99% Crash 99th Alfalfa Club Gala

The Alfalfa Club was founded in 1913 to honor the birthday of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It did not allow African-Americans until the 1970s or women until the 1990s. For 99 years it has brought the richest and most powerful people in the United States together for an exclusive black-tie affair.

The president and the wealthiest people in America got together Saturday, January 28 for the Club’s annual party in Washington, so Occupy DC joined in. Denied entrance, occupiers held their own party in the street. The festivities involved dancing, hurling glitter at a tuxedo-clad U.S. Senator, and tasteful nudity. It was likely the more lively party of the two.

Bill Wagner, protesting outside, was upset that the club would hold this kind of party in the middle of a recession. “I don’t think the people in there are tuned in enough to know anybody out here is having any problems,” he said, “and Obama’s here because the money’s here. I think he’s addicted.”

From the start, police kept the elite well away from the general public. Roadblocks of snowplows and metal barricades gave attendees at least a block’s distance from any common people. But Occupy DC already had people inside.

Five occupiers had spent the day posing as hotel guests. They took the opportunity to scatter envelopes containing the Occupy DC declaration throughout the hotel, drop a banner reading “WE ARE THE 99% / City by city, Block by block,” and get out undetected.

Meanwhile, the crowd outside took over the main road entrance to the hotel on K St near 16th St.

“We were able to put our biggest group where we knew they’d be entering,” said Drew Veysey, one of the organizers of the action. “We thought it was going to be a car entrance, but it turned out they actually had to walk through that barricade.”

It was a lucky break for occupiers, who brought water balloons and a bucket of glitter to the party. Occupiers hurled both at the expensive-looking people in tuxedos and gowns who waited for police to open the metal barricades and let them pass. Senator Joseph Lieberman drew a personal barrage, and emerged from the crowd with wet patches of glitter stuck to his jacket and a look of outrage.

With the Alfalfa Club all inside, the group outside turned into its own party. The speaker system blasted Public Enemy and a dance party broke out. About a dozen men and women took the opportunity to go topless, seeming to ignore the winter night’s chill that had others in hats and gloves.

Tiffany, from Washington, stood on the outskirts of the crowd taking photos. “It seems like good energy. I’m excited to be here,” she said.

Soon after, hearing that there was another entrance letting cars into the hotel, the crowd marched up to the intersection of 16th St and M St, finding police on horses, but no barricades blocking their way. Occupiers made several attempts to rush through the police line and on to the hotel, but were pushed back each time.

Then, mounted police charged on the occupiers, using their horses to frighten and push people back, clearing the intersection. That done, the march returned to the original location, to await those leaving the party.

Wagner was happy with the day’s events, he said. “This is the way we apply pressure. This is the way we change things.”

Official recovery leaves jobs behind

Corporate profits have more than doubled from the depths of the recession to $1.5 trillion today, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve. Bureau of Labor Statistics data for November report unemployment at 8.6 percent, the lowest since the official end of the recession. It looks like a recovery on paper, but the official statistics hide the fact that the jobs situation has hardly improved for most Americans.

When someone stops searching for work entirely, they are counted by the Bureau of Labor statistics as having “left the labor force” but not as unemployed.

The November employment report said 120,000 jobs were created last month, but “300,000 people left the labor force in October,” said University of Maryland political economist Gar Alperovitz. “That’s what’s really been dropping the unemployment rate,” he said.

The bottom line is that the official rate does not adequately describe the true level of suffering. “If you take people who have stopped looking, or would like to work full time instead of part-time, you’re at 25 percent unemployment,” said Alperovitz. “Many economists say we’re going to be stuck with this for a decade, and the idea that it may be permanent is growing as well.”

Jobless Americans are also spending more time out of work than ever. In 2011, the average unemployed worker spent 41 weeks out of work, up from the 2007 average of 16.8 weeks.

“These long spells of unemployment reduce a worker’s chances of ever returning to the labor market,” according to Economic Policy Institute economist Heidi Shierholz. “People who otherwise would enter the labor force can’t because the jobs aren’t there,” and older workers who are laid off may never return to work, she said.

But Shierholz emphasizes that unemployment is not built into the postrecession economy.

“We know how to fix it,” she said. “There’s strong, strong evidence that there just isn’t enough demand. Substantial fiscal stimulus would translate into demand, and if done on a big enough scale, bring down unemployment. We can completely afford it. It comes down to politics, where I’m completely stymied.”

Robert Zieger, Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Florida, noted that citizens have risen up in the past to demand political change in times of economic distress. “In 1932, thousands of unemployed World War I veterans marched on Washington,” said Zieger.

That “Bonus Army”, a group of over 40,000 marchers who camped out in D.C. and whose demands were eventually met by Congress, set a precedent for today’s occupiers. “They lived in tent villages not unlike those in the occupied parks,” said Zieger.

Full employment may not return naturally at the end of this recession without similar political action, according to Columbia University sociologist Herbert Gans. “Static wages, new technology, and outsourcing mean corporations can make more profit with fewer employees,” he said.

Alperovitz agreed. “We don’t have an economic problem, we have a power problem. We’re the richest country in the history of the world,” he said. “Unless you change the power relationships, it won’t be fixed.”

What the 1% should have said

By: Just Regular Folks PR, Inc.

We here at the Just Regular Folks PR firm have bailed you out of some tight spots before (get it?). But all of a sudden, the “whining index” is on the rise. Suddenly, these noisy upstarts think they’re “entitled” to something more than a swift kick in the pants and no taxation on capital gains.

The problem? You’re getting sloppy with language. Remember, not everyone is as intelligent and hard-working as you are. If they were, they’d be making the big bucks too. Millions of low-class Americans are so dumb, they don’t even know how to move a factory to China. They’re so lazy, they don’t even hire lobbyists!

You guys need a primer on how to talk down to these lesser Americans:

• Don’t talk about “careers”! People aren’t going to have those anymore. Instead, talk up the huge revenue opportunities in selling your organs and blood.

• Don’t say: “Tax cuts for the wealthy”! Call it: “Returning money to its rightful owners.”

• If someone mentions taxing the rich, hit back with: “You mean America- hating bums literally robbing taxpayers at gunpoint?”

• Don’t use the words “millionaire” and “billionaire”! It’s just “upper-middle class”.

• Remember! When they wrote the constitution, only white male property owners could vote. So we’re getting back to what the framers intended.

•You aren’t raising the retirement age to 75! You’re extending job opportunities to millions of underemployed seniors.

•Don’t say “capitalism”! Say: “The only alternative to mass chaos and starvation.”

• Most important of all, relax! You’ve earned it! Anyway, we’re already working on getting complaining criminalized. This will all blow over soon.

No Fees, No Bailouts. America ditches banks for credit unions.

People at occupations all over the world are focusing their anger on the consumer banking industry. There is outrage at the massive bonuses handed out after a taxpayer-funded bailout, anxiety about the banks’ ability to dictate government policy and fear that not enough is being done to keep something like 2008’s collapse from happening again. But after the public outcry that caused banks, most notably Bank of America, to retreat from putting new fees on debit card use, consumers are looking for new ways to store their money.

At a big bank, large shareholders and the board of directors make the decisions. The bank invests depositors’ money and charges them fees to make as much profit for its shareholders as it can. When someone puts money in a credit union, however, she is a member and an owner. The board of directors controlling investments is made up of elected, unpaid members.

The structure of credit unions tends to make them treat depositors well, said credit union historian and proponent Matthew Cropp. “It simply doesn’t make sense for a credit union to try to screw its customers, since any extra money made is simply returned to the members” in the form of better rates and free services, he said. Those services often include reimbursement of ATM fees, since many credit unions do not have their own ATMs.

John Bratsakis, president of the Maryland and DC Credit Union Association, said there were big spikes in membership as the financial crisis unfolded, and after the announcement of new debit card fees. “It seemed like the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said. “People said, ‘I’m gonna go out and look for an alternative.’” In fact, the Independent Community Bankers of America polled their member banks and found 60 percent had seen an increase in new accounts.

Supporters like Cropp say the structure encourages safer investing as well. They cite, for instance, that credit unions engaged in little subprime lending — lending to riskier borrowers at higher interest rates — and fared far better in the fallout from the 2008 housing market crisis. Corporate banks, meanwhile, are more willing to make risky decisions because they risk other people’s money, he said, and deposits are insured by the Federal government.

Cropp is disappointed that the bailouts saved the “reckless and corrupt” corporate banks at the expense of responsible institutions. The bailouts, he said, “functioned to protect the wealth, power and market share of the very institutions that caused the crisis, while robbing their alternative competitors of the opportunity to reap the rewards of their prudence.”

Small community banks have long been a refuge for those concerned about entrusting their savings to gigantic banks. But sometimes small community banks are bought out by behemoths.

In the Washington, D.C. area alone, customers of Adams National, Provident Bank, Chevy Chase Bank, and Wachovia Bank have found their institutions disappear into Premier Bank, M&T Bank, Capital One and Wells Fargo respectively.

Not surprisingly, federal government employees have a variety of credit unions to choose from in the D.C. area. But for those not eligible for a credit union through their employers, there are institutions that base membership on church affiliation or place of residency.

CommonWealth One Federal CU — www.cofcu.org
Open to all residents of the D.C. metropolitan area. Commonwealth’s policy is: Once a member, always a member.

District Government EFCU — www.dgefcu.org
Established for D.C. government employees, but also open to residents of neighborhoods including Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights. See the website for details.

USAA — USAA.com
Though it was started as a credit union for military servicemembers, and though its insurance products are still restricted to that community, checking, savings and credit cards products are open to all.

Agriculture Federal Credit Union — agriculturefcu.org
Open to all “who work, worship, volunteer, attend school in, and businesses and other legal entities in the District of Columbia.”

Signal Financial – www.sfonline.org
Open to all who “live, work, attend school, or worship in Washington, D.C. or inside the beltway in Prince George’s County.” Occupy DC is a member!

Websites to help you in your search:

www.cuna.org — Credit Union National Association

www.findacreditunion.com — search by area of residence or affiliated groups

www.creditunionsonline.com

www.creditunionaccess.com

Not talking to the press

If you want to cover up wrongdoing, don’t talk. Lies can be uncovered, and truths could help reporters find you out, even if you’re trying to throw them off your trail. Your best bet is to stay completely out of the situation until the story comes out. Then fire back with some information only you could be privy to, and make the reporter look incompetent. Even if you can’t shoot down all the accusations, you dominate a quick news cycle by calling the reporting shoddy, and that story sticks.

Darrell Issa pulled it off beautifully. Issa stayed away from a high-profile New York Times story about using his office to enrich himself, and then he stood at a distance and attacked it once it came out.

Eric Lichtblau used IRS filings to determine the purchase and sale prices of Issa’s properties, finding that public works projects Issa created benefited him financially. Lichtblau sent these details to Issa’s office for comment and received no response. Only once the story was out did Issa’s office declare the prices were way off, that Issa didn’t gain anything from the transaction.

Lichtblau could see Issa’s office building from a golf course and included the detail in his story that the offices “overlooked” the golf course. This provoked indignation from Issa’s camp, appalled that a reporter could just make something up like that. Obviously Issa wasn’t going to let Lichtblau check his offices out while reporting the story. But reporters covering the scandal of the story have been granted access to the office to confirm that, no, you cannot see the golf course from its windows.

These and other purported inaccuracies led to Issa’s call for the New York Times to issue a front-page retraction of the story.

It springs from a disdain for the role of the media in policing politicians and refusal to acknowledge the concern that drove the article, namely that a conflict of interest could arise from operating as an active businessperson in a district and nation that you govern.

It’s tempting to approach this with the idea that if Issa has nothing to hide, he should admit to investigation. But even people with nothing to hide don’t like being investigated. The fact that he was able to refuse participation in the investigation without consequence is the issue. We have to require that our politicians allow themselves to be investigated and participate in investigations when we’re looking into matters as serious as whether they’re governing with our interest or theirs in mind.

If the threat of the New York Times running a story saying Issa refused to cooperate with a story investigating his possible corruption isn’t enough to get him giving up the damning information and trying to spin it positively, then we haven’t done our job. A politician should be embarrassed out of office if he won’t work with the organizations whose job it is to find the truth and give it to the public. Not if we see a picture of his penis. An elected representative of the people being openly evasive from the people’s gaze is incompatible with democracy.

But it worked out great for him, and that’s why he did it. Lichtblau’s story remained potent after Issa’s rebuttal, and a follow-up story in the Times added more evidence that Issa’s work in Congress was enriching him. But with the story tainted by some bad facts, it was over. Nobody would run with it, it wouldn’t get any traction. And if a reporter is completely denied access to any facts on a large business empire, there are bound to be some mistakes, and some are bound to involve different figures and look, really, pretty bad.