When the police violate the US Constitution, are they criminal? In what court can their conduct be judged illegal? For recourse against crimes against the people for violation of the Constitution, to whom can we turn?
We finally found out that it was illegal all along for the Berkeley PD to raid and disperse homeless encampments. It is a violation of the Constitution. So said the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Sept. 4, 2018. But it has been going on for years. All those former raids were illegal, and those former arrests and confiscations of property were also illegal. Now, the Court has made it official. Can this be turned into anything but a civil suit. Can past victimization be turned into anything but money?
We suspect that Berkeley city government doesn’t care. On Sept. 5, 2018, the very next day after the Ninth Circuit Court decision, the Berkeley PD raided another homeless encampment. It was the one in front of old city hall, on a street named after Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who transformed an entire social ethic through civil disobedience. Berkeley City Council had passed an ordinance a couple of years back that said it was illegal to sleep on public property. That ordinance does not supersede the Constitution. The reverse is the case – has always been the case, but is now officially the case. The Ninth Circuit Court said that a city could not prevent homeless people from sleeping on public land if the city could not provide shelter for them. To do so is a violation of the 8th Amendment.
But what does the 8th Amendment have to do with homelessness?
The 8th Amendment
The 8th Amendment says that “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment inflicted.” That’s all it says. It doesn’t say “congress shall …” or “shall not…” It doesn’t point to courts or police departments. It doesn’t speak about “infringements” as do other statements of rights. It addresses government in general and says that in the US these things are outside the purview of government. Period. It is not about “rights.” It is about “justice.”
The case that came before the court was originally called Bell vs. City of Boise – a later Martin vs. City of Boise, which is the case the Court decided. Some long-term homeless people sued the city of Boise back in 2015for violating the 8th Amendment. The federal government (under Obama) wrote an “amicus” brief agreeing with the plaintiffs (the homeless who sued the city).
Here in a nutshell is their argument. The fundamental principle involved in punishing a person for wrong-doing is necessarily to grant the person existence and choice in order to hold them responsible for their choice. To cancel recognition of their existence also cancels recognition of their choises. There can be nothing for which to hold them responsible. Therefore, what pertains to a person’s existence, or to their social status with respect to which they have no choice, cannot be prohibited, because it cannot be punished. If a person lives with or in some “condition” that is unchosen, then that condition belongs to that person’s status rather than to their “conduct.” To hold a person responsible for their conduct, their status has to be first granted as such. A prohibition against that status cannot be legislated. Breathing, for instance, is part of being a live human being, and therefore cannot be prohibited or punished. One has no choice but to breath. Sleeping similarly is an essential part of being alive. Sleeping cannot be prohibited or punished. And if a city cannot provide shelter in which a homeless person can sleep, then that person cannot be prohibited from sleeping on public land. That also holds for sitting and lying down. In short, there are things government is constitutionally barred from outlawing.
In short, if a government wishes to prohibit certain conduct, that conduct must be choose-able by a person first. Since sleeping is not choose-able (a person cannot exist without sleep), sleeping belongs to “status” rather than “conduct,” and thus cannot be prohibited.
Aspects of a person’s life that are conditioned by the economy are also included in their “status.” Poverty, for instance, can not be punished. Those who end up impoverished because the society in which we live prevents itself from curtailing landlords’ ability to push rent beyond what some people can pay, those people cannot be punished for living on the street. Homelessness is a condition established by economic and political structures. People suffer from it. They do not choose it. The city cannot prohibit people from living on the street (public property) unless it can provide suitable space and shelter, viz. a place to live. That includes a place to sleep, to sit, to lie down and rest or eat and engage in social affairs such as holding a job and visiting with friends. If one has no other place to sleep or sit than public land because the economy has rendered one homeless, and the city fails to provide what is lacking, then one’s sleeping and sitting in public space cannot be prohibited or punished.
When the police raided the encampment at old city hall on Sept. 5, at 5 am, they had no shelter to send those people to. There are over 900 homeless people in Berkeley, and only around 130 places in shelters offered, and only at night. During the day, those shelters are closed and thus not available to legitimize a police raid.
Interestingly, the court, in its decision, applied this principle to alcoholics. If a person gets seriously ill without alcohol, then their comportment (conduct) in a public place when inebriated cannot be criminalized. That’s why there are rehab centers.
This would also apply to those who walk around with serious cases of PTSD, and who go through emotional crises in public for arcane reasons. Those reasons could be anything, like having thrown a grenade into a Vietnames hut full of women and children and trying to live with that (which is what pushed Ron Kovic over the edge and made him a resistor), or like having dropped incendiary bombs on a wedding in Afghanistan and having looked back at what one had done, or like being forced to live on the street for years exposed to the elements. The police have ways of torturing PTSD people. They give them commands which the person in crisis simply refuses to recognize, and then throw him to the ground in order to wrap him in a body bag for disobedience. There is a video of the Berkeley PD performing this “procedure” in the streets of this fair city. The cops want tasers so they can tase a disobedient person until he is crawling abjectly on the ground begging for forgiveness. Kayla Moore died under the weight of the police as they tormented her for disobedience when she was going through an emotional crisis in her own home.
To torture a person for going through an emotional crisis, which pertains to their status as living a traumatized life, would be to punish them for what that trauma had done to them. It would thus be a violation of the Constitution under Amendment 8.
When the police raid an encampment without being able to provide shelter for the people in it, they are committing a crime. They call it “legitimate” because there is an ordinance that says sleeping on public proerty is illegal. That ordinance is no longer valid. But the principle it expresses is that property has priority over people. The city says that people complain that the homeless reduce real estate values, that they steal and make life uncomfortable, that panhandling is bad for business. The dehumanization of this “property-priority” doesn’t become clear until one is fired from a job or evicted from an apartment or imprisoned for having smoked a joint or for being the wrong color. It is the illogic of that “property-priority” that is the real reason there are homeless people. “Housing is a Human Right” has no standing next to a landlord’s right to raise the rent. And at present, as long as Costa-Hawkins remains unrepealed, no city has the ability to defend renters against those landlords.
We have to be able to talk about what it means that the police violate the Constitution. They are not committing a crime against property. They are not committing feloneous assault when they torture people with tasers or pepper spray. But they are violating a lot more than the 8th Amendment. They are committing a crime against “law” itself.
Throwing the book at the police
But let us be more specific. When the Berkeley PD broke up the homeless encampment in front of Old City Hall on Sept. 5, 2018, they violated several terms of the Constitution – Amendments 1, 4, 5, and 8.
Amendment 1 guarantees people (not only citizens) the right to petition government for redress of grievances. The two associations of homeless people in Berkeley called “First They Came for the Homeless” and “Consider the Homeless” have set up encampments in central public places in order to say to the government, what are you going to do about the injustice to which our existence testifies? The city’s police raids are the city’s answer. It is to commit a crime against the people by suppressing that statement.
Amendment 4 says that a person (not only a citizen) is inviolable in his/her residence. Yet the police come and throw people out of their tents, and conficate those tents. For a homeless person, their place of “residence” is that tent, or their sleeping bag, or their cardboard pallet or yoga mat, etc. The city shrugs and criminally confiscates their entire place of residence.
Amendment 5 guarantees due process, which means that those who will be deprived of anything, life, liberty, or property, must have a hearing in which the depriving power must prove that the deprivation is just, and legal, and moral, and in which the one to be deprived has equal standing to argue against that. Due process must come first, before deprivation, not afterwards. Afterwards, it is not due process any more but “appeal.” That’s different. When the cops swoop down on a homeless encampment, they do it without there having been any hearings or democratic process. Due process is the essential social equalizer of individuals and institutions. Ignoring due process, more than anything, signifies that the police are the primary anti-democratic force in this society.
And finally, there is Amendment 8, which we have reviewed, and which outlaws the ability of the police to punish people by removing and destroying their ability to sleep and reside and exist in the togetherness provided by the community of their encampment. It is their existence which is threatened by such raids insofar as confiscation of their property leaves them vulnerable to the elements and the possibility of sickness or death. Since they can’t depend on the city for anything but violence, their reliance on each other is all they have for survival.
The priority of property rights
But aren’t property rights also guaranteed by the Constitution? Yes, they are, very ironically so. The “real” law of the land is that property rights have priority over human rights – even when the defenders of property rights have to violate the Constitution, and have to commit crimes against the people.
But where does the Constitution guarantee property rights? In only one place. In Article 1, section 10, clause 1, where it states, “No state … shall pass any … law impairing the obligation of contracts.” That’s it!
This clause, providing for the inviolability of contracts, was expanded and extended under Chief Justice Marshall at the beginning of the 19th century into the foundation of all property rights and the sanctities of property.
Consider the contrast! All property rights find their guarantee in that one single phrase. The entire rest of the Constitution is about the rights of people, the relations between people and government, and the standards upon which civic responsibility, justice, security, and participation are based. In actual practice, throughout US history, that one small phrase has dominated all other aspects of social life in the US.
On the name of that phrase, cities find it feasible to commit endless unconstitutional acts in the interest of property. They will violate due process, the sanctity of the home, free speech, and even human status in the interests of property. Yet we have no real or juridical language in which to speak about this travesty.
Endnote: For those who have an interest in the legal arguments referred to here, the DoJ’s amicus brief for Bell vs. Boise is here. https://www.justice.gov/opa/file/643766/download. And the Circuit Court’s decision can be found here. http://cdn.ca9.uscourts.gov/…/opini…/2018/09/04/15-35845.pdf
Reporting from COP23 in Bonn, Germany, Democracy Now! travels to the nearby blockade of the Hambach coal mine, the largest open-pit coal mine in Europe. Activists say the mine extracts an extremely dirty form of coal called lignite, also known as brown coal, which causes the highest CO2 emissions of any type of coal when burned. For more than five years, they have been fighting to shut down the mine and to save the remaining forest from being cut down to make way for the expanding project. Only 10 percent of the ancient forest remains.
MON, 9/17/2018 – BY THOMAS M. HANNA (Occupy.com)
In mid-September, a secret party is scheduled to take place in London. The participants will be hundreds of alumni from the defunct global investment bank Lehman Brothers. The occasion? The 10-year anniversary of the bank’s collapse in the midst of the Great Financial Crisis.
For many Americans, the sight of those very same bankers walking out into the streets of New York City in 2008, with cardboard boxes containing their belongings and shocked looks on their faces, was the first sign that something was truly wrong.
But the subsequent publicly funded rescue of America’s giant financial corporations and the “1 percent” demonstrated how unable and unwilling the nation’s political leadership was to address that wrong by fundamentally reshaping the industry responsible for the crisis in the first place. A decade later, we are still experiencing the political, economic and social ramifications of that failure.
There will be another financial crisis. That much is certain. Only when and how destructive it will be is up for serious debate. The financial industry is more consolidated that it was in 2007—dominated by banks still too big to fail. Bank lobbyists and their congressional allies have systematically undermined the weak regulatory reforms put in place after the crisis, demonstrating again that the tremendous political and economic power these financial institutions wield makes strong regulatory and institutional reforms (such as “breaking up the banks”) improbable, if not impossible.
These realities make it likely that when the next crisis hits, the public will once again be called upon to step in and bail out Wall Street. We need to start seriously preparing an alternative response. One option is to push for legislation that would require a public ownership stake, with full voting rights, in any financial institution that has to be bailed out due to its own fraudulent or speculative activities.
Public ownership of banks is not as crazy as it may sound. It has been the default political response to financial crises around the world for decades—including in the United States 10 years ago when the government took controlling ownership positions in Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, Citigroup, and GMAC, and provided capital injections to over 700 banks.
Almost all commentators who supported these bailouts and short-term nationalizations emphatically rejected long-term public ownership. Such offhand judgments, however, deliberately ignore the extensive, and often highly successful, experience with public banking both in the United States and around the world.
Across Europe, more than 200 public and semi-public banks account for roughly a fifth of all bank assets. In Germany, the Sparkassen, a network of around 400 publicly owned municipal savings banks, “[came] through the crisis with barely a scratch,” according to the Economist, unlike some of the country’s larger private banks.
The nearly 100-year-old Bank of North Dakota, which has around $7 billion in assets and a loan portfolio of $4.9 billion, is widely credited with helping the state get through the 2008 crisis with the lowest foreclosure and credit card default rates in the country, and with no bank failures for more than a decade. The bank made loans while private banks were freezing credit, all while continuing to contribute revenue to the state’s budget.
Before the financial crisis, neoliberal economics and public policy dismissed publicly owned banks as a relic of the past, the prevailing wisdom being that they were inherently less efficient than private banks. However, the available research does not universally support that “wisdom.”
For example, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in a 2014 summary of available research of publicly owned German banks, concluded that “savings banks appear to be at least as efficient as commercial banks.” Similarly, researchers in the United Kingdom found in 2010 that “the notion that governments [can’t] run banks effectively” was “not well founded” and “if anything, government ownership of banks has, on average, been associated with higher growth rates.”
Moreover, the financial crisis has made it exceedingly difficult for even the staunchest of neoliberals to argue that privately owned banks are more efficient when their activities nearly brought down the entire capitalist global economy, required massive government bailouts, and caused tremendous human suffering.
Structured appropriately, the mere threat of public ownership could serve as a powerful disincentive to financial corporation owners and managers engaging in risky, speculative, or fraudulent business practices. If such public takeovers actually occur, the new entities could be restructured to focus on social benefit and broad-based economic prosperity—for instance, financing renewable energy and a green transition, converting businesses to worker ownership, or rebuilding crumbling local infrastructure. They could be made more transparent and democratically accountable. And they could help reverse increasing wealth inequality by keeping executive pay and compensation in check.
Moreover, public ownership of major Wall Street banks would be a valuable complement to the burgeoning movement for local and state public banks across the country, and for an overall more decentralized, localized financial system. In the same way that the Bank of North Dakota supports local community banks, large publicly owned banks could partner with those local banks to support a wide array of services.
For those who ultimately want a much more decentralized financial system, such a plan does not preclude ultimately breaking up the banks. In fact, it is almost a prerequisite. In a crisis situation, with banks on the verge of failing, simply breaking them up is not an option. First, they must be saved, which would necessitate either a bailout or public ownership.
Opinion polls have repeatedly shown that a solid majority of Americans across the political spectrum detest bank bailouts and that, in fact, they would rather support some form of public ownership. During the next financial collapse, that sentiment would likely intensify—and could be harnessed for systemic change if we’re ready with a developed, viable and vetted plan based on a coherent vision.
The next crisis will be the Left’s opportunity to demand a new financial system—and we must develop that vision today in order to be able to fight for it tomorrow. The future of banking is far too important to be left to the bankers.
WED, 9/19/2018 – BY ELLEN BROWN (Occupy.com)
Excluding institutions such as Blackrock and Vanguard, which are composed of multiple investors, the largest single players in global equity markets are now thought to be central banks themselves. An estimated 30 to 40 central banks are invested in the stock market, either directly or through their investment vehicles (sovereign wealth funds). According to David Haggith at Zero Hedge:
“Central banks buying stocks are effectively nationalizing U.S. corporations just to maintain the illusion that their “recovery” plan is working. … At first, their novel entry into the stock market was only intended to rescue imperiled corporations, such as General Motors during the first plunge into the Great Recession, but recently their efforts have shifted to propping up the entire stock market via major purchases of the most healthy companies on the market.”
The U.S. Federal Reserve, which bailed out General Motors in a rescue operation in 2009, was prohibited from lending to individual companies under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, and it is legally barred from owning equities. It parks its reserves instead in bonds and other government-backed securities. But other countries have different rules, and central banks are now buying individual stocks as investments, with a preference for big tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Those are the stocks that dominate the market, and central banks are aggressively driving up their value. Markets, including the U.S. stock market, are thus literally being rigged by foreign central banks.
The result, as noted in a January 2017 article at Zero Hedge, is that central bankers, “who create fiat money out of thin air and for whom ‘acquisition cost’ is a meaningless term, are increasingly nationalizing the equity capital markets.” Or at least they would be nationalizing equities, if they were actually “national” central banks. But the Swiss National Bank, the biggest single player in this game, is 48 percent privately owned, and most central banks have declared their independence from their governments. They march to the drums not of government but of private industry.
Marking the 10th anniversary of the 2008 collapse, former Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Treasury Secretaries Timothy Geithner and Henry Paulson wrote in a Sept. 7 New York Times op-ed that the Fed’s tools needed to be broadened to allow it to fight the next anticipated economic crisis, including allowing it to prop up the stock market by buying individual stocks. To investors, propping up the stock market may seem like a good thing, but what happens when the central banks decide to sell? The Fed’s massive $4 trillion economic support is now being taken away, and other central banks are expected to follow. Their U.S. and global holdings are so large that their withdrawal from the market could trigger another global recession. That means when and how the economy will collapse is now in the hands of central bankers.
MOVING GOAL POSTS
The two most aggressive central bank players in the equity markets are the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of Japan. The goal of the Bank of Japan, which now owns 75 percent of Japanese exchange-traded funds, is evidently to stimulate growth and defy longstanding expectations of deflation. But the Swiss National Bank is acting more like a hedge fund, snatching up individual stocks because “that is where the money is.”
About 20 percent of the SNB’s reserves are in equities, and more than half of that is in U.S. equities. The SNB’s goal is said to be to counteract the global demand for Swiss francs, which has been driving up the value of the national currency, making it hard for Swiss companies to compete in international trade. The SNB does this by buying up other currencies, and because it needs to put them somewhere, it’s putting that money in stocks.
That is a reasonable explanation for the SNB’s actions, but some critics suspect it has ulterior motives. Switzerland is home to the Bank for International Settlements, the “central bankers’ bank” in Basel, where central bankers meet regularly behind closed doors. Dr. Carroll Quigley, a Georgetown history professor who claimed to be the historian of the international bankers, wrote of this institution in” Tragedy and Hope” in 1966:
“[T]he powers of financial capitalism had another far-reaching aim, nothing less than to create a world system of financial control in private hands able to dominate the political system of each country and the economy of the world as a whole. This system was to be controlled in a feudalist fashion by the central banks of the world acting in concert, by secret agreements arrived at in frequent private meetings and conferences. The apex of the system was to be the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, a private bank owned and controlled by the world’s central banks, which were themselves private corporations.”
The key to their success, said Quigley, was that they would control and manipulate the money system of a nation while letting it appear to be controlled by the government. The economic and political systems of nations would be controlled not by citizens but by bankers, for the benefit of bankers. The goal was to establish an independent (privately owned or controlled) central bank in every country. Today, that goal has largely been achieved.
In a paper presented at the 14th Rhodes Forum in Greece in October 2016, Dr. Richard Werner, director of international development at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, argued that central banks have managed to achieve total independence from government and total lack of accountability to the people, and that they are now in the process of consolidating their powers. They control markets by creating bubbles, busts and economic chaos. He pointed to the European Central Bank, which was modeled on the disastrous earlier German central bank, the Reichsbank. The Reichsbank created deflation, hyperinflation and the chaos that helped bring Adolf Hitler to power.
The problem with the Reichsbank, said Werner, was its excessive independence and its lack of accountability to German institutions and Parliament. The founders of postwar Germany changed the new central bank’s status by significantly curtailing its independence. Werner wrote, “The Bundesbank was made accountable and subordinated to Parliament, as one would expect in a democracy. It became probably the world’s most successful central bank.”
But today’s central banks, he said, are following the disastrous Reichsbank model, involving an unprecedented concentration of power without accountability. Central banks are not held responsible for their massive policy mistakes and reckless creation of boom-bust cycles, banking crises and large-scale unemployment. Youth unemployment now exceeds 50 percent in Spain and Greece. Many central banks remain in private hands, including not only the Swiss National Bank but the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Italian, Greek and South African central banks.
BANKS AND CENTRAL BANKS SHOULD BE MADE PUBLIC UTILITIES
Werner’s proposed solution to this dangerous situation is to bypass both the central banks and the big international banks and decentralize power by creating and supporting local not-for-profit public banks. Ultimately, he envisions a system of local public money issued by local authorities as receipts for services rendered to the local community. Legally, he noted, 97 percent of the money supply is already just private company credit, which can be created by any company, with or without a banking license. Governments should stop issuing government bonds, he said, and instead fund their public sector credit needs through domestic banks that create money on their books (as all banks have the power to do). These banks could offer more competitive rates than the bond markets and could stimulate the local economy with injections of new money. They could also put the big bond underwriting firms that feed on the national debt out of business.
Abolishing the central banks is one possibility, but if they were recaptured as public utilities, they could serve some useful purposes. A central bank dedicated to the service of the public could act as an unlimited source of liquidity for a system of public banks, eliminating bank runs since the central bank cannot go bankrupt. It could also fix the looming problem of an unrepayable federal debt, and it could generate “quantitative easing for the people,” which could be used to fund infrastructure, low-interest loans to cities and states, and other public services.
The ability to nationalize companies by buying them with money created on the central bank’s books could also be a useful public tool. The next time the mega-banks collapse, rather than bailing them out, they could be nationalized and their debts paid off with central bank-generated money.
There are other possibilities. Former Assistant Treasury Secretary Paul Craig Roberts argues that we should also nationalize the media and the armaments industry. Researchers at the Democracy Collaborative have suggested nationalizing the large fossil fuel companies by simply purchasing them with Fed-generated funds. In a September 2018 policy paper titled “Taking Climate Action to the Next Level,” the researchers wrote, “This action might represent our best chance to gain time and unlock a rapid but orderly energy transition, where wealth and benefits are no longer centralized in growth-oriented, undemocratic, and ethically dubious corporations, such as ExxonMobil and Chevron.”
Critics will say this would result in hyperinflation, but an argument can be made that it wouldn’t. That argument will have to wait for another article, but the point here is that massive central bank interventions that were thought to be impossible in the 20th century are now being implemented in the 21st, and they are being done by independent central banks controlled by an international banking cartel. It is time to curb central bank independence. If their powerful tools are going to be put to work, it should be in the service of the public and the economy.
THU, 9/20/2018 – BY BARRY RITHOLTZ (Occupy.com)
Why did nobody go to jail?
To many people, this is the single most frustrating post-crisis question. Later this week, I will post the 10 issues people still misunderstand, but it is the lack of criminal prosecutions that still infuriates so many.
Multiple attempts have been made to explain this nonfeasance, with differing reasons given. Three explanations intrigue me – I agree with two of them – but they all are interesting for different reasons. Let’s jump right in.
1. PROSECUTORS WERE TERRIFIED.
“The greatest innovation of the financial sector is not the ATM machine or interest-bearing checking accounts or securitization: It was convincing the powers that be that prosecuting them for their actual crimes would bring the economy to the edge of the abyss.”
During the crisis and its immediate aftermath, the idea that enforcing the law would somehow have an economic impact scared the living hell out of Department of Justice prosecutors, local U.S. Attorneys, and even State Attorneys General. Prosecute the banks and/or their executives, went the claim, and the entire system would crash again – and right after we spent all that money bailing them out!
But you know what? That decision is not the jurisdiction of Prosecutors. It is not their jobs to pass judgment about potential economic impacts indictments might have. They lack the expertise to asses and analyze that — and, as it turned out, so did the people making those claims. But they successfully bamboozled the prosecutors into ignoring their oaths of office. The proper job of prosecuting attorneys is to identify and prosecute crimes, not play macro-tourist in the field of crisis-economics.
2. DOJ HAD BEEN GUTTED
This is a compelling explanation. It was made by Jesse Eisinger, writing in The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives. In great detail, he traces the lack of white collar prosecution back to Enron’s collapse, and the death penalty imposed on Arthur Andersen (Enron’s accountants). They notoriously were the auditor/enabler of record for many of the era’s biggest accounting frauds and bankruptcies, including WorldCom, Waste Management, Sunbeam, and then finally Enron.
According to Eisinger, many factors contributed to the great unraveling at the Justice Department, but the Andersen corporate death penalty was one of the bigger ones. DOJ lost both the know-how and the will to pursue and win cases in court. The Chickenshit Club tells the tale of how litigators in the corporate defense bar designed and executed a lobbying plan that effectively neutered the prosecutorial arm of the federal government. By the time the economy melted down, there was little motivation or expertise to pursue corporate crime.
3. LOTS OF CRIMES, FEW PROSECUTIONS
People who know better keep repeating the trope that no crimes were committed before, during or after the financial crisis. I was reminded of this over the weekend, when a show I watch each week, Michael Smerconish on CNN, had Andrew Ross Sorkin as a guest.
On CNN Saturday, Sorkin told Smerconish:
“As a journalist I wish I could have . . . really found the crime . . . The whole crisis felt like a crime . . . But in truth on a very individual basis I think these individuals at the top if these institutions made some very terrible decisions. But it is very hard to decide there were crimes, because you have to believe they were defrauding the public from the very top. . . . The people at the top did not understand what was going on two floors below them. So its very hard to convict under that scenario.”
This glib explanation rings hollow to anyone who was paying attention at the time. Those who have looked closely into this have found abundant criminality. Start with the Financial Crisis Investigation Commission Report, which while looking into the root causes of the crisis, saw evidence of felony fraud. They detailed their findings in the 663-page The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report.
Other informed people similarly found lots of evidence of fraud and other felonies. On the five-year anniversary of the crisis, the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out that Sorkin was disingenuous as to the issue of bank executive criminality. I was somewhat less eloquent, calling bullshit on his line of argument — and not for the last time.
Then there is the Federal Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern District in New York. SDNY is the court has jurisdiction over Wall Street. He published his displeasure over the lack of prosecutions of Wall Street executives in a thoughtful 4000-word missive in the New York Review of Books.
It is highly unusual for a sitting judge to publish something like this in the mainstream media; even more so for a judge who’s jurisdiction includes the New York City’s major financial center banks.
Rakoff explicitly pointed to that the DOJ’s apparent disregard for equally enforcing the law, explaining, “The Department of Justice has never taken the position that all the top executives involved in the events leading up to the financial crisis were innocent; rather it has offered one or another excuse for not criminally prosecuting them—excuses that, on inspection, appear unconvincing.”
That has been my position for the past decade — Chickenshit club, indeed.
So where was the criminality? While I was researching and writing Bailout Nation, it was apparent to me that there was abundant AND systemic criminality across four broad categories:
Mortgage underwriting: There were obvious crimes committed in mortgage underwriting, where defects were knowingly ignored. The FBI investigated these cases early on, but investigators never moved forward with prosecutions.
Perhaps the scale of the financial penalties bank agreed to pay had something to do with this inaction. Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, tallied the financial-crisis related regulatory penalties — the total was a “staggering $243 billion.”
Accounting fraud: We could spend months discussing how some executives at banks cooked their books, but look no further then Lehman Brother’s infamous Repo 105. That was a textbook example of defrauding the investing public by hiding the conditions of your insolvency.
Insider Trading: Take a close look at insider stock sales during the period right before the crisis. Sure seems like a lot of selling an a hurry . . . I wonder why?
David DeBoskey, a San Diego State University professor of Accountancy (and a KPMG Faculty Fellow), found total compensation for top executives at just 4 of the firms that collapsed – Lehman, AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – was in excess of $1.4 billion dollars from 2003 to 2007. That much stock being sold before share prices collapsed was apparently a mere coincidence.
Foreclosure fraud: There was a huge paper train showing fabricated documents, falsified paperwork, and other perjury. Of all the crimes committed during the financial crisis and in its aftermath, this is one that should have been the easiest to identify and prosecute.
How can one look at all of this evidence and conclude no crimes were committed? It is impossible for any credible analyst or reporter to consider this mountain of evidence and walk away and say “Meh! Nothing here.”
The reality is lots of objective, fair-minded people — judges, investigators, journalists, analysts and others — have looked at the details of the crisis. They have found ample evidence that broad, deep and systemic criminality existed. Only a handful of high-profile outliers have chosen to ignore the mountains of evidence in order to reach the opposite conclusion.
THU, 9/20/2018 – BY STEVE RUSHTON (Occupy.com)
This is Part 13 in a series about Radical Municipalism looking at ways people worldwide are organizing in their cities to build power from the bottom up. Read Part 1 (Brazil) Part 2 (Rojava), Part 3 (Chiapas), Part 4 (Warsaw), Part 5 (Bologna), Part 6 (Jackson, Miss.), Part 7 (Athens) and Part 8 (Warsaw & New York), Part 9 (Reykjavík), Part 10 (Rosario, Argentina), Part 11 (Newham, U.K.), and Part 12 (Valparaiso, Chile).
Porto Alegre in Brazil is the world’s first city where residents participate in budgeting decisions, having done so since 1989. But participatory democracy traces far further back. The indigenous Iroquois Confederacy co-participated in that nation’s economic decisions. Now, three decades since Porto Alegre brought this wisdom to non-indigenous politics, the practice has become widespread with over 3,000 municipalities worldwide using participatory budgeting to make financial choices for their communities.
The takeaway: Citizen control of spending decisions means communities decide what their city does and does not do with public funds. In essence, this is radical municipalism. But how does it work?
RESIDENTS MAKE MILLION-DOLLAR CHOICES
“Brazilian municipal governments can voluntarily adopt a program known as Participatory Budgeting,” explain Brian Wampler and Mike Touchton in the Washington Post.
“This program directly incorporates citizens into public meetings where citizens decide how to allocate public funds. The funding amounts can represent up to 100 percent of all new capital spending projects and generally fall between 5 and 15 percent of the total municipal budget. This is not enough to radically change how cities spend limited resources, but it is enough to generate meaningful change.”
The political scientists point out how residents in Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte, another Brazilian city leading the charge, have decided on millions of dollars in spending. Nearly half of Brazil’s largest cities have now adopted the method. Studies show this has resulted in local authorities spending more on education and sanitation and reducing premature deaths in infancy.
It was the Workers Party that introduced participative budgeting to Porto Alegre in 1989. Belo Horizonte followed three years later, then municipalities across Brazil came on board. The model follows an annual cycle: First, the city presents the previous year’s budget for review. Then, residents attend neighborhood meetings where they offer proposals and discuss spending decisions relating to social services and big projects.
From the neighborhood assemblies councillors are elected who debate and refine the proposals. Residents also vote for delegates – around 50,000 residents – who end up voting on the final proposals.
Participatory budgeting continues today as one legacy of the Workers Party, which led Brazil from 2002 to 2016. Mirroring a trend across South America, the leftist party has since been ousted from government and is being signaled as the end of the “Pink Tide.” But participatory budgeting is one undercurrent through which the Pink Tide’s energy continues, similar to the political tide sweeping Rosario in Argentina.
SOLUTIONS COME TO GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA
“No one’s going to mistake [Greensboro] for a liberal enclave. In other words, according to PB’s supporters, if the process can work here, it can work anywhere,” writes Yes Magazine’s Ken Otterbourg, in describing the process that came to an unlikely place far north of Brazil: Greensboro, North Carolina.
Since the city adopted participatory budgeting in 2015, residents have decided to install real-time information on public transit. There are extra pedestrian crossings for busy roads, emergency call boxes in parks and more bus shelters.
Otterbourg emphasizes how Greensboro is hardly a city that has undergone a radical municipalist revolution, although participatory budgeting has pushed greater inclusion for communities previously separated by language, ethnicity and poverty. Similarly, the Workers Party of Brazil, which kick-started modern participative budgeting, is more connected to top-down socialism than the new bottom-up radical municipalism building in that country.
Participative budgeting has even been advocated by neoliberal financial institutions like the World Bank. The bottom line, it seems, is that across the political spectrum people are now starting to view the public-decision strategy as a vital political tool for enabling democracy.
“Participatory democracy is not a full-blown politics or ideology like anarchism, or socialism or liberalism. Rather, PD can be employed by any of those… PD is thus a transformation engine,” said writer and academic Michael Menser.
But, he clarified, participative democracy fits into radical municipalism in a way that is politically broader than many ideologies, and often serves as a bridge for many politics of the left. “Participatory democracy is not just about having a voice … is is about sharing power. Just because you have a voice doesn’t mean they listen to you. And even if they do listen to you, it doesn’t mean they obey you. But it’s about power, wielding it not over others, but with them.”
In practice, Greensboro currently budgets just under one $1 million for participatory budgeting, from its nearly half a billion dollar budget. It pools proposals from the community and whittles down what it considers affordable and achievable. Then it holds extensive seminars, where a final short-list is decided upon by residents who are divided into city districts.
NEW YORK, NEWCASTLE AND BEYOND
Participatory budgeting varies in the amount of money allocated and in the means by which citizens can participate. In Spain’s Catalonia, in the town of Celrá, the radical independence and municipalist CUP party is aiming to hand over all budget decision-making to the public.
In New York, residents can now access a special map with drop pins, where they can give their specific ideas about how to improve transit, housing and other issues.
And in the U.K., Newcastle has joined a pan-European city network called Particepando, aiming to create a “cleaner, greener, safer” city. Within this model, known as Udecide, a random selection of volunteers and specialists form a working group, in conjunction with residents, who can input ideas through participatory events.
Madrid, like many cities in Spain, underwent a radical municipalist revolution in 2015, one feature of which is the site now used by residents, Decide.Madrid.es. The online platform creates a channel to gauge and harness levels of public support on key issues and public spending decisions. Ideas and proposals can be up/down voted, moving into a final stage of resident voting in which the top ideas are submitted into the first draft of the city plan.
Looking more broadly, even in places where only a small amount of public money is allocated for participatory budgets, the trends are clear: the citizen-led strategy increases voter and political engagement. And from a radical municipal perspective, participative budgeting is just one tool that today is helping citizens make their governments obey the will of the people.
Read Part 1 (Brazil) Part 2 (Rojava), Part 3 (Chiapas), Part 4 (Warsaw), Part 5 (Bologna), Part 6 (Jackson, Miss.), Part 7 (Athens) and Part 8 (Warsaw & New York), Part 9 (Reykjavík), Part 10 (Rosario, Argentina), Part 11 (Newham, U.K.), and Part 12 (Valparaiso, Chile).
MON, 9/17/2018 – BY MARNI HALASA (Occupy.com)
Monday marks the 7th anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was a community in the truest sense. Throngs of intelligent and diverse people lived together in Zuccotti Park, in a somewhat utopian, communal society. Working groups like Strike Debt, Occupy the SEC and the Alternative Banking Group, came together to write books, hand out literature and strategize on how to eradicate the ills of inequality that plagued our nation due to the devastating financial crisis.
There was even a library, a kitchen and it’s own newspaper, The Occupied Wall Street Journal. The energy was welcoming, organically grassroots and emotionally intoxicating — even I became inspired to found my own protest group, Revolution Is Sexy, contributing my talents as a performance artist to voice my outrage.
But as intoxicating as it was, Occupy as a social movement was flawed. Although it effectively brought issues like income inequality and money out of politics into the national conversation, the movement never fulfilled its true potential as an instrument for reform due to its lack of hierarchy, organization and specific demands—imprecise constructs that don’t pressure the system enough for change. Flaws, however, are not necessarily failures.
With the wins of Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive candidates, we are seeing the themes of Occupy Wall Street once again, as campaign slogans that are galvanizing voters and shaping public sentiment. What’s different, however, is that these ideas are not theoretical — they are laser-focused and politically-achievable: Medicare for all, tuition-free public college, a federal jobs guarantee and restoring Glass-Steagall.
In this era of post-Citizens United, what was originally thought of as political suicide — a campaign that rejected corporate PAC money while not apologizing for having true progressive ideals — can emerge victorious.
This is the ironic, yet beautiful, lesson of Occupy. The movement never wanted nor intended to walk through the halls of political power, but years later, its spirit lives on, ubiquitously influencing the national progressive agenda and perhaps dominating elections in the future. I’ll always recall a sign when the protesters were getting kicked out of the park, it said: “You Cannot Evict An Idea.” How true that still is today.
The public is invited to celebrate the 7th Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street Monday, September 17, 2018, from 9am to 12pm in Zuccotti Park, the original location of Occupy Wall Street. The event will include teach-ins, activities and art throughout the day. For more information, contact Marni Halasa at email@example.com or visit the Facebook event page.
Marni Halasa, a lawyer, journalist and professional figure skater, ran in the last election for City Council for District 3 as an independent, and is now with The Green Party. In addition to her protest consulting group, Revolution Is Sexy, she recently founded Community Control of Land Use (ccluny.com), a group that collectively organizes small businesses and tenants about intrusive neighborhood development.
“I hope you find watching it as moving as I did making it,” said Democrat challenging the California incumbent for the U.S. Senate
Published on Jan 2, 2013
Only one month into the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations last year, plans were formulated to identify key figures in the movement and execute them with a coordinated assault using sniper rifles, new documents reveal. READ MORE: http://on.rt.com/o9olc0
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(Submitted by Bob of Occupy)
September 16, 2018 (fightforthefuture.org)
It’s been two weeks since the California legislature passed the strongest net neutrality bill in the country.1
But Governor Jerry Brown still hasn’t signed it into law. And now FCC Chairman Ajit Pai just went on a rant against the bill, calling it the “most egregious” response to his repeal of net neutrality.2
Gov. Brown has only 15 days left to sign the bill, and big telecom companies are funding a Hail Mary effort to get him to veto the bill.3
California’s net neutrality bill, SB 822, has implications for the entire country. It would prevent blocking, throttling, or slowing sites. It would outlaw ‘zero-rating’—when ISPs provide unlimited access to apps they own to stifle competition. And if it’s signed, it could spread across the nation, providing a gold standard for other states to follow.
It took an incredible grassroots effort to get SB 822 to Brown’s desk. At least twice, the telecom industry almost killed it. Finally, the will of Californians won out and the bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. But Brown only has until the end of the month to sign it.4
We can’t take Brown’s signature for granted. He’s yet to even take a public stand on net neutrality.5 ISPs are lying about what the bill would do to drive employees to sign a petition urging a veto.6 Brown has already signed a slew of other bills from the end of the legislative session and hasn’t explained why he’s dragging his feet on net neutrality.
Public support and strategic organizing have gotten us this far—and we’re certainly not giving up now. We’re bombarding Brown’s office with phone calls and messages to tell him to sign SB 822 now. With your help, we can turn up the heat even more.
For net neutrality,
Evan at Fight for the Future