MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
How do you put the First Amendment through a shredder, prevent media coverage and arrest and rough up journalists when you don't want the world to see what you are up to? The answer: become the mayor of New York.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not the only elected official who is suppressing a free press guaranteed in the Constitution. But he has best perfected the tin horn dictator art of physically obstructing journalists. Just look at the smashing of Occupy New York under the cover of darkness.
Using the "1984" excuse of "protecting" journalists, Bloomberg has allowed the New York Police Department (NYPD) free rein to prevent the Fourth Estate from being anywhere near questionable police activity. As a result, reporters have gotten roughed up and arrested for doing their jobs.
It's gotten so bad that The New York Times - normally deferential to Bloomberg - printed a November 25 editorial deploring the aggressive NYPD effort to suppress the reporting of, among other actions, the raid on Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. The Times was blunt in its outrage:
In many countries, using a camera or taking notes can get you into trouble. That is not supposed to happen in New York City. Yet as police cleared Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan on Nov. 15, a number of journalists were roughed up and arrested. Many were prevented by police from documenting what happened that night ...
Before clearing tents and other structures from Zuccotti Park, for example, a police representative asked journalists in the area for press credentials. Reporters and photographers do not need credentials to be in a public area. The passes are supposed to give them better access, but those who admitted having passes were instead herded to a penned area blocks away from the police action.
At another spot closer to the park, police were carrying a protester covered with blood when a photographer raised his camera. When two police officers spotted the camera, they shoved a barricade into the photographer, screaming that he was not permitted to take pictures even though he was on the sidewalk.
In a chilling video, one courageous journalist tries to get the NYPD to allow him to do his job and report the news. Fortunately, the police did not have the "foresight" to intimidate the person recording the encounter.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent me an email enticing to me to buy Republican swag as a gift for the holidays. Frankly, I thought it was a parody when I looked at the individual items.
One of the bumper stickers I am still wrapping my brain around for some sense of sanity says, "Vote Democrat: It's Easier Than Working." Then, there's a button that evokes a GOP rapture of sorts: "Visualize No Liberals."
Of course, for sale is the inevitable Republican freeloader slogan: "If You're Not Outraged, You're Not Paying Taxes." Ah yes, "the everything for nothing party."
Priebus' offering of holiday gifts manages to be hypocritical and unimaginative at the same time - sort of like second grade insults.
But what makes it all the more perplexing is how the Republican Party in DC - short of the libertarian wing such as Ron Paul - vigorously affirms subsidizing corporations and Wall Street with tax dollars. That's socialism for the moneyed class that the GOP supports.
This most recently came to light, ironically, with a Bloomberg news report, "Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion."
This occurred under the Bush administration, and it was a clear taxpayer subsidy in the billions of dollars to Wall Street that were not paid back. As Bloomberg Markets magazine reveals, "no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed's below-market rates."
This means the working stiff that the GOP so blithely mocks in its holiday "gifts" underwrote Wall Street with taxpayer dollars to the tune of billions of dollars.
Bloomberg news also notes in its analysis of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, "While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger."
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Despite the attempt to create a sense of televised urgency with Michael Bloomberg starring as the savior of the public from an "imminent terrorist attack" by NYC resident Jose Pimental, this past Sunday's NYC news event -- co-starring the NYPD commissoner -- was another failed attempt to shore up the multi-billionaire mayor's plummeting image.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
In an initial attempt to justify the horrific and sadistically carried out pepper spraying of seated, non-violent protesters at the University of California Davis, the chief of the university of police claimed that the students had trapped the cops:" “Officers were forced to use pepper spray when students surrounded them”, said UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza. “There was no way out of the circle”.
But quickly available videos showed that Police Chief Annette Spicuzza either authorized the use of massive amounts of toxic and torturous chemicals on nonviolent, peaceful advocates based on faulty information or she lied. Since the videos show how egregiously incorrect Police Chief Spicuzza was, one can readily speculate the latter.
Indeed, in this particular video -- one of many -- the police appear to surround the group of passively sitting students. In fact, the main police officer who pepper sprayed the students as though he were cleaning his car stepped over them in order to ensure he could inflict the most pain by dousing them in their faces. Meanwhile other officers mingled around on both sides of the victims of the police chemical attack.
Perhaps the truth telling of the modern instant Internet video posting age is the reason that Police Chief Spicuzza has been "temporarily" put on paid leave.
It may be that in the nano-second passage of news and our attendant inability to look beyond the crises, sensational celebrity scandals and political idiocies of the moment we can quickly forget the child abuse scandal at Penn State, but we shouldn't if American values stand for moral principles beyond tailgate parties at football games.
Former Penn State "legendary" defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky -- right hand man to "legendary" now ex-Nittany coach Joe Paterno -- has been accused of being a serial child sex abuser by the attorney general of the state of Pennsylvania, as detailed in a BuzzFlash commentary, "You Can Say This for the Child Sex Abuse Scandal at Penn State: It Gave the Vatican a Break."
It's still not clear whether suspicions or knowledge of Sandusky's alleged rape of children was responsible for his unexpected 1999 resignation from the Penn State coaching staff and resulting retirement. But it is clear, from many accounts, that Sandusky was allowed full access to Penn State, including the football training facilities. Indeed, it was in 2002 that Mike McQueary, now a Nittany football coach himself on temporary leave, saw Sandusky forcing anal sex upon a young boy in the team shower room.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, as BuzzFlash at Truthout previously noted:
Twenty of the 40 crimes with which Sandusky is charged allegedly took place during the time he worked for Paterno, including three counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, a first-degree felony.
One accuser, now 27, testified that Sandusky initiated contact with a "soap battle" in the shower that led to multiple instances of involuntary sexual intercourse and indecent assault at Sandusky's hands, a grand jury report said.
With all the analysis, including our own at BuzzFlash at Truthout, something was extremely troubling -- in a story full of wretchedly shameful and criminal details that likely are still to be uncovered -- that a strapping college football assistant wouldn't immediately attempt to save a child from sexual deviancy by attempting to stop Sandusky. In fact, McQueary apparently left the boy to be raped and did not remove him from Sandusky's control (although in a later account -- after the indictment of Sandusky -- McQueary claimed to friends that he had stopped the assault). But the grand jury indictment indicates that McQueary left abruptly and after the fact called his father to ask him what to do. His father, astonishingly, told him to leave the building. McQueary later reported the incident to Paterno.
Why didn't he just yell to Sandusky to stop or hit him over the head with a football helmet? Who would not attempt to halt the heinous act at once? What kind of disassociation from the reality of protecting our children from sexual predators would apparently lead McQueary to abandon the child to Sandusky's sexual abuse? That is indeed a puzzler, from a gut level of the loathing, disgust and intervention that basic decency called for.
The grand jury report indicting Sandusky for multiple counts of sexual child abuse over a period of years details McQueary's encounter with Sandusky's anal rape of a 10 year old. It states -- and this is the official court record of grand jury testimony -- that as McQueary,
entered the locker room doors he was surprised to find the lights and showers on. He then heard rhythmic, slapping sounds. He believed the sounds to be those of sexual activity. As the graduate student [McQueary's position at the time] put the [his] sneakers in the locker, he looked into the shower. He saw a naked boy, Victim 2, whose age he estimated to be 10 years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky. The graduate assistant was shocked but noticed that both Victim 2 and Sandusky saw him. The graduate assistant left immediately, distraught.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Was there a somewhat coordinated effort among cities with Occupy encampments and the federal government to shut them down?
If true, the implications of such a status quo government consensus to crush a populist movement would be an affront to democracy. Prima facie evidence of militarized police action out of all proportion to the situations in the protest sites suggests something more than local "riot police" action around the country (with few peaceful exceptions, such as Los Angeles and Albany, New York).
Michael Moore stoked the conspiracy speculation in an appearance on "Countdown With Keith Olbermann" when he referred to a Minneapolis News Examiner article that citied Department of Justice "advisory" involvement in the nearly simultaneous crackdowns. In that article, Rick Ellis writes:
Over the past ten days, more than a dozen cities have moved to evict "Occupy" protesters from city parks and other public spaces. As was the case in last night's move in New York City, each of the police actions shares a number of characteristics. And according to one Justice official, each of those actions was coordinated with help from Homeland Security, the FBI and other federal police agencies.
The official, who spoke on background to me late Monday evening, said that while local police agencies had received tactical and planning advice from national agencies, the ultimate decision on how each jurisdiction handles the Occupy protests ultimately rests with local law enforcement.
According to this official, in several recent conference calls and briefings, local police agencies were advised to seek a legal reason to evict residents of tent cities, focusing on zoning laws and existing curfew rules. Agencies were also advised to demonstrate a massive show of police force, including large numbers in riot gear. In particular, the FBI reportedly advised on press relations, with one presentation suggesting that any moves to evict protesters be coordinated for a time when the press was the least likely to be present.
The FBI has so far failed to respond to requests for an official response, and of the 14 local police agencies contacted in the past 24 hours, all have declined to respond to questions on this issue.
But in a recent interview with the BBC, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan mentioned she was on a conference call just before the recent wave of crackdowns began.
An Associated Press article confirmed the speculation of widespread "consultation" among cities on how to crack down on the Occupy movement, noting "as local governments expressed concern over safety and sanitation at the encampments over the last month, officials from nearly 40 cities turned to each other on conference calls."
Suffice it to say, no police agency, federal government agency, or mayor's office supports the notion of a "conspiracy" to crush the Occupy sites, but evidence suggests that there was, in general, a mutual consensus that the Occupy movement needed to be uprooted - and that information was shared among city officials across the nation, with the likely input of the FBI and other federal officials.
Interestingly, in a little noted comment by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Air Force One after the New York Police Department smashed through Zuccotti Park, Obama's position appears to be almost identical to the public relations "balance" statements of Michael Bloomberg:
We would hope and want, as these decisions are made, that it balances between a long tradition of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech in this country, and obviously of demonstrating and protesting, and also the very important need to maintain law and order and health and safety standards, which was obviously a concern in this case.
Notice the Bloombergian emphasis on concern for "health and safety standards," even when the city was doing everything possible to ensure the deterioration of health and safety standards.
This was the national refrain among mayors who consulted with each other, even though there are large areas - in every city in question - that have sizable populations who are neglected as far as health and safety standards are concerned, particularly when it comes to basic medical care and violence.
Where there is no smoking gun, conspiracy theories abound - and they remain "theories" in the absence of evidence. There is no smoking gun at this point that indicates a national federal/municipal coordination to smother the Occupy movement. On the other hand, when everybody's message points are the same in the status quo - and the Occupy movement represents a force that institutionalized governments are threatened by - a common sound bite and similar excessive police tactics may reveal much more than Washington and the mayors are willing to publicly admit.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The felonious Supreme Court 5-4 majority stole the election in 2000 for George W. Bush, allowed corporations to buy the government in the Citizens United decision and is now getting ready to shoot down health care reform.
Yes, the final court opinion about health insurance reform is just speculation. But now that the Supreme Court has agreed to render a decision on the president's health care reform plan, it's worth looking at the past as precedent.
The appearance of Judge Scalia and Judge Thomas at yet another Federalist Society meeting on November 10, "feted at a dinner sponsored by the law firm that will argue the case before the high court," raises questions once again about conflict-of-interest issues, particularly surrounding Thomas.
Let's let The Los Angeles Times provide the context:
The lawyer who will stand before the court and argue that the law should be thrown out is likely to be Paul Clement, who served as U.S. solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration.
Clement's law firm, Bancroft PLLC, was one of almost two dozen firms that helped sponsor the annual dinner of the Federalist Society, a longstanding group dedicated to advocating conservative legal principles. Another firm that sponsored the dinner, Jones Day, represents one of the trade associations that challenged the law, the National Federation of Independent Business.
Another sponsor was pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc, which has an enormous financial stake in the outcome of the litigation. The dinner was held at a Washington hotel hours after the court's conference over the case. In attendance was, among others, Mitch McConnell, the Senate's top Republican and an avowed opponent of the healthcare law.
The featured guests at the dinner? Scalia and Thomas.
Scalia has said in the past that he is insulted by ever being accused of a conflict of interest, because his integrity cannot be challenged. Thomas has recently been under criticism for numerous conflicts of interest involving the Citizens United decision, his finances - and not to mention that his wife worked on the Bush transition team in 2000 when the infamous anointment of the president was made. And did we mention the Koch dinner he attended?
With Judge Alito holding an extremely narrow view of the Commerce Clause and Justice Roberts almost always siding with corporations, it will likely once again be left to Justice Kennedy, who - on an issue such as this - may very well assume a position that both rejects an individual mandate and large chunks of the law based on a restrictive view of the Commerce Clause.
Scalia and Thomas, in particular, have been chronically brazen about flouting conflict-of-interest issues - and Judge Alito went so far as to yell, "Not true" to President Obama during a State of the Union Address - and then didn't show up the next year.
It was one swing vote that gave the United States George W. Bush as president, and it is likely to be one swing vote that will strike down key segments of the health care reform bill.
Of course, for at least four members of the court, it won't be a judicial hearing; it will be a partisan tribunal.
MARK KARLIN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
It's easy to understand why Bloomberg only takes a token salary of $1 a year as mayor (yes, this is true); he is increasing his wealth (currently valued at $19.5 billion) through his position.
That is just one of the reasons he took the risk of clearing Zuccotti Park out the morning of November 15th. But it is an important one. As BuzzFlash at Truthout has reported before, Bloomberg is the second-wealthiest man in New York City (after one of the Koch brothers), and the 12th-wealthiest person in America. He made his fortune, as we have noted, with a device that allows the financial "Masters of the Universe" to assess risk in their trading - something that they have done in a ruinous fashion to our economy.
No one is accusing Bloomberg of taking bribes or insider trading. But if Wall Street receives guaranteed subsidies from the government, while it gambles with the money of its customers, Bloomberg enterprises are guaranteed a strong market position for his company and continued revenue enhancement in the billions of dollars while in office. Limited to two terms as mayor, he even got an amendment passed in 2008 to allow him to run for a third term.
Besides, he is in the social and economic world of the Wall Street 1 percent. Hank Paulson and Jon Corzine, who were Goldman Sachs co-chairs not so long ago, and who (Paulson as Bush's Secretary of the Treasury) used taxpayers' money to bail out the southern Manhattan casinos on the one hand - and who is headed to a court date for financial improprieties at his recent brokerage house (Corzine at the now bankrupt and shuttered MF Global) on the other - are Bloomberg's buddies.
Employing a number of public relations strategies to create an excuse for crushing the Occupy Wall Street movement camp, Bloomberg was counting on an outbreak of vandalism and violence to provide an excuse for invading Zuccotti Park. But the protesters remained nonviolent, and he was forced to initially defy a court order, squash freedom of the press and disregard public sentiment when he had the New York Police Department smash the Occupy encampment to erase it from the footprint of democracy.
As BuzzFlash at Truthout noted in the headline for its commentary of November 14, "The 1% Solution in Oakland and NYC Is to Erase Those Who Would Expose Economic Justice."
On the morning of November 14th, the Oakland police again dismantled the Occupy camp in Oscar Grant Plaza. This action was allegedly taken because a man was killed in an altercation near Occupy Oakland last week, and because the Occupy camp has become a place where homeless people can be fed and sheltered.
It was the 101st murder this year in Oakland, and its use as a reason to squash Occupy Oakland is tragically absurd:
A man was shot and killed Thursday just outside the Oakland encampment that anti-Wall Street protesters have occupied for the last month, causing a scream-filled commotion in the City Hall plaza where the camp stands and turning a planned anniversary celebration into a somber, candlelit memorial.
With opinions about Occupy Oakland and its effect on the city having become more divided in recent days, supporters and opponents immediately reacted to the homicide - the city's 101st this year.
Camp organizers said the attack was unrelated to their activities, while city and business leaders, cited the death as proof that the camp itself either bred crime or drained law enforcement resources from other parts of the Oakland.
Mayor Jean Quan, who has been criticized by residents on both sides for issuing mixed signals about the local government's willingness to tolerate the camp, issued a statement Thursday providing a clear eviction notice.
"Tonight's incident underscores the reason why the encampment must end. The risks are too great," Quan said. "We need to return (police) resources to addressing violence throughout the city. It's time for the encampment to end. Camping is a tactic, not a solution."
Ironically, as BuzzFlash at Truthout noted awhile back, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) is under the watch of a federal judge who has said the department is so egregiously in noncompliance with reasonable police standards that it may be put into federal receivership. It seems that the OPD has a history of planting evidence, framing arrested individuals and being trigger happy, among other "irregularities."
But the most profound injustice is the notion that in a city where 100 people have been killed this year - and even with the heavy police presence around the Occupy Oakland site, this one particular murder wasn't prevented - somehow the Occupy movement was the cause of the shooting.
To blame the Occupy movement for a shooting located in a society that does little to prevent approximately 10,000 firearm homicides a year in the United States, with a large chunk of them in neglected African-American and Latino communities, is beyond nonsensical; it's admitting the failure of the status quo to address violence in a large economically deprived underclass that is generally ignored.
As to feeding and housing the homeless and hungry, isn't that something cities across the nation should be doing? Isn't that what Christ implored of his followers?
What the Occupy movement is doing is not causing an increase in violence and homelessness; it is inadvertently exposing the epidemic of violence, particularly shootings, and poor people without means in need of services.
That is the biggest threat to the status quo of the Oakland municipal government, and to cities across the nation that are unleashing militarized police forces on generally harmless protesters advocating for a just society. The institutionalized powers of government and the 1 percent would prefer that the squalid, deadly underside of our society remain swept under the rug, all covered up.
The truth is too inconvenient and disruptive.
MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
You might not think that Missoula, Montana, (population around 65,000) would be the place that a revolt against corporate personhood might start, but you'd be wrong.
In fact, this past Tuesday, 75 percent of the voters in Missoula supported a referendum declaring that "corporations are not human beings." It's part of a national movement to encourage states to support a constitutional amendment to deny to corporations the rights given to individual Americans. The campaign was launched after the 2010 US Supreme Court decision granting corporations the rights of free speech guaranteed to individuals, including campaign spending.
According to the Missoulian, Cynthia Wolken - the councilwoman who initiated the referendum - was hopeful that other cities would follow suit:
"Basically, it affirmed what we were all seeing on the streets, which is the average Missoulian wanted to have their voice heard ... and they want their elected officials to fix the problem of corporate personhood," Wolken said. "So I hope this message is heard and we get started on fixing the problem."
As she sees it, corporations have been given too much power, and as stated in the Missoula resolution, their "profits and survival are often in direct conflict with the essential needs and rights of human beings."
Every week, over the past few months, Truthout has been excerpting Thom Hartmann's prescient book, "Unequal Protection," on how corporate personhood mistakenly became embedded in court rulings. In the book - available in a revised and expanded edition from Truthout - Hartmann writes:
For humans to take back control of our governments by undoing corporate personhood, we'll have to begin with the governments that are the closest and most accessible to us. It's almost impossible for you or me to go to Washington, D.C., and have a meeting with our senator or representative - most of us usually can't even get them on the phone unless we're a big contributor. But most of us can meet with our city council members or show up at their meetings. Lobbying within the local community is both easy and effective. Local politicians are the closest to - and generally the most responsive - to the people they represent.
When enough local communities have passed ordinances that directly challenge corporate personhood, state legislatures will begin to notice. As with the issues of slavery, women's suffrage, and Prohibition (among others), when local communities take actions that are followed by states, eventually the federal government will get on board.
Missoula, the home of the University of Montana, is showing the way.
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