Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
John F. Kennedy, In a speech at the White House, 1962
35th president of US 1961-1963 (1917 - 1963)
Preying on the Poor
By Barbara Ehrenreich
Individually the poor are not too tempting to thieves, for obvious reasons. Mug a banker and you might score a wallet containing a month’s rent. Mug a janitor and you will be lucky to get away with bus fare to flee the crime scene. But as Business Week helpfully pointed out in 2007, the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them.
The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators. Employers, for example, can simply program their computers to shave a few dollars off each paycheck, or they can require workers to show up 30 minutes or more before the time clock starts ticking.
Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest. When supplemented with late fees (themselves subject to interest), the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.
It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor. Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license. And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell.
The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009 for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay. Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration.
Government Joins the Looters of the Poor
You might think that policymakers would take a keen interest in the amounts that are stolen, coerced, or extorted from the poor, but there are no official efforts to track such figures. Instead, we have to turn to independent investigators, like Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America, who estimates that wage theft nets employers at least $100 billion a year and possibly twice that. As for the profits extracted by the lending industry, Gary Rivlin, who wrote Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Business, says the poor pay an effective surcharge of about $30 billion a year for the financial products they consume and more than twice that if you include subprime credit cards, subprime auto loans, and subprime mortgages.
These are not, of course, trivial amounts. They are on the same order of magnitude as major public programs for the poor. The government distributes about $55 billion a year, for example, through the largest single cash-transfer program for the poor, the Earned Income Tax Credit; at the same time, employers are siphoning off twice that amount, if not more, through wage theft.
And while government generally turns a blind eye to the tens of billions of dollars in exorbitant interest that businesses charge the poor, it is notably chary with public benefits for the poor. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, for example, our sole remaining nationwide welfare program, gets only $26 billion a year in state and federal funds. The impression is left of a public sector that’s gone totally schizoid: on the one hand, offering safety-net programs for the poor; on the other, enabling large-scale private sector theft from the very people it is supposedly trying to help.
At the local level though, government is increasingly opting to join in the looting. In 2009, a year into the Great Recession, I first started hearing complaints from community organizers about ever more aggressive levels of law enforcement in low-income areas. Flick a cigarette butt and get arrested for littering; empty your pockets for an officer conducting a stop-and-frisk operation and get cuffed for a few flakes of marijuana. Each of these offenses can result, at a minimum, in a three-figure fine.
And the number of possible criminal offenses leading to jail and/or fines has been multiplying recklessly. All across the country -- from California and Texas to Pennsylvania -- counties and municipalities have been toughening laws against truancy and ratcheting up enforcement, sometimes going so far as to handcuff children found on the streets during school hours. In New York City, it’s now a crime to put your feet up on a subway seat, even if the rest of the car is empty, and a South Carolina woman spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay a $480 fine for the crime of having a “messy yard.” Some cities -- most recently, Houston and Philadelphia -- have made it a crime to share food with indigent people in public places.
Being poor itself is not yet a crime, but in at least a third of the states, being in debt can now land you in jail. If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage -- a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: “sewer service.” In a sequence that National Public Radio reports is “increasingly common,” a person is stopped for some minor traffic offense -- having a noisy muffler, say, or broken brake light -- at which point the officer discovers the warrant and the unwitting offender is whisked off to jail.
Local Governments as Predators
Each of these crimes, neo-crimes, and pseudo-crimes carries financial penalties as well as the threat of jail time, but the amount of money thus extracted from the poor is fiendishly hard to pin down. No central agency tracks law enforcement at the local level, and local records can be almost willfully sketchy.
According to one of the few recent nationwide estimates, from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 10.5 million misdemeanors were committed in 2006. No one would risk estimating the average financial penalty for a misdemeanor, although the experts I interviewed all affirmed that the amount is typically in the “hundreds of dollars.” If we take an extremely lowball $200 per misdemeanor, and bear in mind that 80%-90% of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, then local governments are using law enforcement to extract, or attempt to extract, at least $2 billion a year from the poor.
And that is only a small fraction of what governments would like to collect from the poor. Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimates that “deadbeat dads” (and moms) owe $105 billion in back child-support payments, about half of which is owed to state governments as reimbursement for prior welfare payments made to the children. Yes, parents have a moral obligation to their children, but the great majority of child-support debtors are indigent.
Attempts to collect from the already-poor can be vicious and often, one would think, self-defeating. Most states confiscate the drivers’ licenses of people owing child support, virtually guaranteeing that they will not be able to work. Michigan just started suspending the drivers’ licenses of people who owe money for parking tickets. Las Cruces, New Mexico, just passed a law that punishes people who owe overdue traffic fines by cutting off their water, gas, and sewage.
Once a person falls into the clutches of the criminal justice system, we encounter the kind of slapstick sadism familiar to viewers of Wipeout. Many courts impose fees without any determination of whether the offender is able to pay, and the privilege of having a payment plan will itself cost money.
In a study of 15 states, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found 14 of them contained jurisdictions that charge a lump-sum “poverty penalty” of up to $300 for those who cannot pay their fees and fines, plus late fees and “collection fees” for those who need to pay over time. If any jail time is imposed, that too may cost money, as the hapless Edwina Nowlin discovered, and the costs of parole and probation are increasingly being passed along to the offender.
The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty.” Poor people are more far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private-sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.
Once you have been deemed a criminal, you can pretty much kiss your remaining assets goodbye. Not only will you face the aforementioned court costs, but you’ll have a hard time ever finding a job again once you’ve acquired a criminal record. And then of course, the poorer you become, the more likely you are to get in fresh trouble with the law, making this less like a “cycle” and more like the waterslide to hell. The further you descend, the faster you fall -- until you eventually end up on the streets and get busted for an offense like urinating in public or sleeping on a sidewalk.
I could propose all kinds of policies to curb the ongoing predation on the poor. Limits on usury should be reinstated. Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net. Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.
In what seems to be an obvious conclusion to progressives, Economic
Policy Institute authors Ross Eisenbrey and Colin Gordon make a strong
case that rising income inequality
in the United States is linked to the decline in union membership. It
seems clear that the sector of society dedicated to fighting on behalf
of working families and the middle class, if weakened, would cause a
decrease in wages for workers and an increase in profits for the upper
one percent. By extension, it seems obvious that the anti-labor
policies pursued by conservatives are a direct attack on the middle
class and working families:
The passage in 1935 of the National Labor Relations Act, which protected
and encouraged unions, sparked a wave of unionization that led to three
decades of shared prosperity and what some call the Great Compression:
when the share of national income taken by the very rich was cut by
one-third. The “countervailing power” of labor unions (not just at the
bargaining table but in local, state, and national politics) gave them
the ability to raise wages and working standards for members and
non-members alike. Both median compensation and labor productivity
roughly doubled into the early 1970s. Labor unions both sustained
prosperity, and ensured that it was shared; union bargaining power has
been shown to moderate the compensation of executives at unionized
However, over the next 30 years—an era highlighted by the filibuster
of labor law reform in 1978, the Reagan administration’s crushing of the
PATCO strike, and the passage of anti-worker trade deals with Mexico
and China—labor’s bargaining power collapsed. The consequences are
driven home by the figure below, which juxtaposes the historical
trajectory of union density and the income share claimed by the richest
10 percent of Americans. Union membership has fallen and income
inequality has worsened—reaching levels not seen since the 1920s.
by Laura Clawson for Daily Kos
Two regular features of reporting about unions are
sometimes hard to tell apart: A lot of reporters don't know basic facts
about labor, and anti-union forces have a powerful PR machine tirelessly
working to insert anti-union language into the media as "neutral"
language. Some mistakes are just that. They're wrong but not necessarily
harmful. Others may have become naturalized, repeated so often that
even people who don't intend any harm to unions have picked them up. But
it's important to try to get things right, and it's particularly
important to combat the spread of right-wing messaging, maybe especially
when it's been so successfully inserted into the discourse that people
don't recognize it for what it is.
This list isn't anywhere close to exhaustive, but it features a few of the big problems I see repeated the most often.
Big labor—Ooh, scary, right? Not just labor, not just unions,
not just millions of working people joined together, fighting together
rather than one by one, having hired some lawyers and organizers to
represent their interests, but big labor. It must be a fair fight between corporate money and Koch brothers money and U.S. Chamber of Commerce money and big labor
money, right? No, of course it's not. But those are the assumptions
embedded in the term, which is exactly why it's important to push back
Union boss—Try this: "union leader." Though union officers are
elected through different processes, some at conventions at which
delegates from around the country vote, some by a vote of the union's
entire membership, union officers are elected leaders. The term "union
boss" is used to create a false equivalence between the boss in the
workplace put there from above who holds the power to hire and fire
workers, to promote or discipline them, and the elected union leader.
Merit shop—Any time you see this one, you know that the person
using it is straight-up anti-union. "Merit shop" refers to non-union
companies, usually construction companies, implying that workers are
hired and paid according to their individual merit, not union rules. Of
course, it turns out that the individual merit of "merit shop" workers
leads to lower pay, fewer benefits and a whole lot of misclassification.
One of the particularly Orwellian things about this term is that
construction unions and union contractors typically invest heavily in
apprenticeship and training, while non-union construction firms are less
likely to do so.
Closed shop—This term describes something that doesn't exist
under law—a workplace in which only existing union members may be hired.
Not only are collective bargaining agreements prohibited from limiting
hiring to existing union members, they are prohibited from forcing
workers to join the union once hired. Any worker can decline to join a
union and pay a fee covering their fair share of the work the union does
directly representing them. Yet anti-union organizations like the Associated Builders & Contractors
and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will still use this term, just to see
if they can get reporters to quote them doing so without challenging it.
Right to work—We've been over and over
the substance of these laws, but the challenge imposed by the name
deserves a word. "Right to work" is akin to "death tax" as a right-wing
frame. Unfortunately, the right created this law and with it the name,
so there's no formal name to call it by that isn't by design an
anti-union term. "Right to work" laws don't put anyone to work and they
don't give them any right except that to receive benefits that they do
not pay for—which is why you'll see such laws referred to as free rider
laws or right to work for less laws or no rights at work laws—but the
official name they are given says otherwise, and until we have the kind
of PR engine and access to powerful people using a pro-union message
that has gone into creating anti-union messages, we are stuck grappling
Project Labor Agreements are not union-only—But anti-union groups generally claim they are. Project Labor Agreements
govern large construction projects, setting uniform terms across
different contractors and different types of work being done on a
project. Each PLA is specific to a project, and they can greatly
increase efficiency and reduce the risk of interruptions or labor
conflict. While PLAs set the same standards for union and non-union
contractors on a project, they do not require that all workers or
contractors be union. Additionally, they can be used for things like
requiring that a percentage of the work on a project be done by local
workers or by economically disadvantaged workers.
Union/labor leader—There's nothing wrong with this term if
it's correctly applied. But when it's incorrectly applied, take a second
to think about why. The key thing here is that only the elected leaders
of a union should be called union (or labor) leaders. That's presidents
and secretary-treasurers, not political directors and communications
staffers. Unions are organizations of workers, and officers are their
elected representatives. Staffers are critical to the function of a
union, but their role is to execute the interests and the will of the
workers who are members of the union, under the direction of the leaders
elected by those members. So if you read an article in which someone
other than a union president or secretary-treasurer or maybe vice
president is described as a union leader, ask yourself: Did the author
of this article not know enough about unions to know the difference
between an elected leader and a staffer, or is there a political agenda
involved in the error? If so, what might it be?
Top union/labor leader—A term to be applied very judiciously.
If the full description is "top union leader" and the context is
national politics, there's room for legitimate debate about who should
be characterized as a "top" labor leader, but it begins with a core of
the president and secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO and the presidents
of maybe a dozen of the largest or otherwise most significant unions,
and it doesn't extend a whole lot further—certainly not beyond the
presidents and secretary-treasurers of national or international unions,
and likely not that far. Of course, if "top union leader" is modified
somehow—top Los Angeles union leader, top construction union leader—the
The AFL-CIO is not a union—The AFL-CIO is often referred to as a union, but in fact, it's a federation of unions. It's in the name! American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations. The AFL-CIO consists of 56 unions,
ranging from the very large to the tiny, familiar names like AFSCME and
unions you may not have heard of like, say, the Glass, Molders,
Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union. Each of those
unions has its own organizational structure, and a voice within the
AFL-CIO. This is why, when unions are divided between different
candidates in an election, the AFL-CIO may not endorse until late,
perhaps after a primary.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE BOSTON TEA PARTY
by BRYAN NELSON
We all think we know the story of the Boston Tea Party. The tale has
an almost fairy-tale quality, told as if it were read from a children’s
book. For this author, the memory of the story seems ingrained; The
memory goes back as far as any memory concerning our nation’s history. I
suspect the story I recall is pretty much the standard version. Early
American patriots, aggravated at rising taxes on tea levied against them
by the British, dressed up like Native Americans and stormed Boston
harbor on one dark night and dumped a bunch of tea into the sea in
protest. The story is easy enough to accept. After all, it molds
perfectly with so many of the notions we readily come to associate with
American patriotism. What could be more fundamentally American than
hating taxes? Right?
The standard version of the story is partly true. It was certainly
correct that rising taxes were generating tension between the colonies
and the British, particularly the taxes issued by the Stamp Act and
Townshend Acts (which did, to be fair, include a tax on tea imports).
But it wasn’t the taxes themselves that irked the American colonists so
much as being taxed without representation. Furthermore, the real
catalysis for the Tea Party– the proverbial last straw– was the Tea Act
of 1773, which wasn’t a tax increase at all. Rather, it was a
monumental tax cut. In fact, it was a monumental corporate tax cut.
I’ll say it again for the sake of resonance: The Boston Tea Party–
one of the most fundamental events leading to America’s origin– was
really a rebellion against cutting taxes for big business; it wasn’t
about a tax increase. More specifically, the Tea Act of 1773 was
practically a corporate bail out. The British East India Company was the
principle lobby and sole beneficiary of the tax cut, which allowed the
Company to transport its cargo of tea so cheaply that local colonial
merchants were basically put out of business. The East India Company was
a virtual monopoly on the transport of goods to the colonies; and the
power of its lobby was at least equivalent to the lobbying power
of modern day Big Oil, or the pharmaceutical companies, or other major
corporate interests we’re more familiar with today.
Thus, I’m saddened to reveal: most of us don’t know the real
story of the Boston Tea Party. As it turns out, what’s really
fundamental about being an American is not so much a hatred of taxes
(though we don’t have to like them, either) as it is a hatred of
corporatism, corporate cronyism in our government, and tax policies
which benefit the rich and powerful over the Everyman, or the local
American. Early American patriots were inspired toward their exceptional
act of independence primarily in resistance to their lack of
representation in contrast to the power of a big business lobby.
If the truth about the Boston Tea Party were to properly represent
for modern America what it meant to our founding fathers, it ought to be
more readily obvious just how shamefully un-American the current
political climate has become. The expense on the American taxpayer for
corporate welfare, often paid in the form of massive subsidies or grants
to giant companies like Enron, Boeing, Halliburton, Mobil Oil, General
Motors, IBM, Dow Chemical, or General Electric, now exceeds what we pay
for most of our more local needs like housing or health care (not to
mention that most of the money for corporate welfare is pilfered
directly from the Social Security fund). Which, ultimately, lends to the
deepest national debt in our nation’s history, which further confounds
the dilemmas faced by middle class Americans, such as the falling value
of the dollar and the outsourcing of our jobs.
Subsidies given primarily to large agribusiness farming factories,
due to their powerful lobby and cycle of rhetoric and misinformation,
are a good example of how America has forgotten what it stands for.
Billed to the American public as policy to help the farmer, the truth is
that only the few largest agribusinesses get the government-issued
financial advantages, leaving local and small-scale farmers– most
American farmers– out of business.
Perhaps even scarier is the way the current economic policies and
rhetoric of the neo-conservative movement, fostered further by the
puppeted, corporate lead of the Bush administration and its predecessors
(I primarily mean the multifarious incompetencies of the Reagan
administration here), have become the symbolic equivalent of the corrupt
British crown, which those Sons of Liberty stood against as they
stormed the decks of those East India tea-transporting ships that one
dark night long ago in Boston Harbor (it wasn’t that long ago,
was it?). Such corporate cronyism is not just un-American. It is
fundamentally what Americans fought and died to oppose. It was
opposition to these villainous policies (the same policies which we see
primarily extolled by cronies on the Right today) which spawned the
Boston Tea Party, and our Declaration of Independence.
The All American Home
New York times
A Civil Right to Unionize
By RICHARD D. KAHLENBERG and MOSHE Z. MARVIT
Published: February 29, 2012
FROM the 1940s to the 1970s, organized labor helped build a middle-class
democracy in the United States. The postwar period was as successful as
it was because of unions, which helped enact progressive social
legislation from the Civil Rights Act to Medicare.
Since then, union representation of American workers has fallen, in
tandem with the percentage of income going to the middle class. Broadly
shared prosperity has been replaced by winner-take-all plutocracy.
Corporations will tell you that the American labor movement has declined so significantly — to around 7 percent
of the private-sector work force today, from 35 percent of the private
sector in the mid-1950s — because unions are obsolete in a global
economy, where American workers have to compete against low-wage
nonunion workers in other countries. But many vibrant industrial
democracies, including Germany, have strong unions despite facing the
same pressures from globalization.
Other skeptics suggest that because laws now exist providing for worker
safety and overtime pay, American employees no longer feel the need to
join unions. But polling has shown that a majority of nonunion workers
would like to join a union if they could.
In fact, the greatest impediment to unions is weak and anachronistic
labor laws. It’s time to add the right to organize a labor union,
without employer discrimination, to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,
because that right is as fundamental as freedom from discrimination in
employment and education. This would enshrine what the Rev. Dr. Martin
Luther King Jr. observed in 1961 at an A.F.L.-C.I.O. convention: “The
two most dynamic and cohesive liberal forces in the country are the
labor movement and the Negro freedom movement. Together, we can be
architects of democracy.”
The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that “everyone
has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of
his interests.” The First Amendment has been read to protect freedom of
association, and the 1935 National Labor Relations Act recognized the
“right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor
organizations,” but in reality, the opportunity to organize is a right
without a remedy.
Firing someone for trying to organize a union is technically illegal
under the 1935 act, but there are powerful incentives for corporations
to violate this right, in part because the penalties — mitigated back
pay after extended hearings — are so weak.
It is noteworthy that American workers in the airline and railway
industries, which are governed not by the 1935 law but by a stronger
statute, the Railway Labor Act, have much higher rates of unionization.
Past efforts to strengthen labor laws over four decades have gotten
bogged down: Congress cannot pass reforms until labor’s political clout
increases, but that won’t happen without labor law reform.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, has much stronger penalties
and procedures than labor laws. Under our proposal, complaints about
wrongful terminations for union organizing could still go through the
National Labor Relations Board, which has expertise in this field. But
the board would employ the procedures currently used by the Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, which provide that after 180 days, a
plaintiff can move his or her case from the administrative agency to
federal court. There, plaintiffs alleging that they were unfairly
dismissed for trying to organize could sue for compensatory and punitive
damages and lawyers’ fees, have the opportunity to engage in pretrial
legal discovery and have access to a jury — none of which are available
under current law.
Our proposal would make disciplining or firing an employee “on the basis
of seeking union membership” illegal just as it now is on the basis of
race, color, sex, religion and national origin. It would expand the
fundamental right of association encapsulated in the First Amendment and
apply it to the private workplace just as the rights of equality
articulated in the 14th Amendment have been so applied.
The labor and civil rights movements have shared values (advancing human
dignity), shared interests (people of color are disproportionately
working-class), shared historic enemies (the Jim Crow South was also a
bastion of right-to-work laws) and shared tactics (sit-ins, strikes and
other forms of nonviolent protest). King, it should be remembered, was
gunned down in Memphis in 1968, where he was supporting striking black
sanitation workers who marched carrying posters with the message “I Am a
Man.” Conceiving of labor organizing as a civil right, moreover, would
recast the complexity of labor law reform in clear moral terms.
Some might argue that the Civil Rights Act should be limited to
discrimination based on immutable characteristics like race or national
origin, not acts of volition. But the act already protects against
religious discrimination. Some local civil rights statutes even cover
marital status, family responsibilities, matriculation, political
affiliation, source of income, or place of residence or business.
Should organizing at work for “mutual aid and protection” not also be covered?
While there are many factors that help explain why the nation has
progressed on King’s vision for civil rights while it has moved backward
on his goal of economic equality, among the most important is the
substantial difference between the strength of our laws on civil rights
and labor. It is time to write protections for labor into the Civil
Rights Act itself.
Andrew Breitbart: Death of a Douche
So Andrew Breitbart is dead
. Here’s what I have to say to that, and I’m sure Breitbart himself would have respected this reaction: Good!
Fuck him. I couldn’t be happier that he’s dead.
I say this in the nicest possible way. I actually kind of liked Andrew Breitbart. Not in the sense that I would ever have wanted to hang out with him, or even be caught within a hundred yards of him without a Haz-Mat suit on, but I respected the shamelessness. Breitbart didn’t do anything by halves, and even his most ardent detractors had to admit that he had a highly developed, if not always funny, sense of humor.
For instance, it would be dishonest not to tip a hat to him for that famous scene when he hijacked Anthony Weiner’s own self-immolating "apology" press conference, and held up the entire event by standing at the lectern and congratulating himself at length, before Weiner could let the humiliating healing begin.
For that one, brief, shining moment– still one of the most painful-to-watch YouTube spectacles of all time, right there with Mitt Romney’s priceless attempt at singing "Who Let the Dogs Out?" with a group of black voters in Florida in 2008 – Breitbart could legitimately claim to have the biggest, hairiest balls on earth.
Watching Weiner apologize to Breitbart later in that same event was certainly chilling for a number of reasons (if I were Weiner, I wouldn’t have apologized to that fucker even under torture) but it was hard not to appreciate the deliciousness of the scene from Breitbart’s point of view. Watching Weiner pause, swallow hard, and make the extraordinary decision to plant his lips squarely on the loathsome Breitbart’s ass on national television, that was like the ultimate Mona Lisa masterpiece of right-wing media provocations. That the outrageous Breitbart was standing right there, looking gorgeously gassy in his unbuttoned shirt, bloated Joey Buttafuoco cheeks and splendiforous silver half-mullet, made the humiliation of the trim and neatly-groomed Weiner even more abject.
Furthermore, the ACORN videos made by Breitbart and his two young acolytes, Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe – it’s hard not to see the inspired humor behind their elaborate stunt. And anyone who’s heard their proposals before ACORN staffers to bring underage girls over the border as part of a white-(or nonwhite-) slaving startup firm, and doesn’t think the ACORN responses (or non-responses, as it were) were shocking, they’re deluding themselves. In the Baltimore office, they ran the whole underage hooker-den spiel past an ACORN staffer, and got the following response: "You are gonna use three of them – they are gonna be under 16, so you is eligible to get child tax credit and additional child tax credit."
That is seriously messed up material. Did they edit the videos heavily? Hell yes. Did they make ACORN’s behavior out to be a lot worse than it was? Absolutely. But there’s no way to watch the raw footage and not grasp how totally nuts some of this ACORN "counseling" was. We have to give Breitbart that.
Breitbart has written some nasty things about me personally, once contrived to publish my private emails online, and even teamed up with Rush Limbaugh to humorously mis-identify me as a behind-the-scenes marionettist of the "media-Democrat industrial complex" (Breitbart thought I was improperly advising Occupy leaders), but all that’s okay. I think today, it’s safe to stand back and simply recognize that while many people go through their lives without leaving distinguishing marks, Andrew Breitbart definitely had his moments.
But he also had enough of a sense of humor to appreciate why someone like me shouldn’t bother to pretend I’m sad he’s dead. He wouldn’t, in my place. So to use one of his favorite words: Good riddance, cocksucker.* Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
* See the following Breitbart quote: “I like to call someone a raving cunt every now and then, when it’s appropriate, for effect... ‘You cocksucker.’ I love that kind of language.”
UPDATE: Well done, Breitbart fans, well done! In less than 24 hours you’ve hacked into my Wiki page, published my telephone number on Twitter, called the Rolling Stone offices pretending to be outraged “advertisers” (anonymous ones, who hung up before we could figure out which “ads” to pull), and then spent all night calling and texting my phone with various threats and insults, many of them directed at my family. “Better grow eyes in the back of your head,” was one; “I’m going to take a shit on your mother’s grave,” was another; a third called my wife a “piece of shit like you,” and many others called me a “pile of human excrement.”
Those last ones to me were the most interesting because that quote is lifted directly from Breitbart’s own obit of Ted Kennedy, which like me Breitbart ran just hours after his subject died. So that means the writers of these letters knew that what I did was exactly the same as what Breitbart had done, and yet they still found a way to be unironically outraged on Breitbart’s behalf. I thought: “These people don’t even get their own jokes.”
The really crazy thing is that I was sort of trying to be nice to Breitbart – the obit was at least half an homage. Not that I liked the guy, but he did have a few attractive qualities, one of which being the fact that he got a kick out of the nasty things people said about him. He even once had a plan to set up a website encouraging anti-Breitbart abuse, and was going to let it ride for a while, even spending six figures to hire an Obama p.r. flack to make anti-Breitbart posters, until finally revealing that he'd sponsored the whole thing. Would a person like that really expect someone like me to send flowers when he croaked? No way: he’d be insulted if I didn’t give him one last kick in the balls on the way out the door.
But I guess no homage is complete without a celebration of the whole man, and the whole man in this case was not just a guy who once said, “It’s all about a good laugh,” but also someone who liked to publish peoples’ personal information on the internet, hack into private web sites, tell lies in an attempt to get his enemies fired, and incite readers to threats against his targets and their families, including death threats. I left all of that stuff out of my obit, but now, thanks to you readers, that’s all in there as well, leaving, for posterity, a much more complete picture of the man.
UC Davis Pepper-Spray Incident Reveals Weakness Up Top
POSTED: November 22, 2011
Was absolutely mesmerized last night watching the viral video of the UC-Davis pepper-spraying. It was totally amazing, simultaneously one of most depressing and inspiring things I’ve seen in many years.
To recap for those who haven’t seen it: police in paramilitary gear
line up in front of a group of Occupy protesters peacefully assembled on
a quad pathway. Completely unprovoked, police decide to douse the whole
group of sitting protesters with pepper spray. There is crying and
chaos and panic, but the wheezing protesters sit resolutely in place and
refuse to move despite the assault.
Finally, in what to me is the most amazing part, the protesters
gather together and move forward shouting “Shame On You! Shame On You!”
over and over again. You can literally see the painful truth of those
words cutting the resolve of the policemen and forcing them backwards.
Glenn Greenwald’s post at
Salon says this far better than I can, but there are undeniable
conclusions one can draw from this incident. The main thing is that the
frenzied dissolution of due process and individual rights that took took
place under George Bush’s watch, and continued uncorrected even when
supposed liberal constitutional lawyer Barack Obama took office, has now
come full circle and become an important element to the newer political
controversy involving domestic/financial corruption and economic
As Glenn points out, when we militarized our society in response to
the global terrorist threat, we created a new psychological atmosphere
in which the use of force and military technology became a favored
method for dealing with dissent of any kind. As Glenn writes:
The U.S. Government — in the name of Terrorism — has aggressively para-militarized the nation’s domestic police forces by lavishing them with countless military-style weapons and other war-like technologies,
training them in war-zone military tactics, and generally imposing a
war mentality on them. Arming domestic police forces with para-military
weaponry will ensure their systematic use even in the absence of a
Terrorist attack on U.S. soil… It’s a very small step to go from
supporting the abuse of defenseless detainees (including one's fellow citizens) to supporting the pepper-spraying and tasering of non-violent political protesters.
Why did that step turn out to be so small? Because of the countless
decisions we made in years past to undermine our own attitudes toward
the rule of law and individual rights. Every time we looked the other
way when the president asked for the right to detain people without
trials, to engage in warrantless searches, to eavesdrop on private
citizens without even a judge knowing about it, we made it harder to
answer the question: What is it we’re actually defending?
In another time, maybe, we might have been able to argue that we were
using force to defend the principles of modern Western civilization,
that we were "spreading democracy."
Instead, we completely shat upon every principle we ever stood for,
stooping to torture and assassination and extrajudicial detention.
From the very start we unleashed those despotic practices on
foreigners, whom large pluralities of the population agreed had no
rights at all. But then as time went on we started to hear about
rendition and extralegal detention cases involving American citizens, too, though a lot of those Americans turned out to be Muslims or Muslim-sympathizers, people with funny names.
And people mostly shrugged at that, of course, just as they shrugged
for years at the insane erosion of due process in the world of drug
enforcement. People yawned at the no-knock warrants and the devastating
parade of new consequences for people with drug convictions
(depending on the state, losing the right to vote, to receive
educational aid, to live in public housing, to use food stamps, and so
They didn’t even care much about the too-innocuously-named new practice of "civil asset forfeiture,"
in which the state can legally seize the property of anyone, guilty or
innocent, who is implicated in a drug investigation – a law that permits
the state to unilaterally deem property to be guilty of a crime.
The population mostly blew off these developments, thinking that
these issues only concerned the guilty, terrorists, drug dealers, etc.
And they didn’t seem to worry very much when word leaked out that the
state had struck an astonishingly far-reaching series of new cooporative arrangements with the various private telecommunications industries.
Nobody blinked when word came out that the government was now
cheerfully pairing up with companies like AT&T, Verizon and
BellSouth to monitor our phone and Internet activities.
Who cared? If you don’t have anything to hide, the thinking went, it
shouldn’t bother you that the government might be checking your phone
records, seeing what sites you’ve been visiting, or quietly distributing
armored cars and submachine guns to every ass-end suburban and
beyond-suburban police force in America.
We had all of these arguments in the Bush years and it’s nothing new
to assert that much of our population made a huge mistake in giving up
so many of our basic rights to due process. What’s new is that we’re now
seeing the political consequences of those decisions.
Again, when we abandoned our principles in order to use force against terrorists and drug dealers, the answer to the question, What are we defending? started to change.
The original answer, ostensibly, was, "We are defending the peaceful
and law-abiding citizens of the United States, their principles, and
everything America stands for."
Then after a while it became, "We’re defending the current population
of the country, but we can’t defend the principles so much anymore,
because they weigh us down in the fight against a ruthless enemy who
must be stopped at all costs."
Then finally it became this: “We are defending ourselves, against the
citizens who insist on keeping their rights and their principles.”
What happened at UC Davis was the inevitable result of our failure to
make sure our government stayed in the business of defending our
principles. When we stopped insisting on that relationship with our
government, they became something separate from us.
And we are stuck now with this fundamental conflict, whereby most of
us are insisting that the law should apply equally to everyone, while
the people running this country for years now have been operating
according to the completely opposite principle that different people
have different rights, and who deserves what protections is a completely
subjective matter, determined by those in power, on a case-by-case
Not to belabor the point, but the person who commits fraud to obtain food stamps goes to jail,
while the banker who commits fraud for a million-dollar bonus does not.
Or if you accept aid in the form of Section-8 housing, the state may
insist on its right to conduct warrantless "compliance check" searches of your home at any time – but if you take billions in bailout aid, you do not even have to open your books to the taxpayer who is the de facto owner of your company.
The state wants to retain the power to make these subjective
decisions, because being allowed to selectively enforce the law
effectively means they have despotic power. And who wants to lose that?
The UC Davis incident crystallized all of this in one horrifying
image. Anyone who commits violence against a defenseless person is lost.
And the powers that be in this country are lost. They’ve been going
down this road for years now, and they no longer stand for anything.
All that tricked-up military gear, with that corny, faux-menacing, over-the-top Spaceballs stormtrooper
look that police everywhere seem to favor more and more – all of this
is symbolic of the increasingly total lack of ideas behind all that
It was bad enough when we made police defend the use of torture and
extrajudicial detention. Now they’re being asked to defend mass theft,
Lloyd Blankfein’s bailout-paid bonus, the principle of Angelo Mozilo not
doing jail time, and 28% credit card interest rates.
How strong can anyone defending those causes be? These people are
weak and pathetic, and they’re getting weaker. And boy, are they showing
it. Way to gear up with combat helmets and the submachine guns, fellas,
to take on a bunch of co-eds sitting Indian-style on a campus quad.
Maybe after work you can go break up a game of duck-duck-goose at the
local Chuck E Cheese. I’d bring the APC for that one.
Bravo to those kids who hung in there and took it. And bravo for
standing up and showing everyone what real strength is. There is no
strength without principle. You have it. They lost it. It’s as simple as
Oligarchy, American Style
by Paul Krugman
Inequality is back in the news, largely thanks to Occupy Wall Street,
but with an assist from the Congressional Budget Office. And you know
what that means: It’s time to roll out the obfuscators!
Anyone who has tracked this issue over time knows what I mean. Whenever
growing income disparities threaten to come into focus, a reliable set
of defenders tries to bring back the blur. Think tanks put out reports
claiming that inequality isn’t really rising, or that it doesn’t matter.
Pundits try to put a more benign face on the phenomenon, claiming that
it’s not really the wealthy few versus the rest, it’s the educated
versus the less educated.
So what you need to know is that all of these claims are basically
attempts to obscure the stark reality: We have a society in which money
is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people, and in which
that concentration of income and wealth threatens to make us a democracy
in name only.
The budget office laid out some of that stark reality in a recent
report, which documented a sharp decline in the share of total income
going to lower- and middle-income Americans. We still like to think of
ourselves as a middle-class country. But with the bottom 80 percent of
households now receiving less than half of total income, that’s a vision
increasingly at odds with reality.
In response, the usual suspects have rolled out some familiar arguments:
the data are flawed (they aren’t); the rich are an ever-changing group
(not so); and so on. The most popular argument right now seems, however,
to be the claim that we may not be a middle-class society, but we’re
still an upper-middle-class society, in which a broad class of highly
educated workers, who have the skills to compete in the modern world, is
doing very well.
It’s a nice story, and a lot less disturbing than the picture of a
nation in which a much smaller group of rich people is becoming
increasingly dominant. But it’s not true.
Workers with college degrees have indeed, on average, done better than
workers without, and the gap has generally widened over time. But highly
educated Americans have by no means been immune to income stagnation
and growing economic insecurity. Wage gains for most college-educated
workers have been unimpressive (and nonexistent since 2000), while even
the well-educated can no longer count on getting jobs with good
benefits. In particular, these days workers with a college degree but no
further degrees are less likely to get workplace health coverage than
workers with only a high school degree were in 1979.
So who is getting the big gains? A very small, wealthy minority.
The budget office report tells us that essentially all of the upward
redistribution of income away from the bottom 80 percent has gone to the
highest-income 1 percent of Americans. That is, the protesters who
portray themselves as representing the interests of the 99 percent have
it basically right, and the pundits solemnly assuring them that it’s
really about education, not the gains of a small elite, have it
If anything, the protesters are setting the cutoff too low. The recent
budget office report doesn’t look inside the top 1 percent, but an
earlier report, which only went up to 2005, found that almost two-thirds
of the rising share of the top percentile in income actually went to
the top 0.1 percent — the richest thousandth of Americans, who saw their
real incomes rise more than 400 percent over the period from 1979 to
Who’s in that top 0.1 percent? Are they heroic entrepreneurs creating
jobs? No, for the most part, they’re corporate executives. Recent
research shows that around 60 percent of the top 0.1 percent either are
executives in nonfinancial companies or make their money in finance,
i.e., Wall Street broadly defined. Add in lawyers and people in real
estate, and we’re talking about more than 70 percent of the lucky
But why does this growing concentration of income and wealth in a few
hands matter? Part of the answer is that rising inequality has meant a
nation in which most families don’t share fully in economic growth.
Another part of the answer is that once you realize just how much richer
the rich have become, the argument that higher taxes on high incomes
should be part of any long-run budget deal becomes a lot more
The larger answer, however, is that extreme concentration of income is
incompatible with real democracy. Can anyone seriously deny that our
political system is being warped by the influence of big money, and that
the warping is getting worse as the wealth of a few grows ever larger?
Some pundits are still trying to dismiss concerns about rising
inequality as somehow foolish. But the truth is that the whole nature of
our society is at stake.
Unions Are the Only Ones Keeping the Barbarians at the Gate, Says Biden
On Labor Day, despite all the focus on Jimmy Hoffa's comments,
it was actually Vice President Joe Biden whose speech was the most
important one of the day. He gave the type of speech that labor
supporters have long wanted to hear from the White House. The speech
was fiery and was an accurate portrayal of the struggle that labor faces
in the United States. The problem is we should've heard this speech
from the president and it should've been given years ago and been
matched with significant action. If the vice president finds him self
unemployed in January 2013, this failure might be a key reason as to
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