Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Oakland & Mercenaries of the Oligarchy:
The 99% vs. The Iron Heel

"We are in power. Nobody will deny it. By virtue of that power we shall remain in power...We have no words to waste on you. When you reach out your vaunted strong hands for our palaces and purpled ease, we will show you what strength is. In roar of shell and shrapnel and in whine of machine-guns will our answer be couched. We will grind you revolutionists down under our heel, and we shall walk upon your faces. The world is ours, we are its lords, and ours it shall remain. As for the host of labor, it has been in the dirt since history began, and I read history aright. And in the dirt it shall remain so long as I and mine and those that come after us have the power. There is the word. It is the king of words--Power. Not God, not Mammon, but Power. Pour it over your tongue till it tingles with it. Power."

- Mr. Wickson, The Iron Heel by Jack London (1908), chapter 4

Jack London didn't just write tales of the Klondike Gold Rush and canine adventure stories. Sometimes he foretold the future. The above quote, written over a century ago and spoken by an aristocratic one-percenter in response to the rising tide of anti-plutocratic sentiment among the working class, is taken from London's dystopic novel, The Iron Heel.

The novel depicts a society of unregulated and unrestrained capitalism; a society of the impoverished and disenfranchised, the unemployed and the unrepresented, at the mercy of a tiny but ruthlessly aggressive corporate elite that controls the government. London describes the perception of "the great mass of the people [who] still persisted in the belief that they ruled the country by virtue of their ballots," when "[i]n reality, the country was ruled by what were called political machines. At first the machine bosses charged the master capitalists extortionate tolls for legislation; but in a short time the master capitalists found it cheaper to own the political machines themselves and to hire the machine bosses."

Furthermore, London delves into the deluded arrogance of the wealthy, stock-holding plutocrats, explaining, "They believed absolutely that their conduct was right. There was no question about it, no discussion. They were convinced that they were the saviours of society, and that it was they who made happiness for the many. And they drew pathetic pictures of what would be the sufferings of the working class were it not for the employment that they, and they alone, by their wisdom, provided for it." Later, he reiterates that "[t]he great driving force of the oligarchs is the belief that they are doing right. Never mind the exceptions, and never mind the oppression and injustice in which the Iron Heel was conceived. All is granted. The point is that the strength of the Oligarchy today lies in its satisfied conception of its own righteousness."

Clearly anticipating the recent talk of how important and benevolent "job-creators" are and how more equitable taxation policies would "punish success," London explains, "Out of the ethical incoherency and inconsistency of capitalism, the oligarchs emerged with a new ethics, coherent and definite, sharp and severe as steel, the most absurd and unscientific and at the same time the most potent ever possessed by any tyrant class."

At one point, London defines a political lobby as "a peculiar institution for bribing, bulldozing, and corrupting the legislators who were supposed to represent the people's interests" and excoriates journalists for their willingness, due to the fear of losing their jobs, "to twist truth at the command of [their] employers, who, in turn, obey the behests of the corporations." At one point, the "press in the United States" is described as "a parasitic growth that battens on the capitalist class. Its function is to serve the established by moulding public opinion, and right well it serves it." Likewise, London writes that Wall Street, "where was situated the stock exchange, and where the irrational organization of society permitted underhanded manipulation of all the industries of the country," deliberately "turned the stock market into a maelstrom where the values of all the land crumbled away almost to nothingness." Despite this economic turmoil, criminality and injustice, the Oligarchy remains terrifyingly "imperturbable, indifferent, and sure" in its "serenity and certitude." London foresees what we have recently witnessed: "Not only did it use its own vast power, but it used all the power of the United States Treasury to carry out its plans," later writing that "capture of the world-market by the United States had disrupted the rest of the world."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Plumbing the Depths of Deception:
Nancy Scola Ignores the H2Occupation of Palestine

An empty Palestinian agricultural reservoir
Jiftlik, Jordan Valley, West Bank, Palestine
© Amnesty International

An Israeli settlement swimming pool
Maaleh Adumim, West Bank, Palestine
© Angela Godfrey-Goldstein

"[It is] of vital importance not only to secure all water resources already feeding the country, but also to control them at their source."

- Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organization and the first President of Israel, at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference

"And when I talk about the importance to Israel's security, this is not an abstract concept… It means that a housewife in Tel Aviv can open the tap and there's water running to it, and it's not been dried up because of a rash decision that handed over control of our aquifers to the wrong hands."

- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 17, 1998

"We must do everything to ensure they [the Palestinians] never do return...The old will die and the young will forget."

- Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, July 18, 1948

"All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was."

- Toni Morrison

On October 18, The Atlantic published a lengthy article by Nancy Scola exploring the possible rationale for Texas Governor and terrible GOP Presidential nominee Rick Perry's deep and abiding affinity for Israel. Scola, after citing potential reasons such as "the religious affinities of a conservative Christian" and "a shared fighting spirit" (in addition to "oil", which is odd considering there's no oil in Palestine) for Perry's affection and admiration, suggests a different explanation:
In 2009, Perry told the Jerusalem Post that part of the Texas-Israel "connection that goes back many years" included the reality that "Israel has a lot we can learn from, especially in the areas of water conservation and semi-arid land." It raised the possibility that at the root of Perry's deep commitment and professed connection to Israel doesn't lie in what Texas has in abundance -- oil, faith, orneriness -- but what it lacks: water.
Scola goes on to explain that, when he was Texas agriculture commissioner in the 1990's, "Perry helped to lead the Texas-Israel Exchange, a program that aims to transfer knowledge between the two lands, where farming is a way of life but the water to do it with is often difficult to come by" and draws an environmental and hydrogeological parallel between the two regions. "Texas' mountain aquifers have their equivalent in Israel's karst aquifers," she writes, before quoting UT professor and water expert David Eaton as saying, "Israel doesn't have enough water, but they've figured out how to succeed."

Among the ways Scola describes Israel's victory over water scarcity through "a variety of technologies to try to squeeze the maximum possible water from dry land" are "projects focused on water reclamation -- that is, using treated waste water, including sewage, to irrigate, cool, or in manufacturing processes."

What Scola omits - and considering she devotes considerable space (nearly 2,000 words) to this issue, the omission can not be anything but willful and deliberate - is Palestine. In fact, the word itself never appears in the entire article, nor is the 44-year occupation and blockade that controls Palestinian lives each and every day.

The reason this omission is so glaring is because over 60% of Israel's fresh water supply comes from Palestinian aquifers in the West Bank, illegally seized in 1967 after a conflict instigated by Israel and subsequently controlled exclusively by the Israeli government and military in occupied Palestine.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Wall Street's Mike vs. The People's Mic:
A Mayor, A Movement, and a Great Divide

"I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale."

- Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Taylor, May 28, 1816

As Occupy Wall Street protests, demonstrations, and actions grow exponentially, expanding to hundreds of locations all over the world, New York City's billionaire philosopher king Mike Bloomberg has doubled down on his disdain for those occupying Liberty Plaza and the mass globalized mobilization movement they inspired and represent.

For the second week in a row, Bloomberg took to the airwaves on John Gambling's WOR radio show this past Friday and spouted nonsense about the occupiers and their motives. "The protests that are trying to destroy the jobs of working people in this city aren't productive," he told listeners. "What they're trying to do is take away the jobs of people working in the city, take away the tax base that we have." He lambasted labor unions for recently joining the fight with a smug don't bite the hand that feeds you-meets-the more you know comment. The salaries of municipal workers, he said, "come from - are paid by - some of the people they're trying to vilify," suggesting that if the financial industry were to become more equitable, "we're not going to have money to pay our municipal employees."

According to Mayor Mike, the goal of Occupy Wall Street is to "driv[e] the banks out of New York City," which is odd considering he has yet to attend the nightly 7pm General Assembly in the park or speak personally to any of the protesters. He would surely search the "Declaration of the Occupation of New York City" in vain for such a demand.

"Everyone's got a thing they want to protest, some of which is not realistic," Bloomberg said. "Some are legit, some aren't," he added.

The mayor's comments, CNN noted, "coincided with the city's announcement that 700 education workers will be laid off in an effort to close a budget gap. They also follow recently released census data that shows New York's poverty level has increased to 20.1%, the highest in more than a decade." The school aide, parent coordination, and public support jobs eliminated Friday were part of "one of the largest single-agency layoffs since Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office," the Associated Press reported, adding, "Unions representing the workers denounced the layoffs, saying most of the job losses would affect poorer communities that are already in need of critical social services."

Luckily for the mayor, the editors of the New York Daily News - a paper run by billionaire real estate tycoon Mort Zuckerman - had his back Friday, claiming that "in the real world, 700 school aides are slated to lose jobs because taxes from big, hated Wall Street have fallen through the floor and the unions refuse concessions." The editorial also declared, "The NYPD responded with admirable restraint when hundreds of demonstrators tried to breach a police line after Wednesday's big march," adding:
Some protesters have determined that their best hope of staying in the public eye is to provoke police action before cameras and cry victim.

Videos from the other night and the Daily News front page showed cops taking ground in a melee with a pepper-spray squirt and less-than-bruising whacks of nightstick on a backpack.

To gauge how mild it all was, the whimperers should Google videos of Chicago police outside the 1968 Democratic convention. Those protesters had both grounds for complaint and a cause that was at least coherent.
Readily available video of Wednesday night's clearly shows the kind of gentle love-taps the NYPD graciously bestowed upon protesters who mistakenly thought they had a right to walk on their own city's streets. Of course, this kind of commentary is unsurprising for an editorial board that routinely justifies - if not, glorifies - Israeli war crimes and the willful murder of peace activists in international waters.

A week ago, on the same radio program, Bloomberg claimed, "The protesters are protesting against people who make $40-50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet. That's the bottom line. Those are the people that work on Wall Street or on the finance sector." He also engaged in a bit of Obama's patented Don't-Look-Backism when he remarked, "I think we spend much too much time worrying about how we got into problems as to how we go forward...We always tend to blame the wrong people. We blame the banks – they were part of this, but so was Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and Congress and you and me. Everybody wanted the boom times."

In the wake of such comments, Zaid Jilani, a senior reporter for ThinkProgress, was quick to set the record straight. "Actually, the median salary for stockbrokers is approximately $88,000 a year. But that is besides the point. The demonstrators are not targeting the individuals who work on Wall Street, they are targeting the financial institutions and practices they represent," he wrote. "Recall, the banks were the primary actors who set off the global recession, and that recession plunged 60 million people into extreme poverty worldwide."

The mayor's disconnect with those occupying Liberty Plaza is clear. A former Wall Street equities trader himself, Bloomberg is currently the 12th wealthiest person in the United States and the 30th richest person on Earth, with an amassed fortune of $19.5 billion. If anyone embodies the 1%, in stark contrast to the 99% represented by Occupy Wall Street, it's Mike.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Ninety-Nine Percent:
This Is What #OccupyWallStreet Looks Like

To sit in silence when we should protest
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest.

- Ella Wheeler Wilcox, I Protest, 1914

With so much effort being exerted by the right-wing lunatic punditocracy and commentariat, Citigroup fiancées with CNN programs, know-nothing pizza magnates and billionaire mayors to belittle and dismiss Occupy Wall Street protesters as "stereotypically aging hippies and young kids who could have just left a Phish concert," here's a look at who's actually down at Liberty Plaza.

Hero, 21
The Bronx, New York

John, 61
Croton-On-Hudson, New York

Alisha, 20
Las Vegas, Nevada

Kevin, 60, and John, 57
Queens, New York

Ronnie, 24
New York, New York

Taylor, 20
Catasauqua, Pennsylvania

Ari, 29
Chicago, Illinois

Michael, 20
The Bronx, New York

Susie, 52
Brooklyn, New York

Matthew, 28
New York, New York

Natalie, 26
Seattle, Washington

Lexi, 38
New Orleans, Louisiana

Samoa, 53
Brooklyn, New York

Hamza, 29
Utica, New York

Pat, 69
Erie, Colorado

Layla, 5 months
Brooklyn, New York

All photographs ©Nima Shirazi

The ever-intrepid and affable J.A. Myerson contributed to this report.

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1914

To sit in silence when we should protest
Makes cowards out of men. The human race
Has climbed on protest. Had no voice been raised
Against injustice, ignorance and lust
The Inquisition yet would serve the law
And guillotines decide our least disputes.
The few who dare must speak and speak again
To right the wrongs of many. Speech, thank God,
No vested power in this great day and land
Can gag or throttle; Press and voice may cry
Loud disapproval of existing ills,
May criticise oppression and condemn
The lawlessness of wealth-protecting laws
That let the children and child-bearers toil
To purchase ease for idle millionaires.
Therefore do I protest against the boast
Of independence in this mighty land.
Call no chain strong which holds one rusted link,
Call no land free that holds one fettered slave.
Until the manacled, slim wrists of babes
Are loosed to toss in childish sport and glee;
Until the Mother bears no burden save
The precious one beneath her heart; until
God’s soil is rescued from the clutch of greed
And given back to labor, let no man
Call this the Land of Freedom.