Dianne Feinstein’s Halloween disguise on Medicare for All

October 31, 2017

Dear Californian:

Thank you for contacting me with your thoughts about our nation’s health care system.  I appreciate the time you took to write, and I welcome the opportunity to respond.

I understand you support the “Medicare for All Act of 2017” (S. 1804), which was introduced by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on September 13, 2017.  This proposal would create a new national health coverage plan run by the federal government.  After a four year phase-in, all Americans would be covered with this plan, regardless of their income level.

I agree that all Americans should have health care.  I am very interested in exploring a variety of options to ensure that every person in our country has affordable, quality coverage.  One option I support is having a public health insurance option.  This public option would offer an affordable health plan to all Americans, regardless of the state they live in.  This plan would compete with private plans to help control costs for everyone and ensure that consumers have real choices in their options for health coverage.

You may be interested to know that I am an original cosponsor of the “Medicare-X Choice Act of 2017” (S. 1970), which was introduced by Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) on October 17, 2017.  This bill would establish a public health insurance option based on the Medicare provider network and similar payment rates to provide a lower cost option to consumers through the health exchanges.  S. 1970 would become available first in areas without adequate competition in 2020, and would expand throughout the individual market by 2023.

I also support the progress that has been made toward universal health coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  This law provided health insurance to 20 million Americans who did not previously have access to care.  The law also includes critical protections for all consumers, prevents insurance companies from setting annual or lifetime limits on coverage, and prohibits insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums to women or people with pre-existing conditions.

That is why I am appalled by the Republican’s various plans to repeal the ACA and implement a law that guts financial assistance to low- and middle-income individuals and families, ends Medi-Cal as we know it, and defunds Planned Parenthood.  I am pleased that the latest Republican effort to repeal the ACA was defeated.  It is my hope that Republicans have finally learned that they cannot ram through such significant changes to the law that impact millions of Americans so drastically.  Full Senate committee hearings, robust debates, and input from everyone who would be affected are critical to ensure that changes are made to truly improve the law, not just check a box on a political promise.

We share the same goal of expanding health care to every single American, and I value your input on how best to achieve this goal.  Please know that I have taken careful note of your concerns, and I will be mindful of your thoughts as the Senate continues to debate health-related legislation.

Once again, thank you for writing.  Should you have any other questions or comments, please call my Washington, D.C., office at (202) 224-3841 or visit my website at feinstein.senate.gov.  You can also follow me online at YouTubeFacebook, and Twitter, and you can sign up for my email newsletter at feinstein.senate.gov/newsletter.

Sincerely yours,
Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

“No Justice. Just Law. A Tale of Homelessness and Eviction” by JP Massar

Monday Oct 30th, 2017 5:34 PM

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges at HERE/THERE, beg in the streets or steal loaves of bread.

humans_of_berkeley_and_the_bay_area.jpgTomorrow morning, Tuesday, October 31st, Halloween, 2017, Federal Judge Alsup will decide the fate of some 25 people, formerly homeless, currently in residence in tents at the HERE/THERE area on Adeline in South Berkeley. BART now claims to own the land and has issued the residents an eviction notice. (The eviction was stayed for a week to allow the residents’ lawyers, the firm of Siegel & Yee, to make a legal argument as to why they should not be evicted).This is a court of Law. Were this rather a court of Justice, there would be no doubt as to the outcome.

For perhaps as much as fifty years, BART has never cared about nor cared for the property – BART left its maintenance to the City of Berkeley. The HERE/THERE artwork, installed in 2005, was a City of Berkeley project which BART had nothing to do with other than perhaps giving some kind of formal consent.

For ten months, the residents of the HERE/THERE encampment have lived in peace, supported by neighbors and friends. Despite a grove of trees and a pleasant path to stroll on within, it is a place no one else would want, and a place no one else would value, because every five to ten minutes (save for the wee hours of the morning) BART trains run overhead on elevated tracks, making a racket that precludes thought or conversation.

These Berkeley residents have nowhere else to go. There is not a single square foot of Berkeley where it would be technically legal for them to exist, let alone pitch a tent for a modicum of security and protection from the elements. Oakland to the south has far more than its share of homeless people already and Albany to the north viciously kicked out its homeless population a few years ago. The shelters are full and affordable apartments non-existent.

Harming no one, using a resource no one wants, having a theoretical right to exist but no legal right to be anywhere, Justice, impartial as it may be, would clearly take off its blindfold and declare that humanity eclispses a property right so unused that the evidence suggests its owner didn’t even know it existed until a few months ago.

But this is not Justice. This is Law. And we know what the law says…

“The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges at HERE/THERE, beg in the streets or steal loaves of bread.”

—–

The hearing will take place at 9:00 AM at the Federal Courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, about three blocks away from the Civic Center BART. Attendees need valid ID to get in to the courthouse and will be subject to additional, airport-like security, screening.

Background:

Open Letter to BART on Plans to Evict Berkeley Homeless Encampment

‘First They Came For The Homeless’ – Why Are We Here? A Berkeley Homelessness FAQ

Court filings:
– Points and Authorities
– Amended Complaint

Israel’s Foundation Stone: A Century of Controversy for the Balfour Declaration


10/27/2017 (WSJ.com)

The centenary of the Balfour Declaration on Nov. 2 marks a promise made by the British government to help create a Jewish national home in Palestine. In Britain, people are divided on whether the centenary is cause for a celebration with Israelis or a national apology to Palestinians. Photo: The British Museum. Video: Parminder Bahra/The Wall Street Journal.

INTERCEPTED PODCAST: MIKE PENCE IS THE KOCH BROTHERS’ MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE

SUBSCRIBE TO THE INTERCEPTED PODCAST ON APPLE PODCASTS,GOOGLE PLAYSTITCHER, AND OTHER PLATFORMS. NEW TO PODCASTING? CLICK HERE.

OVER THE PAST week, there has been intense focus on what exactly happened to four U.S. commandos killed in Niger, and what they were doing there. Jeremy explains how the media and Capitol Hill reaction is either a symbol of complete incompetence or a crass act of political theater. This week on Intercepted: Investigative journalist Jane Mayer exposes the Koch-brother puppet masters behind Vice President Mike Pence’s rise to power and lays out how the merging of radical extremist Christian ideology and the ruthless pursuit of corporate profits put Pence a heartbeat from the presidency. Chinese dissident and renowned artist Ai Weiwei has released a massive public art installation across New York City as his new film, “Human Flow,” hits theaters. We speak to Ai about the humanitarian catastrophe of the 65 million globally displaced migrants and refugees who have fled terror groups, U.S. and Russian bombs, and climate change. He also shares his thoughts on Trump and talks about his own persecution in China. We end with Deerhoof‘s Greg Saunier on the songs of the album “Mountain Moves,” and the power of creativity in the era of Trump.

An exclusive first look at Deerhoof’s new music video for “I Will Spite Survive,” directed by Geoff Hoskinson, is below:

Jeremy Scahill: Hey, everybody this is Jeremy, again and I’m just popping in here at the beginning of the show to say thank you to everyone who has become a sustaining member of Intercepted. We have just been astonished at the level of support that has poured in.

We have almost 1,600 to date that have pledged their support to this program, to keep it on the air, to expand what we do on Intercepted, and to keep us going strong with our critical mission to hold the powerful accountable, to expose injustice and to provide people with information that they can use to make informed decisions.

And I want to let the people who have pledged their support know that your financial support of this program means that we will be able to keep this program totally free for anyone to listen to. We do not want to use a paywall. I really am committed to making this show available to anyone, anywhere in the world that wants to hear it. We don’t want to carve off some of our content to say, “Well, only this is going to be for our exclusive supporters. We want to be able to make the information that you hear on this program, every episode, to be available to everyone and by pledging your support to Intercepted, you are making that possible for people that may not be in a position to financially support this program but depend on the information, depend on the diversity of viewpoints and the guests and the books that you hear about on this program.

If you want to join the 1,600 people who have already become sustaining members of Intercepted, you can do that by going to theintercept.com/join. Become a sustaining member of Intercepted. We have some great thank-you gifts including a hoodie, digital downloads of our cold opens that you hear at the beginning of our program, there are stickers for your laptop with the Intercepted logo on them. But most importantly, you become a sustaining member of this program.

If you’re not in a position to contribute financially, it is still extremely valuable to tell your friends — hey, even tell your foes, about this program. Use it to challenge your friends: holidays are coming up, you can use some of the topics and information that you’ve heard on this program to argue with people, to take on issues that may be uncomfortable to discuss at the dinner table, but need to be discussed in the kind of time that we live in. Maybe this show will help you to change the minds of some of the people that play a very meaningful role in your life, but the Trump moment has caused big problems for you. Whatever your motivation is, we appreciate you supporting this program and we promise to you to keep our pledge and that is to bring you information that you can use to make informed decisions information that holds the powerful accountable and that gives voice to the voiceless.

Our aim for this fundraising drive is to get ourselves to more than 2,000 sustaining members. We’re about four hundred members away from it. If you want to join the ranks of the 1,600 people that have already become sustaining members of Intercepted, we urge you to go to theintercept.com/join.

If you can’t afford to make a donation, tell people about the show, review us on all of the platforms where you listen to your podcasts and also join our Facebook group, which is simply Intercepted Listeners. And you can discuss issues, and news, and ideas with other people that also listen to this show. I sometimes pop into those discussions, as do other staff members here at Intercepted. You can join with other people that are like-minded or are there also because they want to have discussion or they want to have debate. Also, you can share our work on social media platforms — the biggest thing is letting people know. If you want to help us push to over 2,000 members, you can do so now by going to the thentercept.com/join.

All right I’m going to shut up right now. On with the show.

[Musical interlude]

Ramon Padilla: Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honor of introducing President George W. Bush. [scattered claps]

George W. Bush: Oh hey! Thank you all. Thank you. Ok! Padilla!

Will Ferrell As Ricky Bobby: Hi.

George W. Bush: Gracias.

RB: I’m here to talk to you about the packs of stray dogs that control most of the major cities in North America.

GWB: This effort is broad, systemic, and stealthy.

RB: If you see a stray dog, don’t call the authorities. Approach it on your own, with a rope or a broom stick.

George W. Bush: Ultimately, this assault won’t succeed. [scattered applause]

RB: Stray dogs, they’re not your friend. Or they could be.

George W. Bush: With God’s help. Thank you.

Joe Scarborough: George W. Bush loves his country.

Fernand Amandi: President Bush now, and the extended Bush family, are acting as the conscience for the country.

Male newscaster: Nearly 461,0000 men, women and children died in Iraq.

Anushay Hossain: Only Trump can make you feel nostalgic for the Bush era.

Nancy Pelosi: I wish he were president now. I wish Mitt Romney were president. I wish John McCain were president.

Joe Scarborough: Who the hell would ever boo George W. Bush?

[“Who’s the Boss?” TV Theme Song]

[Musical interlude]

JS: This is intercepted.

[Musical interlude]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City, and this is episode 33 of Intercepted.

Gen. Joseph Dunford: We owe the families as much information as we can find out about what happened, and we owe the American people an explanation of what their men and women were doing at this particular time. And, when I say that, I mean the men and women in harm’s way anywhere in the world, that they should know what the mission is and what we’re trying to accomplish when we’re there.

JS: Over the past week, there’s been an intense focus on what exactly happened to four U.S. soldiers in the African nation of Niger on October 4th. What we have been told is very little and what we’ve been told is based on information provided by the military and by the Trump Administration.

And what that picture looks like, as of now, is that a small group of Special Operations forces were on a sensitive mission in Niger. That they were traveling in so-called soft vehicles, meaning non-armored vehicles and that they were ambushed.

And during this ambush, three U.S. soldiers were killed, two others were seriously wounded and another soldier, Sergeant La David Johnson, went missing and his body was not recovered until a couple of days later.

Now, what the exact nature of that mission was, or why they were in an armored vehicle, we do not know yet.

Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis: And the loss of our troops is under investigation. We, in the Department of Defense, like to know what we’re talking about before we talk. And so, we do not have all the accurate information yet.

JS: In classic Donald Trump form, he has made the story about something other than “what were they doing there?”

Donald J. Trump: I was —Look I’ve called many people, and I would think that every one of them appreciated it. I was very surprised to see this, to be honest.

JS: He has attacked the widow of Sergeant Johnson after she publicly said that she was shocked when Trump appeared to not know her husband’s name when he called her to offer his condolences. The president, she said:

Myeshia Johnson: He knew what he signed up for. But it hurts anyways. And I was — it made me cry because I was very angry at the tone of his voice and how he said it. He couldn’t remember my husband name. The only way he remembered my husband name because he told me he had my husband’s report in front of him. And that’s when he actually said, La David.

JS: Which, on the surface, sounds like a very callous thing to say to a widow. Trump, for his part says that he meant nothing but respect, and that it was a dignified conversation.

Trump and his allies have cast aspersions on Johnson’s widow as well as on her Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida. Some of the attacks on the congresswoman have been vile, with one of Trump’s sons saying on Twitter that she looks like a stripper. Real classy.

But aside from the horrible attacks on a Gold Star widow or these grotesque attacks on the appearance of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson that have been emanating from the administration or from the president’s family or from his prominent supporters, this episode, meaning what happened in Niger and then the way that it has been covered in the media and discussed by politicians, it’s actually a classic example of how covert U.S. operations are dealt with in general in the United States, both in the media and on Capitol Hill. Continue reading

“A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN” IS THE MOST TERRIFYING MOVIE YOU CAN WATCH THIS HALLOWEEN

THE OBSCURE 2008 movie “Synecdoche, New York,” written and directed by Charlie Kaufman, originated when Sony Pictures Classics approached Kaufman about creating a horror film. Kaufman, best known for deeply wacky scripts like “Being John Malkovich,” agreed. But he wasn’t interested in making the kind of paint-by-numbers movie for teenagers that appears to take place in another dimension. Instead, he later said, he wanted to make a horror film for adults, “about things that are scary in the real world, and in our lives.”

I can attest that Kaufman succeeded. In fact, I found “Synecdoche, New York” so frightening that I’ll never watch it again. Slasher movies like “Friday the 13th” and its 11 sequels are ultimately pleasurable — they end and you wake up from the dream buzzing with the adrenaline evolution gives you to escape predators, yet realize you are not in fact being stalked by Jason Voorhees. But when “Synecdoche, New York” is over and the lights come up, you understand that what was hunting its characters is hunting you too, outside the theater, in reality.

No other movie had ever given me the same jolt of pure dread until I saw the new Field of Vision documentary “A Night at the Garden,” directed by Marshall Curry. (Field of Vision is a division of First Look Media, as is The Intercept.)

Curry’s film, watchable above, is just six minutes long, and is a tiny masterpiece. It should be taught in history and filmmaking courses, as well as in classes about human psychology.

On its surface, it’s simply about a rally held by the German-American Bund in February 1939 at the old Madison Square Garden at Eighth Avenue and 50th Street in Manhattan.

The Bund – meaning “federation” – never metastasized to any appreciable size. Estimates vary, but its dues-paying membership did not top 25,000. However, it was allied with the Christian Front, an organization inspired by the notorious anti-Semitic demagogue Father Charles Coughlin. Tens of millions of Americans tuned into Coughlin’s weekly radio show; one of his slogans was “Less care for internationalism and more concern for national prosperity.”

The Christian Front helped turn out a capacity crowd of almost 20,000 people. It’s particularly notable that this was possible in New York, then as now a symbol of liberalism, and suggests both organizations enjoyed significant passive local support far beyond those who attended.

The marquee outside reads that it is a “Pro American Rally” — to be followed the next day by the Rangers playing the Detroit Red Wings, and the day after that by Fordham facing Pittsburgh in college basketball. The night begins with marchers filing in with dozens of American flags and then standing before a huge backdrop of George Washington.

The main speaker is Fritz Kuhn, a naturalized German immigrant and head of the Bund. On the one hand, everything about him screams that he’s a buffoon and a grifter. He declares they are there “to demand that our government shall be returned to the American people who founded it” in a heavy accent that makes him sound exactly like Adolf Hilter. Even Nazi Germany’s ambassador to the U.S. found Kuhn embarrassing, once describing him as “stupid, noisy, and absurd.”

But on the other hand, no one in the Garden seems to notice or care. To the crowd’s delighted laughter, Kuhn speaks about how “the Jewish-controlled press” continually lies about him, depicting him as “a creature with horns, a cloven hoof, and a long tail.”

Then one man, 26-year-old Isadore Greenbaum, rushes the stage. Kuhn’s uniformed minions immediately seize and beat him. At some point, as the New York police grab Greenbaum and hustle him offstage, his pants are pulled down. Kuhn smirks, and the audience erupts in glee.

The movie ends with a soprano trilling the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

The next day the New York Times reported that the Bund had raised almost $8,500, the equivalent of about $150,000 now. Later that year Kuhn was convicted of embezzling all that and more — $250,000 in today’s money — from his devoted followers.

The Times article quotes leftist protesters claiming that they “were trampled by mounted police and brutally beaten by uniformed and plainclothes policemen” outside the Garden. A retired colonel complained that the costumes of many of the Bund men “would mislead the people” that they were “wearing a part of the United States uniform.”

Finally, the Times notes, the journalist Dorothy Thompson was present, and at one point was temporarily evicted for laughing. Years before, Thompson had been the Berlin bureau chief for the New York Post, and covered the rise of fascism before she was expelled from Germany in 1934. At the time of the Bund rally, she was married to Sinclair Lewis, who wrote “It Can’t Happen Here.”

Several years after the events of “A Night at the Garden,” Thompson contributed a famed article to Harper’s Magazine called “Who Goes Nazi?” In it she describes a “macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know.”

“Nazism,” Thompson said, “has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind. … The frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success — they would all go Nazi.”

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 10: Marshall Curry discusses his film 'A Night at the Garden' at NYFF Live - Field of Vision Presents during the 55th New York Film Festival at Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on October 10, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

Marshall Curry discusses his film ‘A Night at the Garden’ at NYFF Live – Field of Vision Presents during the 55th New York Film Festival at Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on October 10, 2017 in New York CityPhoto: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

Curry learned about the Bund rally six months ago from a friend writing a screenplay that takes place in 1939. At first, he says, he was incredulous, because he was sure that if there had been an enormous rally of American Nazis in the middle of New York City, “I definitely would have heard about that.”But it had happened. It had simply dropped out of history. Curry found previous documentaries that used short snippets of film from that night, and engaged archival researcher Rich Remsberg to try to locate more.

Remsberg found footage scattered across the country, including at the National Archives and UCLA. There were two remarkable things about it. First, it was 35 mm, rather than the standard 16 or 8 mm for newsreels, so the images are surprisingly high-quality. Second, everything captured inside Madison Square Garden appears to have been shot by the Bund itself. The staging is done so skillfully it seems certain they had studied Nazi Germany’s cinematography.

Curry took the footage and used it to assemble a film that is crafty in the extreme. There are no talking head historians or narration to tell you what to feel. Instead, it leaves you with the space to decide how to feel about it for yourself.

Most notably, there is no mention of the present day United States. “Regular, nonpolitically minded Americans who watch it,” Curry hopes, “will become a tiny bit more aware of the way that, throughout history, demagogues [have] used sarcasm and humor and mob violence to whip up audiences that were otherwise decent people.”

In particular, he points to a pan of the roaring crowd after Greenbaum has been attacked and degraded: “You can see thousands of people who are in suits and dresses and hats who were probably nice to their neighbors.”

PERHAPS THE CENTRAL moment of “A Night at the Garden” is a shot of a young uniformed boy on stage. He is maybe 8 years old, and part of the Bund youth; he appears smaller and slighter than the others. As the crowd humiliates Greenbaum and drags him away, the boy looks around for affirmation that he is not alone. Then he does a joyful jig, rubs his hands together, and performs his dance again.

This is a ferocious, simian exhilaration that can only be felt by someone who is emotionally a child. But there are always many chronological adults waiting for someone to give them permission to lay down the burden of an individual adult’s consciousness. To tell them: We’ve located the culprits causing all your frustration and pain. They look like us, like humans, but they’re not. They’re wearing a disguise. Dissolve with us into this howling mass of protoplasm, and you will be responsible for nothing.

This has happened, at various scales, innumerable times in our species’ history. It’s more profoundly a part of us than anything we think of as “politics.” Nazism and fascism are just the names we’ve given to the better organization and production values made possible by modern technology.

However, for this potential to come to fruition requires specific people making specific decisions at specific times. The title card in “A Night at the Garden” informs us this was February 20, 1939.

When I saw that date, I felt a small tug in my brain. Something else had happened the same day. What was it?

I looked through “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” and online World War II timelines, but could not find what I was looking for. I went on a long walk and tried unsuccessfully to figure it out. For 48 hours, I experienced the unpleasant sensation everyone has at some point: that you’ve forgotten something important, and won’t remember until it’s too late.

What was it?

WHILE I AM not Jewish, my father’s father was. His family came to the U.S. from Germany in the late 1800s and settled in Chicago, where he was born. After he married my grandmother, they eventually ended up in Washington, D.C. But he still had relatives in Europe.

For almost 80 years my family has saved a letter my grandfather received from his cousin Lilly Schwarz in Düsseldorf. My aunt, my father’s sister, is its current custodian. Even in 2017, its careful lettering exudes terror:

My dear Charles!

Finally I have got the address of you and will write at once. I think you will be informed by your mother about our worst things. … Now we have to wait till our number will be called up by the American Consulat in Stüttgart and that will take one or one and a half years. I am trying to emigrate for my waiting-time to England because one cannot stand all the things here. Have you or any of your friends, any acquaintances in England? Please if yes do me the favor and let me know the addresses. The only possibility to emigrate there is to have a job as a house-maid and then the Home-Office will give the permission to come and to work. …

I am interested in your personal things. Dear Aunt Helen wrote me you have a fine place in the treasury department. I can imagine that you are very busied and that this work is very satisfying. What about your wife and your little baby? I hope you are all in best health. …

Have you any idea or advice how to arrange our emigration quicker? By the way have you any connection to the government? I am supposing Washington as the seat of the government is the first town to experience the newest things. We all are expecting that the new conditions concerning the Jewish emigration will be published very shortly. You all cannot imagine how desperat the Jews are.

Is my English very funny? I am able to read English books and news-papers and I understand every word at any case always the same. I am studying the English language every free minute and have learned this winter English shorthand and know typewriting.

Please let us have a soon answer.

With many greets and much love to you all,

I remain
your cousin
Lilly

The tug inside my head urged me to find this letter, so I searched through old email until I finally found a transcript. Then I looked at the first line.

Lilly was 33 years old when she wrote to my grandfather. She was being stalked by a beast, and believed if she could make it to America she would be safe.

But she didn’t get here. The beast ate her. Two years later in October 1941 she was deported to the Minsk ghetto in Belarus, where she died.

When I saw the date on Lilly’s letter, I experienced a physical reaction I’d never felt before. It rippled through my body, from my head down to my toes and back again. On that day, she was more than a decade younger than I am now. She did not know that the beast hunting her was waiting in the United States too, just drowsing — and that at the exact moment she was writing her hopeless plea, tens of thousands of cheering, ordinary, banal Americans were trying to wake it up.

That’s why “A Night at the Garden” is a movie of true horror. It’s over in six minutes, but your fear will continue. You will realize that the beast is everywhere, because we take it with us wherever we go.

In most places, at most times, the beast is in hibernation. Many white Americans believe that’s always been the case here, although everyone who’s not white knows it’s stumbled about groggily for much of U.S. history. Still, it’s never quite reached full consciousness. And societies must roll snake eyes 10 times in a row for it to come to complete waking fury. As of this moment we’ve gotten maybe only four bad rolls, so the odds of it happening in the U.S. remain quite low. But I’ve learned for sure in the past year that they’re still higher than I ever imagined. On certain days, we can see the beast’s eyelids fluttering.

Because I feel such a strong sense of Lilly from her letter, I’ve sometimes imagined meeting her somehow on another plane of existence. I’d like to be able to tell my cousin twice-removed that her suffering meant something to us, that we learned from it, and did everything we could to keep the beast anesthetized. But that would be a lie. Americans are as ignorant and vain and blind as all the other people who’ve ever lived, and if you watch “A Night at the Garden,” and truly see it, you’ll understand that absolutely anything is possible.

Lilly Schwarz’s letter can be seen in higher resolution here.

(Contributed by Richard Burns.)

THE FIGHT TO KEEP ARCTIC OIL IN THE GROUND HEATS UP IN NORWAY, PART II

10/23/2017 – BY STEVE RUSHTON AND FANNY MALINEN (Occupy.com)

The Arctic region is warming faster than the world on average. Glaciers that have existed for more than 12 millennia are melting and seasons are becoming more unpredictable. We explained some of this in Part I of the series, which was told through the eyes of Annie Henriksen, an indigenous Sami woman who has lived in Hammerfest, the northernmost town of Norway and the whole of Europe, for over 60 years.

One impact of climate change is the intensifying storms, which are becoming even more threatening with the increasing fossil fuel extraction in the Arctic area. Hammerfest – or Hámmárfeasta, in Northern Sami – now has a booming gas industry and is the base-to-be for proposed oil drilling in the Arctic waters. The Barents Sea has been drilled since 2013, but Norway only recently opened up a record 93 blocks in this region for further licenses.

Arctic oil drilling, Arctic oil protests, Sami people, oil spills, Deepwater Horizon, Arctic conditions

EXTREME, STORMY WATERS

Goliat, Norway’s first oil platform extracting crude from the Barents Sea, was evacuated on Aug. 26, 2016. Henriksen, a midwife and environmental campaigner, knows workers on the rig and tells us what happened when strong winds extinguished the large flame above the rig, which was used to vent off dangerous gases, and it caused a leak. Most of the crew were evacuated, leaving a few on the control bridge and some people stuck in a lift under the water. Those who were left had to stop a disaster to save their own lives, which they managed to do.

She explains: “Afterwards they stopped work for half a year, as all the workers were protesting. They cannot speak out, but I will speak about it until I die.”

Yet despite the obvious dangers to drilling in the Arctic, Henriksen say Norway has tried to create the myth that it can drill safely. “They say they have the best technology in the world. It is false. These are the same boys who come from every other oil and gas industry. Maybe they have PhDs, but they do not have real knowledge. They are playing with nature and physics, but do not understand its dangers.”

Arctic oil drilling, Arctic oil protests, Sami people, oil spills, Deepwater Horizon, Arctic conditions

ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN

Norway’s petroleum industry is far from alone in promoting itself as the most “high-tech” and “cutting edge,” and promising that it will not cause spill disasters. BP oil baron Lord Browne made exactly the same argument for deep sea oil drilling, but instead we got the Deepwater Horizon tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico, which cost lives, ruined an ocean ecosystem and devastated the livelihoods of countless people living around the gulf. The Deepwater explosion and oil spill remains one of the worst man-made ecological crises ever.

No one can say the warnings weren’t clear. And unfortunately, an oil spill in the Arctic would be even worse due to the severe conditions and its remote location. Now working for a Russian oil company, Lord Browne is again promising how safe the company’s plans are to drill in the Norwegian Arctic.

Although few drilling incursions have been made in the Arctic so far, catastrophes have only been narrowly avoided. In July 2012, A Royal Dutch Shell oil ship slipped anchor in Alaska and nearly ran ashore. Later that year, Shell’s oil drilling platform Kulluk did run aground, again threatening Alaska’s coastline with an oil spill.

In the Atlantic Arctic this year, a sizeable iceberg nearly collided with a Canadian oil rig, the Sea Rose. And earlier this month, an iceberg twice the size of the one that sank the Titanic needed to be towed away from its collision course with a Russian Arctic oil rig.

Oil and gas drilling has ruined every other region of the world in which it has operated. Any assertion that this will not happen to the Arctic is not just irrational – it is insanely irresponsible.

Arctic oil drilling, Arctic oil protests, Sami people, oil spills, Deepwater Horizon, Arctic conditions

INDIGENOUS LIVELIHOODS UNDER THREAT

The Arctic is one of the world’s final bastions of unspoiled nature. To reach Hámmárfeasta, we travelled overland through Finland and Norway, through the lands of the Sami, Europe’s last indigenous peoples who straddle Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia. We saw more reindeer than people, and vast fells, mountains and wilderness areas where the Sami rely largely on an interconnected relationship with nature, picking berries, hunting and fishing. Reindeer herding is still important here; each spring, reindeer swim out to the island of Sállir (Kvaløya in Norwegian), their summer grazing lands.

Arriving to the Arctic coast and nearing Hámmárfeasta, we notice a rapid increase in population, at least in relative terms. The town that now has 10,000 inhabitants has grown in the last hundred years from fishing, to more recently oil and gas, and also tourism. It is surrounded by breath-taking fjords.

Many of the Sami who previously lived off the land and waters have taken on jobs in the oil and gas industry. Like indigenous peoples the world over, they face a constant attack on their way of life. When pollution, industrialisation and climate change make it harder to sustain traditional livelihoods, more people join extractive industries. This expansion then increases the negative effects on the nature, creating a vicious circle of capitalism.

Arctic oil drilling, Arctic oil protests, Sami people, oil spills, Deepwater Horizon, Arctic conditions

RESISTANCE: FROM LOCAL TO GLOBAL

The Arctic region’s scarce population – and the number of those people in Hámmárfeasta who are working for the oil and gas industry – creates problems for those trying to resist the petreoleum boom, Henriksen says.

Another problem is the local politicians, and those at the Norweigian state level, who are closely connected with the oil industry. In Norway, like elsewhere in the world, the short-term financial gains to be made from oil are routinely placed above the severe ecological impacts.

But the final issue Henriksen mentions is a more practical one: Compared to people resisting other extractive projects, like fracking in Britain or pipeline developments in places like Standing Rock – the Arctic is a difficult place to reach. It is far easier for activists to lock themselves to machinery in a field than in the middle of the Barents Sea.

Henriksen tells us that she protested at the launch of an oil and gas platform with two other people. “I called for people to come, but that was all that showed up.” She says more people support her than actively protest, but the livelihoods here are such that the reindeer herding is time-demanding and herders have their own battles to fight over land rights.

However, there are also examples of some bigger actions that occurred here, like in 2015 during the Paris climate negotiations, when a video of 50 protesters in Hámmárfeasta illustrating the dangers of Arctic drilling was shown to the negotiators.

Globalisation of extraction is also leading to the globalisation of resistance. Henriksen tells us about a recent indigenous conference in Alta, Norway, where she shared a stage with a Mohawk midwife who been at Standing Rock. “We highlighted how both here and there indigenous people are standing on the frontline against pollution that will impact millions,” she said.

“We spoke of how we are protecting the water in the placenta, the water in our tears, the water in the rain and the water in the sea. What is the world without water?”

In Part III of this series next week, we look at the global movement that is gathering steam to protect the fragile waters of the Arctic.

Arctic oil drilling, Arctic oil protests, Sami people, oil spills, Deepwater Horizon, Arctic conditions

 

WELLS FARGO’S PLAYBOOK: HOW TO ROB THE AVERAGE JOE AND STILL RETAIN YOUR STOCK OPTIONS

TUE, 10/24/2017 – BY LAINEY HASHORVA (Occupy.com)

“I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution

Take a bow for the new revolution

Smile and grin at the change all around me

Pick up my guitar and play

Just like yesterday

And I’ll get on my knees and pray

We don’t get fooled again

Don’t get fooled again”

  • The Who

Did you hear the one about the bank that has a system in place for nearly a decade to rob you blind? Maybe you were looking the other way and working a few jobs to pay the rent, the kid’s braces or car payments. Maybe you’re too tired of all the drama and crime shows that are the new reality. Many of you don’t think it matters if it hasn’t happened to you yet. You’ve seen the headlines here and there about bank robberies in the old days – the ski mask, the gun, the “hit the floor” commands by sweaty petty crooks yelling at trembling customers and employees trying to reach the silent panic button. We’ve all seen that scenario played out again and again. But did you ever imagine it in reverse? That perhaps your pristine and powerful financial institution was actually the one robbing you blind?

Welcome to Wells Fargo, whose slogan has always been “Together we’ll go far.” Just like the red flags and telltale signs in a bad relationship, the bad boy boyfriend is telling you up front that he is no good for you, but did you listen? No, because he was so good looking, solid, strong, offering the illusion he’d take care of you… and you needed to bank on someone. Not to mention free mini water bottles and lollipops for your purse. You never thought it would happen to you, you savvy consumer, you. That’s always how it starts but we don’t fully see it until those red flags actually catch fire and we no longer have money left to burn. That’s how we learn, and become bitter as we age. Banksters. They’re all alike.

Word on the street this week is that heads are rolling – again – and this time it’s happening nasty quick and clean to foreign exchange bankers. Sudden, too, so something is afoot. Senior executive traders have been fired in the San Francisco and Charlotte headquarters. Gone baby gone, though the reason for their terminations hasn’t been released, as of yet. Guess they wanted to see other banksters. So Bob Gotelli, head of the foreign exchange sales group; Jed Guenther, foreign exchange management; Michael Schaufler, and Simon Fowles, former global head of foreign exchange trading got pink slip Post-It notes like Carrie in “Sex and The City.” Now place your bets on how long it will take these guys to get a job at JP Morgan Chase or Bank of America. Or Deutsche Bank for that matter.

After the 2008 Wall Street-induced economic catastrophe, big banks started to install double door security and bullet proof glass windows between customers and tellers. The housing crisis, the outsourcing of American jobs, the decline in U.S. manufacturing, the politics of circus-like tricks, illusions and freakish sideshow distractions make for hungry lower classes and angry mobs at gated parking lots. The shrinking middle class made these large financial institutions afraid of an actual revolution of sorts, a run on the banks, maybe a rising tide of revelatory regulations. No such luck.

Wells Fargo is the third largest U.S. bank. If you bank there you’ll see it’s a well-oiled machine of young henchmen in dark suits and quaffed smiling employees who watch you, escort you, greet you and monitor your every move. Who would have imagined that Professor Bill Black’s well known line from his TED talk, “The best way to rob a bank is to own one,” would be so telling of what we are now witnessing in our country and globally?

Wells Fargo scandals, Wells Fargo fraud, foreclosure crisis, John Stumpf, Tim Sloan, Elizabeth Warren, bank bailouts

Wells Fargo scandals continue as the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking and Urban Affairs go through the motions of chastising one of the largest banks in our country, pointing out the fraud and deceptive business practices that have continued for many, many years under the bank’s leadership and instruction. But beyond paying off the government from time to time, and wiping a little egg off their faces, the bankster bosses in charge simply roll their eyes and fold their stocks into a golden parachute as they float toward luxurious retirement. Wells Fargo has become regular fodder for late night talk shows; as Stephen Colbert said, “Go Stumpf yourself.”

Elizabeth Warren plays the good guy senator in this freakish reality show, the wonder woman shero of the working classes with her fist in the air, one finger pointed, “You should be fired” slogan. Even if Warren runs for president in 2020, who’s to say she won’t move more to the center, settle down and acquiesce to a banker boat less rocked? Same as the old boss. Then, after four to eight years, she can write her biography and earn millions giving Wall Street speeches to the very criminals she shakes a fist at now.

The Senate committee questions, spanks and chastises for public consumption, but as Macbeth so eloquently said:

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

Shame on you Wells Fargo. Remember the Occupy protests we watched, so ahead of their time, so quickly brutalized and squelched, their chants at bullies and police brutality: “SHAME! SHAME! SHAME!”

Shame shame shame. No justice, no peace. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow….

Tim Sloan is the bank’s “new” boss (though he has worked there for over 30 years, same as the old boss, John Stumpf.) For the CEO and Chairman of the Board of Wells Fargo Bank, with over 2 million shares of stock, every time the stock goes up a dollar Mr. Sloan and former CEO John Stumpf make $2 million. Both stated they were not aware of any fraudulent accounts. They were too busy earning over $10,000 an hour. Who has time?

If the employees did not cooperate with the “Eight is great” slogan and subsequent record of new fake accounts implemented by cross selling products, credit cards and unwanted accounts using forged signatures, they were fired. Thousands of minimum wage workers with families, car payments, 401k’s and guilty consciences. Hey, but if you put a family into foreclosure you might win a $100 gift card at Bed Bath & Beyond!

Hands up – this is a stick up. Your money or your life. “Screw your family, my family depends on it.” Together we’ll go far. Dub in and repeat the rap of Elizabeth Warren: “You should be fired…fi fi fi fired.”

All the while Mr. Sloan defends the “culture” of this corporation as he further enables its fraud, and profits from the ongoing scam. If he is “fired” or, as in Stumpf’s case, slips into “early retirement,” he does so with insider trading of stock options and a cool $130 million in cash. Awesome return on his strategy of robbing all the banks, not just one branch, while making the underling class of peasant employees do the dirty deeds cheap – then firing them to get rid of the evidence. Nice work if you can steal it.

Wells Fargo scandals, Wells Fargo fraud, foreclosure crisis, John Stumpf, Tim Sloan, Elizabeth Warren, bank bailouts

THE PROSECUTION OF INAUGURATION-DAY PROTESTERS IS A THREAT TO DISSENT

10/25/2017 – BY CHIP GIBBONS  (Occupy.com)

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THE NATION

Activists and journalists get hit by a stun grenade during the J20 protest against Donald Trump in Washington, DC. (Reuters / Adrees Latif)

Late next month, the first mass trial will be held for some of the roughly 200 people facing years—or even decades—in prison after being arrested during an anti-capitalist, anti-fascist protest that took place on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. The “J20” cases, as they are known, offer a glimpse at the treatment of dissent in this country, and the story they tell is one of overreach and criminalization. Defense lawyers have described the government’s approach as “unprecedented,” its indictments as “littered with fatal irremediable defects.” Sam Menefee-Libey of the DC Legal Posse, a group of activists who provide support to the defendants, was more blunt, criticizing the cases as “blatant political prosecutions” designed to “chill resistance.”

The story of the J20 protesters should frighten anyone concerned about the future of both free assembly and dissent in the United States. The charges—which include felony rioting, inciting or urging others to riot, conspiracy to riot, and property destruction—all stem from the same mass arrest, during which police indiscriminately swept up protesters, journalists, and legal observers. What makes the charges all the more troubling is that prosecutors then failed to allege that the bulk of defendants did anything specifically unlawful; rather, merely being at the protest was a crime.

A case in point: The prosecution charged all of the defendants (at one point numbering 214) with breaking the same windows. Prosecutors, of course, know that 200 people cannot break the same windows. But the logic of the case dictates that the defendants’ mere presence at a protest during which property damage occurred makes them guilty.

Meanwhile, compounding the concerns raised by the J20 prosecution are a series of parallel legal skirmishes that have been playing out around several warrants for information issued by the Department of Justice. Lawyers and activists have charged that these warrants—which are part of the government’s attempt to prove that the protest was the result of planned riot—are dangerously overbroad and, as such, pose serious First Amendment challenges. Particularly in their initial forms, they have argued, the warrants could have resulted in a dragnet-style collection of electronic information related to political speech and organizing.

In the first of these warrants, the DoJ requested that the web-host provider DreamHost share all of the information associated with its customer DisruptJ20.org. DisruptJ20.org served as the information hub for protests during the inauguration, but the government has since sought to portray it as the organizer of a premeditated riot. To comply with the DoJ’s initial warrant, DreamHost argued, it would have needed to turn over the 1.3 million IP addresses of those who visited DisruptJ20.org—a move that would have amounted, essentially, to a list of individuals politically opposed to Trump.

While the DoJ subsequently amended its warrant to exclude the demand for IP addresses—thanks, largely, to widespread outrage—it continued to alarm activists and legal experts with its ongoing quest for a broad range of information from the site, including e-mails from individuals, not suspected of any crime, who wrote to the site inquiring about protest activities or offering lodging for out-of-town protesters. Civil libertarians hoped the warrant would be thrown out, but Chief Judge Robert Morin of DC Superior Court declined to do so. Instead, he ruled that DreamHost was to redact the identities of individuals in order to safeguard their First Amendment rights; if, after reviewing the redacted information, the DoJ finds evidence of a crime, the court will un-redact the information.

Similarly, the DoJ has issued a warrant against Facebook that would have required the company to turn over the names of all 6,000 people who “liked” the DisruptJ20 page. At a hearing on October 13, the DoJ dropped this demand, although it maintains that it still needs to obtain information on “likes” in certain cases, as “liking” a specific post, such as “how to dress in black bloc for the riot,” while not a crime in and of itself, could be “probative of criminal intent.” In addition to asking for the information associated with the DisruptJ20 Facebook page, the DoJ is also demanding that Facebook turn over information from the personal accounts of two organizers who have not been charged with any crime.

“These cases are important because here we are at the beginning of the administration of a president many of us [fear will be] very repressive and intolerant of dissent,” says Paul Alan Levy, of the Public Citizen Litigation Group, which has intervened on behalf of unnamed Facebook and DisruptJ20.org users seeking to protect their right to anonymous speech in both cases. “How Chief Judge Morin treats their fishing expedition could set either a very good precedent or a very bad precedent about how they will use the criminal-justice system going forward.”

So what does all this mean? For protest? For dissent?

To understand how all the pieces fit together—the arrests and the prosecutions and the warrants—it helps to rewind the clock to January 20, when more than 200 protesters, journalists, and legal observers were arrested as they marched through the streets of the capital. The march was one of many actions that took place that day, part of an outpouring of outrage that included a permitted march and blockades of inauguration entrances. What made this protest distinctive was that it was a black-bloc action, powered by anarchists, anti-capitalists, and anti-fascists, among others.

Few people dispute that property destruction took place during the march. Some individuals smashed windows, including those of a Bank of America branch and a limousine; prosecutors allege that there was more than $100,000 in property damage and that six police officers received minor injuries. Where things get thorny is that many of the people who have been charged did not commit property damage or violence but have been deemed guilty by their mere presence at the protest.

The problems began during the arrests themselves—arrests deemed so troubling that the ACLU has brought a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) accusing its members of using excessive force, making unconstitutional arrests, and more.

Among the controversial practices police engaged in that day, lawyers and observers say, was a tactic called “kettling.” Kettling is a form of indiscriminate mass arrest, wherein police block off a given area and arrest everyone within it. To be lawful, an arrest requires probable cause based on individual suspicion. Yet, inevitably, this heavy-handed tactic often sweeps up other protesters and bystanders whose only offense was their physical proximity to the alleged crime. Indeed, a report on the inauguration by the DC Office of Police Complaints noted that “it seems that proximity to the area where property damage occurred was a primary factor” in the arrests.

Arrests made through kettling are problematic not only because of their indiscriminate nature but also because they ultimately deprive individuals of their right to free assembly. As the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association explained in a 2016 statement on the policing of protests in the United States: “Acts of violence by a few do not make an entire protest violent; nor do they strip other individuals of their right to continue the assembly.”

In the case of the January 20 protests, the use of kettling was a surprise, as it broke with standard police protocol in DC. After facing criticism for wrongfully arresting individuals during IMF/World Bank protests in 2002, DC passed legislation to protect free assembly. The use of kettling during Trump’s inauguration constitutes the first mass arrest of protesters since these reforms.

A spokesperson for MPD declined to comment on the arrests because of pending litigation, but did offer a statement saying, “Each year, the men and women of MPD protect the rights and ensure the safety of thousands of First Amendment assemblies, demonstrations and protests,” including during Trump’s inauguration. “Unfortunately,” the statement continued, “there was [a] group of individuals who chose to engage in criminal acts, destroying property and hurling projectiles, injuring at least six officers.” The statement concluded with a promise that “all instances of use of force by officers and allegations of misconduct will be fully investigated.”

The mass arrests gave birth to the next government overreach, mass “felony riot” charges against those arrested. Felony rioting carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, and applies when the alleged riot results in more than $5,000 in property damage. This is opposed to misdemeanor rioting, which can get you only 180 days in jail.

Attorneys who have long represented protesters in D.C. report never having encountered mass felony charges stemming from a protest before. Not the least of the reasons is that it’s difficult to produce enough evidence to sustain felony charges against dozens—or in this case, some 200—people. Yet, rather than backing down, prosecutors expanded the case by filing additional charges, and, in April, a grand jury returned a superseding indictment that added inciting or urging to riot and conspiracy to riot to the list of crimes. These new charges brought the number of felony counts up from one to eight and the amount of time defendants could face from 10 years to more than 70 years in prison.

In a sign of just how wide a net the government has cast, many of the defendants have not even been named as having committed specific acts in the indictment. Instead, actions are attributed to the amorphous “rioting defendants” or “individuals participating in the black bloc.”

Moreover, some of the actions recounted in the indictment—such as chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” or “Fuck capitalism!”—are hallmark elements of a political demonstration, yet prosecutors are claiming these acts are elements of a felony. As troubling, one of the superseding indictments “accuses the undifferentiated ‘Rioting Defendants’ of merely walking in certain directions, wearing certain clothing, observing law enforcement, and not dispersing,” according to a motion filed by defense counsel for some of the defendants.

The government’s overarching theory, then, seems to be one of guilt by association. Or that, as Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff asserted during a hearing about dismissing the charges, it is “the group that is the danger, the group that is criminal.” Thus one need not have committed an act of vandalism as an individual; just being present at the protest makes one guilty. (The DoJ declined to comment for this story, as the cases are currently pending.)

Among those swept up in this overbroad approach was a group of at least seven journalists who were covering the J20 protests. While prosecutors ultimately dismissed the felony rioting charges against the bulk of the journalists nearly as quickly as they were filed, two journalists remain in the crosshairs: Aaron Cantú, then a freelancer who has published with The Nation and The Intercept, and Alexei Wood, who livestreamed the event. In April a grand jury brought a superseding indictment of eight felony charges against both reporters along with the other defendants. They face as many as 70 years in prison, possibly more.

The indictment against Cantú deploys the same guilt-by-association approach that mars the entire case. Per prosecutors, Cantú moved in proximity to the march—something that would be necessary in order for him to do his job as a journalist. But prosecutors have additional evidence against Cantú: He wore the color black.

It is this nine-month chain of events that gives such a troubling twist to the warrants for information targeting both Facebook and DreamHost. In the case of the DreamHost warrant, the government claimed during an August hearing that it was only seeking evidence of planning a riot, such as a listserv discussion of “who was bringing crowbars to the riot.” But given the conduct of the government from the time of the arrest to the indictments, this was hardly reassuring. Moreover, while Chief Judge Morin has since placed some protective restraints on the information DOJ is allowed to collect, the fact that the underlying prosecution conflates political and criminal activity means that no amount of safeguards can alter the chilling nature of the search.

Indeed, as we’ve already begun to see, the problem with these types of political witch hunts is that, once begun, they continue to expand and grow based on their own twisted logic. The illegal mass arrests of protesters, journalists, and legal observers during the inauguration produced the unconstitutional prosecutions of around 200 defendants. Those unconstitutional prosecutions have, in turn, produced a chilling search request.

No one knows what will come next or how far this will go, but anyone who cares about freedom of association, assembly, or speech should be deeply troubled.

Originally published by The Nation

IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT, REPUBLICANS VOTE TO GIVE LAWSUIT IMMUNITY TO BANKS

10/26/2017 – BY IAN MILLHISER (Occupy.com)

THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THINK PROGRESS

Tuesday night, as many Americans were preparing to go to bed, an evenly divided Senate voted to give broad lawsuit immunity to credit card companies, auto lenders, credit reporting companies like Equifax, and many other financial firms. The 50-50 tie in the Senate was broken by Vice President Mike Pence (R), and the House approved the lawsuit immunity measure. President Trump is expected to sign it.

The resolution passed by the Senate overrides a rule created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which prevents many financial firms from engaging in two abusive practices. The rule prohibited much of the financial industry from using “forced arbitration” agreements — a common tactic where a company refuses to do business with consumers who will not sign away their right to sue the company in a real court.

Consumers who sign away their right to sue must resolve any disputes with the company in a privatized arbitration system that favors corporate parties.

Additionally, the CFPB rule prohibited credit card companies and many other financial firms from requiring consumers to sign away their right to bring class action lawsuits, a form of litigation that ensures that companies that charge certain illegal fees to consumers face a consequence for their actions.

The vote is a major victory for the banking industry. Every Senate Democrat voted to preserve the CFPB rule, as did Republican Sens. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and John Kennedy (R-LA). All other Republicans voted to reverse the CFPB rule.

Tuesday evening’s vote also effectively strips the CFPB of much of its authority to rein in abusive arbitration clauses. Under the Congressional Review Act, CFPB cannot issue a rule “in substantially the same form” to one that is approved by Congress.

It’s worth noting that the 50 senators who supported the CFPB rule represent well over 30 million more people than the 50 senators who voted to rescind it. But, in the Devil’s arithmetic that governs the United States Senate, the will of the people plays only a minor role in determining who controls the Senate.

Originally published by Think Progress

WARNING OF “ECOLOGICAL ARMAGEDDON” AFTER DRAMATIC PLUNGE IN INSECT NUMBERS

10/23/2017 – BY DAMIAN CARRINGTON (Occupy.com)
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON THE GUARDIAN

The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

“The fact that the number of flying insects is decreasing at such a high rate in such a large area is an alarming discovery,” said Hans de Kroon, at Radboud University in the Netherlands and who led the new research.

“Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof. Dave Goulson of Sussex University, U.K., and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak.

Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

The fact that the samples were taken in protected areas makes the findings even more worrying, said Caspar Hallmann at Radboud University, also part of the research team: “All these areas are protected and most of them are well-managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred.”

The amateur entomologists also collected detailed weather measurements and recorded changes to the landscape or plant species in the reserves, but this could not explain the loss of the insects. “The weather might explain many of the fluctuations within the season and between the years, but it doesn’t explain the rapid downward trend,” said Martin Sorg from the Krefeld Entomological Society in Germany, who led the amateur entomologists.

Goulson said a likely explanation could be that the flying insects perish when they leave the nature reserves. “Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature,” he said. “But exactly what is causing their death is open to debate. It could be simply that there is no food for them or it could be, more specifically, exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

In September, a chief scientific adviser to the U.K. government warned that regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and that the “effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored”.

The scientists said further work is urgently needed to corroborate the new findings in other regions and to explore the issue in more detail. While most insects do fly, it may be that those that don’t, leave nature reserves less often and are faring better. It is also possible that smaller and larger insects are affected differently, and the German samples have all been preserved and will be further analysed.

In the meantime, said De Kroon: “We need to do less of the things that we know have a negative impact, such as the use of pesticides and the disappearance of farmland borders full of flowers.”

Lynn Dicks at the University of East Anglia, U.K., and not involved in the new research said the work was convincing. “It provides important new evidence for an alarming decline that many entomologists have suspected is occurring for some time.”

“If total flying insect biomass is genuinely declining at this rate – about 6% per year – it is extremely concerning,” she said. “Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot. They pollinate flowers: flies, moths and butterflies are as important as bees for many flowering plants, including some crops. They provide food for many animals – birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place generally.”

Another way of sampling insects – car windscreens – has often been anecdotally used to suggest a major decline, with people remembering many more bugs squashed on their windscreens in the past.

“I think that is real,” said Goulson. “I drove right across France and back this summer – just when you’d expect your windscreen to be splattered all over – and I literally never had to stop to clean the windscreen.”

Originally published by The Guardian

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