Sunday bonus links: all about Occupy Wall Street

November 6, 2011 at 12:30 pm | In crime, guerilla_politics, links, politics | Comments Off

I’m neglecting my blog again, lately just posting my weekly Sunday Diigo Links posts, but on this Sunday, here are a couple of extra links that deserve a spotlight.

These articles focus in some way on the Occupy Wall Street groundswell, which is in danger of being squashed by the stirrup-holders of the financial system (to repurpose a phrase). But the OWS message needs to be heard (and sharpened, versus diluted), as it’s the best bet we have to effect much-needed change.

…Oh, change – that word. Wasn’t that what Obama promised? Whatever happened to that?

Anyway…

First up, two articles by Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi. On October 25 he posted Wall Street Isn’t Winning – It’s Cheating, which (aside from arguing a range of critical points, such as that it isn’t “envy of the rich” that’s driving the OWS movement) offered the following nugget of information. This, folks, totally threw me for a loop:

One thing we can still be proud of is that America hasn’t yet managed to achieve the highest incarceration rate in history — that honor still goes to the Soviets in the Stalin/Gulag era. But we do still have about 2.3 million people in jail in America.

Virtually all 2.3 million of those prisoners come from “the 99%.” Here is the number of bankers who have gone to jail for crimes related to the financial crisis: 0.

Millions of people have been foreclosed upon in the last three years. In most all of those foreclosures, a regional law enforcement office — typically a sheriff’s office — was awarded fees by the court as part of the foreclosure settlement, settlements which of course were often rubber-stamped by a judge despite mountains of perjurious robosigned evidence. [emphasis added]

That means that every single time a bank kicked someone out of his home, a local police department got a cut. Local sheriff’s offices also get cuts of almost all credit card judgments, and other bank settlements. [emphasis added] If you’re wondering how it is that so many regional police departments have the money for fancy new vehicles and SWAT teams and other accoutrements, this is one of your answers.

What this amounts to is the banks having, as allies, a massive armed police force who are always on call, ready to help them evict homeowners and safeguard the repossession of property. But just see what happens when you try to call the police to prevent an improper foreclosure. Then, suddenly, the police will not get involved. It will be a “civil matter” and they won’t intervene.

(…snip…)

The point being: we have a massive police force in America that outside of lower Manhattan prosecutes crime and imprisons citizens with record-setting, factory-level efficiency, eclipsing the incarceration rates of most of history’s more notorious police states and communist countries.

But the bankers on Wall Street don’t live in that heavily-policed country. There are maybe 1000 SEC agents policing that sector of the economy, plus a handful of FBI agents. There are nearly that many police officers stationed around the polite crowd at Zucotti park. (more)

Please read the whole article. Breathtaking.

Call me naive, but I had no idea that local (US) police forces were benefiting from this crisis – and that this means, as per the ever-useful “follow the money” mantra, they are corrupted by the financial crisis. I had heard that private corporations “contract” police services in NYC (with the tax-paying public holding the bag for police insurance, no less), but I had no idea that police departments were effectively skimming off the top of the foreclosure/ eviction crisis. This is so wrong.

…If the cops wore logos on their uniforms that identify all the corporations overtly or covertly paying for their services, they too would look like race car drivers…

Well, that’s a real nail in the coffin of democracy. You have to wonder whether the financial industries realize how dangerous their game is. As Taibbi points out in his article, Americans have never resented the rich – we’ve adulated them. We love Horatio Alger stories, we believe in bootstrapping. And we believe in winning. But we hate cheaters – and by making cheating into their actual modus operandus, these guys are shaking down the whole country. What a dangerous and rotten game, and how unworthy of America.

Taibbi’s other article of note is his take-down of NYC’s Mayor: Mike Bloomberg’s Marie Antoinette Moment. This is another breathtaking read – Taibbi isn’t just a great writer, he’s absolutely fearless. I guess my take-away from this piece was that it isn’t the “anonymous” protesters who are wearing the masks – it’s people like Bloomberg. And Taibbi’s article reveals Bloomberg’s true face (one that’s beholden to the banking industry and its friends, not to the people he’s supposed to be serving). As Taibbi puts it:

Well, you know what, Mike Bloomberg? FUCK YOU. People are not protesting for their own entertainment, you asshole. They’re protesting because millions of people were robbed, by your best friends incidentally, and they want their money back. (source)

Seems it’s time to stop mincing words. President Obama, where are you in all this?

Speaking of Obama, we need a Teddy Roosevelt. See Simon Johnson: ‘We Are Looking Straight Into The Face Of A Great Depression’ – not for the faint of heart. Everywhere, it seems, people with brains and expertise are saying: hold on, this can’t continue. The “this” in question is the privatization of profit and the socialization of risk and losses. Why does it continue?

Oh, wait… follow the money… Which brings me to my last link, Guy Dauncey‘s November editorial in his Earth Future newsletter, Nailing the Jello to the Door.

The “door” Dauncey refers to is the door on which Martin Luther nailed his Reformation theses on October 31, 1571. Luther had clear theses, not jello – much of what’s happening with the Occupy Wall Street protests articulates the demand for Reformation (reform) as jello (and that’s where writers like Taibbi et al. are doing such important work, because they’re pointing out that there are clear rallying points – theses – for reform).

Dauncey notes that the #1 demand for OWS should be “get the money out of politics”:

In America, there is clear justification for articulating the Number #1 demand as “Get the money out of politics!”. The corruption of American politics by money is legend. So let’s say it is successful, and Americans achieve what Canada has already done.

Most Americans have no idea that Canadian political parties are publicly funded based on their share of the vote at the last election, and that no-one, whether billionaire or broom-pusher, can donate more than $1,000 to a party.

It is due to controls like this that Canada’s banking regulators are not controlled by the banks, and that Canada did not experience the sub-prime mortgage scandal that is causing such chaos and tragedy in America.

Canada’s tragedy is that Harper’s Conservative government is planning to abolish this very constraint, so one of our demands here in Canada must be “Keep the money out of politics!” (source)

But, as Dauncey notes, Canada has similar problems as America: poverty, inequality, corporate influence. It’s still a follow the money question. Referencing an earlier infographic in New Scientist, Dauncey notes that:

A new analysis by complex systems theorists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology of the relationships between 43,000 transnational corporations has identified a core of 1318 interlocking companies which control 80% of the world’s global operating revenues.

Within these, 147 tightly knit companies (1% of the core) control 40% of the wealth. Most are financial institutions such as Barclays Bank, JP Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, but the top ten also includes companies that almost nobody has heard of such as FMR, AXA and Capital Group Companies.

Furthermore, most or all of these companies operate with off-shore tax havens where they hide their wealth and avoid paying taxes. They are like Jello – if you try to pin them down, they simply move their money somewhere else, managed by anonymous trusts that no-one has the power to investigate or control. Collectively, they are a three-foot wide lump of Jello, and our regulatory powers are a single thumb. [emphasis added]

So what could crack the core of the problem and nail the Jello to the door? We need to capture the flight capital and close down the world’s tax havens, aided by a Tax Evasion Complicity Law which would make it a criminal offense to knowingly serve as a fund manager, accountant, trustee, lawyer or corporate nominee for a known tax evader.

And that last suggestion – which would strike at the heart of a global ecosystem that now feeds off that lump of jello – is probably what makes reform so difficult. Clamped tightly to the jello teat, weaning will be a challenge.

Infographic from New Scientist, "Revealed – the capitalist network that runs the world "

Potted economy

August 6, 2010 at 10:22 pm | In addiction, crime, politics, social_critique | 2 Comments

Everybody is talking /writing) about pot, including pot in Canada, it seems. Nothing new, really: every Canadian (especially every British Columbian) knows it’s a resource and a big economic contributor.

Now a recent Guardian article by Douglas Haddow, Marijuana may cause Canada’s economic comedown, prompted even our local press conglomerate to publish a pretty good piece, Could legal California pot send Canadian profits up in smoke?, that takes a closer look at what’s surely a most interesting ecosystem of resource and distribution.

It’s not news to read that marijuana production is a big piece of British Columbia’s economy. And it’s not inspiring to read that we could kneecap the criminal element with the stroke of a pen (by legalizing marijuana production and distribution, and controlling it, the way we control and tax alcohol and cigarettes). I don’t care for pot myself – haven’t smoked it in decades, mainly because it’s not like wine, which goes with food (and I like my pleasures well-rounded!). That said, wine isn’t entirely harmless either, is it?

But wine is legal, and we have a culture of wine – whatever culture of pot actually exists doesn’t yank my chain, but that, too, speaks to the importance of cultures, which are created and nurtured, never given in a vacuum or created ex nihilo.

Right now, we’re creating a culture of pot that’s not exactly desirable.

I’d like to see a rational approach to “soft” drugs like marijuana especially, which would knock the legs out from under organized crime and gangs. And then, by all means, let’s go after the a-holes that produce and spread crack and meth (which imo is total poisonous garbage).

See, my take is this: Lumping all the qualities – the various drugs – together as a similar quantity is a huge, huge mistake. Instead, differentiate and sort the qualities: there are differences between pot versus crack or meth or IV drugs. When the legal system makes these very different qualities into the same thing, no one wins. I don’t want to get into discussions around legalizing hard drugs and garbage drugs – it seems to me (and this may sound cruel) that they affect such a small percentage of the population as to warrant a different approach that excludes accommodation. Marijuana, on the other hand, is total mainstream – has been since I was a kid, and I’m all grown up. Wasn’t a gateway back then for most of us, and isn’t a gateway now – the dastardly bastard organized crime element, however, is: they’re a vector for evil. They’re a gateway, no doubt about it, but it’s one that’s easy enough to close …through legalization.

My two cents.

Front-line/Downtown – Community Solutions

April 2, 2009 at 1:25 pm | In addiction, community_associations, crime, health, homelessness, housing, justice, leadership, local_not_global, victoria | 1 Comment

On Monday March 30, the Downtown Residents Association (DRA) hosted a public meeting, On The Front Lines: Community Solutions for Homelessness and Social Issues, at City Hall. Moderated by DRA chair Rob Randall, we heard from Victoria City Councilor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, the Coalition to End Homelessness‘s Jill Clements, the Downtown Victoria Business Association’s Ken Kelley, and Victoria Police Department Chief Jamie Graham.

Rob wrote a follow-up report on his blog – go check it out (especially the comments). Davin Greenwell also posted a great summary, and included photo documentation, so do take a look at it here.

I haven’t commented on Rob’s post, but just left a long comment on Davin’s entry. Click through to read my (partial) response to the session.

One of the categories I’m filing my post under is “leadership,” a quality that Jill Clements of the Victoria Coalition to End Homelessness seems to have, and it’s something we expect from Jamie Graham. We also see it in Charlayne Thornton-Joe.

As I was checking off categories, I also checked “justice,” as I was reminded of Graham’s discussion of implementing Restorative Justice (see Saanich’s program), which we hope to see used more frequently in Victoria. Incidentally, Restorative Justice is modeled on First Nations approaches to crime and social disorder, and reminded me that the American Congress (and Senate?) is modeled on a New World/ First Nations approach (vs. the British Parliamentarianism we still practice in Canada, where everyone shouts at the same time and heckles the opposition). Sorry, can’t provide a link right now, but just think of the concept of the talking stick. Works for me – bring it on.

Connect the dots: two articles by Miro Cernetig and Bob Ransford that should be read together

March 24, 2008 at 10:16 pm | In addiction, affordable_housing, canada, cities, crime, homelessness, housing, justice, leadership, local_not_global, social_critique, street_life, taxes, urbanism, vancouver, victoria | 1 Comment

The Vancouver Sun published two articles, nearly back-to-back, which make a lot of sense when read in conjunction: on March 22, we read Bob Ransford’s As cities become more complex, our taxes keep rising and on March 24 we read Milo Cernetig’s Approach to social woes a moral failure by all three main B.C. parties.

These two articles have to be comprehended together. One (Ransford’s) wants people to understand the economics of taxation that underlie municipal finance, while the other (Cernetig’s) wants people to understand how a certain kind of underfunding has produced the horrible social problems we see in our (BC) cities today. Cernetig references Vancouver, but Victoria has similar problems.

I have for some months now picked up on the criticisms of municipal infrastructure funding in Canada — even going so far as to publish a short piece on Vibrant Victoria on Dec.3/07, Victoria’s Choice: to be or not to be …is not the question. The gist of Ransford’s article elaborates on the theme I also addressed in my piece: cities (in my opinion, Canadian cities especially, although Ransford argues that it’s a Western/ First World global problem) are too dependent on single sources of income, primarily property taxes, while so-called senior levels of government (state or provincial, and federal) receive funding from many diverse sources of income: consumption taxes, income taxes, and so on. At the same time, cities are in the front line of having to provide services on every level.

This is lunacy, especially when you take into account the fact that cities generate most of a nation’s economic activity and wealth, and that they also will typically attract the largest populations of people dependent on what is collectively referred to as “services”: supported housing, addiction treatment, food banks, welfare, etc. Poor people come to cities because this is where the services are. Very often, they are in a city’s downtown, which is why you’ll find neighbourhoods in downtowns that become magnets for the visibly needy.

The problem is that these services are underfunded or even non-existent, some having once been funded by one of the two senior levels of government, but now having been off- or downloaded to municipalities.

And there we are, connecting the dots.

The Feds “downloaded” to the Provinces those services that used to be Federally-funded. The Provinces in turn have downloaded Provincially-funded services to the municipalities.

And, …well, the municipalities have no one to download to …except us. And that, in a nutshell, is my argument: citizens — people who live in cities — are shouldering the downloaded costs of all the stuff that all the other levels of government, including the municipalities, used to handle. Beggars on the streets; addicts shooting up in broad daylight; mentally ill people freaking out on corners; homeless people in every nook and cranny of public and private spaces; human feces on the sidewalks and in doorways; used needles in parks and on sidewalks; drug deals transacted openly on downtown streets… The list goes on.

The police refer to the mentally ill who openly use illegal drugs and defecate on the street and sleep in doorways as their “clients.” It seems to have gone by the board that the police shouldn’t be dealing with people on that end of the spectrum of social disorder in the first place — the police should be dealing with criminals and with law enforcement. When the people on that end of the spectrum engage in criminal activity — and they do, because they steal to stay alive and to feed their addictions — the police act like social workers …because that’s the role that has been downloaded to them, too.

Criminals exploit this.

My neighbours, who came home at 11pm on a recent weekend night to find that their basement door had been kicked in by thieves while they were away, thieves who robbed them of various items and who apparently fled just as the family returned home, had to wait for over 12 hours before the police could come over. And why was that? Perhaps they were too busy taking care of “clients”…

We — citizens — are the bottom of the food chain in this story. We — citizens — are the last link to off- or download to. We — citizens — are supposed to feel guilty if we don’t express or display the appropriate level of compassion toward the marginalized. But the citizen might ask herself, “Whatever happened to the idea that I pay my taxes, and that they pay for services intended to ameliorate these conditions?” The citizen still pays her taxes — and pays and pays and pays, if she lives in Canada — and the senior levels of government boast of surpluses. The municipalities, meanwhile, relying almost solely on the property taxes she and the many other citizens in the urban area pay, find themselves shouldering the cost of upgrading ancient infrastructure (sewage, roads, parks, recreation centres, etc.), plus the cost of “helping” the growing pool of service seekers.

But there are no provincial mental hospitals anymore, there is no affordable housing or supportive housing being built by the province or the feds, and all the damage that accrues from this out-casting has been downloaded to Joe and Jane Schmuck, i.e., you and me Citizen Jim and Citizen Jill.

That’s the dot.

Let me just present a couple of extract from the above-mentioned articles. Here’s Ransford:

Am I getting value for dollar for the property taxes I pay to local government? Politicians and bureaucrats at city hall would argue that I am getting more for my dollar than I ever have. Despite the fact that the number of employees at my city hall has grown faster than the rate of local population growth, the people that work there will tell you they are doing much more with fewer resources.

The fact is that cities across the country have become much more complex organizations than they were in the past and they have taken on more and more responsibilities. The federal and provincial governments have downloaded a long list of responsibilities on municipal governments. They have also stopped doing things that they once did as governments and the municipalities have stepped in and taken over where a need had to be met.

Social or non-market housing is a good example. Providing housing for the truly needy used to be almost the sole responsibility of the federal government. They started backing out of this area in the late 1980s and have next to no involvement today in funding what most are identifying is a desperate social need in our urban centres
(…)

The role of municipal governments has evolved. No longer do you look to your municipality merely to fix the potholes in the road in front of your house or to build and maintain the pipes that dispose of the sewage when you flush your toilet..

As Ransford points out (on page 2 of the article), a key problem here is aging populations:

The concept of a tax tied to the value of your home is beginning to make less practical sense with an aging urban population that will soon be dominated by retirees on fixed retirement incomes with all of their equity tied up in relatively expensive homes.

There’s only one kind of civic taxpayer and one source of civic revenue. There is a looming danger that taxpayer will soon no longer be able to fund the full cost of what it takes to run a city.

I would further add to Ransford’s excellent summing-up that Victoria’s troubles are uniquely compounded by our balkanized political system, which splits Victoria into many separate un-amalgamated municipalities (the Capital Regional District, which is all of Victoria, is 13 municipalities, each with its own mayor and council, fire chief, police department, and so on). At the same time, the City of Victoria holds the region’s downtown, the place where everyone comes for services — social services that range from food banks, charities, needle “exchanges,” and plain old week-end partying — many of which require policing and various levels of clean-up. Who pays? The City of Victoria, not the surrounding municipalities, which merely take advantage of what the City offers.

Let’s look at Milo Cernetig’s article now. He gets a gold star (in my book) for slamming all the BC provincial parties — too often and for too long, the problems we’re facing have been presented in partisan terms: it’s the BC Liberals’ fault (note to non-BC readers: the BC Liberals are sort of neo-conservative, and have little in common with the Federal Liberals); or it’s the NDP’s fault, and so on. Yadda yadda yadda. Blah blah blah.

Forget about it. That partisan shit has to stop, because it’s obvious that none of the parties have covered themselves in glory here, and that whole partisan shtick is old beyond words.

Here are some excerpts from Cernetig’s piece:

…here’s the fast-rewind of the amazing arc of policy blunders — given to us by a melange of Social Credit, New Democratic and Liberal governments — that I tried to explain.

First, imagine progressively shrinking the province’s major psychiatric hospital, Riverview, to save money. Then, in a cruel twist, offer no safe harbour for many of those psychiatric patients, who politicians told us would benefit from being “deinstitutionalized” and put back into society.

Instead, let large numbers of these truly desperate souls fend for themselves on our streets. Let them line up for a room in those bedbug-infested flophouses our health inspectors, for reasons that mystify, somehow allow to stay open. While we’re at it, we’ll also slow down the construction of new social housing, too, since it’s too expensive.

(…)
So now we’ve got all these lost souls begging and wandering the city’s downtown, often in a schizophrenic or crystal meth haze.

But we really haven’t done much about it. We’re not good at the tough job of distinguishing between vagrants (who should be moved on by the cops), or chronic criminals (who should be put in jail by judges) and the truly sick (who should be taken to shelters or hospitals by good beat cops, if we had enough of them).

Nope. We somehow got used to the sight of people sprawled on sidewalks and inside the doorways of the world’s “most livable” city.

There it is: another dot: We somehow got used to the sight of people sprawled on sidewalks and inside the doorways of the world’s “most livable” city.

The “somehow” in that sentence is “downloading.” We have been worn down by senior levels of government absenting themselves from the business of governing (a big piece of which includes providing services in exchange for all the money we fork over), and in the British tradition (within which we exist here), we have taken it uncomplainingly up the rear end, “muddling through” and accepting it all as if it were an inevitability.

That’s why we put up with the sight of what Cernetig describes, put up with open drug use, criminal transactions in plain daylight, and lunatics on our streets. In the British tradition, we are, after all, but subjects of these governments, not its master. Just as every level has downloaded — until there’s no one left to download to except to you and me, so every level absolves itself of accountability, because of course there’s always a higher level to defer to. In the last instance, the senior levels can defer to “the Crown,” a cruel joke referencing Canadian impotence.

The emancipation of Canadian cities is a project so inextricably tied to emancipation from old ways of tutelage and subjugation that it will amount to a revolution if it is ever to happen.

Unfortunately, since there has never been a Canadian revolution, I don’t hold out much hope for the emancipation / empowerment of Canadian cities. Perhaps — counter to my current pessimism — we’ll eventually strike some sort of paternalistic bargain with the “higher” levels of government after all. Since they hold the power already, they might grok the problem and step up, if only to maintain their hold.

At this point, I almost don’t care as long as the downloading stops.

Photograph by Ian Lindsay, from Milo Cernetig’s article.

The caption reads “A homeless person sleeps on a Cordova Street sidewalk in February. Figures show that investing in social housing would save B.C. $211 million annually.”

Is “balance” enough?

February 26, 2008 at 11:48 am | In crime, ideas, scenes_victoria, social_critique | 2 Comments

Just a quick post, as I’m still in catch-up mode. This morning I read an article in the local paper about a man who has 250 charges against him for public drunkenness, causing disturbances, aggressive panhandling, harassing people, and so on. “Red,” as he’s called in the article, is not homeless, according to police, and they do not believe that he has a mental health problem (although that’s debatable, given his behavior). See Persistent panhandler gets summons under a section of community charter.

Now the city will use a new community charter bylaw to haul this individual before court, where they hope the judge will sentence him to stay away from the downtown core. The intent is to ban Red from panhandling and from “socializing” downtown.

One city council member, quoted in the article, says, “There’s always got to be a balanced approach in dealing with all the issues.”

This bothers me, maybe because we hear too much about “balance” these days. The councilor is concerned that Red’s rights to be downtown on the street to panhandle (which isn’t illegal as such) aren’t infringed upon, and that the way to address the problems caused by the behaviors of people like Red is to seek balance. It somehow makes me think that balance is starting to become a sort of mantra which doesn’t allow valuation. And if that’s the case, you have to ask: Is “balance” stasis? If so, it’s death.

What about judgement? Are we (especially in Canada) so afraid of judging (as my daughter pointed out to me a couple of years ago, in Canada judges need to take workshops to learn how to be non-judgemental…) that we opt for balance (stasis), versus embracing quick, nimble, intellectually aware and alert change? And besides, isn’t our supposed balance often enough just an appearance of balance? All sorts of stuff is still out of whack beneath the surface and in other domains, and the fervent wish for balance is …well, just a wish. Perhaps a wish to get out of making judgements and decisions?

It’s ironic that the US should be full of religious evangelists, whose mantra on the Christian side of the register is not to judge, lest ye be judged, and yet it’s we in Canada, supposedly secular, who are holier than thou in being non-judgemental.

So here’s the deal: I have a problem with being non-judgemental, especially since I’m not a Christian or religious. Being non-judgemental might work fine in your spiritual life, but it sucks when it comes to ethics and politics and economics and policy. You know, it’s like that old shibboleth about rendering unto Caesar what’s Caesar’s and onto god what’s god’s.

Which finally makes me wonder if politicians, when they talk about “seeking balance,” are refusing to judge, …which makes me wonder whether focusing on “balance” is replacing decision-making. I also wonder whether balance in the spiritual sense was ever intended to be a sort of placeholder for anything, whether painful or pleasurable.

As an atheist, I object to any strategy or philosophy that introduces religion into politics. When people talk about “balance,” they usually mean something quasi-religious (or at least “spiritual,” whatever that horse of a different color means to all the riders out there).  Whether the councilor in question is religious or not is moot for me at this point.  I’m concerned with the discourse of “balance,” which is starting to sound like religion.  I object to religion whenever and wherever it worms its way into places where it doesn’t belong.

Daily Diigo Public Link 01/29/2008

January 28, 2008 at 5:40 pm | In addiction, crime, links, social_critique, street_life | Comments Off

Boogie: Bleak Street Lifes (PingMag – The Tokyo-based magazine about “Design and Making Things”) Annotated

tags: boogie, brooklyn, drug_addiction, gangs, interview, nyc, photography, ping_mag, street_life

Interview with “Serbian photographer Boogie [who] grew up in the war-torn region of former Yugoslavia, documenting protests and the disturbing portraits of skinheads. After moving from Belgrade to Brooklyn in 1998, he started observing New York’s bleak street side of life with monochrome shots. Distinctively, his work isn’t emphatic. He doesn’t judge. He is more reporting on a not so distant universe with a fine eye for detail – and a lot of guts. He showed PingMag his depiction of Brooklyn gang life and junkies.” Boogie notes: “‘This whole life is a bunch of choices you make and they just made a couple of wrong ones,’ says photographer Boogie about his series on junkies in Brooklyn.”

Theme: Pool by Borja Fernandez.
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