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Hoping to influence the super committee as it closes in on its deadline for presenting deficit cutting proposals, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., unveiled the cuts, revenue raisers, and other ideas being offered by ranking members of Democratic committees.
Pelosi also called on the super committee to hold open hearings on some of the major deficit cutting plans that have been offered over the last year, including the Simpson-Bowles commission, the Rivlin-Domenici plan, and those ideas being batted around by the “Gang of Six” in the Senate.
The recommendations released include suggestions from Democrats on Appropriations, Armed Services, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, Intelligence, Judiciary, Transportation and Infrastructure, House Administration, and other panels.
In a letter accompanying the recommendations to the super committee’s co-chairs, Pelosi said the House Democratic Caucus remains “firmly committed to a deficit reduction plan that is big, bold, and balanced.” Pelosi wrote that Democrats want an approach focusing on larger savings than the minimum $1.2 trillion that must be reached to avoid painful automatic cuts under the law passed in August creating the special bipartisan deficit committee of 12 lawmakers.
It is uncertain how significant a role the one-party recommendations might play as the committee nears its Nov. 23 deadline for action on a plan for Congress to vote on.
Pelosi also wrote to co-chairs Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, that ranking Democrats on the House committees had sought to work with Republican chairmen to develop bipartisan recommendations.
“In most cases, however, the Republican chairman declined to hold committee hearings or to develop recommendations with Democratic members,” she wrote.
Committee recommendations were due to the panel by Friday, but were not required.
In her letter, Pelosi also urged the committee to hold its future meetings and discussions “in open session.”
And she suggested that it hold a public hearing to take testimony from committee chairs and ranking members, and from members of the Bowles-Simpson commission.
Among the range of specific comments offered by ranking Democrats on committees are:
- Avoid “precipitous” cuts to defense and national security programs;
- Provide the Federal Communications Commission with authority to conduct new spectrum auctions to help create jobs and raise revenue. Some experts estimate that such auctions of new spectrum for commercial mobile broadband use could create 300,000 in new jobs and an additional $230 billion in Gross Domestic Product over five years;
- Impose a “big bank fee” on banks, bank holding companies, insurance companies, securities firms and others with assets greater than $50 billion and hedge funds greater than $10 billion;
- Enact legislation to license, regulate, and tax Internet gambling – estimated in the recommendation to raise revenue of up to $41.8 billion over 10 years. “This measure would also create jobs in gambling and related industries,” the recommendations suggest.
- Reform the National Flood Insurance Program to increase premiums for those currently paying below the actuarial value of the coverage – estimated to generate as much as $4.2 billion over 10 years;
- Increase the royalty rates for oil and gas production – estimated to raise $900 million over 10 years.
Last week, House Republicans released their draft version of the 2012 budget for labor, health and human services, and education, which, if enacted, would slash job training programs, gut key worker protections, and eliminate Pell Grants for 1 million students. The Center for American Progress’ Donna Cooper and Melissa Boteach put together showing that while the budget bill cuts these vital programs, House Republicans insist on protecting special interest tax breaks for oil companies and the wealthy:
[…] With rising discontent about the economic status quo (see: Occupy Wall Street) and a United Nations resolution declaring 2012 the “International Year of the Cooperative,” co-op advocates at last week’s conference were optimistic about what they see as a ripe opportunity to grow their movement—if only people knew about it. They need more public education, from board games to marketing.
“There is not the on-the-street knowledge of the cooperative and its success that there ought to be,” says Charles Gould, director-general of the International Cooperative Alliance and one of the conference’s opening speakers. “As a result, we have people who are very frustrated who simply don’t know there is a potential solution for many of them just around the corner.”
A co-op is a business that’s owned and governed by its customers or employees, as opposed to outside investors. Member-owners have a democratic say in how the company is run, either by direct vote or through elected representatives. Any surplus revenue comes back to them in the form of dividends. The model is associated with the food and agriculture sectors, but the 230 attendees at last week’s conference included representatives from housing, health care, marketing, manufacturing, electric utilities, and financial services.
The United States is home to nearly 30,000 cooperative businesses, which generate more than $500 billion in annual revenue, according to a2009 study by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. Americans hold 350 million memberships in co-ops, which provide more than 2 million jobs and pay out around $79 million annually in refunds and dividends.
The modern co-op movement began in the 1840s outside Manchester, England, in response to the excesses of the Industrial Revolution, Gould says. Consumers and workers felt marginalized by corporations, which had accumulated significant wealth and power. A group called theRochdale Pioneers opened a store that let members pool their buying power to make bulk purchases, helping them avoid the higher-cost, lower-quality goods for sale elsewhere. Worldwide, the number of co-ops steadily multiplied into the early 1900s.
“There was a recognition that it was time for people to stand up for themselves and not let these systems disrupt what they valued in life, and we’re seeing a similar phenomenon today,” says Gould, noting not just the current Wall Street protests but also recent unrest in Europe. “We are back now at a time when there is a reaction against the excesses of capitalism. [It's] an environment that’s similar in so many ways to what we saw in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when co-ops had tremendous growth around the world.”
While co-ops clearly did not win out in the battle with corporations and industrialization, the model addresses many of the frustrations in our current economic system by giving workers and consumers a voice and sharing wealth more equitably. If the co-op movement can get its message in front of the right people, Gould believes that within a decade it could be the fastest-growing type of enterprise.
A recent wave of worker-owned cooperatives is emerging in the service and manufacturing industries. One of the highest profile projects is theEvergreen Cooperatives, a set of worker-owned co-ops in Cleveland that run a laundry service, a solar installation business and an urban farming operation. The United Steelworkers union has announced plans to partner with Spanish industrial co-op Mondragon on setting up worker-owned manufacturing co-ops around the United States and Canada. And workers in 10 cities have organized green cleaning cooperatives, some inspired by Wages, a nonprofit that’s helped set up half a dozen green cleaning co-ops in San Francisco.
Equal Exchange, a co-op coffee, tea and chocolate distributor in Massachusetts, is attempting to encourage co-ops with a new marketing campaign meant to promote local, co-op, and small farmer-produced products on the shelves of food co-ops. “We’re trying to highlight the best of the best products that exist in natural food co-ops,” says project coordinator Scott Patterson.
Products that meet the criteria will be labeled and promoted as “P6″ products, short for Principle Six, a reference to the International Cooperative Alliance’s list of seven co-op principles. (Principle six is “cooperation among cooperatives.”)
The natural and organic food trends have helped the nation’s 330-plus grocery co-ops grow despite the recession. (Last year, the National Cooperative Grocers Association’s members reported $1.3 billion in combined sales.)
“I’ve seen green cleaning co-ops just popping up around the country,” says Melissa Hoover, executive director of the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives.
Growing the co-op economy is the objective of Van Slyke’s Co-Opoly board game. After college, he helped create a new cooperative called the Toolbox for Education and Social Action, which produces custom education materials. It recently raised more than $9,000 in a Kickstarter campaign to mass-produce the “game of skill and solidarity.”
Van Slyke has been on the road with a handmade version of game for a few weeks, promoting it at conferences and workshops. The next stop on his agenda: his local Occupy Wall Street protest, natch.
Center for Budget Priorities:
We previously described the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) as one of the “most effective pieces of anti-poverty legislation in decades,” saying its temporary expansion of the safety net kept 4.5 million people out of poverty in 2009. Actually, the impact was greater than we thought.
We now know that, when one follows recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) on how to measure poverty more comprehensively, seven of ARRA’s provisions kept more than 6 million Americans above the NAS poverty line – that is, out of poverty – in 2009.
You can almost always count on Republican presidential candidates to be united in their opposition to more taxes for the rich. But this time around, the 2012 field is standing lockstep behind a less traditional idea: the middle class pays toolittle in taxes.
Thanks to a strange convergence of conservative ideological trends since President Obama’s election, Republicans now are expected to protest the entire bottom half of taxpayers’ contributions as too stingy even while they proclaim Americans are “Taxed Enough Already.” And they’ve yet to figure out a policy that will satisfy both complaints at once.
In recent months, nearly every major Republican candidate has name-checked a popular statistic that 47% of Americans who file taxes paid no income tax in 2009. Given the GOP’s anti-tax zeal you’d think they’d be celebrating. Nope!
“Right now we know that 53% of Americans pay income taxes and 47% do not,” Michele Bachmann told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday. “I think we definitely need to change the tax code. We need to get more in line. Everybody benefits from this magnificent country. Everybody pay something.”
Not only do statements like Bachmann’s seem to defy past Republican orthodoxy, but the candidates are explicitly making the argument on the same fairness grounds that progressives like Elizabeth Warren have used to demand greater taxes on the rich. The idea isn’t just that tax breaks for the rich trickle down the poor — it’s that they also deserve them more than freeloading Americans. Rick Perry made this moral outrage a key line in his campaign kickoff.
“We’re dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax,” Perry said in his announcement speech. “And you know the liberals out there are saying that we need to pay more.”
Now the 47% number only tells part of the story: most of those “non-payers” pay payroll taxes, gas taxes, state and local taxes, etc. And in an ironic twist, the phenomenon is almost entirely a result of Republicans’ own enthusiasm for tax cuts. In the 1980s and 1990s, GOP lawmakers demanded that any programs aimed at helping poor and middle-income households be structured as refundable tax credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, rather than as direct payments like welfare. President Bush added to the trend by lowering marginal rates across the board. Then Obama structured large chunks of the stimulus as tax breaks in order to garner bipartisan support. The non-payer rate, which had hovered around 20% -- 25% since the 1950s, shot over 30% in 2002 and never looked back.And because the tax credits are refundable, many taxpayers aren’t just paying nothing, they’re actually gaining a net positive on their income tax.
But now that Obama is playing hardball on raising revenue, Republicans are rethinking the idea.
“It’s Republican class warfare,” former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett told TPM. “The Democrats say ‘Oh, the millionaires, we need to tax them’ and so they respond in kind.”
Bartlett’s not opposed to the idea of a broader tax code. But the problem is there’s no obvious way to get there without violating other Republican sacred cows on taxes or running into political territory that few politicians dare to tread.
The first issue is that any Republican proposal can’t raise revenue overall — a principle that’s only become more ironclad in the Tea Party era. The obvious solution then is to raise taxes on the middle class but give the money back to the rich and that’s exactly what two of the Republican presidential candidates have proposed. Jon Huntsman would eliminate all tax breaks without exception and use the money to lower marginal rates — the net effect of which would be amiddle class tax hike.
Huntsman’s idea has largely gone unnoticed amid his campaign struggles, but one of his rivals’ proposals is gaining widespread attention this week: Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. Cain solves the non-payer problem by replacing the tax code with a 9% income tax, business tax, and new national consumption tax, the combination of which would significantly raise taxes on lower income Americans. And that’s assuming it even raises enough revenue to avoid more cuts to entitlements, which is a major question mark.
But conservatives, even those who agree with the principle, aren’t sold on that idea either. A large part of it is because the politics are atrocious. Poll after poll shows widespread support forraising taxes on millionaires and Republicans aren’t likely to fare any better if they pair new taxbreaks for the rich with tax increases on average Americans.
Dean Clancy, Legislative Counsel for Tea Party organizer Freedomworks, seems like the perfect demographic for Cain’s idea on paper. And he’s even sympathetic to the principles behind it on both moral and economic grounds.
“In an ideal system you would not tax businesses at all and you would tax all individuals at the same low rate with no special interest loopholes,” Clancy told TPM on Wednesday. “If you want to help poor people, do it outside the tax code.”
But he’s not on board with Cain and one reason is because American voters aren’t ready for that kind of change.
“It’s politically always hard to do something that raises taxes for some and lowers for others,” he said. “So the consensus is really for cutting taxes and the only way you can do that is by cutting spending.”
The other issue Clancy and other anti-tax conservatives like Grover Norquist cite is Cain’s reliance on a consumption tax to finance government. Until recently, a national sales tax has been largely a Republican idea: Rick Perry even gave it a shout out in his book. But in recent years, Republicans have decided it’s too close to European countries’ Value Added Tax, sparking fears that politicians will use it as a Trojan Horse for socialism.
But if Republicans beyond Cain and Huntsman are unwilling to raise taxes on the bottom half of taxpayers or transition to a consumption tax, their hands are tied. TPM asked both the Romney and Perry campaigns how they’d handle the 47% problem they’ve both derided, but received no response.
In the meantime, left-leaning wonks are only growing more frustrated with the glaring paradox.
“If the Republicans are suggesting that it’s bad that some people are not paying federal income taxes, can they please clarify that they are in fact proposing a tax increase?” Steve Warmhoff of Citizens for Tax Justice told TPM in an e-mail.
Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, despite his promises to the contrary, would almost double the amount middle-class Americans pay in taxes (low-income earners would see their tax burden increase nine-fold.)
There are a number of different components to this, but one of the most glaring elements of 9-9-9 is that it puts a 9 percent federal sales tax on food. That’s on top of whatever other sales tax exists (Alabama and Mississippi, for instance, already apply a full sales tax to groceries). Cain says that this is only fair, because everyone buys groceries. But that ignores the fact that taxing groceries is incredibly regressive. As you can see in this handy chart, poor people have to spend a much higher percentage of their income on food than rich people. Obviously, with more disposable income you can buy fancier varieties of food and do all your shopping at Whole Foods, but there’s a limit even then; it’s not as if Warren Buffett subsists entirely on $1,600 muffins:
Poor Americans spend a lower percentage of their income on food than the rest of the world because poor Americans are pretty well-off, relative to the rest of the world, but the overall trend is pretty obvious. Cain has attempted to argue away the point that 9-9-9 is regressive by noting that under 9-9-9, there would be no tax on used goods. Food isn’t much good once it’s already been used once, though.
[…] But for political reasons, both the Obama administration and Republican leaders in Congress have resisted the only real solution: permanently reducing the mortgage debt hanging over America. The resistance is understandable. Voters don’t want their tax dollars used to help some homeowners who could afford to pay their mortgages but choose not to because they can default instead, and simply walk away. And voters don’t want to provide any more help to the banks that made loans that have gone sour.
But failure to act means that further declines in home prices will continue, preventing the rise in consumer spending needed for recovery. As costly as it will be to permanently write down mortgages, it will be even costlier to do nothing and run the risk of another recession.
House prices are falling because millions of homeowners are defaulting on their mortgages, and the sale of their foreclosed properties is driving down the prices of all homes. Nearly 15 million homeowners owe more than their homes are worth; in this group, about half the mortgages exceed the home value by more than 30 percent.
Most residential mortgages are effectively nonrecourse loans, meaning creditors can eventually take the house if the homeowner defaults, but cannot take other assets or earnings. Individuals with substantial excess mortgage debt therefore have a strong incentive to stop paying; they can often stay in their homes for a year or more before the property is foreclosed and they are forced to move.
The overhang of mortgage debt prevents homeowners from moving to areas where there are better job prospects and from using home equity to finance small business start-ups and expansions. And because their current mortgages exceed the value of their homes, they cannot free up cash by refinancing at low interest rates.
The Obama administration has tried a variety of programs to reduce monthly interest payments. Those programs failed because they didn’t address the real problem: the size of the mortgage exceeds the value of the home.
To halt the fall in house prices, the government should reduce mortgage principal when it exceeds 110 percent of the home value. About 11 million of the nearly 15 million homes that are “underwater” are in this category. If everyone eligible participated, the one-time cost would be under $350 billion. Here’s how such a policy might work:
If the bank or other mortgage holder agrees, the value of the mortgage would be reduced to 110 percent of the home value, with the government absorbing half of the cost of the reduction and the bank absorbing the other half. For the millions of underwater mortgages that are held by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government would just be paying itself. And in exchange for this reduction in principal, the borrower would have to accept that the new mortgage had full recourse — in other words, the government could go after the borrower’s other assets if he defaulted on the home. This would all be voluntary.
This plan is fair because both borrowers and creditors would make sacrifices. The bank would accept the cost of the principal write-down because the resulting loan — with its lower loan-to-value ratio and its full recourse feature — would be much less likely to result in default. The borrowers would accept full recourse to get the mortgage reduction.
Without a program to stop mortgage defaults, there is no way to know how much further house prices might fall. Although house prices in some areas are already very low, potential buyers continue to wait because they anticipate even lower prices in the future.
Before the housing bubble burst in 2006, the level of house prices had risen nearly 60 percent above the long-term price path. So there is no knowing how far prices may fall below the long-term path before they begin to recover.
I cannot agree with those who say we should just let house prices continue to fall until they stop by themselves. Although some forest fires are allowed to burn out naturally, no one lets those fires continue to burn when they threaten residential neighborhoods. The fall in house prices is not just a decline in wealth but a decline that depresses consumer spending, making the economy weaker and the loss of jobs much greater. We all have a stake in preventing that.
Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to corner the education market is not going to go smoothly, it appears. On Thursday, Joel Klein, vice president of Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns Fox News, appeared on a panel discussion about school board governance at Jeb Bush’s Excellence in Education summit in San Francisco. Klein was at the conference in his role as the former long-serving chancellor of the New York City school system. But there was no getting around his current position. Klein was testy when I asked him about the protesters preparing to descend on the hotel to greet his boss on Friday morning, when Murdoch is scheduled to speak. And he didn’t escape his panel discussion without having to face more questions about News Corp.’s education ventures.
During the Q&A session, Steve Begley, a blogger from the K-12 News Network, asked Klein about what Murdoch had in mind for his foray into the education business, which Murdoch has said is a $500 billion market largely untapped by the corporate world. After noting Klein’s $4.5 million annual compensation, Begley asked him what sort of “revenue goals” Murdoch had set for him, and “what kinds of goods and services are you going to sell to meet those goals?” Before he could even finish his question, the panel moderator Chester Finn, from the Fordham Institute, cut him off. He told Begley that he was out of line, and that his question was inappropriate. He demanded that Begley pass the microphone to the person behind him. Begley persisted with his questions, until the audience booed him and a woman came up and asked him to leave. As he was being kicked out, he asked Klein, “Don’t you want to answer the question?” Clearly Klein did not.
Somehow Begley’s ejection seemed appropriate in a session devoted to bashing what Klein called the “small bore” democracy of school boards. But it also highlighted the ongoing problems that Klein is going to encounter as he tries to turn the parent company of Fox News into a player in the education market. Given News Corp.’s recent phone-hacking scandal and Murdoch’s reputation as a tabloid publisher and purveyor of conservative propaganda through Fox News, people in the education world are, not surprisingly, suspicious about his motives.
Begley, for his part, thinks Klein should have answered his questions, because beyond News Corp.’s purchase of Wireless Generation last year, Murdoch and Klein have largely remained mum on their plans for the education sector. “I asked real questions on a real issue,” he said later. As he was shutting him down, Finn told Begley that he could take the matter up with Klein outside the session. Begley tried. But, he says, Klein “took off like a shot.”
It’s not easy figuring out how cities should adapt to future sea-level rise. At the rate we’re heating the planet, many scientists now expect the ice caps to melt enough to hike ocean levels three to four feet by 2100. But then you have to look at how those higher seas interact with potentially fiercer storm surges. And then you have to survey a bunch of cities and guess how fast they’ll expand in the coming decades, to get a sense for just how many people will be at risk.
Tedious work. Fortunately, a new OECD report, put together by a group of climate modelers and risk-management experts, crunches the numbers for us. The report tries to give a sense of which cities will be most vulnerable to coastal flooding in the 2070s — assuming global warming keeps chugging along at its current pace. Here’s a top 20 list:
Things don’t look good for India. But the United States doesn’t get off easy, either. If you look atexposed assets rather than total population, then Miami, New York-Newark, New Orleans and Virginia Beach all climb higher on the list, with $7 trillion in assets vulnerable to severe coastal flooding by 2070. […]
Take Miami. A three-foot sea-level rise, experts have noted, would likely put all of Miami Beach underwater and turn downtown Miami into an island, channeled off from the rest of Florida. Yet the state isn’t doing all that much to prepare for this eventuality. Instead, it’s racing to subsidize new developments along the coasts, through state-run insurance and funding for coastal protection. By contrast, cities such as London and Amsterdam are taking more prudent steps to guard against future flooding — and, as the OECD report notes, are likely to cope with sea-level rise better.
That’s not an isolated case. In general, the United States has been slow in preparing for rising sea levels. In many cases, we’re actively making things worse, as Steve Nash laid out in this excellent article in the New Republic. This is one area in particular where climate-change denial can do a lot of damage — it’s awfully hard to prepare for a problem that no one can agree even exists.
[…] Five years ago, the US government asked Exxon for money to continue the cleanup effort there. In its latest court filing, Exxon appears to be trying to shirk its obligation to pay for additional damages. In its filing to the US District Court in Alaska on September 30, the company argues that the agreement it reached with the government only covers “restoration” work—not additional “clean-up.”
Before we get furter into the details, a quick recap: In 1991, Exxon struck a deal with the government to pay just $900 million in damages over 10 years for cleanup costs. The deal allowed the government to reopen the case, if it could prove that there were remaining problems that had not been adequately addressed. That “reopener” clause only extended until September 2006. So when that date rolled around and there was still evidence of that habitat and species were directly impacted by the spill, the Department of Justice and the State of Alaska filed a claim asking Exxon for an additional $92 million payment.
Exxon has so far rebuffed their claim. In the company’s latest court filing, it argues that the original agreement “makes clear that the parties limited the Reopener to ‘restoration projects,’ that ‘restoration’ is something separate from and in addition to ‘clean-up.’” The agreement, the company argues, “ended Exxon’s further obligations for ‘clean-up’ once and for all.”
House Democrats are taking their outrage with Bank of America’s new debit-card fees straight to the Justice Department.
Several liberal Democratic lawmakers on Thursday demanded an investigation into whether the nation’s largest banks – including Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo – are coordinating efforts to raise fees for consumers, contending that would violate federal antitrust laws.
“There is clearly no problem with banks making independent business decisions based upon the landscape as they see it,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. “Antitrust issues are raised, however, if they are attempting to facilitate group decisions on their prices, terms and conditions”
Though they conceded that they had no specific evidence that banks were colluding, the lawmakers argued that having the Justice Department police the institutions could be enough to ward off rising prices for customers.
“Mr. Attorney General, check it out,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.). “Are the banks just hanging up the consumers and depositors by their ankles and shaking them and just get every little dime out of their pockets as they can?”
Though Bank of America – the nation’s largest bank by deposits – has garnered the most public attention, other major financial institutions are making similar moves. Wells Fargo is testing a $3 monthly charge for debit-card use, while J.P. Morgan Chase is piloting a similar fee.
Bank of America has come under congressional fire in recent days, with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) blasting the institution for its proposed increases and telling customers to leave the bank to protest the new charge.
Durbin has been a target himself by the banks, who blame the senator and his eponymous amendment that capped the amount of swipe fees – which are charges that banks can charge retailers for processing debit cards.
The letter’s signatories include Welch, Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Mike Honda (D-Calif.).
Disgraced Galleon chief executive Raj Rajaratnam was sentenced to 11 years in prison today for orchestrating one of the largest insider trading schemes in history.
Judge Richard Howell gave Rajaratnam a more lenient sentence because of his need for a kidney transplant, Bloombergreported.
The 11 year sentence is the longest insider trading prison sentence in history.
Rajaratnam was also slapped with a $10 million fine.
[...]There has been much speculation over who is financing the disparate protest, which has spread to cities across America and lasted nearly four weeks. One name that keeps coming up is investor George Soros, who in September debuted in the top 10 list of wealthiest Americans. Conservative critics contend the movement is a Trojan horse for a secret Soros agenda.
Soros and the protesters deny any connection. But Reuters did find indirect financial links between Soros and Adbusters, an anti-capitalist group in Canada which started the protests with an inventive marketing campaign aimed at sparking an Arab Spring type uprising against Wall Street. Moreover, Soros and the protesters share some ideological ground.
“I can understand their sentiment,” Soros told reporters last week at the United Nations about the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, which are expected to spur solidarity marches globally on Saturday.
Pressed further for his views on the movement and the protesters, Soros refused to be drawn in. But conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh summed up the speculation when he told his listeners last week, “George Soros money is behind this.”
Soros, 81, is No. 7 on the Forbes 400 list with a fortune of $22 billion, which has ballooned in recent years as he deftly responded to financial market turmoil. He has pledged to give away all his wealth, half of it while he earns it and the rest when he dies.
The protesters say the Wall Street bank bailouts in 2008 left banks enjoying huge profits while average Americans suffered under high unemployment and job insecurity with little help from Washington. They contend that the richest 1 percent of Americans have amassed vast fortunes while being taxed at a lower rate than most people.
The Hungarian-American was an early supporter of the 2008 election campaign of Barack Obama, who will seek a second term as president in the November, 2012, election. He has long backed liberal causes -- the Open Society Institute, the foreign policy think tank Council on Foreign
Relations and Human Rights Watch.
According to disclosure documents from 2007-2009, Soros’ Open Society gave grants of $3.5 million to the Tides Center, a San Francisco-based group that acts almost like a clearing house for other donors, directing their contributions to liberal non-profit groups. Among others the Tides Center has partnered with are the Ford Foundation and the Gates Foundation.
The Vancouver-based group, which publishes a magazine and runs such campaigns as “Digital Detox Week” and “Buy Nothing Day,” says it wants to “change the way corporations wield power” and its goal is “to topple existing power structures.”
Adbusters, whose magazine has a circulation of 120,000 and which is known for its spoofs of popular advertisements, came up with the Occupy Wall Street idea after Arab Spring protests toppled governments in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, said Kalle Lasn, 69, Adbusters co-founder.
“It came out of these brainstorming sessions we have at Adbusters,” Lasn told Reuters, adding they began promoting it online on July 13. “We were inspired by what happened in Tunisia and Egypt and we had this feeling that America was ripe for a Tahrir moment.”
Lasn said Adbusters is 95 percent funded by subscribers paying for the magazine. “George Soros’s ideas are quite good, many of them. I wish he would give Adbusters some money, we sorely need it,” he said. “He’s never given us a penny.”
Other support for Occupy Wall Street has come from online funding website Kickstarter, where more than $75,000 has been pledged, deliveries of food and from cash dropped in a bucket at the park. Liberal film maker Michael Moore has also pledged to donate money.
The protests began in earnest on September 17, triggered by an Adbusters campaign featuring a provocative poster showing aballerina dancing atop the famous bronze bull in New York’s financial district as a crowd of protesters wearing gas masks approach behind her.
Dressed in anarchist black, the battle-ready mob is shrouded in a fog suggestive of tear gas or fires burning. Some are wearing gas masks, others wielding sticks. The poster’s message seems to be a heady combination of sexuality, violence, excitement and adventure.
Former carpenter Robert Daros, 23, saw that poster in a cafe in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Having lost his work as a carpenter after Florida’s speculative construction boom collapsed in a heap of sub-prime mortgage foreclosures, he quit his job as a bartender and traveled to New York City with just a sleeping bag and the hope of joining the protest movement.
Daros was one of the first people to arrive on Wall Street for the so-called occupation on September 17, when protesters marched and tried to camp on Wall Street only to be driven off by police to Zuccotti Park -- two acres of concrete without a blade of grass near the rising One World Trade Center.
“When I was a carpenter, I lost my job because the financier of my project was arrested for corporate fraud,” said Daros, who was wearing a red arm band to show he was helping out in the medic section of the Occupy Wall Street camp.
Since its obscure beginnings, the campaign has drawn global media attention in places as far-flung as Iran and China. The Times of London, however, was not alone when it called the protests “Passionate but Pointless.”
[…] But in this case it looks very much as though there’s no connection at all between Soros and OWS. That makes sense: for one thing, Soros is a creature of Wall Street himself, and for another, he tends to fund well-organized groups with specific goals. Which, clearly, OWS isn’t.
Which is why today’s Reuters story about the connection between Soros and OWS has elicited so much derision around the blogosphere. Beyond allowing us to shoehorn the #ows and #soros hashtags into a single tweet, there’s no real substance to it at all: […]
Yes, there are people — led, it would seem, by Rush Limbaugh — who are loudly speculating that Soros is funding OWS. There might conceivably be a story in their rabble-rousing, which could point out that Soros’s agenda is hardly secret — it’s right there on his website for all to see.
Email from Jim Messina:
Here’s what you should know about what we’ll report to the FEC tomorrow:
-- In the third fundraising quarter of this year, 606,027 people donated to this campaign — even more than gave in the record-breaking previous quarter.
-- Those people gave more than 766,000 total donations — 98 percent of them $250 or less, at an average amount of $56. That’s more than twice as many donations than we had at this point in the historic 2008 campaign.
-- We are focused on building infrastructure that will help us win in 2012. And each quarter we set a combined goal for the campaign and our allies at the Democratic National Committee. We far exceeded our goal of $55 million this quarter between the two organizations. Great work.
-- Together, Obama for America and the DNC raised more than $70 million. And it all happened during a summer when the President was focused on doing the job he was elected to do — a summer when we had to cancel a series of fundraising events and ask everyone to dig a little deeper.
If I could sum up this last quarter in a few words: You came through. Thank you.
Here’s even bigger news: Right now, 982,967 people have donated to this campaign. We’re within striking distance of 1 million donors…
Part of the reason we send you all these emails is that we don’t accept any money from special-interest groups or Washington lobbyists.
So getting to a million grassroots donors isn’t just a huge accomplishment this early in the campaign. It’s our answer to our opponents, the press, and anyone who wants to know whether the President’s supporters have his back.
The reality is that on top of the hundreds of thousands of supporters from 2008 who decided to make another donation, 257,635 people made their first donation ever to the Obama organization -- continuing the record pace you all set in the previous quarter.
That support translates directly to what we can do on the ground. In the past three months we’ve grown our organizing staff by 50 percent, and opened up three new field offices every week. Thousands of volunteers and organizers made 3 million phone calls and in-person visits to voters.
That’s all because you decided to be part of this.
[…] As I reported last month, the rules of the electoral college provide Republicans with an opportunity to undermine Obama’s reelection plans. In the presidential election, each state is worth a number of electoral votes equal to the size of the state’s congressional delegation. Each determines how its electoral votes are allocated, and all but two states use a winner-take-all system in which the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of its electoral votes. Under the Republicans’ plan for Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the states would change from this system to one in which each congressional district gets its own electoral vote. (Two electoral votes—one for each of the state’s two senators—would go to the statewide winner.)
As in Pennsylvania, the GOP controls both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature plus the governor’s mansion—the so-called “redistricting trifecta.” Congressional district maps are adjusted after every census, and the last one was completed in 2010. In states where they control the trifecta, Republicans will get to draw the boundaries of the congressional districts without any input from Democrats. Pennsylvania is likely to have 12 safe GOP seats compared to just 6 safe Democratic seats; Wisconsin is expected to have a 5-3 R-D split.
Under the Republican plan, if the GOP presidential nominee carries the GOP-leaning districts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin but Obama wins both states, the GOP nominee would get 17 electoral votes. Obama would only get 11—9 for winning the blue districts, and 4 (representing each state’s two senators) for winning the two states. Obama would lose 17 electoral votes relative to the winner-take-all baseline—a larger effect than flipping Michigan, which has 16 electoral votes—from blue to red.
In Wisconsin, the electoral college change is being pushed by Rep. Dan LeMahieu, whose office told Slate’s Dave Weigel that his bill has two cosponsors so far. The state’s Democrats are wise to LeMahieu’s plan—Kelda Roys, the chair of the Assembly Democratic Caucus, sent an email to her colleagues slamming the bill soon after LeMahieu started looking for cosponsors—but that doesn’t mean it’s doomed. Unlike the Pennsylvania Republicans, Wisconsin’s GOPers have been remarkably good at sticking together on tough votes (like Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial, union-busting “budget repair” bill). They hold a one-vote majority in the state Senate—not a lot, but enough to win in a pinch.
[UPDATE, 6:20pm EST Wednesday: The Wisconsin Democratic party has just issued a statement alleging that LeMahieu's bill was "written by a Koch Brothers corporate front group." They probably mean the American Legislative Exchange Council, but there's no publicly available evidence at this point (other than similar bills cropping up in two different states) that ALEC is involved. Here's the Dems' full statement:
MADISON—Following is the statement of Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate in response to the Republican plot to split Wisconsin's electoral votes.
"The plot to split Wisconsin's electoral votes, written by a Koch Brothers corporate front group, is another bald-faced power grab by Scott Walker's Republican Party. They have sought to suppress votes and bring Jim Crow to the North, they have shut down hearings to the public, they have prevented elected representatives from making votes, they have disregarded the norms and traditions of our Legislature, they have run phony candidates, they have forged signatures, they have coordinated illegally with the corporations that fund them and now this.
Splitting Wisconsin's electoral votes is part of a Tea Party fantasy that seeks power above all. This is offensive to Wisconsin's traditions and it must be denounced."
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.]
Carolyn Fiddler, the communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which works to elect Dems in state-level races, thinks LeMahieu’s bill is a sign that Republicans haven’t learned the lessons of this summer’s recall elections, which ousted two Republican state senators. “Just when we thought the Democratic successes in the Wisconsin recalls put the brakes on extreme Republican power grabs there, a GOPer proves us wrong,” she says.
Nebraska and Maine already have the system that the Wisconsin is trying to implement, but as I explained last month, the two states’ small electoral vote values mean it’s mathematically impossible for a candidate to win the popular vote there but lose the electoral vote. (It’s theoretically possible in Wisconsin, but unlikely; if the bill passed, the worst Obama could probably do there is an electoral college split.)
The GOP going this direction wasn’t entirely unexpected. Weigel calls it “inevitable,” and I predicted it might happen:
It doesn’t necessarily end there. After their epic sweep of state legislative and gubernatorial races in 2010, Republicans also have total political control of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, three other big states that traditionally go Democratic and went for Obama in 2008. Implementing a Pennsylvania-style system in those three places—in Ohio, for example, Democrats anticipate controlling just 4 or 5 of the state’s 16 congressional districts—could offset Obama wins in states where he has expanded the electoral map, like Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina, or Virginia. “If all these Rust Belt folks get together and make this happen, that could be really dramatic,” says Carolyn Fiddler, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), which coordinates state political races for the Dems.
Democrats would not be able to retaliate. The only states that John McCain won where Dems control both houses of the state legislature are Arkansas and West Virginia. West Virginia is too small for splitting the electoral votes to have much effect. That leaves Arkansas, another small state—and one where McCain won every district handily in 2008.
What the GOP is trying may be odd, but it’s not illegal or unconstitutional:
“The Constitution is pretty silent on how the electors are chosen in each state,” says Karl Manheim, a law professor at Loyola University in Los Angeles. The GOP plan “would certainly increase the political advantage of politically gerrymandering your districts,” he adds.
[…] Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., recently announced that he is cosponsoring a bill that would drastically cut public sector jobs. S. 1611, or the “Reducing the Size of the Federal Government Through Attrition Act,” wouldreduce the federal workforce by 10 percent by 2015.
According to a press release from Rubio’s office, the bill “would save approximately $139 billion over ten years.”
The bill is one example in a long line of legislation introduced by conservative policymakers in Congress this year aimed at making a political statement about the role of the federal government. Rubio himself has introduced S.726, the “Decrease Spending Now Act,” which has similar aims. The bill would impose deeper cuts to public sector jobs around the country. Public sector jobs, in particular, are already in sharp decline.
Since the federal workforce is 4.4 million people, Rubio’s bill would leave 440,000 Americans out of work at a time when unemployment is still about 9 percent nationally. Although the title of the bill misleadingly suggests that the elimination of 10 percent of the federal workforce would occur “through attrition,” the language of the bill, and its short timeline, make it clear that Rubio has mass layoffs in mind.
The bill assigns the dirty work of actually firing people to the president, mandating, “The President, through the Office of Management and Budget… shall take appropriate measures to ensure that, effective beginning in fiscal year 2015, the total number of Federal employees…shall not exceed 90 percent of the total number of Federal employees as of September 30, 2011 (as so determined).” To accomplish such a drastic reduction in just four years would necessarily require massive layoffs.
Real Clear Politics:
So let’s see: The solution to large-scale abuses of the financial system, a breakdown of the private sector, extreme economic inequality and the failure of companies and individuals to invest and create jobs is — well, to give even more money and power to very wealthy people, to disable government and to trust those who got us into the mess to get us out of it.
That’s a brief summary of the news from the Republican Party this week. It’s what Republican candidates said during the Washington Post-Bloomberg debate, and it’s the signal Senate Republicans sent in voting as a bloc against President Obama’s jobs bill. Don’t just do something, stand there.
Those who have plenty of capital to invest are holding back because consumers don’t have enough cash. But let’s not give potential middle-class buyers jobs and money to spend. No, let’s heap yet more resources onto investors. And if sharp guys made fortunes writing abusive mortgages, let’s repeal all the rules we just passed to prevent them from doing the same thing again.
Better yet, don’t blame the people who got the windfalls. Blame poor people. Thus did Rep. Michele Bachmann place responsibility for the mortgage mess on the Community Reinvestment Act, a law aimed at preventing discrimination against people in neighborhoods, many of them predominantly African-American, where banks wouldn’t make loans. The CRA had nothing to do with the proliferation of subprime mortgages; old-fashioned greed did the trick there. But it’s so much easier to pass the buck to the powerless. They don’t make many campaign contributions.
Despite nonstop GOP and conservative disparagement of the Wall Street protests, the most detailed polling yet on Occupy Wall Street suggests that the public holds a broadly favorable view of the movement — and, crucially, the positions it holds.
Time released a new poll this morning finding that 54 percent view the Wall Street protests favorably, versus only 23 percent who think the opposite. Interestingly, only 23 percent say they don’t have an opinion, suggesting the protests have succeeded in punching through to the mainstream. Also: The most populist positions espoused by Occupy Wall Street — that the gap between rich and poor has grown too large; that taxes should be raised on the rich; that execs responsible for the meltdown should be prosecuted — all have strong support.
Meanwhile, the poll found that only 27 percent have a favorable view of the Tea Party. My handy Plum Line calculator tells me that this amounts to half the number of those who view Occupy Wall Street favorably.
In fairness, the Tea Party has been in existence since before the 2010 elections, and even has had a seat at the governing table during the debt ceiling and government shutdown debacles, which clearly took their toll on the Tea Party’s image. Occupy Wall Street is just getting started. But it does seem clear that a confluence of events — the protests, Obama’s jobs push, Elizabeth Warren’s Senate candidacy, and the national backlash from the right all these things have provoked — are pushing populist issues such as fair taxation and income inequality to the forefront of the national conversation.
It turns out we don’t live in Tea Party Nation, after all.
Why Dems are making an issue out of the Tea Party: The above poll also finds that a plurality of Americans, 40 percent, say the Tea Party has had a negative impact on our politics, which helps explain why Dem messaging chief Chuch Schumer is debuting terms like “Tea Party economics” and “Tea Party gridlock.”
The Dem strategy of using the Tea Party to paint the GOP as hostage to extremists failed miserably in 2010. But Dems are hoping things will be different this time, now that the public has gotten to see what happens when the Tea Party has a hand in governing.
* The public really likes the Obama jobs policies that the GOP blocked: The internals of the NBC/WSJ poll are now up online. Check out this bit:
The jobs bill would cut the payroll tax rate, fund new road construction, continue to extend unemployment benefits, and give tax credits to companies who hire and train long-term unemployed workers. The plan would be paid for by increasing taxes on the wealthy and increasing taxes on businesses by closing some corporate tax loopholes. Do you favor or oppose this plan?
If you want to know why the White House and Dems will continue pushing for votes on the jobs bill’s provisions, despite the near-certainty that Republicans will continue opposing them, there’s your answer.
Relatedly, as Steve Benen notes, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Obama and the White House are convinced they have a winning message on jobs and have no intention of letting up.
* Dems to hold more jobs votes next month: Dem leaders seem set to deal with appropriations matters in the near term before holding votes on individual provisions in the jobs bill during the first week of November.
Also in the above link: Rosalind Helderman pushes “moderate” Dems to explain their opposition to the jobs bill, and the answer she gets aren’t terribly convincing.
* “Moderate” Dems undermine Obama’s jobs push: Relatedly, Steve Kornacki on how “moderate” Senate Dems who balked at Obama’s jobs plan are undermining Obama’s effort to cast the GOP as the sole obstacle to progress on the economy.
The key here, again, is that these “moderates” and “centrists” are not willing to support an economic solution that is by any reasonable measure moderate and centrist.
* The right’s attacks on Occupy Wall Street fall on deaf ears:Echoing the above Time polll, the new Reuters poll finds that a plurality views them favorably, including a plurality of independents. Republicans are the only group who views them unfavorably.
Also: A very large majority is aware of them, again suggesting the protests have succeeded in punching through to the broader public.
And animosity towards Wall Street runs deep:Relatedly, Jon Cohen has an interesting look at Post polling that reveals the deep animosity towards the nation’s financial institutions that’s powering the protests. Yes, animosity towards government is running high, too, but for some reason, the latter, far more than the former, is the focus of the conversation in Washington.
The latest Time poll finds that by a 48% to 37% margin, respondents consider President Obama better at his job than his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Cain Leads Romney in Florida
A new American Research Group poll in Florida finds Herman Cain leading the Republican presidential race with 34%, followed by Mitt Romney at 28% and Newt Gingrich at 11%. Rick Perry is way back at just 5%.
Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots have been catching flak for being so white. Occupy Atlanta is no exception, getting off to a rough start last Friday when civil rights movement hero-turned-Congressman John Lewis stopped by to offer his support, only to be waved off by the mostly white general assembly, which is the Occupy movement’s collective decision-making group.
Congressman Lewis was extremely gracious. Others, less so.
In a town that is majority black, Occupy Atlanta moved quickly to make amends. The occupiers renamed their campsite Troy Davis Park on Sunday, in honor of what would have been Troy Davis’s 43rd birthday. Theyapologized, explaining that the democratic process of ordering speakers is crucial to the movement. They extended an invitation to John Lewis to return.
Getting it right about race is important for the Occupy movement everywhere, but especially here in Georgia, where there is nothing subtle about the relationship between race, corporations and the government. Georgia’s government was created by and for plantation farmers, the original 1 percent, running antebellum corporations. And that 1 percent has been using everything in its power, most notably the criminal justice system, to hold on to its centuries-old gains.
Occupy Atlanta is still braving the elements today in Woodruff Park, a green space in the middle of downtown Atlanta. Many in and around the Occupy movement have been asking how we can talk about corporate control of government, economics and race all in the same breath. Considering the history of Woodruff Park, we have to wonder how we can talk about it any other way. Here, I offer a crucial primer for the full history of this occupied space.
Occupied Atlanta, 1865
A month after the end of the Civil War, a train carrying Jefferson Davis pulled into the Atlanta depot two blocks from where Occupy Atlanta has pitched its tents. The president of the Confederate States of America had been caught in south Georgia as he tried to flee. The train stopped in Atlanta to pick up coal on its way to Virginia, where he would await trial for treason.
When the Georgia Legislature convened later that year, it dutifully ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, as it was required to do to reenter the Union. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery, but with an enormous loophole. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, it read, shall exist in the United States, except as punishment for crime.
With the Amendment ratified, the all-white Georgia Legislature turned around and passed the Black Codes, effectively reinstating slavery inGeorgia. The Codes required former slaves to enter into labor contracts, with wages to be paid by the master totaling—after deductions for food, shelter and penalties for days not worked—two cents an hour. That’s how Georgia’s antebellum 1 percent had rolled before the war, and that’s how they wanted to roll after it. The only industry had been cotton, so the Black Codes were written to keep freedmen working the same fields they had worked as slaves.
Many were trapped by the Black Codes, but not everyone. Atlanta was the destination for the men and women who walked off their plantations in south Georgia in defiance of the Black Codes and came to the city to live as free people. They gathered in downtown Atlanta—on the streets of what is now Woodruff Park—to look for work and to build a new life. They were confronted by a new vagrancy law; the enforcement of the Black Codes that made it illegal to “wander or stroll about in idleness” without a labor contract.
When the threat of arrest was not enough to drive black men and women back to the plantations, the real arrests began. Joseph Brown was arrested on Decatur Street in 1868, one of hundreds. Rather than picking cotton under a labor contract, he was in Atlanta without work. The charge: vagrancy.
Mr. Brown and other freedmen who were sentenced as vagrants were not sent to prison. Georgia’s prison had been burned during the war, and there was no money to rebuild. Rather, they were leased out to plantation owners, railroad companies and coal mines. Georgia’s first lease-off in 1868 was to a railroad company: $2,500 bought 100 black men, arrested for vagrancy or loitering and forced to work not as slaves but as convicts.
This was the start of the modern criminal justice system. It was started, you might say, right here where Occupy Atlanta will be sleeping tonight, in Woodruff Park, by the post-Civil War plantation owners intent on keeping the work of black men and women cheap and available.
By the time the practice of leasing out people convicted of crimes to private parties was abolished (by the Georgia Legislature, in 1908), convict leasing had turned the primary function of the South’s judicial system into the maintenance of white control over black labor.
Occupied Atlanta, 1906
In 1906, Decatur Street, where Mr. Brown had been arrested 38 years earlier, was now lined with saloons, hotels, a buggy repair shop and the post office.
In Spring of that year, the Chief of Police in Atlanta launched a campaign to rid the city of black men. He committed a full squad of officers to “arrest all loafers” and close down the “Negro dives” that lined Decatur Street in downtown Atlanta. The chief told City Council that in order to arrest and prosecute all the vagrants, he would need 50 additional policemen.
The police arrested dozens of black men through the summer, but were not satisfied. The chief of police stepped up the campaign in August. “Vagrant Negroes fill streets and saloons at all hours of day,” read the Aug. 25 headline in the Atlanta Constitution. “Difficult to convict loafers of vagrancy after they are arrested.” The editorial page the next day urged support for police efforts to “drive out the vagrants.” And to clarify why, the next day: “For protection of white women.”
The police campaign against “vagrants” in the “Negro dives” on Decatur Street, packaged as a way to reduce crime, was concerned only with black men and had little to do with actual violence or criminal activity.
On Sept. 3, for example, a white man stabbed another man to death in one of the white saloons on Decatur Street. Tommy Lucas’ escape was so leisurely that the newspapers were able to report his name, which morning train he took to Chattanooga, what he packed for the trip, and where he would be staying once he arrived in Chattanooga. There is no record of his arrest.
Pressure to “arrest and lock up all the negroes who were idling about the city” intensified. By the third week in September, coverage about the police campaign against “vagrants” and “negro dives” merged into sensational stories about white women around the city fending off sexual attacks by black men. Four such allegations turned into front page headlines in that week in September. On Saturday night, thousands of white men gathered in Five Points, sent there by the newspapers exhorting “good white men” to band together and take action to protect their women from “black beasts” and “animals.”
By the time the sun set, over 5,000 white men were milling around Five Points. They were stomping their feet on the ground where Occupy Atlanta’s general assemblies sit. Their numbers doubled over the next two hours, men armed with rifles, pistols, long knives and clubs. Theywere ready to kill.
And kill they did. Groups of 20, 30, 100 burst forward in a sprinting chase whenever a black man or boy appeared. A footrace up Peachtree Street, another down Decatur Street, another across a bridge flying over the railroad tracks. Three bodies were dumped in a pile at the foot of the statue of Henry Grady on Marietta Street. A black man was strung up on a lamppost along Peachtree. The white mobs raged through the night, quieting in the early morning.
The governor called in the state militia, but rather than protecting black families from white violence, militiamen mostly stood at the ready to defend whites from retaliatory violence. No retaliation came. A second mob, smaller than the first, gathered at the corner of Marietta and Peachtree Streets—the southwest corner of what is now Woodruff Park. Whites ventured out in groups, more leisurely now, to look for another black man or woman to kill or maim.
Over three days, 25 black Atlantans were killed, maybe more. Another 50 or more had injuries serious enough to brave the streets to get to Grady Hospital. There is neither memorial nor mention of the dead among the commemorations in Woodruff Park.
Occupied Atlanta, 1960
Half a century later, the streets here around Woodruff Park had been scrubbed clean of any reminder of the race riot. Where the saloons had been were now office buildings—some modern steel frame, some red brick.
On Feb. 1, 1960, four black students in Greensboro, N.C., sat down at a Woolworth lunch counter and waited to be served. The police came, but could not arrest the students because they were not breaking any law. The next day, the students returned and again sat quietly at the Woolworth lunch counter. The media picked up the story, and the sit-ins spread. On Feb. 13, 500 students in Nashville sat-in at lunch counters across the city.
The Georgia Legislature responded with astonishing speed, passing a new trespassing law four days later—should the sit-ins spread to Atlanta, they wanted a law that would let the police make arrests. A small law would do. Cast in the same mold as the early-century vagrancy laws, the new trespass law made it a crime to remain on the premises after being asked to leave.
The fears of Georgia’s lawmakers were well-founded. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) held its first conference at the Atlanta University Center Oct. 14-16 of that year, and resolved to take direct action to desegregate Atlanta’s lunch counters. Three days after the close of the conference, Atlanta students staged mass demonstrations and sit-ins at the Rich’s Department Store in downtown Five Points and other counters across the city. Two blocks south of Woodruff Park, where Occupiers will sleep tonight, black students trained in nonviolent direct action took an elevator up to Rich’s 6th floor Magnolia Room, or down to the Cockrel Grill in the basement, then sat down and waited to be served.
The police came and used the new trespassing law to arrest 51 people, including Martin Luther King, Jr. In pleading innocent that afternoon, King announced that he would “sit in jail 10 years if necessary” rather than post the $500 bond.
The next day, the sit-ins and pickets expanded to 16 other downtown eateries. Twenty-six more protesters were arrested, this time on loafing and disturbing the peace charges. They were sentenced to 20 days in the city prison farm. The students insisted on staying in jail; the mayor insisted that they be released. The mayor got his way, but the students won the day.
Occupied Atlanta, 1996
Atlanta changed. Rich’s downtown became Macy’s. A slain King made a final journey through the streets of Atlanta in a wooden farm wagon drawn by two mules, before being laid to rest in South View Cemetery. The students who had been arrested for trespassing became fathers, nurses, elected officials.
Then in 1996, the Olympics came to Atlanta. The city built a new jail in record time; it was the first facility completed for the Games. The city also closed down Woodruff Park and renovated it. The city took its time—it was their best chance to move out the homeless men and women who slept in the park—and when the park was reopened, it had been landscaped with a wide open slope to make it easier for police to keep it clear of the visibly poor.
Should the Atlanta Police decide to evict Occupy Atlanta from Woodruff Park, they will likely use one of the ordinances banning overnight sleeping or camping on public space, passed before and immediately after the 1996 Olympics.
Officials with the Atlanta Olympic Committee insisted the police were not used to clear poor black people out of downtown Atlanta for the Games. Yet, the visibly poor—nearly all black—disappeared from Woodruff Park for the duration of the Games. The county jail’s population shot up from 2,200 to 4,500 before and during the Olympics. Officials insisted: just a coincidence.
Occupied Atlanta, 2011
Five days before the execution of Troy Davis, thousands of Atlantans gathered at Woodruff Park to march to Ebenezer Baptist Church for a part-vigil, part-protest that recalled the civil rights movement’s most raucous mass meetings. The protest was majority—an overwhelming majority, if you include those already seated in Ebenezer Church—African American. The State of Georgia was not moved, and killed Troy Davis by lethal injection.
Occupy Atlanta is majority—at times an overwhelming majority—white. It is trying to figure out how to do right by race.
But being anti-racist in this place—that is, in Woodruff Park, in Atlanta, in Georgia, in the South—is not mainly about getting more people of color to pitch a tent and sleep out there. Truth be told, I’m kind of OK with having mostly white people sleeping out there, because when the junta that runs downtown Atlanta decides it has had enough and people get carted off to jail, there’s no need to have more black or brown people in the Atlanta City Detention Center.
Being anti-racist is, if you are going to set up camp and take Five Points as your center point, acknowledging that the corporate forces at play around there are totally about race. This is true currently, and it is true historically—no surprise. When Occupy Wall Street declared, “We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments,” that was old news here, friends. The plantation owners have always run Georgia’s government.
But they have not always run the street. In 1960, the students won. Was it because they were one sit-in among dozens of sit-ins happening around the country, much like Occupy Atlanta is one of dozens? Was it because they had both strong process and direct action? Was it because they confronted the criminal justice system head on, demanding to be arrested and refusing to post bail? Maybe, maybe, maybe.
Now that John Lewis has been invited back, maybe he will sit down and give some insight. He wasn’t just a good soldier in the Movement. He was, in my unbiased-notwithstanding-lifelong-crush-on-John-Lewis opinion, the catalyst that turned a series of actions into this country’s greatest freedom movement.
So I am suggesting that, in addition to questions of logistics and process during Occupy Atlanta’s committee meetings and larger assemblies, the questions of why and how race and racism figure into this fight are, I think, worth trying to think through and understand together. Because this is Georgia, after all. And because what happens in Woodruff Park Troy Davis Park in 2011 is being written now.
Kung Li is a human rights attorney and lifelong Southerner living in East Point, Georgia. This essay was originally written as an open letter to Occupy Atlanta.
RH Reality Check:
House Republicans will be introducing the so called “Protect Life Act,” a sort of supersized anti-choice bill designed to add restrictions to coverage of abortions in the health care exchange that would be so onerous it could cause insurance companies to stop covering the procedure, even in private insurance plans, allow hospitals to refuse to provide abortions if they receive Medicaid and Medicare funding, even if the procedure would save a woman’s life, and would permanently enshrine the Hyde Amendment banning federal funding of abortions.
Should the bill pass, however, the White House has just released a statement saying they would veto it.
From the White House:
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 358 because, as previously stated in the Statement of Administration Policy on H.R. 3, the legislation intrudes on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care and unnecessarily restricts the private insurance choices that women and their families have today.
Longstanding Federal policy prohibits Federal funds from being used for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered. The Affordable Care Act preserved this prohibition and included policies to ensure that Federal funding is segregated from any private dollars used to fund abortions for which Federal funding is prohibited. The President’s Executive Order 13535 reinforces that Federal funding cannot be used for abortions (except in cases of rape or incest, or when the life of the woman would be endangered) and ensures proper enforcement of this policy. H.R. 358 goes well beyond the safeguards found in current law and reinforced in the President’s Executive Order by restricting women’s private insurance choices.
The House is set to vote today on the Protect Life Act, a bill that would bar women from using the health reform law’s insurance subsidies to buy plans that cover abortion. But today’s vote is also a bit of a distraction. It will likely pass the House but is pretty much dead on arrival in the Senate. If you really want to know what the future of insurance coverage for abortion looks like, you should be keeping an eye on the states: many are taking aggressive steps to vastly restrict private insurance coverage for abortions.
Prior to the health reform debate, there wasn’t much debate about whether private insurance plans should cover abortions. It was so little discussed that data on how many plans offer coverage is relatively sparse, although one Kaiser Family Foundation study from 2002 says 87 percent do pay for the procedure (anti-abortion groups have, however, protested this number.)
But ever since the reform law passed, it’s been a hot-button issue. This legislative session alone, 24 states considered laws that would restrict insurance coverage for abortion. Thirteen of those laws passed. Eight bar any private insurance plan from covering abortion, while the rest only apply to plans purchased on the exchanges, the new health insurance marketplaces that will launch in 2014.
That’s a really big shift from just two years ago, when only five states barred private insurance plans from covering abortion. Here’s what the map looks like post-health reform, courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union (larger version here):
Elizabeth Nash tracks state-level abortion restrictions for the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, and says a shift of this magnitude is “very rare.”
“This is an issue that anti-choice activists have taken and run with,” she says. “They were encouraged by the health reform law, moved forward with full force and have been very successful.”
Planned Parenthood’s Rachel Sussman adds, “It’s a massive shift. The health reform debte was certainly a trigger point. Individuals opposed to abortion moved aggressively and really took the opportunity…to further attack access to reproductive health.”
Restricting private insurance coverage has been a top agenda item for anti-abortion advocates in the wake of the health reform law. Americans United for Life, the country’s oldest anti-abortion group, calls these bans the “cornerstone” of its push against health reform. At the National Right to Life state strategy conference I attended earlier this year, President David O’Steen counted bans on private coverage for insurance among his group’s top three priorities.
Americans United for Life president Charmaine Yoest says her group is working on a “two-pronged approach.”
“The vote today on Capitol Hill is important, but it is not the only game going on,” she says. “Many victories have been accumulated at the state level.”
The ACLU has attempted to push back against these bans in the courts but, so far, with little success. Last month the group filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, asking a judge to block Kansas’ new law barring abortion coverage on the health insurance exchange. The judge declined to do so, arguing that the group has failed to show that the law “actually has the effect of creating a substantial obstacle to obtaining abortions.” The judge didn’t rule on the merits, but rather indicated that the group would have to come back when they actually had proof of the law standing in the way of abortion access.
For now, these laws still stand. And, even though they don’t get as much attention, they’re much more likely to have an impact on access to abortion than any vote the House takes on the issue.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Since the occupation of Wall Street began on Sept. 17, additional protest actions have sprung up across the country. The protests found their inspiration in the outbreak of protests in the Arab world known as the Arab Spring.
On Saturday, global activists in 719 cities in 71 countries are planning protests in the same spirit as the American 99 Percent Movement and the Middle East’s Arab Spring. The demonstrations aim to bolster local democracy and to protest the tight concentration of economic and political power by a global elite. Although the protests will all be coordinated for Saturday, the various causes and demands will vary by the region the demonstrations are occurring in. As organizers are explaining, the solutions being proposed will be both global and local.
The YouTube account united15october made a video charting out the protest movements that are rocking the world this year and calling for people to join demonstrations this Saturday. Watch it:
Late last month, the New York Times chronicled the rise in global protest movements, saying they are arising because citizens are losing faith in the ability of the ballot box alone to bring about change. “The political system has abandoned its citizens,” explained one Israeli social justice protester to the Times. “We have lost a sense of responsibility for one another.”
You can use the Oct. 15 United For Global Change website to find an action near you. Activists will be using the hashtags #15O, #globalrevolution, #globalchange, and #unitedforchange on Twitter to organize the protests as well.
Occupy Sukkot Across the Country
A coordinated Republican effort to suppress the Democratic vote and skew the outcome of the 2012 elections is under way.
More than 5 million voters could be affected in states including Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Nevada, Virginia and California – more votes than decided the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. No surprise, the legislation heavily targets young, poor and African American voters – who disproportionately support Democrats.
We need 150,000 people to join our 2012 Election Protection Project and stand against these undemocratic tactics. Republicans need to know that we’re onto them, we’re fighting back, and we WILL NOT allow them to manipulate their way to victory in the 2012 elections.
PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION
New York Times: “Beck is charg[ing] his fans a monthly subscription for his daily talk show online…To power GBTV, Mr. Beck’s company has teamed with MLB Advanced Media, the interactive arm of Major League Baseball, which streams hundreds of games to online users each year.”
As the MLB Playoffs Heat Up, Americans United for Change Launches StrikeOutBeck.com Online Activism Campaign Asking Baseball to Bench Beck Now
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. ~~
John F. Kennedy