The OB Media Rundown for 6/20/12

US ignores UN’s demands to protect Occupy protesters

The mishandling of peaceful protesters with the Occupy Wall Street movement will be discussed this week at the annual UN Human Rights Council meeting when two rapporteurs for the United Nations will make reports.

Frank La Rue, the UN’s special rapporteur for the protection of free expression, and Maina Kiai, the organization’s special rapporteur for freedom of peaceful assembly, will present their reports at this week’s meeting, the twentieth edition of the annual conference. Particularly in focus, though, will be how the United States government has failed to act on requests made by the two experts during the last year to address growing concerns over how law enforcement has acted towards the Occupy movement.

In one letter sent from the envoys to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the rapporteurs urge the Obama administration to “explain the behavior of police departments that violently disbanded some Occupy protests last fall.” Elsewhere they say that they’ve been concerned that excessive force waged on protesters “could have been related to [the protesters’] dissenting views, criticisms of economic policies, and their legitimate work in the defense of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

What Part of ‘Austerity Isn’t Working’ Don’t People Get?

First, some facts. By austerity I mean attacking recession by cutting spending and raising taxes – the opposite of Keynesianism, which dictates that if the private sector isn’t spending enough money to get the economy moving, the government needs to temporarily step in and supply the juice (aka “stimulus”).  Europe and the UK are committed to austerity, and – not coincidentally – they’ve seen growth deteriorate and unemployment jump (to over 20 percent in Greece and Spain).  The figure below, from this excellent – and pretty readable – paper by economist Jay Shambaugh reveals the expected positive correlation between governments that cut spending and slower GDP growth.

Too bad for Europe, right? But, wait – we’re doing the austerity thing too, cutting spending as stimulus fades and failing to enact jobs measures, such as fiscal relief to cash-strapped state and local governments or public infrastructure investment – measures that appear more necessary with each new, disappointing economic report.

In a way, our austerity policies are actually less defensible than those in some European countries.  With the price of borrowing so extremely low here, capital markets are basically pleading for our government to borrow and get busy with temporary growth measures.  That’s not happening in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece, and for good reason: government debt in those countries is highly risky, and priced accordingly.

Solitary confinement on trial: senators hear from experts on prison reform

David C Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union national prison project, said there need to be “durational limits” on the amount of time prisoners can spend in solitary confinement.

“The US is an outlier, not only in how many people it puts in solitary, but in how long they stay there,” he said. The American Bar Association has recommended that prisoners not be held in solitary confinement for more than one year, while the United Nation’s expert on torture says isolation that lasts more than 15 days can amount to torture.

With just five percent of the global population and a quarter of the planet’s prisoners, Fahti says the United States is without equal in its use of solitary confinement when compared to other democratic nations.

Teens ‘struggling to survive’ a historically tough job market

New numbers show that employment of 18- and 19-year-olds is at historic lows. Ten years ago, half of all young people that age had a job, regardless of the time of year. This year, just slightly more than one in three is working.

The unemployment rate in May for those older teens who wanted a job was a whopping 23.5 percent. Such a high teen jobless rate is a huge driver of the nation’s overall unemployment rate. The jobless rate of workers 20 and older in May was 7.6 percent. But adding in all the unemployed teens boosts it to 8.2 percent.

Single mom Britney Monasmith doesn’t need the statistics to tell her a job search in this economy is hard. Throughout her late teen years she bounced from job to job, never getting enough hours or enough pay to make a decent living.

Low-Wage Nation: Poverty and Inequality Are Threatening Our Democracy

With its catchy “We are the 99 Percent” slogan, the Occupy movement focused millions of Americans on our nation’s chronic inequality. As that movement regains momentum, it must pay more attention to the whole 99 percent.

We certainly should worry about how the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans isn’t paying its fair share of the cost of running the country. But we should be just as worried about how people at the other end are doing.

It’s not just about the continuing wave of foreclosures. Millions of people are stuck in low-wage jobs that don’t pay enough to make ends meet. And millions more live on incomes so low that it’s hard to imagine how they survive.

‘Back At Square One’: As States Repurpose Welfare Funds, More Families Fall Through Safety Net

She calls up older men whom she meets on the bus, en route to the county welfare office, in the aisles at the grocery store, wherever — men who have made plain their appreciation for her youthful looks, while offering their phone numbers. She negotiates transactions that stave off tragedy for another day: sex for diaper money; a night’s companionship for a sum that buys frozen vegetables and infant formula.

“They want something and I want something,” Butler says. “It don’t feel good, but I don’t put myself down, because I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. It’s easy to judge me, so long as you’re not walking in my shoes.”

Butler is among the millions of low-income Americans sliding into the ranks of a group experts call “the disconnected” — people who are both out of work and not receiving welfare. Their desperate straits reflect the extent to which key components of the American social safety net have been substantially reduced in recent years, just as the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression has amplified demand for help.

In Georgia, as in many states, gaining cash assistance has become increasingly difficult since the landmark welfare reform signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. Nationally, the share of poor families with children that were drawing welfare cash benefits plummeted from 68 percent to 27 percent between 1996 and 2010, according to an analysis of federal data by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). During the same period, the number of poor families with children grew from 6.2 million to 7.3 million.

Episcopal clergy convicted after N.Y. “Occupy” demonstration

A retired Episcopal bishop and a Harlem priest were among seven people convicted Monday (June 18) on charges of trespassing on property owned by one of the Episcopal Church’s wealthiest parishes at the height of the Occupy protests.

Bishop George Packard, who oversaw the military and federal ministries before he retired, and the Rev. Earl Kooperkamp of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem, were sentenced to four days of community service. They had faced up to 90 days in prison on the most serious charge, Packard’s lawyer, Gideon Oliver, told Episcopal News Service.

Catholic Nuns Kick Off Nine-State Bus Tour To Protest House Republican Budget Cuts

A group of Roman Catholic nuns kicked off a nine-state bus tour across the Midwest this morning in an effort to highlight the cuts to safety net programs contained in the House Republican budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), himself an outspoken Catholic. The bus tour began this morning in Iowa and includes a Tuesday stop in Ryan’s Wisconsin district.

Along the tour, the nuns will stop at food pantries, shelters, schools, and hospitals to highlight the impact of the cuts. They will also visit the offices of ten Republicans who voted for the budget, including Ryan and Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), another outspoken Catholic. The purpose is to draw attention the work the nuns have done on behalf of poor Americans and the devastating impact the Republican cuts would have on those who rely on safety net programs, Sister Simone Campbell told the New York Times.

Occupy Tampa Gets Ready for Republican National Convention

Occupy Tampa is making arrangements for the thousands of people expected to descend on the Republican National Convention. Alexander says the group isn’t going to be confined to West Tampa for long.

“Reverend Bruce Wright of the St. Pete Refuge has organized a piece of property for a ‘Romneyville’ – which is what we’re calling it, in the stature of the old ‘Hoovervilles,'” Alexander says.

“There’s going to be a strong presence of the poor people, et cetera, in this area. And it is within – I’m going to say – three quarters of a mile or less – of the convention center. And it’s within the security zone.”

But most of Occupy Tampa’s events will skirt around the so-called “Event Zone” set up around the convention site. They instead may do things like causing traffic jams by driving slowly on area bridges, holding demonstrations at places like Tropicana Field – where one of the big GOP events are planned – and performing skits in public areas.

JPMorgan Chase Gets $14 Billion Per Year In Government Subsidy: Study

At least some of the billions of dollars that JPMorgan Chase lost gambling on credit derivatives once belonged to you.

Last week, Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) had the gall to spoil the Senate Banking Committee’s gentle grooming of JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon by pointing out that his bank would not still be in existence without taxpayer assistance.

Outraged by Merkley’s impunity, Dimon roared that his bank only took the government’s lousy bailout money and only borrowed at rock-bottom interest rates from the Federal Reserve because the government insisted that it do so, for the sake of appearances and the good of the country. And JPMorgan is the country’s greatest hero, so it had no choice but to accept all of this free money the government was handing out. It certainly did not need it.

US campaigners launch Robin Hood tax plan to outlaw Wall Street excess

Actor Mark Ruffalo and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello have launched a new US campaign for a “Robin Hood tax”, a small levy on Wall Street transactions that organisers say could generate hundred of billions of dollars a year.

The campaign, backed by National Nurses United, the largest nursing union in the US, has already launched in 14 countries, including the UK, France and Germany.

Organisers of the campaign, which also features Coldplay singer Chris Martin, are calling for a tax of “less than half of 1%” on Wall Street transactions, which they say would not affect most Americans’ financial activity.

Wealth implosion: It’s not just housing

Americans’ net worth collapsed in recent years, but don’t blame the housing market for it all.

A CNNMoney analysis of new Census Bureau data shows that if you strip out the effects of the housing collapse, median household net worth still fell by 25% between 2005 and 2010. The decline was driven largely by the plummeting stock market, which devastated Americans’ portfolios and retirement accounts.

Overall, median household net worth declined 35% to $66,740 in 2010. The median worth of stock and mutual fund portfolios fell 33%, while the median home equity value dropped 28%.

Letter to the editor: Facts about Fukushima should concern locals [MA]

I am a proud member of Occupy Falmouth’s nuclear energy subcommittee and a concerned director of Mashpee Environmental Coalition.

Occupy Falmouth has created a Pilgrim Nuclear Reactor and Waste Dump Site Fact Sheet and distributed this vital information. Check out the alarming facts at

Arguments were heard by Mary Lampert of Duxbury at a June 7 hearing in Boston about Pilgrim’s inadequate safety based on lessons learned from Fukushima. Locked-out Pilgrim workers demonstrated outside the hearing, saying that the plant was in jeopardy due to substitute workers unfamiliar with the system.

OccuPride At San Francisco Pride: Radical Group To Protest Commercialization Of Event

San Francisco Pride, the Bay Area’s 42nd annual LGBT celebration and parade, is just around the corner, and Occupy has wasted no time in joining the party.

Running under the tagline “Community, Not Commodity,” radical group OccuPride has planned a presence at the event, slamming the commercialization of the Pride festivities and parade.

Pointing to corporate sponsorship, pinkwashing (spinning financial motivations as LGBT friendly-goals), drug and alcohol use, and general commercialization, OccuPride aims to “remind the community of its roots.”

Occupy Education: Paul Robeson Freedom School Launches in Brooklyn

Named in honor of African American singer and activist Paul Robeson, the Paul Robeson Freedom School will focus on education for liberation.

Begun by a coalition of public education advocates, the eight-week educational program for Brooklyn youth “most affected by the destructive policies enacted in the public school system” will be housed in a historic church in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Open to 10 to 14 year-old students residing in Brooklyn, the school will give preference to students from low-income communities. The program will begin July 9, with a class of 35 students and seven staff members working to self-design interdisciplinary curriculum, with a focus on hands-on experiences in urban gardening and culinary arts, as well as research into community self-empowerment in Brooklyn.

Students, parents occupy Oakland school

Demonstrators who have been occupying the campus of an Oakland elementary school in a protest against school closures have been warned that they are trespassing and risk arrest.

Oakland school district police officers posted notices Monday — the fourth day of the protest — ordering the roughly dozen students, parents and activists on the grounds of Lakeview Elementary School to vacate the premises.

But the demonstrators remained there Tuesday and showed no indications of leaving. “We want families and all taxpayers to stand up and tell our country that these buildings are going to be used to teach children,” Joel Velasquez, a parent, told the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday. “These buildings belong to us.”

Occupy Helena [CA] questions purchase of armored vehicle

Members of the Occupy Helena group are asking city police to explain why it needs an armored vehicle.

In March, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded the city $430,000 to purchase an armored SWAT car. At the time, Helena Police Chief Troy McGee said the bullet-proof vehicle could be used in a hostage situation or to break down a door.

On Monday night, Occupy Helena participant Gary Carnefix presented a letter to the Helena City Commission on behalf of Occupy Helena asking for examples of when and why the vehicle would be used.

Occupy: Teghut, Mashtots Park & Beyond [Armenia]

Local, diasporan, and even non-Armenian environmental activists have been hard at work in Armenia these past two months. Harnessing the organizing powers of social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, these activists are mobilizing people – especially the youth – to protest, demonstrate and occupy Teghut, the site of a controversial open-pit mining project in Northern Armenia, and Yerevan’s Mashtots Park, where the construction of a fashion boutique threatens one of the few remaining green areas in the city.

Why the protests in Montreal are important

Do I back the student protests in Quebec? Yes I do. Why? Because, unfortunately, the future looks bleak for millions of people across the world, and this represents part of a global concern. There is genuine fear about where Canada in a globalized world is heading. In reality, the protests we see in Montreal are a continuation of the Occupy movement, morphed into a new post-Occupy package. It’s made up of people who see that the world is rapidly changing, and the effects are becoming painful.

From austerity measures throughout Europe, a struggling economy south of the border, and at home governments that are slashing and cutting services and programs, the world as we know it is changing fast. Governments seem to want to shift jobs over to the private sector, while the private sector is slashing jobs as well. And, at the core, there is still extreme anger over what is perceived to be a small portion of very rich people making money recklessly on the backs of the rest of the world. Sadly, the gap between the rich and the poor everywhere is growing and that, understandably, pisses people off.

In March 2012 the Quebec government announced its intentions to increase tuition fees from $2,519 to $3,800. Here is the problem: we live in a country where, in order to get a decent job, a university degree is a necessity. And, as jobs become scarcer, the more qualified one is, the better their chances of getting a job. Choosing not to go to university is no longer an option. So, when tuition fees go up, it becomes increasingly difficult to afford this essential education, both for middle class students and, most importantly, for poor students who once again suffer the burdens of hard economic times. How, exactly, are people supposed to rise out of poverty if they can’t get access to the tools needed to do so?

Austerity Doesn’t Pay As Debt Markets Ignore Rating Cuts

Britain is forcing Stephen Jobling and his stroke patients to defend the nation’s AAA credit rating. Staffing at the National Health Service hospital ward where Jobling works was reduced by about half in the U.K.’s deepest drive since World War II to shrink its deficit. The goal was to avoid losing the top credit score, which might risk higher interest expenses, according to the government of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

“If they could see these people suffering while we have two members of nursing staff running round trying to wash, dress and feed 20 patients, they would think twice,” says Jobling, 27, a nurse at Lincoln County Hospital in eastern England. “You should be looking after your people. You shouldn’t be bothering about some credit agency from somewhere else.”

The bond market says he’s right. After Moody’s Investors Service issued a “negative” outlook for U.K. debt on Feb. 13, yields on government securities relative to benchmark U.S. Treasury debt fell over the next month, instead of rising.

“I don’t think we should be slaves to the ratings agencies,” Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, told lawmakers on Feb. 29. “What we’ve seen is, the action they took recently did actually have no impact on the yield that people in the market were willing to lend to the U.K. government at.”

Greek election consequences and the shape of the developed world’s future

The supreme court coup in Egypt, the outright refusal to obey even the letter of the law let alone the spirit in the case of Wikileaks and Assange, the reign of Obama, are teaching an entire generation that you cannot fix the system from within, through the mechanisms of the old system or through even semi-peaceful protest.  The Pacific free trade deal will enshrine even more draconian IP laws and will extend NAFTA style takings regulations which give multinational companies sovereignty over governments.

This will not stand.  There will be global war, and there will be global revolution.  We are on track for it.  The question is when and how.  I would guess in less than 20 years the world will fully convulse.  Many of the current generation of oligarchs will be dead by then and will win the death bet, but their heirs will reap the whirlwind.  As for the population, I expect a billion deaths or so over the next 25 years from famine, disease, war and environmental issues.

Brazil’s newest tourist attraction: Slums of Rio de Janeiro

Tourists got an up-close look at police cruisers inching slowly through the main streets and an up-close smell of the mountains of plastic trash bags that pile up on street corners. It was a bustling portrait of daily life: people riding bicycles, pushing wheelbarrows, carrying groceries and toting backpacks en route to school. When the tour veered down back alleys past a row of open doorways, visitors were within earshot of kitchen conversations and could peer into the living rooms of Rocinha residents from only a few yards away.

Armstrong’s Favela Tour promotes itself as “informative and surprising, not voyeuristic,” and patrons such as Nigel Parker seem to agree.

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