Friday, August 29, 2008
Before the convention began, I wrote about the plans of protesters and the actions that were taken by the City of Denver in preparation for dealing with the voices of the people that may not mesh with the Democratic party-line. With the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention, I would like to look back at some of the events that transpired in the streets.
The corporate media did take a little notice of the protesters on the Sunday before the convention began. Fox News sent a reporter to mingle with the protesters and to "cover the story". As you might imagine, the protesters did not take too kindly to the presence of Fox News:
The Fox News reporter decides to go into the protest march and asks numerous protesters: "what is your message?". When some of the protesters do not give him a response, the reporter says, "I guess they don't believe in freedom of speech." This of course, is ridiculous considering that freedom of speech is what was allowing the march to exist in the first place. The purpose of this "report" by Fox News, was to paint the protesters as violent and radical and to avoid any real substantive discussion on the issues. This is a trademark of the corporate media when they cover protests. The major media networks acknowledge that their is a protest, but cover the protesters from a glance, misrepresent their views, and fail to give any voices of dissent airtime for a civil discussion of the issues. Compare that display of so-called journalism with the report filed by the independent news program Democracy Now!:
As the protests grew in number and the Convention got under way, the presence of law enforcement officials also grew. Consider this incident of police surrounding protesters, escorting media out of the area, then pepper spraying and arresting 91 people inside. Again, from Democracy Now:
Video also surfaced of police physically assaulting a protester from the organization CODEPink and then arresting her when she attempted to explain her story to the media:
As we move into the Republican National Convention and more protest is expected, it is important to watch the corporate media with a critical eye when they present opposing views as Fox News did in the report I posted above. It is also important to make sure that the police do not abuse their power and use un-necessary force against voices of dissent. Protesters largely rejected the so-called "free speech zone" in Denver and while it remains to be seen how protests will transpire in St. Paul, there is some indication that the situation may be more of the same. The Minnesota Star Tribune reported this past week that three journalists who arrived in St. Paul to cover the protests, had all their equipment illegally searched and confiscated:
"The incident comes on the heels of a recently adopted city resolution stating police may confiscate video cameras only during events such as protests if needed for evidence or if the person with the camera has been arrested. 'I'm surprised and certainly concerned by this,' said Council Member Cam Gordon, who pushed for the resolution. 'While I still want to get all of the details, this certainly sets the wrong tone for the convention.' "
You can also view this article at: http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com
Saturday, August 23, 2008
This type of behavior, the quashing of dissent, has been commonplace in China in the build-up to and during the Olympic Games. "Providing a secure environment" is often a reason that is cited in discussions of the boom of the Chinese security industry. As I have discussed and Naomi Klein has investigated, this build-up of the Chinese security industry will continue long after the last gold medal is placed around the neck of an athlete. It is part of a system that is meant to limit dissent and place the Chinese population under a constant watch reminiscent of Big Brother in the novel 1984. The Olympics functioned as a two-pronged test for China: to see if the world was ready to accept China as a global player despite their record on human rights, and to see if the newfound "surveillance society" was effective and ready for export. The answer to both questions is largely, yes. One only needs to look at the preparation for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in order to see how dissent is both marginalized and suppressed.
The lavish preparations for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions have been underway for months. Corporate sponsorships have been lined up and finishing touches are being placed for when the world's attention will shift from Beijing, to Denver, Colorado and St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition to the scheduled speakers and high-profile guests that will be present at each convention, there are another group of people who wish to use this opportunity to make their voices heard. Various organized groups and concerned individuals are making plans to attend both conventions to protest everything from corporate involvement in the political process to the dissatisfaction with each political party's platform and views on some of the most important issues of our time. Groups such as ReCreate 68 have a whole schedule of events that they are planning for the DNC beginning on August 25 and CODEPink plans to attend both conventions to protest and dissent. Dissent is part of the backbone of a healthy democracy and Constitutional protection gives those who wish to express opposition, protection from the ruling powers who may wish to retaliate. These two political conventions allow the rest of us to see how both major political parties will handle those who wish to dissent; will their rights be embraced as part of a healthy and functioning democracy or will they be marginalized and suppressed under the banner of providing security and order?
For starters, Denver police started stocking up on pepper-spray guns thanks to a $50 million federal grant that was issued:
"But the city has refused to disclose exactly how it is spending all the federal security money, which last month prompted the American Civil Liberties Union to file a civil lawsuit alleging the city is violating the Colorado Open Records Act. Releasing the information is “contrary to the public interest” because it could disclose important tactical information, potentially jeopardizing security, city officials said."
The ironically titled "Free Speech Zones" or "Protest Zones" have been set up in both cities to give protesters a designated area in which they can express their views. For the DNC in Denver, groups such as the ACLU have argued that the designated "zone" is so far away (at least 200 yards) from the Pepsi Center, that the protesters will not be heard. Some of the rules that have been slated for protesting in Denver have included the following:
* The protest zone will be 53,414 square feet in the south corner of Lot A, a parking lot near the Pepsi Center's main entrance.
* The zone will be surrounded by a fence that people can see and hear through.
* Parades will start near 14th Avenue and Bannock Street, head west on Colfax Avenue, then north on Speer Boulevard to Larimer. Pedestrians may then walk through the Auraria campus to the protest zone at Seventh Avenue and Auraria Parkway.
* Parades will be allowed only between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and no alternate routes are allowed.
* Details such as how many people will be allowed inside the protest zone, whether protesters will be able to use sound amplifiers and if everyone entering will be subject to search have not been decided or have not been made public.
In addition to the construction of these so-called protest zones, there will be a large presence of military and police officials who will be in-part coordinated by a "fusion center". These centers are becoming more present since 9/11 and in Denver, will be used by federal and local law enforcement to gather intelligence and information on "suspicious activity". A piece was recently done in The Colorado Independent which discussed the fusion center in Denver and its activities in the build-up to the Democratic National Convention. From the article:
"Central to the efforts is Colorado’s “fusion” center, a place designed to facilitate intelligence sharing among federal, state and military agencies in an effort to prevent terrorism. But civil rights advocates fear that the Colorado Information Analysis Center, (CIAC) now housed in an inconspicuous office building in Centennial, a southern suburb of Denver, could enable unwarranted spying on Americans exercising their First Amendment rights at the convention."
Not only is new information being gathered for the approaching conventions, but old information is also being analyzed. I-Witness Video has reveled that the CIA is receiving information about protests that were held during the 2004 Republican Convention in New York City. I-Witness Video has also released documents which contain the notes and intelligence that were gathered on protest groups and potential protesters in the lead-up to the 2004 Convention. All 603 pages of those documents can be viewed here.
In addition to the construction of "protest zones" and the expansion of intelligence gathering, the CBS affiliate in Denver recently reported on how police will detain people arrested at the DNC. Local police have constructed a makeshift holding facility inside a warehouse that is owned by the City of Denver. Each "cell" is 5 yards by 5 yards with barbed wire lining the top of the cages. There is a lock on the door and a sign that reads "Warning! Electric stun devices used in this facility." A video report from CBS4 on the issue is below:
As all of this information is brought to light it is increasingly important that dissent is protected as a sign of a healthy democracy. There has been some media attention that has focused on the crackdown on dissent in China, but there needs to be greater examination of the crackdown of dissent domestically. "Free Speech Zones" should not be limited to a section of a parking lot that is surrounded by a chain link fence, rather the term "Free Speech Zone" should apply to the entire country. The rights of those who dissent should not limited in the name of security, but their rights should remain strong to act as a check against tyranny. As the pomp and circumstance of the Democratic and Republican Conventions get underway, we must take a look at how the rights of the protesters are (dis)respected and ask what it tells us about the country in which we live and the direction in which we are headed.
This article can also be viewed at: http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com/
Friday, August 15, 2008
"Byrider dealers say they can generally figure out which customers will pay back their loans. Salesmen, many of whom come from positions at banks and other lending companies, use proprietary software called Automated Risk Evaluator (ARE) to assess customers' financial vital signs, ranging from credit scores from major credit agencies to amounts spent on alimony and cigarettes.Unlike traditional dealers, Byrider doesn't post prices—which average $10,200 at company-owned showrooms—directly on its cars. Salesmen, after consulting ARE, calculate the maximum that a person can afford to pay, and only then set the total price, down payment, and interest rate. Byrider calls this process fair and accurate; critics call it "opportunity pricing."
JD Byrider and the used car industry are not alone in turning a profit off of those who are struggling to make ends meet; criticism has also been leveled at the payday loan industry. This industry is designed to give people a short-term loan that is often intended to cover the borrower’s expenses until the borrower’s next payday. Loans are often due in a two week time period and (depending on the state) can carry an interest rate up to close to 400%. In a recent study, The Center for Responsible Lending reveals that:
“Despite attempts to reform payday lending, now an industry exceeding $28 billion a year, lenders still collect 90 percent of their revenue from borrowers who cannot pay off their loans when due, rather than from one-time users dealing with short-term financial emergencies.”
Also in the report, which you can download here, it is found that:
- 90 % of payday lending revenues are based on fees stripped from trapped borrowers, virtually unchanged from the 2003 findings.
- The typical borrower pays back $793 for a $325 loan.
- Predatory payday lending now costs American families $4.2 billion per year in excessive fees. - States that ban payday lending save their citizens an estimated $1.4 billion in predatory payday lending fees every year.
The majority of the money that is made in this industry is from borrowers who cannot pay back their initial loan and then take out another loan on top of the existing. This quickly leads to a cycle of debt from which it is often very tough to escape, especially considering the initial financial status of the borrower. This cycle of debt led to a total cost of $209 million to Ohio families according to the 2005 study by the Center for Responsible Lending. Lawmakers within Ohio realized that there was a problem and worked to pass Ohio H.B. 545.
Gov. Ted Strickland signed this bill into law on June 3rd of this year which caps the maximum interest rate that can be charged by payday loan companies, at 28%. While 28% still may seem like a high figure, it is quite a drastic change from the previous 391% that could be charged before the law was passed. The law would also limit how many loans individuals could take out at a time. Some institutions feel that such regulations on the payday loan industry are inappropriate in a so-called free-market society. A group called Ohioans for Financial Freedom has started circulating a petition to gather signatures in order to repeal Section 3 of Ohio H.B. 545. This group has also started a television campaign in which they are running the following ad:
Ohioans for Financial Freedom are funded by the lobbying group CFSA, the Community Financial Services Association, and are pushing hard to gather enough signatures before the law takes effect on September 11th. This group must gather 241,365 signatures before the law takes effect which will then allow the opportunity for the law to be repealed on November 4th. There has been much criticism of the efforts of those who are seeking the repeal of the law. This article in the Toledo Blade quotes people who claim that those seeking the signatures misrepresented the issue and even bribed homeless people with money in return for signing the petition. This article, posted on Forbes.com, speaks to audio tapes and affidavits obtained by the Coalition for Responsible Lending, that suggest that circulators of the petitions are often uninformed on the issue and have mislead citizens on what they were signing.
As controversy continues to surround this issue, it may be surprising to see who is lining up on the side of the payday lenders. This recent online article in Mother Jones magazine outlines how prominent civil rights voices and groups have lined up behind CFSA in their attempt at fighting off strict regulation of the payday loan industry. Groups such as the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the National Conference of Black Mayors have aligned themselves with CFSA because, as stated in Mother Jones:
“They provide a public service by catering to the "unbanked" and other financially underserved communities—i.e., those discriminated against by white banks that won't make loans to African Americans. Without payday or other subprime lenders, they argue, many poor minorities would have no way of buying homes or keeping their lights on in an emergency.”
While the African American community does have a history of being discriminated against by the banking industry, payday loans at such high interest rates will do little to solve the problem of poverty or provide any reasonable long-term solution to the struggle of economic mobility within African American communities. I recently asked the President of the Cincinnati NAACP, Christopher Smitherman, to weigh in on this issue. “The Cincinnati NAACP does not support a 400 percent interest rate for any American citizen,” Smitherman stated. When asked about why civil rights groups seem to be divided on this issue, Smitherman chose not to comment, but in reference to groups like Ohioans for Financial Freedom, Smitherman added “The organization does have the right to collect signatures to place issue on the ballot. I think voters will make the right decision and not allow a 400 percent interest rate.” I also contacted the office of Mayor Mark Mallory as well as the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati for comment, but my phone calls and emails were not returned.
While the Cincinnati NAACP seems to support a cap on payday loan interest rates, other civil rights organizations continue to work with CFSA and have even invoked the memory of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. As stated in the Mother Jones article:
“Payday lenders were popular honorees this year among civil rights groups celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. The president of CFSA, the payday lending industry lobby group, chaired the Congress of Racial Equality's (CORE) Martin Luther King Jr. awards dinner in January. To honor the King holiday this year, SCLC gave its presidential award to CompuCredit's Harrod for her "leadership in the struggle for economic justice through the political process."
CompuCredit was sued last year by the Federal Trade Commission for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and for “deceptive practices” that often left their borrowers in so much debt, that it was difficult for them to get out.
CompuCredit, J.D. Byrider, and CFSA are all part of the industry that makes the majority of its profits from those who have difficulty making ends meet. From formulas that are designed for the purpose of milking as much money out of people as is possible to charging exorbitant interest rates that spin people into a cycle of debt, it is clear that this industry is doing little to help those in society who need the most help. The connection of CORE and the National Conference of Black Mayors to groups like CFSA work to legitimize the payday lending industry as an important economic tool to the African-American community. The studies that have been conducted and the reports that have been filed seem to indicate that this industry is doing little for the economic mobility of the African-American community while making solid profits for the lenders.
It remains to be seen if this issue will come to a vote in Ohio on November 4th, but if the issue does appear on the ballot, let’s hope that citizens can sift through all the details before they head into the voting booth.
This article can also be found at http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com
Sunday, August 10, 2008
This statement, is 100% false. On June 17, 2004, President Bush stated before reporters:
"The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda."
Now it is up to Brian Kilmeade and Fox News to issue a correction. You can tell Fox to issue a correction:
Fox News Channel: 1-888-369-4762
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Commercialization of sporting events in nothing new. Many people watch the Super Bowl for the commercials alone, NASCAR race cars are plastered with company logos, and celebrities can easily obtain a second income from product endorsements. What is new, is the level of commercialization that surrounds the Olympic games. The very involvement of so many global companies with the Olympics immediately shifts the games from not just healthy sporting competition, but to a global business venture for giant corporations. Editor Robert Weissman has written a new piece in which he states:
"A record 63 companies have become sponsors or partners of the Beijing Olympics, and Olympics-related advertising in China alone could reach $4 billion to $6 billion this year, according to CSM, a Beijing marketing research firm."
Weissman is an editor of the Multinational Monitor and they have just released a report which analyzes "how commercialization is overrunning the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games". The report discusses how sponsorships and branding campaigns have eclipsed the very spirit that the Olympics are meant to embody. This includes sponsors such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola (companies not known for making healthy food and drink), which pump loads of money into the games while the Olympics simultaneously strive to promote healthy living and fitness. This type of hypocrisy can also be seen with the companies that make the majority of the Olympic apparel. ADIDAS and Nike have a dark history of sourcing their products from sweatshops and, as the report states, ADIDAS just announced that it is transferring some of the companies production out of China because they pay their workers too high a wage. These inherent contradictions fly in the face of what the "spirit of the Olympics" strive to promote and deserve to be covered fully.
The second issue that deserves in-depth coverage from the corporate media, is the emergence of China as a surveillance society and how U.S. defense contractors are aiding in this process. This issue has received relatively little coverage overall with the exception of an extensive piece done by journalist Naomi Klein and published in May of this year by Rolling Stone. This piece outlines the Chinese city of Shenzhen which Klein describes as "the crack cocaine of capitalism". This city was one of the few areas in China where capitalism was first implemented on a trial basis. The city boomed economically and now has a population of 12.4 million people. The city is now home to numerous American corporations and many electronics, automobiles, and apparel items are made in this city. In addition to this economic boom, Klein reports that the city of Shenzhen installed 200,000 surveillance cameras which all are fed into a nationwide network used to track every public space in the city. Elements of this program, called "Golden Shield", are being supplied to the Chinese by corporations such as IBM, General Electric, and Honeyshield and are being used to build a system which will help to prevent any massive public uprising during this time period in which the entire world is focused on China.
An important point that is made by Klein in this piece, is that free markets and free people do not necessarily go hand in hand. China is a prime example of how "free market capitalism" can thrive under a style of government that is does not at all promote freedom. The "Golden Shield" system is being built to provide 24 hour a day surveillance of the Chinese population, the ability to monitor phone and Internet access, and a system national ID's that will have an end result of providing China with a photo database of all 1.3 billion people within the country. This type of system will not only provide the Chinese government with detailed information about their population, but will allow for tight control over demonstrations and opponents of such a system.
Companies in the United States don't see the emergence of the Chinese surveillance society as a problem, they see it as an opportunity. IBM, General Electric, and Honeywell are all providing China with the infrastructure for building this "Golden Shield" technology. Everything from the computer monitoring systems to the security systems which can control thousands of cameras and track fast-moving objects. The market is ripe for these companies as well as others who are lining up to help China with its immense need to coordinate a system that can help track over a billion people. While this is certainly reason enough for concern among those in the U.S. who care about human rights, Klein quotes a British researcher named Greg Walton in her article who states that the U.S. government is not expressing outrage at this, but rather mining this type of system for ideas.
As has been shown above, American companies already have the opportunity to make big money on the over-commercialization of the Olympic Games as well as in the new Chinese market of population surveillance. In addition to these issues, the Chinese connection of advisors to both major Presidentail campaigns show a very real relevance to the 2008 Presidential election.
Ken Silverstein has written a new piece in Harper's Magazine which outlines how many bipartisan experts (tied to the campaigns of both major Presidential candidates) profit from the emerging Chinese market while simultaneously calling for constructive engagement with the country. Silverstein was on the news program Democracy Now! recently to discuss his most recent article. In the interview, he outlines how several advisors to both major campaigns have appeared regularly on television and in print without disclosing their connection to consulting firms whose business model is built upon pushing for policies that will open more economic doors with countries like China. Silverstein states in his interview:
"...you cannot open doors with Chinese government officials on behalf of Western companies unless you are on good terms. I mean, if they don’t like you, if you say a lot of nasty things about Tibet or human rights or anything else, then the Chinese government officials that you need to help you in your business are not going to be there for you."
The issue with this is not simply a lack of disclosure, but the very real possibility that many of these private-sector advisors to both campaigns could very well end up back in government jobs. Silverstein points to the example of Sandy Berger from the Clinton Administration. Prior to his time spent in the Clinton Administration, Berger worked in the private sector for Hogan & Hartson pushing for the continued normalization of trade with China. Upon his arrival in the Administration, he continued to push for the normalization of trade relations with China and the Clinton Administration ended up prioritizing normal trade relations over human rights policy by the end of their time in office. After Berger left the Clinton Administration, he went to work for Stonebridge International where he still lobbies for China to this day.
In connection with the current Presidential race, Silverstein expands on the connections of Alexander Haig and Brent Scrowcroft with both China and John McCain and of Jeffrey Bader with Barack Obama. These advisors have very strong connections with or have started their own bipartisan firms (The Scowcroft Group) that have direct ties to lobbying for favorable policies toward China. Silverstein states:
"If you look at the authors of virtually any major think tank report on foreign policy and you look down the list of who put it together, you’re almost always going to find people from these consulting firms. And again, at least let’s identify these people. I mean, you’ll see them identified as belonging to a think tank, say, but what you won’t see is, you know, a guy like [Kevin] Nealer identified as working for the Scowcroft Group. I mean, let’s get these conflicts out in the open, at least, so the public knows who’s putting together our foreign policy. "
Affiliations with these firms are often not disclosed to the public when these officials comment in the media and these same advisors have the potential to have very real sway within either a McCain Administration or an Obama Administration. Their backgrounds and agendas need to be both examined and exposed.
The three issues that I have outlined above get very little attention within the greater discussion that has surrounded the Olympic games. Instead, we hear advertiser friendly messages of unity, competition, and the human spirit. Serious issues that directly affect the Olympics are brushed aside and labeled as items that distract from the true nature of the games. What is missed, is the reality that these issues are directly connected the 2008 Olympics and its host country. Commercialization has woven itself through every corridor of Beijing and the Olympic stadiums in which the athletes will perform. The increase in surveillance has been used as an excuse to "beef up" security prior to the games in order to keep people safe, yet the long-term plans to continue construction of the "Golden Shield" speak to the pervasive nature of China's surveillance society. The connection of institutions that lobby for normalized relations with China to prominent advisors of both major Presidential candidates speak to the tangled political and economic web that is woven from the Far East, to Washington D.C. These are the issues that need addressing because the implications of each issue have the potential to last much longer than the shine on a gold medal.
This article can also be found at: http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com
Friday, August 1, 2008
Remember when Donald Rumsfeld told us in November of 2002 that the invasion of Iraq had “nothing to do with oil”? Well recently on June 24, 2008, there was a very interesting debate on the KCRW radio program “To The Point” hosted by Warren Olney. The discussion centered on Iraq and the decision to give no-bid contracts to some of the biggest western oil companies once expelled by Saddam Hussein in 1972. Among the guests on the program were Naomi Klein (author of “The Shock Doctrine” ) and Fadhil Chalabi (Former Iraqi Undersecretary).
The discussion quickly began center around whether these no-bid contracts are evidence that the invasion of Iraq was in fact, about oil. Naomi Klein fielded this question directly and thinks that these actions certainly bolster that argument. She points to the recent quote from former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan’s memoir where he stated that “the Iraq War is largely about oil.” I should also point out that in addition to this quote from his memoir, Greenspan has also been quoted in interviews that the removal of Saddam Hussein was essential to securing world oil supplies.
Fadhil Chalabi then joined the discussion. Chalabi is the Executive Director of the Center for Global Energy Studies in London and was the former Iraqi Undersecretary. Chalabi also worked as the Deputy Secretary General of OPEC and arranged meetings with oil companies to discuss the plans for Iraq’s oil fields after the invasion. Chalabi was asked about those who argue that the Iraq war was for oil and he, like Greenspan, said that the objectives were much larger than just oil. Chalabi stated that the war is a strategic move by U.S. to have a military presence in the region to secure supplies for the future and stand against the growing influence of Iran. In addition to this bold declaration of motives, Chalabi was then asked what his response was to those who say that the US is primarily in Iraq to help these major oil companies regain a foothold in Iraq. Chalabi responded, “That’s right. That is right, a foothold in Iraq for the future.”
When asked for her reaction to these statements by Chalabi, Naomi Klein said that she appreciated the frankness of the comments regarding motive, but also pointed out a circular argument that we are seeing develop in regard to Iraq. There is the claim, by Chalabi, that the United States is present to guard the oil against the growing Iranian threat, however it was the U.S. invasion that has been a primary cause for much of the destabilization in the region. The United States is now in a situation where they are protecting the oil from Iran due to the instability in the region, yet the instability was (and is) caused by the invasion and ensuing occupation. This leads to the circumstance where the U.S. is present to protect from the instability which they continue to cause by their very presence in the region. Klein states that “the continued chaos that is being caused becomes the rationale for these policies that are being put into effect.”
We have gone from a time where there was flat-out denial that the war was about oil, to figures such as Greenspan and Chalabi very openly admitting that the war was certainly about oil. It is time that we put away any doubt about the true motives of the Bush Administration in regard to the invasion and continue to follow the money to further expose where their priorities lie.
This article can also be seen at http://www.cincinnatibeacon.com