Wealth Inequality Worse in U.S. Than in Ancient Rome

Tim De Chant has an interesting post over at his Per Square Mile blog, discussing a recent academic study comparing levels of inequality in Ancient Rome with levels of inequality in today’s America. The scholars, using the Gini Index, found that “the top 1 percent of Roman society controlled 16 percent of the wealth, less than half of what America’s top 1 percent control.”

Over the last 30 years, wealth in the United States has been steadily concentrating in the upper economic echelons. Whereas the top 1 percent used to control a little over 30 percent of the wealth, they now control 40 percent. It’s a trend that was for decades brushed under the rug but is now on the tops of minds and at the tips of tongues.

Since too much inequality can foment revolt and instability, the CIA regularly updates statistics on income distribution for countries around the world, including the U.S. Between 1997 and 2007, inequality in the U.S. grew by almost 10 percent, making it more unequal than Russia, infamous for its powerful oligarchs. The U.S. is not faring well historically, either. Even the Roman Empire, a society built on conquest and slave labor, had a more equitable income distribution.

To determine the size of the Roman economy and the distribution of income, historians Walter Schiedel and Steven Friesen pored over papyri ledgers, previous scholarly estimates, imperial edicts, and Biblical passages. Their target was the state of the economy when the empire was at its population zenith, around 150 C.E. Schiedel and Friesen estimate that the top 1 percent of Roman society controlled 16 percent of the wealth, less than half of what America’s top 1 percent control.

… what we see as the glory of Rome is really just the rubble of the rich, built on the backs of poor farmers and laborers, traces of whom have all but vanished. It’s as though Rome’s 99 percent never existed. Which makes me wonder, what will future civilizations think of us?

Read the full post here.

2011 National Wildlife Photo Contest Winners Gallery

Bail-out Bombshell: Fed “Emergency” Bank Rescue Totaled $29 Trillion Over Three Years

Reprinted from Alternet (December 15, 2011)

While the 99% suffered hardship, a new study shows that the Fed propped up buddies in the banking industry and a vast shadow banking system far beyond what anyone has guessed.

By J. Andrew Felkerson

Speculation about the the Fed’s actions during the financial crisis has made headlines on and off again over the last several years.  The latest drama occurred on November 27 when Bloomberg published an article, “Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress,” which gives an account of the news agency’s struggle to bring to light the details of the Fed’s emergency programs. Bloomberg throws out some very large numbers, revealing that as of March 2009, the Fed lent, spent, or committed $7.77 trillion worth of aid to the financial system and that banks used the low interest rates charged on these loans to make an estimated $13 billion in income.

On December 6, the Fed struck back, issuing a four page unsigned memo intended to correct recent “egregious errors and mistakes” found in various reports of its emergency lending facilities.  The Fed argues that the “total credit outstanding under liquidity programs was never more than about $1.5 trillion.”  While Bloomberg wasn’t mentioned explicitly in the Fed memo, it was fairly clear to whom the response was directed.  The following day Bloomberg defended its reporting, and the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel came to the Fed’s defense, characterizing Bloomberg’s methodology as a “great story,” but ultimately not “true.”

All this may sound like controversy, but it’s little more than a tempest in a teacup.

Here’s the hurricane: In reality, no less than $29.616 trillion is the total emergency assistance provided by the Fed to foreign and domestic entities during the Global Financial Crisis. Let’s repeat that: $29 trillion. This astounding number is over twice U.S. gross domestic product, the nominal value of all goods and services produced for the year 2010.  This is the total of the bailout as calculated by Nicola Matthews and myself as part of the Ford Foundation project, A Research And Policy Dialogue Project On Improving Governance Of The Government Safety Net In Financial Crisis.  We will be presenting the results of our analysis in a series of papers published by the Levy Economics Institute, the first of which, “29,000,000,000,000: A Detailed Look at the Fed’s Bailout by Funding Facility and Recipient,” is already available here.

The results we have calculated are presented below, and it is important to note that the totals are cumulative and in billions of U.S. dollars. (The numbers in parentheses indicate amounts still outstanding as of November 10, 2011).

Facility Total Percent of Total
Term Auction Facility $3,818.41 12.89%
Central Bank Liquidity Swaps 10,057.4(1.96) 33.96
Single Tranche Open Market Operations 855 2.89
Term Securities Lending Facility and Term Options Program 2,005.7 6.77
Bear Stearns Bridge Loan 12.9 0.04
Maiden Lane I 28.82 (12.98) 0.10
Primary Dealer Credit Facility 8,950.99 30.22
Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility 217.45 0.73
Commercial Paper Funding Facility 737.07 2.49
Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility 71.09 (10.57) 0.24
Agency Mortgage-Backed Security Purchase Program 1,850.14(849.26) 6.25
AIG Revolving Credit Facility 140.316 0.47
AIG Securities Borrowing Facility 802.316 2.71
Maiden Lane II 19.5 (9.33) 0.07
Maiden Lane III 24.3 (18.15) 0.08
AIA/ ALICO (AIG) 25 0.08
Totals $29,616.4 100.0%


I want to be clear. These are the totals of Fed lending and asset purchases actually undertaken since the bail-out began. There is no double-counting. And we do not include any credit facilities created by the Fed unless they were actually used. These figures accurately reflect the cumulative totals over the approximately three years actually used by the Fed to prop-up domestic and international banks, shadow banks, central banks, and even some non-financial institutions.

The programs above constitute the crisis prevention machinery rolled out by the Fed to combat the worst financial panic since 1929. All the programs above were designed and implemented to target domestic financial and nonfinancial corporations or foreign central banks or markets, or both. Only one of the facilities, the Term Auction Facility, can be viewed as being consistent with the Fed’s mandate to protect the commercial banking system from systemic failure. The rest are the result of the increasing relevance of the “shadow banking” to our economy—and of the Fed’s attempt to rescue the shadow banking sector.

Shadow banks are highly leveraged financial institutions that perform functions historically relegated to the commercial banking system. It is important to note that these financial concerns do not have access to the conventional means of Fed support. Nor were they ever really regulated or supervised by the Fed. They engaged in extremely risky behavior that in large part led to the global financial crisis. And when it hit, the Fed spent and lent $29 trillion, much of it devoted to rescuing the shadow banking system.

Thus, we see a host of unconventional programs designed to aid these institutions rather than the Fed’s traditional patrons. The information used to calculate the totals above is freely available (thanks in large part to the valiant efforts of a group of lawmakers led by Senator Bernie Sanders) as the result of an amendment inserted into the Dodd Frank bill. Moreover, this information has been freely available since December 10, 2010 on the Fed’s website.

So why didn’t someone else already put the data together in this way?

Obviously, $29 trillion is much bigger than the previous estimates of $7.77 trillion (Bloomberg) or $1.5 trillion (the Fed and the Wall Street Journal). An in-depth account of each of the facilities above is a rather lengthy process as the Levy working paper attests; therefore we will only lay out the reason for the difference between the Bloomberg and Fed numbers. So, how is it that we arrive at such a number? The main difference in our analysis is the variables we identify as essential in understanding the Fed’s response. In our paper we report three measures that we view as essential to capturing the size and magnitude of the bailout. Each of the three measures deals exclusively with programs put into place by the Fed that transcend its conventional lender of last resort function [LOLR]. That is, we only include the emergency facilities the Fed created. We agree with the Fed that only facilities which were actually made operational should be considered in any account of the Fed’s actions. But we take the side of Bloomberg regarding the general lack of transparency by the Fed—the Fed fought tooth and nail to keep the details of its programs secret.

At any given moment inspection of the amount owed to the Fed resulting from nonconventional lender of last resort actions provides a reasonable account of what the Fed was doing in the period leading up to that time. However, looking at this number over time and in the context of the weekly amount lent provides insight into how the Fed’s efforts evolved over the run of the crisis. These two approaches to measurement (a “stock” or outstanding balance and a “flow” or cumulated amount spent and lent weekly) only provide us with details regarding the scope of the Fed’s bailout. To get a clear picture we need some account of the magnitude. We believe that this is captured by looking at the cumulative totals of all programs.

Perhaps the largest difference in our analysis is that we learned our money and banking theory from the late Hyman Minsky. He taught us that the modern economy is essentially financial, and as such, is prone to systemic financial crises that if left unchecked can lead to “bone crunching depressions”. Therefore it is essential to have a LOLR. Thus, any transaction between the Fed and the markets which is not part of conventional monetary operations, such as lending from the discount window or open market operations, represents an instance in which private markets were not able to or were unwilling to engage in the normal financial intermediation process. If at any point in time the private markets were capable (or willing) to carry out business as usual, Fed intervention would not have been required. Thus, we need to account for each extraordinary event, and the best way that we know to do this is by summing each instance–which results in a cumulative total of over $29 trillion dollars.

A figure as large as $29.616 trillion should not be taken lightly, but focus on the specific magnitude of the figure diverts our attention from a larger issue that is at stake: how should the LOLR responsibility to be discharged in the future? With unemployment remaining persistently high and millions continuing to lose their homes to foreclosure as the result of lost income from a poor economy or outright fraud in the mortgage lending and foreclosure process, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the ability of a single institution staffed by unelected officials to carry out such a targeted commitment of the obligations of the United States citizenry. Thanks to the actions of Senator Sanders and other individuals possessing the temerity to question the authority of the Fed we now have access to much of the data regarding what the Fed did during the recent crisis.

But we still need to go through the data from the past three years of bail-outs to answer the following questions: Who got funds from the Fed? How much did they get? And why did they get them? The Fed has not adequately explained why its emergency lending and asset purchases went on for so long and accumulated to such a large number.


J. Andrew Felkerson is a Interdisciplinary PhD student at the University of Missouri- Kansas City

OWS Nevada County Helps Forestall Imminent Eviction

Editor’s Note: Here’s an amazing press release from the Foreclosure Group of Occupy Wall Street Nevada County. It highlights the normally less-than-humane foreclosure process, softened in this case by the timely intervention of these good local citizens. Imagine a renter, a single mom with four kids, given less than 24 hours notice to pack-up and move out, all this just 10 days before Christmas in an increasingly bitter winter. Here’s a real-life happy ending, if only a temporary one.

Press Release
Thursday, December 15, 2011
By the Foreclosure Group of Occupy Wall Street Nevada County

Occupy Responds to Local Eviction

On the night of Wednesday, Dec 14th at 10pm, members of Occupy Nevada County’s Foreclosure Work Group responded to a distress call from homeowner Stephen Merryweather who was facing imminent eviction at 6am the next morning.

Well before the sun came up on Thursday, with snow falling lightly, the Occupy group arrived to meet the owner of the Nevada City property. The occupiers, not knowing entirely what to expect – not even that there was a renting family involved– arrived to meet the people they had come to comfort and assist, and hear their stories.

The renters, a woman and her four children ranging in age from four months to 17years of age, had received the eviction notice only the day before and had no time to prepare. Not having a car of their own, a friend brought a truck to carry their belongings. The baby was sick, the teenager was preparing for finals week, and the mother was overwhelmed, having been packing through the night. She did not know her rights as a tenant caught up in the foreclosure process, and the family waited outside, only moments from becoming homeless, during Winter in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas.

Having arrived through the rear of the property, the locksmith had already changed one lock before negotiations had begun. Two of the occupiers spoke with the sheriff and the Fannie Mae representative, from California Pacific Brokers, to ask for more time. With the circumstances as they were, the sheriff and the Fannie Mae representative were faced with the prospect of doing the job they had been sent to do – putting a family out of home, in the snow, with only ten days to go before Christmas.

The negotiations did not take long, and moments later, the Fannie Mae representative gave the news to the mother that the eviction would be postponed through the new year. The family and the homeowner were relieved to have a few more weeks to prepare, and grateful to all who were willing to step outside of the dehumanizing foreclosure process, and act out of compassion.

The Occupy Nevada County Foreclosure Working Group would appreciate further information about legal rights and community resources available to people facing foreclosure, and resulting eviction and homelessness. Please contact foreclosure@earth-justice.org or get involved at http://ga.occupywallstreetnc.org.

Foreclosure Group of Occupy Wall Street Nevada County

Is the Tea Party Helping Obama Win in 2012?

The logic is not difficult:

The Tea Party’s legislative successes have helped move the center of gravity of the Republican Party further to the right.

The slate of GOP candidates are pandering to this new righter-wing base. Tim Dickinson lays this out clearly and in detail in his latest Rolling Stone piece, “The GOP’s Crackpot Agenda:

Don’t go writing the president’s political obituary just yet: He may wind up being resurrected by the GOP itself. The Republican Party – dominated by hardliners still cocky after the electoral sweep of 2010 – has backed its entire slate of candidates into far-right corners on everything from the environment and immigration to taxation and economic austerity. Whether the GOP opts for Mitt Romney or an “anti-Mitt” is almost entirely beside the point. On the major policy issues of the day, there’s barely a ray of sunshine between any of the viable Republicans, not counting those who have committed the sin of libertarianism (Ron Paul) or moderation (Jon Huntsman). No matter who winds up with the nomination, it appears, Obama will face a candidate to the right of Barry Goldwater.

Take it from one of the most divisive figures in the history of GOP presidential politics: “Those people in the Republican primary have got to lay off,” the televangelist Pat Robertson warned recently. “They’re forcing their leaders, the front-runners, into positions that will mean they lose the general election.” Robertson knows fringe politics: In 1988, he ran for president on a platform that included abolishing the Department of Education and adopting a constitutional amendment to prohibit deficit spending. At the time, Robertson was dismissed as an unelectable candidate of the far right. Today, he would be somewhere to the left of Texas governor Rick Perry. And that way lies ruin: “You’ll appeal to the narrow base, and they’ll applaud the daylights out of what you’re saying,” Robertson cautioned. “And then you hit the general election and they say, ‘No way!’ They’ve got to stop this!”

But Republican candidates show no signs of moderating their positions. In fact, with the first primary contests rapidly approaching, all of the top contenders are tripping over themselves in a race to the far right. Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan kicked off a flat-tax bidding war: Perry is calling for an even more regressive rate of 20 percent, while Newt Gingrich advocates a flat tax of just 15 percent. Even Mitt Romney – who once blasted such proposals for enriching “fat cats” – now exclaims, “I love a flat tax!” The candidates have also lined up behind a host of other extremist positions: waging war with Iran, slashing or privatizing benefits like Social Security, extending constitutional rights to zygotes, eliminating restrictions on Big Oil and other deadly polluters, and freeing up Wall Street to return to the lawlessness that buzzsawed the global economy. Individual candidates have embellished this partywide radicalism with wingnuttery all their own: Gingrich calls child labor laws “truly stupid,” Perry likens Social Security to “a bad disease,” and Romney wants to privatize unemployment insurance.

To many GOP stalwarts, conditions today seem ripe for a repeat, not of the 1968 election of Richard Nixon, but of the setback the party experienced four years earlier, when embattled incumbent Lyndon Johnson won re-election in a landslide over Republican hardliner Goldwater. “I can’t imagine that we expect – even with the economic situation the way it is – anything but a Goldwater-like drubbing if we persist with these guys,” says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. “Even Romney is in many ways unelectable. He’s been a hardliner during the primary on key issues – and then he’s going to do this dance where he suddenly shifts to the middle and is a centrist in the general election? He can do that – but Obama will trounce him.”

Read Tim Dickinson’s complete article here.

Chris Hayes Summarizes the Foreclosure Crisis

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Feds Falsely Censor Popular Blog For Over A Year, Deny All Due Process, Hide All Details

Reprinted from Techdirt (December 8, 2011)

By Mike Masnick

from the copyright-as-censorship department

Imagine if the US government, with no notice or warning, raided a small but popular magazine’s offices over a Thanksgiving weekend, seized the company’s printing presses, and told the world that the magazine was a criminal enterprise with a giant banner on their building. Then imagine that it never arrested anyone, never let a trial happen, and filed everything about the case under seal, not even letting the magazine’s lawyers talk to the judge presiding over the case. And it continued to deny any due process at all for over a year, before finally just handing everything back to the magazine and pretending nothing happened. I expect most people would be outraged. I expect that nearly all of you would say that’s a classic case of prior restraint, a massive First Amendment violation, and exactly the kind of thing that does not, or should not, happen in the United States.

But, in a story that’s been in the making for over a year, and which we’re exposing to the public for the first time now, this is exactly the scenario that has played out over the past year — with the only difference being that, rather than “a printing press” and a “magazine,” the story involved “a domain” and a “blog.”

There are so many things about this story that are crazy, it’s difficult to know where to start, so let’s give the most important point first: The US government has effectively admitted that it totally screwed up and falsely seized & censored a non-infringing domain of a popular blog, having falsely claimed that it was taking part in criminal copyright infringement. Then, after trying to hide behind a totally secretive court process with absolutely no due process whatsoever (in fact, not even serving papers on the lawyer for the site or providing timely notifications — or providing any documents at all), for over a year, the government has finally realized it couldn’t hide any more and has given up, and returned the domain name to its original owner. If you ever wanted to understand why ICE’s domain seizures violate the law — and why SOPA and PROTECT IP are almost certainly unconstitutional — look no further than what happened in this case.

Okay, now some details. First, remember Dajaz1.com? It was one of the sites seized over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend back in 2010 — a little over a year ago. Those seizures struck us as particularly interesting, because among the sites seized were a bunch of hip hop blogs, including a few that were highly ranked on Vibe’s list of the top hip hop blogs. These weren’t the kinds of things anyone would expect, when supporters of these domain seizures and laws like SOPA and PROTECT IP talk of “rogue sites.” Blogs would have lots of protected speech, and in the hip hop community these blogs, in particular, were like the new radio. Artists routinely leaked their works directly to these sites in order to promote their albums. We even pointed to a few cases of stars like Kanye West and Diddy tweeting links to some of the seized domains in the past.

In fact, as the details came out, it became clear that ICE and the Justice Department were inway over their heads. ICE’s “investigation” was done by a technically inept recent college grad, who didn’t even seem to understand the basics of the technology. But it didn’t stop him from going to a judge and asking for a site to be completely censored with no due process.

The Dajaz1 case became particularly interesting to us, after we saw evidence showing that the songs that ICE used in its affidavit as “evidence” of criminal copyright infringement were songs sent by representatives of the copyright holder with the request that the site publicize the works — in one case, even coming from a VP at a major music label. Even worse, about the only evidence that ICE had that these songs were infringing was the word of the “VP of Anti-Piracy Legal Affairs for the RIAA,” Carlos Linares, who was simply not in a position to know if the songs were infringing or authorized. In fact, one of the songs involved an artist not even represented by an RIAA label, and Linares clearly had absolutely no right to speak on behalf of that artist.

Despite all of this, the government simply seized the domain, put up a big scary warning graphic on the site, suggesting its operators were criminals, and then refused to comment at all about the case. Defenders of the seizures insisted that this was all perfectly legal and nothing to be worried about. They promised us that the government had every right to do this and plenty of additional evidence to back up its claims. They promised us that the government would allow for plenty of due process within a reasonable amount of time. They also insisted that, after hearing nothing happening in the case for many months, it meant that no attempt to object to the seizure had occurred. Turns out… none of that was true.

What happened next is a story that should never happen in the US. It’s like something out of Kafka or the movie Brazil, but it should never have happened under the US Constitution. First, you have to understand the two separate processes: there’s seizure and then there’s forfeiture. Under the seizure laws, the government has 60 days from seizure to “notify” those whose property it seized (imagine having the government swoop in and take away your property, and not even being told why for two whole months). Once notified, the property owner has 35 days to file a claim to request the return of the property. If that doesn’t happen, the government can effectively just keep the property, so it tends to rely on intimidation and threats towards anyone who indicates plans to ask for their property back (usually in the form of threatening to file charges). However, if such a claim is filed, the government then has 90 days to start the full “forfeiture” process, which would allow the government to keep the seized property and never have to give it back. If the claim to return the property is filed and the government does not file for forfeiture, it is required to return the property. Thus seizures are supposedly used as a temporary part of the investigation, to stop criminal activity or to prevent the destruction of evidence. However, that’s not how things always play out in real life.

As we’d heard with a number of domain names that had been seized, the government began stalling like mad when contacted by representatives for domain holders seeking to get their domains back. ICE even flat out lied to the public, stating that no one was challenging the seizures, when it knew full well that some sites were, in fact, challenging. Out of that came theRojadirecta case, but what of Dajaz1?

After continuing to stall and refusing to respond to Dajaz1’s filing requesting the domain be returned, the government told Dajaz1’s lawyer, Andrew P. Bridges, that it would begin forfeiture procedures (as required by law if it wanted to keep the domain). Bridges made clear that Dajaz1 would challenge the forfeiture procedure and seek to get the domain name back at that time. Then, the deadline for the government to file for forfeiture came and went and nothing apparently happened. Absolutely nothing. Bridges contacted the government to ask what was going on, and was told that the government had received an extension from the court. Bridges, quite reasonably, asked how that was possible without him, as counsel for the site, being informed of it or given a chance to make the case for why such an extension was improper.

He also asked for a copy of the the court’s order allowing the extension. The government told him no and that the extension was filed under seal and could not be released, even in redacted form.

He asked for the motion papers asking for the extension. The government told him no and that the papers were filed under seal and could not be released, even in redacted form.

He again asked whether he would be notified about further filings for extensions. The government told him no.

He then asked the US attorney to inform the court that, if the government made another request for an extension, the domain owner opposed the extension and would like the opportunity to be heard. The government would not agree.

And file further extensions the government did. Repeatedly. Or, at least that’s what Bridges was told. He sent someone to investigate the docket at the court, but the docket itself was secret, meaning there was no record of any of this available.

The government was required to file for forfeiture by May. The initial (supposed) secret extension was until July. Then it got another one that went until September. And then another one until November… or so the government said. When Bridges asked the government for some proof that it had actually obtained the extensions in question, the government attorney told Bridges that he would just have “trust” him.

Finally, the government decided that it would not file a forfeiture complaint — because there was no probable cause — and it let the last (supposed) extension expire. Only after Bridges asked again for the status of the domain did the government indicate that it would return the domain to its owner — something that finally happened today. Dajaz1.com is finally back in the hands of its rightful owner. This is really quite incredible, considering the “rush” with which it seized these domain names, claiming the urgency in stopping a crime in progress. But, of course, after realizing that it had no evidence to suggest a crime was ever in progress – there was absolutely no urgency to correct the error.

The level of secrecy in this case makes it sound like a terrorist investigation, not the censorship of a popular music blog. Normally, when there’s a lawsuit, the docket is available on PACER. Even in cases where things are filed under seal or everything is redacted, there’s at least a placeholder for them in PACER. This case does not exist anywhere that anyone can find. The docket was apparently kept hidden in a judge’s office in Los Angeles the whole time. No one knew this was going on, other than the US Attorney and the representatives of Dajaz1 (who still never saw the docket or the extension orders).

Let’s just take stock here for a second. We have the government clearly censoring free speech in the form of a blog that discussed the music world and was widely recognized for its influence in promoting new acts. The government seized the blog with no adversarial hearing and no initial due process. Then, rather than actually provide some sort of belated due process in the form of an adversarial hearing, it continued to deny any and all due process by secretly (even to Dajaz1’s own lawyer) extending the seizure without any way to challenge those extensions. All in all, the government completely censored a popular web site for over a year, when it had no real evidence for probable cause of infringement, as it had falsely claimed in the original rubber stamped affidavit. As we noted in reviewing the affidavit, the case had been put together by folks who clearly did not understand the law, the site or the music space. But to then double down on that and continue to hold the domain for a year in secret? That just compounds the error and takes it to new extremes.

This was flat out censorship for no reason, for an entire year, by the US government… Everyone should be horrified by this. It also shows what a joke the claims of supporters are that since “a judge reviewed the affidavit,” there’s due process. Without the other party, there is no real due process. Not only that, but the government made sure, at every step of the way, that the other party was not heard. That’s horrifying. It wasn’t just an act of omission in leaving out the party, but actively preventing the party from being heard.

And yet the feds and private companies continue to say we should just “trust them” to get these kinds of things right? Even more bizarre, they want to expand their ability to do this incontestable censorship through laws like PROTECT IP and SOPA? If anything, this massive screwup on the part of ICE, the Justice Department and the RIAA should lead us to go in the other direction. ICE and the DOJ should be investigated and reprimanded, if not directly penalized, for clear First Amendment violations, while the ICE program for seizing domains should be dismantled. John Morton, who led ICE’s domain seizure program, should tender his resignation or be fired. Victoria Espinel, the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, who defended these seizures to Congress, should issue a public apology, and begin a process to revamp the government’s role in such enforcement actions (and consider tendering her resignation as well). The federal government should issue a huge apology to the operators of Dajaz1 and make it clear that it will no longer take such drastic censorship actions. The RIAA should be investigated for providing claims about the site that were not true, and which it had no right to make.

If Congress needs to do anything, it should be to investigate the lawless, unconstitutional, cowboy censorship and blocking of due process by both Homeland Security and the Justice Department. The last thing it should be doing is allowing more such actions. This whole thing has been a disgrace by the US government, starting with a bogus seizure, improper and illegal censorship, followed by denial of due process and unnecessary secrecy. Dajaz1 is currently reviewing its options in terms of whether it can or should take further action as a result of this, but at least it has its domain back. And people wonder why we’re so concerned about these seizures and new proposals to further such censorship.


Mike Masnick is the founder and CEO of Floor64 and editor of the Techdirt blog. He can be found on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mmasnick.

Hal Le Lu Jah !

“My Occupy LA Arrest”

Reprinted from http://myoccupylaarrest.blogspot.com/ (December 6, 2011)

By Patrick Meighan

My name is Patrick Meighan, and I’m a husband, a father, a writer on the Fox animated sitcom “Family Guy”, and a member of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica.

I was arrested at about 1 a.m. Wednesday morning with 291 other people at Occupy LA. I was sitting in City Hall Park with a pillow, a blanket, and a copy of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Being Peace” when 1,400 heavily-armed LAPD officers in paramilitary SWAT gear streamed in. I was in a group of about 50 peaceful protestors who sat Indian-style, arms interlocked, around a tent (the symbolic image of the Occupy movement). The LAPD officers encircled us, weapons drawn, while we chanted “We Are Peaceful” and “We Are Nonviolent” and “Join Us.”

As we sat there, encircled, a separate team of LAPD officers used knives to slice open every personal tent in the park. They forcibly removed anyone sleeping inside, and then yanked out and destroyed any personal property inside those tents, scattering the contents across the park. They then did the same with the communal property of the Occupy LA movement. For example, I watched as the LAPD destroyed a pop-up canopy tent that, until that moment, had been serving as Occupy LA’s First Aid and Wellness tent, in which volunteer health professionals gave free medical care to absolutely anyone who requested it. As it happens, my family had personally contributed that exact canopy tent to Occupy LA, at a cost of several hundred of my family’s dollars. As I watched, the LAPD sliced that canopy tent to shreds, broke the telescoping poles into pieces and scattered the detritus across the park. Note that these were the objects described in subsequent mainstream press reports as “30 tons of garbage” that was “abandoned” by Occupy LA: personal property forcibly stolen from us, destroyed in front of our eyes and then left for maintenance workers to dispose of while we were sent to prison.

When the LAPD finally began arresting those of us interlocked around the symbolic tent, we were all ordered by the LAPD to unlink from each other (in order to facilitate the arrests). Each seated, nonviolent protester beside me who refused to cooperate by unlinking his arms had the following done to him: an LAPD officer would forcibly extend the protestor’s legs, grab his left foot, twist it all the way around and then stomp his boot on the insole, pinning the protestor’s left foot to the pavement, twisted backwards. Then the LAPD officer would grab the protestor’s right foot and twist it all the way the other direction until the non-violent protestor, in incredible agony, would shriek in pain and unlink from his neighbor.

It was horrible to watch, and apparently designed to terrorize the rest of us. At least I was sufficiently terrorized. I unlinked my arms voluntarily and informed the LAPD officers that I would go peacefully and cooperatively. I stood as instructed, and then I had my arms wrenched behind my back, and an officer hyperextended my wrists into my inner arms. It was super violent, it hurt really really bad, and he was doing it on purpose. When I involuntarily recoiled from the pain, the LAPD officer threw me face-first to the pavement. He had my hands behind my back, so I landed right on my face. The officer dropped with his knee on my back and ground my face into the pavement. It really, really hurt and my face started bleeding and I was very scared. I begged for mercy and I promised that I was honestly not resisting and would not resist.

My hands were then zipcuffed very tightly behind my back, where they turned blue. I am now suffering nerve damage in my right thumb and palm.

I was put on a paddywagon with other nonviolent protestors and taken to a parking garage in Parker Center. They forced us to kneel (and sit–SEE UPDATE) on the hard pavement of that parking garage for seven straight hours with our hands still tightly zipcuffed behind our backs. Some began to pass out. One man rolled to the ground and vomited for a long, long time before falling unconscious. The LAPD officers watched and did nothing.

At 9 a.m. we were finally taken from the pavement into the station to be processed. The charge was sitting in the park after the police said not to. It’s a misdemeanor. Almost always, for a misdemeanor, the police just give you a ticket and let you go. It costs you a couple hundred dollars. Apparently, that’s what happened with most every other misdemeanor arrest in LA that day.

With us Occupy LA protestors, however, they set bail at $5,000 and booked us into jail. Almost none of the protesters could afford to bail themselves out. I’m lucky and I could afford it, except the LAPD spent all day refusing to actually *accept* the bail they set. If you were an accused murderer or a rapist in LAPD custody that day, you could bail yourself right out and be back on the street, no problem. But if you were a nonviolent Occupy LA protestor with bail money in hand, you were held long into the following morning, with absolutely no access to a lawyer.

I spent most of my day and night crammed into an eight-man jail cell, along with sixteen other Occupy LA protesters. My sleeping spot was on the floor next to the toilet.

Finally, at 2:30 the next morning, after twenty-five hours in custody, I was released on bail. But there were at least 200 Occupy LA protestors who couldn’t afford the bail. The LAPD chose to keep those peaceful, non-violent protesters in prison for two full days… the absolute legal maximum that the LAPD is allowed to detain someone on misdemeanor charges.

As a reminder, Antonio Villaraigosa has referred to all of this as “the LAPD’s finest hour.”

So that’s what happened to the 292 women and men were arrested last Wednesday. Now let’s talk about a man who was not arrested last Wednesday. He is former Citigroup CEO Charles Prince. Under Charles Prince, Citigroup was guilty of massive, coordinated securities fraud.

Citigroup spent years intentionally buying up every bad mortgage loan it could find, creating bad securities out of those bad loans and then selling shares in those bad securities to duped investors. And then they sometimes secretly bet *against* their *own* bad securities to make even more money. For one such bad Citigroup security, Citigroup executives were internally calling it, quote, “a collection of dogshit”. To investors, however, they called it, quote, “an attractive investment rigorously selected by an independent investment adviser”.

This is fraud, and it’s a felony, and the Charles Princes of the world spent several years doing it again and again: knowingly writing bad mortgages, and then packaging them into fraudulent securities which they then sold to suckers and then repeating the process. This is a big part of why your property values went up so fast. But then the bubble burst, and that’s why our economy is now shattered for a generation, and it’s also why your home is now underwater. Or at least mine is.

Anyway, if your retirement fund lost a decade’s-worth of gains overnight, this is why.

If your son’s middle school has added furlough days because the school district can’t afford to keep its doors open for a full school year, this is why.

If your daughter has come out of college with a degree only to discover that there are no jobs for her, this is why.

But back to Charles Prince. For his four years of in charge of massive, repeated fraud at Citigroup, he received fifty-three million dollars in salary and also received another ninety-four million dollars in stock holdings. What Charles Prince has *not* received is a pair of zipcuffs. The nerves in his thumb are fine. No cop has thrown Charles Prince into the pavement, face-first. Each and every peaceful, nonviolent Occupy LA protester arrested last week has has spent more time sleeping on a jail floor than every single Charles Prince on Wall Street, combined.

The more I think about that, the madder I get. What does it say about our country that nonviolent protesters are given the bottom of a police boot while those who steal hundreds of billions, do trillions worth of damage to our economy and shatter our social fabric for a generation are not only spared the zipcuffs but showered with rewards?

In any event, believe it or not, I’m really not angry that I got arrested. I chose to get arrested. And I’m not even angry that the mayor and the LAPD decided to give non-violent protestors like me a little extra shiv in jail (although I’m not especially grateful for it either).

I’m just really angry that every single Charles Prince wasn’t in jail with me.

Thank you for letting me share that anger with you today.

Patrick Meighan

——-

UPDATE (12/9/11): Hey all, thank you for the nice thoughts from many folks who have read this account. One necessary clarification about the 7 hours spent by the roughly 100-of-us in the Parker Center parking garage immediately following our arrest: though we were indeed forced to kneel on that parking garage pavement for an extended period and though we did in fact have our hands tightly zipcuffed behind our backs for that entire seven-hour stretch on the pavement, and though we were barred from standing and moving for that time period, the LAPD officers, in point of fact, did allow us to shift ourselves out of the kneeling position onto our butt-cheeks, our side-legs, etc., as necessary. At the very least, when we began to do so, they did not stop us. I apologize for implying otherwise.


Patrick Meighan is a father, a husband, a Green, a writer for Family Guy, a Unitarian Universalist, and a Culver Citizen.

Why is the U.S. Trying to Block Climate Progress in Durban?

Reprinted from Yes! Magazine (December 8, 2011)

World leaders are stalling on climate action at the 2011 Climate Summit in Durban, South Africa. What needs to happen to get things moving and make a change before it’s too late?

By Jamie Henn

The U.N. climate talks desperately need a crisis. For the last 10 days, negotiations here in Durban, South Africa, have made little progress on the fundamental challenge these talks were set up to confront: how the world can come together to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Instead, the pace of negotiations has been set by the one country the rest of the world should be turning their back on: the United States.

The U.S. never signed the Kyoto Protocol, the only legally binding international agreement designed to reduce emissions, but it is allowed to take part in the negotiations in a separate track dedicated to securing a long-term climate agreement. After President Obama’s election, the international community had high hopes the new administration would bring a new sense of ambition and commitment to talks.

Instead, the only thing the U.S. brought to the table was a wrecking ball. Rather than standing out of the way and letting the rest of the world get on with setting up an international architecture to facilitate cutting emissions, stopping deforestation, and investing in renewable energy, the U.S. has spent the years since Copenhagen attempting to systemically dismantle the U.N. process.

Highest on the U.S. hit list is the Kyoto Protocol, an imperfect treaty (thanks in large part to U.S. recalcitrance), but currently the best instrument in the global climate toolbox. Next on the list is the very idea of legally binding commitments—the U.S. would prefer a “pledge and review” world where countries make their own voluntary commitments and then report out on what they’ve decided.

Here in Durban, however, the U.S. has taken on an even more insidious role by pushing a proposal that the international community adopt a “mandate” to negotiate a new climate treaty that will take effect in—wait for it—2020.

This isn’t just a delay, it’s a death sentence. Scientists have stated over and over that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, emissions must peak by 2015 or 2020 at the absolute latest. (For a closer look at the scientific reasoning, read David Roberts.)

It is especially callous and cold-hearted for the U.S. to be pushing the 2020 timeline here in Durban. Africa is already seeing the devastating impacts of the climate crisis, from the deadly drought still ravaging the Horn of Africa to terrible flooding, including here in Durban where heavy rains killed at least eight people just last week.

But instead of being recognized as yet another delay tactic from the world’s biggest historical emitter, the 2020 timeline seems to be gaining traction here at the talks. Brazil and India have vaguely expressed support, China has made cryptic comments about the proposal, and the European Union has yet to stand up clearly and strongly against the delay. If the talks here in Durban are allowed to simply stumble to the closing gavel, there’s a chance that the U.S. proposal could become the new mandate for the U.N. climate talks.

It’s time for a crisis moment. The world has successfully stood up to the United States at the U.N. climate talks before. On the final day of the talks in Bali in 2007, delegates actively booed Bush administration negotiators over their repeated attempts to hold up progress. Finally, the delegate from Papua New Guinea challenged the U.S.: “If you’re not willing to lead, get out of the way.” Minutes later, the U.S. negotiators relented and allowed a deal to move forward.

Civil society needs to do everything we can to create a similar crisis moment here in Durban. If African nations stand up to the U.S. and are backed up by Brazil, India, and the E.U., there’s a chance that the world can save Kyoto, beat back the 2020 delay, and set a mandate for new agreements within the next year or by 2015 at the latest.

The world stood up to the U.S. in Bali, it can do it again in Durban. In the words of a South African freedom-fighter-turned-president, “It’s always impossible until it’s done.”


Jamie Henn co-founded 350.org, where he serves as Communications Director and East Asia Coordinator.

Interested?

  • Climate Action: What Will it Take to Avert Disastrous Climate Change?
    We thought we had 20, 30, 50 years to take on the climate crisis. We were wrong. The scary science, smart policies, and critical actions that could still avert disaster.
  • After Copenhagen: How Can We Move Forward?
    Copenhagen brought poor nations and grassroots groups into partnership. Our chances of preventing climate catastrophe now rest on the ability of this new alliance to communicate to the world’s richest and most powerful peoples that the emissions emergency is, above all things, a crisis of justice.

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