SPOOKY EDITION. You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.



In case you missed this: Bank of America scaling back debit card fees

(Reuters) – Bank of America Corp, after receiving heavy public criticism for a planned $5-per-month debit card fee, is likely to give customers more ways to avoid the fee, a person familiar with the bank’s plans said Friday.

The second-biggest U.S. bank is reworking its plans as rivals Wells Fargo & Co and JPMorgan Chase & Co have decided not to charge monthly fees, ending test programs in certain states.



AP Debunks GOP Zombie Lie

One out of every $10 in transportation aid is not spent on wasteful projects, as Republicans have been saying.

The Empty [Haunted?] Homes of the Super Rich


Earlier this year, Larry Ellison added to his vast stable of homes when he bought Porcupine Creek – the 250-acre estate near Palm Springs with its own 19-hole golf course. He paid $43 million. And yet, according to people who work there, he visits only occasionally and uses it mainly for corporate entertainment and charity events.

How is it possible that someone can buy a $43 million house and not live there?

The question is even more intriguing when you consider the Ambani family in India.  According to articles in the Financial Timesand the New York Times, Mukesh Ambani – India’s richest man – still hasn’t moved into his 27-story palace.

The family hosts parties there and shows movies in its private theater. But they continue to sleep at their nearby 14-story apartment tower.

Friends aren’t sure why the family isn’t staying there, though it may have to do with the building’s poor adherence to “Vastu Shastra principals,” a kind of Indian fen shui. Apparently “Ambani’s stars, according to his horoscope, and the residence’s vastu are clashing,” according to Mumbai DNA.  there is also negative energy coming from the western side of the home.

Another possible reason is widespread criticism of the home’s ostentation ( with its three helipads, floating gardens, ballroom, theater and 6,00o gallons of water use every day) in a country where the average income is just over $1,000 a year.

But wouldn’t NOT living in the house be the ultimate show of extravagance?

The real reason may become apparent in time. For now, however, the fact remains that the super-rich often own homes they rarely visit – let alone live in. And that doesn’t just go for vacation homes in Palm Springs.

Billionaire hedge-funder Phil Falcone had two homes on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  The now-divorced Frank and Jamie McCourt had four homes near Los Angeles — two in Holmby Hills and two in Malibu.

Why do they do it? That’s as much an answer for psychologists and economists and realtors. The main reason is probably simple: because they can.

Why do you think the rich buy homes they don’t live in and rarely visit?

Zombie class warfare, circe 2010

The Reformed Broker:

This hideous little piece of class warfare is supposedly making the rounds on Wall Street today.  Its Us-Vs-Them theme is sickening.  The lobbies of JPMorgan and several other banks were flooded with protesters downtown yesterday, I’m guessing that this was written by a frustrated Wall Streeter in response to the populist uprising.

Here goes:

“We are Wall Street. It’s our job to make money. Whether it’s a commodity, stock, bond, or some hypothetical piece of fake paper, it doesn’t matter. We would trade baseball cards if it were profitable. I didn’t hear America complaining when the market was roaring to 14,000 and everyone’s 401k doubled every 3 years. Just like gambling, its not a problem until you lose. I’ve never heard of anyone going to Gamblers Anonymous because they won too much in Vegas.

Well now the market crapped out, & even though it has come back somewhat, the government and the average Joes are still looking for a scapegoat. God knows there has to be one for everything. Well, here we are.

Go ahead and continue to take us down, but you’re only going to hurt yourselves. What’s going to happen when we can’t find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We’re going to take yours. We get up at 5am & work till 10pm or later. We’re used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don’t take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don’t demand a union. We don’t retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we’ll eat that.

For years teachers and other unionized labor have had us fooled. We were too busy working to notice. Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? We’re going to take your cushy jobs with tenure and 4 months off a year and whine just like you that we are so-o-o-o underpaid for building the youth of America. Say goodbye to your overtime and double time and a half. I’ll be hitting grounders to the high school baseball team for $5k extra a summer, thank you very much.

So now that we’re going to be making $85k a year without upside, Joe Mainstreet is going to have his revenge, right? Wrong! Guess what: we’re going to stop buying the new 80k car, we aren’t going to leave the 35 percent tip at our business dinners anymore. No more free rides on our backs. We’re going to landscape our own back yards, wash our cars with a garden hose in our driveways. Our money was your money. You spent it. When our money dries up, so does yours.

The difference is, you lived off of it, we rejoiced in it. The Obama administration and the Democratic National Committee might get their way and knock us off the top of the pyramid, but it’s really going to hurt like hell for them when our fat a**es land directly on the middle class of America and knock them to the bottom.

We aren’t dinosaurs. We are smarter and more vicious than that, and we are going to survive. The question is, now that Obama & his administration are making Joe Mainstreet our food supply…will he? and will they?”

“It Doesn’t Get Any More Immoral Than This”

Economist’s View:

Yesterday, Ross Douthat argued that “higher taxes on America’s richest 1 percent” won’t solve the problems with government. Thomas Friedman explains why that’s wrong, and why a more equitable distribution of income is essential to stripping the ability of those at the top to control government:

Did You Hear the One About the Bankers?, by Thomas Friedman, Commentary, NY Times: Citigroup is lucky that Muammar el-Qaddafi was killed when he was. The Libyan leader’s death diverted attention from a lethal article involving Citigroup… The news was that Citigroup had to pay a $285 million fine to settle a case in which, with one hand, Citibank sold a package of toxic mortgage-backed securities to unsuspecting customers — securities that it knew were likely to go bust — and, with the other hand, shorted the same securities — that is, bet millions of dollars that they would go bust.

It doesn’t get any more immoral than this. …

But, then, what happened to us? Our financial industry has grown so large and rich it has corrupted our real institutions through political donations. As Senator Richard Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, bluntly said in a 2009 radio interview, despite having caused this crisis, these same financial firms “are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they, frankly, own the place.”

Our Congress today is a forum for legalized bribery. One consumer group using information from Opensecrets.org calculates that the financial services industry, including real estate, spent $2.3 billion on federal campaign contributions from 1990 to 2010, which was more than the health care, energy, defense, agriculture and transportation industries combined. Why are there 61 members on the House Committee on Financial Services? So many congressmen want to be in a position to sell votes to Wall Street. …

U.S. congressmen should have to dress like Nascar drivers and wear the logos of all the banks, investment banks, insurance companies and real estate firms that they’re taking money from. The public needs to know.

Capitalism and free markets are the best engines for generating growth and relieving poverty — provided they are balanced with meaningful transparency, regulation and oversight. We lost that balance in the last decade. If we don’t get it back…, the cry for justice could turn ugly. …

To what extent is fear of inflation, fear of deficits, and other fears holding up more government help for struggling, unemployed households the result of the powerful interests who control Congress standing in the way? My answer, as ought to be clear from recent columns (http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2011/10/25/Income-Inequality-Is-Hobbling-the-Middle-Class.aspx), is that the imbalance in political power that comes with such a large degree of inequality is a large factor in the government’s tepid response to the unemployment crisis.


How the 1% live”. And by 1% we mean Mitt Romney & his $10 million lakefront New Hampshire getaway

[…] In addition to the main house, which boasts seven bedrooms and a view of Lake Winnipesaukee, the property also features a stable “with living quarters,” a boat house, a beach volleyball court, and a giant trampoline — every grandchild’s dream, and the Romneys have 16 to keep happy. According to Town of Wolfeboro records, the stable house, which was valued at $250,000 when the Romneys purchased the property in 1997, is now worth $2.1 million. The lot where the stable is located alone is valued at $1.3 million, according to local tax records.


Chilling cautionary children’s tales


In his influential 1976 book The Uses of Enchantment, psychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim claimed that children need the horror in fairy tales to help them process their Freudian fears of abandonment, pain, and extinction. Regardless of the average tot’s death instinct, children’s stories from Jack and Jill’s violent tumble down the hill to R.L. Stine’sGoosebumps series have happily obliged. The latest round of big-screen fairy tales, including three upcoming Snow Whites and Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight-esque Red Riding Hood, market themselves as unusually dark, but good luck matching the grisly source material in which wolves eat children and queens dance themselves to death in red-hot iron shoes.

The other strain running through the history of children’s literature is didacticism. A 1563 English text, to take one example, exhorted young readers to “remember this well, all you that be young/ Exercise vertue, and rule well your toung.” If the traditional purpose of children’s stories is to turn them into proper adults, writers have very often treated that mission with grown-up earnestness. […]

French author Charles Perrault wrote the first published version of Little Red Riding Hood in 1697 as a thinly veiled warning to young courtesans during the indulgent reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV. (“To see the wolf” was French slang for losing one’s virginity.) At the end of Perrault’s version, the wolf devours Little Red. The moral of that story:
Never trust a stranger-friend; no one knows how it will end.

A German psychiatrist named Heinrich Hoffmann published Struwwelpeter for his 3-year-old son in 1845, and it remains the icon of the form. Hoffmann picks up the rhyming couplets and tidy morals of earlier cautionary tales, but takes them into darker, absurdist territory. Pictured here are the consequences for poor Conrad, aka “Little Suck-a-Thumb”:

Snip! Snap! Snip! the scissors go;
And Conrad cries out—Oh! Oh! Oh!


Next to Struwwelpeter, Wilhelm Busch’s Max and Moritz (1865) is probably the best-known German children’s story today. Over the course  of seven stories, its wee protagonists pull off a series of increasingly serious pranks, stealing chickens, filling their teacher’s pipe with gunpowder, and releasing bags full of bugs into their uncle’s bed. They remain mostly unpunished until they fall into a vat of dough while trying to steal pretzels from a baker, who slides them into the oven. They gnaw their way to safety, but the pair meets their end when they hide in some grain sacks and are ground into duck feed. A few decades later,Max and Moritz became the inspiration for the long-running comic strip The Katzenjammer Kids.

Slovenly Betsy (1911) was an Americanized sequel to Struwwelpeter, also credited to Heinrich (or Henry) Hoffmann. Where Struwwelpeter is inconsistent at the edges—a few characters are adults, and some suffer relatively mild fates—in Slovenly Betsy the cautionary formula has been boiled down to a rat-a-tat of revenge. The protagonists inSlovenly Betsy are all female, and they are all punished heavily in both text and image: The reader can linger over burns, horribly broken limbs, and plenty of plain old heavy shame. Shown here is “the Cry-Baby” sobbing her eyes right out of their sockets. The tidy moral:

My children, from such an example take warning,
And happily live while you may;
And say to yourselves, when you rise in the morning,
“I’ll try to be cheerful today.”



An Arctic Sea Change

Get used to it: real estate falling into the sea. And not just beach houses and seaside time-shares. Think towns and cities. These images of Shishmaref village on Alaska’s remote west coast reveal the tip of a terrain melting so fast it will carry whole cultures away with it—rich and poor, polluters and nonpolluters, all vulnerable to the great leveler, the ocean. You think South Pacific island nations and remote Arctic outposts will be the only victims? Wrong. Because no matter what we do on the carbon emissions front in the coming decades, the world ocean is forecast to warm and rise for the next millennium or more. Pictures like these will soon be commonplace.
In Shishmaref, calamity has already arrived. The village of 600 Inupiaq lies on the fragile barrier island of Sarichef, where sea ice forms later each year, exposing the land to autumn storms that carve away 50 feet or more of shoreline a season. Two houses have slipped into the sea; 18 others have been moved back from the encroaching ocean; others buckle from the melting permafrost. Ten million dollars has been spent on seawalls, to no avail. Residents have concluded permanent resettlement is their only option. But considering America has yet to seriously tackle New Orleans’ sea-level problems, no one on this distant edge of the Chukchi Sea imagines the $180 million needed to relocate Shishmaref will be easy to come by. And Shishmaref is not alone. A 2004 Government Accountability Office report found that of Alaska’s 213 Native villages, 184 are battling floods and erosion, while another assessment foresees that in the coming decades, Alaska will require $6.1 billion to repair global warming’s domino effect of fallen bridges, burst sewer pipes, and disintegrating roads. Worldwide, the situation is more dire, more expensive: Oxfam suggests the United States owes $22 billion, or 44 percent—our polluting share—of the $50 billion needed each year for poor nations to adapt to climate change.



The Telltale Heart: Python’s bulging heart offers clues for human heart disease treatment.

Medical News Today:

The Burmese python is a remarkable creature: it doesn’t eat for a year with few ill effects, and then swallows prey like deer with a body mass that approaches 100% of its own. When it does this, its heart swells by as much as 40% over the ensuing 72 hours. Now scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder have found that huge amounts of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream of pythons as they feed promote healthy heart growth, and this may offer some clues for treating human heart disease.
Leslie Leinwand and her research team at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) in the US found the amount of triglycerides, the main constituent of natural fats and oils, in the bloodstream of Burmese pythons can rise more than 50-fold in the blood just 24 hours after eating.
You can read about their findings online in the 28 October issue of Science, where they describe how despite this massive increase in fatty acids in the python’s bloodstream, they could find no evidence of fat deposited in the heart. They did however, find increased activity in an important enzyme known to protect the heart from damage. […]

“When a python eats, something extraordinary happens. Its metabolism increases by more than fortyfold and the size of its organs increase significantly in mass by building new tissue, which is broken back down during the digestion process.”



With A Stroke Of His Pen Obama Strikes Back At Citizens United (H/T bito)


[…] There was an attempt to assuage the damage from Citizens United in the form of the Disclose Act that passed in the Democratic controlled House last year but failed in the Senate because Democrats couldn’t muster the super majority needed to overcome Republican’s filibuster threat.The failed legislation provided tough new disclosure rules for groups that invest in the election process. President Obama summed up the necessity of the Disclose Act calling it “a critical piece of legislation to control the flood of special interest money into our elections,” and, “that it mandates unprecedented transparency in campaign spending, and it ensures that corporations who spend money on American elections are accountable first and foremost to the American people.” Since Republicans are enamored with the notion of unlimited special interest money without transparency or accountability, it was not surprising they threatened to filibuster the measure. The 2010 midterm elections confirmed Americans’ fears with money from special interest groups and corporations flooding the airwaves with fallacious assertions and inaccurate characterizations of everything from the health law to socialist tendencies of Democratic candidates. It appeared that since the Disclose Act failed, elections would be bought by the highest bidder for years to come, but a report today gives some hope that democracy is not dead in America; yet.

On Wednesday it was reported that President Obama was drafting an executive order that would require companies pursuing federal contracts to disclose political contributions that have been secret under the Citizen’s United ruling. A senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, Hans A. von Spakovsky, lambasted the proposed executive order saying that, “The draft order tries to interfere with the First Amendment rights of contractors.” Mr. von Spakovsky dutifully made all the right-wing, neo-con arguments including bringing Planned Parenthood and unions into the discussion.The draft order did not exempt any entity from disclosure rules and presents a reasonable requirement on contractors seeking government contracts. Several states have similar “pay to play” laws to prevent businesses from using unlimited donations to buy lucrative state contracts from slimy legislators. Thus far the only legislator who has railed against the proposed order was Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). McConnell called the proposal an “outrageous and anti-Democratic abuse of executive branch authority,” and went on to say, “Just last year, the Senate rejected a cynical effort to muzzle critics of this administration and its allies in Congress.”

McConnell is working under the assumption that the draft order is an attempt to restrict free speech, but there is nothing in the order remotely resembling free speech violations. The exact wording of the president’s executive order says, “The Federal Government prohibits federal contractors from making certain contributions during the course of negotiation and performance of a contract.” There is no free speech issue and the order applies to union contractors as well as non-union contractors. There is no special dispensation of muzzles or prohibitions on political support; only certain contributions during negotiations and performance. Republicans must hate the idea of corporations like Halliburton or Koch Industries losing the ability to contribute unlimited money to legislators for special treatment in securing government contracts, especially no-bid contracts like the ones Dick Cheney’s company’s received in Iraq and Afghanistan. In lieu of veracity, McConnell accuses President Obama of muzzling critics and suppressing free speech when in fact, the order will bring increased transparency and accountability to the process of awarding contracts. Republicans made it their goal to increase transparency and accountability in government in the lead up to the midterm elections, so McConnell should be thrilled that President Obama is helping them achieve their goal. […]


You Have Every Right to Photograph That Cop | American Civil Liberties Union

Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right — and that includes the outside of federal buildings, as well as transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.

However, there is a widespread, continuing pattern of law enforcement officers ordering people to stop taking photographs or video in public places, and harassing, detaining and arresting those who fail to comply. The ACLU, photographer’s groups, and others have been complaining about such incidents for years — and consistently winning in court. Yet, a continuing stream of incidents of illegal harassment of photographers and videographers makes it clear that the problem is not going away.

The right of citizens to record the police is a critical check and balance. It creates an independent record of what took place in a particular incident, free from accusations of bias, lying or faulty memory. It is no accident that some of the most high-profile cases of police misconduct have involved video and audio records. […]

Of course, photography is not necessarily “objective” and it is always possible in a particular case that there can be circumstances at work outside a photographic record. Overall, however, the incidents above make it abundantly clear that respect for the right to photograph and record is not well-established within the law enforcement profession.

Many of those involved in these incidents appear to be activists who know their rights and are willing to stand up for them. But not everyone is able to stand up to police officers when harassed; we don’t know how many other Americans comply with baseless orders to stop photographing or recording because they are uncertain of their rights or too afraid to stand up for them.

Photography as a Precursor to Terrorism

A big part of the problem here is “suspicious activity reporting” — the construction of a national system for the collection and distribution of information. Under this system (as we discuss on this page and in this report), law enforcement leaders at the federal, state and local level push officers on the ground to investigate and report a broad spectrum of legitimate, everyday activity as potentially “suspicious” — including photography. In fact, many such programs actually suggest that photography is a “precursor behavior” to terrorism, and direct the police to react accordingly. This notion has been dismissed as “nonsense” by security experts — but appears to be disturbingly robust.

A serious question for photographers and videographers who are harassed is whether they are being entered in government suspicious activity databases or watch lists, and whether and how such a listing might come back to haunt them. An investigation of Suspicious Activity Reports by NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting, for example, found numerous individuals were reported to the FBI for taking photographs or video in the Mall of America.

A Problem From the Top

Another disturbing trend is police officers and prosecutors using wiretapping statutes in certain states (such as Florida,Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey andPennsylvania) to arrest and prosecute those who attempt to record police activities using videocameras that include audio. (Unlike photography and silent video, there is no general right to record audio; many state wiretap laws prohibit recording conversations if the parties have a reasonable expectation of privacy — which is never true for a police officer carrying out his or her duties in public.)

Word appears to have circulated within law enforcement circles somehow that using wiretapping statutes is a strategy for preventing public oversight, with some taking the concept to ridiculous extremes.

In contrast, it appears to be stubbornly difficult to spread word within those same circles of the fact that photography and videotaping in public places is a constitutional right. And earlier this year, following a lawsuit by the New York branch of the ACLU, DHS agreed to issued a directive to members of theFederal Protective Service making it clear that photographing federal buildings is permitted. Yet arrests by Federal Protective Service officers appear to be continuing. You would think that police chiefs and other supervisors could easily instruct and enforce an understanding of photographers’ rights among their officers. Still, for some reason, all too often that is not happening. In New Orleans, for example, in response to its public records request, the local ACLU found the police department’s policy which clearly instructs officers that people have the right to photograph. Yet officers there routinely violate the stated policy.

Know Your Rights

Everyone should be clear on what their rights are when engaging in photography in public spaces. The ACLU has prepared a “Know Your Rights” resource for photographers confronted by police. Learn more >>

Landmark Wal-Mart Sex Discrimination Lawuit is Not Dead

It’s been more than a decade since the federal suit first surfaced: Betty Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the sexual discrimination lawsuit that would eventually lead to a class-action suit and the book Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Worker’s Rights at Wal-Mart, whose author often compared the lead plaintiff to Rosa Parks. And among Dukes’s early-days compatriots was Stephanie Odle, a longtime worker for the discount chain who spent time in California, Nevada and Texas locations, including a ’93 stint in Dallas at a Sam’s Club.

It was after her time here that Odle says she first noticed: Wal-Mart treats its female workers poorly — slashing their wages, refusing them promotions, making them the butt of crude jokes. Lesser qualified men were being given chances to advance, while women were being told they made too much money; and in the end, Odle says, she was fired for reporting wrongdoing on the part of a male higher-up. Story after story after story confirmed: Dukes and Odle had plenty of company.

Slowly the case worked through the courts, till in June the U.S. Supreme Court blocked consolidating the claims of some 1.5 million female Wal-Mart workers into a class action. But the women vowed: They would be back; their attorneys too. And so they returned Thursday, first to California, where Odle, now living in Norman, Oklahoma, joined others in filing the first Wal-Mart employment discrimination suit naming the stores in a single state. Brad Seligman, one of the lead attorneys, said: “The case we are starting today is the first of many.” He called it “Wal-Mart 2.0.”

Yesterday, the they filed the second suit — this one in Dallas federal court on behalf of “present and former female Wal-Mart retail store employees who have been subjected to gender discrimination as a result of specific policies and practices in Wal-Mart’s regions located in whole or in part in Texas.” Per the suit, Wal-Mart has 451 locations in the state, including Sam’s, and employs upwards of 140,000.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Wal-Mart’s attorneys and spokespeople dismissed the California suit as “unstable” (insisting each plaintiff’s case is dissimilar and unsuitable for a class action) and more about “publicity value” than “legal virtue.” Friday’s filing follows.

Odle v Wal-Mart


Officers Jeer at Arraignment of 16 Colleagues in Ticket-Fixing Investigation


A three-year investigation into the police’s habit of fixing traffic and parking tickets in the Bronx ended in the unsealing of indictments on Friday and a stunning display of vitriol by hundreds of off-duty officers, who converged on the courthouse to applaud their accused colleagues and denounce their prosecution.

As 16 police officers were arraigned at State Supreme Court in the Bronx, incensed colleagues organized by their union cursed and taunted prosecutors and investigators, chanting “Down with the D.A.” and “Ray Kelly, hypocrite.”

As the defendants emerged from their morning court appearance, a swarm of officers formed a cordon in the hallway and clapped as they picked their way to the elevators. Members of the news media were prevented by court officers from walking down the hallway where more than 100 off-duty police officers had gathered outside the courtroom.

The assembled police officers blocked cameras from filming their colleagues, in one instance grabbing lenses and shoving television camera operators backward.

The unsealed indictments contained more than 1,600 criminal counts, the bulk of them misdemeanors having to do with making tickets disappear as favors for friends, relatives and others with clout. But they also outlined more serious crimes, related both to ticket-fixing and drugs, grand larceny and unrelated corruption. Four of the officers were charged with helping a man get away with assault.

Jose R. Ramos, an officer in the 40th Precinct whose suspicious behavior spawned the protracted investigation, was accused of two dozen crimes, including attempted robbery, attempted grand larceny, transporting what he thought was heroin for drug dealers and revealing the identity of a confidential informant.

The case, troubling to many New Yorkers because of its implication that the police officers believed they deserved special treatment, is expected to have long tentacles. Scores of other officers accused of fixing tickets could face departmental charges. Some officers have already retired. Moreover, the indictments may jeopardize thousands of cases in which implicated officers are important witnesses and may be seen as untrustworthy by Bronx juries.

The contentious scene in the Bronx concluded a week of deep embarrassment for the New York Police Department and Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, who at a news conference acknowledged the difficulty of having “to announce for the second time this week that police officers have been arrested for misconduct.”

Federal agents earlier in the week arrested eight current and former officers on accusations that they had brought illegal firearms, slot machines and black-market cigarettes into New York City. Recently, other officers have been charged in federal court with making false arrests, and there was testimony in a trial in Brooklyn that narcotics detectives planted drugs on innocent civilians.

Of the 16 officers arraigned on Friday, ranking as high as lieutenant, 11 were charged with crimes related to fixing tickets. All of them pleaded not guilty, and all but two were released without bail. Officer Ramos was held in $500,000 cash bail. Jennara Cobb, a lieutenant in the Internal Affairs Bureau, was released after posting a $20,000 bail bond. She was accused of leaking information about the investigation to other officers.

Five civilians were also arrested in the case. Among them was Officer Ramos’s wife, charged with participating with him in an insurance scam.

The outpouring of angry officers at the courthouse had faint echoes of a 1992 march on City Hall by off-duty officers to protest Mayor David N. Dinkins’s call for more independent review of the police. And it raises unsettling questions about the current mind-set of the police force.

“It is hard to see an upside in the way the anger was expressed, especially in Bronx County, where you already have a hard row to hoe in terms of building rapport with the community,” said Eugene J. O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The Police Department is a very angry work force, and that is something that should concern people, because it translates into hostile interactions with people.”

The behavior could be construed as violating department rules. Even when officers are off duty, the police patrol guide states, “Conduct which brings discredit to the department or conduct in violation of law is unacceptable and will result in appropriate disciplinary measures.”

Mr. Kelly said he did not witness the officers’ courthouse conduct, but added, “I think it’s understandable that officers rally around when there’s a time of trouble.”

A police official said Mr. Kelly did not condone the hostile comments made by some officers. Particularly disturbing, the official said, was a news report that said some officers chanted “E.B.T.” at people lined up at a benefits center across the street, referring to electronic benefit transfer, the method by which welfare checks are distributed. The people had apparently chanted “Fix our tickets” to the officers.

“To begin ridiculing people in the welfare line across the street doesn’t endear you to the public eye,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to be heard directly criticizing members of the force.

The charged officers, accused of extending favors, seemed to have received a favor of their own from the authorities. They were spared a “perp walk,” the ritual in which suspects are walked to their booking or arraignment while photographers and videographers document their shame.

Instead, the officers were loaded into black vans at the Central Booking garage, then driven into a garage in the courthouse.

The ticket-fixing investigation began serendipitously in December 2008, after investigators began looking into accusations that Officer Ramos allowed a friend, Lee King, to sell drugs out of two barber shops named Who’s First that the officer owned in the Bronx. A wiretap was placed on Officer Ramos, which yielded conversations about fixing tickets.

The authorities said Officer Ramos provided Mr. King with an apartment, a cellphone, a car and a parking placard. He was one of the civilians arrested.

Prosecutors said the bulk of the vanished tickets were arranged by officials of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union. All the officers charged with fixing tickets are either current or past union delegates or trustees.

As the investigation unfurled, the union played down its significance and consistently referred to ticket-fixing as “professional courtesy” inscribed in the police culture.

Patrick J. Lynch, the union president, said in a news conference that the officers had been arrested on something “accepted at all ranks for decades.” He did distance himself from those charged with graver offenses. He said he would have turned his back on Officer Ramos if he could have done so without insulting the court.

Mr. Kelly said that those who tried to rationalize ticket-fixing as part of the culture “are kidding themselves, especially if they think the public finds it acceptable.”

During the investigation, overseen by the Bronx district attorney’s office, prosecutors found fixing tickets to be so extensive that they considered charging the union under the state racketeering law as a criminal enterprise, the tactic employed against organized crime families. But they apparently concluded that the evidence did not support that approach.

The Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, said the tickets fixed had robbed the city of $1 million to $2 million.

While the union’s highest echelons were untouched by the indictments, the timing was troubling for the organization. It faces various labor issues, like the loss of members because of the department’s shrinking size and efforts by public officials to reduce their expensive perquisites.

Stephen C. Worth, a lawyer for the union who with his partner represented 11 of the defendants at the arraignment, criticized the case as “prosecutorial overcharging” for “relatively minor administrative misconduct at best.”

On Thursday afternoon, the police union sent a text message to 400 delegates urging them to show up at the court. Scores of police officers began filtering in around midnight on Thursday, when some of the accused officers arrived for booking. Some off-duty officers wore dark-blue T-shirts with the message on the back, “Improving everyone’s quality of life but our own.”

Forming a wall four deep in the main foyer, they applauded as the defendants appeared. The indicted officers waved and pumped their fists. A court official who came out to calm the crowd drew insults. A woman told the officers to return for the arraignments.

On Friday morning, on the street outside the courthouse, some 350 officers massed behind barricades and brandished signs expressing sentiments like “It’s a Courtesy Not a Crime.”

When the defendants emerged, many in the crowd burst into raucous cheers. Once they had gone and the tide of officers had dispersed, the street was littered with refuse.



Washington Post Discards All Journalistic Standards In Attack on Social Security

When journalism goes bad

by digby

Wow, this Washington Post article about the Social Security system financing is so boldly bad that I fear it may change the debate forever. Every Villager who is smacking his or her lips over the prospect of “shared sacrifice” (that won’t hurt them because they’re wealthy) is having a wonderful morning, secure in the knowledge that average people will be suffering in their old age:

“Last year, as a debate over the runaway national debt gathered steam in Washington, Social Security passed a treacherous milestone. It went ‘cash negative.'”

I’ll let Dean Baker do the honors:

This “treacherous milestone” is entirely the Post’s invention, it has absolutely nothing to do with the law that governs Social Security benefit payments. Under the law, as long as their is money in the trust fund, then Social Security is able to pay full benefiits. There is literally no other possible interpretation of the law.

As the article notes the trust fund currently holds $2.6 trillion in government bonds, so it is nowhere close to being unable to pay benefits. The whole point of building up the trust fund was to help cover costs at a future date when taxes would not be sufficient to cover full benefits. Rather than posing any sort of crisis, this is exactly what had been planned when Congress last made major changes to the program in 1983 based on the recommendations of the Greenspan commission.

The article makes great efforts to confuse readers about the status of the trust fund. It tells readers:

“The $2.6 trillion Social Security trust fund will provide little relief. The government has borrowed every cent and now must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors to keep benefit checks flowing.”

This is the same situation the the government faces when Wall Street investment banker Peter Peterson or any other holder of government bonds decides to cash in their bonds when they become due. In such cases it “must raise taxes, cut spending or borrow more heavily from outside investors.” The Post’s reporters and editors should understand this fact.

The article then goes on to incorrectly accuse Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of misrepresenting the finances of Social Security:

In an MSNBC interview, he [Senator Reid] added: ‘Social Security does not add a single penny, not a dime, a nickel, a dollar to the budget problems we have. Never has and, for the next 30 years, it won’t do that.’

Such statements have not been true since at least 2009, when the cost of monthly checks regularly began to exceed payroll tax collections. A spokesman said Reid stands by his comments and his view that Social Security is entirely self-financed.”

Of course Senator Reid is exactly right. The system is self-financed under the law. In 2009 it began drawing on the interest on the government bonds it held. That is exactly what the law dictates, when Social Security needs more money than it collects in taxes, it is supposed to draw on the bonds that were purchased with Social Security taxes in the past. This means it is self-financing.Again, this is like Peter Peterson selling his government bonds to finance one of his political ventures. Just like Social Security, he is drawing on his own money. The Post may have missed it, but there was a big debate last summer over raising the government’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling. This $14.3 trillion figure included the $2.6 trillion borrowed from Social Security. If Social Security sells some of these bonds and this money is used to pay benefits, it does not raise the debt subject to the ceiling by a penny. This is very simple and very clear.

Read on. It gets worse.

And as Krugman points out here, it’s yet another example of cherry picking whatever piece of the argument that makes your case:

In legal terms, the program is funded not just by today’s payroll taxes, but by accumulated past surpluses — the trust fund. If there’s a year when payroll receipts fall short of benefits, but there are still trillions of dollars in the trust fund, what happens is, precisely, nothing — the program has the funds it needs to operate, without need for any Congressional action.

Alternatively, you can think about Social Security as just part of the federal budget. But in that case, it’s just part of the federal budget; it doesn’t have either surpluses or deficits, no more than the defense budget.

Both views are valid, depending on what questions you’re trying to answer.

What you can’t do is insist that the trust fund is meaningless, because SS is just part of the budget, then claim that some crisis arises when receipts fall short of payments, because SS is a standalone program. Yet that’s exactly what the WaPo claims.

(Cue Brad DeLong: “why, oh why can’t we have a better press corps?”)

But this is exactly what the Villagers are looking for in order to defend their insistence on a Grand Bargain. Certainly these guys will be pleased:

At least 100 House lawmakers plan to urge the deficit-cutting congressional supercommittee to accomplish what the Obama administration and Congress failed to achieve this summer: a large agreement aimed at reducing the federal deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years.

In a letter that the bipartisan group plans to send to the supercommittee next week, the lawmakers will argue a large deal is vital to the nation’s future. Economists generally believe that long-term deficit-reduction of about $4 trillion is needed to put the U.S. on sound fiscal footing.

Importantly, the letter calls for the 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to consider “all options,” including both spending and revenue – suggesting that Democrats are open to entitlement reforms while Republicans would back tax increases if they were part a giant deal.

“We know that many in Washington and around the country do not believe we in the Congress and those within your committee can successfully meet this challenge,” the lawmakers plan to say, according to a draft copy. “We believe that we can and we must.”

The letter, spearheaded by Rep. Heath Shuler (D., N.C.), stems from an informal discussion group led by Reps. Mike Simpson (R., Idaho) and Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), lawmakers said.

The Republican signers include Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio, a close ally of House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio). LaTourette said it is important to demonstrate a large group of lawmakers will back a big agreement.

“I think the moment’s here for the big deal,” he said, acknowledging that calls to include revenue in a deal can spook some Republicans who worry about a primary challenge from the Tea Party, which opposes new taxes.

“We felt that this was the moment to express both our mutual trust as well as our desire to get something big and important done here even if it’s painful,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D., Conn.), who intends to sign the letter.

And progressives will be told that we must clap louder for these cuts in “entitlements” because millionaires are being asked to kick in some tip money they won’t even miss. I am quite sure they actually believe that this “balanced” approach is also fair moral and decent. This is because Villagers are completely out of touch with what is happening in the real world and see these problems as items on a spread sheet instead of real people with real needs. No, asking millionaires to throw some of their ample spare change into the pot in exchange for the sick and elderly being asked to sacrifice their bare subsistence is not fair, moral or decent.

Right now Occupy Wall Street is focused on the malefactors of great wealth. But there are other issues that are quite urgent and this Super Committee nonsense is one of them. I don’t know if there’s any way of stopping this train, and I suspect our greatest friend right now is partisan gridlock. But just in case, one little thing that those who are occupying their desk chairs can do today is  send Dean Baker’s column around to all the usual suspects in the media.

Here is FAIR’s list of media contacts. I’ve sent the column to all of them. If you have time, please send it to at least a few of these people. So far, Social Security has been kept out of the mix, but the Super Committee has the ability to put it back on the menu. Right now is the moment of maximum danger for the safety net in general and I don’t think this article appearing in the Sunday WaPo news”  pages is an accident. If nobody raises hell or even attempts to rebut it there’s every reason to believe that the insular Villagers will take it on faith and give the Catfood advocates a totally free pass.

Tom Brokaw Poo-Poos AARP Ad Telling Politicians to Keep Their Hands off of Medicare and SS

Crooks and Liars:

[…] Tom Brokaw is apparently very confused on the issue of “shared sacrifice” and who has and has not already been sacrificing in our society. On this Sunday’s Meet the Press, while discussing a recent AARP ad where the group basically stated that the politicians had better keep their hands off of Social Security and Medicare, Brokaw called the ad selfish and an example of “I got mine, to heck with the rest of you.” Brokaw followed that with a lot of hand wringing about what tough times we’re all in for in America and how we need to be ready to “make some hard calls.”

It seems those “hard calls” include means testing Social Security, which is a terrible idea because it turns it into a welfare program that would be much easier to destroy. And nowhere in the conversation did raising taxes on the rich, raising the cap on payroll taxes, our terrible trade laws that encourage a race to the bottom on wages, the destruction of the labor movement or the refusal to regulate the financial industries come up as a solution to making sure we can keep our social safety nets in place and that we don’t have senior citizens or anyone else for that matter living in poverty.

Color me not shocked since our Villagers in the corporate media still aren’t over their fetish with austerity measures, regardless of where the majority of public opinion is at right now where people are fed up with the income disparity and the poor and middle class being the only ones asked to make some kind of “shared sacrifice.”

Video here>

David Gregory Backs Off ‘Obama Got Everything He Wanted & It Didn’t Work’ In Plouffe Interview (Video) 


On Friday, Meet The Press host David Gregory promoted the idea that “the President got everything he wanted and it didn’t work,” in an appearance on Morning Joe, and Mediaite challenged the accuracy of that claim. Sunday morning, Gregory changed his tune, somewhat, while interviewing senior White House adviser David Plouffe for Meet The Press, playing the Mitch McConnell quote again, but heavily disclaiming his questions to Plouffe. Even when “working the ref” works, though, it doesn’t always really “work.”

The central problems with Gregory’s statement on Morning Joe were that the President did not, in fact, get everything hewanted, and what he did get actually did work, to a debatable degree. Gregory’s comments were based on a quote from Sen. Mitch McConnell, in which McConnell says, “I know he’s desperately interested in trying to blame anybody else, but he’s the President of the United States, he set the agenda, he got everything he wanted. and it didn’t work.”

While the Senate Majority Leader probably shouldn’t say demonstrably false things, it is the job of journalists like Gregory to call him out for it, not agree with him.

Gregory is obviously aware of the falsehoods in McConnell’s statement. When interviewing David Plouffe on this morning’s Meet The Press, Gregory played that Mitch McConnell clip, but rather than point out it’s utter fallaciousness, he helps McConnell out by tuning up the quote in his followups to Plouffe. “Got everything he wanted” became “he got the biggest things he wanted,” and “it didn’t work” became “they didn’t work out in terms of economic impact the way the administration expected they would.”

He then plays the false objectivity game, saying of Republican refusal to consider the American Jobs Act, “You call that obstruction. They call it principled opposition,” as if they’re mutually exclusive, and as if there is no way an objective person can tell the difference. While the GOP’s obstructionism may be rooted in principled opposition, the fact that they have routinely shot down proposals from the President that they thought of is persuasive evidence that it has overtaken their ability to govern.


Instead, Plouffe (rightly) points out that “every independent economist who looked at the Republican jobs plan in Washington says it won’t do anything to create jobs in the short-term. …the only plan right now in front of the American people, in front of Congress, that would create jobs in the short-term, is the President’s.”

He’s trying to turn around the conventional wisdom that presidential elections are referendums on the economy, and make this election into a choice between the President’s vision for America, and a Republican challenger who will double down on the policies that created this mess. For many of us, it’s really a choice between a Republican Party that wants to return to the regulation-free status quo, and a Democratic Party that has trouble stopping them, even when they’ve got the numbers to do it.

Here’s the clip, from NBC News’ Meet The Press:

 The NYTimes never asks journalists who take corporate speaking fees how they can cover the economy




[…] Why am I engaging in this nostalgic tour of news sources from 30-40 years ago, you ask? Great question.

I keep hearing complaints about “the Media,” and how it’s putting a stranglehold on democracy, and how “propaganda” is just killing our politics, and we have to somehow stop it from engulfing everything that our country supposedly stands for, or words to that effect.  Basically, the story goes, “the media” is to blame for everything bad that’s happened to this country in recent years.

Put simply, that is just ridiculous.

Let’s start with a basic premise. Propaganda is more effective when the people it’s aimed at have no other choice but to listen to it. It’s pretty ineffective if people have plenty of other news outlets telling them something else. Therefore, the idea that the propaganda coming from the wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party called “Fox News” is at all effective is just unsupportable. The reason an absurd story such as the one floated to justify the invasion of Iraq – that Iraq had lots of WMDs – became effective was not because “the Media” pushed the story. The reason it was effective was because there was no effective counter to it. They said it, we repeated it, called it “bullshit” and we figured that was the end of the discussion.

You see, one of the reasons the right WANTS you to blame “the Media” for everything is because it distracts you from crafting an effective alternative message or theme. Unfortunately, it’s worked all too well. The reason they coined the term “liberal media” and have used it so effectively is twofold. One; it’s simple for everyone on their side to understand and repeat to everyone they encounter. But they also know it’ll throw the loudest lefties into such a tizzy that they’ll feel compelled to “refute it,” thus wasting a lot of time and energy that could be spent convincing moderate voters to show up at the polls and vote for people who aren’t interested in destroying the government.

There is no such thing as “the Media.”  Like “liberal media,” “the Media” is a throwaway line, completely without meaning. Some liberals have agreed that the term is too broad, so they came up with “the mainstream media” to make themselves seem a little more discriminating, but that, too, is essentially  meaningless. How do you define “the mainstream media” anyway, except as “you know what I mean (wink, wink)”? What is the “mainstream”?

There are more than 1,400 daily newspapers in the United States (HERE), most of which have web sites.  Many are “corporate-owned,” but many others are individually owned.  Each newspaper has aseparate editor or series of editors, their own reporters, and each serves a different community.  Many  use what used to be called “wire services” for “national” news coverage, and many of them also supply stories to the wire services like the Associated Press. Likewise, there are more than 6,000 daily newspapers worldwide, most of which have web sites and all of which have a separate set of editors and reporters.  There are also hundreds of broadcast and cable news organizations worldwide, many of them owned and run by the people in those countries. Some are owned by the same people who own newspapers, but most are not.

The above numbers don’t even include weekly “alternative” newspapers, or magazines, the journalistic web sites that have popped up in recent years, or podcasts. The idea that every single one of these “media outlets” is part of the same monolithic conspiracy is nonsense. It’s simply not possible.

When someone speaks of “the Media” in such monolithic terms, they’re essentially lumping The Nation in with The Weekly Standard.  Speaking of which, I wonder how many of those folks decrying “the Media” know that circulation for The Nation has always been higher than the Weekly Standard, and that The Nation competes favorably with the conservative-but-not-usually-far-right National Review. (Here, scroll down) 

But what about that damn Rupert Murdoch? Isn’t he trying to take over the world? Well, here’s a list of the top 100 newspapers in the United States by circulation. Check out how little of that market News Corp runs.  (I apologize that the list is from Wikipedia; I checked the numbers on the list and they’re accurate, though.)

When people scapegoat “the Media” as being a major factor in systemic problems with our democratic system, they invariably bring up Fox News, cable news in general, and right wing talk radio as prime examples. They’re convinced that all of this country’s problems can be tied to stories from those sources.  But none of these sources reaches all that many people.

Start with Fox News and Cable News. (Check my math HERE) First of all, there are four major cable news networks, not including business news. The combined  median primetime audience for ALL of these networks COMBINED is about 3.5 million, and that’s DOWN from previous years.  The daytime median is even lower than that, with a median audience of 1.9 million COMBINED.

To keep all of this in perspective, keep in mind that the US population is about 300 million. That means approximately 1% of the nation tunes in to cable news these days, and the audience is dropping, probably because there isn’t much news to be found there.

The combined broadcast evening news numbers (HERE) are down, too, but even at much lower levels, they absolutely dwarf the combined cable news numbers. The average audience for the network news programs combined is 21.6 million, or nearly six times the median audience that watches cable news in prime time and ten times the number who watch cable news during the day.  The lowest-rated evening news program on the networks, the CBS Evening News, has more than twice the audience as the number one show on Fox News, The O’Reilly Factor.

What I’m trying to make clear here is that Fox News, for all of its bluster, is the big daddy in the weakest segment of the news “media.” If this were Oz, Fox News would be the tallest Munchkin. Few people except news junkies and kool-aid drinkers watch cable news, which is something to consider the next time you decide to use your megaphone to parrot a Fox Talking Point™.  Before you repeat it, even to refute it, keep in mind that most people you’re speaking to haven’t heard it yet. A better approach is to refute the Talking Point™ without mentioning the original talking point. (I see another column coming…)

Now what about those pesky right wing radio talk show hosts? Surely, they have tons of influence, right? Their audiences must be off the charts, they’re so huge.

Um, no.

Figuring audience size for these programs is really difficult in this day and age, in part because the ratings companies keep the actual numbers and demographics very close to the vest. But if you look at the Talkers Magazine’s list of the largest audiences in talk radio, number one and number two are Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, with 15 million and 14 million listeners, respectively. (I’ve seen lower numbers in recent months, but I can’t verify, so we’ll stick with these numbers.) That sounds like a lot, until you consider that the audiences for Morning Edition and All Things Considered, both of which are stellar actual NEWS programs, boast about 13 million listeners each. (HERE) In other words, if you’re going to claim that Limbaugh and his ilk are incredibly influential because of their humongous… audiences, then you have to give equal props to NPR for its two daily 3-hour news blocks.

Of course, there’s something you should know. All of the above figures are for five days combined, meaning that, at any given time, 1% of the country is listening to these programs at any given time. Yes, folks, that’s right; Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are on more than 600 stations each, and can’t get more than 1% of the total population to listen to them.

See what I’m getting at? The monsters in “the media” aren’t as powerful as you think they are.  They gain power through hype, and some of you have bought into that hype. They derive their real power when liberals act fearful of that “power,” and act accordingly.

There simply is no “the Media.” Yes, there are things to keep an eye on. The unfortunate over-consolidation of the broadcast spectrum has rendered much of it useless. As noted, the cable news sector has completely blown its mission, and has largely eschewed news in favor of 24 hours of opinion programming, with less and less reliance on journalism.  But what we do have is in no way monolithic, as the term “the Media” implies. There are literally  thousands of legitimate news sources now available to us via the Internet; sources that were not available to us 15 years ago. To even suggest that all of them are conspiring together to somehow deprive us of information just seems absurd, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, you should know that more and more people are getting their news from the Internet. According to a Mashable summary of Pew Center results, the most-cited news source category was television. But before you jump up and scream “See!” check the numbers, because most folks cited more than one source. Overall, the fastest growing source of news was the Internet. Even more  fascinating is the revelation that 65% of those age 18-29 list the Internet as their primary source of news. They’re not watching TV or listening to the radio, and they probably only read newspapers for class. That means a major shift away from what we consider to be traditional news sources.

Fewer people rely on one single source for news anymore. More and more of us search for news. One of the great things about the iPad and smartphones is the ability to use news aggregators to find the stories we want to read. I use them almost exclusively, which means I access numerous sources every single day. I have subscriptions to a number of news apps, including some foreign sources I could never have dreamed of accessing back in those heady “good old days” when journalists were allegedly so much greater than they are now. (That’s another myth.) I also now have the ability to read a story and verify it with other sources, to see if it passes the smell test.

The point is, the assumptions about an all-powerful “Media” controlling our lives are not reality-based. There are thousands of news resources available to everyone. That a few really loud obnoxious people love to repeat what Fox News or Limbaugh said as if it makes them seem smart is not indicative of an overarching conspiracy on the parts of thousands of news sources to keep you in the dark. It’s part of a very small conspiracy to distract us, and make us look at shiny keys, rather than those things that really matter.

Stop falling for it. Please.


The Livestream Ended: How I Got Off My Computer And Onto The Street At Occupy Oakland

The Awl:

[This is really a must-read. It’s too hard to summarize but is simple reading. Enjoy.]

[…] I listened with enormous interest, but I still didn’t go. At the risk of making this too much about me, I need to make my beliefs and reasons clear, such as they are (and were):

• I do not believe the police are evil.
• I do not believe in utopian societies.
• I distrust extremists of whatever stripe.
• I believe inflammatory rhetoric shuts down rational thought.
• I was (and remain) afraid of nighttime Oakland—the desperate Oakland that Occupy Oakland insisted on caring for and actually living with.
• I am lazy, prone to migraines, and unwilling to be cold, wet, uncomfortable and in constant danger of arrest.

In short, I’m a moderate: small, fearful, skeptical, selfish, with privilege aplenty. I have health care through the university, where I’m both a student and a teacher. I’m half-Hispanic, but I scan as white. I’m a not atypical Bay Area type: liberal, taxpaying, cautious, law-abiding (maybe to a fault), trying to hang onto the things I have. I have an iPhone, for heaven’s sake. […]

Michael Moore Warns: OWS ‘Is Not Right Now Concerned With Candidates’ Or Voting To Make Change (VIDEO)


Police Disguise Protest Sabotage As Public Safety

Alison Kilkenny:

[…]What’s so deeply nefarious about this kind of civil rights assassination is that curfew and fire safety laws were created with genuine good intentions. It makes sense to not want individuals walking around in secluded, dark spaces at night, or not allow people to create bonfires in the middle of grounds covered in dry grass. But these well-meaning laws are now being used to crush the First Amendment.

Some readers might be asking themselves: But Allison, how can we tell the difference between when the cops are trying to protect citizens, and when they’re using public safety laws to disguise protest sabotage? Well, it’s quite easy. Here’s an example: Let’s give the OPD some credit and assume they really were concerned protesters were going to start a fire with their fuel. Why not walk in and seize the equipment? Why escalate the enforcement of a public safety regulation into full-blown warfare on the streets of Oakland, including critically injuring a war veteran? Unless, of course, what happened in Oakland was never about public safety, and all about crushing the will of the protesters. It’s not very safe for the public to, say, shoot them with rubber bullets, tear gas them, and explode flash bang grenades in their midsts.

Another example: Let’s assume the NYPD is super freaked out by OWS having generators. Why wait until the day before first snowfall to seize them? Were these generators not a public safety issue on the first day of the occupation? What was special about October 28, 2011 that suddenly turned generators into Public Enemy Number One? Unless, of course, this has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with crushing one of the most successful branches of the Occupy movement.

The answers to these questions should seem fairly obvious to anyone who is familiar with how law enforcement agencies prefer to handle public dissent. The NYPD, OPD, and Tucson police don’t want a bloody, drawn out war on their hands. It’ll look terrible in the media, and public sentiment is already on the side of the protesters.

What police and city officials prefer is a death by a thousand subtle little cuts. Take the generators, issue tickets, pull down the tents, and make life unbearable for the protesters. Hope they give up and go home when it snows, and if that doesn’t work, try to freeze the bastards out.


Clueless in LA

by digby

They don’t even know how much they sound like out of touch assholes:

The last thing Los Angeles needs is a repeat of what happened in Oakland. The demonstrators haven’t made themselves apublic nuisance to the extent they did in the East Bay, and there is no reason to rush a confrontation. At the same time, though, it’s becoming increasingly clear that they can’t be allowed to camp out at City Hall forever. They’re killing the lawn in one of downtown’s rare green spaces, which will have to be replaced at taxpayer expense, and they may be damaging City Hall’s majestic fig trees. Merchants who normally set up a weekly farmers market on the lawn have been forced to set up in a plaza across the street, and there are obvious sanitation, vermin and public-health problems that come with an impromptu encampment in an urban zone that wasn’t intended to accommodate it. Besides, it’s against the law to camp in city parks after 10:30 p.m.

So what are city officials to do? Complicating the answer is that some of the same politicians now urging the protesters to leave were only too eager to roll out the welcome mat a few weeks ago. Villaraigosa on Wednesday said the demonstrators must obey local rules and regulations and that the encampment “cannot continue indefinitely.” Downtown business groups are said to be pressuring City Council members to close down what’s looking more like a Hoovervillethan a protest, and City Atty. Carmen Trutanich has urged police to enforce the law on nighttime camping.

They even provided a link to the Wikipedia page for “Hoovervilles”. Here’s what it says:

A ‘Hooverville’ was the popular name for shanty towns built by homeless people during the Great Depression. They were named after the President of the United States at the time, Herbert Hoover, because he allegedly let the nation slide into depression. The term was coined by Charles Michelson, publicity chief of the Democratic National Committee.[1] The name Hooverville has also been used to describe any Tent city populated by the homeless in modern-day America.

Homelessness was present before the Great Depression, and hobos and tramps were common sights in the 1920s, but the economic downturn increased their numbers and concentrated them in urban settlements close to soup kitchens run by charities. These settlements were often formed on empty land and generally consisted of tents and small shacks. Authorities did not officially recognize these Hoovervilles and occasionally removed the occupants for trespassing on private lands, but they were frequently tolerated or ignored out of necessity. The New Deal enacted special relief programs aimed at the homeless under the Federal Transient Service (FTS), which operated from 1933-35.

Apparently whoever wrote that LA Times editorial didn’t click the link (or are just dumb as a pile of earthworms.) The comparison is pretty obvious.

Frank Rich heard the echoes and wrote about it in his column last week:

During the death throes of Herbert Hoover’s presidency in June 1932, desperate bands of men traveled to Washington and set up camp within view of the Capitol. The first contingent journeyed all the way from Portland, Oregon, but others soon converged from all over—alone, in groups, with families—until their main Hooverville on the Anacostia River’s fetid mudflats swelled to a population as high as 20,000. The men, World War I veterans who could not find jobs, became known as the Bonus Army—for the modest government bonus they were owed for their service. Under a law passed in 1924, they had been awarded roughly $1,000 each, to be collected in 1945 or at death, whichever came first. But they didn’t want to wait any longer for their pre–New Deal entitlement—especially given that Congress had bailed out big business with the creation of a Reconstruction Finance Corporation earlier in its session. Father Charles Coughlin, the populist “Radio Priest” who became a phenomenon for railing against “greedy bankers and financiers,” framed Washington’s double standard this way: “If the government can pay $2 billion to the bankers and the railroads, why cannot it pay the $2 billion to the soldiers?”

The echoes of our own Great Recession do not end there. Both parties were alarmed by this motley assemblage and its political rallies; the Secret Service infiltrated its ranks to root out radicals. But a good Communist was hard to find. The men were mostly middle-class, patriotic Americans. They kept their improvised hovels clean and maintained small gardens. Even so, good behavior by the Bonus Army did not prevent the U.S. Army’s hotheaded chief of staff, General Douglas MacArthur, from summoning an overwhelming force to evict it from Pennsylvania Avenue late that July. After assaulting the veterans and thousands of onlookers with tear gas, ­MacArthur’s troops crossed the bridge and burned down the encampment. The general had acted against Hoover’s wishes, but the president expressed satisfaction afterward that the government had dispatched “a mob”—albeit at the cost of killing two of the demonstrators. The public had another take. When graphic newsreels of the riotous mêlée fanned out to the nation’s movie theaters, audiences booed MacArthur and his troops, not the men down on their luck. Even the mining heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, the owner of the Hope diamond and wife of the proprietor of the Washington Post, professed solidarity with the “mob” that had occupied the nation’s capital.

That the LA Times is clutching its pearls over fig trees and grass while nearly 3,000 people have been arrested at Occupations all over the country world says just about everything you need to know about disconnect between elites and everybody else.

By the way:

Occupy Denver protesters and law enforcement officers clashed this afternoon after demonstrators marched around downtown Denver for the fourth week in a row.

Police confirmed they used pepper spray and either rubber bullets or pepper balls to disperse the crowd in Civic Center. Broadway was closed off at both Colfax and 14th Avenue and a stream of patrol cars, lights flashing and sirens blaring, hurried to the scene. Officers were dressed in riot gear.

Denver police spokesman Matt Murray said seven arrests had been made — including two for assault and one for disobedience.

Hmmm. Is “disobedience” a misdemeanor or a felony here in the land of the free? I forget.

NY City Police Official: We Will Sue Any Occupy Wall Street Protester Who Hurts An Officer 


Citing Fire Risk, New York City Cuts Occupy Wall Street’s Power



Have you read Matt Yglesias’ Saturday post on Occupy Wall Street as a rational response to a failed system? If not, do so. Now. Seriously, I’ll wait. It’s time we had a frank discussion about liberalism in our new American movement, and he’s done a great job starting it. So I’d like to write frankly here about some of the ideas found current in the Occupation of Wall Street that are, as Yglesias says, “unsound” — starting with END THE FED.

This blog has remarked many times on culture wars that seem to unearth a buried conflict from American history, refighting old battles in demand of a new outcome. Opposition to the existence of the Federal Reserve has a history as long as America’s. The Federalists created a central bank to provide credit — that all-important ingredient of industry — as well as a single currency. Representing the power of southern planters, President Andrew Jackson vetoed a renewed charter for the Second Bank of the United States in 1836. After a series of recessions and panics, America created a third Bank of the United States in 1907. We call it the Federal Reserve instead of Third Bank of the United States, but that’s exactly what it is.

The Fed is an artifact of the progressive era, when liberals encouraged the growth of corporations to provide employment through production. If the Federal Reserve were to be abolished — if, as most opponents of the Fed’s existence dream, we were to return to the gold standard — there would be two immediate consequences: a tight money supply in the United States, and zooming credit rates. Everything from cars to mortgages would become even more expensive, while the actual job creators would actually find it more expensive to do business. Moreover, the taxpayer would immediately lose the benefit of the Federal Reserve’s profits (about $82 billion last year).

None of this helps. Yglesias picks up the point, argued here before, that the Occupation movement has to succeed by making things better; annihilating the Federal Reserve would accomplish the opposite. This is not to say the Fed doesn’t need reform or auditing, but that END THE FED is an extreme, archaic, and austerity-inducing economic policy approved by oligarchs, Ron Paul, Goldline, and hardly anyone else who understands what the Fed actually does.

My sense is that opponents of the Federal Reserve system are a marginal group to this movement, though not the only one. Such adherents may, as Yglesias suggests, be brought to sanity through conversation, not compulsion. Believe it or not, this is possible. My interactions with people in the movement so far have convinced me that, for most protesters who talk about “corporations,”  the existence of said corporations is not at issue. They merely want corporate power reigned in. After all, many (if not most) of the people in Zuccotti Park are employed by corporations, while the debt-burdened students on the We Are the 99 Percent Tumblr would simply like corporations to start hiring again. As I mentioned above, corporations once provided the backbone of American prosperity, and with the right policy they can do so again.

Last Thursday, the Occupation General Assembly tabled a motion to adopt a third-party strategy. This is an encouraging sign, for the solution to our national malaise is not a new extreme, but a new center. In one sense, the Occupation has already done that by changing the national conversation away from austerity to prosperity. The movement will best exploit that achievement by expanding at the center, not the fringe.


OccupyDenver in amazing pics: Wow.

Political Carnival:




Cops begin arresting Occupy Portland demonstrators who refuse to leave a park after midnight curfew – Oregonian 

In the aftermath of the most heated encounter between Occupy Portland and police that resulted in 27 arrests, city officials said their approach to the movement won’t change. Protesters have said they have no plans of quitting their cause any time soon.


The multifaith march has arrived!  


HOW TO defend yourself against tear-gas



Politico Reports Herman Cain Sexual Harassment Allegation Coverup

Late Sunday evening, Politico published a report alleging that current Republican presidential frontrunner Herman Cain was the subject of accusations of sexual harassment while he was head of the National Restaurant Association (TheOther NRA™).  While Politico’s story is thoroughly reported, it relies completely on anonymous sources, which might make this budding scandal survivable if not for the candidate’s, and his campaign’s, prosciutto-fisted handling of it.

According to the report, Cain was accused by two women, employees of the NRA, of repeated inappropriate behavior, including “unwanted sexual advances,” but both women were paid off to leave the association, and to keep quiet. While the sourcing for this reporting is all anonymous, most of the sources bear strong attribution (e.g. “a former board member” versus “a source familiar with…”), and Politico has the names of both women involved, but has withheld them out of respect for their privacy. They also report having seen documentation relating to one of the cases. Journalistically speaking, it’s rock-solid reporting.

From a PR standpoint, though, the Cain campaign could have finessed their way out of this with relative ease, especially given his party’s suspicion of anything that smacks of “political correctness.” After all, even if you grant that the allegations were made, and settlements were reached, it wouldn’t have been difficult for a prepared Cain campaign to cast this as disgruntled, over-sensitive employees making a grab at the NRA’s deep pockets. The fact that Politico’s report contains multiple named sources defending Cain would certainly have been of help there.


Watch how Fox responds here.


President’s Weekly Address

Remarks of President Barack Obama

This week, a new economic report confirmed what most Americans already believe to be true: over the past three decades, the middle class has lost ground while the wealthiest few have become even wealthier. In fact, the average income for the top one percent of Americans has risen almost seven times faster than the income of the average middle class family. And this has happened during a period where the cost of everything from health care to college has skyrocketed.

Now, in this country, we don’t begrudge anyone wealth or success – we encourage it. We celebrate it. But America is better off when everyone has had the chance to get ahead – not just those at the top of the income scale. The more Americans who prosper, the more America prospers.

Rebuilding an economy where everyone has the chance to succeed will take time. Our economic problems were decades in the making, and they won’t be solved overnight. But there are steps we can take right now to put people back to work and restore some of the security that middle-class Americans have lost over the last few decades.

Right now, Congress can pass a set of common-sense jobs proposals that independent economists tell us will boost the economy right away. Proposals that will put more teachers, veterans, construction workers and first responders back on the job. Proposals that will cut taxes for virtually every middle class family and small business in America. These are the same kinds of proposals that both Democrats and Republicans have supported in the past. And they should stop playing politics and act on them now.

These jobs proposals are also paid for by asking folks who are making more than a million dollars a year to contribute a little more in taxes. These are the same folks who have seen their incomes go up so much, and I believe this is a contribution they’re willing to make. One survey found that nearly 7 in 10 millionaires are willing to step up and pay a little more in order to help the economy.

Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress aren’t paying attention. They’re not getting the message. Over and over, they have refused to even debate the same kind of jobs proposals that Republicans have supported in the past – proposals that today are supported, not just by Democrats, but by Independents and Republicans all across America. And yet, somehow, they found time this week to debate things like whether or not we should mint coins to celebrate the Baseball Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, they’re only scheduled to work three more weeks between now and the end of the year.

The truth is, we can no longer wait for Congress to do its job. The middle-class families who’ve been struggling for years are tired of waiting. They need help now. So where Congress won’t act, I will.

This week, we announced a new policy that will help families whose home values have fallen refinance their mortgages and save thousands of dollars. We’re making it easier for veterans to get jobs putting their skills to work in hospitals and community health centers. We reformed the student loan process so more young people can get out of debt faster. And we’re going to keep announcing more changes like these on a regular basis.

These steps will make a difference. But they won’t take the place of the bold action we need from Congress to get this economy moving again. That’s why I need all of you to make your voices heard. Tell Congress to stop playing politics and start taking action on jobs. If we want to rebuild an economy where every American has the chance to get ahead, we need every American to get involved. That’s how real change has always happened, and that’s how it’ll happen today.

Thank you.


President Obama: Nancy Pelosi was “one of the best” Speakers, she’ll be back in 2013

Political Carnival:

Obama adviser David Plouffe on Mitt Romney: He “has no core.”


[…] The comments were unusual for their harsh assessment of Mr. Romney’s politics and his character at this early stage of the campaign and for the fact that they came from an official serving in the White House rather than in Mr. Obama’s Chicago-based re-election campaign.

Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, Mr. Plouffe repeated the campaign’s assertion that Mr. Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts and a leading contender for his party’s presidential nomination, “has no core.”

He then listed a number of issues on which he contended that Mr. Romney had performed backflips to cater to conservative Republican voters.

“You know he was supportive of a cap-and-trade agreement, now he doesn’t think that, you know, climate change is real,” Mr. Plouffe said. “He was to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights issues and now he wants to amend the constitution to prohibit gay marriage. He was an extremely pro-choice governor; now he believes life begins at conception and would ban Roe v. Wade.

“So you look at issue after issue after issue, he’s moved all over the place and I can tell you one thing: working a few steps down from the president, what you need in that office is conviction, you need to have a true compass, and you’ve got to be willing to make tough calls. And you get the sense with Mitt Romney that, you know, if he thought it was good for him to say the sky was green and the grass was blue to win an election he’d say it.”

Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Mr. Romney, said Mr. Plouffe was trying to create a distraction.

“President Obama can’t run on his abysmal economic record and he is desperate to distract from the historic loss of middle class jobs that has occurred on his watch,” he said. “Americans won’t be fooled by false and negative attacks – they know that President Obama has failed, and they are eager to replace him with a leader like Mitt Romney who can turn around our struggling economy.”

Mr. Plouffe said that Herman Cain, the former pizza chain executive, “seems to have tapped into something” in the Republican electorate, while 75 percent or 80 percent of Republican voters seem to be looking for someone other than Mr. Romney to nominate.

He declined to predict whom the president was likely to face next November.

“I don’t think we have any idea,” Mr. Plouffe said. “The World Series just ended Friday night, but to use a baseball term, we may be in the first inning of this. So this is going to have a lot of twists and turns.”


Axelrod goes there, charging that GOP is trying to destroy economy on purpose, and that it’s unprecedented


Here’s David Axelrod, on CNN today, pushing back on Candy Crowley’s suggestion that Obama bears some of the blame for Congress’s failure to act on the economy:

I think this is something — something different going on right now. When you have the leader — the Republican leader of the Senate say, our number one goal — in the midst of this economy, our number one goal is to defeat the president, and they’re acting like it.

They don’t want to cooperate. They don’t want to help. Even on measures to help the economy that they traditionally have supported before, like a payroll tax cut, like infrastructure, rebuilding our roads and bridges and surface transport. These — so you have to ask a question, are they willing to tear down the economy in order to tear down the president or are they going to cooperate?

And, listen, there’s a reason why the Congress is at nine percent in some polls, approval, lowest in history. Because this is different than we’ve ever seen before.

This is an argument that many Congressional Dems and surrogates, such as messaging chief Chuck Schumer, have been making for some time now. But to my knowledge Obama campaign officials have not been willing to go here in quite this way in a high profile setting (there was afundraising email that made a similar case a few weeks ago). At the very least, this may be the first time a top Obama campaign official has linked this argument to the idea that this GOP behavior may be historically unprecedented, and that it may be a key reason for Congress’ historical unpopularity — it’s a broadening of the indictment.

As you know, Obama’s newly aggressive populism and (gasp) partisan rhetoric has sparked a good deal of handwringing and complaining from centrist columists (see Brooks, David) and leading GOP officials (see Ryan, Paul), who have been arguing that the new approach is somehow out of bounds or that it risks alienating the middle of the country. Axelrod’s amplification of the charge that the GOP may be tanking the economy on purpose suggests the Obama campaign isn’t taking these objections too seriously.

Indeed, it’s worth asking whether we’re seeing a fundamental shift in the thinking of the Obama team and some Dems — a basic recognition that the old rules don’t apply anymore, that the unprecedented tactics being employed by the opposition require a new kind of response. As Dana Milbank notes, you can see the evidence of this in the unapologetic populism driving Elizabeth Warren’s Senate candidacy, which suggests that “Democrats will no longer play by Marquess of Queensbury rules while their opponents disembowel them.”

But this may be about something broader than just a new approach to Republicans. The Occupy Wall Street protests; our political conversation’s intense new focus on inequality and economic justice; and the extraordinary levels of voter anxiety and dissatisafaction with our institutions all seem to suggest that the political landscape is shifting in ways we can’t really appreciate yet. It looks like the Obama campaign is placing its bet on what kind of political response these big changes are demanding.

Bloomberg To Host Sunday Dinner To Urge Super Committee To Cut $4 Trillion, Let The 99% Eat Cake

Crooks and Liars:

If there was any doubt in your mind to just how indifferent the 1% is to the needs of the 99%, or whether Bloomberg sees Occupy Wall Street as a mere nuisance, I think this news will clear that right up:

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will host an intimate dinner at Gracie Mansion on Sunday night that brings together a bipartisan group of senators, Xerox chief executive Ursula Burns and other business and labor leaders to discuss how to pave the way for the Super Committee to “go big” and cut $4 trillion in federal spending, according to a source familiar with the dinner.

The Washington contingent includes Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Warner and Republican Sens. Bob Corker, and Saxby Chambliss, among others. The meeting will be a much smaller, more strategic affair — 10 to 20 people — than a similar dinner Warner threw at his home in September, which had a guest list of 60.

Sunday’s dinner is another in a series of conversations that lawmakers, policy makers and business and labor leaders have been having since last summer to make a business case for big cuts in spending. A number of senators and business groups, including the Business Roundtable and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, having been urging the Super Committee to cut more than the $1.5 trillion it is charged with finding.

But Occupy Gracie will be there with a message of their own:

To eliminate the budget deficit, the SuperCommittee could simply tax the top 1% through a Millionaires Tax and a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street speculation.

But instead they plan to slash Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and everything else essential to the survival of the 99%.

Their joyful champagne toast will be “Let them eat cake!”

Naturally, the 99% were not invited to dine with the 1% at Gracie Mansion. So we’ll just have to @OccupyGracie.

At 6 p.m. we’ll gather at 88th Street and 1st Ave (outside the Bagel Mill) and march 2 blocks to Gracie at 88th and East End.

Come dressed as Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, or a Peasant – and bring the family. We’ll vote for the best costumes and they will serve us all cake!


What the Costumes Reveal


On Friday, the law firm of Steven J. Baum threw a Halloween party. The firm, which is located near Buffalo, is what is commonly referred to as a “foreclosure mill” firm, meaning it represents banks and mortgage servicers as they attempt to foreclose on homeowners and evict them from their homes. Steven J. Baum is, in fact, the largest such firm in New York; it represents virtually all the giant mortgage lenders, including Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

The party is the firm’s big annual bash. Employees wear Halloween costumes to the office, where they party until around noon, and then return to work, still in costume. I can’t tell you how people dressed for this year’s party, but I can tell you about last year’s.

That’s because a former employee of Steven J. Baum recently sent me snapshots of last year’s party. In an e-mail, she said that she wanted me to see them because they showed an appalling lack of compassion toward the homeowners — invariably poor and down on their luck — that the Baum firm had brought foreclosure proceedings against.

When we spoke later, she added that the snapshots are an accurate representation of the firm’s mind-set. “There is this really cavalier attitude,” she said. “It doesn’t matter that people are going to lose their homes.” Nor does the firm try to help people get mortgage modifications; the pressure, always, is to foreclose. I told her I wanted to post the photos on The Times’s Web site so that readers could see them. She agreed, but asked to remain anonymous because she said she fears retaliation.

Let me describe a few of the photos. In one, two Baum employees are dressed like homeless people. One is holding a bottle of liquor. The other has a sign around her neck that reads: “3rd party squatter. I lost my home and I was never served.” My source said that “I was never served” is meant to mock “the typical excuse” of the homeowner trying to evade a foreclosure proceeding.

A second picture shows a coffin with a picture of a woman whose eyes have been cut out. A sign on the coffin reads: “Rest in Peace. Crazy Susie.” The reference is to Susan Chana Lask, a lawyer who had filed a class-action suit against Steven J. Baum — and had posted a YouTube video denouncing the firm’s foreclosure practices. “She was a thorn in their side,” said my source.

A third photograph shows a corner of Baum’s office decorated to look like a row of foreclosed homes. Another shows a sign that reads, “Baum Estates” — needless to say, it’s also full of foreclosed houses. Most of the other pictures show either mock homeless camps or mock foreclosure signs — or both. My source told me that not every Baum department used the party to make fun of the troubled homeowners they made their living suing. But some clearly did. The adjective she’d used when she sent them to me — “appalling” — struck me as exactly right.

These pictures are hardly the first piece of evidence that the Baum firm treats homeowners shabbily — or that it uses dubious legal practices to do so. It is under investigation by the New York attorney general, Eric Schneiderman. It recently agreed to pay $2 million to resolve aninvestigation by the Department of Justice into whether the firm had “filed misleading pleadings, affidavits, and mortgage assignments in the state and federal courts in New York.” (In the press release announcing the settlement, Baum acknowledged only that “it occasionally made inadvertent errors.”)

MFY Legal Services, which defends homeowners, and Harwood Feffer, a large class-action firm, have filed a class-action suit claiming that Steven J. Baum has consistently failed to file certain papers that are necessary to allow for a state-mandated settlement conference that can lead to a modification. Judge Arthur Schack of the State Supreme Court in Brooklyn once described Baum’s foreclosure filings as “operating in a parallel mortgage universe, unrelated to the real universe.” (My source told me that one Baum employee dressed up as Judge Schack at a previous Halloween party.)

I saw the firm operate up close when I wrote several columns about Lilla Roberts, a 73-year-old homeowner who had spent three years in foreclosure hell. Although she had a steady income and was a good candidate for a modification, the Baum firm treated her mercilessly.

When I called a press spokesman for Steven J. Baum to ask about the photographs, he sent me a statement a few hours later. “It has been suggested that some employees dress in … attire that mocks or attempts to belittle the plight of those who have lost their homes,” the statement read. “Nothing could be further from the truth.” It described this column as “another attempt by The New York Times to attack our firm and our work.”

I encourage you to look at the photographs with this column on the Web. Then judge for yourself the veracity of Steven J. Baum’s denial.

Mitt Romney’s friends provide ammo to his critics

Mitt Romney is stacking his team with policy advisers from the George W. Bush administration — and it has conservatives up in arms.

The Republican right cringes at some of the high-profile people Romney is leaning on for donations and advice, including three former Bush-era officials whose recent records include lobbying for Solyndra and advocating on behalf of cap-and-trade legislation and carbon taxes.

Key Romney Advisers Advocate War With Iran

Romney: U.S. “should not play the role of leader” in middle east peace process, “follow” Israel instead 


Obamas hand out Halloween treats at White House

“What’s this? Look at this guy,” the president said at the sight of one costumed child. “A headless man. Terrifying!”

And yes, the sweets included signature boxes of White House M&Ms, signaling a temporary respite from the first lady’s healthy eating campaign. Dried fruit and White House baked cookies rounded out the handouts.

Earlier this week, in an appearance on the “Tonight Show,” Obama joked to host Jay Leno that he had warned his wife that if she wanted to avoid Halloween mischief she might want to dole out more than just fruit and raisins.

“I told her the White House is going to get egged if this keeps up,” he said, suggesting that she might want to add “a couple of Reese’s Pieces or something.”

In the spirit of compromise, a trait the president often says is all too rare in Washington, the M&Ms made it into the goody bags. Not exactly Reese’s Pieces, but close enough. (Truth be told, the M&Ms were included in the treats last year, too). The sweet dough butter cookies were baked by White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses.



Halloween at the White House

Romney’s Position On Costumes




Invasion Of The Mind-Controlling Parasites 


A few months back, something terrible happened to millions of flies around Washington, D.C.

“We were getting literally hundreds of reports of these crazy dead flies everywhere — on vegetation, on sign posts,” says Mike Raupp, an entomologist at the University of Maryland.

He says the flies were attacked by a mind-controlling fungus.

“It basically zombie-izes them. In other words, it manipulates their behavior,” Raupp says. “[The fly] moves to a high point, let’s say the tip of a blade of grass.”

The fly freezes at the tip of the leaf, and the fungus spews more mind-controlling spores into the wind.

Mind-controlling parasites are all around us. The number of creatures that can be affected is “huge,” says Janice Moore, a professor at Colorado State University who wrote a book on parasites and animal behavior. She says some parasites play with neurotransmitters; others with hormones.

“If you take the world of parasites broadly, we don’t know the half of it yet,” she says.

Parasites can be terrifyingly precise. One example that’s becoming a little more understood is Toxoplasma gondii.

“Toxoplasma basically makes rodents somewhat fearless around cats — in fact, it’s even more than fearless,” Moore says. “There’s some evidence that they’re attracted to the smell of cats and to cat urine.”

What happens to rats that like cats? They get eaten.

On his laptop, Raupp plays a video from a lab in France. It shows giant worms exploding out of a dying cricket that’s floating in a swimming pool. He says small organisms called hairworms begin to reach maturity inside the cricket. Then they make the cricket start to act erratically.

“Crickets that would normally kind of move pretty slowly and stay in dimly lit areas actually become attracted to light,” he says. “What this does apparently is bring them out of their normal habitat and increase the likelihood they’re going to bump into a pond. Once they reach the edge of that water, they take the suicidal plunge into the water.”

That’s when the hairworms leave the host and reproduce.

Humans aren’t necessarily immune to parasites’ powers, either.

“Studies have looked at accidents — individuals in automobile accidents, both actually drivers and pedestrians — and they have increased rates of Toxoplasma as well,” says Bob Yolken, chair of Pediatric Neurovirology at Johns Hopkins medical school.

The link is nowhere near conclusive, but still, Moore says it’s enough to make you think.

“I do think about free will some because I do think about how we’re all trapped in our own skins,” she says, “and to tell you the truth, free will in general, it always amazes me how in the same situation some people will rise to the occasion and be saints and other people will be sinners.”

Many things affect that, Moore says, but we may have to add parasites to the list.


Discovery News:

An Afro-Cuban religious trance can be helped by particular brain types, say scientists, but the experience is also learned.

[…] Armenteros literally means a different dimension. When he drums and chants in a certain sequence, some of his listeners are lulled into a trance.

Those who practice Santería say the trance opens the doors to spirit possession, and the gods, or orishas, brieflyenter the trance-induced body and use it for earthly advising.

“It does happen at concerts, but the full effect is more likely when all the right elements are present in a ceremony,” said Armenteros, explaining that more authentic trance experiences would include all the tools, such as a spiritual leader, i.e. a babalawo, or a Santero, and offerings.

Santería, also called Regla de Ocha, is a slimmed-down system of beliefs that came from the Yoruba people, in what is now Nigeria.

It is considered one of the most African of all Afro-American religious blends. Other popular examples include Haitian Vodou and Brazilian Candomblé. Each evolved within the confines of slavery in French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies.

Forced to convert to Catholicism. slaves soon noticed that many Catholic saints resembled their own ancestral gods. For example, Santería, Vodou, and Candomble all associate Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillery, with Chango or Shango, the god of thunder. Today, tens of thousands of people practice these blends.

Social scientists say that trances, a behavior common to all kinds of world religions, are biological, but also caused by learned behavior.

According to Dr. Peter Naish, a senior lecturer in cognitive psychology at the Open University in the U.K., asymmetrical brains — those whose two hemispheres process information at disproportionate speeds — are more capable of playing the hallucinatory tricks indicative of hypnosis and trance.

In his study “Hypnosis and Hemispheric Asymmetry,” published in the Jan. 2010 edition of the journal Consciousness and Cognition, he noted higher hypnotic susceptibility in those who, before being hypnotized, processed information much more quickly in the left brain hemisphere than the right. But during hypnosis, the situation flipped and the right became faster. No one knows whether they are born with that wiring or if it comes through experience.

“Clearly, highly hypnotizable brains are different,” said Naish, “but what you do once you are hypnotized is largely down to expectation. If you have the assumption that you visit the spirit world and can’t remember what you did there, then I dare say that’s what you do.”

Erika Bourguignon, a leading expert on Afro-Caribbean spirit possession and professor emerita at Ohio State University, says that altered state is characterized in Afro-Caribbean religions by shaking, staring and the absence of facial expression.

“We know altered states are general human capacities. There are dreams, and dreams are a kind of altered state,” Bourguinon said.

All this scientific discussion is fine with the Santería practitioners because not everybody should fall into a trance, noted Cuban anthropologist and television producer Fermin Fleites.

“Those who don’t are sometimes chosen as babalawos,” he said, explaining that these spiritual leaders help to interpret what a trance-induced person won’t remember saying.

For Joseph M. Murphy, a theology professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., these elements are all part of the community spirit of the practice.

“It’s quite lovely to see how people form a protective ring around the person to settle the spirit. The person won’t look like themselves and they’ll talk with a lot of authority and presence of the spirit that takes them,” Murphy said.

Both followers of Santería and social scientists insist that none of the manifestations of African spirituality are as macabre as the media has often portrayed.

Murphy says the stereotypes probably stem from Vodou ceremonies that preceded the 1791 Haitian Revolution to overthrow the French. “It scared the living daylights out of slave holders in the West,” he said.

It’s true that practitioners of Santería, Vodou, Candomblé, and a few other similar Afro-American religions perform animal sacrifices and cast spells, but all are advised not to do anything that could have negative repercussions.

“All these religions involve a moral code, an idea of what the spirits will punish. But there’s also the concept of the good life, a respect for authority, elders, and tradition,” said Bourguinon.

Protection from evil is also part of the faith, explained Renee Chavez, a Miami-based Santería practitioner and choreographer of Afro-Indigenous dance.

“Unless you allow something, it cannot happen. That’s why the trance is one of the most important aspects of Santería,” she said, explaining that if you’re biologically prone to having a trance, you and your community are in for quite an experience. “You’re allowing yourself to be enraptured by the song and the music, which allows you to be your most high self … a vessel for getting messages to other people.”


Daily Show: Mad Scientists!(video)




SoCal Carwash Workers Win First-Ever Contracts

There’s good news from the struggle for justice for Southern California carwash workers — carwasheros. In a groundbreaking agreement, carwash workers at Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica have reached a first-ever contract. The workers voted to join United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675 this summer.

Also, workers at Marina Car Wash in Venice, owned by the same company but closed, won union recognition and a contract, and the owners have committed to work to reopen the facility. In addition, workers at three other carwashes have won a union voice.

Oliverio Gomez, who has worked at Bonus Car Wash for nine years, says:

The contract includes a wage increase, health and safety protections, grievance and arbitration procedures and protections for workers if the carwash is sold. The agreement also establishes rights that protect workers from being unfairly punished or dismissed, among other things.

The workers came together in the CLEAN Carwash Campaign to fight for their rights. The CLEAN Carwash Campaign is a coalition supported by the USW, the AFL-CIO and more than 100 community, faith and labor organizations in Los Angeles. For more information, click here.

Chloe Osmer, acting director of the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, calls the contracts,“an absolutely historic tide change for the carwash industry.”

After years of efforts by courageous carwash workers and our community partners, we’ve secured an agreement that marks the beginning of a cleaner carwash industry.

Mike Watson, general manager of Bonus Car Wash, says, “We are looking forward to a partnership with the United Steelworkers that will make our business stronger and improve the opportunities and job satisfaction for all of our employees.”

There are thousands of carwash workers who face deplorable working conditions every day: violations of health and safety laws, wage and hour laws, and anti-discrimination laws. Most of these workers are immigrants who all of them are without the power to fight back against the horrible conditions in which they work.

Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, says Los Angeles is the epicenter of the carwash industry and “the epicenter of innovative organizing, particularly by immigrant workers.”

LA labor congratulates carwash workers for standing up and demanding decent wages and safe conditions. We will make sure that hundreds of thousands of families in LA County know where to get their cars washed.


Ohio University Group Speaks Out Against Racially Offensive Halloween Costumes On CNN

Ohio University’s Students Teaching About Racism in Society spoke with CNN’s Randi Kaye about their viral campaign against racist Halloween costumes called “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume”. “We feel this is very important because a lot of students are unaware that dressing up or posing as a different culture is very offensive,” said STARS secretary Chrissa Bush. “We want to bring awareness to not only Athens, but to all over the world where people can stop making this mistake and start respecting all ethnicities,”

The group’s posters display various people of color holding up photos of racist costumes such as one with a white Dallas Cowboys cheerleader dressed up as Lil’ Wayne in blackface:


Scripture Candy is a great treat to pass out with a message.

f you’ve done any of your Halloween candy shopping yet (No? Why not?) you might’ve noticed a new brand of candy on store shelves.  Well it’s not technically new, it’s still the same crappy Candy Corn we all know and loathe.  However, someone has re-branded the traditional Halloween treat under the name of “Jesus Harvest Seeds.”

This hot new brand of candy comes in individually wrapped bags with sweet ass Bible verses on them.  That’s right, gone are the days when kids used to say “Blech! Candy Corn? Here Grandpa, you can have these.” Now kids will be saying “Jesus Harvest Seeds? Fuck yeah! Which Bible verse did I get this time? Yo man, you got that John 3:16? I’ve been looking for that one.

Look religion, I appreciate the fact that you’re trying to get in on Halloween, it is an awesome holiday after all, but you’re sending me mixed messages here.  First you leave little notes on my car telling me that I’m going to be dragged to hell if I don’t stay home on Halloween night. Now you’re trying to entice me with some candy corn?  You’re either going to all out support me or you’re going to condemn me.  There’s no middle ground between hell and not-so-delicious candy treats.

Also, don’t name something “Jesus Harvest Seeds.” You’re gonna give people the idea that if you plant them in the ground, they’ll grow a Jesus and that’s just mean.  Some poor kid is going to plant these seeds and find that in the morning there’s an ant hill where his Jesus should be, you know how badly that’s going to shake his faith? Not cool.




The ashes I wasn’t meant to find

Lorraine Berry, Slate:

I have a long-standing fantasy that I’m going to find the $7 million that once belonged to gangster Dutch Schultz, who secreted the cash in the upstate New York hills where I live. The money has been missing for decades, so when I first saw that box, sitting there in the graveyard where I occasionally walk my dogs, I actually said out loud: “Oh my God, it’s buried treasure.”

The box wasn’t nearly large enough to contain so much money — it looked as if it might be a 4-by-6-inch index card box — but then again, how many times do you stumble across a box sitting in an open hole?

I crouched down, the late afternoon Friday sun hot on my neck. The box was not stone, as I had originally thought, but a heavy-duty black ridged cardboard. Hmm, I thought, perhaps someone’s family heirlooms?

On a grave not too far from where we stood, someone had left several pieces of costume jewelry atop one of the headstones. I lifted the heavy box out of its shallow hole. On one end, someone had typed a white label.

A man’s name. A place of residence. And the note: “Human remains. Cremated August 1, 2011.”

My hands began to shake. “Oh. Oh my. I’ve found human cremains,” I said out loud to the dogs.



Creepiest Vintage Costumes

Unicorn Father:



Pumpkin Girl:



Vintage Kids Halloween

Halloween episode of Lassie, 1962

JFK, Jon-Jon, and Caroline, 1963

Sonny Bono and Chastity, 1972



The Panda-Lion-Chow


REALLY Scary Prank:


Remembering the everyday renegades on Dia De Los Muertos


Celebrated on Nov. 1st and 2nd.

Today, in the spirit of Dia De Los Muertos, lets celebrate instead those who’ve fought dark times before, survived dark times before, PREVAILED in times that were much like what we face now.

I don’t mean just the leaders, not just Elizabeth Cady Stanton, more than Joe Hill, not just Chief Joseph, not merely Martin Luther King Jr. or William Lloyd Garrison or Cesar Chavez. The authoritarians are the ones who have no choice but to elevate “great men” for them to FOLLOW…Our luminaries are only representatives of vast numbers of people most of us might never know by name, unless they were the grandfather who told you stories of old strikes, of meals of crusty toast with chipped beef gravy on top while sitting at his knee. Perhaps another who sat at an old formica kitchen table with tales of the struggle against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the mission schools, or stories related at family get-togethers of sitting at the back of the bus, grandmothers who remembered having no opportunity to pursue their own dreams because of their gender. Maybe your forebearers told stories of shame and having to hide who they loved, or the pressure to hide the fruits of having loved, of being spirited away to give birth in shame.

THIS Dia De Los Muertos, remember their struggles, but remember their COMMUNITY. Remember that unlike the right, unlike the worshippers of division and death, we can look back with joy and fondness at people who sang and danced and loved and communed DESPITE their struggles, despite the exploitation, the hatred, the discrimination and fear. They formed communities, they formed unions, they formed sewing circles and barn raisings and volunteer organizations. They rallied with their neighbors, mended fences, found common ground with NEW neighbors different from themselves. It’s easy to remember the nativists, the klansmen, the misogynists and gay bashers and jingoists and bundists … but also remember that there were ALWAYS good people opposing them, forging bonds, talking and working together to build a brighter, broader, more inclusive future. While there were slavers, there were abolitionists. When other men jeered and sniped, remember there were women who reminded others that a woman was every bit the equal of a man and should have a voice, and there were sons who listened to them.

Celebrate the artists, the writers, the musicians and performers who forged bonds between different groups of people, who showed us all that it’s okay to be different, that different can be wonderful and exciting. Remember that every time that culture tried to expand our ties, broaden our conversations, help us see the world anew, the authoritarian minded tried to silence them, ban them, attack them, but over time the artists prevailed. From the churches and the juke joints, the beer halls and the smokey bars, from the salons to the corner table at the Algonquin, from coffee houses to underground clubs … we can remember fondly those who found beauty and strength in the everyday and in the sublime and IN EACH OTHER. THIS Dia De Los Muertos, read their words, sing their songs, dance to their tunes, enjoy their paintings and sculptures and their videos. Remember that no matter how loudly, how violently, how insistently those afraid of openness and sharing and difference and change tried to stop it, the songs got sung, the rugs got cut, the words got read…

We can and will prevail, we will find a way to become a font for peace again. It doesn’t matter how you add to the struggle, it not necessary for all of us to become politicians or full-time activists. You can help those who do that vital work by volunteering for them, or donating to them, or by merely talking to your neighbors, chatting with the frightened and cowed who you encounter in your daily life. Smile and quietly talk back to those who spread hate and fear. We are where we are because those with no faith in humanity TALKED TO EACH OTHER, and refused to compromise. We can do the same, because we believe in community, not division, and in community there comes strength. The fight, the struggle, the great human show continues, and throughout history given time and perserverance it has been the cultivators, not the extractors, who have brought beauty, peace and prosperity to the world. Over the next couple of days, remember them fondly, and let those memories inform your choices as we face the struggles ahead.

Think I’ll build a guillotine. What could possibly go wrong?
(Do we really even need to click on the link? We know what happened to Lefty.)



Keep Wall Street Occupied (BRILLIANT idea, and a H/T to PatsyT!)

Haunt the House!

Bloodsucking fundraisers! Lobbyist zombies! Mutant SuperPACs!

More here:

This Halloween, there’s plenty to be scared of on Capitol Hill. The fate of $1.5 trillion rests in the hands of 12 members of the “Super Committee” tasked with slashing our national deficit. We’d like to think this Committee has our best interest in mind when they hover the axe, but the Committee’s been operating in the shadows where deep pocketed powerful special interests, creepy corporations and other things that go bump in the night are whispering in their ears. (Learn more here)

Will it be Medicare or environmental programs on the chopping block? Will taxes get hiked or revenues slashed? We don’t know. But as long as the Super Committee does their work in the shadows, the vampires and zombie lobbyists lurking there will be heard louder than the rest of us. It’s time to get the skeletons out of the closet and tell the Super Committee that transparency isn’t just for ghosts this year. Join us as we Haunt the House (and Senate). (More info below!)

Haunt the House (and the Senate) — and we want you to be there. We’ll be heading to Super Committee members’ offices all around the country to remind them who they work for.Head to meetup.com/transparencyto join your local Haunt.

When: Monday, October 31st, 2011 at 9AM (local time)
Where: Your local Super Committee member’s office. (Find it here!) or check our our “Main Haunts”

Afterwards stop by your local Occupation.


Death will slay with his wings whoever disturbs the peace of the Pharaoh. ~~Tomb of Tutankhamen

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Great Halloween issue cher. The story that really scared me as a child was “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” I remember the old Disney production of that story, and it scared the beejesus out of me. The images of that “headless horseman,” shiver, shiver shiver!
The older Disney productions were the best, those made when Walt was still in charge. I think his true masterpiece was “Fantasia,” wow, what a production!




•Been a while since I heard Vastu Shastra. Hindus even have a god of architecture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vishwakarma

•The Science of Santeria was great. Love that stuff.

•Austin and Portland I found spooky. Both have ubiquitous –Keep “City” Weird– bumper stickers. I’m personally glad it happened in Austin too, ’cause it makes me feel a little better. I’m dumbstruck the PPD would do this. I’m also puzzled that the Occupy Portland people are working on moving inside not only in preparation of weather, but because of problems with the homeless entering the camps. It’s pretty ironic to say the least…

Remains Of Ancient Race Of Job Creators Found In Rust Belt


While I know there are disgusting, offensive costumes out there, I really don’t get a lot of what the Ohio student group were saying. It was like there was no nuance.

The terrorist one, yeah, but I’ll let it pass–that is one of the scariest things out there. The poncho and mustache is softly racist, but it’s more just poor taste, tired and cliché. Now, if you dressed up more authentically why not a Mexican dancing girl? A belly dancer? Why not a well-researched geisha?

I think this kind of touchiness goes too far and sorta makes you a butt of jokes rather than making a valid point. If the intention is not to demean the culture, then what’s the harm?

I also know the historical ramifications of blackface, but I’m torn on dressing up like a black rapper. Is that really racist? I think there’s a lot of shades of grey here, but that sometimes imitation really is just flattery.


Halloween is just a time for fun and a little outlandishness. I don’t think people should get all serious and PC about costumes, unless they are really, really racist or homophobic. If people want to pretend to be someone or someTHING for a day, no big deal. I favor creativity in costume design. In a way, Halloween is a sort of art event.


Cops busted for ticket fixing, drugs, outing confidential informants? Is there another Frank Serpcio in NYC?

What Frank Serpico Started: The Knapp Commission


Sue,have you seen the article that describes the way the most recently indicted NYPD cops reacted? They called the prosecutors “shits,” stated ticket-fixing is “a courtesy, not a crime,” and hurled insults at people who were in line nearby for social services. They are out of control.

I’ll try to find the link for you.


OOps…I can’t edit the comment above for some reason, but I realized that the reactions I described in my comment are also described in the link Cher provided. So sorry — I missed that the first time around.


yes, I did that is why I posted the Serpico link to the Knapp Commission. Seems a new generation of cops did not learn from the last.

KQµårk 死神

I know it’s a little late but when you buy your after Halloween treats at a big discount try to buy union made treats.



Great idea KQ. I am buying a small amount because we are not even sure the little goblins will come to our secluded part of the complex but I will definitely look for the Union Label

Best Union Song


Look For the Union Label


Norma Rae Stands up On the Table



Thanks for the info, KQ. I have to say that I’ve been avoiding buying Hershey products ever since the story about their exploitation and mistreatment of foreign workers broke this past summer though:


KQµårk 死神

Frankly I was surprised Hershey’s was on the list as well. Obviously you have to follow your own conscience on such matters. I was glad to see Ghirardelli on the list. Their chocolate is far superior to Hershey’s anyway and purely American made.


Seriously, it’s not even close. It’s like comparing a Belgian beer to Coors.

KQµårk 死神

Exactly. Sticking with the beer analogy Ghirardelli is probably the Samuel Adams of American made chocolate.


I can vouch for Ghirardelli. I have been to their shop in SF many many times. Also Jelly Belly has a factory not far from me in Fairfield CA. Sees is made in the US as well.

KQµårk 死神

The response by Wall Street and Foreclosure Companies is just infuriating. The fact is Wall Street offers nothing to human kind they are just the proverbial money changers in the temples Jesus lashed out against in the Bible. But of course the whole mindset on Wall Street requires people to be absolutely shameless. They simply profit off of people who are really productive. I have infinitely more respect for their landscapers than for those greedy bastards.

KQµårk 死神

Happy Halloween! Cher and the rest of the planet.

Great graphic!


since it will probably take me all day to get through this fine line-up of info, I will comment on individual stories as the mood moves me and as you can see below Wall Street Guy moved me.

Dear Mr. WallStreet Guy

You live in a fantasy world. Don’t you know there are way more of us than you? Don’t you understand your lame excuses for what you were involved in doesn’t wash with the World Population anymore? You screwed governments, businesses, smaller financial institutions, cities, Pension funds and a myriad of people all over the world. Come for our jobs, our food, what we have left and you just might find out what the second amendment is all about. We are a peaceful people for the most part, but listen and listen well, YOU WILL NOT TAKE ADVANTAGE OF US EVER AGAIN. OCCUPY WALL STREET IS NO JOKE AND I SUGGEST YOU NOT START A HOLY WAR WITH THE PEOPLE, YOU WILL LOSE.

KQµårk 死神

Excellent response to those moral cretins.


Hey Cher, Great line up this morning. I was interested to read that story about the carwasheros. My niece’s husband runs a car wash operation in LA and I’ve heard that their workers only get paid $1 per car. I haven’t ever clarified or verified that — eg, I don’t know if that’s $1 each with five people cleaning the car or what. Whatever the details, the pay is abysmal.


I think most of them rely on tips, similar to the food service industry and other service industries, but $1 is abysmal compared to, what?, 2.54 a waitress makes? It is all abysmal but I would guarantee if they raised prices to accommodate higher wages, the rich would be the first to cry foul.


Good morning Cher.

My heart skipped a beat when I saw the books from my childhood, especially the illustration from “Struwwelpeter”. It scared the living daylights out of me as a kid, and I hid it under my bed afraid it would come to life. I think it could still be somewhere in the attic of my father’s house, it wasn’t something I wanted to bring over here with us. As scary as I remember it being, thanks for the memory.