The Original Occupy

Americans maintain a somewhat outdated vision of Canada as a nation of tree huggers and environmentalists. To wit, unlike every other industrialized nation in the world, Canada has regressed on climate change initiatives.

Ah, the Great White North. America’s attic. Uncle Sam’s hat. The land of self-deprecation, Tim Hortons donuts and ice fishing. Less notably, it is the land of my birth. Although I became a U.S. citizen in the fifth grade, my Canadian roots were always a source of pride, despite precluding me from ever becoming president.

It has always amazed me how little we Americans think of our sister nation to the north. With the occasional exception of the tabloid coverage that accompanies “Bieber Fever,” the media here are devoid of Canadian news. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising there hasn’t been a single article devoted to the indigenous Idle No More movement that has taken hold in Canada. As we witnessed during the early days of Occupy, corporate media are indifferent to dissent unless it’s displayed in a faraway nation by throngs of angry Arabic men. (Congrats again on winning Best Picture, Ben.) Recall that it took weeks for any established media to begin covering Occupy in any meaningful way, and when they finally did, they were largely dismissive of it.

Yet the American news media do spend a good deal of time and ink discussing the relationship between the United States and China. Any news of civil unrest in China is worrisome to corporate America because of our obsession with our mutual economic interests. After all, we are the global champions of human rights so long as we’re not stripped of our fundamental economic right to slave labor.

Missing from this equation is the fact that China is America’s second top trading partner. The first is Canada. Yes, the land that calls its one- and two-dollar coins “loonies” and “toonies” is our number one trading partner on the planet. This is why the lack of coverage of the Idle No More movement is rather astounding given that our economic interests are involved. Not only have Canadian Indians disrupted commerce, they are providing the strongest resistance on the Canadian side to the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project that would run from Canada through several U.S. states.

In December of 2012, four Canadian activists named Jessica Gordon, Sylvia McAdam, Sheelah McLean and Nina Wilson founded Idle No More to protest the Canadian government’s passage of C-45—a massive omnibus bill containing anti-environmental provisions that might surprise many Americans. Since December, native people across Canada have disrupted major events and even gained international attention from a hunger strike waged by Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. Protestors have closed off roads, blockaded bridges, cut off a road to a De Beers diamond mine and generally raised hell by attacking this bill for moving Canada further away from the path of sustainability.

Americans maintain a somewhat outdated vision of Canada as a nation of tree huggers and environmentalists. To wit, unlike every other industrialized nation in the world, Canada has regressed on climate change initiatives. In January, Global Legislative Organisation (GLOBE), an environmental NGO, issued its third report on the legislative initiatives of 33 nations. Of the 33 countries, which include China and the United States, GLOBE gave 32 of them credit for making progress in enacting and adopting beneficial environmental legislation. The only nation to go backwards? Canada.

John Kane, a native activist and writer who hosts a show on Indian affairs on WWKB-AM in Buffalo, says that Idle No More “is about water, land and sovereignty.” Like many who have observed Canadian politics of late, Kane laments that the dominion has been besieged by a warped conservative agenda, characterizing Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a “cross between Bush and Cheney.” Relations between the tribes and her majesty’s government, strained as they are, worsened as C-45 set off alarms among tribal leaders almost immediately.

“Harper initiated a suite of legislation,” says Kane, “that would lower the threshold to invade native lands and take streams, rivers, minerals, you name it.” Reading between the lines of a “jobs act” in the bill, Kane says that “job creation” is a euphemism for “the opportunity for other countries like China to participate in mineral extraction.”

Idle No More intersected with other activist movements in February when its members joined the massive rally in Washington, D.C., organized by the Sierra Club and 350.org, to call for President Obama to continue the U.S. obstruction of the Keystone XL Pipeline project. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 protestors descended upon the National Mall. Michael Brune, head of the Sierra Club, was even arrested at the rally, breaking the organization’s longstanding prohibition against civil disobedience. (The rally was also woefully under-reported by corporate media.) President Obama is clearly important in the process and the U.S. has to clear far more regulatory hurdles to move the Keystone project forward. But the pressure to begin construction is coming more from the Canadian government than anywhere else. The Harper administration, with tremendous support from Canadian petro companies, is hell-bent on exploiting the Alberta tar sands, no matter how environmentally catastrophic the process is.

“This is an area the size of Florida,” says Kane. “The bottom line is Canada can make a lot of money by raping Alberta.”

Idle No More goes beyond the Keystone Pipeline. This week I spoke with Yoni Miller, who is the president of Occupy Wall Street—an intentionally ironic title as Occupy continues to be an amorphous, leaderless and volunteer movement. I reached out to him because the Occupy outlets were among the relatively few areas to obtain any information outside of native publications. Regarding C-45 and the potential toll on native territory, Miller said, “We all know it’s more than that—it’s about the ongoing and existing process of colonialization.” He also believes the tribes have better insight to environmental issues because of “their unique relationship to the land.” 

On Jan. 5 of this year Yoni was invited to Akwesasne, the Mohawk territory that straddles the St. Lawrence River between New York and Ontario. For several hours Iroquois members of Idle No More shut down the Seaway International Bridge between the U.S. and Canada—an experience Miller called “humbling.” When I asked him whether he felt Occupy had fueled any of the confidence in Idle No More, he was reluctant to take anything away from what had been accomplished.

“It may not have been possible without the energy from Occupy,” he said, but then quickly added, “but these people were activists before we were even born.  Indigenous resistance has been going on since 1492. It’s what makes this different.”

Both Occupy and Idle are relatively quiet at the moment. But John Kane and Yoni Miller independently expressed the same sentiment that spring is the season of awakening and that both groups will be on the move. Perhaps they will jolt the mainstream media from their hibernation as well, though I doubt it. These particular bears appear to be idle, forever more. 

 

Illustration by Jon Moreno

The Grammy’s, Lin-Sanity, Jon Stewart (and Iran)

This is another column about the burgeoning crisis between the US and Iran. Since I have yet to gain any traction with this issue I have decided to sprinkle gratuitous pop-culture references throughout the piece to generate interest.

This column first appeared in the February 16th, 2012 edition of the Long Island Press.

Over the past couple of weeks my frequent collaborator, Dorian Dale, and I have set the burgeoning conflict between Iran and the United States in our sights, determined to bring this potential disaster further forward in our nation’s collective consciousness. But while Whitney Houston’s body is in search of an arena large enough to hold her mourners, talk of the next Great War generates barely enough interest to fill a teacup.

Therefore, I have decided to shamelessly sprinkle gratuitous pop-culture references throughout this column in order to reach a larger audience. (References are bolded for navigational ease.)

Iran is the slow moving accident you can’t take your eyes off of. It’s LIN-sanity. For that matter, so is the global economy, the crisis in the Eurozone and the price of oil. Let’s add in the GOP primary season for good measure to bring this tainted stew to a boiling point because the decision-making process in America this year will be guided by partisan politics rather than practical policies.

New Yorkers would be wise to look up from their smartphones for a moment to see what’s really happening. Not only is New York home to the United Nations and ethnic communities from around the globe, it bears visible scars of terrorism. Many of its residents’ livelihoods are directly or indirectly tied to the world financial district, and don’t forget that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is also taped in the city. Moreover, conventional wisdom (if there is such a thing) has it that should the wheels come off the Obama train, our current governor will be a top Democratic contender to challenge whichever GOP dipshit is lucky enough to hoodwink America into voting for him.

One way for Obama to lose the upcoming election is if oil prices continue to get out of hand. As it is, we are already experiencing higher-than-normal pricing during the winter months. Analysts are already warning that if the trend continues and conflict with Iran steers toward the inevitable, oil could hit $200 per barrel this year, translating into approximately $6 at the pump. If this were to happen, Barack Obama’s chances at re-election would be slimmer than Adrien Brody.

Many in the media have dismissed the likelihood of confrontations between the U.S. and Iran as “saber rattling,” but there have been some very real world occurrences that are beyond rhetoric. The attempted bombing of the Israeli embassy in Bangkok this week by an Iranian man and successful assassinations of nuclear engineers within Iran over the past few months have heightened tensions between Israel and Iran. For its part, the United States is positioning itself to defend against the threatened closure of the Strait of Hormuz, a key “choke point” for oil tankers in the Middle East. Along the way, the United States rescued Iranian fishing vessels twice in one week—events that garnered brief, but small international attention as opposed to George Clooney’s performance in “The Descendants,” which has received international acclaim and Oscar nominations.

While the world does its familiar dance of deadly brinksmanship, consider for a moment the case of Morgan Stanley. Never has one company had so much to say about, or perhaps to gain, from the pressing issues at hand. Morgan Stanley embodies the intersection of finance, politics, oil and war more than any other corporation on Earth. If ever there was an example of the “corporatization” of America, this is it. I’m reviving my frequent criticism of Morgan Stanley so we may, in the words of Belgian-born artist Gotye, “Walk the plank with our eyes wide open.”

First off, trying to drill down into Morgan’s structure is like jumping down the rabbit hole in search of Johnny Depp.  The list of Morgan Stanley subsidiaries is a 25-page, single-spaced document with 207 corporations registered on the Cayman Islands alone. What most people, and even some savvy investors, don’t realize is that among them you will find a host of companies directly related to or involved in the oil industry.

Take, for example, Heidmar, a global oil shipping company with 120 vessels. Or TransMontaigne, which controls a third of the oil terminal business in the United States. Both are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Morgan Stanley. Furthermore, Morgan owns $1.2 billion in shares of ExxonMobil and $900 million in shares of Chevron. Oh, and many of the oil futures contracts are traded on the Intercontinental Exchange in Atlanta, which was founded by Jay-Z. No, jk, lmfao. It was founded by Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and BP.

Piece this together and you will quickly understand that there are two things of critical importance to Morgan Stanley where the oil business is concerned: price and volatility. When you add to the equation that the leading energy analysts in the world who predict the future price and volatility of oil are from… you get the point.

To borrow from the Occupy Wall Street movement—This is what democracy doesn’t look like.

Now let’s get our conspiracy freak on for a moment and take a look at whom Morgan Stanley is backing for president of the United States. No, it’s not Steven Colbert. Morgan is steadfastly behind Willard “I support military action in Iran” Romney. In fact, it is Romney’s third top contributor in the 2012 election cycle behind only Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, two companies that also know a little bit about gaming the financial markets.

Allow me to go one step further. Conflict in the Strait of Hormuz would be the best thing to happen to Morgan’s oil interests, as they deal mostly in the Western Hemisphere and would benefit greatly from their own prognostications of skyrocketing oil prices. Because the United States is officially now a net-exporter of oil, the American petroleum business and those financial companies that profit from it would experience a boom like never before.

The very thought of gas and oil prices going even higher sends chills down the spine, especially here in New York where we rely so heavily on home-heating oil and transportation in our daily lives. But don’t worry, New Yorkers, we’re in good hands there, too: Morgan Stanley owns the majority stockpile of home-heating oil reserves in the Northeast. Charlie Sheen can only dream of “winning” as much as Morgan Stanley.

 

All photos from the Associated Press. 

Women’s Intuition

When you examine the litany of geniuses who wrought havoc in the markets in their profligate quest for unmitigated deregulation, you’re hard-pressed to find the fairer sex among them.

On the 18thday of the Occupy encampment at Zuccotti Park, I paused to photograph a curious scene. An older man with a tight gray beard was leading an unlikely group in an acoustic rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” People of every age and background, from a family with young children to a construction worker, had gathered on the steps leading to the area of the park known as “The People’s Library” to join in song. The only giveaway that I hadn’t accidentally stumbled through a wrinkle in time and landed sometime in the 1960s was that nearly everyone was recording the moment with a camera phone.Midway through the song, our musical guide abruptly stopped the music to address the ragtag bunch before him. “Why are there no women in this song?” he pondered aloud, with his guitar dangling from its strap and his arms spread wide. “Because men are responsible for screwing it up.” Before continuing with the song he proclaimed, “Let’s hope there are more women in power so we can have more humane decisions.”This scene was only one of several captivating pockets of Zuccotti Park, and my attention was soon drawn elsewhere. Weeks later when reading a piece about celebrity influence in the Occupy movement, I noticed a picture similar to the one I had captured on the steps that day. As it turns out, the gentleman serenading the group was Peter Yarrow of Peter Paul and Mary fame. Two things immediately occurred to me. The first was that Yarrow questioning Bob Dylan was beyond rhetorical, as he probably could have asked him directly.  (Dylan wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind,” but it was Peter Paul and Mary who first recorded it.)

The second thing that came to mind was that my friend and former editor-in-chief of the Press, Robbie Woliver, would be gravely disappointed in me for not recognizing Peter Yarrow and grasping the significance of the moment; a realization that was made clearer to me in researching the origins of the song. As it turns out, the first public performance of “Blowin’ in the Wind”—it would become one of the seminal anthems of the ’60s protest movement—was at Gerde’s Folk City in 1962. Robbie and his wife, Marilyn Lash, co-owned Folk City for several years in the 1980s.

Yarrow’s timely reappearance at Occupy Wall Street underscores the similarity between the anti-establishment, anti-corruption sentiment of the 1960s and today. Further, his comments regarding the negative male influence in world affairs are perfectly in context with the situation on Wall Street. When you examine the litany of geniuses who wrought havoc in the markets in their profligate quest for unmitigated deregulation, you’re hard-pressed to find the fairer sex among them. Sure, there are stand-outs such as Wendy Gramm, but even in her case it can be argued that her depravity pales next to that of her husband. As the saying goes: Behind every terrible woman is an asshole. (Or something to that effect.)

History is replete with examples of men behaving badly to the detriment of civilization. Citing women as the reason for some of our bigger peccadilloes—Helen of Troy causing the Trojan War, Eve getting us all kicked out of the Garden, yada yada—is a favorite device of the male historian. Leading up to and during the financial meltdown, omniscient wizards such as Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin eschewed the warnings of women like Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 1996 to 1999, and continued their blitzkrieg of destruction. These guys keep breeding more insufferable free market ideologues like Tim Geithner, who fought Sheila Bair, head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. from 2006 to 2011, who railed against the concept of “Too Big to Fail.” To the free market jerkoffs like Greenspan and Geithner, Born and Bair were considered “difficult.” That’s man-speak for “tough.” Creative wordplay like this is how we men diminish effective women; better to be a bastard than a bitch in the worlds of high finance and government.

The most notable among all of these “difficult bitches” today is the earnest and brilliant Elizabeth Warren, who is running for Ted Kennedy’s old senate seat in Massachusetts against fluke incumbent Scott Brown. The funny thing about that race is that for Warren, this seat is actually a consolation prize from President Barack Obama. After leading the fight to create and organize the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Warren was the presumptive nominee to head the agency upon its formation. Shockingly, however, the POTUS buckled under pressure from Senate Republicans, who threatened to block a Warren appointment, and instead he installed the even more hardcore and controversial Richard Cordray to the position under a recess appointment.

While I might not be able to spot one of the world’s most famous folk singers even when he’s performing one of his biggest hits in front of a crowd at a demonstration (it’s even worse when put that way, isn’t it?) I do have a keen sense of irony and a dark sense of humor. It’s why I can appreciate that while my gender has driven the world’s economy in the ground, they did so in pursuit of an ideology set forth by a woman. Somewhere in hell, Ayn Rand is doubled over with laughter watching obsequious and dim-witted men like Alan Greenspan trip over themselves in an attempt to become the Howard Roark of finance or John Galt incarnate. Ayn Rand is the Helen of Troy of the economy, the Eve of financial catastrophe, the…

(Did ya see what I did there?)

Time to Chuck Schumer

Chuck Schumer is the honey badger of legislators. He devours campaign cash, microphones and anything else to advance his vainglorious cause. Or, as the narrator in the now-infamous badger video says, “Honey badger don’t give a shit, it just takes what it wants.”

As Long Island Press readers may have gathered by now, brevity is not my strength. And, admittedly, my more interminable diatribes have been known to prompt eye rolling, even from those who love me. Therefore I shall be as efficient as possible in conveying this important political message:

It’s time for Sen. Chuck Schumer to move on.

Chuck Schumer is the honey badger of legislators. He devours campaign cash, microphones and anything else to advance his vainglorious cause. Or, as the narrator in the now-infamous badger video says, “Honey badger don’t give a shit, it just takes what it wants.”

Schumer’s patented move of holding a Sunday press conference in order to glom Monday morning headlines has become a long-running joke in Washington, and yet the media continue to cover every one of his self-serving events. Frankly, starting the week by opening up the daily newspaper only to see Chuck’s mug has become tiresome and insulting. Rarely, if ever, do these photo opportunities translate into anything tangible. Don’t get me wrong, there is frequently a bill or resolution spawned from Chuck’s press conference of the week, but most are dead on arrival with a pitiful few ever being referred to committee.

Those that do get there are largely perfunctory resolutions naming things like post offices or commemorating individuals. More importantly, not one of the bills proposed by Chuck since the financial collapse in 2008 had any effect on the financial services industry to which he answers. In fact, since the implosion of the financial sector he has successfully guided only seven pieces of legislation through Congress. Three of them were to re-name buildings and one had to do with the handling and archiving of FDR’s memorabilia. Not one of the three remaining resolutions was tied to the financial industry in any way, shape or form.

Yet Schumer has reaped historic donations from Wall Street firms in large part by providing the most important service to them that he possibly can: nothing. Chuck Schumer has done nothing to stand in the way of the reckless deregulation that brought the economy to its knees; nor has he authored any reasonable solution to fix things. But behind the scenes he is the go-to guy for Wall Street and his campaign coffers are undeniable proof of his effectiveness at stymieing anything that would negatively impact the ill-gotten gains of the financial mafia.

His transition from representative to senator seems to mark the precise moment of Schumer’s Faustian bargain that now has him serving at the pleasure of many Wall Street wizards, all of whom offer their allegiance to the almighty dollar. Through this compact with the devil Schumer has emerged as the ultimate Washington insider and the head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2005 to ’09, a powerful fundraising arm of the Democratic Party, where he thrived. His tenure oversaw a record number of donations funneled to the committee, most notably from – you guessed it – the financial industry.

The past few months Chuckles has been uncharacteristically quiet given the raucous events taking place down on Wall Street. In fact, the man who has made his career occupying Wall Street himself and benefitting from its largesse has precious little to say to, or about, those in Occupy Wall Street. One has to search diligently for the senator’s reaction to a phenomenon so big Time Magazine just named “the protestor” as its Person of the Year only to discover that while he defends the rights of protestors, they should “make sure they don’t get in the way of every day New Yorkers getting to and from work and going about their daily business.”

Actually, Sen. Honey Badger, that’s the point. If we continue to do nothing—the art of which you have perfected—there won’t be any daily business. This is a crisis, Chuck. One you had a pretty big hand in creating, for the record. How so? By being the world’s greatest accomplice as a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

Chuck was there when Congress repealed the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, thus allowing investment banks and commercial banks to merge. He was there for the creation of the Enron Loophole in the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. And he was there when President George W. Bush allowed the Intercontinental Exchange to trade oil futures, and later swaps and derivatives, as a foreign exchange outside of the purview of U.S. regulators. Lastly, Schumer is widely credited as the guiding force behind the controversial bank bailouts. In each case, what Schumer said publicly was very different from how he acted and voted. Every scenario saw “public Chuck” peering over his spectacles and haranguing officials over minute details when in reality he was helping to turn the screw behind the scenes.

But it’s his utter silence since the banking crisis began and to a greater extent since the Occupy movement took off like a rocket that Schumer’s true colors have shown. Protestors flooded the streets of New York beginning in September, chanting phrases that have spread across the nation. Phrases such as “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out” and “Whose street? Our street!” But who sold us out exactly and who really “owns” the street? Chuck.
In between authoring legislation that never goes anywhere accompanied by a carnival sideshow of Sunday press conferences, Chuck is busy doing what he does best. In the past five years alone he has raised more than $19 million in personal campaign donations, the majority of which came from the following industries: 1) Securities & Investment, 2) Lawyers/Law Firms, 3) Real Estate, 4) Lobbyists, and 5) Miscellaneous Finance. There you have it. Chuck Schumer—man of the people.

There are only 100 of these clowns in the Senate. How did we get Bozo? This is the Empire State. Can’t we do better? Is it too late to try and convince Elizabeth Warren to move here instead?

#OWS: America’s Id

Those of us who believe America has been co-opted by greed and fallen victim to radical nihilism view the agitation of the 99% as the manifestation of our nation’s morality, if such a thing can possibly exist.

The police barricaded the corner of William and Pine streets in lower Manhattan, preventing the tributary of protestors who had broken off from the main throng from doubling back toward Wall Street. Cordoned off, several chose to sit in the street and accept incarceration in the name of civil disobedience.

It’s 9 a.m. on Nov. 17, the International Day of Action for the Occupy Wall Street movement. The arrests are just beginning.

I’m aware of the time because, for a moment, everything is eerily silent but for the sound of the bell from Our Lady of Victory Church tolling above us. The din of the helicopters overhead and the shouts of “Shame!” as protestors are dragged into the nearby NYPD van fade away while the bell rings for what seems like an eternity.

As the last chime echoes in the street, the cacophony returns as though someone is controlling the volume button to the soundtrack of dissent. Gradually, my eyes return to the scene unfolding in front of the church door, which bears a quote from Cardinal Spellman. It reads: “This Holy Shrine is dedicated to Our Lady of Victory in Thanksgiving for Victory won by our valiant dead, our soldier’s blood, our Country’s tears, shed to defend men’s rights and win back men’s hearts to God.”

How strange that a church, born during World War II and forged in blood, should serve as the backdrop for the nation’s symbolic struggle against the excesses of the neighborhood it calls home. America’s new Civil War is spilling onto the streets of cities throughout the country; and here, in this moment, it is raging beneath a monument to our spiritual and temperate selves.

Over the past few years, I have made no secret of my contempt for Wall Street and the insidious corporate interests that run this nation. Admiration for the Occupy Wall Street movement has gushed from my fingertips and poured onto the page, as I am perpetually amazed at the breadth and fervor of the burgeoning revolution. Being here, seeing it evolve and take shape so quickly, so dramatically, has influenced every corner of my mind. Those of us who believe America has been co-opted by greed and fallen victim to radical nihilism view the agitation of the 99% as the manifestation of our nation’s morality, if such a thing can possibly exist.

The question of morality is central to America’s struggle. We perceive ourselves as a good and righteous nation, purveyors of liberty. At times this has been the case. Often, however, our actions belie this view of ourselves, particularly during imperialistic periods of expansion. To wit, we spent the better part of the 19th century expanding our empire to its natural boundaries, squashing and annihilating the indigenous people of the continent every step of the way. Then we deified the likes of Andrew Jackson by imprinting his likeness on our currency, thus bestowing him with the greatest honor of a capitalist society. These are not the actions of a moral nation, but victories such as these in the name of Manifest Destiny have always served to rationalize our pursuit of omnipotence.

The first half of the 20th century held more promise. The country as we know it today was nearly assembled and America was finally recognized as a dominant player on the world stage. Our financial and military ascension gave weight to the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary, which established complete hegemony in our hemisphere. Yet despite Teddy Roosevelt’s bellicose nature and hawkish views, his and most subsequent administrations tended toward isolationism. Between the great wars, which were seen as moral imperatives, there was work to be done at home. And during this time, America hammered out a legal, industrial and economic infrastructure that fully recognized our potential as a nation.

Internally, this approach also allowed us to focus on social issues such as equal pay and civil rights in the latter half of the century. Unfortunately, while the nation toiled away at crafting a system that recognized the rights of all of its citizens, we began behaving badly in the rest of the world. At precisely the halfway mark of the 20th century we became embroiled in the fighting in Korea. This conflict and the conjuring of bogeymen in far-off lands presaged an era of unprecedented immorality when we would conduct costly battles against phantom enemies. More precisely, it marked the beginning of the Military Industrial Complex.

In his book A People’s History of the United States Howard Zinn describes the dawn of this era as “an old lesson learned by governments: that war solves problems of control. Charles E. Wilson, the president of General Electric Corporation, was so happy about the wartime situation that he suggested a continuing alliance between business and the military for a permanent war economy.” Two million Koreans and 36,000 Americans perished in the formation of our newfound ideology, which continued into Vietnam and, most recently, in Iraq and Afghanistan. America has exported fear and death in the name of democracy but in the actual pursuit of oil and natural resources.

But our politicians did not go it alone. No one person owns these deeds. Over the past few decades the interests of Christian Fundamentalists, Wall Street tycoons, the ruling class and individuals of enormous wealth have gradually coalesced in the quest for a new world order. They are the 1%. They are the reason I’m standing almost nose-to-nose with a cop in riot gear, his club drawn and his eyes fixed on me as I chronicle the events by the church.

There are those who decry Occupy Wall Street as unpatriotic, misguided, or worse. These are understandable reactions to an uncomfortable reality.  The reality is that OWS is more than a movement to restore sanity to the financial markets and equality to our economy. OWS is a cry for help from America’s id. It is the realization that we have strayed not only from the optimistic perception of ourselves but also from what we strive to be as a country.

Ultimately this is a test of our commitment to the First Amendment. But it isn’t simply about free speech or the right to peaceably assemble. This is about the right to “petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” As a free, democratic society this is the penultimate failsafe, the last opportunity before total revolutionary collapse.

So as the Occupiers continue to refine their message, our political leaders would be wise to listen carefully. This is not a dress rehearsal. This is a very real battle; perhaps the first battle since World War II worthy of the inscription at Our Lady of Victory.

Culture of Corruption

U.S founders maxed individual liberty, freeing Americans, “to give full vent to the good, bad and ugly behavior of which people are capable,” Walter McDougall observes. “Americans became past masters at hustling: both in the pejorative sense of scofflaws, speculators, imposters, tricksters, self-reinventors, and conmen, but also in the positive sense of hard workers, strivers, builders, doers, joiners, and team players.”

Everyone does it.

“It’s a courtesy, not a crime,” the PBA union president declared to a throng of off-duty cops packing Bronx Supreme Court waving signs insisting “IT’S A COURTESY NOT A CRIME.”

Sounded like a ripe example of PR tone-deafness or maybe just the PBA honcho playing to his troops, public be damned!

The police commissioner begged to differ re: fixing tickets.  “Those actions are crimes under the law and can’t be glossed over as ‘courtesies.’”

The PBA honcho retorted: “When the dust settles, and we have our day in court, it will be clear that this is a part of the NYPD at all levels

Everyone does it.  Gotta problem with that?

Almost all Long Island Railroad employees who retired in 2008 did so on disability, adding an average of $36grand to the average annual pension payout, compliments of the beleaguered LIRR commuter.

Joe Rutigliano, former conductor and one-time LIRR union president, put in 570 hours of overtime with nary a single sick day in his last year, jacking up his pension, then fattening it even more with his disability claim.  Surveillance revealed that Jolted Joe went on to play golf regularly.  To add insult to injury (in a manner of speaking), Jolted Joe played public courses where, by statute, he didn’t have to pay green fees because of his so-called handicap (and we’re not talking 13 over par).

Special treatment for the handicapped has become one of those well-intended cobblestones on the road to hell.  Not because it’s not a noble proposition, but because it is so pervasively abused.  Ever notice what percentage of people parking in handicap spaces actually use a cane, crutches or wheelchair?  For the overwhelming majority there is no noticeable handicap.  But, like railroader scammers, they get notes from their doctors enabling them to score privileged parking.

Could faked handicap parking be the gateway scam to major scams like pension fraud?  I, for one, make a point of confronting obvious abusers when the occasion arises.  A couple of days ago, in fact, I was limping through the ‘Y’ parking lot with my son on our way to a workout.  A lean and limber-looking man about my age in his gym outfit was walking jauntily from the ‘Y’, drawing a bead on his car, parked in a handicapped space.

“And what is your handicap?” I asked him.

“Whatya mean?” he shot back.

“Well, you’re parked in a handicap space and I don’t see any visible handicap.”

“It’s none of your business,” he sneered.

“Oh, it most certainly is my business when someone’s running a scam.”

“Look at you,” he said, outraged as could be, “what kind of example are you setting for your son?”

“He sees me do this all the time.  Call a fraud a fraud.  And you’re a fraud, just like those Long Island Rail Road frauds.”

He slammed his door as I took my three prosthetic joints to the treadmill, my son chuckling for good measure.

Back when I was doing grad work in the mid-70s, I bartended weekends at Long Island’s notorious nightclub – the OBI South.  For a stretch, I worked side-by-side at the back-bar with a rough and ready rogue nicknamed the “Snakeman.”  Invariably, at the height of the mad rush, he would call out, as he was ringing up drinks, “Bonus hour…one for us, one for them.”  “You’re all thieves,” the Snakeman told us, by way of touting he was the most honorable of thieves by copping to it.

Everyone’s always done it.  It’s the American way, according to one distinguished historian.

U.S founders maxed individual liberty, freeing Americans, “to give full vent to the good, bad and ugly behavior of which people are capable,” Walter McDougall observes.  “Americans became past masters at hustling: both in the pejorative sense of scofflaws, speculators, imposters, tricksters, self-reinventors, and conmen, but also in the positive sense of hard workers, strivers, builders, doers, joiners, and team players.”

To con others, best one first con one self.  McDougall believes that Americans’ talent for “self-deception” is one key to their success.  “They pretend in order to get along with each other, or to grease the skids of their institutions, obscure the contradictions in their politics and law, or just to sustain their common faith in truth, justice, and the American way.”  In a broader sense, people are compelled to rationalize their circumstances – self-delusion springs eternal.

Charles Dickens charged, upon a visit in 1842, that Americans “will swallow a whole caravan of camels, if they be laden with unworthy doubts and suspicions…. [They] simply cannot bear truth in any form,” and American newspapers contributed mightily with their “pimping and pandering.” By the eve of Civil War, one of those panderers, the New York Herald worried there would be, “another general collapse like [the Panic] of 1837, only on a much grander scale.…  Worst of all is the moral pestilence of luxurious exemption from honest labor infecting all classes of society.”

Sounds like Fox-watching Tea Baggers spit-balling ne’er-do-well Wall Street Occupiers.  Yet, they are a funhouse mirror of one another’s outrage, one against Big Government, the other against Big Money.  Note how many who sermonize against the breakdown in morality are themselves caught with their pants down.

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a stolen moment– it’s far more satisfying to point fingers then look in the mirror.

Remember the Fifth of November

After everything that went down involving the corrupt practices behind the financial collapse in 2008, I find it amazing that only two people have been found worthy of prosecution thus far. I find it less amazing and more ridiculous that both of them happen to be brown.

Sandwiched between Halloween and Thanksgiving is a new American holiday known as Bank Transfer Day, which takes place this year on Nov. 5. Rejoice.

The movement against Corporatocracy has taken hold and found its footing. And while the media struggle to parse a bumper sticker message from the Occupy Wall Street movement, the occupiers continue to grow in numbers, awakening America’s dormant revolutionary spirit. Bank Transfer Day is one of the first tangible manifestations of the Occupy phenomenon whereby Americans are encouraged to move their money from large public banking institutions to community banks and, more specifically, member-owned credit unions.

Don’t be misled by Chicken Little pundits on Fox News. This is not a run on the banks and it will neither cripple the economy nor coerce Congress into enacting prudent regulatory reform. But it will send a small and important message to the American financial oligarchy that people are paying attention and ready to take action against institutional greed and corruption.

If you are one of the tens of thousands of Americans who are planning on participating in this holiday, there are a few practical rules of engagement to heed. The first is to put away your Guy Fawkes mask when removing your hard-earned money from a bank. While Nov. 5 is indeed Guy Fawkes Day in England and his likeness is symbolic of Anonymous, the group largely credited with the more surreptitious planning behind Occupy Wall Street, wearing a mask into a bank and demanding money— even when it’s your own—is still a pretty terrible idea.

Moreover, it is important to understand the overall health of the institution you’re considering moving your money into. Although it is unlikely most of us will move sums that exceed federal deposit insurance guarantees, risk is a consideration in any financial transaction. Because federal law requires every bank and credit union to maintain minimum capitalization and liquidity standards, a significant growth in deposits in a short period of time without income producing instruments such as home mortgages and auto loans to offset deposits can overwhelm a small institution. In fact, some smaller banks and credit unions may be unable to increase their deposit base, forcing them to turn potential customers away.

It is wise, therefore, to treat Nov. 5 as the beginning of a process, not an event. Consolidating debt and improving your personal credit rating are important first steps that should be taken to solidify your personal foundation. At this point, you will be able to more easily move deposits as well as loan obligations on your personal assets to a community bank or a credit union. A great banking relationship is one that works both ways.

One of the primary reasons small, stable banks are having a difficult time in this recession is the onerous burdens placed upon them due to the passage of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in early 2010. Despite the honorable intent implied in the name of the bill, Dodd-Frank did more to handcuff our economy than help consumers. In fact, the regulatory burden placed on community banks and credit unions is so disproportionate that it favors larger financial institutions that are sitting on (literally) trillions of dollars instead of pumping them back through the economy via the consumer. These banks and investment banks have the personnel and financial wherewithal to handle the mountains of paperwork required to eventually turn consumers and business owners down for loans. What we’re left with is a sadly ironic low-rate lending environment that no one can participate in. The Obama administration has taken the stance that any reform is positive despite the fact that this exact scenario played out for more than a decade in Japan with similar results. The combination of Congress’ Dodd-Frank Act and the Federal Reserve’s Quantitative Easing policy has essentially brought the banking sector to a grinding halt for the majority of Americans. There is no such thing as a “character loan” anymore. Fall one month behind on your mortgage payment or fail to pay your credit card bill on time and you are out of luck. And as for the giant Wall Street firms that got us into this mess and continue their reckless behavior to this day—it’s business as usual.

The Occupy Wall Street protestors are keeping a tally of the number of protestors arrested for exercising their constitutional right to peaceably assemble versus the number of Wall Street bankers busted. It’s more than 1,000 to 1. The one is former hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam (Left). This number may double, however, as prosecutors have set their sights on another man named Rajat Gupta (Right), former partner at McKinsey and Company. After everything that went down involving the corrupt practices behind the financial collapse in 2008, I find it amazing that only two people have been found worthy of prosecution thus far. I find it less amazing and more ridiculous that both of them happen to be brown.

But take heart, my dear revolutionaries. Progress and change are upon us all. If you believe it is useless to resist the will of mega-corporations and government, witness the decision by several banks, most recently Bank of America, to rein in their proposed new banking fees. This was a victory for the consumer and a testament to the power of protest. This effort was successful for the same reason Bank Transfer Day will signal a real shift of dollars. It is also the reason why Republican presidential nominee Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan is being revealed as an anti-poor regressive policy, the Citizen’s United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is being ridiculed, and war veterans have joined protests across the nation.

The reason, my friends, is that the jig is up. The 99 percent have woken up and they’re pissed.

It will take time to untie the thousands of knots the 1 percent has tied in the financial system, effectively choking off the money supply from flowing throughout the economy. It will be done one knot at a time. And for those who believe that the Occupy Wall Street movement is simply a plan for the redistribution of wealth in America, it’s not. This is about creating equitable access to wealth and the ability for people everywhere to thrive on a level playing field that properly rewards equal measures of risk, planning, luck and diligence – the fundamentals of entrepreneurship that comprise the so-called “American Dream.” At a minimum this is about creating a system that does not punish those who seek to earn a fair wage for an honest day’s work.

Besa. Albanian Honor Code

The spirit of besa and tolerance permeated every moment of the event, with the acknowledgment of interfaith understanding quietly underscoring the day.

Civility has all but disappeared from the national discourse. For example, there’s no middle ground when evaluating President Barack Obama’s performance: he’s either the face of hope and change, or the worst president ever to have occupied the Oval Office. During a recent GOP presidential nomination debate the audience actually cheered the idea of allowing someone without health insurance to die. People from all walks of life are taking to the streets to voice their displeasure with our government—from the worst elements of society such as the Westboro Baptist Church and the Lyndon LaRouche cult to citizen activists like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street.

It’s easy to get caught up in the fervor surrounding the discontent in this country and, as usual, it’s all about the economy (stupid). I’m as guilty of it as anyone. But last week my emotions were recalibrated after attending an event that highlighted a little-known part of world history that all of us should know. It’s a story about honor in the face of adversity the likes of which we cannot imagine and, given our current behavior, are unlikely to ever know. It’s a story worth sharing and repeating. 

Like many Eastern European countries in the 20th century, Albania—a tiny coastal nation on the Adriatic Sea tucked between Montenegro and Greece—experienced the dual indignity of both the Nazi and then the Soviet occupations. The former lasted through World War II, the latter endured until 1991. Miraculously, despite the well-documented horrors that European Jews suffered during the war, Albania was the only nation to boast a greater population of Jews after the Holocaust than before the war began. In fact, not a single Jew perished in Albania during this time.

Almost nothing was known about their survival fact until the Iron Curtain fell and Albania was liberated.  The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County recently assembled a panel of experts from around the globe to discuss this phenomenon, and is hosting a traveling exhibit through Nov. 14th.

The panel, held last Sunday on the grounds of the center, and the accompanying exhibit, explained the reason why Albania, or more specifically Albanians, provided safe harbor to Jews during the Holocaust. They call it quite simply: besa.

Besa is the code of honor every Albanian is encouraged, no, required to live by. Ferit Hoxha, Albanian ambassador to the United Nations, described the Albanian adherence to besa and its manifestation in the treatment of others. “Mik,” he says, “has a dual meaning. It means both a friend and a guest.” This understanding of relationships meant that anyone an Albanian encountered is to be “received, welcomed and honored.” There was never a doubt that Jews would be sheltered from persecution, he claims, because this action is “in accordance with our moral code, our faith and tradition.”

Ah yes, faith.

This is the point where it would be helpful, or perhaps surprising, to know that Albania is predominantly Muslim.

Last Sunday’s event and the message behind it are essential to the mission of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, which is to teach tolerance through lessons learned from the Holocaust. “Imagine a world,” says Beth Lilach, the center’s education director, “where besa existed in every human soul.” The spirit of besa and tolerance permeated every moment of the event, with the acknowledgment of interfaith understanding quietly underscoring the day.

Faroque Khan of the Islamic Center of Long Island was invited to participate in the proceedings and introduce Qemal Bicaku, the son of Albanian Muslims, who recalled from childhood how his family rescued 26 Jews from annihilation. Khan remarked that he was “pleased but not surprised” by the story of Albanian Muslims as the Qur’an clearly outlines Muslim’s conduct of doing “no harm to non-combatants, protection of houses of worship, women and children, and are even forbidden to harm a fruit-bearing tree.” One by one, the speakers described, tearfully at times, the efforts of their family members to save frightened Jews on the run and how, even more incredibly, not one villager or neighbor ever revealed the location of someone in hiding even though everyone knew where they were.

The event illustrated how besa, a fundamentally secular concept, transcended ideology and religion while revealing itself as a core element of all religions practiced at the purest level.

Perhaps the most wondrous part of the event came at the end when the speakers and the attendees gathered around an impressive display of food prepared and donated by the Islamic Women’s Center. We are never more connected to one another than when we share sustenance. It was an emotional day inspired by revelations of sacrifice and humanity, punctuated by warm human interaction over a meal made with loving hands.

Suffolk County: Come Clean on the Coup

This is just one small example of the indignities we suffer at the hands of our elected officials whose spiteful disregard of transparency and democratic principles has reached an insufferable zenith.

This week I find myself freed from the self-imposed undertaking of reporting weekly on the Occupy Wall Street protest that has blossomed into a global fascination, spawning chapters around the globe and gracing the pages and screens of nearly every news media outlet. Since the beginning of the occupation in New York, I have been committed to covering what I believe to be one of the single most important political developments in my lifetime. Yet because our cover story this week dives deep into the machinations of the movement and our staff is fully engaged, I am able to return to a Long Island story of great political importance.

This story, however, is not entirely unrelated to the discussions in Zuccotti Park. In fact, it has much in common with the reasons behind the growing unrest among Americans. It is a story of hubris and duplicity right here on Long Island that is symptomatic of a political system completely out of touch with the needs and rights of those it is designed to represent.

On Sept. 22, the Long Island Press published a cover story titled “Suffolk County’s Bloodless Coup,” which recalled Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s shocking announcement that he would step down at the end of his term. This decision came as the result of an arrangement between Levy and District Attorney Tom Spota, who was investigating irregularities in Levy’s campaign fundraising. In a backroom deal, which has not been made public, Levy agreed to hand over his campaign funds to Spota and forgo running for re-election. In return, it seems Levy has been allowed to simply go quietly into the night.

This agreement, which made an end-run around the electorate, has the tacit approval of party leaders Rich Schaffer and John J. LaValle, the county’s Democratic and Republican chairmen, respectively, who both claim to have been caught totally by surprise. Suffolk legislators shrugged off the news of Levy’s unceremonious demise as if to say “good riddance to bad rubbish.” The incredible indifference on display from people who often found themselves on the receiving end of a Steve Levy tirade only furthers speculation that something is rotten in Hauppauge.

One persistent theory is that Levy’s quiet removal paves the way for several pieces to come together on Suffolk’s political chessboard. (Warning: Serious “inside-baseball” alert.) Let’s start with the obvious. With the pugnacious Levy out of the picture and politically castrated upon the liquidation of his war chest, a significant obstacle has been removed from Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone’s quest to become the next Suffolk County executive. Suffolk GOP infighting over the choice of County Treasurer Angie Carpenter to run on the Republican ticket may have further cleared the way for a Bellone victory, although no one apparently told Carpenter, who is running full bore against her opponent despite being out-financed rather handily. Quite a remarkable turn of events for a GOP committee that at the beginning of the year thought they would have a popular candidate with more than $4 million in the bank at the top of their ticket.

As far as the GOP is concerned, neither the Carpenter nor LaValle camp has erased the animus between them. At times it seems as though they’re running completely separate campaigns. For his part, Suffolk County Democratic leader Rich Schaffer has vowed not to repeat the mistakes of former Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi, who sat on his war chest, and as result was banished to the private sector after failing to fully grasp the discontent of the electorate.

Enter the crux of Suffolk’s political conspiracy theory; it’s a doozy. (Takes a deep breath, and…)

A newly minted County Executive Bellone taps Spota to replace Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer. After all, with a serial killer on the loose, who better to replace the unpopular commissioner than Suffolk’s superstar top cop, Tom Spota? Given his resume, the public would probably favor this move and, quite frankly, Spota would likely do a terrific job. Next to Dormer, of course, this is like saying you’re the smartest kid in the remedial class; but it would be well received, regardless.

A vacancy in the district attorney’s office would give Gov. Andrew Cuomo the ability to appoint Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko, former federal prosecutor and bright light in the Democratic Party, to the position. Lesko, who many say is frustrated by the cronyism and the acrimony in Brookhaven politics, would likely welcome the chance to shine as district attorney. Naturally, this transfer would give John Jay LaValle and his mentor John Powell a chance to reclaim the supervisor’s office, a position both men covet.

Undoubtedly, the people mentioned above will publicly deny this scenario and dismiss it as unfounded sedition. Or perhaps they will all remain as taciturn, and therefore complicit, with respect to this scheme as they were during Steve Levy’s fall from grace. Either way, should all or part of it come to pass, perhaps then Suffolk County residents will finally wake up and realize that they were robbed of their right to know the circumstances behind Levy’s demise.

Irrespective of whether this theory holds any water, our public officials— and the leaders they answer to—fail to understand that it is this impertinent attitude toward constitutionality and disdain of our citizenry that has people around the globe filling parks, flooding streets and occupying public squares. This is just one small example of the indignities we suffer at the hands of our elected officials whose spiteful disregard of transparency and democratic principles has reached an insufferable zenith.

If the Suffolk County district attorney can unilaterally decide the fate of a sitting county executive and administer a political punishment without fear of reprisal from citizens, his example illustrates on the smallest level why the upper political echelon of the republic have likewise engaged in even more dangerous, egregious and undemocratic behavior. Therefore, for the very same reasons the public has a right to know why more than 1,000 people have been locked up for protesting corporate greed while those responsible for corrupt banking practices that are bringing our economic system to its knees aren’t also subject to the same treatment, so too is it our right to know the real story behind the bloodless coup in Suffolk County. The latter may pale in scope and degree, but the seed of this argument bears the same fruit.

This is just one small example of the indignities we suffer at the hands of our elected officials whose spiteful disregard of transparency and democratic principles has reached an insufferable zenith.

#OWS WK4: Kaptur and Gramm and Schumer, Oh My.

Tying the tubes of banks that have been, ahem, fornicating with the global economy and impregnating speculative bubbles only to watch them burst, will only hasten the inevitable seismic crash that looms around the corner. Breaking up the banks will happen one way or another…either by the law of the land or the law of nature.

The only phrase in connection with Occupy Wall Street repeated more often than “We are the 99%” is “What do they want?” The former is, of course, the rallying cry inviting citizens to join the movement against plutocracy in America—a show of strength against corporate greed and government corruption. The latter is the response to the growing number of dissenters in the “American Autumn”—criticism for their lacking a coherent list of specific demands. Personally, the only thing I find lacking is the imagination embodied by this mindless question.

The communal process of exploration and debate taking place in Zuccotti Park is like nothing I’ve ever seen. There are plenty of cogent, specific demands to be heard, but only by those who are willing to listen. A good deal of patience and a pinch of intellect are helpful because this isn’t a bumper-sticker movement and the occupiers don’t suffer fools (Geraldo) gladly.

There is no substitute for visiting the park and absorbing democracy, grassroots style. This past weekend my wife and I brought our two children with us to witness history unfolding in Manhattan, as it will someday grace the pages of a textbook, or a tablet, during their college years. With that said, allow me to indulge the frothing masses with a chunk of raw meat by examining one of the cornerstone issues behind OWS: Glass-Steagall.

Breaking the Bank: A Brief History of Glass-Steagall

In short, this was the name of the Act that prohibited commercial banks from engaging in investment-banking activities, among other things. It was established in 1933 to tame the harmful speculative behavior of an industry run amok in the early part of the 20th century; behavior largely credited for the market crash that precipitated the Great Depression. Fast forward to the waning days of the Clinton administration when the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the meat of Glass-Steagall and cleared the way for the greatest, most rapid consolidation of banking interests and wealth in recorded history.

Reinstating Glass-Steagall is, of course, easier said than done. Technically, the mechanics of doing it are fairly simple from a structural perspective, though it would cause massive upheaval in the banking world for several years to come. What is almost beyond comprehension are the circumstances that allow banks to continue gambling promiscuously in the world markets, which is a direct result of complementary deregulatory measures, globalization and an extraordinarily loose monetary policy.

These three factors have allowed banks to engage in worldwide investment schemes using cheap, borrowed money in a manner that is both irresponsible and opaque. In other words, be careful what you wish for. Tying the tubes of banks that have been, ahem, fornicating with the global economy and impregnating speculative bubbles only to watch them burst, will only hasten the inevitable seismic crash that looms around the corner. Breaking up the banks will happen one way or another…either by the law of the land or the law of nature.

Protestors from Zuccotti Park to San Francisco are keenly aware of this reality. They have an extremely sophisticated view of the world that goes beyond what we have seen in other movements both here and abroad. It’s their appreciation for complexity and nuance that makes it impossible to translate demands into bite-sized morsels for the media to gobble up and regurgitate into the mouths of shrieking birds in the nest that many television viewers have become.

To make matters worse, our elected federal representatives have no idea how to respond appropriately to a leaderless, populist movement. Apart from some platitudinous, mealy-mouthed responses from ranking Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or truculent, dismissive statements from the likes of Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), the upper echelon of American politics is collectively clicking its heels and hoping to wake up on the farm after the storm.

But there is hope for us yet–from someplace you might not expect.

A Buckeye Bulls Eye

Ohio’s 9th Congressional District cradles the southernmost tier of Lake Erie and has been steadfastly represented by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) for the three decades. Despite the presence of rollicking Toledo in the westernmost part of her district, things have been pretty quiet in the ninth. Until now.

Ohio’s much ballyhooed loss of two Congressional seats due to redistricting has resulted in a mash up of Kaptur’s 9th district and the neighboring 10th represented by fellow Democratic Congressman, Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich, who has long-represented the most progressive wing of the Democratic caucus, ran back-to-back failed campaigns for the presidential nomination, but he gained more notoriety when he famously called for the impeachment of co-Presidents George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for manufacturing evidence that pushed us into war with Iraq at a cost of nearly $2 trillion, thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of  civilians. Somehow, this effort lacked the same traction and enthusiasm as the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton for, well, you know.

The combination of the 9th and 10th districts has given new life to Kucinich, who might otherwise have been homeless after Ohio’s redistricting plan, as he is planning to primary Kaptur for the seat. Not to be outdone, the GOP has recruited newcomer Samuel Wurzelbacher to run on the Republican ticket. This development would be of little moment, however, if Wurzelbacher wasn’t none other than “Joe The Plumber,” who made headlines during the McCain-Obama race. Although it was later revealed that he was neither “Joe” nor a licensed plumber, Wurzelbacher became an oft-abused example of the disenfranchised workingman in America. Not content to be a footnote in American political history, Wurzelbacher now seeks to extend his 15 minutes of fame by attempting to join the ranks of hundreds of other talentless slobs who also have no business running the country.

This entire hubbub overshadows one of the most interesting things to come out of this part of Ohio. Earlier this year Kaptur revived a failed effort during the previous Congress to reinstate regulations repealed under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. Kaptur’s bill, H.R. 1489, is appropriately titled “Return to Prudent Banking Act of 2011,” and it has the support of 45 sponsors, one of whom is Dennis Kucinich.

The men behind the original bill in question—Gramm, Leach and Bliley—are an interesting lot; notable because not one of them remains in government today though their impact is felt every day. Phil Gramm, one of the most loathsome scoundrels ever to hold office, is the reprobate who brought us the Enron Loophole, disastrous tax cuts that destabilized the first part of the Reagan era, and this horrendous bill that bears his name. His darling wife, Wendy, was at the helm of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission when her husband was shepherding through the bill that would castrate the agency and lead to the collapse of Enron and the birth of energy speculation. She went on to head the conservative think-tank, Mercatus Center, which is funded by the Koch brothers.

Thomas J. Bliley, former representative from Virginia, was himself a serial deregulator. Before handing America this pile of legislative crap, he authored the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which paved the way for massive consolidation in the media industry and gave us Orwellian juggernauts like News Corp. that control the airwaves today.  Jim Leach, also no longer in office, is more of a curiosity. Brilliant, progressive and, at times, defiant, Leach of Iowa often stood in opposition to the increasingly conservative members of his party and was eventually ousted by a Democrat write-in candidate. Although Leach was a noted fiscal conservative, his true expertise was in foreign affairs. By attaching his name to one of the most destructive economic bills ever written, an otherwise brilliant career has been sullied in a way only Bill Buckner could understand.

Going Forward

So, Marcy Kaptur “gets it.” The protestors on Wall Street also “get it.” And believe it or not, many of us in the media also “get it.” If the banking system is going to collapse under its own weight and hubris because of the sheer volume of horrible investments still filtering through the economy with zero oversight, what’s the next logical play?

Apart from the obvious, which is to enact H.R. 1489, I think it’s time to grant subpoena authority to the protestors on Wall Street so they can hold those responsible for the economic crisis accountable at a people’s tribunal. Since our judicial system has failed to do that, perhaps it should be left to the people in Zuccotti Park. And just to bring things full circle to New York politics, the first star witness to be called should be Sen. Charles Schumer, poster boy for Wall Street and the senior Democratic elected representative of our state.

Time’s up, Chuck. Your silence on the Occupy Wall Street movement is deafening and incriminating.