Friday, September 26, 2008

Protesters Take their Rage to Wall Street

Enraged by the prospect of $700 billion of their taxes going to speculators, hundreds of protesters hit Wall Street on Thursday.

Enraged by the prospect of $700 billion of their taxes going to reimburse Wall Street speculators for their dubious investments, about 500 protesters paraded through Lower Manhattan's financial district Thursday afternoon, their chants of "You broke it, you bought it" reverberating through the narrow office building canyons and off the flag-draped wall of the New York Stock Exchange.

"I'm outraged," said Linda Greco, a 40-ish Brooklyn woman. "People are losing their homes. There's homeless people all over the city. The schools are falling apart. And they want to bail these pigs out? It's about time the people of this country woke up and took this country back."

Like many others, Greco learned about the protest from an e-mail tree that sprouted like kudzu on methamphetamine. "I must have gotten 10 to 20," she said.
The demonstration originated with an e-mail sent out Monday afternoon by Arun Gupta, an editor at the leftist Indypendent. "They said providing health care for 9 million children, perhaps costing $6 billion a year, was too expensive, but there's evidently no sum of money large enough that will sate the Wall Street pigs," it read. "We need to act now while we can influence the debate. With Bear Stearns, Fannie and Freddie, AIG, the money markets and now this omnibus bailout, well in excess of $1 trillion will be distributed from the poor, workers and middle class to the scum floating on top? Let the bondholders pay, let the banks pay, let those who brought the 'toxic' mortgage-backed securities pay!"

"It tapped into an enormous reservoir of anger," Gupta told the crowd that gathered at the bull statue on Bowling Green. The e-mail inspired similar protests in almost 200 cities and towns, from Greensboro, N.C., to Henderson, Nev. Though phone calls and e-mails to Congress have been running nearly 1,000 to 1 against the bailout, he added, "it's clear that the fix is in."

"It's out-fuckin-rageous. They expect the public to bail them out?" said Rich Haber, 61, a retired Brooklyn bus driver. "I worked for the Transit Authority for 27 years, and I can't afford a house. I knew these mortgages were bogus."

Others offered similar vitriol. "Appalling," said Kate Powers, 39, an Obama supporter from Brooklyn. "Ridiculous," said Laura Skove, an 18-year-old student in an Obama T-shirt. "The government can't spend money on health care, but it can on Wall Street." "Highway robbery," said Annie V., part of a group holding up signs reading "N.Y. to Wall St. and the Bush Adm.: Drop Dead" -- echoing the legendary "FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD" headline the Daily News ran in 1975 when then-President Gerald Ford refused to bail out debt-ridden New York City.

That fiscal crisis ended when the banks imposed harsh budget austerity on New York, forcing it to raise the subway fare by 43 percent while virtually eliminating maintenance, lay off police and close firehouses during an epidemic of crime and arson, and slash funding for schools and hospitals.

"They've been allowed to totally screw up and then get bailed out. I want to strangle every single politician," said Kevin Condon, a 30-year-old farm-stand worker from Brooklyn carrying a "Jump Without Your Golden Parachute" sign. Though he doesn't want to see the economy collapse, he said the crisis is an opportunity to dream of a different system, of smaller, more locally based commerce.

"Why isn't everyone in the street?" wondered Megan Fulton, 26, a Brooklyn graduate student. She held a sign asking the government to bail her out for the $93,000 she owes in student loans.

Older protesters had a feeling of deja vu. Davida Joyner, 51, of Harlem worked helping tenants administer abandoned buildings during the 1970s, then suffered a brain tumor and was out of commission for 20 years. "I woke up like Rumpelstiltskin," she said. "I saw all of this housing situation become unbelievable again." Sol McCants, 54, recalled the stock-market and savings-and-loan scams of the 1980s.

"These people are thieves and belong in jail," he said. "McCain's trying to make it look like he's doing a great thing, but he's not. That scumbag doesn't want to face the questions because he was behind the savings and loans."

The best thing that might come out of this crisis, he added, is that white voters might learn to "see their pockets" instead of blaming black and brown people for their problems. But if Obama is elected, people will have to nag him "like my wife tells me every other night to put the toilet seat down."

"I don't think the Democrats are much better," said Eva-Lee Baird, 68, of the Granny Peace Brigade -- noting that many of the Depression-era controls on imprudent investments were taken away under Bill Clinton.

"We need something like the New Deal," said James Trimarco, 30, of Brooklyn. "Put people to work doing actual stuff -- transportation and the environment -- instead of trading fictitious capital around the world."

Though Lower Manhattan is one of the most heavily locked down areas in the country -- the Stock Exchange is surrounded by an iron fence, the closest subway exit is barricaded off, and surrounding streets have concrete stanchions and raised metal sheets to block traffic, with guards and dogs in booths watching them -- police presence at the demonstration was surprisingly light, especially by the draconian standards of the Giuliani-Bloomberg era.

Gupta attributed that to the "media feeding frenzy" surrounding the protest. "You think that while those fuckers are debating in D.C., they want pictures of protesters being beaten by cops being beamed around the world?" he asked.
Many Wall Street types greeted the protesters with contempt. "Just look at these people," sneered one broker as the march neared the Stock Exchange. Another group held a "Get a Job" sign in an office window, and one man dropped a few dollar bills out of his. They fluttered down short of the marchers, landing in a construction site.

Such contempt from the upper classes is nothing new to the lowly proles of Gotham. On Broadway near Wall Street is a stone slab commemorating billionaire real estate developer Harry B. Helmsley, "whose richness of spirit and love for New York helped build this great city." New Yorkers of a certain age and level of cynicism are more likely to remember Helmsley's late widow, Leona, a hotel magnate nicknamed the "Queen of Mean."

She achieved notoriety by leaving $12 million to her dogs -- more than she left to any of her grandchildren -- and telling her housekeeper that "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."


Steven Wishnia is a New York-based journalist and musician. The author of Exit 25 Utopia and The Cannabis Companion, he has won two New York City Independent Press Association awards for his coverage of housing issues. He is looking for a job.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Vermont Candidate Pledges to Prosecute Bush

Charlotte Dennett, who entered the race for Vermont Attorney General this week, readily admits that it will be an uphill battle. But the Vermont Progressive Party’s candidate does have one thing going for her – an issue with the potential to mobilize voters upset about the Iraq War. At her first press conference, sitting next to renowned prosecutor and author Vincent Bugliosi, she pledged to prosecute George W. Bush for murder if elected and appoint Bugliosi as a special prosecutor to take on the job.

Bugliosi had come to Vermont specifically to back Dennett’s bid against incumbent Attorney General William Sorrell, who has held the job since 1997. “There is no better state to bring this forward,” Dennett said, pointing to the fact that Vermont has lost more soldiers per capita than any other state during the war and that voters at 36 Town Meetings have called for Bush’s impeachment.

“No man is above the law,” Bugliosi argued, explaining that a state Attorney General can prosecute Bush for conspiracy to commit murder after he leaves office. The key is to establish “overt acts” that prove there was a conspiracy to mislead the country into war, he said. Bugliosi pointed specifically to Bush’s frequent public statements, which were broadcast nationally, and the recruitment of Vermonters to fight in Iraq. “Any Attorney General can do this,” he said.

Dennett, who has been practicing law since 1997, is also an investigative journalist. "When I read Mr. Bugliosi’s meticulously-argued case," she has explained, "it struck a chord with me as a Vermonter and an American citizen.”

Bugliosi has won 105 out of 106 felony jury trials and is best known for prosecuting Charles Manson. Yet his most recent book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, has proven highly controversial. Mainstream media outlets have declined to review it or interview him, Bugliosi noted. Asked what explains the reaction, he speculated that the Right Wing in the US has frightened many people into silence. Thus, “the establishment has decided Bush should not be held accountable,” he said.

In recent days, there have been renewed calls to go after the president. For example, Seattle Congressman Jim McDermott has announced that he wants to see Bush impeached, whether or not he’s still in office. He has joined a call from Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich to launch impeachment proceedings, and has cited Bugliosi’s book as part of the reason for his decision.

Although pleased that McDermott is calling for impeachment, Bugliosi thinks congressional action doesn't go far enough. "Impeachment alone would be a joke for anyone interested in justice," he says. His recommendation is that a state official – Dennett, for example, if she is elected – should prosecute Bush for murder in the deaths of American soldiers fighting in Iraq.

On the campaign trail, Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Biden recently said that an Obama/Biden Administration would pursue criminal charges against Bush over the treatment of captured terrorists held at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. “If there has been a basis upon which you can pursue someone for a criminal violation, they will be pursued,” Biden pledged at a Florida campaign stop.

Earlier this year, Barack Obama took a similar position, stating that he would look at whether Bush violated laws. But fearing that such a position could undermine their chances of victory, Biden subsequently softened his position, telling the Philadelphia Daily News that he didn’t want the start of an Obama/Biden term to look like a “witch hunt.”

At this point, Dennett’s chances of victory aren’t strong. Although Vermont Progressives have elected representatives to the state legislature, no candidate has yet come close to winning a statewide race. Anthony Pollina, the Progressive standard bearer who ran for governor in 2000 and received 24.8 percent of the vote in a 2002 race for Lt. Governor, decided this summer to run for governor as an Independent in hopes of broadening his base.

Sorrell, a Democrat, has enjoyed bi-partisan support, and received enough write-in votes in Vermont’s recent primary to appear on the November ballot as both the Democratic and Republican candidate. Nevertheless, a strong turnout for Dennett would send the message that the idea of prosecuting Bush is something to seriously consider.

In 2007, Vermont's State Senate passed a resolution calling on the US Congress to impeach Bush over his handling of the war. But House Speaker Gaye Symington, a Democrat who is currently running for governor against Republican incumbent James Douglas, argued at the time that the move wasn’t appropriate prior to a Congressional investigation. During the House proceedings, about 400 Vermonters from 102 communities showed up at the State House but the resolution was defeated. Vermont's congressional delegation has shown little interest in the idea.

The question raised by Dennett’s promise to pursue prosecution of Bush is whether anger about the war – and how the public and Congress were misled – are enough to create a competitive race against a successful incumbent. Vermonters don’t register by party, and identification as Democrats and Republicans is weaker than in most states. But it remains to be seen if the race can become an unofficial referendum. In essence, a strong turnout for Dennett would mean that Vermont voters want to take the lead in turning a former president into a criminal defendant.
If nothing else, the campaign could produce a great bumper sticker: Prosecute Bush. Elect Dennett.
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