Sitting through Sandy

On Monday October 30th, 2012 Hurricane Sandy swirled through New York City in what is being called the worst natural disaster to hit New York ever.

Many of us underestimated the storm greatly and were wrong about its strength. I fell into that category as well. I even wrote a blog about how I thought it was all media hype. I was wrong.

Though I can’t excuse a newscaster for the useless comment of “The winds are picking up and slowing down” or “The power of water is incredible. Just incredible.” I can certainly say New York has been crippled by the magnitude of the storm. I have to also point out its lack of experience in dealing with anything like this before certainly amplified the damage. At the same time I guess our lack of experience in handling a storm like this is also the same lack of experience which would show were an earthquake to hit New York.

Either way, it was a freaky night. Where I live I am further inland, and uphill, so I’m a little more “protected” from the brunt of the storm. I am lucky. I believe there have now been an estimated 30+ deaths from the storm. Power was out for at least 1 million people as you can read here. For the first time, possibly in its history, the New York skyline was dark to onlookers (minus the Goldman Sachs building…). The East River and Hudson Rivers overflowed at least a foot, and brought with them all of the oil slick and chemicals that are leaked from the vessels which frequent those waters. The Gowanus Canal overflowed as well and brought all of the chemicals which actually make it worse than the Hudson or East River. Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay were flooded as well. Subway tunnels had roughly 4 feet of water in them, especially if they went under the rivers to the outer boroughs. A Con Edison plant exploded. 110 homes were burned down due to a fire in Queens. Due to a misunderstanding of the definition of “emergency” 911 calls skyrocketed 90% from their normal amount. Mayor Bloomberg even had to go on TV and instruct people to use 311 to report fallen trees. NYU hospital had to be evacuated. Finally, (and this is just the last of what I can find at the moment) a significant number of people in at least 4 different zip codes around the 14 street area, near what used to be St. Vincent’s Hospital, had no hospital to go to. This is because the hospital closed due to insufficient funding back in 2010. It’s always funny how the hospitals uptown never have many issues with funding though…

I have to now reflect on why we were so ill prepared, and why there may have been as many casualties as there were. First off city deficits are never good for storm recovery and preparation. As stated earlier the rarity of hurricanes in New York also created inefficiencies in our preparedness. However, there’s another thing. Many who might have left their homes probably thought the storm was over-hyped. I know I certainly fell into this category. Why did we think it was over-hyped? Well this might be a reason. Hurricane Irene media coverage. Note how that says “Hurricane Irene” NOT “Hurricane Sandy. This is a compilation of footage from a storm which was estimated as a Category 1 Hurricane last year; got downgraded to a Tropical Storm overnight, and caused barely any problems around the 5 boroughs. Despite the difference in its actual effects please tell me how different the reporting of it was as opposed to the reporting we all watched on Sunday into Monday for Hurricane Sandy.

I’m not saying for a second we shouldn’t prepare for the worst when there is a storm coming. We need to prepare. We need to be cautious and consider the potential impacts depending on where we live. What I’m saying is, after a while of over-hyped media sensationalism, the viewing audience will begin to think you are “crying wolf.” Most of the time this notion is logical because, even without studying it in school, we can see how ridiculous the news is. Lots of pretty graphics, lots of useless descriptions of conditions, lots of footage from the heart of the action, very little footage from a calmer area to give perspective. What about that one time it’s not exaggeration though? What about the one time, like was the case with Hurricane Sandy, the news predictions come true and the forces of nature make us wake up from media desensitization. By that point it’s too late.

Again, the news was dead-on this time but based on the small clip of Irene footage and your own past experiences is it that surprising we underestimated this? When news becomes interested in ratings more than quality reporting, it assumes the role of entertainment media, not news media. Furthermore when it assumes this role people don’t take it seriously and end up getting hurt or caught unprepared.

As I sat at home, I made my share of jokes. As I had nothing else to do I remember chilling on facebook and watching everyone else make jokes about the coming storm. Then the hurricane hit and we all took a lesson. I for one was surprised, and at some points frightened, by the strength of the winds.

For a good sense of perspective it’s also worth questioning why Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and The Dominican Republic aren’t getting much coverage. They got hit far worse than even New Jersey did. Seeing this would give a very good idea of the different magnitudes of the same storm in different regions. Anyone who is from those regions already thinks we had it easy.

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#Allinthered marches on #NYU to #Stopsexton

On Saturday, October 20, 2012 the activist group, and Occupy Wall Street off-shoot, @allinthered marched from Washington Square Park and around the West Village calling attention to what has become known as the “2031 plan.”

The 2031 plan is an NYU expansion project, which is scheduled for completion in the year 2031. The result of the project will be a shopping and commercial area with roughly the same square footage as The Empire State Building. This particular demonstration was focused on the impacts of the construction in the current neighborhood. The project’s scope will flatten numerous green spaces, a community garden, and a children’s playground. Not only will this construction destroy the atmosphere of the village (both figuratively and literally due to dust, chemical, and noise pollution) but there is a looming question of how the project will be financed.

It is estimated the 2031 plan will cost $4 to $6 billion. A flyer being passed out at the action read “At NYU, 75% of expenses are met by student tuition: NYU will not be able to afford 2031 without continual, unacceptable tuition hikes.”

With the threat of the 2031 plan looming overhead there was only one solution: get the word out, raise awareness, and march!

Aside from the information given by the speak-outs and flyers the most entertaining part of the march was the NYU Purple Monster.

A demonstrator dresses up as the NYU Purple Monster.

Why is she dressed like this? Well, here is her answer…

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra was also present and this really helped to brighten the mood.

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra practices their tunes before the march.

The Purple Monster dances to music played by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra.

Watch a video of them rehearsing as the Purple Monster dances to their jams!

Following this the Purple Monster did some outreach to children.

The NYU Purple Monster does outreach to children.

The signs were also heartfelt and topical.

Signs at the #allinthered #stopsexton #nyu march.

More signs from the #allinthered #stopsexton #nyu march.

Then the mic-checks began and the demonstration commenced. (mic-check begins at the 0:14 mark)

Then the march began…

The #allinthered #stopsexton #nyu march begins. It is led by the Purple Monster.

The crowd marching around Washington Square Park.

The Purple Monster dances as it leads the march.

The march makes its way out of Washington Square park with the Purple Monster dancing energetically while it leads the way.

As the march made its way to the location of the first speak-out the Rude Mechanical Orchestra played music to keep the mood light and festive.

The first speak-out was done in Washington Square village. A location which will be affected by the 2031 plan’s construction.

Speak-out at Washington Square Village.

Watch the speak-out/mic-check here.

The next mic-check happened in the Plaza of Silver towers. The Silver Towers, for which the plaza is called, were created as a way to help NYU’s transition to a residential campus in the 1960s.

The march continued after this mic-check and then made its way past a community garden. In the above video the speaker discusses how this same community garden will be turned into something of a parking lot.

The march makes its way down stairs.

This video helps to give the above photo life and energy.

The community garden discussed in the last speak-out is right before the above stairs when you enter the Plaza of Silver Towers from the street. Surrounding this garden is a gate. The Purple Monster had some fun as we walked past the garden. This also helped to show off parts of the garden.

At the end of the block another speak-out began.

Near what become The Zipper Building a banner is spread to draw the crowd around the next speak-out.

A demonstrator mic-checks about the Zipper Building’s effects.

Video of the above picture’s speak-out. It is also noted, at the end of the video, how there is a dog run near that location which is public land. This land is part of NYU’s land grab through the 2031 plan.

Following this the demonstration marched to its final location, Mercer Playground, a children’s park.

The Purple Monster climbs a gate at Mercer Playground.

A speak-out at Mercer Playground.

Click to watch the Purple Monster climb to the top of the gate surrounding the playground. Following this a mic-check begins about the 2031 construction plan.

Now it was time to return to Washington Square Park to wrap up the day’s events. Of course, as the Rude Mechanical Orchestra was present, no one could resist a little festive dancing.

There’s nothing like a funky jazz marching band to lighten the mood at a march, and when the band has a political edge to it… What more could you want?!

Finally, instead of paraphrasing information from the informational flyer being provided by the demonstration organizers, I’m just going to photograph and post both sides of it. Click on the photo to expand…

Side 1 of the information flyer being handed out at the march.

Side 2 of the informational flyer being handed out at the march.

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A protest for Medicare outside the Waldorf-Astoria.

On Thursday October 18, 2012 activists went to greet President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney as they attended the Al Smith dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria. The Al Smith dinner is a charitable affair where the wealthiest of the wealthy dine on poached lobster and rack of lamb. In the end $5 million was raised for various children’s charities. Read more on the event itself here.

Before saying anything else it is important to give credit where credit is due and appreciate New York’s opulent, and their generous donation (in comparison to their wealth) of $5 million dollars to children’s charities. Contributions like that always look wonderful on tax returns.

The real story was happening outside the dinner though. Two groups of activists were present. One group was dressed up in Robin Hood outfits and supporting what has been promoted as the Robin Hood Tax. Simply put this tax would place a 0.05% tax on all Wall Street transactions. This could generate approximately $350 billion for jobs, a cure for AIDS, and many other social programs. For more info watch this video which discusses the bill’s introduction in congress (it is a few months old but the information is still accurate).

The other group of activists was populated largely by doctors and physicians who spoke out defiantly against both President Obama and Governor Romney because of their expected plans to cut social services. This group who has roots in the Occupy movement goes by the name of Healthcare For The 99%. Their goal is to expand Medicare to all Americans. A system like this would be very similar to the system of single-payer health insurance currently used in Canada. The majority of the demonstration centered around this group.

Demonstrators at the Waldorf-Astoria line up against a building across the street for protest.

A demonstrator wears a Monopoly Man costume with chains connected to masks of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama worn by two other demonstrators.

Four doctors hold a banner reading “Health Care Is A Human Right.”

A demonstrator carries a sign reading “Everyone’s Life Has Importance!”

The Grannie Peace Brigade

A demonstrator walks around in an elephant costume while holding a sign.

After about a half hour or so because the area was extremely congested the doctors agreed to relocate half a block away and continue demonstrating. This second location was just at the corner and still very much in sight of the Waldorf-Astoria.

Demonstrators and doctors in the designated protest zone.

Doctors in the designated protest area.

Doctors in white coats standing at the barricade of the designated protest area.

A demonstrator in the protest area.

After a few minutes speak outs began in this area and the education commenced.

A doctor speaks out on the myths proliferated by the Mainstream Media about healthcare in America.

Watch the mic-check about the myths here.

Several others spoke out on their experiences dealing with the American healthcare system.

A member of the grannie peace brigade speaks about the failures of the private healthcare system and the need for Medicare for all.

A family physician from The Bronx and a representative of the National Physicians Alliance speaks about experiences with her patients.

A pediatrician explains the need to expand Medicare and who Obamacare will cover.

A pediatrician from New York speaks about his patients and the need to expand Medicare. He also discusses who Obamacare will cover and a few other things. (Note to the reader: it might sound like he says “Medicaid” at one point but having sat in on some group meetings with Healthcare For The 99%, of which he is a member, he means to say Medicare.)

The next and last speaker was a medical student.

Following the speaker there was a treat for the crowd. The Grannie Peace Brigade sang a few tunes.

Around this time a few Mitt Romney supporters arrived at the demonstration. After a few minutes of calling out to the crowd the new demonstrators were informed of the group of Romney supporters on the other side of the street. As all Americans deserve to have their voices heard I followed this gentleman to the other group. I noticed one of them was in the midst of an interview so I filmed a little and then asked my own questions. The result was very telling.

Following this interview I returned to the original protest to capture another photo and wrap up.

A banner highlights President Obama’s ties with the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

What we need to consider:

Over the past year and since Mitt Romney was chosen by the media and given to America as the Republican frontrunner, there has been something of a battle. It has pit the left against the right in almost a football game of competition and analysis. This happens every four years as the Presidential Election is likely comparable to the Superbowl as far as ratings are concerned. It happens every 2 years for congress but in a much less sensationalized manner. The greatest irony of this lies in the fact that congress actually has more power than the president, they make the laws.

Regardless the media’s portrayal of political warfare goes viral across the nation and this makes our animosity for the left or right resurface and we talk about how horrible the other side is. Let’s be real though, aside from how the media has essentially created a political civil war how many of our issues actually overlap? I’m not even talking about candidates now. Realistically speaking there is very likely a great deal of common ground on both sides, we’re just trained to believe otherwise. Of course there are plenty of differences but not nearly as many as we are conditioned to believe.

The perfect example is the protest described in this article. Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are the epitome of political adversaries. One always trying to outdo the other; to explain just how bad the other one is and what they will succeed in doing where the other will fail. Here’s my question: Every year at the White House Press Correspondents dinner aren’t both presidential candidates very chummy with one another? Personally, it strikes me as a good thing that they are casual because in order to get things done you need to have good relationships. However, this chummy demeanor is in stark contrast to how they keep ripping each other apart in every other circumstance. They tell jokes and have a great time making good relations with the journalists and press agents who are supposed to be reporting the hard facts about what the politicians are doing. At this dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria both candidates were making these exact jokes and having a good time with the wealthiest New Yorkers around. Also, it is called a charitable dinner (a.k.a. a tax write-off) but do you really think there are no connections being made, and no contributions being given? If there are no contributions being given you can guarantee both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will be trying to butter up the opulent for more campaign contributions. Mind you both candidates are likely asking the same contributors for donations. Furthermore what about the candidates policies?

As in the second video linked in this post a doctor explains how similar Barack Obama is to Mitt Romney when it comes to austerity measures. Romney has been up-front about cutting social services. Barack Obama has refused to take Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security off the chopping block. I believe Obama may have acknowledged the importance of the programs but talk is cheap when money is speech, and both candidates are in bed with corporate financiers (if not some of the same ones) who are not looking for good government in the end. Rather a simple return on their investment.

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Occupy the Debate

On October 16, 2012 Occupy Wall Street teamed up with the activist group Act Up and took a bus ride out to Hempstead, Long Island to Occupy the Presidential Debate.

The main agenda of Occupy was, of course, to point out how the corrupting influence of money in politics compromises both President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. The Act Up group was present to protest the Criminalization of HIV. As much has already been said about the issue of money in politics, it is worth questioning just how much has been discussed of the criminalization of HIV. One might ask, how can you criminalize HIV, it’s a virus?

Here’s how: In many countries around the world the intentional or reckless infection of a person with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is considered to be a crime. Where this happens, especially in the United States, the care and health services provided to those infected with HIV are often not sufficient. Furthermore while there is hesitation to improve on the services which those who have been infected could make use of, there is far less hesitation to criminalize someone under the arbitrary violation of “intentional or reckless infection” of another. About HIV infection rates and the ways it can spread, studies have revealed heterosexual couples actually have more unprotected sex than homosexual couples. Further studies have shown homosexual couples often have less access to medical care in general than heterosexual couples. While intercourse is only one of the many ways to transmit HIV this still remains a valid issue many are probably not aware of. One reason HIV spreads is not necessarily due to unprotected sex, or other means of transmission, but rather to a lack of appropriate resources and improper funding delegated to help those with the virus. On a related note funding for the Prison Industrial Complex is not usually one where expenses are spared. Specifically the United States houses 5% of the world’s population, and 25% of the world’s prison population. More specifically in this country we have the highest prisoner-per-capita ratio of all countries across the globe. Based on this information it should be no real surprise HIV, for one, would be criminalized faster than it would be treated.

Both Act Up and Occupy Wall Street were let off by an ironically fitting restaurant considering the days of Zuccotti Park, McDonald’s. Here the two groups prepared to march and join the picket lines by the Hempstead Turnpike. While the groups were getting ready Governor Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama, and the Monopoly Man said “hello!” to traffic.

Two protesters wear over-sized masks of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Both masks are chained to the head of the Monopoly Man which hovers above them. The demonstrator to the left carries a sign reading “BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!” The demonstrator to the right carries a sign reading “NO CONFIDENCE 2012.”

After a few minutes of gathering and prep we began our march towards the picket line.

A march begins headed by a banner reading “OCCUPY LONG ISLAND”

Occupy and Act Up march forward with a chant of “When government is under attack, what do we do? STAND UP FIGHT BACK!”

After a few minutes of marching, the familiar chant “1. Fuck Obama! 2. Fuck Obama! 3. Obama is a fucking traitor!” resurfaced. This brought about an unique exchange as a young woman in a stopped car stuck her head out the window to chant support for President Obama. Here is a video of the interaction.

As the march continued the group took the streets as they walked by the academic side of Hofstra University. Finally when nearing the picket area members of Act Up rushed ahead of the group to position themselves in a visible location amongst the demonstration.

Members of Act Up march in a straight line towards the designated picket area wearing prison jumpsuits.

Act Up is positioned in the picket area with a banner reading “HIV IS NOT A CRIME. CRIMINALIZING IT IS.”

Now that we were at the picketing area it was time to just observe the atmosphere and the diversity of ideas at the picket. Watch here. It was very interesting to say the least, and extremely indicative of just how many things were not being addressed in the debate.

Let’s be clear, some of the signs which were present at the picket fell more into the range of conspiracy theory than anything else. There were however a lot of groups voicing reasonable issues as well. There were Obama supporters and Romney supporters present as well. It was at this time I posed a question to my viewers.

Some of the police presence for demonstrators present in the picket area.

Demonstrators line the curb of the Hempstead Turnpike with signs. Police keep an eye on the protest.

Word was getting around about a free speech zone at the other end of the block but aside from a few Romney supporters, who were more than welcome to their freedom of speech, nothing much was happening here. It was back where we’d started that the funniest confrontations, and the most interesting discussions were had.

This confrontation is between a group of women’s rights supporters and a group of people who cared only about the deficit. Though both issues are certainly legitimate either side’s steadfast trust in either President Obama (for women’s rights) or Governor Romney (for deficit reduction) seem misplaced to me. My reasons for this conclusion lie in President Obama’s discussion of the importance of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid but his lack of action as of yet in removing these items from the spending cuts chopping block. What else might he cut once re-elected?

The next interview I did was one in which a friend talked about the recent Nobel Peace Prize being given to the European Union (as opposed to Bradley Manning), and the situation in Spain. Watch here.

Next came a brief interview/discussion with three charming women.

If you are at all uncertain as to what “Libertarianism” is… Never fear, this next interview explains it.

Finally, I happened by a discussion between three strangers who were already in the midst of a discussion on Global Warming.

Overall it was a very telling event. As one of my friend’s stated it may have been one of the most disorganized protests we’d ever been to. However, this was only because of the diversity of opinions present, which was quite a beautiful thing. There was even a group of Orthodox Jews present to stand against America’s support of the state of Israel. In comparison it is hard to not to reflect on the limits on perspectives and discussion topics we consistently hear in the Presidential debates. Currently the big issues discussed are foreign policy, jobs, and maybe one or two others. It is ironic (and very telling) when the people demonstrating outside a Presidential debate seem to have more ideas, and topics for discussion than what is being broadcast on national television between two people competing for an opportunity to lead the most powerful country in the world. It is also interesting to consider how little the topics in the actual debate seem to vary. Of course the issues being addressed in the debate are no less important than the issues which were raised in the demonstration but after a while certain things begin to seem circular.

It is also important to consider just how much the debates are scripted. Every topic for discussion in the debates has been previously approved by the candidates. Every question on those topics has been previously approved as well. Finally, there are countless hours of focus groups held prior to every debate in which choice words are judged for their cultural relevance, appreciation, contempt, or curiosity. This is done so the candidates’ Public Relations teams can learn which phrases are most useful to include in answers to any of the previously decided questions, relating to any of the previously decided discussion topics. There is spontaneity in every debate, but only to the extent of how the candidates stylistically put the three previous puzzle pieces together. The candidates’ styles by the way have likely been through some attitude and body-language coaching. Basically, year after year, the debates and the election seem to become more and more like a Public Relations spectacle rather than a question of who is a better candidate.

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#13O #globalNOISE

Saturday October 13, 2012 was a Global Day of action against the 1% of the world. The call to action was issued by Paris, and it was answered by more than 30 countries across the globe. A strong focal point of the day was a protest of austerity measures. However, as I later found out, other issues were more than welcome to be addressed.

In New York Occupy Wall Street organized an impromptu Occupy Town Square at 4 pm in Columbus Circle. It was an event scheduled to last from 4 to 6, and then a march would commence at 6:30. The group gathered and started having discussions around 4:15. The first thing I captured was a friend reading a folded paper he was carrying with information on New York income.

After this report on New York income the Strike Debt discussion was the focal point of the day. Unfortunately, because of the outdoor environment my audio for the teach-in is not perfect. For more info on Strikedebt though you can check out www.strikedebt.org

There was also a debt boulder which was very interesting to document. By the way the debt boulder actually has a twitter. You can check it at @debtboulder.

It was really a very nice atmosphere. There was a strong police presence but the gathering remained undisturbed as it went about its scheduled agenda.

A banner is dropped from a construction site in the middle of Columbus Circle.

#yosoy132NY pays a visit to the New York edition to global noise day.

After a while a nice bilingual gentleman spoke in both Spanish and English. What he said in Spanish I couldn’t tell you but he also gave a summary of the situation in Spain in English.
Watch here.

About a half hour after this interview, the noise began.

A demonstrator bangs on a pan.

Attendees banged on pots, some tapped drumsticks on the ground, and we came together for an assembly to bridge the discussion section of the day seamlessly into a set-up for the march to come.

Following, is a brief analysis of the concept of debt, report-backs from around the world, and speak-outs from the crowd.
Global Assembly video. At about the 15:00 mark of the video the report-backs end and popcorns on why people were there that day were heard. Popcorn means the crowd’s members can speak-out respectfully in spontaneous turn and say their piece on the given topic.

A quick “know your rights” training followed this, some Occupy direct action training, and then a march commenced to our first target: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s apartment.

A puppet with a sign on its neck reading “Goldman Sachs Client”

Police Officers prevent protesters from entering the premises of 15 Central Park West. The residence of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein.

The gates at Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s residence are closed.

Watch a video of the noise made prior to the mic-check outside 15 Central Park West.

The gates at Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s residence are closed.

Mic-Checking outside Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s residence.

After demonstrating and speaking out here the demonstration headed back to Columbus Circle where it then turned left onto Central Park South and marched to Central park East. Watch a few minutes of the March here.

Marching across Central Park South.

Once arriving at East 58th Street and 5th avenue due to the length of the march the police were forced to shut down the street to have a presence at all ends of the march.

The police block traffic at the corner of East 58 Street and 5th Avenue.

The gates to Tiffany & Co. are closed to the demonstration.

Video of the gates closing followed by a speak-out in front of the Trump Tower.

A head count of 300 demonstrators is given. Following this a demonstrator gives an explanation of why Global Noise is important.

Marching down 5th Avenue.

Marching into Rockefeller Plaza.

Video of the march approaching and then turning into Rockefeller Plaza.

Occupy in the center of Rockefeller Plaza.

After leaving Rockefeller Center the march continued with high spirits. For those of you who will see the humor at 0:57 seconds we witness the #StreamBloc.

After some more marching the demonstration passed by the Canadian Consulate.

Then a visit was paid to Fox News Headquarters.

Following this the march made its way to Times Square where we ended under the big screen for the world to see. The screen I’m referring to has a constant live video showing the people present in Times Square (for those currently in Times Square but also on a website which is always live). Though I did not witness this myself I was informed of how as soon as the police noticed the screen as there, they backed up out of the camera.

It was a very successful statement of 300 people against austerity and global debt as the demonstration audaciously started at Central Park, continued to Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein’s residence, backtracked and continued across Central Park South, then down 5th Avenue (possibly the ritziest commercial area of New York City). The march stopped by Rockefeller Center, the Canadian Consulate, and Fox News as well. It was a celebration of togetherness and, ironically, unity through austerity.

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Goldman Sachs, Obama, and campaign financing

On Wednesday October 17, 2012 Occupy Wall Street spent the night at W 61 Street between Broadway and Central Park West. It was called Occupy Goldman Sachs because one of the residents of 15 Central Park West, is Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. If I might say so, it was about time Occupy paid some direct attention to the bankers again.

The group probably didn’t number any more than 10 people but spirits were high and the target was perfect.

Goldman Sachs is a major Wall Street culprit. I would try highlighting a few of their scandals but being we’re talking about Goldman Sachs and I don’t think I have enough room in this blog.

Here’s a snippet of the attitude expressed by the firm’s CEO on predatory lending:
A senate hearing where Lloyd Blankfein is questioned about the financial collapse of 2008. (The clip was also referenced in the movie Inside Job)

Goldman Sachs was the largest individual donor from the financial sector to give to current President Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential cycle. See Here. Goldman Sachs is now the largest individual donor to Governor Mitt Romney’s Presidential bid during this election cycle. See here.

Now campaign finances need to be addressed more in depth and the severity that comes with the Supreme Court case of Citizens United vs. The FEC. This court case opened the floodgates to unlimited financial contributions to political candidates. It was a court case which declared that money is equal to free speech because corporations are people according to Corporate Personhood.

In a nutshell the majority opinion of the Supreme Court was that money would not influence or corrupt politics and therefore did not need to be restrained in election funding.

I need to expand on concept of “money is speech” since I really don’t think everyone understands the problems with that concept. I don’t think they do because we’re all so fixated on pointing out what has already been documented and recorded in campaign contributions. Though I don’t discredit the information I also think that to only reference this documentation is kind of naive in light of the Citizens United decision.

Allow me to ask the reader: Do you remember everything you’ve ever said? Do you remember everything you’ve ever heard?
If money is equal to free speech, and you obviously don’t record everything you say and hear, what makes you think all the political contributions are being recorded. You might say now “but that’s illegal, all contributions must be recorded!” Cute, but no. If money is equal to free speech that means an under-the-table hand-off of $10,000 dollars to a candidate is free speech, LEGAL, and all good by the courts.

So we can all reference the opensecrets page and feel comfortable knowing the contributions that have been recorded. Are you sure that’s all these candidates have received though? I know I have my own suspicions. Obama has put himself off as a man of the people as of late, and a defender of the middle class. It’s good rhetoric, but all politicians are good at that. In fact on the opensecrets page it says “After becoming his party’s nominee, Obama declined public financing and the spending limits that came with it, making him the first major-party candidate since the system was created to reject taxpayers’ money for the general election.” Yeah, but Obama was totally a man of the people who campaigned about how Wall Street was destroying Main Street. Then the banks got bailed out, the auto industry did too…

Question: I think Obama made the auto industry change management, right? Well, did he make the financial institutions change management? I don’t think he did. Why not? It begs for curiosity. Was he expecting their funding later on? Obviously it would be smart for Obama to playoff like he’s not getting too much money from those institutions for political reasons, but but under-the-table, when money is speech? “I don’t know man, I heard things. I heard things…” In that made-up quote “hearing things” is equivalent to receiving money since free speech is “giving money.”

We all know I’m a left-leaning progressive-minded person by now, so I’m sure you can guess which candidate I think is the “lesser of two evils.” This doesn’t mean I wont still blow the whistle there’s a problem, and here I think there is a serious problem here.

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The Second Presidential Debate

I was at Hofstra University to film the demonstrations outside the debate so I didn’t watch it. I just went to youtube though to watch the debate afterward. I turned it off after 30 minutes and have a pretty good idea of how things went.

Here is my synopsis:

“You suck!”
“No, you suck!”
“No, you suck!”
“No, you suck!”
“Listen, I’m sorry but you’ve just proven you suck.”
“Actually, no, the truth is that you’ve just proven you suck.”
“I’m sorry I beg to differ, the fact is you are the one who sucks.”
“No. No. I don’t suck. You suck, you have sucked for so long, and will continue to suck.”
“No, I haven’t sucked, my record speaks for itself. You are the one that sucks.”
“The record speaks for itself?! What record are you talking about. The record only proves that *you* suck.”
“No. I’m telling you I don’t suck, here’s why…”
“Folks, I’m sorry that’s just not true, he really does suck.”

That was just for fun.
I’ll post more about my experiences at Hofstra tomorrow. I just couldn’t resist the urge to do this.

Getting arrested while honoring fallen comrades 10/7/2012

On Sunday October 7th, 2012 at 6:00pm at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial at 55 Water Street in Manhattan, NY, a group of 40 or so Vietnam Veterans (and supporters) held a demonstration against a curfew being imposed on the public memorial honoring their service in the the Vietnam War.

The curfew had been established on May 1. It was the night members of Occupy Wall Street had a General Assembly there after their day of action and got kicked out. Even that May 1st night several members of Veterans for Peace stood in solidarity with members of Occupy Wall Street as Occupy attempted to defiantly remain in the public space despite the police dispersal order. Ever since then the Memorial has been closed to the public at 10 pm. After 4 months of this routine, the Veterans for Peace decided they’d had enough and held a demonstration. The idea was simple: They’d remain in the park all night and not leave at 10. I do not believe the intention was to create an “occupation” but merely to stay through the night to prove a point in defiance of what they saw as being an unfair rule.

Poster at the Vietnam Veteran Memorial demonstration.

The demonstration began with speak-outs from veterans, music from supporters, members of clergy, and Chris Hedges (most notably).

Here is a video highlight of the first Veteran who came to the microphone:
He sang music for us and it was very moving.

Bishop George Packard spoke next.

Next a female combat Veteran read a poem.

The musical group DoOccupy performed their first number of the night

A veteran spoke about returning from war and relating to his daughter with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

A veteran and minister speaks about the rule closing the Veteran Memorial at 10pm.

The group DoOccupy performed their second song of the night. The song is very labor oriented.

Several more speakers came up to the microphone including a war deserter who declared he would be turning himself in to face the consequences of his actions. You can read more about it here. Each speaker’s words were just as important as the next.

Then something very eerie happened. Something which was oddly fitting for a demonstration on the anniversary of 11 years in Afghanistan. Fireworks began to go off on the East River. Under normal circumstances I can’t imagine how fireworks may effect those who have seen the horrors of war but in this case it was a great deal more unique. The location of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial is in a valley between two very tall buildings which create interesting acoustics. As a result, when the fireworks were going off their sound and vibrations bounced off the buildings in back of us making that illusion seem like a reality. This made for a frighteningly fitting compliment to the demonstration currently taking place.

The fireworks continued for the next half hour. Through several speakers, and one musical act. I’m not going to post all of them but I will post a poem that Chris Hedges recited during this half hour. To hear a poem about the spoils of war, amidst a backdrop of fireworks in the distance, made for a very poignant moment.

Once the speak outs had finished the next part of the demonstration commenced. A few organizers now took glass vases and filled them with water from the fountain at the memorial. These vases were then placed in a row on a white sheet which had been laid out in front of the speakers. Over the next few hours (well past 10 o’clock) the names of America’s fallen soldiers were read aloud one-by-one. After every 15 or 20 names a demonstrator would approach the line of vases and put a white flower into it. As I’m sure you can imagine, there were a lot of flowers…

There is not much more I can say about this part of the demonstration. While it was very somber it was still just the recitation of names…

Here is a clip so you can understand how this was carried out.

A flower is put into a glass vase to honor fallen soldiers.

Putting a flower into a vase.

A veteran remembers lost friends.

A demonstrator hunches over the line of vases with a flower.

5 Vases with flowers to remember fallen comrades

11 vases with flowers laid out on a white sheet.

It was at about this point that I had to leave the demonstration for a few minutes. I made sure other streamers were present, and before leaving took one more photo because it struck me as a beautiful image:

Vases laid out on a sheet with a glare of light above them.

As I headed away from the memorial, somewhere between 8:30 and 9, I observed this lineup of police cars:

Police cars at Water Street.

When I returned to the demonstration the names of fallen soldiers were still being read. This was no surprise as, to put it lightly, the combined number of fallen soldiers from Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan is quite large. The number of white flowers in the vases reflected this fact:

The 11 vases have become filled with white ceremonial flowers.

I walked around the memorial at this point to get a feel for how the curfew was usually implemented and how many police were in the area ready to disperse the demonstration at the 10 pm curfew.
Watch the video here.

The names continued…

A demonstrator stands over the line of vases with flowers and recites the names of fallen soldiers.

Then came the dispersal order…

The demonstrators receive a dispersal order.

Here is a video highlight of the white shirt on duty issuing a dispersal order to the demonstration at 10:10 pm.

Following the dispersal order anger was voiced by the protesting Veterans.

At this point there was brief moment of waiting. Then the commanding officer read the dispersal order to us again.

Officers wait behind the commanding officer to receive instruction after the dispersal order has been issued.

Then the arrests began…

A veteran/photographer is arrested.

Here is a video of the arrests. It was one of the most shocking things I’ve witnessed during my time as a livestream journalist. If you’re interested, though I wont be linking to it, at the 2:28 mark the commanding officer looks at me and says “put your hands behind your back.” My archive from the night continues long after this moment thanks to my friend mikcheck offering to hold onto my equipment.

I want to quickly address what happened and compare it to previous experiences. I usually do my best to document arrests and all events which unfold at demonstrations. However, as is police procedure towards those present, prior to arresting you an officer will tell you to step back so as to let them do their job. Every time I have been told this I have always complied as I see no reason to argue. Besides, from a little further back I am usually more than able to acquire the proper footage. In the case of my arrest on this night I received no such prior warning.

To make a comparison I don’t think it’s justified when arbitrary rules are enforced against Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, but I can see it being more likely. Young activists with no “credibility” can be easily ignored by the press, and passed off as delinquents. The Veterans for Peace on the other hand have actually been to war and have seen a thing or two in their lifetimes. I figured their experience would be respected. I was wrong.

As a streamer and journalist it is my duty to record the name and birthday of all arrested persons. This wasn’t so easy. There was no brutality but as the Veterans have a strong activist passion in them some spoke vehemently about the loss of their rights as they were handcuffed. As a result I could not get the attention of more than a few. Another problem is people who have been in combat have likely been around bombs and explosions which may have caused a loss of hearing. I also remember seeing looks of sadness and powerlessness on some of their faces and they may not have even cared about legal issues at the time.

There’s another thing. When you have been fighting overseas for a country you love, and you’re told that you’re going for a good cause, when you come back you expect some approval. In Vietnam, we left the war when photos of the atrocities of war (and coffins) surfaced in the newspapers. The unfortunate consequence of this was the soldiers who returned from the war were treated terribly by many people, called “baby killers” and other things. The majority of Americans, even back then, never thought to question the imperialistic reasons for which soldiers are just pawns, and still are. After a while one manages to readjust back into American society again (amidst any Post Traumatic Stress Disorder you might have) but what you’ve seen and what you remember never leaves you. It’s a “club” filled with a select group of people who never ever wanted in, and then found it utterly impossible to leave no matter how hard they tried…

I’m sure many of them who had already come to hate the wars which had been carried out in the name of freedom (or the prevention of the spread of communism) felt like everything we used to have in this country had been taken away. There are few things which can drive this point home as effectively as the feeling of handcuffs around your wrists for holding a demonstration to honor your fallen comrades. All they really wanted was to stay out past curfew.

(Note to the reader: I will publish an account of what happened to me after being arrested but I am waiting for legal consultation before doing so.)

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Their “Fair Share” in taxes

There has been a lot of talk about, and support for, the idea of the wealthiest 1% of American’s paying their “fair share” in taxes. I can understand the sentiment. Right now the wealthiest individuals in this country pay a tax rate less than that of their secretaries; or a teacher; or a bus driver. The wealthiest corporations, who are technically people due to corporate personhood, make several billion in their annual gains but somehow get tax rebates in the end. This is grossly unequal and is certainly one reason this country has such a huge deficit.

When people talk about the rich paying their “fair share” it is usually a reference to the 39.6% tax rate the top 1.2% wage earners paid in taxes under the Clinton Administration. True, there was an economic surplus at the time and unemployment dropped to its lowest rate in about 30 years. These are certainly good statistics but there’s an overlooked fact here as well. Unemployment dropping is all well and good but what few bothered to ask was “What positions are being held to drop the unemployment rate?” “How sustainable are they?” “How lucrative are these positions if you have to support a family?” Mind you if you need to work three jobs to pay the bills even though you may not be “unemployed” you can’t spend as much time with your family, or raising your kids. This will ultimately cause more inequality due to a lack of a strong family dynamic.

Once again the problem comes back to inequality and I now pose the biggest question which is being overlooked in the discussion of “their fair share” in taxes. Why only 39.6%? We’re dealing with billionaires! They aren’t broke and can afford much, much more. During FDR’s presidency he taxed America’s top earners 90%. Why does no one bring this up?

Let’s compare tax rates… If a corporation, or a person, makes $8 billion in one year how much would they have to give back with a tax rate of 39.6%? The answer: $3,168,000,000. What would they have to give back if they were taxed 90% of their income? The answer: $7,200,000,000.

Under the Clinton Administration’s 39.6% tax rate someone earning $8 billion would get to keep $4,832,000,000 after taxes. Under FDR’s 90% tax rate someone earning the same amount would get to keep $800,000,000.

Now I know one might say “There’s a big difference between $4,832,000,000 and $800,000,000.” Yes, there is, but are you seriously going to tell me that you wouldn’t love to have, and be happy with, making $800,000,000 in a year? In fact you’d probably say “$800,000,000 is nice but why would I ever need that much money?” You’re right. It’s extreme wealth in the hands of one person for absolutely no reason. We can see that it hasn’t gone towards job creation. We can see the wealth has not “trickled down.” We can see how the country’s educational costs have skyrocketed in relative correlation to dropping standards. Yet at the same time we see every politician getting bribed and lobbied to no end with money which could be given to public services from taxing. We can also see how the minimum wage has not increased in the past 30 years.

This big difference in taxation, provided it were properly spent could go towards healthcare, education, infrastructure development, job creation, new energy initiatives, and much much more. Instead it goes to expensive homes around the world, private jets, yachts, investments to grow the money are allowed to keep, their children’s trust funds, politician’s election campaigns and lobbying fees, etc.

It’s a gross injustice which is not addressed and it shows just how much control those few with money have on every conversation we engage in. If we actually thought about it we’d realize just how forgiving we are being. This does not happen though because anyone whose voice is heard on a mainstream outlet is probably funded by those same wealthy individuals who don’t want to lose their wealth, and will never be satisfied with what they have.

I want to make it clear that I have no great objection to someone making a lot of money. If you work hard, more power to you. My main problem is when that money is used to influence the politics that govern everyone else and when that money is used to siphon off even more wealth to oneself.

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Moving the country in the right direction…

So everyone has likely seen the debates by now. In the first one everyone got upset at Obama because he barely offered any rebuttal to Mitt Romney’s attacks and falsehoods. In the next debate (the Vice Presidential one) every left-leaning person was so relieved Joe Biden came out the easy victor over Paul Ryan. We now await the next two debates between Obama and Romney. Regardless of who wins, I already see people exhibiting the characteristic repression trademark of having undergone an unconscious political shift to the right.

A few questions I want to pose:
Has Obama bombed 6 countries since he’s been in office?
Has Obama extended the Patriot Act?
Has Obama fought to keep the indefinite detention provision in the NDAA?
Has Obama gone after the banks for crashing the world economy?
Did Obama appoint Michael Taylor, a former Vice President of Monsanto (the company that created Agent Orange during Vietnam), to be the food safety czar for the Food and Drug Administration?

Yes, I will concede, he has had a tough time in office. He has to deal with an obstructionist congress for the past 2 years which has been working passionately to make him look bad so he doesn’t get reelected. We all remember how much Obama was able to get done during his first two years in office right, when there was a Democratic majority. The House of Representatives was so cooperative then too…?

I need to ask the reader to reflect on how far this country has shifted to the right since the 60s…

How much has Obama caved on since he was elected? How many of the same policies has he continued from President Bush? Who were his campaign donors when he was first running in 2008 (hint: he received 7 dollars to every 3 dollars McCain got from banks)?

I’m not saying I like his competitor Romney by the way, I’m just frustrated at the general feeling this Presidential Election has created. We can all agree there was a lot of contention about Obama before this campaign season. Healthy contention, he wasn’t getting the job done, and people were upset with him. Congress certainly wasn’t helping but many people were fed up with the lack of representation they felt they had in government. So fed up that right after the banks were bailed out the Tea Party protests began. The Tea Party was the first to speak out against the bank bailouts, and they had good reason to. However, they ended up getting co-opted in their protest of getting politics out of money. Then Occupy started in 2011, focused on Money in Politics, and created a phenomenon.

It created a phenomenon because many people are and were against money’s influence in politics. The election was also around the corner. People were starting to say “we dealt with the bailout in 2008 under Bush, we trusted you to make sure things got better, but they haven’t. Things have barely improved and you want another term? Why should we trust you?!” You can disagree but I think this was a very large sentiment behind it all. I think this is where the spark for Occupy came from because most people just don’t understand or don’t want to accept half of the issues that Occupy was/is addressing, however legitimate they may be. Furthermore, most people don’t want to accept the point of near-fascism this country has come to.

Did I lose you with that? I’ve said something extremely radical and it may have turned some people away. If you are still with me, thanks. Let me explain why I said it: Money, specifically corporate money, is drastically polluting every nook and cranny of our government to influence legislation and policy. Benito Mussolini said the following: “Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” While we may not be there just yet, looking at the corporate sector’s influence on our government and our electoral process, this quote is frighteningly descriptive of the situation in America now.

Occupy was largely calling attention to this issue which is why it was so meticulously cracked down upon. It was gaining support, and fast. Now however the election seems to be looking more in Obama’s favor since Romney is showing people of “the potential alternative.” In many people’s minds, Obama has become much more favorable and we just hope he wins. “At least he’s not someone who would destroy Social Security and Medicare.” Or “He’s not someone who could never say the right thing, and referred to 47% of Americans in a very condescending manner…” Suddenly we are all chill with Obama’s faults.

WHY?!! Obama hasn’t changed at all! Okay, we’ve seen the alternative and it’s not pretty but has Obama really done so well for us to let him off the hook suddenly? After 3 years in office you can’t blame all of your problems on the last guy. Yes, congress has been horrible, but it wasn’t horrible when he was first elected, and they still didn’t pass The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) without some major compromises. Who influenced those compromises by the way? I can guarantee it wasn’t public support.

So what we have to consider is, how much has this country now been pushed to the right, just in being threatened with Mitt Romney as Obama’s successor? Hypothetically speaking, if Obama were to eliminate Medicare and Social Security would we be up in arms about it? Would we say “well it’d be worse under Mitt Romney…” Actually, read this over and let me know what you think. I’m not saying he would but if Obama stripped away women’s rights upon re-election how would we react? Would we just hang our heads and repressively reflect on what was happening?

Only the reader can answer that question, I could only speculate. I do think my suspicion is on the ball with this election pushing the country further to the right though. I’ve certainly had many conversations about the election with people who talk about it as though it actually matters; and isn’t completely bought out and in debt to corporate financiers. They exhibit a legitimate fear of potential outcomes, but are relying on the wrong things in praying for Obama to get a second term and not organizing for themselves. When someone says this: “I really hope Obama wins this election…! It would be terrifying if he didn’t…! Damn that Republican congress!” They are abdicating the responsibility they have to create a true representative democracy.

This is the exact way we have played into the hands of corporate interests since the 70s. It’s taken 40 years for the financial and corporate sectors to completely gut our educational system, infrastructure, job market, and whatever else. They did it through lobbying for lower taxes and deregulation while paying for the election campaigns of our political candidates. They didn’t do it all at once either. It has taken a great deal of propaganda, and incremental baby steps to wean the public into a poor standard of living (for a developed nation), with no one noticing besides those who are behind the changes. The past 40 years have been a very positive shift for those pulling the strings, and it only happened because the people who were being affected just sat back and watched.

We’ll see what happens. I still think any panicking over the election is relatively pointless. Blue states will go blue; red states will go red; swing states will be close. Sounds like a typical American Presidential election to me. What does matter is this: If in the end no one organizes for themselves the country will only continue to shift further to the right as the prospect of Romney has scared us into accepting what we were previously furious about. Threaten the public with an insane choice and then the whomever many people were very reserved about before seems far better by comparison. Romney throws us to the wolves immediately. Obama does it in a few more years.

The Republicans drop taxes. The Democrats get the bills passed which could never get passed without public outcry under the Republicans. Bush signs The Patriot Act and everyone is pissed. Obama EXTENDS The Patriot Act and we say “well, he had no choice…”

Republicans are the party that is the worse option always to democrat. So get the democrat elected and then we’ll go along with whatever shit they pass under the defense “imagine how much worse it would be with the other guy.”

Agree or disagree, feel free to comment.

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