Saturday, December 17, 2011

Occupy protesters arrested in New York

Occupy protesters arrested in New York



A child affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement stands amongst other protesters in Duarte Square in New York, December 17, 2011. REUTERS-Andrew Burton
An actress affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement performs street theater in support of the movement, in New York December 17, 2011. REUTERS-Andrew Burton
New York City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez protests during an Occupy Wall Street march in New York, December 17, 2011. REUTERS-Andrew Burton

NEW YORK | Sat Dec 17, 2011 6:49pm EST
(Reuters) - Hundreds of anti-Wall Street protesters took to New York City's streets on Saturday in an attempt to establish a new encampment, with scores arrested as they tried to move onto church-owned land.
The protesters had used a wooden ladder to climb over a chain-link fence into the lot owned by Trinity Church, an Occupy Wall Street spokesman said.
Police had no immediate figure on how many protesters were arrested, but Gideon Oliver, president of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, put the number at about 55, including between five and 10 members of the clergy.
The demonstrators continued moving around Manhattan's streets into the evening, at one point saying they were headed to the house of the Trinity Church rector.
"We are unstoppable. Another world is possible," and "Whose street? Our street," were among the chants from the protesters, who blocked some streets as they marched.
Later, as they started to move toward Midtown, some of the demonstrators were hemmed in by lines of police, and police on motorcycles tried to disperse protesters who were in the middle of streets.
The Occupy movement began with protesters taking over a park in New York in September to draw attention to economic inequality and a financial system they say is unfairly skewed toward the wealthy.
In ensuing weeks the protests and encampments spread to cities throughout the United States as well as to some in other countries.
But Occupy camps in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a number of other major cities were shut down in recent weeks in operations that resulted in hundreds of arrests and have raised questions about the movement's future.
Authorities have justified their moves against the camps on a variety of grounds, including that the camps were causing sanitation problems and were dangerous to public safety.
(Writing by Jerry Norton; Editing by Dan Whitcomb)

Slab City, a trailer park utopia, thrives in remote desert

Dan Schneider

Pic! McCurdy. Grande. WHO can come up with the BEST CAPTION for this pic--->

Eric Bentsen

Madonna - How High (2005)


Dream Weaver in the lobby.


Journey's Open Arms in the lobby!

Olga Kay

WIRED!!!!!!! <333

Michael Buckley

Humping a dwarf ....developing.

Eric Bentsen

Shallow Hal - Trailer (2001)

Jill Hanner

Allergy attack :(


Just started watching Suits! It's pretty awesome.

Kristina Horner

If you guys aren't watching the livestream, you seriously missed out. via

Ariana Grande

Random question #5! Christmas Eve, you actually see Santa, wandering around ur living room in the dark: Hug him?! Or call the cops? lol RT ♥

Susan Cooper
Hmmm looks like is having hotel trouble again. This will be every website's top story in 3...2...1...

Slab City, a trailer park utopia, thrives in remote desert

Refugees from society and the recession gather at a former Marine base near the Salton Sea. Residents, like Half-Pint and Moth, make their own rules, give talent shows and hold religious services.

Slab City, Calif., residents
Slab City, Calif., resident Raphael Luciano comforts 3-year-old
Makayla Luciano after she fell off a skateboard in what was
once a swimming pool.  
(Arkasha Stevenson, Los Angeles Times / December 15, 2011)

Penny Puckett came to Slab City and fell in love.

After four years of "bumming around and hopping freight trains," the 25-year-old from Kansas City arrived at this hardscrabble section of the Imperial Valley desert and immediately embraced its sense of liberation from society's rules and norms.

What others might view as desolation and deprivation, Puckett saw as a way to reduce life to its essence: water, food and shelter (plus Internet and cellular phone service).

PHOTOS: Slab City

"Slab City people have a great need to live with just the bare necessities and are happy about it," she said.

Puckett also met and married the man of her dreams: a T-shirt design artist who lives in an art colony-style portion of Slab City known as East Jesus. A videotape was made of the couple's Halloween nuptials and shipped to Puckett's family.

The couple have yet to devise a long-term plan. But for the time being Slab City suits them just fine.

There are no municipal services, no streetlights and no water or sewage services. But nobody charges rent or collects fees or tries to impose homeowner covenants.

Several hundred people — ranging from the free-spirited young, retired "snowbirds" from colder climes and the tight-money crowd of all ages — live in a ramshackle collection of tents, trailers, aging mobile homes and other ad hoc dwellings. But this unlikely community appears to be growing, perhaps because of the troubled economy.

"It has a post-apocalyptic look and we like it that way," said Don Case, 41, who worked as a chef in Colorado and is planning to move to Alaska — someday. "It's peaceful here, people have it together."

Case has put together a small kitchen and cooks for several neighbors. His specialty: quail fajitas, made from the tiny birds that are prevalent in Slab City.

The community is spread over about 600 acres of rutted roads and bushes. To the west is Niland (population 1,100) and the Salton Sea. To the east is the Coachella Canal (ripe with catfish) and the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range used by the Navy.

During World War II, the Slab City site was Camp Dunlap, a Marine artillery training base. But ownership of the acreage passed to the state in the 1950s.

Even when it had money, the state government never showed much interest in Slab City. A plan to sell the site to a San Diego developer in the 1990s fell through; so did an idea by Imperial County to turn it into an RV camping ground.

Now that the state is broke, Slab City is out of sight and out of mind, just the way its residents like it.

"This is the last truly free place in America," said Jim Merton, 54, who spends the winter at Slab City and the summer in Washington. "I can smoke some weed, drink some beer, be loud and rowdy, skinny-dip in the canal, and there's nobody to tell me I can't have fun."

Imperial County Sheriff's Lt. Charles Lucas said Slab City residents do not pose a major law enforcement challenge. "They're just trying to live out there," he said. "They're a mirror of what goes on in other places."

For some, Slab City has long been a way of life. Others are refugees from the national recession.

"A lot of us just have nowhere else to go," said Tracy Moss, 73, who came to Slab City with her husband, Ray, 55, an itinerant preacher, when they lost their home in Queen City, Texas.

Moss prefers her Slab City nickname: Magenta. Nicknames are big here, including Terrible Jim, Container Charlie, Biker, Half-Pint and Moth.

Half-Pint rides a mule named Applejack. When a reporter sought to ask Half-Pint a question, she and Applejack galloped off.

C.B. Linda puts out a Slab City newsletter, which she will sell to outsiders for $3.

Her latest newsletter explains what she calls Slab City Ethics, among them: "Unlawful, violent or disruptive behavior will not be tolerated. TRESPASSING IS NOT OK. A campsite owner may be absent for awhile. Do not assume that it is abandoned. Ask the neighbors. Theft is not tolerated. NO DUMPING."

Alas, C.B. Linda's rules are not universally followed.

Mounds of trash dot the rough landscape, including large collections of beer cans. Break-ins are so common that one Slab City resident said he leaves his trailer door unlocked so thieves do not break it down when he is away getting provisions.

Which is not to say that the trappings of civilization are not present in Slab City. There are Saturday night talent shows, movie nights, several open-air eating places, an Internet cafe, a small library and a prefabricated building that is used for Sunday church services and a Wednesday night Bible study class.

The pastor is Patrick McFarland, 61, who lives in Slab City with his wife. To McFarland, Slab City is a community of lost souls, driven to the desert by a crumbling civilization that has rejected God and is paying the spiritual price.

The recession, he said, is only the beginning of the wrath that America will soon feel. The Slab City residents are too poor to contribute to a collection plate but there are compensating factors for a pastor seeking a congregation.

"I have a captive audience," McFarland said.

The name Slab City comes from the concrete foundations that remain from the World War II buildings. A huge swimming pool from that era is now a place for youngsters to ride their skateboards.

There are two large water tanks, long empty. One is festooned with corporate logos, apparently the painter's idea of a satire of consumerist culture. The other is painted with erotica, including various positions from the Kama Sutra.

A deputy from the Imperial County Sheriff's Department visits Slab City on occasion. Federal Express will deliver, but the U.S. Postal Service will not. The Calipatria school system sends a bus for Slab City children.

Vince Neill, 38, is living in a trailer with his wife and six children. He's working on an idea for a reality TV show, "The Homeless of Los Angeles." He came to Slab City, he said, after being hassled on repeated occasions while trying to park his trailer in Malibu.

Slab City, Neill said, teaches self-reliance to children that they could never learn in the city. Other skills too.

"I'm teaching the kids how to catch rattlesnakes," he said.

The most famous Slab City resident is Leonard Knight, who for three decades lived near the entrance and painted his religious message, "God Is Love," on a hill that he calls Salvation Mountain.

Journalists from near and far have visited Knight, who appeared as himself in the 2007 movie "Into the Wild," directed by Sean Penn. Several scenes were filmed at Salvation Mountain; a Slab City resident gave Penn a handmade bong.

In recent months, Knight, 80, suffered health problems and moved to Niland. He visits Salvation Mountain only sparingly to talk to the steady stream of tourists.

East Jesus, with its free-form sculpture and rusting car carcasses, was the creation of an artist named Charlie Russell, who died this year at the age of 46. His ashes were spread around Slab City and a memorial to him adorns the entry to East Jesus.

For the artistic minded, Slab City can provide inspiration not found in more mundane places.

Greg Holmes, 47, who is living in Slab City while he launches his singing career, has a ballad devoted to his muse:

Slab City
Slab City
To the truth of the common day
Slab City
On the Way to Bombay
On the way to Mecca
I'll watch the sun go down
I'll watch it rise
Slab City.

Increasingly, Smoking Indoors Is Forbidden at Public Housing

December 17, 2011

Increasingly, Smoking Indoors Is Forbidden at Public Housing

AUBURN, Me. — Glenys Cushman was grabbing a quick cigarette here the other day outside her federally subsidized apartment. The rules say no smoking inside or within 25 feet of the entrance, and though she hates having to go outside, she has come to accept it.
“My neighbor is on oxygen,” said Ms. Cushman, 53, who is on disability herself. “And I can’t quit. I tried. I get too worked up without smoking. So I come out here.”
In 2004, the Auburn Housing Authority became the first authority in Maine and one of the first in the country to ban smoking in public housing, and it has served as a model. On Jan. 1, Maine will become the first state in the country in which all of its public housing authorities are smoke free, affecting about 12,000 tenants.
Similar policies are being adopted with increasing frequency across the country as cities move aggressively to restrict smoking in more public places, from bars and restaurants to parks, beaches and vehicles. Come September, Boston will become the biggest city to ban smoking in its public housing, which serves about 25,000 tenants. Detroit, San Antonio and Portland, Ore., already have similar restrictions in place.
The bans are largely a response to the risks posed to nonsmokers by secondhand smoke. In addition, property managers say that smokeless apartments are cheaper to clean, especially if there is carpeting, and reduce the risk of fire.
Depending on who is asked, banning smoking in public housing is either an effective way to promote healthier living, as many officials and nonsmokers contend, or a violation of individual liberties, as some tenants argue. But after several years of such bans, the objections have gained no legal traction. Smokers are not perceived as a protected class, and civil liberties groups and legal aid societies say they tend not to defend such cases.
“On a personal level, you sympathize with people who want to do whatever they want in their own homes,” said Matt Dyer, a staff attorney in the Lewiston, Me., office of Pine Tree Legal Assistance, which provides free legal aid for people at or below the poverty level. “But legally, bans are O.K. There are so many legitimate issues that landlords can raise.”
Housing officials point out that they do not require tenants to quit, only to smoke outside, and they often provide shelters for smokers. They also offer smoking-cessation programs, although they say few people attend.
Many smokers just violate the ban and hope they avoid getting caught.
At Franklin Towers, a public housing high-rise in Portland, Me., Kevin Crocker, 55, said he was annoyed when a neighbor reported him for smoking in his apartment. “They told me not to do it again,” he said. “But I don’t like to go outside, especially at night, because I’m afraid of getting mugged and there are no security cameras.”
Officials recognize that a ban can be a burden for tenants, particularly because many are elderly or disabled. At Franklin Towers, where the elevators lumber slowly up 16 floors, Mark Adelson, the executive director of the Portland Housing Authority, half-joked that by the time smokers go outside and get back in, they need to go out again for another cigarette.
But secondhand smoke, Mr. Adelson said, is “an overwhelming public policy issue.” Officials at various housing authorities, including the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, say they hear far more complaints from nonsmokers about their neighbors who smoke than from smokers claiming the right to light up.
Susan Morin, 59, a former smoker who lives in Franklin Towers, said she appreciated the ban. “Cigarettes will kill you,” she said.
In 2005, only 32 housing authorities had smoking bans in effect, according to Jim Bergman, director of the Smoke-Free Environments Law Project in Michigan; by the end of this year, he said, 285, or about 9 percent of the total, will have enacted bans, affecting hundreds of thousands of tenants.
The federal housing department says it is planning to gather information next year on how various cities have carried out their bans and will publish a report of best practices, in the hope of encouraging more housing authorities to enact their own.
In Los Angeles, a spokeswoman said the Housing Authority was conducting a review and might consider a ban. In New York City, a Housing Authority spokeswoman said it had “no position” on a ban, but Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has been one of the most aggressive advocates of ridding smoke from public spaces and clamping down on other health-related menaces like trans fats. A spokeswoman at the city’s health department said officials were “reviewing the experiences of other municipalities.”
The rapid adoption of smoking bans in public housing was spurred by the federal department, which issued a memorandum in July 2009 saying it “strongly encourages” housing authorities to enact them.
The agency cited reports that secondhand smoke caused the deaths of 50,000 nonsmokers nationwide each year. In 2006, it said, smoking was responsible for more than 18,000 apartment fires that resulted in the deaths of 700 people, excluding firefighters, and caused almost $500 million in property damage.
It issued a second memorandum in September 2010 extending its recommendation to other types of public housing, including Section 8, which provides housing vouchers to low-income families. And last year, The New England Journal of Medicine called for a complete smoking ban in any housing complex receiving public money.
But the department is not likely to require a ban nationwide anytime soon. Shauna Sorrells, director of public housing programs for the agency, said a mandate could result in evicting entire families, even if just one person smoked. Most housing authorities have long waiting lists, she said, and evictions would increase homelessness, especially in a sour economy.
The experience in Maine suggests that evictions solely for smoking violations are unusual.
“We’ve had a handful of cases where the person agreed to leave,” said David Chamberlain, a lawyer who represents the Portland Housing Authority and other landlords. “But we haven’t taken any to trial, because they settle in some fashion or other.”
Rick Whiting, the longtime executive director of the Auburn Housing Authority, said he had seen a cultural change here during the seven years the ban has been in place.
Initially, Mr. Whiting said, there had been concern about fairness to smokers who were already in public housing apartments, and they were grandfathered in. But over time, he said, concern shifted to fairness to nonsmokers, and the dispensation for smokers was revoked, prompting some to quit the habit and some to move out.
Still, questions of fairness persist because those below the poverty line tend to smoke more than those above it. Studies show that, on average, 30 percent of people in public housing are smokers, compared with 20 percent of the general population.
“It’s discrimination against the poor,” said Nikki McLean, 66, a smoker who lives in public housing in Portland, Me.
Mrs. McLean, who has diabetes, arthritis, bad knees and other chronic conditions, was sitting in a wheelchair the other day inside her tiny home. It took her 10 minutes to get outside, transfer to a walker and make her way down a ramp and across the lawn so she could stand 25 feet from her doorway and have a cigarette.
“I’ve heard them say, ‘We’re doing it for their own good,’ ” Mrs. McLean said. “Like we’re little idiots and we don’t know what we’re doing when we put a cigarette in our mouths.”
She said she had tried to quit but was addicted, and given the other challenges in her life, quitting smoking has not been a priority. But she is having knee surgery soon and said she hoped she would be in the hospital long enough to go through withdrawal and stop for good.

Hundreds Demonstrate Against Church

December 17, 2011

Hundreds Demonstrate Against Church

From his spot at the center of Duarte Square in Lower Manhattan, Matt Sky watched on Saturday as hundreds of protesters streamed into the public areas of the triangle-shaped space at the center of an ideological tug of war between onetime allies turned adversaries: Occupy Wall Street and Trinity Church.
By noon, protesters had streamed in from all directions under cold cloudy skies to reinforce the vibrancy of a movement swept last month from another space, Zuccotti Park, and signal a resolve against ecclesiastical officials resisting their wish to set up a new encampment alongside the venerable Episcopal church.
“Everything about this movement is momentum,” said Mr. Sky, 27, an Internet consultant from the East Village. “We need to show people that we are still relevant.”
Since the earliest moments after they were displaced on Nov. 15, many protesters drifted north to the park at Canal Street and Avenue of the Americas. Trinity embraced the wandering drifters and ministered to their needs. But when the Occupy movement expressed an interest in setting up an organizing camp in Trinity’s private space, beside the public park, the church said no.
So after some protracted debate, the Occupy Wall Street forces aimed their skills on the church. In familiar fashion, police officers converged on the area, standing around the perimeter .
At midday, a police spokeswoman declined to say how many officers were present for the demonstration. She could not immediately provide information on whether anyone was arrested.
But some protesters said a man who identified himself as Zak Soloman was taken into custody before noon by officers. Some clergy mingled with the protesters. The Rev. Stephen Chinlund, 77, an Episcopal priest who retired seven years ago, held a placard reading: “Trinity Hero of 9/11. Be a Hero Again.”
The mission of the church was to help those in need, the Rev. Chinlund said. “We have been on the side of the people who are right here,” he said.

North Dakota flood victims still await aid

North Dakota flood victims still await aid

The June disaster left nearly 11,000 adrift. As winter howls in, only about 10% have returned to repaired homes — thousands of others shiver in FEMA trailers or shuffle among hotel rooms while they wait for loans, housing or answers.

FEMA housing units are still in use in Minot, N.D.
The Virgil Workman Village on the southeast edge of Minot, N.D., holds 600 temporary housing units erected by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for flood victims. (Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times / December 6, 2011)

In the middle of winter, when the temperature slips toward zero and bone-numbing winds blow in off the prairie, living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer may not be hell — it's way too cold for that — but as the saying goes, you can see it from here.

"We basically live in a 400-square-foot icebox," said Shanda Cool, who lost not only her house, but the boutique artisan bakery she was on the verge of opening before the Souris River flooded most of central Minot last June.

"The trailer just hemorrhages heat. It gets down to five below and the heater comes on every 15 minutes," said her husband, Minot State University photography professor Patrick Sheldon. But it could be worse, they reason: Shanda's brother and his wife share their FEMA trailer with a baby and a stressed-out Great Dane.

PHOTOS: During the flood

Nearly six months after a record-breaking flood wiped out a fourth of the city's housing and left 11,000 people scrambling for shelter, the grim future that many feared has come to pass: The frigid winter has descended, and hardly anyone is securely back home.

City officials say that only about 10% of flooded families have been able to return to fully repaired homes. An additional 20% have been able to get enough windows, doors and heat to live in the ruined shells of their houses through the winter.

Thousands are living in bleak emergency trailer lots, and hundreds are still on waiting lists, shuffling among hotel rooms or bunking cheek-by-jowl with friends and family. All have had their lives put on hold as they wait — not just for temporary housing, but for home rebuilding loans and other assistance, and crucially, a decision on permanent flood protection that will determine whether rebuilding is even possible.

FEMA officials initially pledged to have all emergency housing in place by October, giving homeowners temporary shelter through the winter while they sort through their finances. But too few units were ordered and suitable land to put them on proved hard to find; now, federal officials hope the last 206 families can move by the end of next week into the suddenly prized metal-box housing units.

"I often wake up and I go, 'How can this be my life?'" said Cool.


As disasters go, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and the tornado in Joplin, Mo., grabbed far more national headlines, not to mention millions upon millions of dollars in quick federal sympathy. Here in Minot, no one died. But the bulk of the city's oldest, prettiest and most affordable neighborhoods are in shambles, and cash payouts have been minuscule.

"Our problems here are so multifaceted that it's hard to get your hand around how big the problem is," City Manager David Waind said.

Thousands of homes were inundated in water 10 to 12 feet deep, heavily laced with sewage and toxic agricultural chemicals, which seeped into drywall, studs and floors, in some cases for a month or longer. Few had flood insurance.

Now, homeowners like Hope and Ryan Anderson are left with homes that would cost half as much as they're worth just to fix — with no guarantee they won't flood again. The Andersons got a $30,200 payment from FEMA, bought another house on a hill above town, and are now bleeding the last of their savings paying two mortgages while they wait to see if the city will buy them out of their old house.

Cool and Sheldon had hand-sanded the floors, tiled the shower, and installed shelves in their beloved 1941 Craftsman — which turned into a sodden wreck that reeked of raw sewage when the river flooded. The bank regularly reminds them they still owe $100,000 on the mortgage.

Cool said she approached the Small Business Administration for a loan to fix the house, but was told she'd have to give up the bakery she was preparing to open in an artsy loft downtown — which also suffered devastating flood damage — if she wanted to save her house. "I couldn't believe they wanted me to choose," she said.

The couple opted for Cool's lifelong dream. They let the house slip into foreclosure, moved into a FEMA trailer and are trying to get the bakery up and running. They hope to eventually build a new house with Sheldon's parents, who also lost their home.

"I don't necessarily want to move in with my in-laws, but it's our best option. We have to pool our resources," Cool said. In the meantime, she's working three jobs; Sheldon's working two.

FEMA has given out $89.4 million in individual grants to Minot homeowners and pledged $20.5 million for various restoration projects, a commitment that is expected to increase. But central Minot's once-gracious old neighborhoods remain ghost towns.

Deanne Criswell, federal coordinating officer for FEMA, said the agency hoped to find ordinary rental housing for most flood evacuees. But the oil boom of the last few years had left the city — even before the flood — with few available units and skyrocketing prices, she said.

The agency wound up putting temporary units in two trailer parks in town, then erecting the equivalent of a new town on the southeast edge of the city; the Virgil Workman Village now holds 600 FEMA units on pads spread across a huge swath of graded, treeless gravel and snow.

Many displaced residents say they have no choice but to try to repair the homes they have — when there's enough money, good weather and available contractors.

Brooke Waind and her husband, who is the city manager's son, are living in a FEMA trailer with their newborn triplets and 3-year-old son.

In a case of horrible timing, they moved to Minot the same week as the flood, leaving their still-mortgaged house in Portland behind when they couldn't sell it.

They arrived with a loaded moving van to a scene of people frantically evacuating their belongings. Now, in the trailer, there's barely room for three cribs in the cramped front bedroom and three high chairs in the tiny kitchen.

The Wainds hope to buy her mother's flooded house and finish the $70,000 in repairs it needs. But it's not clear whether they'll be able to, because the house could be targeted for demolition when the city decides on a new flood protection zone. An $18.7-million plan to buy out 127 homes to make way for new dikes was endorsed by the City Council early in December, but precise funding and locations still are uncertain, and it appears clear that more homes will be affected.

"We've been waiting on pins and needles. The last two flood plans that came back, our house was on the fringe. So we don't know," Waind said. "If we're not able to move into that house, we have no other option."


For now, the trailer is home, and FEMA is the landlord.

"They come once a month and ask what our plans are," said Rolanda Hussey, who was renting the first floor of a house with her two young children when the house was destroyed. "I ask them, plans? Where am I going to go? They gave me a list of apartments or houses for rent, and it was like, $2,000 or $3,000 for a three-bedroom? It's like, there's no way I can live like that."

Cool said the FEMA representative who visited her recently expressed displeasure that she had hung some of Sheldon's photographs on the wall of their unit.

"She said, 'These are really nice pictures, but I don't want you to have so many homey things on the wall, because I don't want you to feel like this is home. I don't want you to think you're staying here,'" Cool said.

"Like my goal in life is to live off the government in a 400-square-foot trailer in someone's yard," she said. "I just got mad. I said, 'There may be a few more holes in the wall, but this picture lets me get up in the morning.'"

PHOTOS: During the flood

Friday, December 16, 2011

Fuck Your Prayer, Show Me Solidarity - by Kristin Rawls

Fuck Your Prayer, Show Me Solidarity

A coming-out story in an age of predatory credit.
"Class War," a banner-drop in Oakland on November 2. By Nathan Jongewaard.

I’m going to tell you a story. It’s the story of a good girl from a quiet town who prayed, studied hard, said no to drugs, and otherwise did everything she was told—and then went on to become Sallie Mae’s bitch and lost just about everything. This story is mine.
I grew up in an evangelical home, and was an earnest “liberal-evangelical” into my early twenties. Now I think that my former religious faith—not unlike my faith in the U.S. higher education system—gave me a warped sense of optimism about the way the world works. I believed in faith-based platitudes, plus a few secular ones. Examples:
  1. God has a plan for my life.
  2. My whole future is ahead of me.
Until a few days ago, I was too ashamed to talk publicly about what happened to me. That’s when I saw Natalia Antonova’s incredibly brave piece at Alternet detailing her pending student loan default. This issue is so cloaked in shame and humiliation that many of us stay silent. Check out Natalia’s post-article blog post if you don’t think stigma and shame are deeply intertwined with defaulting on debt out of necessity: she has been contacted by people who say they hope her lenders drive her to suicide.
This attitude is deeply engrained in many of us. Financial struggle is associated with sloth in this country. (Thank you, Newt Gingrich, for reminding me of that so frequently these days.) I have a very low credit score, and this means I have had trouble finding stable employment. So I go from temporary job to temporary job and write as many freelance articles as I can convince anyone to pay me for.
My daily schedule right now is as follows:
  • Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.: Edit scientific research for consulting gig.
  • Monday through Friday, 2:30 to 3 p.m.: Eat lunch while driving home.
  • 3 p.m. to midnight: Write freelance articles.
  • Saturday and Sunday: Churn out articles. No breaks. No friends, from the time I wake up until the time I fall asleep.
Tell me again how lazy I am. I never stop working, and I will not clear $20,000 of income this year. My relationships with friends and family have deteriorated because I cannot afford to take an hour or two off on weekends to hang out. The only friends I speak to nowadays are journalists who are professional contacts.
My name is Kristin Rawls. I am thirty-one years old. I am not a drug user. I am not an alcoholic. My crime is that I went to school, and then I got sick. Today, I cannot even rent an apartment on my own without a co-signer. And the way things are going—the more things are deregulated—I’m not optimistic that that will always be enough.
I’m among America’s brightest and best educated. If you came across me in a social setting, you might mistake me for a middle- or upper-middle-class person. This is because I “pass” pretty well. However, I am not able to get jobs that match my skills, because employers assume based on my credit score that I’m lazy and incompetent. I have never done anything irresponsible except having gone to school. I am the new face of financial ruin in this country.
It’s not that my education hasn’t given me anything. It trained me to think critically. It gave me the confidence to articulate the problems I see and make effective arguments. Because I “pass,” it may be easier for me to secure an advocate (e.g., a lawyer) even though I have nothing to pay. I also have access to publications like this one.
I do have a few things going for me, in other words. That’s the crux of the shame, I think. I am smart and well educated, and I shouldn’t be in this kind of trouble. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that anyone deserves to be in debt slavery, but people’s expectation is that smart and highly educated people will also be financially well off.
I am not telling you these things to facilitate a bonding experience or to bare my soul. I am coming to believe that refusing to be silenced by shame is the first step in fighting predatory student lenders. I am so deeply ashamed about what I’m about to share that I’ve only told a handful of people about it until now.
But I’m tired of hiding. At this point, I realize that coming out can’t hurt me more than my lenders have already hurt me, and the only way to decouple financial struggle from shame is to normalize it, one person at a time. This is my attempt.
I was raised by parents with solidly working-class roots in the suburbs of one of the most affluent towns in North Carolina. My parents never taught me how to manage finances, and neither did the parents of my peers teach them. In my town, we were all trained to be optimistic about the future.
Every adult mentor of the boomer generation that I ever had urged me to follow my dreams no matter what they cost. So I took out loans. First, because as a well-above-average high-schooler in an affluent town there was never any doubt that I was going to college—and then because “following my dreams” meant attending graduate school.
Every older mentor that I ever had also told me that student debt was the best kind to have, that it was a great way to build a credit history, that it was altogether worth it because it would give me so many opportunities to “follow my dreams.”
I did well as an undergraduate at UNC, and I really hit my stride as a graduate student in international relations in Washington, D.C. My tuition was covered by scholarships there; so again, all of the older mentors in my life assured me that this was a financially sound investment.
None suggested that I turn down this offer due to the high cost of living in D.C. It was going so well that I decided I wanted to be a professor. I loved the academy, and I was good at asking tough, big-picture questions that got to the heart of things. I was at the top of my class, and I was physically healthy. I have never been a big spender. I saw no reason that I couldn’t live on the paltry stipend of $14,000 per year that I would receive from the PhD program that admitted me in Pennsylvania.
I knew it was risky, but I saw it as a bet on myself. I trusted my intellect. It had never let me down before. With much bravado, I told one professor/mentor that “I could fucking compete with anyone,” and back then, I was right. This was important, since I do not come from a wealthy family—there would be no cushion if I didn’t fast-track my way to tenure. I remained at the top of my class until my health began to deteriorate.
A few years ago now, not long after I began my PhD program, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening autoimmune disease called lupus. Of course I had health insurance, but it was designed for young, healthy people, not people who developed serious diseases in their late twenties.
Penn State—yes, that Penn State—is not a healthy place for vulnerable people, and I became vulnerable when I became sick. For over a year, I suffered through a major lupus flare. I could not lift my arms for any more than a couple of seconds without excruciating pain. I remember sobbing while I stood under the shower, barely able to tend to basic personal hygiene. My mobility was affected. I had trouble getting around—that is, walking around campus—which meant that I was late to the morning classes I taught.
Meanwhile, I was taking out astronomical amounts of loans from Sallie Mae and Citibank. Why? Because my insurance did not sufficiently cover my healthcare expenses. And what else can you do when the doctors tell you that you could have “vital organ involvement that leads to premature death”? Do you worry about the cost, or do you worry about your vital organs? I got all the tests done. I did whatever my doctors suggested. I didn’t want to die. I took out as many loans as I had to.
Then, because Penn State would not allow me to leave for one semester with health care or the promise that I could reenter the program, I dropped out of school. Today, Sallie Mae and Citibank own me. I have more than $100,000 in debt due to student loans. I do not have any other substantial debt. Yet the damage done to my credit is not something I can ever recover from. As things stand now, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to purchase a home. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford to raise a child.
In the event that you wish to defend the criminal syndicates corporations that have stolen my future, let me tell you about the monsters deregulation hath wrought: Sallie Mae repeatedly “lost” paperwork that I sent and re-sent for a forbearance. Oh, and they conveniently changed the rules and forms every time I applied, to be sure that I would be missing some crucial piece of paperwork every time.
“Yes, we’ll be happy to help you with that,” the chirpy customer service rep always said.
When they get fed up with the fact that I don’t answer phone calls, they start harassing elderly relatives. I sometimes think I’d have been better off borrowing from the mafia.
If I could afford a high-powered attorney, I could probably get some kind of justice. But I can’t, so I won’t. How do I feel about the future? Well. I’ve decided that my only ways out are:
  1. Steal an identity and leave my real life. (Which clearly I will not do now that I’ve discussed it here.)
  2. Get involved in the underground economy somehow.
  3. Write a crap novel like Twilight that will make me very rich very fast.
How do I feel? “Pessimistic.” That’s the box I’d tell my therapist to check if I could afford a therapist. I understand why so many people who are mired in this sort of debt contemplate suicide. I’m not suicidal, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to run on rage indefinitely.
So, I don’t have any time or energy for religious platitudes. That’s the rub, when it comes to interacting with evangelical Christians.
About six months ago, I encountered many evangelical Christians in an evangelical setting, my first such experience in about eight years. I was reporting on the evangelical-emergent Wild Goose Festival, focusing on the degree of affirmation afforded LGBT people, and the whole thing made me want to gouge my eyes out. It felt like a microcosm of the way the outside world treats people with financial trouble—but on steroids.
I am beginning to understand why that event was so painful. Maybe it’s because we’re nearly three months into the Occupy movement. It wasn’t the treatment of LGBT people, though that was part of it. It wasn’t the near-complete absence of feminist analysis, though that was certainly part of it too. It wasn’t even the lack of intellectual rigor that lots of people associate with evangelical Christians, though that made me twitch a lot. It was about class, stupid.
This will likely come as a shock to the small crowd of 1,600 who attended Wild Goose and to those who have followed career evangelical-liberals like Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, and Brian McLaren. They like to go on at length about how they have a tendency to neglect LGBT issues and reproductive rights because they have prioritized what they call “social justice.” “The core of their calling,” they say, is “economic justice.” That’s what they say.
But these are not class warriors. I know; ten years ago, inspired by people like Campolo and Wallis, I seriously considered becoming a Sojourners intern after I finished college. Instead, I served in Beira, Mozambique, with the Mennonite Central Committee. I cared about poverty. Knew nothing about it, but I cared, in any case.
The thing is, these guys—and they are all guys—are pretty open about their not-at-all liberation-oriented worldviews. At a recent speaking event, Campolo acolyte Shane Claiborne offered a non-endorsement of the Occupy movement, saying he was “sympathetic,” but calling for more unity because “God cares for the 100% … The Good News is good news for everyone!” What’s more: they’re consistent. Though journalists keep holding them up as torchbearers of the “religious left,” they have long disavowed the political left. Wallis was a charter signatory of the Christian right’s  Evangelical Manifesto.
Mennonites love Wallis and Campolo. Even in their more liberal incarnations, Mennonites often square pretty closely with these guys when it comes to religiously motivated politics. They’re anti-war and generally supportive of measures that aid the poor. But they’re also anti-choice, anti-feminist, and very often anti-gay. Not every single solitary one of them, mind you, but in general.
But back to social class: I know what Wallis/Campolo/Mennonites—and their offspring, the evangelical-emergent folks at Wild Goose, preach about poverty, and it ain’t class warfare. It’s not even sustained class critique. That’s why it’s important to turn a critical eye when Wallis opportunistically takes up the Occupy cause.
Occupy Wall Street is not perfect, but it is the first sustained critique of class injustice in this country in my lifetime. And it’s important to note: the “evangelical-liberal” career Christians we know today are not always allies in class struggle. During the 1970s and 1980s, as Mark Hulsether notes at Religion Dispatches, Wallis “was standoffish toward many forms of liberationist theology.” Tony Campolo, in a recent sermon at a fundamentalist university, said, “There’s only one way to end poverty, and that’s to create jobs.” He went on to plug charities like World Vision, as if faith-based organizations are a comprehensive solution to world poverty. There was no mention of restructuring an unjust economic system rigged against all but the most privileged. And in the forward to the brand new Left, Right & Christ, Wallis stresses that he isn’t “a man of the left” because “[we] should be Christians first and foremost.” He goes on to state that “our vocation as people of faith” is to “defend the poor” rather than to defend and uphold justice.
The premise of this book? It sets up a debate between Tea Party dominionist D.C. Innes, and Sojourners staffer Lisa Sharon Harper. There’s a presumption that both offer legitimate points of view, and that we can—and should—come together in unity because “we all love Jesus.”
Tony Campolo has also rejected ideological disagreement and vigorous debate in favor of “unity” talk. In a June interview, he rejected talk of restructuring institutions to change unjust balances of power. Instead, he suggested that justice could be achieved through “love.”
Notwithstanding the fact that “love” is perhaps the vaguest, most unhelpful political prescription of all time, this kind of thinking removes any analysis of power from the conversation. It falsely presumes that we all enter the conversation on equal footing. Indeed, everyone is so busy preaching “unity” and “loving one another” that there is never any interrogation of privilege or power. It’s a bit different out in mainstream society, but the message is clear: Love your oppressors. “Love” rhetoric is less pronounced in secular society, but we are accustomed to being silenced because we have a “mean tone.” We’re asked to speak more respectfully so that we can earn a hearing. We’re taught to submit to our oppressors. We’re being angry and irrational, and it’s our job to make everyone comfortable.
The way they spoke of poverty at Wild Goose, all of the big name speakers—Wallis, Campolo, Shane Claiborne, Richard Rohr, Brian McLaren—you know, the guys who neglect “the gays” and “the women” because they “care” so deeply for the poor, have, among other things, never heard of intersectionality. They simply do not grasp the fact that it’s not possible to differentiate poverty from femaleness or blackness or queerness or illness. All of these things can make us more vulnerable to poverty. (And I would note that Wallis’s support for the Stupak Amendment is no way to “care” for poor women.) Thus, as theologian Adam Kotsko recently noted, this “third way is effectively right wing.”
Here’s what I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say to the people at Wild Goose this summer: You speak of poverty as if it is something “outside,” something “other.” It is never “us.” “We” are upwardly mobile, well-educated people who grew up in the suburbs.
You insist on praying for people like me, but you haven’t the slightest idea that I walk among you. I have conversations with you. I hold my own in arguments. I call you out on your bullshit. I am unlucky, but I don’t think “downtrodden” describes me very well. I’m not downtrodden. I’m pissed off. So, no, I do not want your prayers. I do not want an invitation to your church, and I’m not interested in discussing “the poor” as if they are some kind of abstract concept. The things you had to say—the things you’ve built your careers on—are irrelevant in the face of actual poverty. It was shameless, the way you paraded a few token “poor people” around for kicks.
If it makes you feel better, go ahead and dismiss me as “bitter.” That’s the evangelical Christian’s favorite insult. Do it.
I am not bitter. I am outraged. I want “fellowship” with people who are outraged with me and who practice solidarity by showing up when it matters and advocating for real economic justice. I want you to use your clout and influence to help shut down predatory lenders like Sallie Mae and Citibank. When I say, “fuck your prayers,” I say it with teeth.
I meant that figuratively, but seriously: I cannot eat your prayers, and it’s a struggle to buy food these days.
I want to turn the “shame” machine back on you, and I want to invite others like me to come out and stand up against your paternalism. You are not helping me. You do not speak for me. I am the new poor. I wasn’t supposed to be. I did all the right things, but we’re seeing the systematic erosion of the bourgeoisie here in America, after all. It started with home foreclosures.
Now, it’s student debt. Occupy Student Debt just released a video suggesting that one in five new graduates will default. One in five. We have no bankruptcy protection, usually meaning that our credit is ruined for life. And credit is tied to everything in this country. In some states, you can actually lose your driver’s—or professional—license for student loan default. We’re talking about a large segment of our generation losing our future.
And we’re being blamed. We had so many opportunities. How could we squander them—and then turn around and blame our lenders? Without them, we could never have gone to school! And we shouldn’t have, in any case, if we couldn’t afford it. We’re thieves! We’re irresponsible! I think these kinds of insults reaffirm our certainty that these awful things could never happen to us. One of my goals here has been to show you that they can. They are done to us by others.
If you feel that this is solely my fault, that I should have known better, and that the predatory lenders in question bear no responsibility, I invite you to stop calling yourself my “friend.” Which you won’t like, because evangelicals really love that word, “friendship.”
Here’s the thing: I almost never experience you as people who understand what real-world friendship is about. Friendship, true friendship, doesn’t come in the form of paternalistic charity from the powerful to the weak. I don’t want crumbs from your share of the non-profit industrial complex charity, I want you to fight with me for a world where I don’t need charity.
So stand up and join the class war, please, or get out of my way. Do not expect me to be grateful for your prayers. I have survival to worry about, literally.
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Kristin Rawls has a useless MA in ethics and international relations and an even more useless one in philosophy. Her work has appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Religion Dispatches, Bitch Magazine, Global Comment, and elsewhere online.

Bail-out Bombshell: Fed "Emergency" Bank Rescue Totaled $29 Trillion Over Three Years

Bail-out Bombshell: Fed "Emergency" Bank Rescue Totaled $29 Trillion Over Three Years

By J. Andrew Felkerson, AlterNet
Posted on December 15, 2011, Printed on December 16, 2011

Speculation about the the Fed’s actions during the financial crisis has made headlines on and off again over the last several years.  The latest drama occurred on November 27 when Bloomberg published an article, “Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion Undisclosed to Congress," which gives an account of the news agency’s struggle to bring to light the details of the Fed’s emergency programs. Bloomberg throws out some very large numbers, revealing that as of March 2009, the Fed lent, spent, or committed $7.77 trillion worth of aid to the financial system and that banks used the low interest rates charged on these loans to make an estimated $13 billion in income.
On December 6, the Fed struck back, issuing a four page unsigned memo intended to correct recent “egregious errors and mistakes” found in various reports of its emergency lending facilities.  The Fed argues that the “total credit outstanding under liquidity programs was never more than about $1.5 trillion.”  While Bloomberg wasn’t mentioned explicitly in the Fed memo, it was fairly clear to whom the response was directed.  The following day Bloomberg defended its reporting, and the Wall Street Journal’s David Wessel came to the Fed’s defense, characterizing Bloomberg’s methodology as a “great story,” but ultimately not “true.”

All this may sound like controversy, but it’s little more than a tempest in a teacup.
Here’s the hurricane: In reality, no less than $29.616 trillion is the total emergency assistance provided by the Fed to foreign and domestic entities during the Global Financial Crisis. Let’s repeat that: $29 trillion. This astounding number is over twice U.S. gross domestic product, the nominal value of all goods and services produced for the year 2010.  This is the total of the bailout as calculated by Nicola Matthews and myself as part of the Ford Foundation project, A Research And Policy Dialogue Project On Improving Governance Of The Government Safety Net In Financial Crisis.  We will be presenting the results of our analysis in a series of papers published by the Levy Economics Institute, the first of which, “29,000,000,000,000: A Detailed Look at the Fed’s Bailout by Funding Facility and Recipient,” is already available here.

The results we have calculated are presented below, and it is important to note that the totals are cumulative and in billions of U.S. dollars. (The numbers in parentheses indicate amounts still outstanding as of November 10, 2011).
Facility Total Percent of Total
Term Auction Facility $3,818.41 12.89%
Central Bank Liquidity Swaps 10,057.4 (1.96) 33.96
Single Tranche Open Market Operations 855 2.89
Term Securities Lending Facility and Term Options Program 2,005.7 6.77
Bear Stearns Bridge Loan 12.9 0.04
Maiden Lane I 28.82 (12.98) 0.10
Primary Dealer Credit Facility 8,950.99 30.22
Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Mutual Fund Liquidity Facility 217.45 0.73
Commercial Paper Funding Facility 737.07 2.49
Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility 71.09 (10.57) 0.24
Agency Mortgage-Backed Security Purchase Program 1,850.14 (849.26) 6.25
AIG Revolving Credit Facility 140.316 0.47
AIG Securities Borrowing Facility 802.316 2.71
Maiden Lane II 19.5 (9.33) 0.07
Maiden Lane III 24.3 (18.15) 0.08
AIA/ ALICO (AIG) 25 0.08
Totals $29,616.4 100.0%

I want to be clear. These are the totals of Fed lending and asset purchases actually undertaken since the bail-out began. There is no double-counting. And we do not include any credit facilities created by the Fed unless they were actually used. These figures accurately reflect the cumulative totals over the approximately three years actually used by the Fed to prop-up domestic and international banks, shadow banks, central banks, and even some non-financial institutions.
Banks in the Shadows

The programs above constitute the crisis prevention machinery rolled out by the Fed to combat the worst financial panic since 1929. All the programs above were designed and implemented to target domestic financial and nonfinancial corporations or foreign central banks or markets, or both. Only one of the facilities, the Term Auction Facility, can be viewed as being consistent with the Fed’s mandate to protect the commercial banking system from systemic failure. The rest are the result of the increasing relevance of the “shadow banking” to our economy—and of the Fed’s attempt to rescue the shadow banking sector.

Shadow banks are highly leveraged financial institutions that perform functions historically relegated to the commercial banking system. It is important to note that these financial concerns do not have access to the conventional means of Fed support. Nor were they ever really regulated or supervised by the Fed. They engaged in extremely risky behavior that in large part led to the global financial crisis. And when it hit, the Fed spent and lent $29 trillion, much of it devoted to rescuing the shadow banking system.

Thus, we see a host of unconventional programs designed to aid these institutions rather than the Fed’s traditional patrons. The information used to calculate the totals above is freely available (thanks in large part to the valiant efforts of a group of lawmakers led by Senator Bernie Sanders) as the result of an amendment inserted into the Dodd Frank bill. Moreover, this information has been freely available since December 10, 2010 on the Fed’s website.

So why didn’t someone else already put the data together in this way?

The Fed's Secrets

Obviously, $29 trillion is much bigger than the previous estimates of $7.77 trillion (Bloomberg) or $1.5 trillion (the Fed and the Wall Street Journal). An in-depth account of each of the facilities above is a rather lengthy process as the Levy working paper attests. The main difference in our analysis is the variables we identify as essential in understanding the Fed’s response. In our paper we report three measures that we view as critical to capturing the size and magnitude of the bailout. Each of the three measures deals exclusively with programs put into place by the Fed that transcend its conventional "lender of last resort" (LOLR) function. That is, we only include the emergency facilities the Fed created. We agree with the Fed that only facilities which were actually made operational should be considered in any account of the Fed’s actions. But we take the side of Bloomberg regarding the general lack of transparency by the Fed—the Fed fought tooth and nail to keep the details of its programs secret.

At any given moment inspection of the amount owed to the Fed resulting from nonconventional lender of last resort actions provides a reasonable account of what the Fed was doing in the period leading up to that time. However, looking at this number over time and in the context of the weekly amount lent provides insight into how the Fed’s efforts evolved over the run of the crisis. These two approaches to measurement (a “stock” or outstanding balance and a “flow” or cumulated amount spent and lent weekly) only provide us with details regarding the scope of the Fed’s bailout. To get a clear picture we need some account of the magnitude. We believe that this is captured by looking at the cumulative totals of all programs.

Perhaps the largest difference in our analysis is that we learned our money and banking theory from the late Hyman Minsky. He taught us that the modern economy is essentially financial, and as such, is prone to systemic financial crises that if left unchecked can lead to “bone crunching depressions.” Therefore it is essential to have a LOLR. Thus, any transaction between the Fed and the markets which is not part of conventional monetary operations, such as lending from the discount window or open market operations, represents an instance in which private markets were not able to or were unwilling to engage in the normal financial intermediation process. If it any point in time the private markets were capable (or willing) to carry out business as usual, Fed intervention would not have been required. Thus, we need to account for each extraordinary event, and the best way that we know to do this is by summing each instance--which results in a cumulative total of over $29 trillion dollars.

Who does the Fed serve?

A figure as large as $29.616 trillion should not be taken lightly, but focus on the specific magnitude of the figure diverts our attention from a larger issue that is at stake: how should the LOLR responsibility to be discharged in the future? With unemployment remaining persistently high and millions continuing to lose their homes to foreclosure as the result of lost income from a poor economy or outright fraud in the mortgage lending and foreclosure process, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify the ability of a single institution staffed by unelected officials to carry out such a targeted commitment of the obligations of the United States citizenry. Thanks to the actions of Senator Sanders and other individuals possessing the temerity to question the authority of the Fed we now have access to much of the data regarding what the Fed did during the recent crisis.

But we still need to go through the data from the past three years of bail-outs to answer the following questions: Who got funds from the Fed? How much did they get? And why did they get them? The Fed has not adequately explained why its emergency lending and asset purchases went on for so long and accumulated to such a large number.

J. Andrew Felkerson is a Interdisciplinary PhD student at the University of Missouri- Kansas City
© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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