DIA collection, including works by Matisse, van Gogh, Picasso, Rembrandt, Rodin, and Caravaggio is $2.5 billion. The DIA is perhaps best known for the Detroit Industry murals of Diego Rivera.

Diego Rivera and the Detroit Industry murals -
From the DIA website: “The Detroit Industry fresco cycle was conceived by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) as a tribute to the city’s manufacturing base and labor force of the 1930’s. Rivera completed the twenty-seven panel work in eleven months, from April 1932 to March 1933. It is considered the finest example of Mexican mural art in the United States, and the artist thought it the best work of his career. Rivera was a Marxist who believed that art belonged on public walls rather than in private galleries.”
The devastation of Detroit is as Marx described the stage of capitalist development characterized by super-accumulation of wealth by the few at the expense of the impoverishment of the many. A careful reading of Detroit Industry foreshadows how this Marxist vision would come to pass. The radical implication of the work was recognized by many at the time of its unveiling.
On the 80th anniversary of the DIA debut of Detroit Industry in March, the Detroit News reported on how the art originally was received. Many despised it, including prominent civic members and political figures and scores of religious and social organizations. They denounced the work for promoting communism and class warfare and embracing racial equality; they called for its destruction. The Detroit News itself had run a scorching front-page editorial at the time, concluding that "the best thing to do would be to whitewash the entire work completely."
Detroit Industry survived after workers mobilized to defend it, with some 10,000 viewing it on a single day. However, a subsequent Rivera mural at Rockefeller Center was destroyed because of its portrayal of Lenin. And whitewashing was precisely the crime committed against the works of other Marxist artists, including Mexican muralist David Siqueiros.
In 1932, Siqueiros’s masterpiece Tropical America Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism was whitewashed by anti-communist forces in Los Angeles. One cannot but wonder if the objective of the capitalists is to whitewash Detroit Industry now, if not literally as with Siqueiros’s work, then figuratively, by privatizing it, charging the people to view it, or convincing the people that preserving it, and other art, is contrary to their interests, a threat to their very survival.

Destruction of Malice Green mural -
If events relating to the recent destruction of another Detroit mural are any indication, the people of Detroit will not fall for this capitalist propaganda. On July 8, a mural representing a reminder of a very real threat to survival was reduced to rubble. The iconic mural of Malice Green, on a wall at the scene of Green’s 1992 killing by police, was painted by Detroit artist Benny White Ethiopia.
Police officers Larry Nevers and Walter Budzyn bludgeoned Green to death with a flashlight during a stop-and-frisk for crack cocaine. They were convicted of second-degree murder. According to Ron Scott of the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, Budzyn and Nevers are the only two police officers in the city’s history to be convicted in the death of a Detroit citizen.
The mural was a monument to that rare moment of justice, especially for African-Americans. Interviewed after news of the clandestine bulldozing of the Green mural, Nevers’ widow, Nancy Nevers, said she was glad it was gone and expressed her sympathy for George Zimmerman.
Ron Scott and many Detroiters are outraged by the bulldozing of the Green mural. White Ethiopia plans to paint a new mural. It will take outrage and organization to protect the DIA and Detroit Industry.
What happens in Detroit—from the emergency manager coup, to the assault on the pensions, to the plundering of the city’s cultural treasures—is being watched all over the country. If the capitalists succeed in Detroit, then Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and other major U.S. cities will be next on the capitalists' agenda to meet the same fate.
The people of Detroit should not be fooled into having their culture plundered to pay off the banks or into giving their money to billionaires to cleanse the city of Black working-class people and build million-dollar condos, as Orr’s gentrification plan promises.
Only when the workers control their pension funds will they be safe from capitalist predation. Only when we seize the banks will we be safe from the impoverishment and suffering inflicted on us in the quest to maximize profits. And only then will the art of the people, created by the people for the people, be safe from whitewashing and demolition. Until then, the people will struggle, and the artists will inspire and remember.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Data about Food Additive safety manipulated by manufacturers

2013-08-08 "'Alarming' New Study: 'Ubiquitous' Food Industry Influence in Determining Food Additive Safety; Study "provides an important addition to the growing body of evidence for undue food industry influence on food safety policy," writes Marion Nestle"
by Andrea Germanos from "Common Dreams" [http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/08/08-7]:
In another sign of undue corporate influence, a new study has found widespread conflicts of interest by the people deciding whether food additives are determined to be "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) over the past 15 years.
The study was published on Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.
The team of researchers looked at 451 voluntary notices manufacturers sent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 1997 and 2012 that vouch for the safety of a specific additive, such as caffeine or a sweetener. A GRAS determination means that there is “a reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under the intended conditions of use."
In none of those cases was the safety assessment made by an outside panel, the researchers report; rather, "financial conflicts of interest were ubiquitous in determinations that an additive to food was GRAS."
The researchers write that "22.4% of the safety assessments were made by an employee of an additive manufacturer, 13.3% by an employee of a consulting firm selected by the manufacturer, and 64.3% by an expert panel selected by either a consulting firm or the manufacturer".
"If the company makes the decisions or picks the people, there are a lot of possibilities for undue influence," said Thomas Neltner, lead author and director of Pew's food additives project.
Further, writes NYU nutrition professor and Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health author Marion Nestle in an editorial accompanying the study [http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1725122], "the experts on these panels form a tight professional cadre. Although 850 people served on the panels, 10 experts served on 27 panels or more, and one of these 10 participated in three-quarters of the panels".
Patty Lovera, assistant director of the watchdog group Food & Water Watch, sees the findings as part of a trend of corporate influence jeopardizing food safety [http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/pressreleases/public-research-private-gain-corporate-influence-over-university-agricultural-research/].
"From hijacking agricultural research to manipulating American foreign relations, to privatizing poultry inspection, we've known for a long time that undue industry influence threatens the wholesomeness and safety of the food supply, but this latest report is particularly troubling," Lovera stated.
"Time and time again it has been proven that corporations cannot monitor themselves and it's fool-hearty and irresponsible for the FDA to expect them to," Lovera continued. "Food safety is too critical of an issue to leave in the hands of the corporations, and individuals with financial ties to those corporations, whose primary interest is their bottom line."
There's also the issue of the 1958 Food Additives Amendment, which allows manufacturers to determine when an additive is GRAS, and when that determination is made, the manufacturer is not required to inform the FDA of it.
"Rules governing the chemicals that go into a tennis racket are more stringent than (rules for) the chemicals that go into our food," USA Today quotes Neltner as saying. "At least when you put a new chemical on the market, you have to notify the EPA. But there's no requirement that you notify the FDA when you make a new food additive," he continued.
Nestle writes that the findings are "alarming," and says that the study "provides an important addition to the growing body of evidence for undue food industry influence on food safety policy."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Big Money Philanthropy and the greed of the upper-class

2013-08-07 "Blowing the Whistle on the 'Charitable-Industrial Complex': A scion of one of America's top fortunes has just exposed the damage being done by high-end philanthropy" 
by Sam Pizzigati from "OtherWords" [http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/08/07-8]:
Inequality has a silver lining. At least the awesomely affluent think so.
If we didn’t have grand fortunes, their claim goes, we wouldn’t have grand philanthropy. No foundations and handsome bequests for underwriting good causes. No gifts and grants by the tens and hundreds of millions.
Philanthropy, proclaims a new study from the global bank Barclays [https://www.barclayswealth.com/insights/Volume17.htm], has become “near-universal among the wealthy.” Most rich, says Barclays, share “a desire to use” their wealth for “the good of others.”
But this “desire” doesn’t appear to be driving all that much sharing, as the researchers from Barclays themselves acknowledge. Some 97 percent of the world’s “high-net-worth individuals,” they note, do give annually to charity. Yet only one-third of these extremely wealthy folks give away over 1 percent of their net worth.
The rich, in other words, could afford to give away far more than they actually do. Over recent years, some public-spirited wealthy Americans — like the late multimillionaire San Francisco money manager Claude Rosenberg — have tried unsuccessfully to get this message across [http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/08/business/08rosenberg.html].
But now a new challenge to the philanthropic conventional wisdom has emerged, and this one figures to be tougher to ignore. The reason? The challenger just happens to be the son of the world’s fourth-richest billionaire.
This new challenger, Peter Buffett, isn’t arguing that the rich don’t give enough. He’s challenging the core of the philanthropic mindset, the notion that the rich, with their giving, are making the world a significantly better place. Buffett, in effect, is blowing the whistle on what he calls our “charitable-industrial complex.”
Peter Buffett knows this complex — from the inside. He runs a foundation his father Warren Buffett created. In a recent New York Times op-ed [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/27/opinion/the-charitable-industrial-complex.html], son Buffett began peeling off the halo that tops the “massive business” that American philanthropy has become.
In elite philanthropic gatherings, notes the 55-year-old Buffett, you’ll see “heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders,” all of them “searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left.”
And the answers that do eventually emerge seldom discomfort the problem-creators. These answers almost always keep, Buffett charges, “the existing structure of inequality in place.”
Peter Buffett dubs this comforting charade “conscience laundering.” Philanthropy helps the wealthy feel less torn “about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on.” They “sleep better at night while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over.”
That “just enough,” Buffett adds, can do long-term damage. Today’s philanthropists are imposing a stark corporate vision and vocabulary on the charitable world, pushing “free-market” principles, constantly demanding proof of “R.O.I.,” or return on investment.
Meanwhile, the global “perpetual poverty machine” rolls on — and philanthropists appear too busy patting themselves on the back to notice. Observes Buffett: “As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to ‘give back.’”
Peter Buffett’s whistle-blowing is already having an impact. Those getting crushed by the “philanthropic colonialism” Buffett decries are circulating his critique to combat the “solutions” philanthropists are imposing upon them.
Last week, for instance, Chicago public school activist Timothy Meegan cited Buffett’s analysis in his push-back against the “venture philanthropists” now forcing “mass privatization” on Chicago’s school system [http://www.suntimes.com/news/otherviews/21628237-452/cps-starving-its-schools-to-justify-privatization.html].
Mega “charitable” millions, Meegan shows, are distorting policy decisions in Chicago, bankrolling a strategy that’s proliferating charter schools run by private operators while simultaneously defunding neighborhood schools, declaring them “failing,” and then shutting them down.
Concludes Meegan: “If allowed to continue,” this philanthropic onslaught will leave Chicago without real public schools, only tax-subsidized charters “whose investors will profit handsomely off of our kids.”
We don’t need, Peter Buffett contends, a philanthropy that’s turning “the world into one vast market.” We need systemic change “built from the ground up.”
Top-down change simply isn’t working. Not in Chicago. Not anywhere.

US Airforce is under command by private business

The fact that the various branches of the military in the United States is managed by executives of private corporation is nothing new. The following example is another in a long legacy of the business of war. Every bomb or bullet made is money in the bank for the investors. 

2013-08-07 "Obama Nominates Defense Contractor Executive as Air Force Secretary"
by Allen McDuffee [http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/08/obama-nominates-defense-contractor-executive-as-air-force-secretary/]:
President Obama has nominated defense industry executive Deborah Lee James to the post of secretary of the U.S. Air Force, according to the White House.
James is the president of the technology and engineering sector at the McLean, Va.-based Science Application (SAIC), where she has been an executive since 2004. If confirmed by the Senate, James would succeed Michael Donley, who retired in June.
“Deborah’s strong record of public service and leadership in the private sector makes her uniquely qualified to be my nominee for Secretary of the Air Force,” said President Obama in a statement. “I look forward to working with her to keep our Air Force the very best in the world and to keep faith with our extraordinary Air Force personnel and their families.” The decision to nominate James, a committee member of the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, to the top civilian post in the Air Force is a strong symbolic measure to women in the Air Force, and the Armed Services more generally, that the White House is taking seriously the sexual assault epidemic it faces, including multiple high-profile cases this spring.
“This nomination might have a lot to do with veering from the old boys network, especially in the wake of the sexual assault problems in the military,” said Scott Amey, general counsel to the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog organization in Washington, D.C.
However, the nomination also raises questions about Pentagon-contractor relations at a time when the Pentagon is forced to rethink its budget, as well as questions about the revolving door between the Pentagon and the defense industry. Before her time at SAIC, James was assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs from 1993 to 1998 and was a staff member on the House Armed Services Committee for ten years.
“It goes to show that the revolving door is still rotating,” said Amey. “Cuts are forthcoming and we need strategic reviews of missions, programs, projects, and workforce solutions that protect taxpayers, not contractors.”
“People have complained for years about the revolving door between industry and the Pentagon, and this is just the latest piece of information that confirms the process remains alive and well, despite Barack Obama’s pledge to clean up Washington,” said Christopher Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian think tank.
Preble notes that industry insiders have a leg up in the competition for top Pentagon jobs because they often understand better than anybody the complicated rules in doing business with the government, which could also provide the opportunity for conflict of interest.
“Their involvement in decisions about how to spend taxpayer dollars, and the likelihood that many of those dollars will go to their former companies, creates a persistent appearance of a conflict of interest,” said Preble.
James would take the reins at a time when her experience in personnel matters would be put to the test as the public is increasingly aware of sexual assault scandals and lawmakers are quarreling over how those cases should be handled.
The head of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention and response team, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was arrested and charged with sexual battery in May after allegedly groping a woman outside a strip club near the Pentagon (the sexual battery charges were later dropped). The month before that, Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, overturned the sexual assault conviction of a fighter pilot who was accused of fondling a victim while she slept in his guest bedroom.
In recent weeks, a clash over whether to leave sexual assault cases in the military’s chain of command has played out on Capitol Hill, setting up a duel between two Democratic women senators who sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Police in New Hampshire consider peaceful protesters as "terrorists", demand military action and equipment

2013-08-06 "In Bid for Tanks, NH Police Label Protest Groups 'Terrorists'; Disclosure comes amidst growing call against militarization of police forces" 
by Lauren McCauley from "Common Dreams":
A BearCat tank parks outside an Occupy DC encampment. (Photo: Mr. T in DC/ Flickr)
In a bid to bring armored vehicles to the small, capital city of Concord, New Hampshire, the local police department is trying to exploit peaceful activist groups such as Occupy New Hampshire and the libertarian Free State Project as "terror threats."
Through a right to know request, the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union (NHCLU)—as part of an ongoing project against the militarization of local law enforcement agencies—obtained a grant filed by the Concord Police Department requesting $258,000 from the Department of Homeland Security for an armored BearCat vehicle.
"The State of New Hampshire’s experience with terrorism slants primarily towards the domestic type," the grant states, adding that—with groups such as the "Free Staters" and Occupy NH active and presenting "daily challenges"—the "threat is real and here."
"It's far from clear to us why an armored vehicle would be necessary to address what are generally, by and large, non-violent movements that in fact provide little or no threat to the security of our state," said Devon Chaffee, executive director of the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union [http://www.unionleader.com/article/20130728/NEWS07/130729284].
Calling the police grant "absolutely false and absurd," Occupy NH points out that the group—better known for litter pick-ups and "too-polite political bird dogging"—has not been functioning since July of 2012 and has not had a "notable Occupy gathering since April of 2013."
"Occupy New Hampshire has a statement of non-violence," they continue, adding that the libertarian Free State project has a "non-aggression principle."
According to Concord police chief John Duval, last fall the city council "unanimously" approved the grant application.
Described by Duval as an "armor-plated box on wheels," the Lenco BearCat G3 has been requested for use in responding to acts of terrorism involving "chemical, biological, and radiological materials as well as explosive gases" and smaller-scale crises such as "suicidal and hostage situations."
Concord hopes to join other New Hampshire towns Keene and Manchester, who already own BearCat tanks.
The controversy comes amidst a growing call against the militarization of police forces where—with federal funding—neighborhood officers are being "armed with the weapons and tactics of war."
"Equipping state and local law enforcement with military weapons and vehicles, military tactical training, and actual military assistance to conduct traditional law enforcement erodes civil liberties and encourages increasingly aggressive policing, particularly in poor neighborhoods and communities of color," said Kara Dansky, senior counsel for the ACLU's Center for Justice [http://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/aclu-launches-nationwide-investigation-police-use-military-technology-tactics].
Ahead of an August 12 public hearing about the proposed purchase of the BearCat, Occupy NH will be holding a meeting on Friday to discuss the arming of their "sleepy little state" and consider pursuant actions against the agents "who are so threatened by the peaceful citizens" of New Hampshire.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

2013-08-01 "Backyard Shock Doctrine: Wall Street's Destruction Comes Home; An American era of eviction and destruction"

by Laura Gottesdiener an organizer with Occupy Wall Street and a freelance journalist in New York City, from "TomDispatch.com" [tomdispatch.com/post/175731/tomgram%3A_laura_gottesdiener%2C_the_backyard_shock_doctrine]:
We cautiously ascend the staircase, the pitch black of the boarded-up house pierced only by my companion’s tiny circle of light. At the top of the landing, the flashlight beam dances in a corner as Quafin, who offered only her first name, points out the furnace. She is giddy; this house -- unlike most of the other bank-owned buildings on the block -- isn’t completely uninhabitable.
It had been vacated, sealed, and winterized in June 2010, according to a notice on the wall posted by BAC Field Services Corporation, a division of Bank of America. It warned: “entry by unauthorized persons is strictly prohibited.” But Bank of America has clearly forgotten about the house and its requirement to provide the “maintenance and security” that would ensure the property could soon be reoccupied. The basement door is ajar, the plumbing has been torn out of the walls, and the carpet is stained with water. The last family to live here bought the home for $175,000 in 2002; eight years later, the bank claimed an improbable $286,100 in past-due balances and repossessed it.
It’s May 2012 and we’re in Woodlawn, a largely African American neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The crew Quafin is a part of dubbed themselves the HIT Squad, short for Housing Identification and Target. Their goal is to map blighted, bank-owned homes with overdue property taxes and neighbors angry enough about the destruction of their neighborhood to consider supporting a plan to repossess on the repossessors.
“Anything I can do,” one woman tells the group after being briefed on its plan to rehab bank-owned homes and move in families without houses. She points across the street to a sagging, boarded-up place adorned with a worn banner -- “Grandma’s House Child Care: Register Now!” -- and a disconnected number. There are 20 banked-owned homes like it in a five-block radius. Records showed that at least five of them were years past due on their property taxes.
Where exterior walls once were, some houses sport charred holes from fires lit by people trying to stay warm. In 2011, two Chicago firefighters died trying to extinguish such a fire at a vacant foreclosed building. Now, houses across the South Side are pockmarked with red Xs, indicating places the fire department believes to be structurally unsound [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/magazine/how-chicagos-housing-crisis-ignited-a-new-form-of-activism.html?pagewanted=all]. In other states -- Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New York, to name recent examples -- foreclosed houses have taken to exploding after bank contractors forgot to turn off the gas.
Most of the occupied homes in the neighborhood we’re visiting display small signs: “Don’t shoot,” they read in lettering superimposed on a child’s face, “I want to grow up.” On the bank-owned houses, such signs have been replaced by heavy-duty steel window guards. (“We work with all types of servicers, receivers, property management, and bank asset managers, enabling you to quickly and easily secure your building so you can move on,” boasts Door and Window Guard Systems, a leading company in the burgeoning “building security industry.”)
The dangerous houses are the ones left unsecured, littered with trash and empty Cobra vodka bottles. We approach one that reeks of rancid tuna fish and attempt to push open the basement door, held closed only by a flimsy wire. The next-door neighbor, returning home, asks: “Did you know they killed someone in that backyard just this morning?”

The Equivalent of the Population of Michigan Foreclosed -
Since 2007, the foreclosure crisis has displaced at least 10 million people from more than four million homes across the country. Families have been evicted from colonials and bungalows, A-frames and two-family brownstones, trailers and ranches, apartment buildings and the prefabricated cookie-cutters that sprang up after World War II. The displaced are young and old, rich and poor, and of every race, ethnicity, and religion. They add up to approximately the entire population of Michigan.
However, African American neighborhoods were targeted more aggressively than others for the sort of predatory loans that led to mass evictions after the economic meltdown of 2007-2008. At the height of the rapacious lending boom, nearly 50% of all loans given to African American families were deemed “subprime.” [http://www.responsiblelending.org/mortgage-lending/research-analysis/Lost-Ground-2011.pdf] The New York Times described these contracts as “a financial time-bomb.” [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/business/19credit.html]
Over the last year and a half, I traveled through many of these neighborhoods, reporting on the grassroots movements of resistance to foreclosure and displacement that have been springing up in the wake of the explosion. These community efforts have proven creative, inspiring, and often effective -- but in too many cities and towns, the landscape that forms the backdrop to such a movement of hope is one of almost overwhelming destruction. Lots filled with “Cheap Bank-Owned!” trailers line highways. Cities hire contractors dubbed “Blackwater Bailiffs” to keep pace with the dizzying eviction rate.
In recent years, the foreclosure crisis has been turning many African American communities into conflict zones, torn between a market hell-bent on commodifying life itself and communities organizing to protect their neighborhoods. The more I ventured into such areas, the more I came to realize that the clash of values going on isn’t just theoretical or metaphorical.
“Internal displacement causes conflict,” explained J.R. Fleming, the chairman of the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign. “And there’s no other country in the world that would force so much internal displacement and pretend that it’s something else.”

Evictions at Gunpoint -
It was three in the morning when at least a dozen police cruisers pulled up to the single-story, green-shuttered house in the African American Atlanta suburb where Christine Frazer and her family lived. The precise number of sheriffs and deputies who arrived is disputed; the local radio station reported 25, while Frazer recalled seeing between 40 and 50 [http://www.alternet.org/story/155292/dozens_of_police_evict_georgia_family_at_gunpoint_at_3am].
A locksmith drilled off the home’s locks and dozens of officers burst into the house with flashlights and handguns.
“Who’s in the house?” they shouted. Aside from Frazer, a widow with a vocal devotion to the Man Above, there were three other residents: her 85-year-old mother, her adult daughter, and her four-year-old grandson. Things began to happen fast. Animal control rounded up the pets. Officers told the women to get dressed. Could she take a shower? Frazer asked. Imagine there’s a fire in your house, the officer replied.
“They came to my home like I was a drug dealer,” she told reporters later. Over the next seven hours, the officers hauled out the entire contents of her home and cordoned off the street to prevent friends from helping her retrieve her things [http://www.alternet.org/story/155292/dozens_of_police_evict_georgia_family_at_gunpoint_at_3am].
“I have no idea where some of my jewelry is, stuff I bought when I was 30 years old,” said Frazer. “I am sixty-three. They just threw everything everywhere, helter-skelter on the front lawn in the dark.”
The eviction-turned-raid sparked controversy across Atlanta when it occurred in the spring of 2012, in part because Frazer had a motion pending in federal court that should have stayed the eviction, and in part because she was an active participant of Occupy Homes Atlanta. But this type of militarized reaction is often the outcome when communities -- especially those of color -- organize to resist eviction.
When Nicole Shelton attempted to move back into her repossessed home in a picket-fence subdivision in North Carolina, the Raleigh police department sent in more than a dozen police officers and an eight-person SWAT team. Officers were equipped with M5 submachine guns. A helicopter roared overhead [http://wagingnonviolence.org/feature/organizing-against-bank-of-america-in-enemy-territory-2/]. In Boston, one organizer with the community group City Life/Vida Urbana remembers the police acting so aggressively at an eviction blockade in a Haitian neighborhood that the grandmother of the family had a heart attack right in the driveway [http://www.alternet.org/activism/boston-rapper-takes-his-most-violent-enemy-yet-wall-street].
And sometimes it doesn’t require resistance at all. On the South Side of Chicago, explained Toussaint Losier, a community organizer completing his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, “They bust in the door, and it’s at the point of a gun that you get evicted.”

Exiles in America -
There have been widespread foreclosures -- and some organized resistance -- in predominately white communities, too. Kevin Kirkman, captain of the civil division of the Lee County sheriff’s office, explained, “I get so many [eviction] papers in here, it’s unbelievable.”
More than 75% of the residents in North Carolina’s Lee County are whites. But Kirkman still sees the ripple effects of mass foreclosure here. “You’re talking about a mudslide where a lot of things are affected. You’re talking about taxes, about retail sales if people move, about food services, about gasoline. You see what I’m talking about? When you lose a family in the community? Some people leave the community. I have seen people leave the state of North Carolina.”
He added, “I’m going be honest with you, my feeling is that I would not do these evictions.”
Still, the difficulties white America has faced during the foreclosure crisis don’t compare with what Wall Street and the banks have inflicted, physically and psychologically, on African American neighborhoods. As countless leaked documents, insider dispositions, and Department of Justice filings demonstrate, those neighborhoods were systematically and illegally targeted for the worst of the worst mortgages. As one former Wells Fargo mortgage broker explained in a sworn affidavit, “The company put ‘bounties’ on minority borrowers. By this I mean that loan officers received cash incentives to aggressively market subprime loans in minority communities.”
This pushing of predatory loans was all the more insidious because these same communities had been starved of mortgages for decades as a result of the Federal Housing Authority’s refusal to guarantee loans in communities of color. As Mike Fannon, development associate for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, explained, “The same banks that denied capital now injected too much toxic capital and decimated the local economy.”
The effect, according to a 2012 National Fair Housing Alliance report [http://www.nationalfairhousing.org/Portals/33/the_banks_are_back_web.pdf], has been “the largest loss of wealth for these communities in modern history.” Between 2009 and 2012 African Americans lost just under $200 billion in wealth, bringing the gap between white and black wealth to a staggering 20:1 ratio [http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-hispanics/].
There is also a longer trajectory of racial exclusion at play here, a history that makes the foreclosure crisis yet another chapter in an epic and enduring quest for home. From enslavement to sharecropping, redlining to restrictive covenants, the United States has too often been an inhospitable land for people of color. Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King echoed W.E.B. Dubois in declaring that the African American still "finds himself in exile in his own land.” Today, it’s hard not to see that reality painted across the 2010 census data, where the maps measuring the concentration of vacant houses and the maps measuring the concentration of African Americans, while not exactly the same, are uncomfortably close to a match.
As Ben Austen wrote in the New York Times Magazine, “The U.S. Postal Service, which tracks these numbers, reported that 62,000 properties in Chicago were vacant at the end of last year, with two-thirds of them clustered as if to form a sinkhole in just a few black neighborhoods on the South and West Sides.” The same phenomenon holds true in cities across the country. And once a house is empty in such neighborhoods, all too often, no one is moving back in.

Crime Starts at the Top -
“There were feces in the basement, urine, rolled-up carpet,” said Thomas Turner, a housing activist in Chicago describing the inside of a foreclosed home, once owned, according to neighbors, by an 80-year-old man. Under the ownership of the Pittsburgh-based bank PNC, Turner explained, “It was abandoned for six years, so squatters and strippers had punched holes in the walls. There was no toilet, no tub, all the kitchen cabinets were torn out. The bedroom looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer and just started swinging… I still see gang members on the front porch or rolling up real slow in the car.”
Another Chicago resident, Erica Johnson, described a vacant home similarly. “There were clothes, books, broken dressers, little white drug bags, used condoms,” she said. “It was a little drug house, and they were probably bringing their girls up in here.”
Some foreclosed homes become brothels, such as a Deutsche Bank-owned house in South Los Angeles where the girls’ names and prices were scrawled in blue marker across the upstairs walls [http://www.alternet.org/story/155734/banks_booting_families_and_leaving_homes_to_rot:_a_tour_of_blighted_homes_in_los_angeles?paging=off]. Others become meth labs or gang hideouts.
These bank-owned vacant houses help spread crime and poverty in already distressed communities -- a reality that became obvious to me when I accompanied Dorian Morris, a certified building inspector, on one of his surveys of the vacant homes on the north side of Minneapolis. Signs on nearly every home advertised the severity of the housing crisis in this area: neon green “no trespassing” stickers on boarded-up foreclosed homes and red “stand together, stop foreclosure” posters on places supporting Occupy Homes Minneapolis. On more than a dozen lots, the only indication that a family once lived there was a skinny red metal rod marking the spot where a razed house once stood.
As in other hard-hit African American neighborhoods across the country, residents here had organized to stop bank-pursued evictions from stripping the value from the community. Neighborhood support had, for instance, helped a mother named Monique White beat her eviction in a highly publicized six-month battle against US Bank only weeks before I arrived [http://www.startribune.com/business/150109495.html]. Still, the never-ending evictions were eating away at the stability of the neighborhood.
“That’s a known crack house,” said Morris, as he pointed at a brick structure less than 100 meters away from a neighborhood park. More than half the homes within sight were boarded up with plywood. Within five minutes, we had passed two former residences he identified as current drug houses and a handful more that he said had already been raided by the police -- all foreclosed homes where families used to live.
As we drove, we discussed the illegal chain of events that transformed these homes into drug dens. The crimes started at the top. Banks peddled toxic mortgages like crack, paying employees cash incentives to push them in African American neighborhoods. The loans exploded [http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/us/07baltimore.html], so they forged millions of foreclosure affidavits to speed state-enforced evictions [http://www.propublica.org/blog/item/gmacs-robo-signers-draw-concerns-about-faulty-process-mistaken-foreclosures].
Once homes are vacant, bank contractors insufficiently seal and maintain them, allowing intruders to strip the houses of their copper wiring, plumbing, and sometimes even the furnace. The copper alone sells for anywhere from 50 cents to a dollar per pound. Finally, people dealing drugs begin to use the houses at night as distribution centers. The street-level crime drags down neighboring property values, spurring more foreclosures and evictions. And so the cycle continues.
Banks are legally obligated to maintain and market their foreclosed properties, but they often shirk those responsibilities -- especially in communities of color. In an investigation of more than 1,000 homes across the country, the National Fair Housing Alliance found that bank-owned homes in communities of color were more likely than homes in white neighborhoods to have graffiti and peeling paint on the exterior, trash and dead leaves strewn across the sidewalk, unsecured locks on the doors, and be missing “for sale” signs on their front lawns [http://www.nationalfairhousing.org/Portals/33/the_banks_are_back_web.pdf].
Foreclosed houses in such neighborhoods were also 80% more likely to have a broken or boarded-up window, and 30% more likely to have trash on the front lawn. After a lawsuit, Wells Fargo paid $42 million to settle charges of racially discriminatory maintenance; there’s scant evidence to suggest the practice has changed since [http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/wells-fargo-settles-complaint-on-foreclosed-homes/2013/06/06/18e55954-ce24-11e2-9f1a-1a7cdee20287_story.html?hpid=z9]. Cities have increased fines levied against banks that don’t maintain their houses, but not a single bank has been held accountable for drug dealing, murders, and rapes that occur on their unmaintained or poorly maintained properties. The only “crime” they appear concerned about is when community activists try to fix up such homes and move families in -- doing the job the bank was supposed to do in the first place. Then banks call the police to arrest the “trespassers.”

Sacrifice Zones -
The double standards in property maintenance lead to an “extremely troubling” trend in home sales: these uninviting neglected houses, disproportionately located in communities of color, are most often being snapped up by investors rather than families. Overwhelmingly, the investor of choice is the Blackstone Group, one of the world’s largest private equity firms and now the nation’s largest owner of single-family homes. Since April 2012, Blackstone has spent more than $4.5 billion buying at least 30,000 houses concentrated in cities hard-hit by foreclosure, including Atlanta, Jacksonville, Orlando, Chicago, Charlotte, Phoenix, and urban areas across California. According to local real estate brokers, the company often makes its purchases in cash [http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/05/02/uk-vegas-housing-specialreport-idUKBRE9410IS20130502].
The idea is that there’s big money to be made in rental properties these days, given that there are millions of displaced, former homeowners with wrecked credit scores looking for places to stay. It’s like a pay-to-play game of musical chairs -- except Wall Street owns the stereo, the speakers, the chairs, and the roof, and somehow when the music stops you’re always out.
Vacant houses, whether owned by banks or Blackstone, create foreclosure spirals, each vacant house dragging down the property values of neighbors, which, in turn, decreases a city’s property tax revenue and the capacity of local government to provide essential services. Shuttered schools in Philadelphia and Chicago. Closed hospitals in Cleveland. Slashed senior programs in Baltimore. All of these essential services, eliminated far more often in communities of color, are the collateral damage of the foreclosure crisis.
A 2011 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, submitted to the House Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, cited nearly a dozen examples of how such declines in tax revenues caused by vacancies have led cities to cut funding for public works, libraries, parks, recreation programs, and school districts. One city even cut a program intended to address vacant foreclosed properties, thanks to a tax revenue shortfall.
The final dystopian outcome of this spiral is what journalist Naomi Klein famously termed the shock doctrine: a crisis is pushed so far that it finally justifies dramatic outside intervention (read: privatization). It’s the type of outcome we’re currently seeing in Michigan, where, according to a court ruling last week, "Detroit’s recent bankruptcy filing only emphasizes the broader consequences of predatory lending and the foreclosures that inevitably result." That city may be undergoing the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, but unlike when the big banks and giant financial outfits teetered at the edge of collapse, President Obama has made it clear that this time there will be no billion-dollar federal bailout.
“With the mass displacement, it ends up being a situation where people are just like, ‘Well, we’ll just have to bulldoze those homes,’” Chicago organizer Toussaint Losier told me. “They become sacrifice zones rather than places where people bring imaginative solutions.”

The Shield and the Sword -
Small groups of community organizers are shouldering the Herculean task of protecting such neighborhoods abandoned by the federal government.
“Look, if you want to take our home, it’s an act of war,” explains Losier, so his group’s response is, metaphorically, “the sword and the shield.” It’s a strategy he learned from the Boston anti-foreclosure group City Life/Vida Urbana. The shield represents the exceedingly modest legal protection afforded to people under a judicial system that assigns more rights to the banks than them -- and allows no-guilt settlements for the powerful caught flagrantly breaking the law. (In the case of foreclosure crimes, see for example the $335 million Bank of America discrimination settlement in 2011, the $26 billion robo-signing settlement in 2012, and the $8.5 billion settlement over wrongful foreclosures in 2013.)
The sword represents actions -- from petitions to eviction blockades -- aimed at stopping evictions and repairing neighborhoods. And yes, there is a life-size, fabricated sword-and-shield set at the City Life office in Boston. First-time attendees of the group’s weekly meetings must hoist the sword over their heads and assert that they are willing to fight for their homes. “Then we will fight with you!” the rest of the group cheers.
Across the country, communities of color deploy these two strategies, and a third that could be called “the paintbrush”: creative tactics aimed at building something new amid the devastation. In Detroit and Philadelphia, neighborhoods are seeding community gardens in hundreds of vacant lots. In Boston, one set of community activists cleaned up their block and dumped the trash -- gathered from the front lawn of a foreclosed Bank of America-owned home -- on the doorstep of the regional bank president’s brownstone.
In Minnesota and California, grassroots political organizing pressured state legislatures to adopt the nation’s first two homeowner bills of rights. A Barclays report later complained that “servicers have become significantly more cautious when carrying out foreclosure sales” as a result of the legislation. In Chicago, home liberation groups are rehabbing and occupying vacant properties, while anti-violence groups are intervening in the conflicts caused by poverty and mass displacement.
Both of the foreclosed Chicago houses that Thomas Turner and Erica Johnson described as being filled with feces, used condoms, and drugs are now clean, painted, and occupied. Turner even stenciled small purple birds on the walls of the one he worked on. But the continued scale of the crisis -- forgotten by a media more interested in rising home values than eviction notices -- requires more than community rehab and tepid financial regulation. It demands that we question, and reimagine, a system of property ownership that has prevented large segments of the population from making real decisions about the communities in which they live. And in case you’re thinking that this is a problem only for Black America, think again. As the New York Times warned in April, “The alchemists of Wall Street are at it again… reviving the same types of investments that many thought were gone for good.”
The question is whether, this time around, we’ll see their potion for what it is: poison that threatens to turn each of us, as W.E.B. Dubois wrote, into “an outcast and a stranger in my own house.”

Obamacare sweetheart deal for private companies, turns bad for union labor and workers

2013-08-01 "Obamacare Opens For Business, Shuts Out Labor"
by Jenny Brown from "Labor Notes" [http://www.labornotes.org/2013/08/obamacare-opens-business-shuts-out-labor]:
When the Obama administration announced July 2 that it would give a breather to employers affected by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), angry unionists noticed a pattern. Even before this delay, “every corporate interest that’s asked for regulatory relief has gotten it,” said Mark Dudzic, chair of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer [http://www.laborforsinglepayer.org/], “but the concerns of union plans have been overridden.”
The requirement that employers provide health insurance or pay a fine will be postponed till January 2015 or later. “Looks like ordinary workers will be forced to pay for health insurance on the original schedule [starting January 2014], while big business is off the hook for at least a year,” said Chris Townsend, political director of the United Electrical Workers (UE). Justifying the delay, the Obama administration cited employers’ difficulties in reporting employee hours worked, pay, and their insurance offerings—all information needed to calculate whether a fine is due for not offering adequate insurance.
The delay won’t be cheap. It means the government will forego $10 billion in employer payments for 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Meanwhile, unions have been asking for adjustments that would protect multi-employer health care funds, but getting nowhere. As a result, even supportive unions such as the Food and Commercial Workers have started to freak out about the law. UFCW, UNITE HERE, and the Teamsters have gone round and round with the administration about their multi-employer “Taft-Hartley” plans, which provide insurance to 20 million workers, including part-timers, retirees, and workers between jobs, in the construction trades, trucking, hotels, and grocery. In a strongly worded letter to Democratic congressional leaders [http://lbo-news.com/2013/07/19/some-unions-complain-about-obamacare-discreetly/], the presidents of the three unions let fly: “Time is running out: Congress wrote this law; we voted for you. We have a problem; you need to fix it,” they wrote. “Our persuasive arguments have been disregarded and met with a stone wall by the White House and the pertinent agencies. “Even though non-profit plans like ours won’t receive the same subsidies as for-profit plans, they’ll be taxed to pay for those subsidies,” the union leaders wrote. “Taken together, these restrictions will make non-profit plans like ours unsustainable.” Under Obamacare, small employers could save money by pulling out of their Taft-Hartley plans and sending workers to the new “exchanges” to get a subsidy, said James McGee, director of the Transit Employees Health & Welfare Fund in Washington, D.C [http://www.labornotes.org/2013/03/union-health-plans-will-suffer-under-obamacare]. As it stands, “employers will have every incentive to get out of the funds when union contracts expire.” Employers with under 50 workers, which include 93 percent of construction employers, don’t have to pay a penalty for not providing coverage.

Part of the reasoning behind Obamacare was to lower overall medical costs by forcing people to pay more for their care—causing them to visit the doctor less often. “The consumer should continue to expect that their plan is going to be more expensive, and they will have less benefits,” said a consultant quoted in the New York Times [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/28/business/cadillac-tax-health-insurance.html]. That part is working. Employers are now seeing the ACA standards as a floor, and trimming back their plans to match the minimum. The school system in Old Rochester, Massachusetts, went even further. The board demanded that the non-teaching staff such as cafeteria workers, represented by the UE, pay 50 percent of their premiums. Family coverage would have cost 80 percent of their income.
The now-delayed ACA provision says insurance premiums may cost no more than 9.5 percent of a worker’s income. That’s for an individual, though; there’s no limit on the cost of family coverage. Many workers will face a Catch-22: insurance they can’t afford, but no access to Obamacare’s subsidies because their employer offers health insurance that the law deems affordable. Because of union pressure, Old Rochester management backed off, but workers will still be left paying 30 percent of their premiums by 2016. The Wendy’s hamburger chain noted that a majority of its low-paid workers already decline the high-deductible plan the company offers at $2.50 a week—so managers expect that when they start offering a better, Obamacare-approved plan at $25 a week, employees still won’t take it. Popeye’s and Chipotle have made similar calculations. In 2014, workers who opt out of such employer-offered insurance, and have no other insurance, will be hit with a fine of $95 annually and increasing in subsequent years. Many employers will figure it’s cheaper to stop offering insurance, anyway. The annual fine to the employer per worker will be just $2,000—assuming the fines eventually kick in. Workers so stranded by their employers can buy insurance on the soon-to-be launched insurance “exchanges,” now officially called “Health Insurance Marketplaces.” There, on a state-run website (or one run by the feds if your state opts out), private plans that meet ACA standards will be listed, with out-of-pocket limits (deductibles and co-pays) of $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family. These approved plans may impose no caps on annual or lifetime benefits. Pre-existing conditions and gender can’t be considered, but premium prices may vary (within limits) based on smoking, age, the size of your family, and the area you live in. Anyone can buy insurance from a company on the exchange. For workers whose jobs don’t provide “affordable” insurance, the government will subsidize the cost of buying private insurance for individuals or families making less than 400 percent of the poverty level—$45,960 for an individual and $94,200 for a four-person family in 2013. The subsidies are intended to keep a family’s insurance premiums from growing beyond 9.5 percent of its income.

Some employers are blaming Obamacare for cuts they wanted to implement anyway. One favorite area of blame is the so-called Cadillac tax, which doesn’t kick in until 2018. The tax is scheduled to hit plans that have premiums above $10,200 a year for individuals or $27,500 for families—employers would be taxed 40 percent of any amount over those limits.
While employers complained they couldn’t get ready to report on their insurance plans by 2014—and thus got a delay—they’re four-and-a-half years ahead of the game in planning for the Cadillac tax (see box below article). Their solution is to dump more costs onto workers by offering lower-premium, higher-deductible plans. More than a third of covered U.S. workers are now in plans with deductibles of $1,000 or more, and 14 percent have deductibles above $2,000. At Cummins, an engine manufacturer based in Indiana, deductibles reach as high as $6,000. The lower premiums comply with the Obamacare requirement that less than 9.5 percent of your income go to premiums. But the law doesn’t take into account how much you spend on deductibles and co-pays in employer-provided insurance, creating pressure to get less care. Of course, that incentive inverts what all experts say is the healthier—and cheaper—way to structure medical care. That is to encourage lots of preventive visits, to maintain health and avoid emergencies. When people neglect routine care because the co-pay is unaffordable—or because the insurance company pays nothing at all till the giant deductible is reached—small problems become big ones, costing more in the end. To cope with high-deductible plans, AFSCME members in Vermont have negotiated “choice cards,” funded by their employers, which pay their deductibles and co-pays out of an employer fund, said Traven Leyshon, secretary-treasurer of the Vermont AFL-CIO. Another Obamacare rule that lowers the floor is that employer plans must pay at least 60 percent of the cost of covered benefits, a figure that would make most union negotiators nauseous. But that’s still called “affordable” insurance. This spring, the administration ruled that employers would have to obey the same annual out-of-pocket maximums as the exchanges, $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family.

Advocates of Medicare for All say the faults of the ACA can make the case for a system that’s truly “everybody in, nobody out.” The Electrical Workers (IBEW) passed a resolution for “single-payer” at their last convention, and the San Francisco building trades now support single-payer. “I’ve never heard so many building trades folks talk about single payer,” said the UE’s Peter Knowlton. The paperwork and headaches required to set up Obamacare leave some yearning for a simpler solution, like the set percentage deducted from our paychecks every pay period for Medicare. Increase that, and start Medicare at age zero, say advocates—as the Rube Goldberg system developed by the ACA clunks and lurches forward. In Vermont, where the legislature passed a bill guaranteeing health care as a human right in 2011, advocates are trying to steer the committees designing the program away from involving private insurance, and toward a purely public system like those used in so many countries. Under Obamacare, though, they can’t get a waiver to institute any new system until 2017.

‘Cadillac Tax’ a Pretext to Cut Benefits (by Alexandra Bradbury) -
Life got a lot worse for Abbey Bruce and her husband Casey, who has cystic fibrosis, on January 1. That’s when her employer, Providence St. Peter Hospital, changed its health plan. The co-pay for the enzymes Casey takes to digest food used to be $50 per month. Now it’s $300. His nebulizer solution went up, too. By July, they owed Providence’s pharmacy $2,000. “I expect there to be a co-pay. I’m not crazy,” said Abbey, a certified nursing assistant who makes $15 an hour. “But it used to be in a proportion that didn’t make health care out of reach for us.” On top of the co-pays, the Bruces’ annual deductible before insurance kicks in is now $3,000—almost 10 percent of the median income for a member of her union at St. Pete’s. The out-of-pocket max is $6,000. A “wellness” component of the new plan allows workers to get a once-a-year screening, in return for a cash payout that doesn’t come close to covering the cost increase. Abbey, who was studying to become a nurse, had to drop out of school. She’s taken on two extra jobs, in-home elder care and cleaning houses, on top of her hospital work. Human Resources urged employees to bring their concerns about the new plan, so Abbey went. The H.R. manager’s solution? “She told me I could clean her house if I needed to, for extra money,” Abbey told Labor Notes.

TIMES GETS IT WRONG (by Alexandra Bradbury) -
The New York Times highlighted the Bruces’ story May 28 and suggested we should blame “the so-called Cadillac tax” when employers replace decent insurance with high-deductible plans [www.nytimes.com/2013/05/28/business/cadillac-tax-health-insurance.html]. But the Times is mistaken. Abbey’s union, Service Employees 1199NW, did the math. The plan Providence cancelled wouldn’t have come close to qualifying for the Cadillac tax—and in any case, the tax won’t even kick in until 2018. The tax is a convenient pretext, providing public cover for employers already eager to switch to cheaper and worse coverage. Providence isn’t even trying to use the “Cadillac tax” excuse with employees—it just says the new plan is great and any problems are rumors. Employees aren’t buying it. They struck over this issue for five days in March and filed unfair labor practice charges over the unilateral change. The health plan is a central issue in contract negotiations. Abbey and Casey Bruce aren’t the only Providence employees suffering. “We have people skipping meds,” Abbey said. “People alternating with their spouse: ‘You take meds this month, I’ll take next month.’” A pregnant co-worker is worried how she’ll afford to deliver her baby. “That’s the part that makes me so mad,” said Abbey. “We’re caregivers: we care about each other, too.”

The Walmart Loophole -
Some states are trying to patch up problems with Obamacare before it hits. California union groups are campaigning to eliminate the “Walmart loophole,” so called because it affects many employees working for the low-wage retail king. Under the ACA, employers who don’t provide affordable insurance (defined as premiums no higher than 9.5 percent of your income for individual coverage) will be fined $2,000 per full-time worker if their employees have to go to the health insurance exchanges as a result. It’s the basic pay-or-play idea: All employers with 50 or more full-time workers should put in something, either by covering their workers or by paying a fine. (It’s this fine that has now been delayed.) But what if the employees, like many Walmart workers, are making so little they’re eligible for Medicaid? No similar fine applies. Likewise, some employers are cutting hours to evade the “full-time” worker part of the law, which defines full-time as more than 30 hours a week or 130 a month. The union-supported legislation would penalize big California employers (those with more than 500 employees) if their workers enroll in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program. The fine is pro-rated by the number of hours worked, so employers can’t evade it by cutting workers’ hours. The fine money would go to Medi-Cal, and there are penalties for employers who discourage workers from enrolling.

What’s Happening To The Taft-Hartley Plans?
The looming changes are already affecting grocery workers. In a contract negotiated this spring, 30,000 Stop & Shop workers in five locals in the Northeast gave up on keeping part-timers with less than 30 hours in the union’s Taft-Hartley plan. Ratified in March, the contract instead gives a “benefit bonus” to workers who must seek insurance on the exchanges, and a contribution to a pre-tax Health Savings Account. It also provides that Stop & Shop management can’t cut hours to evade federal health insurance requirements. Under the ACA, employers pay a fine if they don’t offer insurance to full-time workers, defined as 30 hours a week or more. This has led some employers, especially restaurants and retailers, to toy with cutting back employee hours as a way to avoid the fines. One problem with putting some workers into the exchanges, said Mark Dudzic of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, is that everyone will be in a different boat, even within the union. “Instead of having a solidarity-based health care system, where everybody’s in, it’s individualized… it all depends on your situation,” he said. A single mother with three dependents would be fully subsidized on the exchange, whereas working next to her, a married worker with no children might pay a big premium. “Some will be better off, some will be worse off, some will get lost in the mix,” Dudzic said. For a detailed explanation of problems for Taft-Hartley plans, see the recent white paper issued by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers [http://www.acawhitepaper.org/The%20Affordable%20Care%20Act%20FINAL.pdf].

The Private Option -
Dozens of state legislatures have refused Obamacare money intended to expand Medicaid, the program that covers many low-wage and unemployed workers. To get states on board, the administration has been wheeling and dealing, with alarming results. The most extreme case is Arkansas [http://www.governing.com/blogs/view/gov-true-or-false-arkansass-gamechanging-medicaid-expansion-plan.html]. The administration is apparently allowing Walmart’s home state to entirely privatize Medicaid (final approval is expected in August). Instead of Medicaid, the state would pay premiums for eligible residents (those earning up to 138 percent of the poverty level) to get private insurance. They would be limited to the “silver,” or third-best, plans on the new insurance exchange. It’s not clear how people who are broke to begin with will manage the annual out-of-pocket limits allowed on the exchanges, $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family. Since the “private option” funnels more public money into private insurance coffers, and dismantles Medicaid, the Arkansas plan is likely to attract copycats in other states.