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Month July 2011

The Financial Institutions Fight Back

A Look at the Unapologetic Greed of the Financial Sector
by Stephanie Basile

After causing the largest economic collapse in recent memory and taking our taxpayer dollars to help themselves (but no one else) weather the storm, the financial institutions have somehow decided that the financial laws in this country are too strict! Two recent news stories in the New York Times illuminate just how incredibly greedy and unapologetic the people running these institutions are, and just how unwilling the federal government is to challenge this unmitigated greed.

It’s important that we, as activists, are aware of the aggressive and often behind-the-scenes lobbying that the industry does so that we can challenge and offer an alternative voice to the destructive behavior of the financial institutions.

First, the federal government has apparently decided that the financial institutions can be trusted to police themselves! A July 7th story details how the government adopted new guidelines which allow corporations to report their own crimes to the government. They can then negotiate a deal in order to delay or altogether avoid criminal prosecution.

In one example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began an investigation into Beazer Homes, one of the nation’s 10 largest home builders. They found that Beazer took part in such fraudulent activities as offering a lower mortgage rate if buyers paid an extra fee, but then not giving them the lower rate, and enticing homeowners by offering down payment assistance, but not disclosing that it then raised the price of the house by the same amount. After learning of the HUD investigation, Beazer paid a law firm to conduct its own investigation. The company ended up entering into an agreement with the government in which it would pay consumers and the government $55 million in exchange for the HUD dropping its investigation, thus avoiding criminal charges.

Eerily, this brings us one step closer to the ideal corporatist state, in which the lines between corporate power and government power are not just blurry but nonexistent. With these new guidelines, now we don’t just have a government that weakly enforces the law, but instead actually allows corporations to police themselves and pay their way out of criminal prosecution.

Then on July 14th, the Times featured a story on Steve Bartlett, the head of Financial Services Roundtable, which represents 100 of the country’s largest financial institutions. Bartlett is on a mission to challenge the injustices done to the financial institutions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which Obama signed into law in July 2010. This bill contains nearly 300 new rules aimed at regulating the financial institutions.

While the bill don’t substantially change the unwieldy amount of power already enjoyed by the financial institutions, these pesky new rules are offensive enough that Bartlett and others are lobbying hard to have at least two dozen of them repealed. Among the offensive rules: executive compensation disclosure, in which companies must disclose CEO pay and the ratio of CEO pay to median pay of regular employees. There’s nothing about actually limiting the absurd amount of money CEOs make, just filling the rest of us in on the enormous gap between CEO and employee pay. Another rule: improved credit rating guidelines, in which credit rating agencies must follow tighter accounting guidelines when issuing credit ratings. This measure addresses the problem in which credit rating agencies often mislead investors by releasing overly positive credit ratings.

The powers that be do not like these rules, and they’ve gone into hyper-defense mode. The Times reports that Wall Street spent $52 million in lobbying in the first three months of 2011, up 10% from the previous quarter.

Barlett estimates that the new rules will cost the financial industry $14 billion. Even in the world of cutthroat lobbyists and shrewd businesspeople, Bartlett is known for being particularly aggressive. The Times article quotes him as saying, “I wish I could look the other way. I’ve got 14 billion reasons to be aggressive.”

Nowhere in Bartlett’s “14 billion reasons” is the human cost caused to working families all around the country thanks to the reckless corporate greed of his clients. But then again, in the corporatist state, in which government’s sole purpose is to ensure unlimited power and profits for corporations, pesky things like people’s livelihoods just don’t factor into the equation.

Stephanie Basile is a union organizer who lives in Brooklyn.

New York Magazine Investigates CMU Program & Deceptive Sting Used to Entrap Yassin Aref

This week New York Magazines Christopher S. Stewart published a hard-hitting and deeply personal investigation into the secretive federal prison programs known as Communication Management Units.

The units have been given nicknames like “Little Gitmo” and “Guantanamo North” because of the glaring ethnic and racial disparity of inmates designated to these units.  62% of inmates designated to the CMUs are Muslim men — a fact that both the ACLU & The Center For Constitutional Rights (CCR) highlight in their pending lawsuits against the prisons.  Labeled by the CCR  as an “experiment in social isolation” these institutions specifically isolate and silence inmates whose cases involve abundant press attention or possible prosecutorial misconduct, like that of the case against the Albany, NY Imam, Yassin Aref.

Stewart highlights the case against Aref in his feature, providing intimate details that the public has never seen before and that the federal government has made efforts to bury.  The sting employed to entrap Aref was a layered mess of corrupt government informants, uninformed innocent merchants, and high tech spying.   The three year operation to entrap Aref started with a hunch provided by military intel that was later redacted because it was grossly incorrect.  However once the ball started rolling it did not stop, and Aref now sits in federal prison serving a 15 year sentence for allegedly providing material support for a terror organization he knew nothing of…

Click HERE to to read Christopher Stewart’s article in New York Magazine

Be sure to share this important article & leave comments thanking New York Magazine for their continued commitment to important issues like this one.

 

Help Chef Ayinde Spread His Vegan Message on Bravo Television!

Ever since Chef Ayinde Howell partnered with Sparrow Media to bring us his Wildflower Vegan Pop-Up, there has been a groundswell of press attention highlighting Ayinde’s cruelty-free contribution to the grassroots pop-up phenomena. From write-ups in The New York Times, to features on New York Magazine‘s “Grub Street”, this recent press push has helped to further mainstream vegan ideals, raise questions about our nations continued reliance on animal husbandry despite amazing vegan options, and all the while help make a name for this breakout chef.

Following the surge of press attention Bravo Television has asked Ayinde to compete on their reality dinner party show “Rocco’s Dinner Party.” Ayinde will make his Bravo appearance tonight (Wednesday 7/13/2011) at 10pm EST, 9pm Central and we as a movement of compassionate activists should use this opportunity to send a message to Bravo that we want them to have an increased vegan focus in their program mix.

Bravo TV’s website features a user contributed content forum called “twitter battles.” We invite you to join us as we participate in one of these battles during and around the show’s airing to reign in the narrative on their twitter forum by tweeting links about vegan outreach, and tweets emphasizing your interest in Bravo’s continued commitment to vegan programming.

Here are a few ways you can help…

1.) Access the twitter battle & read tutorials on how to participate at this LINK. Then log on and start tweeting. The possibilities are endless but here are two examples that you can feel free to ad-lib as you like.

I wish @roccodispirito  on @bravotv featured more #vegan chefs like Chef @AYINDE

Want to know why @AYINDE is #vegan ? – [insert link to vegan resource here]

2.) You can share the LINK to the twitter battle on your facebook page, tumblr, or twitter accounts and encourage your friends to get involved in the twitter battle as well.

3.) Tell friends & family that “Rocco’s Dinner Party” on the Bravo network will be featuring the vegan culinary stylings of chef Ayinde Howell.

4.) You can also leave Bravo a comment thanking them for featuring a vegan chef and suggest they do it more often HERE

http://www.bravotv.com/contact

 

Join us This Thursday at 7pm for the Launch of ‘Fast Times in Palestine’

 
Join us this Thursday July 7th, at 7pm for a book launch celebrating the release of Fast Times in Palestine and a very special conversation with author Pamela Olson and Noor Elashi.  Admission is free and open to the public.

Thursday, July 7, 2011 at 7pm
The New School, 65 West 11th Street, Wollman Hall, 5th Floor
Hosted by Project Palestine & the Graduate Program in International Affairs
Please RSVP & share this event on facebook.

Fast Times in Palestine is a ground-breaking novel about the modern Palestinian reality, told through the eyes of a young woman from small-town Oklahoma whose political innocence was shattered when she wandered into the West Bank in late 2003. With dizzying speed she found herself working as a journalist, serving as the foreign press coordinator for a Palestinian presidential candidate, and witnessing the 2005 Disengagement from inside the Gaza Strip. The narrative focuses not only on violence, terror, and social and political upheavals but also on the daily rounds of house 
parties, concerts, barbecues, weddings, jokes, harvests, and romantic drama that happen in between. Funny, gorgeous, shocking, and galvanizing, this book challenges the way Americans think not only about the Middle East but about human nature and our place in the world. Fast Times in Palestine is available on Amazon HERE.

Project Palestine is an organization aimed at illustrating the Palestinian condition through films, music, literature, poetry and art.

PRAISE FOR FAST TIMES IN PALESTINE

“Olson’s masterful storytelling, imagery and wit take the reader on a transformative journey through Palestine.”
—Anna Baltzer, author of Witness in Palestine

“Pamela Olson leads the reader on an exciting, funny, at times heart-wrenchingjourney, carefully deciphering complex political and historical issues. Olson is a talented writer, intelligent and exceptional in her ability to convey both tragedy and hope.”
—Ramzy Baroud, author of My Father was a Freedom Fighter

“It’s love in the time of occupation as Pamela Olson… takes us on the emotional roller-coaster of her very personal experience of life in Ramallah — and in doing so lays bare the human drama of a people… determined to live free.”Tony Karon, Senior Editor, TIME Magazine

“A moving, inspiring account of life in Palestine that’s enormously informative yet reads like a novel.”
—Rebecca Vilkomerson, Executive Director, Jewish Voice for Peace

“Pamela Olson operates in a great tradition of American explorers, from Martha Gellhorn to Susan Meiselas to Rachel Corrie — open-minded women who have thrown off a lot of tired received wisdom about a fearful part of the world in order to see it for themselves, then brought that understanding back to their own culture. This book is a triumph of sympathy and observation.” —Philip Weiss, Editor of Mondoweiss

 

A Message to the Media Regarding the US Boat to Gaza (video)

An update from  Andy Stepanian, co-founder of the Sparrow Project.

For the past 24 hours I have been glued to twitter as a few of my close friends set out with the US Boat to Gaza with hopes of documenting the breaking of the maritime blockade that has economically crippled Gaza since 2006 and isolated 1.6 million Palestinians in what some humanitarians are calling “the world’s largest open-air prison.”

Shortly after my release from the Communications Management Unit I started a project, reaching out to families of political prisoners still held in the CMU.  It was through these efforts that I met two amazing people — Paul Park and Noor Elashi.  I met Paul while documenting the efforts of Project Palestine. Paul directed and shot this video and Noor helped story board the piece.

With high profile interviews from academics, humanitarians and artists their video provides a brilliant response to the accusations levied against the flotilla by media outlets that support the blockade.  As activists we already understand that the flotilla’s purpose is not one of confrontation nor is it aligned with any Palestinian authority, but savvy PR initiatives by many special interests are quick to label the flotilla as such and in-tern they cultivate fear and distrust within the Israeli populace, inflame IDF forces that may at one point engage the flotilla, and control the flotilla narrative amidst the international community.  It is important that we as activists turn the tide in the smothering public relations efforts levied from these special interests.   Please take a moment this afternoon to share their video on social networks, twitter, etc.

We will be posting updates on and from the flotilla in real time via our twitter account http://twitter.com/sparrowmedia we invite you to join this conversation and help us to wage our own grassroots PR effort in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

All the best,

Andy