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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Some Iraq/Afghanistan veterans finally are fighting in a war worth winning: the battle for America's 99 percent.

On Wednesday, in a dramatic display of support for the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, veterans of America's recent wars for oil marched and spoke in support of OWS. They were not the first veterans to back economic democracy at home, in this case with a military precision march through southern Manhattan. Indeed, many of them participated in yesterday's show of support for OWS in honor of Scott Olsen. Olsen is still recovering from a traumatic head injury sustained in last Tuesday's Oakland Police Department assault on Occupy Oakland.

A few weeks ago, a video clip went viral of an Iraq war veteran, in uniform, berating New York Police Department (NYPD) members for their continued attacks on OWS protesters. It was a remarkably dramatic moment, with one former marine facing off against a phalanx of NYPD officers. "Why are you hurting these [unarmed] people?" the former marine exclaimed, "There is no honor in this."

It is speculative, but undoubtedly true, that few of the top 1 percent or their offspring serve as the cannon fodder in our wars for oil, natural resources and geo-positioning for corporate markets. Just look at Mitt Romney's five sons. Not a one of them entered the military.

To see veterans participate in the now-famous human microphone (to avoid the NYPD arresting them for using a megaphone) is to be stirred to a renewed sense of patriotism. To hear them declare that "this is the only occupation [OWS] that I believe in" is to receive a chill down the spine.

As a nation, we sent these volunteer soldiers - many of whom joined the military because they couldn't find jobs elsewhere and came home to unemployment - to fight in wars to largely benefit the interests and finances of the top 1 percent.

The "Masters of the Universe" on Wall Street and the political status quo in DC cannot easily dismiss them.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

The dark side of the mayor of New York is blooming.

Yes, in recent BuzzFlash at Truthout commentaries, BuzzFlash has noted that Mayor Bloomberg - who is worth nearly 20 billion dollars - has lately dropped his veneer of being a "sensible centrist" and become a full-out wacko for Wall Street. The normally articulate and poised 12th-richest person in America has started to stumble as he strains to make arguments in defense of the financial industry.

But there is a motivation to Bloomberg's recent ramblings and his strategic and sometimes brutal assault on Occupy Wall Street (OWS); he is embodying crony capitalism. His "third way" veneer of nonpartisan government is giving way to cliched and inaccurate right-wing Republican message points on behalf of the richest Americans.

Take Bloomberg's latest salvo on OWS. The multibillionaire, who made his fortune on a software tool used by the financial industry to assess the risks on their bets, is blaming the federal government for the economic meltdown. This week, he lectured the OWS movement on its alleged "naivete."

According to the web site Capital, Bloomberg told business leaders at a breakfast on November 1:

It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp....

They were the ones that pushed the banks to loan to everybody. And now we want to go vilify the banks because it's one target, it's easy to blame them and congress certainly isn't going to blame themselves.

Capital also quoted Bloomberg as saying that it was "cathartic" and "entertaining" to blame people (i.e., the "victims" on "Wall Street").

But numerous experts have refuted Bloomberg's "the 1% are guiltless" Republican claim, including Paul Krugman, who notes, that "the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 was irrelevant to the subprime boom, which was overwhelmingly driven by loan originators not subject to the Act."

Media Matters has totally debunked Bloomberg's revisionist exculpation of Wall Street:

Private firms dominated the subprime market boom of 2004-06, and were not even subject to the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act some Republicans vilify. Thanks to decades of financial deregulation, capped by President Bush's decision to appoint Wall Street regulators who believed their job was to help banks rather than curb banking abuses, financial giants were able to turn the mortgage market into a high-stakes casino. As investigative reporters and Congress' Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission have all shown, it was deregulation mixed with irresponsible and potentially illegal practices by private firms on Wall Street that caused both the bubble and the collapse.

In a rambling radio interview a couple of weeks back, Bloomberg claimed that "the protesters are protesting against people who make $40-50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet. That's the bottom line."

No, the bottom line is that when push comes to shove, Bloomberg is all about protecting his fellow billionaires on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans.

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When Timothy Geithner headed the New York Federal Reserve Bank (NYFRB) in 2008, it paid credit-default swaps clients of AIG the full dollar value on their contracts, even though the NYFRB could have almost certainly paid much less.

In essence, according to a November 1 article in The New York Times, that means the likes of Goldman Sachs got a full taxpayer reimbursement for their risky investments gone sour, even though if AIG had been allowed to collapse, the 16 Wall Street AIG "clients" would have likely gotten much, much less - if anything - through bankruptcy proceedings.

Geithner and the NYFRB appeared to treat Wall Street "Master of the Universe" risk takers as deserving of having their bets fully covered by the house - meaning the American taxpayer.

As The New York Times notes about the just-released Government Accounting Office (GAO) report:

Federal Reserve officials in Washington expected that the New York Fed would negotiate discounts with those companies since, without the government's intervention, they might have received far less.

An analysis commissioned by the New York Fed recommended concessions around $1.1 billion to $6.4 billion....

Although the NYFRB offered the GAO many justifications for the generous AIG client payouts under Geithner, "the Fed's actions contrast with the agreement that European governments, led by Chancellor Angela Markel of Germany, secured from some of the same institutions in October to accept discounts of up to 50 percent on their holdings of Greek debt," according to the Times.

Furthermore, even if an AIG client would only have lost 1 percent on the original value of the credit-default swaps, the NYFRB reimbursed that firm 100 percent of that value, according to the GAO.

The GAO report notes, as the Times reports, "the expressed willingness of some of the companies to accept smaller payments. In one case, when a company offered to accept a smaller amount of money, officials at the New York Fed responded that they had decided to pay the full amount of the debt, the report said."

Normally, when a firm can no longer meet its debt obligations, it files for bankruptcy and a judge oversees heavily discounted settlements on the dollar, if there are any remaining assets.

But the GAO report reveals that, once again, under Geithner and Hank Paulsen (Bush's Treasury secretary during the Wall Street crash - and former chair and CEO of Goldman Sachs), if you are a "Master of the Universe" financial firm, your risk is socialized and covered 100 percent by the American taxpayer.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Due to past law enforcement abuses, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) has been operating under the monitoring of a federal judge overseeing a consent decree since 2003.

Although it is difficult to set aside the deplorable record of the OPD in dealing with protesters for a moment - including Occupy Oakland advocates last Tuesday - it has a history of using excessive force on a daily basis. This includes the unnecessary drawing of guns, extortion and framing arrested individuals that is so egregious that the department may be put into receivership by the federal courts.

According to a September 11, 2011 article in the Bay Citizen, just a little over a month prior to the infamous Tuesday assault on Occupy Oakland, the federal judge overseeing the police department lambasted their conduct:

In a hearing that exposed the breadth of the problems facing Oakland, a federal judge blasted the Oakland Police Department Thursday for failing to make court-ordered changes designed to reduce police misconduct and abuse.

Before a courtroom full of city leaders and police department brass, U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson highlighted a series of issues that "indicate to me the city and the department still don't get it."

Shortly prior to the assault on Occupy Oakland, the superintendent of the OPD resigned - after the scathing report by the federal judge - and Howard Jordan was appointed as interim chief of police. What was Jordan's prior role as assistant chief of the OPD? According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Jordan:

has been the Police Department's top authority on bringing the force into compliance with a consent decree ordered after four officers were accused more than a decade ago of systematically beating and framing suspects.

The consent decree is the most critical issue facing the department, as a federal judge warned last week that the city faces the possibility of having its Police Department placed in federal receivership due to its failure to fully comply with the court order. Such a move could result in the city losing control over its police budget, its biggest general fund expense.

Jordan, as interim superintendent, oversaw and directed the police action against Occupy Oakland supporters.

This federal consent decree is separate from the accord that the OPD was compelled to reach in 2004, which prohibits the use of potentially lethal and harmful suppression techniques against peaceful crowds, which BuzzFlash at Truthout pointed out they violated last week.

There's a thin blue line in law enforcement between enforcing the law and breaking the law. It's clear to US District Court Judge Henderson that the OPD keeps crossing that line.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

As the medical condition of Marine Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen appears to have improved, he is becoming the Neda Agha-Soltan - the martyr of the Iranian Green Revolution - of the "Occupy" struggle for economic justice.

What occurred this week in Oakland - including the wounding of Olsen - shouldn't have happened. In June of 2004, the Oakland Police Department reached an agreement to refrain from using the kind of bloody and militarized tactics that they employed earlier this week.

According to a November 2004 San Francisco Chronicle article:

Oakland police will no longer indiscriminately use wooden or rubber bullets, Taser stun guns, pepper spray and motorcycles to break up crowds, under an agreement announced Friday....

The new policy settles part of a federal class-action lawsuit filed by 52 people who claimed their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and assembly were violated as they targeted two shipping companies with contracts tied to the war in Iraq.

"What we've done is create a comprehensive policy that really provides a much more sensible, reasoned approach to managing demonstrations and crowds," said Rachel Lederman of the National Lawyers Guild in San Francisco.

Obviously, as Olsen's situation demonstrates, the Oakland Police did not adhere to the letter or spirit of the 2004 agreement on Tuesday night. Lederman told the San Francisco Chronicle that when the policy was negotiated, "these projectile weapons are very dangerous. It was only a matter of luck that someone wasn't killed on April 7, 2003, in Oakland. That's what we're trying to prevent."

Lederman is referring to a 2003 Oakland police riot against anti-Iraq war demonstrators that resulted in the serious wounding of many protesters. In fact, according to ThinkProgress, "the demonstrators were not without recourse. They took the city to court, and Oakland eventually awarded $2 million to 58 demonstrators for police abuses."

You would think that after signing an agreement and paying out taxpayer money to "compensate" for abusive police practices, the Oakland Police Department would learn how to behave in a civilized fashion when dealing with people exercising their First Amendment rights.

Meanwhile, the Oakland School Board voted on Wednesday night, this week, to close five elementary schools, in large part due to budget constraints. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the Oakland school district officials say that the school closings will save about $2 million a year, about what the Oakland Police Department paid out to protesters it abused in 2003.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Perhaps the best way to occupy Wall Street is by pulling our money out of big banks.

Sure, it's a big inconvenience to find a credit union or local bank that then doesn't have thousands of branches around the country. But if the banks that are "too big to fail" collapse because of a lack of consumer confidence in their ability to financially serve the nation, a new system that is based on rebuilding the American economy and customer service might emerge.

In, for instance, dissecting just some of the reasons (ten) to leave Bank of America, Nomi Prins writes for Truthout that we can choose where we keep our money:

Without being broken up via a new, strong Glass-Steagall Act, when banks need to find ways to make money, they resort to extorting it from their sitting ducks, er - customers. Meanwhile, that's where credit unions, which are not-for-profits owned by their members and not by outside shareholders, come in. They generally don't engage in crazy derivatives trades, or charge unnecessary fees for holding your money or for letting you pay bills with it, or for online banking. In terms of personal attention, among other economic reasons, the credit and smaller community banks are a much better bet.

The banks "too big to fail" otherwise have us as hostages. While a pocket park in Manhattan is "occupied," the "Masters of the Universe" who control America's financial system are sitting quite pretty. Washington, DC, is in their pocket from the White House down. In the US, controlling trillions of dollar in money gives one the keys to that kind of power.

As has been pointed out over and over again, the very people who are responsible for the near financial collapse of America are still in charge through a revolving door between Wall Street and the federal government. ProPublica just did an update about all the financial chieftains who cratered the economy and have not been prosecuted. In fact, none of them have been charged with any wrongdoing as individuals.

Although the feds arrested a Goldman Sachs board director the other day, there doesn't appear to be any ongoing Department of Justice investigation to indict the main culprits of the recession. The charges against Rajat Gupta are for insider trading, a narrow range of trading for profit with privileged information.

As BuzzFlash at Truthout noted recently, "Big Banks Don't Want Your Money, Unless You Pay Them to Keep It - for Real."

Prins reminds us that the fastest way to reforming Wall Street may be by proactively moving our dollars to credit unions and banks that cater to Main Street - and where we are treated with respect, and our money is used to invest in the economic infrastructure of our communities.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH FOR TRUTHOUT

Many of the banks "too big to fail" don't want your money if you're one of the 99 percent.

No, it's not a joke, according to The New York Times. Basically, the banks are sitting on so much cash that they don't want more. That is why they are raising the costs of putting money into a bank and accessing your money. In essence, they don't really want your business unless you're in the top 1 percent or are willing to pay "access" fees.

This sounds absurd, but follow the non-job-creating logic of the banks, according to the Times:

Though financial institutions are not yet turning away customers at the door, they are trying to discourage some depositors from parking that cash with them. With fewer attractive lending and investment options for that money, it is harder for the banks to turn it around for a healthy profit....

Normally, banks earn healthy profits by taking in deposits and then investing them or lending them out at substantially higher interest rates than what they pay savers. But that traditional banking model has broken down.

Today, banks are paying savers almost nothing for their deposits.

The result: many Americans get as little as .01 percent interest on their savings; get charged as much as $20 a month for banking services such as checking unless they keep several thousand dollars in some big banks; and are, as BuzzFlash at Truthout has noted, even being assessed a monthly fee at Bank of America for using a debit card to access their own money.

But have interest rates on credit cards fallen as interest on savings accounts have just hovered over going into the negative zone? No, of course not; not only have interest rates on credit cards stayed excessively high, additional charges and increased fines are now being levied on credit card users.

This is almost like an absurdist comedy, except absurdity has become the reality today when it comes to "banks too big to fail."

They don't even want your money anymore; it might cut into their profits that come from putting you into debt. And too many Americans can't even afford loans, so the banks are just churning out dividends and bonuses.

It's enough to make you want to occupy Wall Street. But who would think of an idea like that?

 

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

What a difference a city makes.

In Oakland the other night, the police violently stormed an Occupy Wall Street encampment in that city. "Dressed in riot gear, the police used rubber bullets, flash grenades, and gas canisters to forcibly evict and/or arrest the demonstrators who remained in the plaza," according to ThinkProgress.

But a few hundred miles to the south, in America's second-largest city, a sea of tents peacefully surrounds the Art Deco Los Angeles City Hall.

In fact, on October 12, the City Council of Los Angeles endorsed the occupation:

After nearly three hours of public comment dominated by Occupy Los Angeles demonstrators, the City Council voted Wednesday to support the movement calling attention to what activists say is a growing gap between the nation's rich and poor.

The resolution sponsored by Councilmen Richard Alarcon and Bill Rosendahl supports the "peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights carried out by 'Occupy Los Angeles.'"

Visiting the Los Angeles tent city of protest a little over a week ago, BuzzFlash at Truthout couldn't see even one police officer in sight - literally. It was so peaceful that, given the corporate mass media's attention to conflict, the Los Angeles occupation is getting little national attention.

Yes, the Los Angeles City Hall is located in a relatively deserted part of what is a relatively small downtown for the second-largest city in the US. Yes, there are virtually no residents around to use as an excuse for a crackdown, as is being done by Mayor Bloomberg of New York.

But there is something else at work here. The city of Los Angeles has been allegedly ripped off by big banks, according to TIME magazine. It has also been mulling a bank accountability proposal that would benefit consumers and homeowners, as well as ensure transparency in loans to the city:

First introduced more than two years ago, the proposal had lost steam until the zeal of Occupy Los Angeles gave it momentum, according to its sponsor, councilman Richard Alarcon. "We felt the resolution kind of captured the spirit of the entire movement," Alarcon says. "We were sort of kindred spirits." If implemented, the initiative would set up a report-card system to rate banks and deny them business if they score too low.

Banks' scores would be determined by factors such as the number of home-loan modifications they give to homeowners to prevent foreclosures, how much lending they do to small businesses and whether the institutions have committed fraudulent activity. And there is reason to suspect fraud. In 2008, the city of Los Angeles filed a lawsuit against 35 financial institutions alleging wrongdoing like rigging bidding processes to manage city debt. The suit has yet to be settled as the city waits for state and federal investigations to conclude amid similar accusations in other cities.

When looking for the potential of Occupy Wall Street to redresses grievances through action, perhaps one should follow the famous quotation from the 1800s: "Go West young man."

In this bicoastal nation, it is gratifying to see a Los Angeles tilt toward occupying Wall Street.

MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Who is causing the most disruption to residents in southern Manhattan? The New York City Police Department (NYPD).

As BuzzFlash at Truthout has noted, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been developing a PR contingency strategy to shut down Occupy Wall Street (OWS). One of his primary media claims is that the OWS encampment at Liberty Park is disturbing and inconveniencing residents of the area.

But, in reality, the massive deployment of the NYPD in the Wall Street district is itself a large-scale disruption of the community in that area. If Mayor Bloomberg's alleged standard of not "bothering" neighborhood residents and workers is any means test for obeying the law, the NYPD "occupation" of lower New York City should be halted.

At a recent hearing of two of the many New York City-area neighborhood advisory committees - the combined Quality of Life and Financial District Committees - a Firedoglake blogger was able to record some of the comments on the issue under discussion: what to do with OWS in Liberty Park.

Interestingly, many of the attendees complained about the massive police presence:

Another woman says she lives in area and the real problem is the police. They won't let her pass through on her bike to get home. She supports OWS.

Yet another WASPY patrician looking woman says that she has been made a prisoner in her own apt, but not by OWS, by the police. She thinks they are overreacting. She supports OWS

71 year old woman says police barricades are endangering her life, not OWS.

Local merchant complains about the barricades too. Say the barricades are disrupting business not OWS.

Young woman gets up, says that she has grown up in NY all her life, that the city has always been loud and dirty and folks should just get used to it.

Yes, some residents did complain about OWS, but some of these objections were political, such as the man who said "that protestors aren't occupying Wall Street, but because it's near Ground Zero they are occupying Ground Zero!" (Liberty Park is adjacent to the old Twin Towers site.)

Tom Engelhardt of TomDispatch recently wrote about the militarized occupation of Wall Street by the NYPD:

Their stakeout in Zuccotti Park is geared to extreme acts, suicide bombers, and terrorism, as well as to a conception of protest and opposition as alien and enemy-like. They are trying to herd, lock in, and possibly strangle a phenomenon that bears no relation to any of this. They are, that is, policing the wrong thing, which is why every act of pepper spraying or swing of the truncheon, every aggressive act (as in the recent eviction threat to "clean" the park) blows back on them and only increases the size and coverage of the movement.

Engelhardt also confirmed to BuzzFlash at Truthout that the area is heavily barricaded and that police cars are everywhere, not to mention the helicopter flyovers and the watchtower over Liberty Park itself. Engelhardt estimates that "on an everyday basis, a squad of 10 or 15 friendly police officers could easily handle the situation."

But Bloomberg has deployed - as BuzzFlash at Truthout has already pointed out - a publicly financed police force with access to advanced technological powers and prone to primitive outbursts of brutality to annoy, harass and wail away the night with sirens, disrupting the sleep of area residents.

In this case, who will arrest the police and Bloomberg for disrupting, inconveniencing and violating the rights of residents and workers in the financial district?

It should be noted that the combined committee hearing did end with a recommendation calling for more limited drumming -- which has become a contentious issue both within and without OWS in terms of whether or not to limit it -- and increased sanitation facilities, which the city could provide instead of spending such excessive funds on unnecessary police force. The recommendation was a defeat for the New York City Real Estate Board, which was hoping for a recommendation to close Liberty Park at night.

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MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Consistent with the Wall Street standard operating procedure of privatized profits and socialized risks, the Bank of America has allegedly transferred 75 trillion dollars in potentially toxic derivatives to enable the money to be covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

What does this mean in plain English?

It means that we, the taxpayers, are once again insuring the casino gambling financial bets of another bank too big to fail. So, while the Tea Party and the Republicans in Congress rail about cutting taxes, they are saying nary a word about taxpayers covering the shady financial gambling of big banks. The potential loss of $75 trillion, insured by government money, dwarfs budget deficit "austerity" talks.

And the Bank of America - although it is the largest US bank in total financial assets according to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) - is not a good investment for taxpayers right now, even though it recently showed a profit on paper. According to Bloomberg:

Moody's Investors Service downgraded Bank of America's long-term credit ratings Sept. 21, cutting both the holding company and the retail bank two notches apiece. The holding company fell to Baa1, the third-lowest investment-grade rank, from A2, while the retail bank declined to A2 from Aa3....

Bank of America's rating is now four grades below the one Moody's assigned to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), the biggest U.S. bank by deposits at midyear, and a level below the rating given to Citigroup Inc. (C), the third-biggest. Bank of America is the only U.S. lender that lacks a rating of A3 or higher among the five firms listed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency as having the biggest derivatives books.

So the free market isn't really "free." Wall Street depends upon hard-working Americans to keep them from the negative results of taking bad risks in an effort to turn large profits and big bonuses. If you own a small business and take such risks and they fail, you go bankrupt. If you run a Wall Street bank "too big to fail," average Americans cover your losses. Call it Wall Street socialism.

Ominously, in regards to that 75 trillion dollars that we are now backing with our dollars, a Reuters columnist recently wrote a commentary headlined, "Is Bank of America preparing for a Chapter 11?"

It would be great to go to Vegas and have all your gambling debts covered by the house. That's the Wall Street way - and the US government is the house.

The taxpayers are holding up Wall Street, not the other way around.

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