By the way…

Today, November 15, is the anniversary of this.

#M1GS: May Day Events Planned for New York City and Across US

(poster by Hugh D'Andrade; occupywallst.org)

If you are looking for something to do for May Day (yes, Virginia, that’s May 1, 2012), to support the called “General Strike,” to support Occupy Wall Street, or to join with your favorite band of labor brothers and sisters, take a gander at these comprehensive lists:

If you are still wondering why you should get out there, you haven’t been paying attention. Whether you are upset about financial fraud, mortgage fraud, the constricting domestic economy, your constricting civil rights or the folly and carnage of foreign wars (declared or undeclared), there’s a place for you this May Day. There is much to be done, but as I and the New York Times observed last fall, “the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself.”

What, not enough? Remember that May Day is an American holiday, created by and for American workers to demand improved conditions, basic respect, and fairer access to the wealth of a prosperous nation. Times have changed, but a quick google of “Madison, WI,” “Benton Harbor, MI,” “Ohio Recall,” “CAFTA,” KORUS,” or “foreclosure fraud” coupled with practically any community you know will tell you the struggle is far from over.

Need a little more context? Try this quick history of May Day. Need a little more inspiration? Here are one, two rundowns of some of what is set for Tuesday.

And this is important to remember: May 1 is not the beginning of our fight, and it is not the end of our fight. May 1 isn’t the only day we fight, and it is not the only way we fight–it is just one day and one way in which we fight together.

Now go forth. . . and #occupy!

Occupy Wall Street: Zuccotti Park Reoccupied for Semi-Anniversary; Dozens Arrested (Video)

Occupy Wall Street OWS M17

Zuccotti Park, NYC, 3/17/12. (photo: G. Levine)

Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protestors filled Zuccotti Park on Saturday to celebrate the first six months of the movement. The action began midday, and included marches by groups of protestors around nearby streets in the Financial District. By 10 PM the crowd in Zuccotti–also known as Liberty Park–had swelled to over 700 (some reports go as high as 1,000).

The mood in the park was light and celebratory when the sounds of bagpipes were heard, approaching from the west. Hundreds in the park moved toward the noise, only to witness NYPD officers preventing the pipers from entering the park, arresting at least one. Some on the scene said that the pipers were not affiliated with OWS; they had come to NYC from Brittany to participate in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and later decided to play for occupiers.

While the pipers had drawn much of the crowd to the southwestern part of the park, uniformed NYPD officers moved in to remove a makeshift tent (a plastic tarp thrown over a rope strung between two trees). As police were doing this, loud shouts of “get out” were heard. That order came from a blue-shirted community affairs officer, though, and was not directed at protestors but at the uniformed cops that had just moved in to remove the tarp. Those officers complied and filed quickly toward the east side of the park.

Shortly after that, however, dozens more uniformed NYPD moved into position around the park, and at around 11:30 PM entered the park en masse. Though no announcement was audible on the east side of Zuccotti, reports say police told protestors the park was being closed for “cleaning.” While many occupiers moved out of the park, a large number remained, some linking arms, others behind orange netting recognizable as the material police have used to “kettle” protestors in the past.

At that point, police began grabbing protestors and placing them in plastic cuffs. Some were escorted out of the park to waiting wagons on Broadway. Other occupiers lay down or went limp and had to be carried out of the park.

But other protestors encountered a more violent response. Accounts include reports of a broken thumb, possible broken jaw, and police using their boots to hold protestors’ faces on the ground. Others said they were pushed forcefully down the street; one visitor to the park reported being hit from behind with a nightstick.

The NYPD quickly filled the two wagons they had waiting at the scene. Police cleared a swath of sidewalk on the east side of the park and constructed a pen out of metal barricades to hold other arrestees until more transport arrived. Some of those protestors were face-down on the ground, others were standing; some were held by police.

An MTA city bus labeled “out of service” arrived, and police began loading it with cuffed occupiers. Some were escorted easily onto the bus, but others were moved more aggressively. Multiple officers were seen holding down one arrestee inside the bus.

One woman, wearing a bright yellow shirt, was moved forcibly onto the bus, only to be moved off of it minutes later. The woman was jerking wildly and appeared to be having a seizure. She fell or was forced to the ground within feet of leaving the bus. Some close to the scene said they saw police holding her down with knees on her torso.

Members of the crowd shouted at cops to get her medical attention. Nothing happened immediately; it was about 20 or 30 minutes later that a Fire Department EMT and ambulance arrived on the scene.

As police were clearing Zuccotti, a group of 100 or more mobilized to march up Broadway, announcing their destination was Union Square Park. Dozens of NYPD followed in squad cars, vans, on scooters and on foot–stopping marchers at several intersections, occasionally warning them to stay on the sidewalk. It is now reported that near 10th street, at around 12:20 AM, police became more violent, punching one marcher in the face, slamming him against a glass door, breaking the glass and drawing blood.

[Note on the account above: I was at Zuccotti Park from about 10:15 till around midnight. I then marched north along Broadway and caught up with marchers. I broke off at Broome Street to get to a computer and upload video. When I use terms like “reports,” “reported,” “accounts include” or “some said,” I am conveying what others on the scene told me or what others have reported since. Otherwise, if it happened in the time I was there, I saw or heard it, myself.]

Now for the video:

This first video begins as cuffed occupiers are walked or dragged out of Zuccotti Park and onto waiting police wagons. The two wagons are quickly filled and their doors closed. Remaining arrestees are made to wait in the street, and then inside a hastily constructed pen of metal barricades.

At approximately 5:44 in the video, one handcuffed protestor yells, “This police officer is not wearing his name or his badge number. Please report it.”

About ten minutes later, a city bus arrives to transport the remaining arrestees. At about 33 seconds in, a woman with red hair and a bright yellow shirt is briefly seen being led inside the bus. Approximately one minute later, the same woman is visible, but this time is jerking uncontrollably as she is pulled off the bus. Once off, she either falls or is brought to the ground by the police restraining her.

Energy Innovation: Obama’s State of the Union a Frothy Mix of Promise and Prattle

It’s an election year, another presidential campaign is upon us, and since it is going to be so very much upon us every day from now until November, it would be nice to find something about which to get excited.

There is nothing to get excited about on the Republican side of the aisle. The knock-down, drag-out contest between the stupid, the rude, and the just plain offensive may provide the Democrats with the best gift since, oh, you know, the last Republican president, but for the American people, none of the GOP contenders is a prize. It will be truly hellish to have to listen to any one of them for the duration of the campaign.

So, when I turned on the TV last night, I wanted to stand up and cheer. While watching President Obama’s State of the Union address, I felt much like I did when I watched his 2008 acceptance speech at Mile High Stadium in Denver. OK, that’s not true–not hardly. Reality has not been kind to Obama’s rhetoric, after all. But when Obama got to the energy section of the speech, I found much to applaud, not unlike in 2008. . . with some obvious caveats for his praise of dirty, dangerous, failed or flat-out fictional forms of energy production.

During the 2008 campaign, candidate Obama always made a point of touting “clean coal” in his energy policy stump speech. As president, he included this nonsense phrase in both his 2010 and 2011 State of the Union speeches. This year, however, though Obama extolled an “All of the above” energy mix, and then went into some detail about what that “all” should include, there was no reference to coal, “clean” or otherwise (AKA “dirty,” AKA “the way coal actually is”).

The ’08 campaign contained frequent references to nuclear power, too. Obama also would clean those up, often by calling for “safe nuclear.” It was, to my ear, just as imaginary–and just as dishonest–as “clean coal,” and it made me wary of a candidate that I already knew was heavily dependent on nuclear industry contributions to fund his campaign. But last night, “nuclear” only came up three times–twice while talking about Iran, and once more when discussing nuclear proliferation, in general. There was no reference to nuclear power.

Funny that. I guess with 44 domestic coal mine fatalities since Obama took office, and with approximately 20 percent of US coal-fired power plants failing to meet clean air standards, maybe coal doesn’t sound so much like “winning the future.” And after nuclear power’s 2011–with Japan’s Fukushima disaster still metastasizing and dozens of smaller events at aging plants here raising important questions about safety–touting atomic energy is not how you fuel “an America built to last.”

And therein lies the big, flashing yellow caution. For while Obama’s speech did much, again, to sing the praises of investment in clean, green, renewable energy sources, I know that whatever the president allots to alternatives in his next budget (we still do budgets, right? not just hostage-taking, continuing resolution kabuki stand-offs), it will be but a tiny fraction of what he has already given to and will continue to shower upon the fossil and fissile fuel lobbies.

There are several examples of this rhetorical shell game in the State of the Union speech. While Obama did make this admirable call:

We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising.

It was only moments after the president said:

Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my Administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.

I worry, too, that when Obama says, “I will sign an Executive Order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects,” that what he means by “red tape” is what many call “environmental protections.” Or “workplace safety rules.” Or “worker rights.” Just as I worry that when I hear, “I’m directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes,” it is opening a door to more private development on public lands.

Is this cynical? Perhaps, but it is hard not to be when you hear the president claim, as he did last night, “I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago,” when just a day earlier it was revealed that the Obama administration actively worked to downplay the size of the BP spill.

And so what is the public to make of Obama’s section on natural gas?

We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.

So many questions. First off, it is important to note that Obama is talking about fracking without ever using the word. That’s what it means when the president says he will require drillers to disclose the chemicals they use–these are the chemicals that make the “hydro” in hydrofracking heavy enough to do its job. And these are the chemicals that have likely poisoned some aquifers and promise to befoul even more.

But the poisonous and all-too-secret chemical composition of the injection liquid is only one of many problems with fracked natural gas. There is mounting evidence that fracking is responsible for increased seismic activity in the US and abroad. And, of course, there is the $64 question of whether we should be investing in and smoothing the way for a finite resource that will contribute to CO2 emissions at a time when the world is fast approaching irreversible climate change.

But push that aside, and the president’s fulsome gas promises are still mostly hot air. That name-your-chemicals rule? It only applies to drilling on public lands. And the president doesn’t say if it will apply to projects already approved, or just future leases. And those 600,000 jobs? I need the administration to show its work, for that number sound suspiciously like the trumped up job figures floated in the push for the Keystone XL pipeline–where it turned out that every year of a job counted as a separate job, and that many positions were low wage or instantly redundant.

With so much so easily picked apart, it is hard not to hear “America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk,” as the 2012 edition of “I promise this won’t hurt a bit,” or “the check is in the mail”. . . or “clean coal.”

But, as I said, I want to stand up and cheer, and so let me close by cheering this:

Innovation also demands basic research. Today, the discoveries taking place in our federally-financed labs and universities could lead to new treatments that kill cancer cells but leave healthy ones untouched. New lightweight vests for cops and soldiers that can stop any bullet. Don’t gut these investments in our budget. Don’t let other countries win the race for the future. Support the same kind of research and innovation that led to the computer chip and the Internet; to new American jobs and new American industries.

Nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy.

. . . .

Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.

Yes, I will admit, that internal ellipsis mark covers many, many paragraphs, but though the execution laid out within is mixed, the overarching sentiment should be one of the clarion calls of this election year. As I recently explained at some length, real innovation is essential to America’s future, and basic research is essential to real innovation. And government money spent on basic research provides much more bang for the buck than money spent on propping up out-dated energy sources and the military industrial complex.

Obama doesn’t say “peace dividend,” but that is what he is talking about. It is a dividend that could grow if the president follows through with his drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, and it is time to start building into the discussion the idea that this money will be repurposed to spur innovation, rebuild our infrastructure and invest in education. This is a wealthy nation, and the US should spend its wealth on programs and projects that benefit the vast majority of its people–say, 99 percent of them–and not just use the current lull in foreign incursions to fund more tax cuts for the richest one percent.

For reinforcing that frame, and for at least sowing the seeds of a re-prioritized economy, I applaud the president. Now it is up to him to play on the pitch he has planted. Given the scores of disappointments that have trailed after so many of Obama’s lofty speeches in the past, I am wary that this is little more than another field of dreams–but guess what, with alternative energy, education investment, and a modernized infrastructure, if you build it, “an America built to last” will quite possibly come.

Too hopey-changey? Well, at least he’s stopped shilling for “clean coal.”

The Party Line – November 18 (uh, 19), 2011: Show a Gun, Gotta Use It

When I heard Jean Quan offhandedly drop that she was on a multi-mayor conference call during a BBC interview, I knew I had heard something of note. The rapid succession of similar crackdowns on Occupy encampments in several US cities seemed like more than a coincidence, and so it was kind of a smoking gun. . . .

Well, not really a smoking gun–there wasn’t quite enough there and it, quite frankly, wasn’t all that surprising. In fact, it was kind of “duh”–not that it wasn’t good to have suspicions confirmed, but the OMG for OWS would probably be to find out that no one was colluding or coordinating to take it out.

But that shouldn’t be the way I feel. I want to be more shocked that a variety of government agencies are working to undermine a needed, peaceful and long-overdue broad-based national movement, but after 9/11, the ramp up of the national security state as good as mandates this level of government intrusion.

I am still looking for more on this (as are many others)–how many calls were there? who was on them? what was said? to what extent were federal agencies involved? did they advise or drive the conversation?–so this was more like a loose thread than a smoking gun. And the more we all pull that thread, I wonder, will it be more of a confirmation or a revelation–and most importantly, what will I mean to the Occupy movement?

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan Admits Cities Coordinated Crackdown on Occupy Movement

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (photo: Ella Baker Center)

Embattled Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, speaking in an interview with the BBC (excerpted on The Takeaway radio program–audio of Quan starts at the 5:30 mark), casually mentioned that she was on a conference call with leaders of 18 US cities shortly before a wave of raids broke up Occupy Wall Street encampments across the country. “I was recently on a conference call with 18 cities across the country who had the same situation. . . .”

Mayor Quan then rambles about how she “spoke with protestors in my city” who professed an interest in “separating from anarchists,” implying that her police action was helping this somehow.

Interestingly, Quan then essentially advocates that occupiers move to private spaces, and specifically cites Zuccotti Park as an example:

In New York City, it’s interesting that the Wall Street movement is actually on a private park, so they’re not, again, in the public domain, and they’re not infringing on the public’s right to use a public park.

Many witnesses to the wave of government crackdowns on numerous #occupy encampments have been wondering aloud if the rapid succession was more than a coincidence; Jean Quan’s casual remark seems to clearly imply that it was.

Might it also be more than a coincidence that this succession of police raids started after President Obama left the US for an extended tour of the Pacific Rim?