Sunday Reading

by zunguzungu

Occupy UC berkeley calls for strike:

An eloquent letter to Chancellor Birgeneau. If you’d like to call the Chancellor and urge him to stop using riot police to beat students who are peacefully protesting — if, perhaps, you would like to suggest to him that this angers you and that he shouldn’t do it again, or perhaps that he should resign, yesterday — his information is:

Phone: (510) 642-7464
Fax: (510) 643-5499
200 California Hall, MC#1500
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720-1500


Chief of Police
Phone: (510) 642-1133

A picture of our rage and frustration (three earths would fit inside it):



Yesterday, I was beaten, arrested, and jailed for participating in an act of civil disobedience against the privatization of education and criminalization of dissent in California.

I’ve spent the last day trying to process what happened, and writing this is an attempt to get it out of my mind and on to paper (having spent last night on a cement floor, I could use some mental solace).  There’s nothing exceptional about my experience, and yet, even knowing that, I write this grappling with a feeling of voicelessness and powerlessness that I have never before experienced.  I know that, once you start talking about “police brutality” and “police states”, you enter into a group of wild-eyed conspiracy theorists that most Americans dismiss out of hand.  I can’t control that portrayal, but for whatever reason, I need to talk about what happened, even if I can’t figure out why it has affected me so much.

Rortybomb on Student Debt, part one, part two. Alex Pareene adds that: Every single law Congress has passed regarding student loans since the federal program was introduced in 1965 has benefited lenders and made repayment or bankruptcy harder for borrowers.

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the OWS Protests:

Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It’s about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.

…here’s one more thing I was wrong about: I originally was very uncomfortable with the way the protesters were focusing on the NYPD as symbols of the system. After all, I thought, these are just working-class guys from the Bronx and Staten Island who have never seen the inside of a Wall Street investment firm, much less had anything to do with the corruption of our financial system.

But I was wrong. The police in their own way are symbols of the problem. All over the country, thousands of armed cops have been deployed to stand around and surveil and even assault the polite crowds of Occupy protesters. This deployment of law-enforcement resources already dwarfs the amount of money and manpower that the government “committed” to fighting crime and corruption during the financial crisis. One OWS protester steps in the wrong place, and she immediately has police roping her off like wayward cattle. But in the skyscrapers above the protests, anything goes.

This is a profound statement about who law enforcement works for in this country. What happened on Wall Street over the past decade was an unparalleled crime wave. Yet at most, maybe 1,500 federal agents were policing that beat – and that little group of financial cops barely made any cases at all. Yet when thousands of ordinary people hit the streets with the express purpose of obeying the law and demonstrating their patriotism through peaceful protest, the police response is immediate and massive. There have already been hundreds of arrests, which is hundreds more than we ever saw during the years when Wall Street bankers were stealing billions of dollars from retirees and mutual-fund holders and carpenters unions through the mass sales of fraudulent mortgage-backed securities.

Poppy Day:

Whoever said that “poetry makes nothing happen: it survives / In the valley of its making where executives / Would never want to tamper” clearly wasn’t thinking of McCrae’s rondeau, which is the centerpiece of Remembrance or Veterans Day (November 11) activities worldwide and turned the red or “Buddy” poppy into the day’s icon, manufacture and sale of which has been a regular source of funding for disabled and needy VFW veterans, as well as for the support of war orphans and surviving spouses of veterans in the U.S., since 1923. It is memorized by schoolkids, recited at Remembrance Day events, has elicited all sorts of reply poems and been put to music, and resulted in the restoration of McCrae’s birthplace in Guelph, Ontario, as a museum. (That’s McCrae pictured above.) Heck, in Ypres, Belgium, there’s a museum devoted just to the poem itself! Take that, Joyce Kilmer!

Not Non Violent Civil Disobedience:

Birgeneau’s double negative locution, “not non-violent,” acknowledges that the Berkeley protesters were, well, lacking in violence, if also lacking in non-violence. It frames an ambiguous realm between violence and non-violence, further partitioning a field already divided by the term “non-violent” in the first place. A program, or “tradition,” of “non-violence” is not automatically a program of peace. That’s why Birgeneau has to add “peaceful” and “peacefully” to his description; it is not redundant. “Traditionally,” non-violence is the realm of the march and the sit-in, which challenge opponents to commit or resist aggression on their own side. In the history of U.S. civil rights struggle by African-Americans, arguments like Birgeneau’s have often functioned to justify racist resistance by a white community on the grounds that the actions of African-Americans were provocative, if not violent. That is, the violence or not of protesters’ actions was part of the debate; acts were perceived as violent enough to warrant indubitably violent repression because of their contextual, subjectively perceived aggression. Protesters invited, or provoked, police violence through ambiguous “non-violence” in order to question the cultural norms beneath white perceptions of what felt violent (enough) to them. We miss part of the significance if we view the segregationist charges of provocation as completely disingenuous. The debate, and the genuine confusion, about violence and non-violence recurs in Birgeneau’s distinction between non-violence and that which is “not non-violent.”

The Shadow Government Pushing Oakland City Hall to End the Occupation:

In a letter addressed to Oakland’s Mayor Jean Quan on Nov. 8, two little-known entities, the Lake Merritt/Uptown District Association (LMUDA) and Downtown Oakland Association (DOA) implored Mayor Quan to “step up and provide cohesive, common sense leadership.” Cohesive leadership, according to these two organizations, means giving the Oakland Police Department a green light to eradicate the now month-old Occupy encampment. “It’s time for Frank Ogawa Plaza to be given back to the people of Oakland,” they conclude.

Who are the LMUDA and DOA? What gives them the authority to make such demands? Further, who are the “people of Oakland” referred to in their letter? If those occupying the plaza do not constitute the people of Oakland, then who are the rightful owners of this contested public space?

“Lake Merritt/Uptown” and “Downtown Oakland” are not community associations or neighborhood groups comprised of Oaklanders with historic roots or identity in Oakland’s larger patchwork. Rather, they are business improvement districts, or “BIDs,” an apt acronym given their focus on commodifying and privatizing government and public space. Both LMUDA and DOA were founded in 2008. BIDs are commercial districts within cities where special taxes are collected on properties for use towards activities determined by the BID’s board of directors. As hybrid public-private entities, their explicit purpose is to increase property values and rents and to cultivate other profitable opportunities in designated geographic areas.

Under the BID paradigm, property owners, many of them absentee corporations – not the people of Oakland – dictate the terms of services once considered the purview of the city administration. BIDs effectively remove services from the political arena, making everything from sanitation to security privately managed.

Interview with Cartoonist Susie Cagle:

SC: I definitely see my role as press. I guess I always see my role as press, and I think that people have a sense of press being objective, and I think that’s total bullsh*t. I feel much more comfortable being openly opinionated, and I think that gives a much better context to my reporting. That doesn’t mean I don’t strive for intellectual honesty, but I am sympathetic to Occupy. I consider myself an ally. I don’t consider myself a protestor, but I think they should be allowed to do that and I don’t think think what the city and the Oakland [police] have done is right. There’s a strange relationship with the media in Occupy Oakland, which started with TV news cameras being really aggressive and making people [in the camp] uncomfortable. I have an advantage; a lot more people are willing to talk to me because I don’t have a camera. I draw comics. I’m not intimidating. I kind of think of myself like I’m embedded there. I spend a lot of time there and I have a lot of confidential sources and people willing to go on the record.

Occupy the Education System: Students, Teachers and Parents Find New Spirit and Challenge the Attack on Public Schools

“I work hard, but my grades don’t matter. But I have a voice and I will be heard!”

Jordan is 13, and she’s speaking to a crowd of mostly adults, sitting on the granite steps of the New York City Department of Education at Tweed Hall. Or rather, she is speaking through them, as her words echo through the people’s mic used at Occupy Wall Street just few blocks south from where she’s speaking.

Tonight the steps of the DOE themselves have been occupied and are packed with teachers, students, parents, and supporters holding a general assembly on the state of public education in New York.

Occupy Wall Street’s big win in one graph, rise in use of “income inequality”:

Sam Harris The Truth about Self-Defense

This is the core principle of self-defense: Do whatever you can to avoid a physical confrontation, but the moment avoidance fails, attack explosively for the purposes of escape—not to mete out justice, or to teach a bully a lesson, or to apprehend a criminal. Your goal is to get away with minimum trauma (to you), while harming your attacker in any way that seems necessary to ensure your escape.

You don’t need an MBA, it turns out, to know you’re getting screwed:

Across the ideological spectrum, responsible adults agree that one must work in finance to understand it well enough to regulate it. As a former Goldman Sachs partner told Sherman, “If you think that someone’s past work on Wall Street disqualifies them from playing a role in something as complex as government, you’ll essentially have people who have no understanding how financial markets operate . . . . That’s a dangerous and scary thing.” Lest anyone mistake where the tacit logic of such positions lead, Orszag himself graciously spelled it out in the New Republic, when he baldly announced that when it comes to the management of economic matters “certain aspects of representative government can end up posing serious problems. And so, we might be a healthier democracy if we were a slightly less democratic one.”

There are at least two obvious objections to raise here. First, of course, there’s the means-and-ends issue of abdicating the expansion of the democratic experiment to ensure that the finance sector can go about its business more smoothly, regulated by regulators who have spent their careers cultivating a deep understanding of its needs and wants. But more concretely, Orszag’s argument advocates the empowerment of a set of experts who have already compiled an atrociously bad track record on their own terms. Rendering our political economy less democratic for their sake would be akin to putting Herbert Hoover in charge of the Civil Works Administration because he knew so much about unemployment.

Facebook fails to stop bots from accessing a ton of personal information:

In a paper to be presented at next month’s Annual Computer Security Applications Conference in Orlando, Florida, the researchers said they collected 250 gigabytes of information from Facebook users by using socialbots — fake Facebook profiles created and controlled by computer code.

The fake Facebookers, who were set up with names, photos and computer-generated status updates, sent friend requests to about 5,000 random Facebook users. When people accepted those friend requests, the socialbots followed up by putting out friend requests to friends of the initial group.

As a result, it took only eight weeks for researchers to acquire 250 gigabytes of personal information from Facebook users.

“This data include email addresses, phone numbers, and other profile information, all of which have monetary value,” the researchers — Yazan Boshmaf, Ildar Muslukhov, Konstantin Beznosov and Matei Ripeanu — wrote in their paper, The Socialbot Network: When Bots Socialize for Fame and Money.

From Jonathan Lethem’s “My Disappointment Critic”:

“The job of the regular daily, weekly, or even monthly critic resembles the work of the serious intermittent critic, who writes only when he is asked to or genuinely moved to, in limited ways and for only a limited period of time … What usually happens is that (the staff critic) writes for some time at his highest level: reporting and characterizing accurately … and producing insights, and allusions, which, if they are not downright brilliant, are apposite … What happens after a longer time is that he settles down. The simple truth — this is okay, this is not okay, this is vile, this resembles that, this is good indeed, this is unspeakable — is not a day’s work for a thinking adult. Some critics go shrill. Others go stale. A lot go simultaneously shrill and stale. A few critics, writing quietly and well, bring something extra into their work … Some staff critics quit and choose to work flat out again, on other interests and in intermittent pieces. By far the most common tendency, however, is to stay put and simply to inflate, to pretend that each day’s text is after all a crisis…”

— Renata Adler, “The Perils of Pauline”

Debtor’s Revolution: Are Debt Strikes Another Possible Tactic in the Fight Against the Big Banks?:

“I wanted to do this project because I kept having the same basic conversation with everyone at Zuccotti and everywhere else,” Gokey told me. “When I talk to people about what we could do that would really compel Congress and Wall Street to meet our demands or really alter the current system, we inevitably start discussing what non-cooperation with our own oppression would look like. What does it mean to stop cooperating with the banks? What we inevitably end up describing is some variation of a debt strike, simply ending our own participation in a system that exploits us.”

Are debt strikes, then, the next logical step in the fight against Big Finance’s domination of the 99 percent?”

Ezra Klein’s If America was run like a business:

Just a reminder: The market will literally pay us to borrow money from them for 5, 7 or 10 years. Pretty good deal for a country that has, say, trillions of dollars in infrastructure repairs it needs to make, or millions of workers who are unnecessarily unemployed.

The only cover of Bad Romance you’ll ever need:

Understanding Occupy Wall Street:

One Percent Wealth Destroyers:

The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren’t responsible. Many of those who are rich today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.

The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves. He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers across eight years. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero. “The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.” Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.

Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund managers throughout Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman tried to point this out, they blanked him. “The illusion of skill … is deeply ingrained in their culture.”