Tuesday, November 29, 2011


They’re Still at It. They’re not going home.

…Occupying this and that, over here and over there. OWS participants are annoying and scaring everyone from formerly unconcerned stock traders who “don’t know what everybody’s so mad about,” to minimum-wage janitors who work at corporate banks and wish that the great unwashed sitting at Zuccotti Park would just all go get a job and take a bath.

Even the cops’ frustrations are hitting an existential boiling point as they aggressively defend the dignity and peace of mind of a transnational financial community that has no empathy and less in common with their own way of life than people in their own economic strata, like those girls they are cowardly pepper spraying on occasion. Cops aren’t as stupid as everybody likes to pretend. They know what happened to their 401Ks while the banks returned to profitability on their own dutifully paid individual income tax funded bailout since 2008. Cops know that not a single institution on Wall Street will ever stand with them when it’s time to fight for the raises and pensions of policemen... Yet they continue to follow orders that amount to open and violent transgressions against the right to assemble and the right to dissent in our republic, conveniently forgetting that even the police have to occasionally take to the streets to fight for their own rights and be heard. Even cops are “labor” in the end. It’s an odd wrinkle of hypocrisy in America that persists generation after generation.
For all the calculated misinformation about what this, now nationwide, action is about (It’s been called “unfocused,” “aimless,” “infantile,” “disingenuous,” by the Right and by the Left) it seems pretty obvious that among the several things the OWS participants want are: the elimination of corporate and banking institutions from our political and electoral processes, and law enforcement and criminal prosecution (as opposed to negotiated fines paid with money illegally gained in the first place) every time transnational banks break the law.

-The fact that there are so many things that are wrong and frankly criminal about the way transnational and high finance (and the Wealthy 1% they serve) do business was somehow presented as a failing on the part of their critics by the media, the New York Times in particular is the very height of protectionist denial on the part of the American ruling class. It is intentionally disingenuous and broken reasoning: Citing that an argument is unfocused or groundless because it isn’t “concise”… The problems that OWS’s argument addresses are composed of too many crimes to lay down in convenient sound bites for our collective idiot mind. OWS’s target and their focus on its abuses cannot be processed by CNN in its current form, and it will never be reported honestly by Fox “News” or any other corporate news outlet.

Amid the media’s own aimless story-hungry opportunism, it’s important to assert that this is no “let’s-pretend-the-60s-never-ended exercise.” The counter culture of the 1960s and the goals of the civil rights era have long been absorbed into the mainstream in everything from our systems of daycare, anti-discrimination laws, to the way we teach history, to recycling laws, to HR policy in the workplace. OWS isn’t a rehash; it isn’t leftie or progressive nostalgia or make-believe. OWS is a direct and public assault on institutionalized financial oppression. It is an assault led by the people directly affected, past, present and future.

As much as the GOP’s branded mouthpieces for the wealthy want to pretend that OWS is just a long running prank, they know it’s not. It makes them scared. It scares them because this isn’t the fake populism of the Tea Party, which at its heart is codified by concerns and policy arcs that were never important to its members until a Black man suddenly became president. The elite, the 1% are now names that are gaining permanent traction. We used to just call them the Rich. We used see through nonsense like the Bush (43) and Clinton era series of tax cuts for the wealthiest in America. We used to have a middle class. We used to have a manufacturing economy stateside, -not an offshore community of international vendors whose disregard for workers’ rights would make Upton Sinclair draw a gun.

Who didn’t know it would go this way after the deregulation policies of the Reagan, Clinton, Bush (43) years? –There’s not a single man, woman or child alive who knows the value of a dollar, or more importantly, -the horror of its absence, who didn’t see something like this coming. Flint Michigan’s collapse in the 1980s was the first of many to fall to an industry that used its Reagan era tax breaks and subsidies to automate -not hire. Reagan’s successor raised taxes to stem the tide in an act of sober politically imperiling responsibility we’ll probably never see again. Clinton signed the erosion of media ownership restrictions into law, thereby laying waste to local news as we knew it, allowing a damaging consolidation of jobs and establishments we’re only now assessing in its proper horrific scale after the move to online finished what the corporate takeovers didn’t. If Clinton thought we could afford the tax breaks he signed over to the %1, he should have looked further beyond the great budget surplus his administration successfully wrought in the 1990s to what was happening on Wall Street: the rise of wildly conditional instruments like derivatives that combined with the tech speculation bubble collapse of 2000 would bring in one of the toughest periods of my adult life here in New York.

We’ve seen these OCCUPY park encampments in history books and soon, with a generation of vets returning to at best a jobless recovery, the OCCUPY camps will be less of a political statement and more of an inarguable consequence of 30 years of policy. Once upon a time these encampments, these occupations were called “Hoovervilles.” They were consequences of the Great Depression.

It’s interesting that whenever we are under threat by the rich, elite, ruling class of old money monsters who engineer misery in America, whenever some big scam is about to be perpetrated that will cost many lives, like the Iraq War Dick Cheney concocted with the political inertia appropriated from 9/11, our theatrical hatred for the French is always dragged back out of the steamboat trunk, dusted off and resurrected at fever pitch. It’s a wonderful distraction and it works every time. I’m waiting for it to come up again, now that legitimate people movements are being completely dismissed again as simply “socialist” and “un-American” agitation. Our very notions of Right and Left politics come out of the ashes of the French Revolution. I hope this time people pause and give some thought to the image of Marie Antoinette’s head sailing into a basket as crowds cheered.

At the heart of it all, the banks protected themselves with our tax money, used every politician in government they had bought outright to engineer interest free loans to protect themselves and safeguard their way of business. No Bank EVP’s job will ever be off-shored, -no- that’s for the rest of the suckers at the bottom of the food chain in America who have interest rates imposed on them from on high… you know: me and you and everyone we know.

-They, the occupiers, students, the protesters, the children of the now eroded and all but imaginary middle class -and let’s face it, despite the New York Post’s campaign of lies, -the actual poor, are still at it. They are still assembling in my downtown right near the old house of Morgan. They are still at it in Boston, LA, Oakland and by the way, “they” have never stopped where it all started, in Wisconsin. “They” are not stopping anytime soon, because they have a lot of outrage to dish out, a little over two hundred years’ worth.

“Only in New York” they used to say about anything crazy or uncommon… but remember this current wave started in the mid-west when THE people decided to remind Governor Walker that he and the state legislature were only guests in the capitol. They came with sleeping bags and showed them.

They showed them that “they” are us.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Rest in Peace Champ

In honor of the great Joe Frazier, who passed away yesterday, I'm reprinting something I wrote back in 2006.

Ali-Frazier III. The Thrilla in Manila. The final meeting of boxing titans. Ali had christened the fight in his then famous "poetry". He said, "It's gonna be a killer, and a chiller and a thrilla when I get the gorilla in Manila." As if the fight needed any more buildup, Ali decided to dub Frazier the gorilla, which did nothing to lessen the already substantial animosity from the Frazier camp. On October 30, 1975 Ali and Frazier would wage the greatest heavyweight fight of all time. The battle was so monumental that neither man would ever be the same again. They left not only their blood and guts in the ring that night, they left whatever was left of their youth as well.

 Ali and Frazier fought for the first time on March 8, 1971. The fight that was billed as the fight of the century and lived up to that billing. It was quite possibly the greatest sports spectacle of the century. It featured the first meeting of undefeated heavyweight champions. Ali was coming back from a three year layoff after having his title stripped and being prohibited from boxing due to his refusal to enter the armed services. Frazier had stepped into the void created by Ali's absence and had won the title in the heavyweight championship tournament. Ali had a couple of tune up fights and declared himself ready to reclaim his rightful place atop the heavyweight division. Ali and Frazier were friendly during Ali's boxing exile, with Frazier even giving Ali money during a particularly rough stretch. Once the contracts were signed however, Ali began to taunt Frazier in public. He called him ugly and an Uncle Tom. He painted Frazier as the "white man's champion". He claimed to be the people's champion. He turned the fight into a battle between the status quo and the voices for change, between the old and young, between black and white, between rich and poor. Frazier didn't want any of it and he grew to hate Ali because of the taunting. The fight itself was an epic battle. Ali dominated the early rounds with his speed and his jab. Frazier, a notoriously slow starter came back in the middle rounds. The fight was fairly even as they entered the last five rounds of the fight. The years away from boxing had robbed Ali of his ability to dance around the ring for 15 rounds. As the latter rounds became more of a flat footed slugfest, the fight swung in Frazier's direction. Frazier knocked Ali to the canvas in the 15th and final round with a thunderous trademark left hook. Ali somehow managed to pull himself up at that count of 4, but the decision was never in doubt. Frazier had defeated him and could now lay rightful claim to the true undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.

The second fight in the trilogy took place in January of 1974. Neither man was champion at that point. Frazier had been knocked senseless by George Foreman in Jamaica a year earlier and Ali had lost to a previously unknown boxer named Ken Norton. Both were at the crossroads of their careers. The fight was held at Madison Square Garden in New York, which was the same venue as their first fight, it had none of the majesty of that fight however. Ali continued to taunt Frazier and Frazier continued to build animosity toward Ali. They even tussled on Wide World of Sports while doing an interview with Howard Cosell. Ali was probably just acting, but Frazier was dead serious. The fight in the ring was neither as interesting nor as close as their first fight had been. Ali won easily, although Frazier did score with a number of punches. The fight was really the beginning of the end for Frazier. He would fight only four more times before retiring. Ali went on to fight 15 more times after the second Frazier fight.

The third fight was supposed to be easy for Ali. He had just recently regained the heavyweight title from George Foreman in Zaire and Frazier was perceived to be at the end of the line. Ali didn't train heavily for the fight but Frazier threw everything he had into preparation. He wanted to shut Ali up once and for all. The fight took place at an indoor arena that had no air conditioning. Under the TV lights the temperature soared well above 100 degrees in the ring. The humidity was stifling. The only ventilation in the building was in the form of fans that were ineffective in battling the heat and only served to circulate the already searing air. Ali was confident as he entered the ring. He felt that he would be able to take Joe out in the early rounds. Joe had another thought in mind. The fight started in the familiar pattern of Ali - Frazier fights. Ali dominated the early rounds. He peppered Frazier with jabs and power punches that Frazier seemed unable to stop or dodge. The fight began to turn once again in the middle rounds. Frazier pinned Ali to the ropes and began to pound at Ali's midsection and score left hooks to the head. Ali tried his rope-a-dope technique which had been so successful against Foreman, but Frazier proved too smart an opponent to simply punch himself out. He was much more economical and precise in his attack than the outclassed Foreman had been. As the fight wore on Ali knew that he was in for a battle. In one of the clinches he said, "Joe, they said you were done", "They lied to you champ" was Joe's only response.

The later rounds saw Ali's punches begin to take a toll on Frazier's face. His head became a misshapen lump of bruises. His eye were swollen and his vision became compromised. Ali seized the advantage. He produced pinpoint power shots to Frazier's head and started to build a lead. Frazier did not stop punching however. He hurt Ali on numerous occasions as the fight wore on. Ali was later quoted as saying that those later rounds were as close to death as he as ever felt. The heat and Frazier's relentless attack pushed him to the brink of quitting. His corner pushed him out for each round and he continued his attack on Frazier's face. A series of shots in the 13th round sent Frazier's mouthpiece flying into the crowd, but he never stopped coming forward, absorbing punishment, but also dishing it out. Frazier's corner wanted to stop the fight after the 13th round but he convinced them to give him one more round. In the 14th round a nearly blinded Frazier absorbed a vicious beating from Ali and his corner did indeed call it quits before the start of the 15th. In the tape from the fight, you can see Frazier arguing with his corner about stopping the fight, but in the end his trainer, Eddie Futch, had the final say. Frazier was so upset by that decision that he never spoke to Futch again. Ali, upon seeing that the fight was being stopped, got off his stool, raised his hand and then collapsed onto the canvas.

Both men had absorbed a tremendous amount of damage in the fight. And while Frazier's face looked the worse for wear, it was Ali's body that had suffered the most in the fight. Ali always gave up his body in order to protect his face and Frazier exacted an enormous toll during the fight. Ali was under a doctors care for several days after the fight, while Frazier was able to walk away in generally good condition. Joe Frazier would once again lose by knockout to George Foreman in his next fight after which he retired. Frazier had a short lived comeback a few years later in which he fought only once, but basically his career ended that night in Manila. Ali said after the fight that he was going to quit and most people believe that he should have. Of course he wouldn't. He would go on to lose and then win the title one more time and he would suffer ignominious defeat at the hands of Larry Holmes in an ill advised comeback. Ali is now afflicted with Parkinson's Syndrome, which means that although he doesn't have Parkinson's he has all the symptoms of a sufferer of the disease. It's a more scientific term for what used to labeled "punch drunk". His speech has been affected to the point that he doesn't speak in public anymore. His limbs shake uncontrollably and his movement is limited. His continued boxing activity after that night in Manila is probably the main reason for his condition today.

The thrilla in Manila was an epic struggle between two extraordinary fighters. Both men were past their primes, both had already secured their places in boxing history, both had nothing left to prove, but on that night they showed the world something more than just a championship bout. They were no longer fighting for the heavyweight championship, they were fighting for the championship of each other. They had split the first two fights and the winner of this fight could forever claim victory over the other. Neither of them was willing to give up that fight. They both fought to the edge of death to prove something, not to the world, but to each other. Ali won that night, but paid a heavy cost by continuing his boxing career. The effects of his decision to continue to fight have made him a shadow of the person he used to be. Frazier is still relatively healthy today and while he says that he harbors no ill will toward Ali today, there has to be a lingering thought in his head that perhaps by losing, he was the ultimate victor that October night in Manila. +