Posts Tagged ‘#occupywallstreet’
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism
The World Economic Forum Weighs In
A British acquaintance has sent me a link to one of the background documents to be used when world leaders gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland January25-29. The document is called Global Risks 2012 (http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GlobalRisks_Report_2012.pdf)
The World Economic Forum is a Swiss non-profit corporation that brings together some 2,500 “top” global business and political leaders every January in a remote Swiss mountain resort. Along with the G-7, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, the World Economic Forum has a strong pro-corporate agenda and is a regular target for antiglobalization protests. The antiglobalization movement is a loosely knit network of anti-corporate groups that started in Asia and Europe in the 1990s, in response to the international treaty that created the World Trade Organization (WTO). Its American counterpart was born in November 1999, when 50,000 people marched in the streets of Seattle and thousands committed civil disobedience to derail the WTO Third Ministerial meeting. Currently the WTO and so-called “Free Trade” treaties, such as NAFTA, receive scant coverage in the mainstream media. Nevertheless labor and environmental activists remain deeply concerned about the power these international treaties give corporations to overturn democratically enacted labor and environmental protections.
Since 2001, grassroots activists from all over the world have been holding a World Social Forum in a developing country (usually Brazil) at the same time as the World Economic Forum. The philosophy behind the World Social Forum is that ordinary people have an even greater need for international conferences than corporate elites. It’s only by coming together and organizing that they can resist efforts by global elites to strip them of the limited democratic and economic rights they still enjoy.
Emphasis on Global Social Unrest
When the Guardian article that accompanied the report (http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2012/jan/11/world-economic-forum-meeting-davos) stated that Global Risks 2012 focuses mainly on economic turmoil and social unrest (as opposed to globalization and free trade), I was extremely keen to read it. Would it mention Occupy Wall Street? It sure does, right there on page 16 under “Case 1: Seeds of Dystopia”:
“Two dominant issues of concern emerged from the Arab Spring, the ‘Occupy’ movements worldwide and recent similar incidents of civil discontent: the growing frustration among citizens with the political and economic establishment, and the rapid public mobilization enabled by greater technological connectivity.”
The document is full of other surprises. Unlike the mainstream media, Global Risks 2012 is surprisingly sympathetic towards the Occupy movement. The authors are deeply concerned about “dystopia,” the opposite of utopia, which they define as “a place where life is full of hardship and devoid of hope.” They go on to talk about the danger of declining economic conditions in Western Europe, North America and Japan jeopardizing “social contracts” between states and their citizens. These they define as has historic understandings that workers will be guaranteed access to health care (by North America they must mean Canada – this has never been true in the US) and decent pensions in old age.
They express concern (implying that corporate CEOs should also be concerned) about the link between global recession and increasing rates of poverty, mental illness, substance abuse, suicide, divorce, domestic violence and the abandonment, neglect and abuse of children (page 18).
They talk about the large numbers of unemployed young people around the world being a “lost generation” (page 22). Even more surprisingly, they identify huge income disparity as being one of the most serious global risks. They caution that when “social mobility” (i.e. individual ability to advance socially and economically) is attainable, income disparity can spur people to work harder. When it’s clearly not, as in the current global recession, feelings of powerlessness, disconnectedness and disengagement can “take root.” (page 19).
They conclude the dystopia section with the following warning:
“The social unrest that occurred in 2011, from the United States to the Middle East, demonstrated how governments everywhere need to address the causes of discontent before it becomes a violent, destabilizing force.” (page 19).
Destructive Corporate Lobbying
Global Risks 2012 also talks about destructive corporate lobbying (my translation – they use more obscure, intellectually lofty language) in trying to enact environmental and health regulations: “By their very nature, the costs involved in implementing safeguards, such as quality standards and risk mitigation practices, may give some individuals, firms or organizations reasons to lobby to minimize them and look for ways around them.” (page 22)
They are equally critical of the “too big to fail” banks: “When losses can be passed on to others – as when banks are defined as “too big to fail” – excessive risk-taking is likely to occur.” (page 22).
They conclude with the argument (making the 2008 banking crisis a case in point) that dangerously lax regulations “in just one jurisdiction could trigger global catastrophe.” (page 22)
How Will CEOs Answer the Discussion Questions?
I have to admit my favorite part of Global Risks 2012 are the “Questions for Stakeholders,” inserted at the end at the end of each section to make sure the corporate elites and the politicians who accompany them to these meetings are paying attention. I would give anything to listen in to the answers JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, give to some of these:
- What steps can be taken to reduce income disparity? (they need to get Dimon to answer this one.)
- How can appropriate regulations be developed so that firms will undertake effective safeguards?
- How can business, government and civil society work together to improve resilience against unforeseen risks? (the report uses the word resilience, which they borrow from the sustainability movement, a lot).
- How can fostering entrepreneurship prevent the seeds of dystopia from taking root? (this wouldn’t be my approach, but at least they admit urgent action is needed.
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in Challenging the Corporate Media, Things That Aren't What They Seem
(This is the second of two posts exploring the OWS commitment to nonviolence)
The main advantage of nonviolent resistance is its effectiveness in reaching large numbers of potential supporters. History shows that civil disobedience, by itself, is relatively ineffective in producing genuine political change. The nonviolent “color” revolutions in Eastern Europe and Egypt have been very effective in producing cosmetic regime change without challenging fundamental power structures. In other words, they get rid of the unpopular dictator but leave a US-friendly elite in control of government (just as Wall Street remains firmly in control no matter who we elect as president).
The success of nonviolent resistance as a recruiting tool stems mainly from its knack for provoking state violence. This provides dramatic mainstream media coverage that forces apolitical members of society to re-examine fundamental beliefs about freedom, justice and the rule of law. Although nonviolent civil disobedience involves lawbreaking, it does so from a moral high ground. There is a strong tradition in Judeo-Christian religions that people of conscience have a duty to uphold international, religious and humanitarian law when it conflicts with unjust national and local laws. Because these views enjoy strong public support, the Internet and social media can be used to recruit participants and supporters for nonviolent actions in the thousands and potentially tens of thousands. In contrast, using the Internet to recruit activists for “violent” actions, even those limited to property destruction, is illegal and provokes an instantaneous response from the authorities.
The two biggest obstacles OWS will face in maintaining their commitment to nonviolence will be the attitude of low income and minority groups who deal with police violence on a daily basis and growing concerns about the possible role CIA-funded left gatekeeping foundations have played in engineering the Occupy movement’s exclusive commitment to nonviolence. This concern is heightened by the use of nonviolent guru Gene Sharp’s materials at several Occupy sites.
The CIA Role in Nonviolent Revolutions
Sharp’s longstanding ties with the CIA and the “democracy manipulating” foundations that instigated the “color” revolutions in Eastern Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa (including Egypt) receive little attention in the foundation-funded “alternative” media. However the issue has begun to seep into the blogosphere, thanks to good coverage in the French and Australian left-progressive media. One example is a well-referenced November 25th article by Tony Carlucci in Land Destroyer entitled “How to Start (a Wall Street backed) Revolution” (http://landdestroyer.blogspot.com/2011/11/how-to-start-wall-street-backed.html).I first came across the article December 1st on the Occupy Oakland website. It was taken down a week later, which I find quite ominous.
As Tierry Messan outlines in January 2005 on Votairenet (http://www.voltairenet.org/The-Albert-Einstein-Institution), Sharp, a fervent anticommunist, initially formulated his nonviolence theory to assist anticommunist movements. He wrote his 1993 From Dictatorship to Democracy while working for the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI), specifically for use in the Myanmar (Burma) “pro-democracy” movement. He subsequently participated in the establishment of Burma’s Democratic Alliance – a coalition of notable anticommunists that were quick to join the military government. He later worked with Taiwan’s Progressive Democratic Party, which favored the independence of the island from communist China, something the US officially opposed. His other work included unifying the Tibetan opposition under the Dalai Lama; trying to form a dissident group to split the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO); and secretly training the Psychological Action division of the Israeli armed forces.
The “Color” Revolutions in Eastern Europe and Asia
The CIA would subsequently utilize Sharp’s book, From Dictatorship to Democracy, throughout Eastern Europe and Asia, and in 2011, the US-engineered “Arab Spring.” Sharp himself, with funding from the AEI, the US government backed National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and its subsidiary International Republican Institute (IRI), and George Soros’ Open Society Institute, is also on record as providing “humanitarian” advice and training to antigovernment activists in Serbia, Zimbabwe, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Belarus, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Malaysia.
The February 2011 Al Jazeera documentary Egypt: Seeds of Change http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrNz0dZgqN8 echoes many of Messan’s and Carlucci’s concerns regarding the influence of CIA-backed foundations in the Egyptian uprising.
Ahmed Bensaada goes even further in Arabesque American, published in May 2011. Bensaada describes the direct involvement of the CIA-backed Serbian group Otpor in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) “revolutions,” as well as a series pf joint conferences organized by the CIA-backed Center for Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) and the State Department, in which Arab activists were brought to the US for training in “nonviolent” organizing techniques (http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/tag/arabesque-americaine/).
Why the CIA Promotes Nonviolence
So why is the CIA so keen on promoting nonviolent revolution? University of California –Santa Barbara sociology professor Peter Robinson outlines the new CIA strategy in his 1996 book Promoting Polyarchy. According to Robinson, as CIA-backed dictatorships around the world lose their grip, the CIA preemptively co-opts the natural (violent) insurgencies that arise to topple them. They themselves instigate popular unrest, using the ensuing chaos to install a puppet of their choosing.
The International Center for Nonviolent Conflict
The International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) is another important “democracy manipulating” foundation that promotes Sharp’s work. Australian researcher and journalist Michael Barker’s articles about ICNC (http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/38214) reveal it has strong intelligence links but is independently funded by Peter Ackerman, Michael Milken’s second in command in his junk bond empire. Barker and others also raise concerns about Stephen Zunes, ICNC’s chief academic adviser and one of Sharp’s strongest defenders in the mainstream and alternative media (http://xevolutie.blogspot.com/2011/03/124-peter-myers-over-gene-sharp-en-de.html).
In “The Junk Bond ‘Teflon Guy’ Behind Egypt’s Nonviolent Revolution,” Middle East investigative journalist Maidhc O Cathail examines Ackerman’s involvement (along with the Albert Einstein Institution) in the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez. He also asks the thought-provoking question: why Milken was sent to jail, while Ackerman made off with a fortune (http://maidhcocathail.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/the-junk-bond-%E2%80%9Cteflon-guy%E2%80%9D-behind-egypt%E2%80%99s-nonviolent-revolution)?
by stuartbramhall in Attacks on the Working Class, Mind Control and Disinformation, Things That Aren't What They Seem
There is heated debate across the political spectrum whether OWS represents a genuine working class movement. The issue is vitally important, both to social change activists and the political elite. It will determine whether OWS succeeds in engaging the 80% of the population who spend their entire lives living paycheck to paycheck, as Barbara Ehrenreich describes so eloquently in Nickel and Dimed.
The personal profiles of OWS occupiers suggest that most are dispossessed members of the middle class. Their interviews, blogs and tweets portray individuals originating from comfortable professional, academic or union-wage homes, who have come of age to discover they have no hope of ever replicating their parents’ lifestyle. The critical question for me is the effect extended unemployment and OWS itself has had on the way participants perceive and project themselves. Have they come to identify with the 80% (that’s the real number – not 99%) who live at or around minimum wage? Or are they still holding out for a cushy professional, academic or business career waiting for them when the recession ends?
Getting the Numbers Right
It’s an extremely difficult question to unpack because discussion of social class is still largely taboo in the US. Since the end of World War II, there has been a concerted effort by government and the corporate media to portray America as a classless society. In the US, referring to oneself as a “worker” or “working class” invokes a sense of shame. Thus even minimum wage workers consider themselves middle class. Calling OWS the 99% is also extremely misleading. A more accurate demographic breakdown would be 1% elite, 80% low income workers (including manual labor, office and domestic work, caretaking, retail clerking and similar “entry level” work), and 20% “salaried” professionals, academics, and managers.
Getting Real About Social Class
The ultimate success of OWS in expanding into the traditional working class will depend on their willingness to discard the label middle class. Although our corporate-controlled western democracies are rapidly dismantling the middle class in the name of austerity cuts and debt reduction, the professional and academic bedrock of the American middle class is still largely intact. What’s more, middle class values and prejudices always die hard, even as individual economic circumstances change.
In all western democracies, the upper middle class has always played a critical role in maintaining social order as teachers, college professors, lawyers, judges, doctors, social workers, bank managers, religious leaders and similar “helping” and gatekeeping professionals. They do so mainly by defining and enforcing “appropriate” social behavior (examples include formal or unwritten rules against hoodies, profanity, bad grammar, public expression of anger, racial slurs and sexual harassment) . While “appropriate” social behavior is formally defined as behavior advantageous to social stability, it’s nearly always behavior that protects the interests of the ruling elite.
While the role of lawyers and judges in enforcing “appropriate” behavior is obvious, the role teachers, college professors and religious leaders play is more subtle. Many teachers and college professors play both a teaching role in the rules of “appropriate” social behavior and a gatekeeping role in selecting who gets credentialed for admission to the upper middle class. Bank managers, doctors and social workers also function as gatekeepers. Bank managers control admission to the middle class by controlling access to credit. Doctors also play a major economic role, as they have sole authority to declare whether workers are eligible for sick leave and health and disability benefits. Social workers, in turn, are granted the authority to ascertain fitness to parent and terminate parental rights.
The Source of Class Antagonism in the US
In the working class clients I work with, class antagonism stems less from income inequality, than from resentment towards upper middle class professionals who are perceived as arbitrary and/or biased in exercising their gatekeeping role. Working class Americans learn from an early age that American society isn’t a level playing field and that so-called equal opportunity is a myth. Overt discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, physical disability, social class and age are still rife in determining who will receive bank loans, be admitted to college and professional schools, and be granted sick leave and disability benefits.
Yet much of the bias in these situations stems from the mistaken belief on the part of professionals that earning a comfortable living is the result of hard work and sacrifice. Most middle class professionals automatically lump workers who are stuck on minimum wage into a category of “others” who fail to meet minimal stands of self-discipline and personal responsibility.
The majority of low income Americans know this is rubbish. When 80% of the population struggles to meet basic survival needs, there are obviously factors at play other than personal responsibility. Most low income workers have always known that failing to land a high paying job – or any job for that matter – has nothing to do with personal failing. It’s the natural result of social and political policies that only work for 20% of the US population.
The important question is whether the majority of OWS occupiers know this.
To be continued.
by stuartbramhall in The Wars in the Middle East
The American political landscape is undergoing rapid change. A book I published seven weeks ago on political change (Revolutionary Change: An Expatriate View) is already out of date, and I’m hard at work on a second edition. No one dared hope that the simple anti-greed message of five hundred demonstrators camped out in a Wall Street park could instantly overcome decades of political apathy in the US. Moreover there are already small signs that #OccupyWallStreet is impacting US foreign policy.
The first major accomplishment of the antiglobalization movement was in empowering the third world WTO delegates who attended the 1999 Seattle Ministerial to refuse, for the first time, to submit to major concessions the US was trying to ram down their throats. There is already evidence – from Iraq, Palestine, and Pakistan – that OWS is having similar repercussions in the Middle East. This can be seen both in new boldness on the part of Iraq and Pakistan, and a major concessionary move on the part of the US and Israel.
The Iraqi Parliament Pushes Back
In October the mainstream media widely reported that Obama will withdraw all US troops from Iraq by the end of December. Only a few outlets reported the back story – that both the Pentagon and State Department have been pushing for 10,000 US troops to remain past the December withdrawal deadline. The response, in early October, by the Iraqi government and all opposition parties was unanimous: a decision in the Iraqi parliament to withdraw legal immunity (for war crimes) for any US troops who remained after December 2011. This left Obama no choice but to withdraw them. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/iraq-pm-immunity-issue-scuttled-us-troop-deal/2011/10/22/gIQAX6k26L_video.html).
Israel Releases 1,027 Palestinian Prisoners
A week later Israel, which is totally reliant on US political and military support for its existence, agreed to the unprecedented release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in return for one Israeli soldier Hamas has been holding in captivity for over five years (http://www.opednews.com/articles/Israel-Arrests-Palestinian-by-Stephen-Lendman-111022-492.html).
Reversal in Pakistan
Meanwhile, over a matter of weeks, there is a 180 degree reversal in harsh Pentagon/State Department rhetoric towards Pakistan, which, in September, seemed to signal impending US military intervention in Pakistan. A month ago Admiral Mike Mullen, who chairs the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accused Pakistan’s intelligence service of direct complicity in terrorist attacks on the US embassy in Kabul. Yet on October 25, five weeks after #OccupyWallStreet began, the State Department released two interviews by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (http://www.dawn.com/2011/10/25/us-not-seeking-overt-military-action-in-fata-says-clinton.html) with a very different message. In them Clinton emphasizes that the US has no plans to send ground troops into as no plans to send ground troops into the tribal areas and no longer expects Pakistan to undertake military action against the Pakistani Taliban. She also acknowledges for the first time that the Pakistani Taliban have safe havens in US-occupied Afghanistan, which they are using to launch terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s cities. Sajjat Shaukat (http://www.newscenterpk.com/shift-in-us-south-asian-policy.html) and other Pakistani analysts attribute this about face, in part, to massive civil unrest (i.e. #OccupyWallStreet) the US government confronts in its major US cities.
Although the mainstream media is unlikely to acknowledge the link between these events and #OccupyWallStreet, it seems highly unlikely that they are totally unconnected.
by stuartbramhall in Global south, Inspiring Moments in Resistance
I encounter many long time activists in a quandary how to relate to #OccupyWallStreet. A vibrant, growing mass movement involving thousands of activists is always far more interesting and exciting than the ongoing drudgery (fundraising, event organizing, education and outreach, etc) of keeping existing grassroots organizations going. There is a strong temptation to abandon current organizing commitments to join the groundswell created by the OWS movement. While this might be the right move for some activists, it’s vitally important that others use their existing roles in union, peace and justice and environmental networks to bolster and support the anti-greed movement.
All Our Single Issues Have the Same Root Cause
There are strong strategic arguments for all unions and single issue peace and justice and environmental groups to get on board, in some way, with #OccupyWallStreet. All the corporate and government abuses our single issue groups are fighting have the same root cause – namely the corporate takeover of government. Yet many of us find it difficult to address the corporate tie-in from our single issue silos. Moreover there is already evidence that the current civil unrest in all major American cities is beginning to impact disastrous US policies in the Middle East.
How Do We Best Support OWS?
On the other hand, I question the value of long time union, antiwar, pro-democracy, peace and justice, homeless, sustainability and immigrants rights activists abandoning our existing commitments to camp out in the park. It makes more strategic sense to use our influence in the grassroots networks we have built up over decades to support and collaborate with #OccupyWallStreet. In this way we can provide inroads for younger, more militant OWS activists to sectors of society they might otherwise find difficult to access.
In my view, where existing union and community groups can best support the OWS movement is by providing logistical, material and tactical support as it expands into the productive sector. OWS can only exert real pressure on government, banks and other multinational corporations by disrupting business as usual – with corporate-targeted sit-ins, consumer boycotts, wild cat strikes or a combination of all three. In Egypt, it was the unions’ threat to shut down the Suez Canal that ultimately forced Mubarak to step down.
Many older activists, especially in the Open Source, sustainability and local democracy movements have already made significant gains in undermining corporate rule. The sustainability movement, for example, is responsible for an explosion of community-based alternatives to corporate controlled food, energy, transportation, education, health care and money. Equally impressive are the hundreds of communities in the local democracy movement which have passed ordinances restricting the right of corporations to build new hog farms, spread sewage sludge and deplete aquifers with bottled water operations.
Appealing to a Broad Base of Supporters
For their part, #OccupyWallStreet has already been remarkably effective in networking with existing groups. Good examples include the participation of OWS members in a march supporting Communication of American workers in their dispute with Verizon, an anti-eviction action OWS helped homeless advocates organize in Brooklyn, and the strong backing #OccupyWallStreet has received from organized labor. I attribute OWS coalition building success to their insistence on a broad inclusive vision (i.e. refusing to make specific demands). This enables them appeal to the widest possible base of potential supporters. I can’t count the number of large coalitions I have joined in the last thirty years that were scattered to the winds the moment we decided to formulate concrete demands. The last one was the 9-11 Coalition Seattle activists formed in September 2001 to protest the impending US war in Afghanistan. Over the five weeks we spent arguing over specific demands, our numbers shrank from one hundred plus to fifteen.
The November 2 general strike called by Occupy Oakland was the first test of OWS’s fragile coalition with labor. In a period of high unemployment, persuading unionists who still have work to put their own jobs on the line is no mean feat. While Occupy Oakland was unsuccessful in shutting the city itself down, a wild cat strike by Oakland longshoremen succeeded in closing down the Port of Oakland (http://tvnz.co.nz/world-news/occupy-oakland-succeeds-in-shutting-down-port-4499879).
To be continued, with a discussion of the effect of OWS on foreign policy.
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism
Book Review (Part 1 of 2 parts)
The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality
by Richard Heinberg
(New Society Publishers Aug 2011)
The basic premise of The End of Growth is that the world economy has flat-lined. Not only is it contracting, rather than expanding as many politicians claim, but there are important reasons why it will never return to the pre-2007 growth rates that characterized the last century.
Now that #OccupyWallStreet has seized control of the narrative around the banks that control the US government, the End of Growth will likely be the most important book of 2011. As well as making an ironclad case that the era of perpetual economic expansion has ended – that the US, like most western nations, has become a Steady State economy – Heinberg also gives examples of far-sighted governments (Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland) who have enacted policies to ensure the welfare of their citizenry as they confront the massive downsizing required by this new economic reality. Beyond organizing to end to corporate rule, #OccupyWallStreet also needs to pressure the US and other western governments to abandon the pretense and enact similar measures.
Heinberg and others in the Peak Oil/climate change movement have always argued that infinite economic expansion is mathematically impossible, given that we live on a planet with finite natural resources. They point to the massive ecological devastation caused by this reckless obsession with economic growth and warn that we are depriving our children and grandchildren of natural resources (fossil fuels, water, industrial fertilizers, fish stocks, top soil) that are essential for basic survival.
Why Capitalism Hit the Wall in 2008
In Heinberg’s previous work on resource scarcity, he envisions a timeline of a decade or more before the scarcity and prohibitive cost of natural resources (oil, coal, water, etc.) cause the capitalist economic system to hit the wall. In The End of Growth, he argues that it has already happened – when global economic expansion ended in October 2008. His data shows that while a few countries can claim an occasional quarter of increased GDP, aggregate global economic growth is either stagnant or slowly contracting. Even China’s so-called economic “miracle” hasn’t been sufficient to generate a genuine increase in total global wealth.
Heinberg’s new book is unique is that it combines his extensive research into resource depletion with an analysis of our flawed fractional reserve banking system. He is also the first, to my knowledge, to factor in the immense cost of the growing epidemic of natural disasters. Most (the floods, droughts, wildfires, landslides, etc.) relate to climate change. However some, like last year’s Gulf oil spill, relate to the depletion of global oil and gas resources and the adoption of riskier methods of fossil fuel extraction.
In addition to quoting a number of highly placed financial business experts, like Microsoft CEO Steve Bollmar, who agree that global economic expansion has permanently ended, Heinberg also presents a wealth of statistical data. This includes graphs from John Williams of www.shadowstats.com, who argues that the US government is misrepresenting the true Gross Domestic Product (GDP), just like they misrepresent the true unemployment rate – which is really 16-18%. According to Williams, after government figures are adjusted for inflation and methodological reporting changes, 2010 GDP actually decreased by 1%.
The Ultimate Ponzi Scheme
Even a look at conventional World Bank and IMF data leaves the clear sense that the American public is being systemically lied to. Although we are told that total global wealth has nearly returned to its 2007 high of $63 trillion, this figure doesn’t take account of the $40 trillion owed by the US and other governments nor the $60 trillion of debt owed by banks, businesses and households. Even if global GDP does increase by 3% per year (which, as Heinberg clearly shows, it won’t), 3% of $63 trillion barely covers interest payments on a $100 trillion debt, much less paying down the original loans.
Yet as Heinberg points out, none of these numbers represent true wealth. Under the fractional reserve lending system, this debt has been invented out of thin air by banks to generate interest payments. As he points out, it’s the ultimate Ponzi pyramid scheme. It only works so long as suckers keep putting money into it. In a global monetary system where money is created through bank loans, there is never enough money in the system to pay back all the debts with interest. This type of system can only continue to function so long as there is continued growth. It’s precisely because economic expansion has stopped, Heinberg argues, that the world confronts its current massive debt crisis.
To be continued, with a discussion of what’s really happening in China.
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
(This is the final of three blogs assessing the achievements of #OccupyWallStreet)
As I mention in my two prior blogs, the OWS movement will leave a legacy of accomplishments — mainly related to consciousness raising and movement building – even if the actual occupations shut down tomorrow. There is still lots of furious debate over #OccupyWallStreet’s long term goals, which roughly center around the dismantling of the corporate state, the establishment of an alternative, non-corporate economy, and the development of an independent media that reflects the interests and concerns of the 99% of us who aren’t millionaires and billionaires. Yet we are unlikely to see major policy or infrastructure changes until our new movement hits the 1% where it really hurts — in their pocketbook. Prior to Tuesday’s violent police attack on Occupy Oakland, I had the sense that the authorities were quite comfortable with thousands of us camping out in city parks every night — so long as we weren’t interfering with business as usual.
Time for a General Strike
This is where #OccupyWallStreet differs significantly from the major uprisings in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, where mass demonstrations were accompanied by general strikes that shut down economic activity. In Egypt, it was the unions’ threat to shut down the Suez Canal that ultimately forced Mubarak to step down. In the US, we would be talking about illegal wild cat strikes. Both Taft Hartley and no-strike clauses some unions have agreed to make it a criminal offense to strike unless defined processes are followed.
Clearly Occupy Oakland, which retook Oscar Grant Plaza on Wednesday (see http://www.occupyoakland.org/2011/10/general-strike-mass-day-of-action/), is mindful of the current general strike in Greece, as well the importance of industrial action during the Arab Spring. They have called for a general strike in Oakland on November 2nd (no one to attend school or work). I think they have a good chance of persuading a good chunk of the city to stay home. The police riot that closed off downtown Oakland on Tuesday did not go unnoticed by a large African American community with long history of being brutalized by Oakland cops. Workers World (see http://www.workers.org/2011/us/cops_attack_1103/ ) suggests that it was no accident that the first OWS occupations to be targeted with police violence were those with a substantial African American population (Oakland, Chicago, and Atlanta). Popular protest has a tendency to be contagious, especially in communities with a history of grievance-based uprisings and a 48% youth unemployment rate.
Why It May Be Easier to Get Non-union Workers to Strike
Oakland-ILWU, which endorsed Occupy Oakland on October 22nd and called on other unions to block their eviction from Oscar Grant Plaza, may well stage a one day sympathy strike. The longshoreman’s union is historically one of the more militant and has a history of wild cat strikes. However this may be one of those instances where low unionization rates among African Americans may work in our favor. Calling on unionized workers to engage in an illegal strike is a big ask. It would likely incur strong opposition from union leaders, who would be the ones facing prosecution.
It’s also possible to disrupt business as usual by targeting banks and other businesses with well-organized consumer boycotts and direct action, such as sit-ins and blockades or with a combination of tactics. In announcing their November 2nd General Strike, Occupy Oakland has warned Oakland banks and corporations that it will march on them if they remain open.
Call for a National General Strike on November 28th
If next Wednesday’s general strike is even partially successful, I expect a few other cities to follow suit. The real test will be the response to Citizens for a Legitimate Government’s call for a national general strike on November 28, after the Super Committee announces the austerity cuts American people will be subjected to (see http://www.opednews.com/populum/http://www.opednews.com/populum/linkframe.php?linkid=140223).
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
This post continues a self-assessment of #OccupyWallStreet’s major movement building accomplishments (see previous blog).
1. Defining what we’re about without resorting to policy demands or settling for short term legislative fixes – A+
In my view the most impressive accomplishment of the #OccupyWallStreet and Occupy Together movement is the speed with which we have found a collective voice – without resorting to cookie cutter slogans or short term policy demands. This hasn’t been easy. Coming from the perspective that nearly everything in the system is broken, where exactly do you start? Yet the coherence of the OWS vision is obvious from the speed with which it has spread to 1,000 Occupy Together occupations around the world.
2. Attracting media attention without letting the corporate media define us – A+
Our second most important accomplishment is our refusal to allow the mainstream media to box us into a corner by pressuring us to advocate for narrow policy fixes. There appears to be broad consensus that legislation alone can’t begin to address the serious economic, political and environmental mess the corporate elite have created. Moreover the corporate-controlled media already know what we want. After a valiant attempt to ignore the occupation in Zuccotti Square, the major networks and big city dailies pretended not to understand why the American people might be unhappy with the corporate takeover of government. It’s an extremely flimsy facade. Witness the abrupt turnabout by the New York Times in their October 9 editorial, under the headline “It’s obvious what they want. What took so long, and where are the nation’s leaders?” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/09/opinion/sunday/protesters-against-wall-street.html)
The editorial speaks of “income inequality grinding down the middle class, increasing the ranks of the poor, and threatening to create a permanent underclass of able, willing but jobless people.” It concludes with the highly insightful paragraph:
“It is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation. That’s the job of the nation’s leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies. Because they have not, the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself. It is also the first line of defense against a return to the Wall Street ways that plunged the nation into an economic crisis from which it has yet to emerge.”
3. Demolishing the pretense that Everything is Fine – A+
To a major extent, OWS has wrested control of the public narrative from the mainstream media, which constantly minimizes the severity of the economic, political, social and environmental crises that confront the industrialized world. Instead they exert continual psychological pressure for us to distract ourselves (through consumption, alcohol and sex), rather than trying to find real solutions.
4. Introducing a whole new generation to the joys of civic engagement and the phenomenal high that comes from organizing collectively for the common good – A+
For generations, we have all been conditioned to accept the isolated consumerist bubble Western society imposes on us as inevitable to the human condition. No matter the eventual outcome of the 1,000+ occupations around the world, tens of thousands of young adults will never return to their prior alienated lives.
5. The acquisition (by tens of thousands of us) of invaluable skills in non-hierarchical decision making and governance – A+
Having experienced this process, even briefly, it becomes very difficult – if not impossible – to return to work, community and political settings where dominance and control is the primary paradigm.
6. The formation of new, long term connections and networks – A+
At the end of the day, it will be networking and coalition building with existing antiwar, antiglobalization, social justice and environmental groups that will build a giant movement with sufficient muscle to enact real change. Networking with thousands of localized sustainability groups, which have already made giant strides in opting out of the corporate economy will be especially important.
7. The re-introduction of mutual welfare thinking into the movement for change – A+
The “welfare committee” was fundamental to nearly all veteran, union and community organizing during the Great Depression (the last major economic crisis). Effective movement building demands that we look after one another, regardless of social background and income level.
8. The systematic empowerment of women OWS members – A+
Thanks to leaderless decision making and governance, women have a new voice in OWS occupations that they don’t enjoy in the rest of society.
To be continued, with a discussion of where OWS still needs to go to effect real change.
by stuartbramhall in Inspiring Moments in Resistance
#OccupyWallStreet, also known as Occupy Together, has now come to New Zealand following the October 15th International Day of Action. Occupy New Plymouth – like Occupy Auckland, Occupy Wellington, Occupy Christchurch, Occupy Dunedin and Occupy Invarcargill – is now in its fifth day. It has moved from the courthouse to Huatoki Plaza.
It’s no exaggeration to describe my own participation in Occupy New Plymouth as one of the most inspiring, soul-changing experiences of my life. Not only has it given me the unique privilege of connecting and hearing the views of young (some high school age), well-read, incredibly gifted activists, but it has taught me how to totally set aside my usual routine for the more important task of change making.
Occupy New Plymouth started with a rally of about 35, and an open forum in which activists read statements and spoke about their reasons for participating. The forum was videotaped and you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI4Cm8ubBFo
It was a big shock for the older established activist community to meet a strong cadre of a dozen or so young activists with highly developed political views. Neither group had any idea the other existed.
A total of about 50 of us maintained the occupation throughout Saturday, with smaller numbers (five to seven) overnight and on subsequent days. There has been really strong support from the community, in terms of food, financial donations and camping gear. We’re also getting daily coverage in the local newspaper.
An Awareness Raising Event
Occupy New Plymouth activists are referring to the occupation as an “awareness raising event,” rather than a protest. New Plymouth is a really small town. Many of the people who pass by know us personally and naturally stop to ask what we’re doing and to express their views on New Zealand’s serious economic, environmental and political problems and how to fix them. We’ve already been visited by all three New Plymouth candidates for Parliament and one member of the New Plymouth District Council. More than anything, it reminds me of the people who came to see Socrates in the Agora in ancient Athens, in order to learn and debate philosophy.
Occupy New Zealand
The Occupy Together protests were larger in the bigger cities. Wellington had a kick-off rally 200, with a dozen maintaining the occupation overnight; several hundred marched in Christchurch, with thirty staying overnight; in Auckland 2,000 marched up Queen Street with 70 committed to maintaining the occupation until November 30; in Dunedin (a strong student town) there is an on-going occupation of 70 on the Upper Octagon. Occupy Invercargill had a similar turnout as New Plymouth.
Refusing to Let the Media Define Us
Like the #OccupyWallStreet occupations in the US, Occupy New Plymouth has been steadfast in our determination not to limit ourselves to short term policy demands – the current economic and environmental problems we face are far too serious to be addressed by short term legislative fixes. We have also been consistent in our refusal to allow the media to define us.
I was next to our spokesperson Luke (age 17) when the Taranaki Daily News rang him Sunday to find out why Occupy New Plymouth was still occupying the park in front of the courthouse. Luke had already given them a detailed explanation on Saturday about the New Zealand political process being totally controlled by international banks and corporations and the 1% of the world who control 40% of the wealth. That wasn’t good enough. They wanted to know specifically what was going on in New Plymouth that we were protesting.
Luke covered the phone to consult with the rest of us. “We don’t have a say,” I suggested. The others seemed to like this. The reporter didn’t get it. “We all feel that we don’t have a say in government policy,” Luke explained. The reporter seemed to understand. Kind of. The first Daily News article also quoted two statements from an flier Luke handed out at the rally on Saturday: “One in five of our (New Zealand) children currently live in poverty” and “Our government repeatedly undermines democracy by passing legislation under urgency to fast track public consultation.” (http://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/news/5795147/Protesters-line-up-against-corporates)
Updates on Occupy New Plymouth available at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=227956857259804