Occupy’s Asshole Problem: Flashbacks from An Old Hippie

A guest post by Sara Robinson
I wish I could say that the problems that the Occupy movement is having with infiltrators and agitators are new. But they’re not. In fact, they’re problems that the Old Hippies who survived the 60s and 70s remember acutely, and with considerable pain.
As a veteran of those days — with the scars to prove it — watching the OWS organizers struggle with drummers, druggies, sexual harassers, racists, and anarchists brings me back to a few lessons we had to learn the hard way back in the day, always after putting up with way too much over-the-top behavior from people we didn’t think we were allowed to say “no” to. It’s heartening to watch the Occupiers begin to work out solutions to what I can only indelicately call “the asshole problem.” In the hope of speeding that learning process along, here are a few glimmers from my own personal flashbacks — things that it’s high time somebody said right out loud.
1. Let’s be clear: It is absolutely OK to insist on behavior norms. #Occupy may be a DIY movement — but it also stands for very specific ideas and principles. Central among these is: We are here to reassert the common good. And we have a LOT of work to do. Being open and accepting does not mean that we’re obligated to accept behavior that damages our ability to achieve our goals. It also means that we have a perfect right to insist that people sharing our spaces either act in ways that further those goals, or go somewhere else until they’re able to meet that standard.
2. It is OK to draw boundaries between those who are clearly working toward our goals, and those who are clearly not. Or, as an earlier generation of change agents put it: “You’re either on the bus, or off the bus.” Are you here to change the way this country operates, and willing to sacrifice some of your almighty personal freedom to do that? Great. You’re with us, and you’re welcome here. Are you here on your own trip and expecting the rest of us to put up with you? In that case, you are emphatically NOT on our side, and you are not welcome in our space.
Anybody who feels the need to put their own personal crap ahead of the health and future of the movement is (at least for that moment) an asshole, and does not belong in Occupied space. Period. This can be a very hard idea for people in an inclusive movement to accept — we really want to have all voices heard. But the principles #Occupy stands for must always take precedence over any individual’s divine right to be an asshole, or the assholes will take over. Which brings me to….
3. The consensus model has a fatal flaw, which is this: It’s very easy for power to devolve to the people who are willing to throw the biggest tantrums. When some a drama king or queen starts holding the process hostage for their own reasons, congratulations! You’ve got a new asshole! (See #2.) You must guard against this constantly, or consensus government becomes completely impossible.
4. Once you’ve accepted the right of the group to set boundaries around people’s behavior, and exclude those who put their personal “rights” ahead of the group’s mission and goals, the next question becomes: How do we deal with chronic assholes?
This is the problem Occupy’s leaders are very visibly struggling with now. I’ve been a part of asshole-infested groups in the long-ago past that had very good luck with a whole-group restorative justice process. In this process, the full group (or some very large subset of it that’s been empowered to speak for the whole) confronts the troublemaker directly. The object is not to shame or blame. Instead, it’s like an intervention. You simply point out what you have seen and how it affects you. The person is given a clear choice: make some very specific changes in their behavior, or else leave.
This requires some pre-organization. You need three to five spokespeople to moderate the session (usually as a tag team) and do most of the talking. Everybody else simply stands in a circle around the offender, watching silently, looking strong and determined. The spokespeople make factual “we” statements that reflect the observations of the group. “We have seen you using drugs inside Occupied space. We are concerned that this hurts our movement. We are asking you to either stop, or leave.”
When the person tries to make excuses (and one of the most annoying attributes of chronic assholes is they’re usually skilled excuse-makers as well), then other members of the group can speak up — always with “I” messages. “I saw you smoking a joint with X and Y under tree Z this morning. We’re all worried about the cops here, and we think you’re putting our movement in danger. We are asking you to leave.” Every statement needs to end with that demand — “We are asking you to either stop, or else leave and not come back.” No matter what the troublemaker says, the response must always be brought back to this bottom line.
These interventions can go on for a LONG time. You have to be committed to stay in the process, possibly for a few hours until the offender needs a pee break or gets hungry. But eventually, if everybody stays put, the person will have no option but to accept that a very large group of people do not want him or her there. Even truly committed assholes will get the message that they’ve crossed the line into unacceptable behavior when they’re faced with several dozen determined people confronting them all at once.
Given the time this takes, it’s tempting to cut corners by confronting several people all at once. Don’t do it. Confronting more than two people at a time creates a diffusion-of-responsibility effect: the troublemakers tell themselves that they just got caught up in a dragnet; the problem is those other people, not me. The one who talks the most will get most of the heat; the others will tend to slip by (though the experience may cause them to reconsider their behavior or leave as well).
This process also leaves open the hope that the person will really, truly get that their behavior is Not OK, and agree to change it. When this happens, be sure to negotiate specific changes, boundaries, rules, and consequences (“if we see you using drugs here again, we will call the police. There will be no second warning”), and then reach a consensus agreement that allows them to stay. On the other hand: if the person turns violent and gets out of control, then the question is settled, and their choice is made. You now have a legitimate reason to call the cops to haul them away. And the cops will likely respect you more for maintaining law and order.
Clearing out a huge number of these folks can be a massive time suck, at least for the few days it will take to weed out the worst ones and get good at it. It might make sense to create a large committee whose job it is to gather information, build cases against offenders, and conduct these meetings.
And finally:
5. It is not wrong for you to set boundaries this way. You will get shit for this. “But…but…it looks a whole lot like a Maoist purge unit!” No. There is nothing totalitarian about asking people who join your revolution to act in ways that support the goals of that revolution. And the Constitution guarantees your right of free association — which includes the right to exclude people who aren’t on the bus, and who are wasting the group’s limited time and energy rather than maximizing it. After all: you’re not sending these people to re-education camps, or doing anything else that damages them. You’re just getting them out of the park, and out of your hair. You’re eliminating distractions, which in turn effectively amplifies the voices and efforts of everyone else around you. And, in the process, you’re also modeling a new kind of justice that sanctions people’s behavior without sanctioning their being — while also carving out safe space in which the true potential of Occupy can flourish.

This Week in Banking: Root Canals, Rhetoric or Real Reform?

Guest Post by Mary Bottari.
The debate over banks and banking came front and center this week. In his toughest language yet, President Barack Obama vowed to veto financial reform legislation that is not tough enough on Wall Street. “The lobbyists are already trying to kill it,” Obama told Congress in his State of the Union address. “Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.”
The President’s rhetoric offers an important measure of progress. Now we can be assured that the political elite are paying attention to the poll numbers showing an unprecedented anger at the big banks and the Wall Street bailouts. Democrats are starting to figure out if they don’t take up this populist message and run with it in November, the Republicans will.
But the rest of the President’s speech and the other dramatic developments in the banking world this week indicate that Democratic actions are falling far short of their rhetoric, a pattern that voters are sure to notice.
First, the speech. Many had anticipated a big announcement on jobs. With jobless rates in the double digits and a projected 5-10 year haul to get employment back to normal levels, workers were hoping for something big and bold. Instead, Obama proposed $30 billion in TARP funds to get credit flowing to small businesses. $30 billion to put 16 million Americans back to work? $30 billion when the Wall Street bonus pool for a few thousand bankers was $140 billion this month? Democrats will live to regret this missed opportunity.
Also on Wednesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was called on the carpet once again by irate members of the House for his mishandling of the AIG bailout. To their credit, several Democrats asked the toughest questions. But Geithner bobbed and weaved and no knock-out punches were landed. This is a problem for the Democrats. The whole incident paints an ugly picture of the federal response to the financial meltdown, best described by Representative Edolphus Towns (D-NY): “The taxpayers were propping up the hollow shell of AIG by stuffing it with money and the rest of Wall Street came by and looted the corpse.”
On Thursday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was reconfirmed by the Senate for another four year term. His nomination had been in trouble and a record number of senators voted no, but Obama stood by his man and pushed him through. The problem with Bernanke is best summarized by economist Simon Johnson: “Bernanke is an airline pilot who pulled off a miraculous landing, but didn’t do his preflight checks and doesn’t show any sign of being more careful in the future – thank him if you want, but why would you fly with him again (or the airline that keeps him on)?” While Bernanke may have saved Wall Street, he has shown little interest in using his power as Fed Chairman to aggressively aid Main Street. He is not the man for the job in these tough economic times and that will soon be apparent to the detriment of the Democrats who secured his confirmation.
Ultimately, however, the most important developments of the week were played out behind closed doors in the Senate. Senate Banking Chairman, Chris Dodd, made the decision some time ago to try to devise a bipartisan financial reform package. His package of reforms was then handed over to four bipartisan working groups. With thousands of bank lobbyists swarming the hill, it is no surprise that these groups are busily making the Dodd bill worse.
The derivatives language is being weakened and bankruptcy is emerging as the preferred method of unwinding financial institutions, which could leave taxpayers to foot the bill for this expensive procedure. To truly end the “too big to fail” problem and crack down on the reckless behavior of the biggest banks, we need strong, specific preventative measures such as leverage limits, capital and margin requirements, limits on counterparty exposures, a ban on proprietary trading and limits on bank size through a low cap on total liabilities. Even Obama’s signature reform, an independent consumer agency is in danger of being whittled down to a corner desk in a failed federal agency.
The President understands that the Wall Street bailout was “about as popular as a root canal.” But if Democrats continue to peddle this type of rhetoric while neglecting meaningful reform as they have done this week, the Republicans will run away with the anti-bailout message and with the election in November.

Senator Dodd’s Dilemma: Who to Take to the Ball?

Guest post by Mary Bottari of Bankster

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Obama’s signature financial reform, a Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA), was in trouble in the Senate.
Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) was considering dropping the idea of creating an independent, stand-alone consumer protection body, empowered to crack down on banking abuses, in order to get a regulatory revamp passed this year with bipartisan support. Dodd is apparently considering shrinking the CFPA into a division of an already existing federal agency (no doubt one with a proven track-record of failing consumers.)
On January 6th, facing an impossibly tough re-election fight, Dodd announced that he was stepping down at the end of 2010. Analysis was mixed about what this would mean for bank reform, but Politico reported that one financial service lobbyist crowed: "Now that Dodd is retiring, he can ignore the demands of the special interests on the left (consumer groups, trial bar, unions) and dance with the special interests that brought him to the dance in the first place. Us, his loyal donors in the banking community."
Today, BanksterUSA released its new video, which calls upon Senator Dodd to dance with the people and not the special interests. The video features Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren, who came up with the idea of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Warren makes the simple argument, that if America has an independent regulatory body to police toasters so they cannot burn down your house, why don’t we have an independent regulator to police deceptive mortgages that can put you out on the street?
The video also features Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in America based on market capitalization. The focus on Dimon is particularly timely. Dimon’s firm survived the great meltdown, absorbed the failing WaMu and Bear Sterns, received billions in bailout funds and other government benefits which allowed the firm to prosper in 2009. Dimon has been lobbying hard against any size cap on big banks and he has been touted as a replacement for U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner who has come under fire for his mishandling of the AIG bailout while head of the New York Fed.

On Friday, JPMorgan Chase announced $11 billion in earnings for 2009, and an eye-popping $27 billion in bonuses. The New York Times dryly reported that the bonus numbers "underscored the gaping divide between the financial industry and the many ordinary Americans who are still waiting for an economic recovery.
Senator Dodd is considering having his first hearings on financial reform at the end of January. Now is the time to "Fill Dodd’s Dance Card" by signing our petition to send Dodd the message that the American people expect him to make protecting Main Street his legacy, not dancing with Wall Street. Dodd’s committee must pass meaningful reform, even if that means kicking big bankers like Jamie Dimon out of the ballroom and telling Senate Republicans "no deal" on a weak package of reforms.

New Obama Ad – Will It Help?

Here is the new Obama ad.

Will it do any good?
The Republicans just say the “liberal media” are biased, so you shouldn’t believe anything bad about them that you hea in the news. And Obama is a “liberal” and you don’t want that.
Here is the difference in this race: Conservatives have been bombarding the public for forty years with propaganda and lies about “liberals” and “the liberal media.” Liberals and progressive have been letting them get away with it. So after forty years much of the public has never heard the other side of the story and BELIEVES the propaganda.
Now, two months before the election, the Obama campaign is trying to put up ads in the face of forty years of unanswered propaganda. Good luck with that.
The real answer is to start TODAY building organizations to do the intellectual work, and channels to take that work to the general public. The far right has Fox and Rush etc. And the corporatists have the major TV networks. And they have Cato, Heritage, etc. doing the intellectual work, and there are all the pundits, etc. that these funded organizations employ. (And they pay very well.)

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Rove Machine Switched On And Going Full Force

This is a Guest post, by Michelle Kraus.
Democrats it’s time to come back from vacation. The “Rove-like” machine is on and running full force. It is almost a bitter sweet irony that it is August yet again before a Presidential election. Have we not learned anything from the lessons of ’04?
1. War starts in a new part of the world: Georgia is attacked by Russia. Tanks roll.
2. Putin sits with our President at the Opening Ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics
3. Shake well with a little scandal – and remarkably former Senator John Edwards is caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar
4. The Democrats (and the entire Congress) go on vacation for recess to raise the all necessary campaign dollars for the November races
5. Rev up the media machine and oops we’re onto the races. The polls are falling.
The election is in a dead heat.
How the heck did this happen after the brilliant international trip of Senator Barack Obama? Why did that eight point upsurge in Gallup go virtually unnoticed?
Now, if we were really smart we would have written this playbook and been prepared.
Zippers up (at least until November) gentlemen.
Reveal the missteps (if there were any) before the media machine nails you male or female.
Drop the tennis rackets.
Hold up the cell phones, wave them in the air, and show the country you are in charge.
Please don’t go on vacation and wave from your catamaran.
This is a deadly street fight until November. Americans are losing their homes, their health care, and their children in Iraq. Think like gun slingers, wrestlers, or street fighters. Progressives get back in the Party and hunker down for the fight of your lives. We need to work together. Hillary supporters no more Talmudic discourse, at least not now in public. There will be time for it all. Obama campaign put on your roller skates, drop the entitlement, make nice to the Hillary folks, and be nimble and quick.
This is our race to win. Where is our playbook? Please don’t let swift boating become a permanent entry into the lexicon of terms used to lose a presidential election. It’s almost humorous to see the “tail wagging the dog” in our foreign policy arena. Didn’t we see that movie?

One image, One moment – On the Road to the Beijing Olympics

Guest Post by Michelle Kraus
There is a promise of hope in the Beijing Olympics if global leaders come together for the Dali Lama and human rights. The image of the torch is not just the Olympic Torch, but rather the beacon of hope for the people of the world.
One image, One moment, a chance for peace.
Stepping back and taking a moment and to consider him carrying the Torch or stepping onto the podium at the Opening Ceremony – perhaps there is a chance for peace. Maybe what we must do is take baby steps and lobby for his presence at the Opening Ceremonies and that would be enough.
One image, One moment, a chance for peace.
A bold, online campaign launched today at www.humanitariandream.com proposing a solution to all the controversy surrounding the Beijing Olympics this summer. Amidst all the outcries for boycott and the resulting acrimony, businessman Steve Varon proposes a plausible solution.

“With controversy and strife surrounding the Beijing Olympic Torch Relay over the past few months, this proposal is the first publicly announced solution to the dilemma. Imagine the Dalai Lama carrying the Olympic torch along the torch relay route, past the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet – or anywhere else on the relay route. It has the potential to quell the violent protests and return the focus of the torch relay to a celebration of peace through sport, inspiring hope for all people around the world. Corporate, civic and government leaders globally have been encouraged to support this opportunity. The idea has been warmly embraced publicly and privately.”

See the video and hear the words of this quiet man, a businessman, who has committed himself to this one moment of light.
Sign the petition online and form the human link to this one moment.
All the political and global forces are wrong for this to have a prayer of success. The Chinese own a substantial amount of the US debt at a time in which the economy is teetering on recession. Human rights activists have lost their spokesperson in the late Congressman Tom Lantos. A United States boycott of the games is impossible, and not the answer.
One image, One moment, a chance for peace.
Sports should be about freedom, not politics. So let’s have the games and abide by this Call to Action. Sign the petition and consider the solution is of finding a way to unify the Dali Lama and the Chinese government on this one day.

“If constructive dialogue with China could result in the world seeing the Dalai Lama carrying the torch” said Varon “it would send a powerful message about the Olympics as a force of good, and truly symbolize the ‘One World, One Dream’ slogan of this year’s Games.”

One image, One moment, One World, One Dream – On the Road to Beijing.

Women Voters Dominating at the Polls

A guest post by Bettina Duval
First Iowa . . . then New Hampshire . . . and once again in Nevada! Women voters are dominating at the polls!!!
In all three contests the percentage of female to male voters was a consistent 60% to 40%. The reality behind these percentages is even more significant because the number of total voters is also greater than ever before.
Why is this happening? It was former Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neil who said, “All politics are local.” Local issues are often about education, health care, child care – issues which resonate most strongly with women. Our individual experiences define our needs and our dreams and in turn our needs and dreams mold our opinions. Women are voting in greater numbers in this primary because there is a woman running for president.

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Hillary’s Victory

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A guest post by Bettina Duval of the California List
Senator Hillary Clinton’s victory in New Hampshire was the first time in our history that a woman won a presidential primary*. Her win was a momentous achievement that the early suffragettes could only dream of. It was a triumph for all women – a giant step forward in the drive for equality.
The nation’s political attention has wrongly focused on why Senator Clinton won New Hampshire. The most important fact, that she is the first woman ever to win a primary, has been lost. Does it matter that Hillary Clinton won the primary – YES. Senator Clinton’s victory cannot be brushed aside with political positioning or media downplay. Make no mistake, it was an historic moment.

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I Sent The Wrong Man To Jail

by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino
March of 1995 began like any other month for me. The days were filled with chasing soon to be five year-old triplets, washing hundreds of pounds of laundry, kissing skinned knees and picking up toys, until the phone rang. Captain Mike Gauldin, the detective who worked my case after a man broke into my apartment when I was a twenty-two year-old college student and raped me at knifepoint in Burlington, N.C. wanted to come see me with Rob Johnson, then the assistant D.A. of Alamance County.
They arrived before lunch and we sat on the deck enjoying the spring sunshine. We talked about the weather, the kids, current events, and then quickly the topic changed. Ronald Cotton, the man sent away for life for attacking me, wanted a DNA test. They needed new blood drawn because my sample from the eleven year-old rape kit had deteriorated.
I had already sat through two trials and I was furious, but I didn’t hesitate. “Let’s go to the lab right now,” I responded. Within hours Mike Gauldin and Rob Johnson were headed to the SBI labs with my vial of blood. I knew the tests would show what I had known all along: that Ronald Cotton was a monster. It was Ronald Cotton who threatened to kill me, who had chased me through the rain that night while I fled for my life. And it was Ronald Cotton who I saw every night in my nightmares, who I prayed God would have killed, and who I hated each and every day of the last eleven years.

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Governor Schwarzenegger’s Chance to Lead

By John Van de Kamp
Health care reform hasn’t made it to the Governor’s desk this year, but 3 crucial public safety bills have. Governor Schwarzenegger has the opportunity to sign landmark legislation that would help prevent wrongful convictions in California, and make this state a leader in addressing a serious nationwide problem.
How serious is the problem? When the innocent go to prison, the guilty go free. That is a very serious public safety problem. And it happens more often then most people think.
Just recently, Stephen Colbert interviewed the 200th DNA exoneree, Jerry Miller. Colbert gave him a card on behalf of “society” saying “Sorry.” Here in California, Herman Atkins spent 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Here is Herman Atkins’ story:

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I Took A False Confession – So Don’t Tell Me It Doesn’t Happen!

(As I mentioned yesterday, I am helping ACLU of Northern California and The Justice Project to get three very important bills signed. Right now there are three bills that the California legislature has passed and are ready for Governor Schwarzenegger to sign. But he might not sign them. These bills will help stop wrongful convictions. So we are trying to get some public awareness that these bills are waiting to be signed. These bills are SB 511, SB 609 and SB 756.
Today I am guest-posting a piece by a police officer who took a false confession and knows that it really can happen. — Dave J.)

As I write this, the post-arrest recorded interview of Senator Larry Craig has hit the press, circulated around the blogosphere, and produced heated discussion among the public. The recording includes a confession to a crime that Senator Craig now says he did not commit. No doubt that tape will prove central to the consideration of Senator Craig’s claim, since it will provide incontrovertible evidence of what both he and law enforcement said.
Coincidentally, just last week the California legislature passed a bill, SB 511, which would mandate the recording of custodial interrogations to prevent wrongful convictions based upon false confessions. The bill has now been sent to Governor Schwarzenegger.
To most, falsely confessing to a crime seems counterintuitive. It is hard to understand — barring outright torture – why a sane and intelligent person would admit to a crime that he did not commit, especially if the confession could yield a lifetime prison term or even a death sentence.
As a law enforcement officer with 24 years of experience with the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C. (13 of those as a homicide detective), the phenomenon always eluded me too. Until someone provided a false confession to me.

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Dan Rather Sues CBS

Don Imus calls black women “nappy-headed hos,” gets fired, sues, and CBS settles for $20million.
Dan Rather is forced out over a true report about how George Bush evaded his military service commitment. So it makes sense that he should finally sue CBS.
The right-wingers will tell you Rather used “forged” documents in the report. Except no one has ever shown they were forged, the person who typed the originals says this was what she typed, AND there is no question that the content of the documents and the story was accurate. Bush did evade his military service.
Here is the story:
Rather Sues CBS, Saying It Made Him a ‘Scapegoat’
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Dan Rather, whose career at CBS News ground to an inglorious end 15 months ago over his role in an unsubstantiated report questioning President Bush’s Vietnam-era National Guard service, filed a lawsuit this afternoon against the network, its corporate parent and three of his former superiors.
… He also contends that the network committed fraud by commissioning a “biased” and incomplete investigation of the flawed Guard broadcast and, in the process, “seriously damaged his reputation.”