The Great Eviction

From Tom Dispatch:

The Landscape of Wall Street’s Creative Destruction

By Laura Gottesdiener
August 1, 2013

We cautiously ascend the staircase, the pitch black of the boarded-up house pierced only by my companion’s tiny circle of light. At the top of the landing, the flashlight beam dances in a corner as Quafin, who offered only her first name, points out the furnace. She is giddy; this house — unlike most of the other bank-owned buildings on the block — isn’t completely uninhabitable.

It had been vacated, sealed, and winterized in June 2010, according to a notice on the wall posted by BAC Field Services Corporation, a division of Bank of America. It warned: “entry by unauthorized persons is strictly prohibited.” But Bank of America has clearly forgotten about the house and its requirement to provide the “maintenance and security” that would ensure the property could soon be reoccupied. The basement door is ajar, the plumbing has been torn out of the walls, and the carpet is stained with water. The last family to live here bought the home for $175,000 in 2002; eight years later, the bank claimed an improbable $286,100 in past-due balances and repossessed it.

It’s May 2012 and we’re in Woodlawn, a largely African American neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. The crew Quafin is a part of dubbed themselves the HIT Squad, short for Housing Identification and Target. Their goal is to map blighted, bank-owned homes with overdue property taxes and neighbors angry enough about the destruction of their neighborhood to consider supporting a plan to repossess on the repossessors.

“Anything I can do,” one woman tells the group after being briefed on its plan to rehab bank-owned homes and move in families without houses. She points across the street to a sagging, boarded-up place adorned with a worn banner — “Grandma’s House Child Care: Register Now!” — and a disconnected number. There are 20 banked-owned homes like it in a five-block radius. Records showed that at least five of them were years past due on their property taxes.

Where exterior walls once were, some houses sport charred holes from fires lit by people trying to stay warm. In 2011, two Chicago firefighters died trying to extinguish such a fire at a vacant foreclosed building.  Now, houses across the South Side are pockmarked with red Xs, indicating places the fire department believes to be structurally unsound. In other states — Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New York, to name recent examples — foreclosed houses have taken to exploding after bank contractors forgot to turn off the gas.

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Wall Street Lobbyists Nervous As Cities Use Eminent Domain to Protect Homeowners

From Huffington Post:


Usually a community group has to protest in front of a bank, take over a corporate shareholders’ meeting, or get arrested at a politicians office or a slumlord’s home to make the front page of the New York Times.

But on Tuesday, the Home Defenders League – a coalition of community groups who organize homeowners facing foreclosure – made the Times’ front page simply by using two words: “eminent domain.”

Reporter Shaila Dewan’s article,”A City Invokes Seizure Laws to Save Homes,” described the group’s efforts in Richmond, California, where it is working with city officials to help families facing foreclosure and save blighted neighborhoods overrun with foreclosed homes by using its power of eminent domain to purchase mortgages and re-sell them to homeowners at a reduced price.

As the Times’ story noted, Wall Street lobbyists are waging a legal, political, and ideological war to stop Richmond and other upstart cities from taking control of their own destinies.

Once it hit the Times‘ front page, other media outlets scrambled to catch up on this fascinating David vs. Goliath story. By mid-day – following a conference call with activists, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, former Cong. Brad Miller, and others, as well as a press conference in front of Richmond City Hall – the rest of the media had the story, which they posted on their websites.

The headlines on stories posted by the San Francisco Chronicle (“Richmond First To Jump Into Eminent Domain” ) and the Los Angeles Times (“Richmond Adopts Eminent Domain Mortgage Plan”) were straightforward. The San Jose Mercury-News accurately raised the specter of conflict: “Richmond Moves Ahead With Controversial Plan to Seize Underwater Mortgages from Investors.”

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See New York Times: A City Invokes Seizure Laws to Save Homes

You May Have ‘Nothing to Hide’ But You Still Have Something to Fear

From The ACLU:

By Alex Abdo

This post was first published on

In the wake of recent news that the NSA is spying on Americans, I have been particularly struck by the argument that “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear.”

At first blush, this argument might seem sound – after all, if the government is merely conducting anti-terrorism surveillance, non-terrorists shouldn’t be affected, right? But if you look more closely, you’ll see this idea is full of holes.

The “nothing to hide” argument mistakenly suggests that privacy is something only criminals desire. In fact, we choose to do many things in private – sing in the shower, make love, confide in family and friends – even though they are not wrong or illegal. Who would not be embarrassed if all of their most intimate details were exposed? Fences and curtains are ways to ensure a measure of privacy, not indicators of criminal behavior. Privacy is a fundamental part of a dignified life.

The “nothing to hide” argument also has things backwards when it suggests that we are all worthy of suspicion until proven otherwise. Our system of justice treats us all as innocent until proven guilty. That applies in everyday life – when the government wants to spy on our daily activities and private conversations – as much as it applies in court. The state bears the burden of showing there is a good reason for suspicion, not the other way around. The refrain “nothing to hide” should not be a license for sweeping government surveillance.

Even if you think you have nothing to hide, you may indeed have something to fear. You might fear for yourself. As Kafka so chillingly illustrates in “The Trial,” the prospect of unwarranted government pursuit is terrifying. Or you might fear for our society. Living under the constant gaze of government surveillance can produce long-lasting social harm: if citizens are just a little more fearful, a little less likely to freely associate, a little less likely to dissent – the aggregate chilling effect can close what was once an open society.

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New York woman visited by police after researching pressure cookers online

From The Guardian UK:

Long Island resident said her web search history and ‘trying to learn how to cook lentils’ prompted a visit from authorities but police say search was prompted by tipoff

in New York
The Guardian, Thursday 1 August 2013

A New York woman says her family’s interest in the purchase of pressure cookers and backpacks led to a home visit by six police investigators demanding information about her job, her husband’s ancestry and the preparation of quinoa.

Michele Catalano, who lives in Long Island, New York, said her web searches for pressure cookers, her husband’s hunt for backpacks and her “news junkie” son’s craving for information on the Boston bombings had combined somewhere in the internet ether to create a “perfect storm of terrorism profiling”.

Members of what she described as a “joint terrorism task force” descended on Catalano’s home on Wednesday.

Catalano was at work, but her husband was sitting in the living room as the police arrived. She retold the experience in a post on on Thursday. She attributed the raid largely to her hunt for a pressure cooker, an item used devastatingly, allegedly by the two Tsarnaev brothers, in Boston, but also used by millions across the country to prepare vegetables while retaining most of their nutrients.

The story later took on a different complexion when police finally explained that the investigation was prompted by searches a family member had made for pressure cooker bombs and backpacks made at his former workplace. The former employer, believing the searches to be suspicious, alerted police. Catalano said the family member was her husband.

In her first post, Catalano, a writer for indie music and politics magazine Death and Taxes wrote:

What happened was this: At about 9:00 am, my husband, who happened to be home yesterday, was sitting in the living room with our two dogs when he heard a couple of cars pull up outside. He looked out the window and saw three black SUVs in front of our house; two at the curb in front and one pulled up behind my husband’s Jeep in the driveway, as if to block him from leaving.

Six gentleman in casual clothes emerged from the vehicles and spread out as they walked toward the house, two toward the backyard on one side, two on the other side, two toward the front door.

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Chomsky: America’s Imperial Power Is Showing Real Signs of Decline

From Alternet:

Latin America had long been the reliable “backyard” for the United States—not any more.

By Noam Chomsky
August 2, 2013

On July 9, the Organization of American States held a special session to discuss the shocking behavior of the European states that had  refused to allow the government plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales to enter their airspace.

Morales was flying home from a Moscow summit on July 3. In an interview there he had said he was open to offering political asylum to Edward J. Snowden, the former U.S. spy-agency contractor wanted by Washington on espionage charges, who was in the Moscow airport.

The OAS expressed its solidarity with Morales,  condemned“actions that violate the basic rules and principles of international law such as the inviolability of Heads of State,” and “firmly” called on the European governments – France, Italy, Portugal and Spain – to explain their actions and issue apologies.

An emergency meeting of UNASUR—the Union of South American Nations—denounced “the flagrant violation of international treaties” by European powers.

Latin American heads of state weighed in, too. President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil expressed the country’s “indignation and condemnation of the situation imposed on President Evo Morales by some European countries” and warned that this “serious lack of respect for the law…compromises dialogue between the two continents and possible negotiations between them.”

Commentators were less reserved. Argentine political scientist Atilio Boron dismissed Europe as “the whore of Babylon,” cringing before power.

With virtually identical reservations, two states  refused to sign the OAS resolution: the United States and Canada. Their growing isolation in the hemisphere as Latin America frees itself from the imperial yoke after 500 years is of historic significance.

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Large #Summerheat Action Takes on Chevron Refinery

From Common Dreams:

Crowd continues to grow at ‘largest greenhouse gas emitter in the state’

Jacob Chamberlain

Protesters gathered in large numbers in Richmond, California on Saturday to march on Chevron’s oil refinery in the San Francisco suburb, which has been the scene of untold environmental and public health degradation throughout the years.

Part of a group of actions dubbed #Summerheat, which have been organized “to stop climate chaos and move towards a just, renewable world,” Saturday’s action falls three days before the one-year anniversary of the Chevron refinery’s most recent major explosion and fire.

The march, which began in downtown Richmond, will culminate at a large rally at the Chevron refinery—the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the state.

“The planet has lurched past the ominous milestone of 400 parts per million concentration of CO2,” the organizers state. “Big Oil continues its irresponsible pursuit of more and dirtier fossil fuels. Local refineries are beginning to import Canadian tar sands for processing in the Bay Area. The moment has come to stand up to the industry that is wrecking our future.”

Among the list of demands, the organizers include:

  • NO more toxic hazards.
  • NO Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
  • NO refining tar sands or fracked crude.
  • YES to a just transition from dirty fossil fuels to union jobs in clean energy!

Large crowds are reported at the march with a slew of tweets and pictures surfacing in social media sites:

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Blackfish Documentary Exposes Negligence, Corruption in SeaWorld’s Quest for Profit

From Truth Out:

By Martha Sorren
Saturday, 03 August 2013

In 2011, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment had a banner year with core earnings topping $380 million. But for decades animal activists have been arguing that this is blood money. Blackfish, a new documentary about the well-known theme park, finally might prove them right.

Directed and produced by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the film follows the story of Tilikum, a baby orca captured in the open North Atlantic Ocean in 1983. He made headlines in 2010 when he caused the death of senior SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.

As the documentary leads you through the events leading up to Brancheau’s death, it takes the opportunity to look at the larger issue of whale captivity and the wide net of negligence and corruption SeaWorld has cast as it consistently put its animals and staff in danger to make a profit.

Blackfish utilizes interviews from a variety of reputable sources, including former SeaWorld trainers and whale researchers to compile evidence against the marine park.

“The situation with Dawn Brancheau didn’t just happen; it’s not a singular event,” whale researcher Dave Duffus explained. “You have to go back over 20 years to understand this.”

John Crowe recalled his whale hunting in 1970 in Puget Sound, Washington, and how haunting the mothers’ cries were as he separated the babies from the pod. “I lost it. I just started crying. I just couldn’t handle it,” he said in the film. “Just like kidnapping a little kid away from her mother. I can’t think of anything worse than that. The worst thing that I’ve ever done is hunt that whale.”

Tilikum, affectionately nicknamed Tilly, was captured and separated from his mother when he was only 2. In the wild, orcas never leave their mothers, and some of these pods can have as many as four generations traveling together.

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Flaring Lights Up North Dakota

From Climate News Network:

by August 2, 2013

North Dakota, now the second-largest oil-producing state in the US, is neglecting the gas that also comes from its wells, says a report, wasting money and adding to greenhouse gas emissions.

LONDON, 2 August – Flaring of gas associated with oil production has long been a contentious issue: it not only releases millions of tons of harmful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere but it’s also a chronic waste of a valuable energy resource.

Considerable progress has been made over recent years in reducing flaring: the World Bank estimates that between 2005 and 2011 there was a 20% drop in flaring worldwide. But in North Dakota, one of the pivotal regions driving the boom in US shale oil and gas production, flaring is very much in fashion.

A new report says flaring in North Dakota – now visible from space – has doubled over the past two years, with gas worth approximately $1 bn literally going up in smoke in 2012.

“Over the course of 2012, natural gas flaring in North Dakota emitted 4.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the annual emissions of approximately one million cars”, say the report’s authors.

The report, Flaring Up, is produced by Ceres, a US organisation promoting more sustainable business practices. It says nearly 30% of North Dakota gas is at present being burned off each month as a byproduct of oil production: as a result, the US has now joined Russia, Nigeria and Iraq among the world’s top 10 flaring countries.

North Dakota, a predominantly farming area and traditionally one of the less developed regions in the US, has seen its economic fortunes radically change in recent years.

Technological advances such as directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – have unlocked vast deposits of shale gas and oil in the Bakken area in the state’s north-west. Early last year North Dakota surpassed Alaska to become the second largest oil-producing state in the US – after Texas.

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Offshore…Fracking: Far More Common Than Previously Known

From Common Dreams:

AP FOIA request shows oil companies use toxic method off California coast

Jacob Chamberlain

Hundreds of pages of federal documents released by the U.S. government to the Associated Press this week show that the controversial and toxic practice of hydraulic fracturing has moved offshore to an extent far greater than previously known.

The documents, obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that the EPA has permitted fracking in the Pacific Ocean at least 12 times since the late 1990s, and has recently approved a new project in “the vast oil fields in the Santa Barbara Channel,” which is also the site of a major 1969 spill of over 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean.

“While debate has raged over fracking on land, prompting efforts to ban or severely restrict it,” AP writes, “offshore fracking has occurred with little attention in sensitive coastal waters where for decades new oil leases have been prohibited.”

Fracking—the process of pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of salt water, sand and toxic chemicals into shale and sand formations—is most commonly referred to as a process of natural gas extraction and has come under fire from a growing anti-fracking movement for its well documented water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

In ocean wells, the same technique is used to stimulate oil flow. The process is the same and just as toxic—with most of the chemicals used still unknown to the public due to “trade secret” protections.

“California coastal regulators said they were unaware until recently that offshore fracking was even occurring,” AP reports. The fracking has been done mostly in federal waters but California state regulators do have the authority to deny drilling permits if they can show that the procedures are polluting local waters.

“It wasn’t on our radar before, and now it is,” said Alison Dettmer, a deputy director at the California Coastal Commission.

The Government documents including permits and internal emails from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) reveal that fracking off the shores of California “is more widespread than previously known,” AP reports. “While new oil leases are banned, companies can still drill from 23 grandfathered-in platforms in waters where endangered blue and humpback whales and other marine mammals often congregate.”

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