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The Boston Occupier - June 2012 - Issue 8

The Boston Occupier - June 2012 - Issue 8

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Published by Daniel Schneider
The June 2012 edition of The Boston Occupier, featuring stories about protests at the NATO Summit, the Pilgrim nuclear plant, wealth inequality in the US and much more!
The June 2012 edition of The Boston Occupier, featuring stories about protests at the NATO Summit, the Pilgrim nuclear plant, wealth inequality in the US and much more!

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Published by: Daniel Schneider on May 30, 2012
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Dispatches from Chicago
Protesting the NATO Summit
 www.bostonoccupier.com
Issue No. 8 June 2012
FREE PRESS
FREE
 
Help support
The Boston Occupier 
 during our spring fundraising drive!See back cover!
Photos by Dan Schneider
Reports fromNoNATOProtestsp 4-5Michael D. Yates onWealth Inequalityin the U.S.p 3Concerns Lingerfor Pilgrim NuclearPlantp 2
Local Organizations Fight Foreclosures in Boston p 2Debate: Debt Reorm or Debt Reusal p 7ALSO INSIDE:
 
Page 2
 June 2012bostonoccupier.com | The Boston Occupier - Free Press
Environmental and Labor Concerns ComplicateRe-Licensing of Pilgrim Nuclear Plant
By Dan Schneider
 At the edge of the forests that makeup much of southeastern Plymouth,on a stretch of land that looks out onPlymouth Bay spilling into Cape CodBay, sits the Pilgrim Nuclear GeneratingStation.Its architecture defies the typicalimage of a nuclear plant. There are noneof the daunting, curved cooling towersof Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island, nosmoke plumes constantly pouring intothe atmosphere. To the average observer,it looks like any old power plant, far fromthe reaches of controversy and concern.But this facility has been at theheart of impassioned controversy inMassachusetts. While the NuclearRegulatory Commission (NRC) has justvoted to grant a twenty-year extension of the plant’s operating license, the politicalstorm promises to continue.The first warnings signs of renewedcontroversy appeared just over a yearago, when the Fukushima NuclearPower Plant in Japan, a clone of the Pilgrimplant, experienced a massive meltdown. Thedisaster caused many in the Bay State toquestion Pilgrim’s safety. Communities inPlymouth and on the Cape faced a fright-ening unknown, one that activists, organizedlabor, regulators, and congressmen havebeen trying to address: could it happen here?Many towns on and around the Cape seemto think so. Residents of Plymouth becamethe ninth town to approve a resolution thatformally demands the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to suspend operationsat Pilgrim “pending the full implementationof all safety improvements” recommended by the NRC after the Fukushima disaster. Of the 12 towns that voted on similar resolu-tions in April and May, 11 passed them.These resolutions were largely broughtforward by the Pilgrim Coalition, a network of anti-nuclear activist groups that includesboth large, national organizations (such asthe Sierra Club) and smaller community groups (such as the Cape Downwinders).The renewed questioning of Pilgrim’ssafety came at an inconvenient time for theplant’s owners. Entergy, a Louisiana-basedenergy company that has owned Pilgrimsince 1999, had spent a record six yearsapplying to the NRC for the twenty-yearextension of its operating license, which was set to expire on June 8th. Though theNRC’s website states that an average review process takes up to 30 months, the renewalof Pilgrim’s license has been held back by anumber of environmental concerns and liti-gation filed by activists in Massachusetts (as well as appeals made against the re-licensingby Mass Attorney General Martha Coakley).To further complicate matters, NRCChairman Gregory Jaczko announced thathe would be resigning his leadership positionin late May. Although Jaczko stated that hisresignation wasn’t politically motivated, somehave speculated that the skeptical Jaczko, with his background in nuclear physics andpolicy rather than the nuclear industry, facedstrong opposition from industry-connectedregulators and congressmen. Arlene Williamson, a spokespersonfor the Pilgrim Coalition from Mashpee,Massachusetts, said of Jaczko, “He’s the only one that we had confidence in, that lookedout for our safety.” Activists began airingtheir grievances against the plant more publi-cally in May. Two demonstrations took place within a week of one another at the SagamoreBridge exit from Cape Cod and at the Pilgrimplant itself. At the latter protest, 14 people –all of whom were in their 60s and 70s -- werearrested for trespassing, after refusing to leavecompany property in an attempt to deliver aletter to an Entergy representative. The letterasked the company to cease operations.This isn’t the first time, by far, that thePilgrim plant has been a focus of environ-mentalist ire. After closing in 1986 due toa wide range of technical and managementissues, the plant’s re-opening in 1989 drew protests from community members andMassachusetts politicians alike (including anincident where a top aide to then-GovernorMichael Dukakis was forcibly removed froma public NRC briefing for his outcries againstthe agency’s regulatory failures).It was during this time that Mary Lampertfirst moved down the road from Pilgrim andbecame one of its most stalwart opponents.Operating largely on her own, Lampertis something of a thorn in Entergy’s side,having filed litigation twelve times againstthe company since 2006. Although this liti-gation has mostly been over “nuts-and-bolts”issues related to arcane aspects of nuclear
Local Organizations Fight Foreclosure
By Noelle Swan
This article was originally published in Spare Change News.
 When Jeril Richardson checked out of thehospital after he was hit by a car in 2009, hereturned home to find that his landlord hadnot been keeping up with mortgage paymentsand the bank was foreclosing on his HydePark home.Canvassers knocking on his door told himabout City Life Vida Urbana, a community organization that would help him to fightto stay in his home. Nearly three years later,Richardson still lives in the house, pays rentto the bank, and is saving to purchase theproperty.Every weekend, students and community volunteers from Project No One Leaves hitthe streets in an effort to reach tenants andhomeowners facing foreclosure to informthem of their rights during and after theforeclosure.“We try to get there before eviction agentscome knocking and telling them to leaveimmediately,” said Chris Larson, senior atTufts University who helped to coordinate achapter of No One Leaves at Tufts.In recent years, keeping up with new fore-closures has become a daunting task, saidChas Hamilton, a third-year law student andcurrent president of the board for Project NoOne Leaves at Harvard Law School. “In agiven week, there might be 30 new foreclo-sures listed in Boston proper.”Then there are properties that they did notget to in weeks past because canvassers ranout of time, people weren’t home, or their just weren’t enough cars to get to all of theneighborhoods.Volunteers for No One Leaves chart fore-closure postings listed in local newspapers andreal estate publications. Listings are groupedinto geographic zones of the city and mappedout. Each week, a dozen or so volunteersgather at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau inCambridge, split up into groups of two to fivedepending on the number of cars available,and try to get out to as many properties asthey can in three hours.“The real message that we try to deliveris that foreclosure is not the end. It’s thebeginning of this very long battle,” Larsonsaid.The Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and GreaterBoston Legal Services have been helpinghomeowners and tenants fight that battlesince the beginning of the foreclosure crisisin 2007. The two groups had a long-standingpast providing free legal support aroundhousing and tenants’ rights issues. When the foreclosure crisis hit, the lawyers were poised to help, but people were leavingtheir homes without ever knowing they had any rights or means to fight for them,said David Grossman, Harvard Law Schoolprofessor and director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau. “We couldn’t just wait for peopleto come into our office. We needed to dosignificant outreach.”Project No One Leaves became the vehiclefor that outreach. Started by two Harvardstudents, several chapters have intermittently popped up at Boston University, Suffolk Law School, Tufts University, Boston College,New England Law School, and HarvardCollege. Grossman said that other religiousand community organizations have alsoestablished canvassing trips that build on thatoutreach.In addition to empowering individuals tofight their own battles, Project No One Leavesinvites residents affected by foreclosure, toattend meetings at City Life, a grassrootstenants’ rights organization headquartered in Jamaica Plain, that aims to turn private fore-closure battles into a public movement.“If we can just get them here,” said long-time City Life organizer Jim Brooks, “thenthey realize they’re not alone.”Indeed, it is impossible not become sweptup and enveloped by the sense of community at a City Life meeting.Over a hundred people gather every Tuesday evening, filling the seats and some-times the aisles. Frequent attendees andnewcomers alike greet each other like oldfriends, with double-fisted handshakes, hugs,and pats on the back. At a recent meeting, a woman fromRandolph arrived late. Lead organizer MelonieGriffiths spotted her and interrupted themeeting to induct her into the community. As the woman finished explaining thatthe bank would be putting her home upfor auction the following Tuesday, her facemelted under silent tears.Griffiths took the distraught woman’s handand said, “When you cry we cry. But if you’regoing to fight, we’re going to fight with you.”These meetings are not just a place tocry out together in sorrow and anger—even though there is plenty of that. Thiscommunity has teeth.Griffiths handed the woman a replicasword, instructed her to hold it high aboveher head, and asked, “Will you fight to stay in your home?”The woman nodded, and Griffithscontinued, “I fought to stay in my home,many others here fought to stay in theirhomes.”The crowd answered as one, “We’ll fight with you!” Within 15 minutes, the community did what it does best; it organized.One by one, voices from the audiencevolunteered to head out to Randolph toprotest the auction.These auction protests are something of atrademark for City Life. Propped up on topof bookshelves and file cabinets all around thelarge community room are colorful woodensigns declaring, “We Shall Not Be Moved!”and “This is City Life territory.”Near the door, a handwritten poster detailsthe two-fold purpose of the protests; first todeter investors that plan to evict the currentresidents, and second to support the sale tosomeone who will negotiate a resale of theproperty to the resident.“We want the bank to buy the property back because we have more leverage withthe banks,” Brooks explained to the meetingattendees.Grossman estimates that in 90 percent of the cases, the bank does end up the owner of the title after the auction. He said that he triesto reassure people that come to him for legaladvice through City Life that even thoughthe bank holds the title, it cannot evict thecurrent resident without a court order.He believes that communicating this rightis the key to empowering individuals to avoidbeing taken advantage of. He said that localreal estate brokers hired by out of state lendersmay offer residents a bit of money to leave theproperty.“There’s nothing legally wrong about thatoffer, but when it’s accompanied by misrep-resentation of the law then there is somethingillegal about it.” He adds that he has heardstories of brokers ringing doorbells and tellingtenants that they have to leave or that they 
Activists rom Occupy Cape Cod and Cape Downwinders march on the Pilgrim Nuclear Generating Station in Plymouth, duringwhich 14 people were arrested. (Photo: Paul Rifin)
Continued on P 5
 
Page 3
 June 2012bostonoccupier.com | The Boston Occupier - Free Press
The Great Inequality: Part 1
by Michael D. Yates
The Occupy Wall Street uprising has put inequality squarely on the political agenda, with the brilliant slogan,“We are the 99%.” While the “99%” includes many rich persons, the focuson the “1%” at the top of the economic pyramid servesto shine a light on those who rule both the economy andthe politics of the United States. The 1 percent is a diversegroup, but among them, especially at the top, are the menand (a few) women who own controlling interests in ourlargest businesses, including the financial corporations whoseactions precipitated the Great Recession, which officially began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009, and hassince morphed into what looks like a long period of slow growth best termed stagnation. They are also the people whose campaign contributions and prominent positions inCongress, as advisors to the president, and on the SupremeCourt have placed the government firmly on the side of therich.Given the prominence that OWS has given to inequality,it is useful to know what causes it. We cannot just look atthe facts, dramatic as they might be, and say that somethingis wrong or that all we need is to take money from the richand transfer it to the poor. What is needed is a theory of distribution, because this can give us guidance on whatpolitical strategy might best confront the underlying forcesthat generate inequality.The outline of such a theory goes like this: Those who arerich have advantages that keep them rich, while the poor sufferdisadvantages that keep them poor. However, there is a rela-tionship between the two groups, one in which the rich havepower over the poor, and this relationship is built into thenature of a capitalist economy and continuously reproducedby it. The power of the dominant group reinforces capitalistsocial relationships, which, in turn, reinforces the power of this group and the weakness of the other. In a nutshell, therich are the capitalists, and the poor are the workers.Therefore, attacking inequality will require nothing lessthan attacking capitalism itself. There are a host of pragmaticmeasures that can reduce inequality, but only those thataddress the system-generated power of the capitalists canstrike down the structures that give rise to it in the first place.First, a few facts about inequality. An article on The Atlantic website titled “Map: U.S. Ranks Near bottom onIncome Inequality” uses CIA data to give the gist of these:“Income inequality is more severe in the U.S. thanit is in nearly all of West Africa, North Africa, Europe,and Asia. We’re on par with some of the world’s mosttroubled countries, and not far from the perpetual conflictzones of Latin American and Sub-Saharan Africa.”Recently, economic historians Walter Schiedel and StevenFriesen estimated that the Gini coefficient (a measure if inequality that rises as inequality rises) in the Roman Empireat its peak population around 150 C.E. was slightly lowerthan that of the contemporary United States.Today, the income share of the richest 1 percent of indi-viduals is now at its highest level since just before the GreatDepression, standing at 23.5 percent in 2007, up from about10 percent in 1980. If we take the total gain in householdincome between 1979 and 2007, 60 percent of it went to therichest 1 percent of individuals, while just 8.6 percent accruedto the poorest 90 percent. An incredible 36 percent found its way into the pockets of the richest 0.1 percent.If incomes are unequal and becoming more so, the samecan be said for a more important, though related, statistic— wealth, the money value of what we own at a given point intime.In 2009, the top 1 percent of households owned 35.6percent of net wealth (net worth) and a whopping 42.4percent of net financial assets (all financial instruments suchas stocks, bonds, bank accounts, and all the exotic instrumentsthat helped trigger the Great Recession, minus non-mortgagedebt). The bottom 90 percent owned 25 percent of net wealthand 17.3 percent of net financial wealth. The wealth of the“1 percent” is now 225 times larger than the median wealthof all households, the highest ratio on record. It was 131 in1983. At the bottom, however, the share of households withzero or negative net worth increased by 60 percent between1983 and 2009; we now have about a quarter of all householdin this wealth-less state.There is also tremendous disparity in wealth by race. Thefraction of black households with no or negative net worth was nearly 40 percent in 2009, almost double the fraction for white households. The median net worth of black householdsin 2009 was a paltry $2,200, a mere 2 percent of white net worth, which was $97,900. This ratio was 3 ½ times higherin 1983. The median net financial wealth of black households was $200, remarkably low but an improvement over 1983 when it was zero.Perhaps a story and some striking facts will serve to sumup the grotesque nature of our skyrocketing economicinequality. When I was a boy, I was amazed to learn in my encyclopedia how large a sum was one billion dollars. If aperson spent $10,000 a day (my encyclopedia used $1,000a day, but that was a long time ago), it would take 100,000days to spend a billion dollars, just under 274 years. In 2009,Pittsburgh hedge fund manager, David Tepper, made fourbillion dollars. This income, spent at a rate of $10,000 a day and exclusive of any interest, would last him and his heirs1,096 years!If we were to suppose that Mr. Tepper worked 2,000hours in 2009 (fifty weeks at forty hours per week), he took in $2,000,000 per hour and $30,000 a minute. To see whatthis means in terms all workers will immediately grasp, Mr.Tepper would have paid his social security tax for the entireyear in about four minutes of his first workday. Of course,Tepper is an extreme example of enormous wealth, and weuse him just to make a point. However, today there are many individuals who, while not as rich as Tepper, make millionsof dollars in a single year, enough money to secure themagainst any calamity, even if it would take them longer to pay a year’s worth of social security taxes.Others are not so fortunate. In 2010, more than 7,000,000people had incomes less than 50 percent of the officialpoverty level of income, an amount equal to $11,245, whichin hourly terms (2,000 hours of work per year) is $5.62. Atthis rate, it would take someone nearly three years to earn what Tepper got each minute. About one-quarter of all jobsin the United States pay an hourly wage rate that would notsupport a family of four at the official poverty level of income. What causes such enormous disparities in income and wealth? Why have they increased so much? Why do they matter?Stay tuned for Part 2.[Note: This essay is based upon the “Review of the Month”from Monthly Review, March 2012.]have no grounds to fight in court.“That’s usually just not true.”Rental tenants especially have morerights than they may be aware of.In 2009, Congress passed a federallaw requiring lenders to give tenantsliving in foreclosed properties 90days before they can be evicted. Thefollowing year, Massachusetts passeda state law granting tenants a continu-ation of their lease for the entire timethe lender owns the property.For owners, the processes can bemore complicated. Currently, there isno comparable law protecting ownerspost-foreclosure, though City Life hasbeen lobbying for a similar bill.Still, strict procedures do exist thatbanks are required to follow beforeforeclosure takes place, involving aseries of notifications and a five-monthperiod to try to catch up on or modify the loan. According to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, banks havenot been following these proceduresand have been illegally foreclosing onhomes. She has filed suit against fivemajor lenders on behalf of the resi-dents of Massachusetts for violatingthese procedures, negligently issuingmortgages to families that could notafford payments, and even foreclosingon properties for which they never heldthe title. While Coakley’s larger battle wageson at the state level, the lawyers at City Life work with individuals that areat risk of going from homeowner tohomeless virtually overnight.Many homeowners bought theirhomes at the height of the real estateboom. Today, those homes are worth just a fraction of the balance of themortgage.Others signed so-called “balloonloans,” with low initial mortgagepayments that increased dramati-cally over time. In many cases, thoseincreases went into effect at the sametime that the market plummeted,simultaneously taking down property values, jobs, and livelihoods.Stephen Fiocca started fallingbehind on his mortgage payments forhis Dorchester condo when he was laidoff from his job of 15 years rehabili-tating apartment buildings. At 63, hesaid that it has been difficult to findanother job.“How are you going to help me?” heasked three canvassers from Project NoOne Leaves that came knocking on hisdoor one Saturday morning. “Nobody else will.” When the bank notified Fiocca thathis condo could go into foreclosure, hegot on the phone, called everyone hecould think of looking for help, andsaid he came up empty-handed.“City Hall told me to start lookinginto homeless shelters,” he said.He remains skeptical of how muchCity Life will be able to help him. When told that the free legal counselcan sometimes help homeowners nego-tiate a principle reduction and lowertheir mortgage payments, he shrugs.“I’m won’t be able to pay that either if I can’t find a job.”

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