Posts Tagged ‘occupy wall street’

The People Against America

Al Jazeera (2017)

Film Review

This documentary traces the rise of the “white rights” movement that elected Donald Trump. This movement, of mainly white blue collar males, promotes the distorted image of white people as a disenfranchised minority. According to the filmmakers, it has its roots in Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. By heavily emphasizing “states rights,” Goldwater successfully exploited the anxieties of Southerners over forced integration by the federal government. It would be the first time Southern states had voted Republican since the Civil War.

Nixon’s Southern Strategy

In 1968, the Nixon campaign built on Goldwater’s success by implementing a formal “southern strategy.” By reaching out to the “silent majority,” and emphasizing law and order in the face of race riots and anti-war protests, his campaign sought to win the votes of northern blue collar voters. In subsequent elections, Democratic Party strategists would seek to win back blue collar voters by recruiting two conservative governors to run for president (Carter and Clinton).

As the Watergate scandal undermined all Americans’ confidence in government, corporate oligarchs would build on growing anti-government sentiment by massively funding right wing think tanks, lobbying and conservative talk radio. This, in turn would lay the groundwork for Reagan’s 1980 massive deregulation and tax and public service cuts.

Corporate Giveaways By Clinton and Obama

When Clinton was elected in 1992, he quickly surpassed Reagan’s record of corporate giveaways, with his total deregulation of Wall Street, his Three Strikes and Omnibus Crime Bill (leading to mass incarceration of minorities) and his creation of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These free trade treaties resulted in the wholesale export of rust belt industries to Mexico and China, effectively ending any incentive for working class males to vote Democratic.

Obama, elected on the back of the 2008 financial collapse, would prove even more pro-corporate than Clinton or Bush. Instead of prosecuting the banks who caused the 2008 economic crash, he granted them massive bailouts, while ignoring the plight of millions of homeowners who lost their homes when these banks foreclosed on them. He also significantly increasing mass surveillance and aggressively prosecuting whistleblowers. He also effectively repealed posse comitatus* and habeus corpus.**

The Rise of Occupy and the Tea Party

Obama’s pro-corporate policies led to the rise of both left wing (Occupy Wall Street) and right wing (Tea Party) popular movements. The latter received major corporate backing (largely from the Koch brothers), enabling Tea Party Republicans to shift the blame for the loss of good paying industrial jobs from Wall Street to minorities, immigrants and women.

Is the US Moving to the Right?

For me, the highlight of the documentary is  commentary by former Black Panther Party president Elaine Brown, the only activist featured. Brown, who is highly critical of the left’s failure to acknowledge the problems of poor white people, is the only commentator to dispute that the US is “moving to the right.” She points out that prior Republican campaigns used coded language (such as “state rights,” “law and order”) to target racist fears of blue collar whites. Trump, in contrast, openly caters to these sentiments. Brown reports that some blacks welcome the end of political hypocrisy and greater openness about the pervasiveness of white racism.

She believes this new openness offers a good opportunity to build a genuine multiracial working class movement. She gives the example of successful collaboration in Chicago between black activists and the Young Patriots (a white separatist group) against corrupt landlords.


*The Posse Comitatus Act, enacted in 1878, prohibited the use of federal troops to enforce domestic policies within the US.

**The right of Habeus Corpus, guaranteed under Article I of the Constitution and the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, prevents government from illegal detaining US citizens without charging them.

 

Anonymous – The Hacker Wars

Vivien Lesnik Weisman (2014)

Film Review

The Hacker Wars is a riveting documentary about members of Anonymous – the leaderless international hacking community – who have made their identity public. It focuses on four individuals: Andrew (Weev) Auernheimer, Barrett Brown, Jeremy Hammond and a hacker turned FBI informant who went by the screen name SABU.

The first two men made their identify public as a form of civil disobedience – directed at government surveillance, secrecy and suppression of civil liberties. Hammond’s name became public after an FBI informant named SABU entrapped him into hacking into Stratfor, the infamous private intelligence/security contractor.

Weev was arrested in 2013 – not for hacking – but for downloading over 100,000 government email addresses from an unscecure AT&T website and sharing the security glitch with journalists. He served 13 months in jail before his conviction was overturned on appeal.

Barrett Brown, a non-hacker, was a journalist who reported on Anonymous activities. He was arrested for allegedly copying a publicly available Stratfor link to his Project PM website, a clear violation of his first amendment rights. He was sentenced to 63 months in Federal prison. He was released to a halfway house (on house arrest) in November 2016.

SABU was arrested in June 2011 and released after one day after agreeing to infiltrate Anonymous on behalf of the FBI. Eight days later (at the behest of the FBI), he formed the splinter group Antisec, which in September 2011 aggressively promoted Occupy Wall Street to other Anonymous members. In December 2011, he persuaded Jeremy Hammond to assist him with the infamous Stratfor Christmas Hack. This was the operation in which scores of ex-CIA and ex-military operatives who worked for Stratfor woke up on Christmas to discover they had donated $50,000 each to various charities.

Hammond pled guilty and was sentenced to ten years.

The FBI was an active member of Anonymous for nine months in all. SABU’s role as an informant came out at his trial in April 2012. Owing to his invaluable service to the FBI, he walked away a free man.

We’re Not Broke: The Corporate Tax Cheats of America

Directed by Karin Hayes and Victoria Bruce (2012)

Film Review

We’re Not Broke exposes so-called “austerity” for what it really is: a massive wealth transfer from poor people to rich people. This wealth transfer occurs in two ways – by shifting the tax burden (through tax evasion) from rich people to poor and middle class people and by cutting the public services (schools, libraries, clinics, public transport and infrastructure such as roads, bridges and water service) that create the real economic wealth in society.

This documentary mainly focuses on tax evasion by American corporations who profit off US government infrastructure (especially the court system) but avoid US income taxes by registering their companies in tax havens, such as Ireland, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. Among the major US companies that pay no US income tax are Exxon, Chevron, City Group, Pfizer (the drug company that manufactures Viagra), GE, Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Google pays US income tax amounting to 2% of its net profits in US income tax.

I was particularly astonished to learn that US defense contractors (Cisco, Lockheed, Caterpillar, GM and Verizon) – whose primary client is the US government – also participate in these tax avoidance schemes.

The film also focuses on the work of US Uncut, a grassroots organization formed in early 2011. It was modeled after the group UK Uncut. The purpose of both groups was to educate the public about the extent of corporate tax evasion. Sadly the US group seems to have been subsumed by Occupy Wall Street in late 2011. Their website has morphed into a general Internet news site – earlier this year, they endorsed Bernie sanders for president.

In contrast, UK Uncut member groups continue to mobilize grassroots actions protest and civil disobedience around Britain. Their efforts (in conjunction with the Panama Papers scandal) have resulted in new legislation cracking down on British overseas territories (Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands and Jersey) that serve as tax havens. See UK Tightens Tax Laws

The Yes Men are Revolting

Directed by Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos (2014)

Film Review

Culture Jamming (def) – a tactic used by anticorporate social movements to expose corporate “methods of domination” by disrupting or subverting corporate media culture and its mainstream cultural institutions.

The Yes Men are Revolting is the third full length documentary by Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (aka Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos). The Yes Men’s goal is to use satire and humor to underscore the total insanity of our present corporate-run society. For the first time, the 2014 film includes biographical material and frank discussion of Andy and Mike’s episodic despair over the difficulty of producing real change.

Most of their work relies on their elaborate impersonations of corporate oligarchs and government bureaucrats to portray the world as they believe it should be. The official and media reactions to the improbable causes their alter egos espouse are eye wateringly funny.

Among my favorites:

  •  The one in which they impersonate a Chamber of Commerce (official oil industry lobby) at the National Press Club calling for a carbon tax.
  • Their campaign to liberate Barbie and Ken from oppressive gender stereotypes.
  • The time they impersonate Shell Oil officials and throw a lavish party to celebrate the immense profit potential of melting Arctic Sea ice.
  • The time they pose as Gazprom officials presenting a kidnapped polar bear to the Amsterdam zoo.* This was after the US government revoked Shell’s Arctic drilling permit and the company partnered with Gazprom intending to drill the Russian side of the Arctic Circle.
  • The Brokers and Police March they organized during Occupy Wall Street.
  • Their promotion of a special NYPD program in which black males receive a free McDonald’s Happy Meal after their third stop and frisk.

The documentary climaxes with their best and most outrageous prank. First they they reserve a spot on behalf of General Colin Powell’s office at a Homeland Security conference. Then they impersonate a Department of Energy spokesperson and propose to replace all fossil fuels with solar panels and wind turbines to be owned and operated by Native American reservations. The segment culminates with all the defense contractors circling the room in a traditional indigenous dance.


* Amsterdam is home to the corporate offices of Royal Dutch Shell.

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I must admit to being totally addicted to the Yes Men. Here are their earlier films if you haven’t seen them:

The Yes Men (2003)

The Yes Men Fix the World (2009)

Roses on my Table

Ethan Silverstein (2011)

Film Review

“I’d rather have roses at my table than diamonds on my neck.” Emma Goldman

Roses on My Table is a short documentary  about daily life in a Richmond Virginia anarchist collective called Wingnut. It was produced in response to a statement by Virginia State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment describing Wingnut residents as “armed and dangerous terrorists.” It attempts to correct common misconceptions about what anarchists believe and how they seek to accomplish their political objectives.

Wingnut first formed in 2009 when one of their members purchased a condemned home and enlisted a group of anarchist friends to live there and make it fit for human habitation.

Like other anarchists, Wingnut residents believe society would be better off without a state and arbitrary coercive authority. Their anti-government, anti-police and anti-prison views are well received in their mostly minority neighborhood. In part, this relates to the community services they offer. The house is open to the public twice a week with free Internet access and meeting space to discuss neighborhood concerns. In addition to providing kitchen space for the Richmond chapter of Food Not Bombs (a national group dedicated to feeding the homeless), Wingnut also performs a once a week neighborhood cleanup.

The group collectively makes all decisions about the house and the political activities they undertake. When neighbors ask how they seek to bring about political change, they assert it’s not up to them, that autonomous groups of people need to decide “how life should be.”

Two specific Wingnut actions the film depicts are the March 18, 2011 occupation of a neighborhood park to stop the city from selling it to developers and a citywide clean-up of fallen trees and other storm damage following Hurricane Irene in August 2011. As part of the occupation of Monroe Park, the collective helped set up a homeless community for park residents, as well as collecting food and starting a free market This was six months before the formation of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park.

Towards the end of the film, a homeless person involved in the occupation neatly sums up Wingnut’s vision and purpose: “If society collapses people won’t be able to survive on their own – human society has always operated collectively. Society works better by helping people out.”

Wingnut Facebook Page

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I was really touched by this review, by a teen blogger, of my young adult novel. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling that “teenage-related problems” made the book seem more real for her. Her revelation that she has never read a book like this also grabbed me. I guess it’s pretty rare to encounter books on protest and political change in modern bookstores and libraries.

OccupyNewPlymouthphotoOccupy New Plymouth (NZ) Oct 15, 2011

Deeply curious where the Occupy movement had disappeared to, I recently ran across an article about a new project called Rolling Jubilee. It seems a coalition of Occupy groups has joined up to pay off individuals’ personal debt. Rolling Jubilee is a project of Strike Debt, a group formed in November 2012 by a coalition of Occupy groups. It seeks to oppose all forms of debt imposed on society by banks.

The aim of Rolling Jubilee is to abolish millions of dollars of personal debt by purchasing it (at random) on the secondary debt market, as collection agencies do. The latter commonly purchase debt for as little as 1% of its value and then reap enormous profits by demanding debtors pay the full amount. Instead of seeking repayment from debtors, Rolling Jubilee simply erases the debt.

In its first six months of operation Rolling Jubilee raised sufficient funds to buy and abolish more than $8.5 million worth of debt. They list debt they have purchased and eliminated on the Rolling Jubilee website. Most appears to be medical debt, i.e debt incurred for treatments that aren’t covered by health insurance.

A Far Cry from Ending Corporate Rule

At first glance Rolling Jubilee strikes me as a typical feel-good kind of project – like walking 20 miles for a cancer cure – that allows liberals to believe they are making positive change without threatening corporate interests in any way. The project is a far cry from Occupy Wall Street’s original goal of ending corporate rule. I honestly can’t see any way that paying off patients’ medical debt is going to help dismantle the corporate oligarchy that currently rules the industrialized world.

Banks and corporations seem to have the same reaction I do. They love Rolling Jubilee. Business Insider describes the project as brilliant. A Forbes column on the Rolling Jubilee featured the headline “Finally an Occupy Wall Street Idea We Can All Get Behind.”

According to Forbes, banks, credit card companies and student loan agencies can’t forgive debt because the IRS considers this kind of debt relief a “gift” and charges the debtor tax on it. This is utter nonsense, of course. It makes you wonder if the people who write for Forbes have ever met or talked to any unemployed or homeless people. There is no way the IRS is going to tax anyone without income or assets.

Making a Cottage Industry Out of Revolution

Twenty years ago this example of Occupy morphing into a less politically threatening pro-corporate entity would have been condemned as cooptation. However in an era in which CIA-funded left gatekeeping and democracy manipulating foundations head up the nonviolent movement, cooptation doesn’t seem like the correct term any more. Maybe we need to invent a new term – pre-optation, perhaps?