Saturday, October 22, 2011

Outrage and the Machine

MAVERICK CHRONICLES, 10/22/2011: Journalists Targeted at Occupy Protests, Blood Lust - American Style, and Regime Change in Burlington. Plus, a song from the streets.

As the occupy movement faces the arrival of colder weather, let’s begin with a warm rendition of Woody Guthrie’s classic, “This Land is Our Land,” sung by Burlington area musicians and activists last weekend in City Hall Park as they prepared to hold a General Assembly and march in solidarity with protesters in communities across the country and around the world.

This Land Is Our Land by Ronin Wolfe
Despite positive press in recent weeks, it’s been rough for some people involved with this rebellion – including journalists. In New York, the NYPD claims the right to decide who does and doesn’t qualify as a reporter. As a consequence, at least three journalists have been arrested. Two others have been assaulted while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Since the protests began in late September, reporters arrested for not having a press card include John Farley (MetroFocus magazine), Natasha Lennard (NYT freelancer), and Kristen Gwynne (Alternet). Those covering the demos must meet certain requirements to get press credentials from the police. The standards include having published or broadcasted breaking news at least six times in the past year. It’s an arbitrary bar, impossible to honestly enforce.
The requirements leave out most new journalists, reporters who don't normally cover breaking news and media workers with online publications that may not be considered “official” media, according to the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
Journalism advocacy groups go farther, objecting to the idea that the police department should be issuing press cards in the first place. Meanwhile, journalists have been assaulted while trying to report. Fox 5 Cameraman Roy Isen was pepper sprayed, while his colleague, reporter Dick Brennan, was hit by a police baton, according to Reporters without Frontiers. The police said the assaults were "inadvertent."

Occupy Burlington's General Assembly gathers in the park.
And what have reporters seen? Among other things, they’ve witnessed hundreds of people being arrested, police beating and pepper spraying peaceful protesters. In fact, many of those arrested were filming or photographing, according to one of the detained journalists. The NYPD has denied that those with cameras are being singled out.

More troubling news: emails containing the words "Occupy Wall Street" were blocked in Yahoo's email service last week, says ThinkProgress. According to "Fast Company," Yahoo admitted that Occupy protest-related emails were not getting through, but claimed the problem was "not intentional" and would be resolved.  For More:  Journalists covering Occupy Wall Streetdetained, beaten and pepper sprayed  

Blood Lust – American Style

"He'll bring them death and they'll love him for it."
On Caesar and the mob, in Ridley Scott's Gladiator 

No, not the Republican audiences that have cheered for Rick Perry’s record on executions or the political outliers who think individual responsibility means sick people should be left to die. They are certainly out there. But let’s focus for just a moment on the relish with which the death of Muammar Gaddafi was greeted last week. Shouldn’t it have made people just a little squeamish?  In TV clips, the ousted dictator was shown bleeding, then dumped in the back of a truck just before being killed. The young executioner was initially hailed as a hero and TV comedians had a field day.

The response was similar after Osama bi Laden and Anwar al-Awlak were killed.  Shot in the face? Great! Predator Drone strike? Boo-yah.

With that background, it feels like the right time to mention the #3 story on the latest Project Censored list: Obama Authorizes InternationalAssassination Campaign.

Gaddafi in better times.
The current administration has quietly put into practice an “incomplete idea” left over from the Bush II era: a presidential international assassination program. Court documents, evidence offered by Human Rights Watch and a special UN report all suggest the same thing. US citizens suspected of encouraging “terror” have been put on “death lists.”

Obama’s Director of National Intelligence has told a Congressional hearing that the program, including the death list, is within the rights of the Executive Branch and doesn’t need to be revealed.  The CIA has so far murdered at least two people under the program. When the policy was challenged in a New York City court, the judge refused to rule.  Instead, he said “there are circumstances in which the executive’s decision to kill US citizens overseas is constitutionally committed to the political branches and judicially unreviewable.”

So, are we now OK with murdering Americans without the slightest due process – if they’re not in the country at the time and they meet the government’s criteria? Sure looks like it. Given that, public cheering for the assassination of strangely dressed, quirky foreign leaders or dark, bearded “extremists” accused of treason or human rights crimes– or maybe just considered a potential threat – is not a stretch.  

But let’s be clear: We DO have at least one death panel, a secret group of senior government officials. Once you’re on their list, apparently there is no way off – except in a body bag. Yet the public response to this new approach to law enforcement has been much like a Death Match version of American Idol. Remember Schwarzenegger’s movie, The Running Man. We’re almost there.

Regime Change in Burlington?

Tim Ashe
On a sunnier note, the Burlington race for mayor is heating up. No one except Bob Kiss, who has gone from Progressive Party savior to scapegoat during the last few years, knows what he will do. But Tim Ashe, his one-time ally on the City Council, isn’t waiting. Last week he became the fourth announced Democratic candidate who wants to replace the mayor. I’ve begun interviewing the hopefuls for VTDigger, starting with Ashe, who wants to build a fusion movement of Democrats and Progressives. But first he has to win the Democratic caucus in November. That event promises to be a memorable moment in local political history.

The future of Burlington Telecom is already one of the big issues of the campaign.  In the last seven years, the municipal-owned utility has brought its own TV, telephone and high speed Internet service to much of the city, creating more competition in an industry prone to monopoly. But the Kiss administration also borrowed $16.9 million from the city treasury and failed to pay it back within the required two months.

The mayor and his chief administrative officer Jonathan Leopold kept the debt secret until after the March 2009 elections that gave Kiss a second term. In 2010, BT was challenged by the Department of Public Service on behalf of consumers, as well as Comcast, the main competitor. The Public Service Board said that the city had violated four conditions of its license. Burlington is also being sued by Citibank for fraud and breach of contract, based on a $33.4 million lease purchase deal for equipment.

The city must find a way to repay the borrowed money and "cure" its other violations. If not, BT’s license could be revoked. Last week, the City Council came up with a partial solution: drop the  condition that requires Burlington Telecom to build a system that reaches every city resident. If you’re still interested at this point, here is a more detailed report: City Council wants PSB to drop Burlington Telecom build-out rule

The mayoral campaign is already raising thorny questions. For example, could the People’s Republic, birthplace of Vermont’s progressive movement, be heading for a privatized future? Burlington government runs several huge enterprises, but may not be prepared for the challenges of the future.  Ownership of BT is in jeopardy, Republican candidate for mayor Kurt Wright wants to sell the Electric Department, and public-private partnerships are the rage (unless you’re a military contractor).

Or how about this: Everyone says the political system isn’t working, here or anywhere else. But the Queen City may not be ready to go post-partisan quite yet. Tim Ashe’s fusion campaign is based on uniting people in two Parties. But some say Parties are precisely the problem, and Burlington would be better off without partisan elections. Others say it’s about civility, money or special interests. But a new social media-driven politics may also be emerging. So, are Parties over, or what?

These are some of the questions I hope to explore in the coming months. But I’ve already said too much. Until the next time… 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Media: This Revolution IS Being Televised

With capitalism in crisis and the US Right backing policies that will deepen inequality, even some of the rich see the need for change – if only to preserve the profit-making system. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) looks at recent protest coverage, concluding that much of it has been significant and sustained.  

Media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests started out exactly as one might expect. There was little coverage at first (FAIR Alert, 9/23/11), and as it expanded, much of it consisted of snide dismissals of demonstrators' ignorance, hygiene and so on.

But then something happened. Following incidents of police abuse, including the unprovoked pepper-spraying of several demonstrators on September 24, media coverage began to pick up (FAIR Activism Update, 9/29/11). NPR executive editor Dick Meyer explained that the protests were not covered early on because they "did not involve large numbers of people, prominent people, a great disruption or an especially clear objective." But within a day or so, NPR was covering the protests, as was the rest of the media.

Soon the actions were being treated as front-page, top-of-the-newscast material. Consider this Brian Williams introduction at the top of the October 5 NBC Nightly News:

We begin tonight with what has become by any measure a pretty massive protest movement. While it goes by the official name Occupy Wall Street, it has spread steadily and far beyond Wall Street, and it could well turn out to be the protest of this current era. The lyric from 45 years ago in the Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth" could also describe this current movement right now. Once again, there is something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear, but it encompasses a lot of things: anger, frustration, disenfranchisement, income disparity, unaccountability and general upheaval and dissatisfaction.

USA Today editorial (10/12/11) was headlined "Five Good Reasons Why Wall Street Breeds Protesters." A New York Times editorial (10/9/11) took on the "chattering classes" who complained that Occupy Wall Street lacked a clear message or specific proposals: "The message--and the solutions--should be obvious to anyone who has been paying attention since the economy went into a recession that continues to sock the middle class while the rich have recovered and prospered. The problem is that no one in Washington has been listening."

This is not to suggest, of course, that coverage is uniformly positive or respectful. October 15 saw massive demonstrations around the world, which made it onto the front page of the next day's Washington Post -- in the form of a lower right-hand corner blurb approximately one column inch long, directing people to page A20 to find news about protests in "more than 900 cities in Europe, Africa and Asia."

Some coverage was absurd. Reuters (10/13/11) published a disgraceful piece attempting to link the protests to billionaire George Soros -- a false conspiracy one would expect from talk radio host and former Fox News star Glenn Beck (FAIR Blog, 10/13/11).

Of course, actual Fox personalities were plenty busy. Host Bill O'Reilly quipped (10/14/11), "Do we have all kinds of crackheads down there?" He later added that the Wall Street protest is "dirty and filthy. There's rats running all over. There's dope all over the place. They're having sex outside at night and all of this stuff." Fox Business reporter Charles Gasparino declared (10/17/11): "It's not just protest Wall Street. It's protest Wall Street and it's an embrace of Communism and there is no doubt about it."

"Starbucks-sipping, Levi's-clad, iPhone-clutching protesters denounce corporate America even as they weep for Steve Jobs," Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer explained (10/14/11). Krauthammer maligned the protesters as "indigant indolents saddled with their $50,000 student loans and English degrees" whose policy proposal boils down to "Eat the rich."

In the New York Times (10/17/11), former executive editor Bill Keller devoted a column about the "good news" happening around in the world--none of which has to do with the global movement against inequality: "Bored by the soggy sleep-ins and warmed-over anarchism of Occupy Wall Street?" Keller asks, before cheering Slovakia's position on European Union bailout, which has done more "than the cumulative protests of Occupy Wall Street have done in a month of poster-waving." A column by the Times' David Brooks (10/11/11) dismissed the protesters as "Milquetoast Radicals."

But overall the protests have received significant and sustained media attention. This is surprising, given corporate media's history of marginalizing or belittling progressive protest movements (Extra!, 7-8/007-8/057/11).

So why are things different this time around?

From the very start, activists were criticizing the media for paying little attention to the demonstrations (FAIR Action Alert, 9/23/11). This likely had some impact, as did the persistence of certain media figures--Current TV's Keith Olbermann and MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell among them--in essentially shaming the corporate media into paying more attention.

One of the core complaints--that the media could hardly justify silence on OWS, given their keen interest in any Tea Party activism (Extra! 12/099/10) -- probably weighed on the minds of some editors and producers as well.

There is a tendency among elite reporters to view politics as largely a contest between the two major political parties. In that light, OWS could be considered newsworthy as a political opportunity for an embattled Democratic president and his party. As the Tea Party providing a jolt of enthusiasm and energy to the Republican Party, pundits are wondering if OWS will do the same for the other side.

Political reporters, ideology aside, do seem to crave a certain type of balance. As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank explained (10/11/11), "A revived populist movement could be a crucial counterweight to the Tea Party, restoring some balance to a political system that has tilted heavily to the right."

But media have a hard time understanding a movement that does not appear to want to associate its activism with the political establishment. Much of the early criticism about the movement's lack of a "message" could be interpreted as elite confusion over political activism that does not seek to work the normal levers of power. Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum (10/18/11) argued that the current demonstrations resemble earlier protests against corporate globalization "in their lack of focus, in their inchoate nature, and above all in their refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions."

She added: "
Democracy requires institutions, elections, political parties, rules, laws, a judiciary and many unglamorous, time-consuming activities, none of which are nearly as much fun as camping out in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral or chanting slogans on the Rue Saint-Martin in Paris."

Applebaum's column concludes by acknowledging that global economic power can undermine democratic institutions -- but that protesters should nevertheless work within the existing political order or they "will accelerate that decline." It is a difficult suggestion to square with protesters' concern that the political system is rigged.

Still, the quantity and tone of much of the coverage is surprising. It's unlikely that corporate media, whose general Wall Street boosterism (Extra!, 7-8/02) reflects both their ownership and their dependence on corporate advertising, would suddenly turn against their owners and sponsors.

At the same time, American capitalism is seen by some elites as in a state of crisis, with consumer-led growth hampered by stagnating incomes and the limits of debt-based consumption. While the Tea Party movement proposes lower taxes and deregulation--policies that are likely to exacerbate inequality--there is at least some appetite among the wealthy for redistributive reforms to preserve the health of the profit-making system, as evidenced by billionaire Warren Buffett's calls for raising taxes on high incomes.

While the desire for fundamentally overhauling the economy is likely to be limited among those who have benefited most from its current structure, a widespread protest movement can create pressure to acknowledge the concerns of the economically pressured majority. Even some Republican politicians and presidential contenders have done so.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement spreads, political elites are trying to find ways to adopt some of its message. A Washington Post front-page story (10/15/11), headlined "Obama Looks to Harness Anti-Wall St. Angst," reported that the White House plans to "turn public anger at Wall Street into a central tenet of their reelection strategy."

The Post article acknowledges the inherit difficulty for a White House that drafted an economic team with deep ties to Wall Street to try and run against Wall Street. But it is nonetheless a sign that political and media elites sense that there is something significant happening in the streets--even if they don't know what it is.

The real test of corporate media's willingness to seriously engage the protests and what they acknowledge to be widespread feeling behind them will come as these translate into calls for concrete policy and legislative change. 

This analysis was originally published by FAIR - Have Corporate Media Warmedto Occupy Wall Street? and is posted here under Creative Commons license terms.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Digital Age Rebellion (and Some Enemies)

Vermont's Oct. 15 solidarity rally takes the message to UVM.  Click for Slide Show.
MAVERICK CHRONICLES, 10/14-15/2011: Tracking the Occupations: substance, style and  a victory in Liberty Park. THE VERMONT WAY: Class Struggle in the Company Towns. NEW MUSIC TRACK from Taco Land. The Plot Thickens: cooptation, surveillance and the movement.  PROJECT CENSORED: Manipulating Social Media. VTDIGGER: State Hospital closing is putting staff and patients at risk.  Stories and thoughts by Greg Guma

PLUS October 15 Updates: Going Global (see story on worldwide protests below) and Vermont Occupy Rallies.

You don’t see this kind of thing every day: the political establishment caught off-guard, unsure of how to respond to a burgeoning grassroots uprising.  Difficult to define, dangerous to ignore, impossible to predict, even the name raises prickly questions. Occupy.  The Occupy Movement.

But occupy what, for how long? Some say everywhere, indefinitely. Meanwhile, some pols and a large swath of the labor movement have signed on – at least until someone goes too far. Is this a Left-wing Tea Party or a US sequel to the Arab Spring, an Internet-enabled popular revolt? Here’s my pre-10/15 coverage of Vermont developments: Vermont Labor Backs the Occupy Movement.

Funny about Money

Jesse Guma, intrepid correspondent for Reporting Satire, gets into a radical mood in this exclusive, on-the-scene tour of Occupy Wall Street politics. This analysis isn’t for the irony deficient, but it does showcase some of the diversity and scope. It also ridicules a “media circus” that seeks to exploit and diminish at the same time.

And not so funny…

Late Thursday, Mayor Bloomberg made a move to end the occupation. Claiming that he only wanted to clean the park, he told protesters that they would have to be out by 7 a.m. Friday morning. He would allow them back, he promised, but without tarps or sleeping bags. And no lying down.  If accepted, such rules would severely limit any permanent presence . Duh?

The intention looked clear: bring the occupation to an end. But when morning came the clean up was postponed, averting a possible showdown with protesters who had vowed to resist being forced out. Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said the owners of the private park, Brookfield Office Properties, had put off the cleaning. Actually, more than hour beforehand supporters of the protesters had started streaming into the park, creating a crowd of several hundred chanting people.

The previous night Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights wrote a letter to the property owners, the city and the police making clear that "closing down Occupy Wall Street violates the First Amendment and is flatly illegal." Friday morning, he described the protesters' General Assembly decision making process and organizing that brought out thousands to defend the park, as well as the "roar of joy" that went through the park before dawn when it was known that Bloomberg had backed down.

He noted that the protesters had done a massive cleaning of the park: "The health emergency was a pretext to destroy something all Americans should be proudest of. ... You can eat off the ground in this park." So, a victory. But not before this beat down by police the night before. It's graphic and shows where things can go:

Going Global (10/15 Update)

By Saturday morning, people were rallying around the world. The protests began in New Zealand and rippled east, touching off demonstrations in most European capitals and other cities. This coincided with a Group of 20 meeting in Paris, where ministers and central bankers from the big economies were holding crisis talks.

The worldwide spread of the protests was, at least in part, a response to calls by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators for more people to join them. This also prompted calls for similar occupations in dozens of US cities.

While some rallies have been relatively small, tens of thousands of people snaked through Rome’s city center. Some protesters wore masks and helmets, set fire to cars, smashed the windows of stores and banks and trashed the defense ministry offices. Police fired a water cannon. Demonstrators threw rocks, bottles and fireworks.

In Asia and the Pacific region most rallies have been peaceful so far. In Auckland, New Zealand, 3,000 people chanted and banged drums, denouncing corporate greed. About 200 gathered in the capital Wellington. In Sydney, about 2,000 people, including representatives of Aboriginal groups, communists and trade unionists, protested outside the central Reserve Bank of Australia.

Hundreds marched in Tokyo, including anti-nuclear protesters. In Manila a few dozen marched on the US embassy waving banners that read: "Down with U.S. imperialism" and "Philippines not for sale."

In Paris protests coincided with the G20 meeting. In the working class neighborhood of Belleville, drummers, trumpeters and a tuba roused a crowd of several hundred that began to march to city hall. A group of trumpeters played the classic American folk song "This land is your land."

The Rome protesters call themselves "the indignant ones." They include unemployed, students and pensioners. In imitation of the Wall Streeet occupation of Zuccotti Park, some have camped out across the street from the headquarters of the Bank of Italy.

In Germany, which hasn't been very sympathetic to southern Europe's debt troubles, thousands gathered in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig and Frankfurt. They called themselves the Real Democracy Now movement. Demonstrators also gathered peacefully in Paradeplatz, the main square in Zurich, Switzerland’s financial center.

In London, several hundred people gathered outside London's St Paul's Cathedral for "Occupy the London Stock Exchange." Thousands were also protesting in Greece, Vienna, Sweden and Helsinki.


Watching history unfold lately – especially with the labor movement joining what has so far been a youth-and-Internet driven movement – I was reminded of earlier struggles for economic justice.  On October 18, 1935, for example, Vermont workers called a strike against Vermont Marble in the depth of the Great Depression. So, here’s another excerpt from The Vermont Way: Restless Spirits and Popular Movements. This one looks at the rise of company towns likes Proctor and Barre, the family that ran Vermont Marble, and two strikes that led to the first ban of sit-down strikes: Boom and Bust in the Quarry Towns


Tribal Style and Fighting Words

The style and process of the Occupy movement has been part of the allure, at least so far. Spontaneous and relatively leaderless, the protests have provided a platform for people who don’t usually seek the spotlight to express their anger, support, ideas and hopes. Following a model established at Occupy Wall Street, amplified sound has been largely avoided. Instead, each speaker says a few words, then pauses while the audience repeats them, often in unison. There’s a choral effect and a sense of togetherness, especially near the core of a crowd.

As Hendrik Hertzberg described it in The New Yorker this week, “There’s something oddly moving about a crowd of smart-phone-addicted, computer savvy people cooperating to create such an utterly low-tech, strikingly human, curiously tribal mean of amplification – a literal loud speaker.” 

In this and other respects, Occupy differs from the Tea Party Movement that emerged two years ago, although early Tea Party outrage also centered on federal bailouts of banks. Where the Tea Party has tended to attract an older, predominantly white following, however, Occupy is youth oriented and multi-cultural.  Skepticism is expressed about leaders in general, but with an anti-corporate rather than an anti-government thrust.

Last June, as part of a “day of action” in New York, a group first attempted to occupy Liberty Plaza – also known as Zuccotti Park – a strategic space close to Wall Street and the New York Federal Reserve. Although that attempt failed, a People’s General Assembly was formed. For the last month the park has been the site of an ongoing encampment, serving as a nexus for deliberative democracy and proposals for action. It’s certainly no surprise then that Mayor Bloomberg, while sounding vaguely sympathetic, attempted to shut it down.

According to David DeGraw, a leading Occupy Wall Street organizer, “The uniting factor is that most of the people here realize that America has been taken over and is currently occupied by global financial interests. They have seized control of our government, economy and tax system, and have rigged our political process against hardworking Americans.”

As in New York, the goal in Washington, DC is to remain in Freedom Plaza for several months. But the agenda is more pragmatic; developing and pressing for sustainable legislative solutions to promote universal healthcare, economic justice, and the end of the Afghanistan War.

Nevertheless, in a recent article about the DC branch of the movement, activist and writer David Swanson talks in epochal terms about a permanent state of people’s occupation: “We intend to make it possible for anyone to visit D.C. with free accommodations. Just bring a sleeping bag and agree to work with us to pressure Congress, the White House, K Street, the Pentagon, and all the lobbyists and profiteers for peace and justice. We have free food, we have free drink, we have free trainings and seminars, we have tents, we have peace keepers, we have a big victory under our belts, and we welcome all peace makers for they shall inherit Freedom Plaza. We own it. It is ours.”

With fighting words like these, inspiring as they may be, there’s bound to be a pushback.

Musical Interlude

Before moving on, here’s C’est la Vie by Taco Land. Give it a listen as you read.

The Plot Thickens…

As you might expect, the establishment is a bit uncomfortable and looking for ways to get ahead of the curve. For conservatives, it's simple – denounce the whole thing as an anti-American 60s throwback, a sign of slacker entitlement if not moral decay. But many others are perplexed and looking for a game plan.

On, Glenn Greenwald considers a nagging question: Can OWS could be turned into an activist wing of the Democratic Party? His conclusion: Not likely. Still, on TruthOut Steve Horn claims that “the liberal class is working overtime to co-opt a burgeoning social justice movement.” Here’s his take, MoveOn and Friends Attempt to Coopt Occupy Wall Street Movement.

But the most unsettling recent development may be this: Corporate-aided surveillance is up. Just as the nuclear industry hired private security firms to watch, discredit and infiltrate anti-nuclear groups beginning in the mid-1970s, expect banks and other financial enterprises to defend their interests – aggressively. Fortunately, there are also some strategies to stop it.

Sourcebook for the Media Revolution

Censored 2012 is here, an annual collection of the top censored stories of the last year, edited by Mickey Huff and the Project Censored staff, all in one handy volume. They call it a sourcebook for the media revolution. We certainly need one.

Former Project Censored director Peter Phillips kicks off this year’s edition with a look at the NATO/US/military industrial media matrix of managed news and propaganda. The Top 25 Censored Stories aren’t just announced this year; they're housed in Censored News Clusters that analyze the architecture of censorship by looking at topical connections of the most commonly underreported stories. 

A Truth Emergency section looks at propaganda theory and practice: censorship, framing, spin and other tactics that shape the public mind in democratic cultures. The final section is international, focusing on human rights and the right to know, a collaboration between Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored and the Fair Share of the Common Heritage.


It’s #2 on the new list and certainly relevant to the digital uprisings underway: The US military is developing software that will let it secretly manipulate social media sites by using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda. But hey, don’t worry. They promise not to do it here.

A California corporation has been awarded a contract with US Central Command (Centcom), which oversees US armed operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, to develop an “online persona management service.” This will allow a single soldier to control up to 10 separate identities, hypothetically based all over the world.

The "multiple persona" contract is thought to have been awarded as part of a program called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV), first developed in Iraq as psychological warfare against the online presence of al-Qaida supporters and others resisting the US military and political presence in Iraq. The effort proved successful. Now it is being used elsewhere in the Middle East and beyond – with assurances that nothing will happen here at home. You see, it would be unlawful to “address US audiences” with such technology, and of course, no self-respecting spook would do that.


Officials at Fletcher Allen Medical Center said last week that mentally ill patients from the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury are putting staff at the Burlington hospital at risk. Fletcher Allen officials say the current situation is risky for both patients and staff, especially if potentially dangerous patients who were previously under state care can reject treatment. With thanks to VTDigger Editor Anne Galloway.

Other Online Collections:
AlterNet  *  Common Dreams  *  ZNet  *  Global Research

So, see you on the (virtual) barricades...
Music was part of the mix on Saturday at City Hall Park.
Calling for a fair contract outside Fletcher Allen.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

American Autumn: A Season of Rebellion

NEW AUDIO: We Got Sold Out, street music from the People's Republic. Recorded 10/9, 2011 along Church St. in Burlington. 
MAVERICK CHRONICLES, 10/7/2011: Memories of Mobilizations Past, Will Vermont Be Occupied? Burlington Politics: Is this the end of an Era? From the Vault – vintage audio with dialogue, stories and thoughts about progressive politics, Mormon ambitions, Obama’s election, Pacifica, and more. The Question: Could the Arab Spring become a counter-revolutionary fall?


Uncle Sam outside Vermont Yankee
It’s quite an objective – to occupy parks, colleges, streets, whole cities even – until something real and radical is done about what this nascent movement has defined as economic tyranny. And tyranny is an uncomfortably apt description of the current “world order,” if you can call it orderly except in the capacity to concentrate wealth and power at the top.

But we all know that these occupations – unlike the ones in Iraq, Afghanistan and dozens of other countries over the last century – are basically symbolic, an expression of outrage and a way to bring together various threads of a popular movement for economic justice.

Where is it heading? What will be the longer-term goals? Will it be the Left’s Tea Party, an updated anti-globalization movement, the US Autumn follow up to the Arab Spring? Opinions vary, to say the least. Meanwhile, the pace accelerates in a primal race, not so much with the banksters as with the weather.

It's a great time of year for big events, as the leaves turn and you feel the cold coming on. The air almost crackles. In October 1989, while I was coordinator of Burlington’s Peace and Justice Center, the objective was to create connections between the peace and environmental movements. Rather than a demonstration, this took the form of a weekend conference, Building Ecological Security, and led to a city panel that developed Burlington’s first concrete agenda to address energy efficiency and climate change.

Ecological Security Logo
In 1996, I was living near the southern border in New Mexico while running a legal advocacy organization for immigrants. It was a time of backlash and border militarization. As the season changed and the presidential elections approached, we gathered in the antique Old Town plaza for a multi-cultural solidarity rally and launched a statewide campaign for immigrant rights.

Four years later, I was back home in Vermont. Along the way I had seen the emergence of the anti-globalization movement, massive direct actions that disrupted meetings of “world order” groups like the International Monetary Fund, and Independent Media Centers that supported and promoted citizen journalism and the growing movement.

In October 2000, as editor of Toward Freedom, I called for a gathering to discuss the rapidly changing media landscape – Building Independent Media. Headlined by people like Amy Goodman, Michael Parenti, Danny Schechter, and leaders from IMCs across the country, it fostered synergy and collaboration as we prepared – without knowing it at the time – for the cultural and economic counter-revolution known as the Bush years.

More than a decade later, we are at the edge of another winter, a year before another presidential election, as the nation and planet face economic disruption, cultural division and environmental peril. Given all that, a wave of peaceful occupations is the least we should expect. A wrap up: Vermontand Beyond: Voices of Occupation, Days of Rage

On Saturday, October 15, a parade and rally will be held in Montpelier, the state capitol, as a Vermont reflection of the national mood. People will gather at City Hall around 3 PM, then march to the State House at 3:30 for an old-fashioned speak out. Here’s a Facebook link. Contact:   Two days later, on Monday October 17, a vigil will be held at the State House from 4 to 6 PM.

Vermont’s Workers Center is also organizing around the state in support of the “occupy” movement. On October 15, as people rally in the state capitol, volunteers will canvas their communities to find out what people think are the biggest challenges and how to create solutions that "put people and the planet first." Rallies in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street are also being planned for Burlington, Brattleboro and Rutland.

Burlington – Sunday, October 9, 12:30 PM and Saturday, October 15, 2 PM, Burlington City Hall Park. Contact:

Brattleboro – Saturday, October 15, 2 PM, Wells Fountain Park. Contact:

Rutland – Saturday, October 15, Time and Location TBA. Contact:


Speaking of Autumn recollections, one of the most memorable, both politically and personally, was 1980. Earlier in the year some of us had formed a new political party, inspired by Barry’s Commoner’s analysis and decision to run for president. We were sick and tired of Jimmy Carter, and perhaps underestimated the difference that election of a Republican would mean.

Bernie, right, picketing City Hall, 1978
But that’s another story. In late summer Robin Lloyd, a member of the new Citizens Party, agreed to run for US Congress against the Republican incumbent, Jim Jeffords. The Democrats weren’t even putting up a challenger. Robin had never run for office. But she had an issue about which she – and a growing number – were extremely passionate. The danger of nuclear weapons and need for a nuclear freeze.

It was the right moment, and an early breakthrough in what became an historic movement. Thirty years later, the Queen City’s progressive leadership is under attack, with four announced mayoral candidates so far and tough talk about finances, transparency and the city’s unique political scene. Here’s a report written for VTDigger: Mayor’s RaceHeats Up in Burlington


Over the last few years I’ve been able to collect audio from various radio talks. Here are some favorites: 

Inside Pacifica 2006  Recorded in New York in June 2006, this is a discussion with the Pacifica National Board about challenges facing the network. Board Chair Dave Adelson tried to maintain order and I outlined a vision for the future. Midway through, however, an outburst from the audience captured the intense feelings of the time. This also includes comments by the late Ambrose Lane, along with Alan Minsky, Bob Lederer, Lonnie Hicks, Rip Robbins, Lydia Brazon and Acie Byrd, plus my call to remain independent and inclusive.

Enter Obama: The 2008 Election  Broadcast originally on WOMM-FM in Burlington on November 14, 2008, this wide-ranging discussion during The Howie Rose Variety Show covered the fight over gay marriage, secret operations and final assaults at the end of the Bush era, Barack as Marketer-in-Chief, Cheney’s Midas touch, and South America's response to the drug war. The news hour concluded with a “comment” on what might lie ahead.

Pacifica and Progressive PoliticIn this September 2010 interview on the Progressive Radio Network (PRN), I talked with host Stephen Lendman about Pacifica, 9/11 theories, the need for dialogue, national vs. local control, challenges facing progressives, the tyranny of the minority, media changes, cultural counter-revolution, and the way beyond polarization.

Mormons, Presidents and the Bilderberg Way In this June 2011 edition of Rebel News on The Howie Rose Show, hosted by Phinneus Sonin, I tell a Mormon bedtime story – of Joseph Smith's tragic run for President – and discuss his Vermont connection and the implications for today. Joined by FP Cassini, we also tackle a hot rumor – that the Bilderbergs like Rick Perry.

Voices of Occupy Vermont  As protests against corporate misrule proliferated across the country, Burlington residents gathered at the Citizens Bank on Sunday, October 2, 2011 to present and discuss a Vermont agenda for the growing movement. They say they will be back. Meanwhile, these are some of the voices, discussing future plans and a new agenda, as members of the audience repeat key phrases and cheer support.


A fair question. And here’s one big red flag: In Egypt, sad to say, Mubarak-era media repression tactics are back in force. Despite the change promised by the revolution, Egypt's transitional government, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), is using excessive force and repressive laws against those who share information and opinions or take part in peaceful demonstrations. Leading journalists already liken it to the old Mubarak regime. 

Despite initially vowing to do away with Egypt's hated emergency law, which has been used to clamp down on dissidents for 30 years, SCAF has done the opposite. On 15 September, it passed a decree that allows it to invoke emergency law almost at will, in response to situations including, but not limited to, dissemination of false news and statements, vandalism and the obstruction of roads. According to a report from the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and others:

"[The decree] will allow for the intimidation and harassment of persons involved in peaceful protests, demonstrations, and strikes. It also constitutes a direct threat to freedom of expression and a free media." 
A statement signed by 20 Egyptian civil society groups calls for the abolition of the decree and an end to the campaigns against civil society organizations that have continued since last spring.

In late September, the Ministry of Information raided and shut down Al-Jazeera's Egypt affiliate after the government failed to issue the station a license. Equipment was seized and an engineer was arrested. Such shut downs are likely to continue since the government has issued a "freeze" on new licenses for satellite stations, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Another troubling development is the recent banning of journalists from political trials, including the trial of Mubarak, notes Reporters Without Borders. One of the most alarming cases involves jailed blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad, who was given three years for questioning the supposed neutrality of the armed forces during Egypt's mass uprising in January and February. He was rushed to the infirmary several weeks into a hunger strike, after he stopped drinking, causing people to fear for his life. For more information, check out IFEX.

Until next time…

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Voices of Occupation, Days of Rage

From New York City to San Francisco thousands of people are protesting the growing wealth disparity between large corporations and the super rich and almost everyone else. 
The movement has spread to at least 147 cities in the US and 28 overseas, according to Bloomberg News Service. Events are being planned in more than 45 states and cities including Boston, Chicago, Denver and Seattle. In the nation’s capital Occupy DC has an encampment in McPherson Square, a few blocks north of the White House.

In Vermont last Sunday, for example, more than 100 people gathered in Burlington as part of this political uprising, expressing their outrage about economic inequality and the excesses of banks and other economic interests. Inspired by weeks of protest in New York and around the country, the organizers pledged to return every Sunday until the roots of problem are addressed. They are currently discussing precisely where a local "occupation" should occur.
Meanwhile, here is some audio of the voices and ideas as people gathered on October 2 at the front door of a Burlington bank: Voices of Occupy Vermont
After a brief warm up in City Hall Park, the crowd marched on Church Street's four block pedestrian mall as shoppers watched, then proceeded – without a permit – down local streets to the Citizens Bank, located across from City Hall. A wide variety of topics, including the struggle with Entergy over the expected shutdown of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant next March, were addressed as various participants, standing in front of the bank's door, took turns speaking to the crowd, which repeated key phrases so that all could hear. For example...
You go bankrupt you lose your house,” said organizer  Mathew Cropp. “The largest banks in this country go bankrupt and they get a free ride from the government. They get billions of dollars in bailout money." Now imagine each sentence chanted by 125 people.

Speaking out against tyranny at the Citizens Bank.
The Burlington protest was another sign of the Occupy Wall Street 99% Movement that has emerged since last Spring. Its spokespeople – it claims to have no real leaders -- describe it as a decentralized non-violent rebellion against economic tyranny, growing for almost a year through social networks, websites, and a decentralized alliance of groups and activists.

10/5 UPDATE LINKWelcome to the Revolution: Life @ OccupyWallStreet’s Liberty Park  From AmpedStatus: Where’s Hunter S. Thompson when you need him? The beautiful, brilliant madness that is Occupy Wall Street’s Liberty Park is a Hunter-esque paradise. Perhaps he could best make sense of what’s happening. 
On June 13, as part of a “day of action” in New York, a group first attempted to occupy Liberty Park, a strategic public space closest to Wall Street and the New York Federal Reserve building. Although that effort failed, a People’s General Assembly was formed to facilitate an organized non-violent movement. Today Liberty Park is the site of what looks like a permanent encampment, attracting thousands and serving as the nexus for democratic decision-making and proposals for action.

On September 17, Adbusters magazine issued an open call for an occupation of Wall Street. Various activists already at work, including movement names like Anonymous, A99, OpESR, US Day of Rage and the NYCGA were among the first to endorse the move. According to David DeGraw, editor of the organizing site, the unifying principle is, “Anything you can do to rebel against the system of economic tyranny in a non-violent manner is welcome.” It’s a radical declaration, and raises questions about the impulses fueling this uprising. In some ways it mirrors, from a left-wing position, the outrage and defiance of the conservative, anti-government Tea Party movement that has preceded it.

After close to two weeks of rallies, police arrested 700 protesters last Saturday on the Brooklyn Bridge. But this has hardly discouraged the movement. In fact, it has riled more people up.

But Occupy Wall Street isn’t focusing primarily on government, though it does have a legislative agenda. Its real targets are “banksters” and other corporate forces that have undermined the economy and increased the gap between the rich and poor while enriching themselves.  Here is the First Official Statement.

And as it spreads, with the help of social networks that make it possible to mobilize large groups within hours, it is also sparking activism in cities and towns across the country. “We need to start looking here in Burlington with our homeless shelters being more than three times of capacity,” Burlington organizer Jonathan Leavitt told the crowd last Sunday. “And the wealthiest 1 percent see their savings growing astronomically." 

Like others springing up around the country, Burlington’s movement doesn’t just want to Occupy Wall Street, it hopes to “Occupy Vermont” and communities across the country, bringing home an activist urgency and a radical platform for change.
Today, activists began to gather in Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., for a People’s Assembly organized by a group calling itself October 2011. They have promised to stay until they have developed, through a democratic process, sustainable solutions to promote universal healthcare and economic justice, as well as end the nearly decade-long Afghanistan War.
In Colorado, sit-ins are expected in at least four cities during the coming weeks, according to an Occupy Denver organizer. The group, which has been camping out in front the state Capitol for almost two weeks, hopes to attract 1,000 people for a Oct. 8 march. Meanwhile, Anonymous, a group of self-styled hacker-activists behind attacks on corporate and government websites, has vowed to support the nationwide protests by erasing the New York Stock Exchange “from the Internet” on Oct. 10.

Spreading the word on Church Street.