Nov 072011



By Landon Thomas Jr. NYTimes

The political upheaval in Athens has suddenly made the once unspeakable — Greek debt default — a distinct possibility.

So now it is time to ponder the once unthinkable: that Greece might end its 10-year use of the euro and return to its former currency, the drachma.

Such a move is still officially anathema in Athens. But a growing body of economists argues that it would be the best course, whatever the near-term financial and economic implications. And now, with a referendum on the European-led bailout facing Greek voters, a vocal minority that has long called for a return to the drachma might find itself with a growing group of listeners.

A return to the drachma is unlikely to offer a quick cure for Greece’s ills. Default on the nation’s $500 billion in public debt would become a certainty, depositors would take their money out of local banks and, with a sharp devaluation of as much as 50 percent, inflation would loom. A return to the international credit markets would take years.

But drachma defenders contend that these worst fears are overdone. Yes, there would be disruption and panic initially. But, they say, pointing to Argentina’s case when it broke its peg with the dollar in 2002, the export boom ignited by a cheaper currency and the ability to control the drachma would eventually work in Greece’s favor.

“The real problem is that we are operating under a foreign currency,” Vasilis Serafeimakis, a senior executive at Avinoil, one of Greece’s largest oil and gas distribution companies, said of the euro. In the last year, he has been banging the bring-back-the-drachma drum.

“If we had our own currency, we could at least print money,” Mr. Serafeimakis said, referring to the ability to revalue the drachma. “And what is the worst thing that happens if we do this? I don’t get a Christmas gift from one of my bankers.” …




By Richard Kim, The Nation

… More than any other quality of Occupy Wall Street—except perhaps for the ubiquitous drum circle—it is these anarchist practices that have elicited the most hand-wringing from establishment leftists. Some, like New School politics professor James Miller, worry that OWS will recapitulate the failures of the New Left. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Miller warned that an obsession with participatory democracy could allow violent militants or ideological extremists to hijack the movement, and he darkly cited the French anti-globalization manifesto The Coming Insurrection, a text he calls a “touchstone for the anarchists in Occupy Wall Street,” as evidence of the movement’s potential to descend into nihilism. The Coming Insurrection is, indeed, a worrying text; it predicts the total collapse of modern society, instigated in part by local cells of revolutionaries who exploit moments of crisis (e.g., Hurricane Katrina) in order to replace late capitalism with autonomist units of life. But few Occupiers I met at Liberty had even heard of the book, and the idea that it laid the template for Occupy Wall Street seems largely to come from Glenn Beck, who has been obsessed with it for years and sometimes attributes Obama’s actions to its philosophy.

More to the point, from day one the Occupation has been scrupulously nonviolent. Its emphasis on autonomy and consensus has tempered rather than emboldened the fetishization of militancy. Nobody is coerced into a direct action, and much deliberation is given to how direct actions could affect the most vulnerable in the group—like undocumented immigrants and the Occupiers, those who sleep at Liberty and have developed a surprisingly close relationship with the beat cops who patrol it.

Does callous revolutionary fervor exist in and around Occupy? Sure, there are flashes of it—for example, at a recent debate about Occupy Wall Street at Bluestockings bookstore, Malcolm Harris, an editor at The New Inquiry journal, responded to a question about whether anarchist tactics could achieve free higher education by saying that “a free university in a capitalist economy is like a reading room in a prison” (boos and obscene gestures ensued). But most OWS activists I spoke with forcefully rejected the idea that the movement should or would heighten crisis to provoke revolutionary struggle. “I’m not for increasing the immiseration of people around the world who are starving. Who are we to say, Let it get really bad?” asks Yotam.

OWS organizers are, moreover, acutely aware that the movement’s extraordinary potential lies in its ability to bring together a range of participants who coalesce maybe once in a generation: anarchists and Marxists of a thousand different sects, social democrats, community organizers, immigrants’ rights activists, feminists, queers, anti-racist organizers, capitalists who want to save capitalism by restoring the Fordist truce, the simply curious and sympathetic. Republicans like Eric Cantor have denigrated Occupy Wall Street as “a mob,” and the right-wing press has raised the specter of “anarchism” to distinguish OWS from populism. But it is, in fact, the movement’s emphasis on direct democracy, derived from anarchism, that has allowed such an unwieldy set of actors to occupy the same space. Early on, it was the consensus model that enabled a handful of people of color to block language in the movement’s Declaration of the Occupation of New York City that they felt falsely suggested a postracial America. “It was a very scary experience. It was still a majority-white space, and we were four visibly brown people—one wears a turban—standing up to say, No, this can’t happen!” recalls Thanu Yakupitiyage, a 26-year-old immigrants’ rights organizer. But the block held, and the language was amended, and instead of bolting from Liberty (This is just a bunch of white folks in the park, she originally thought), Thanu helped establish OWS’s People of Color working group—which, among other goals, tries to make sure that minorities are represented in every other working group and caucus.

Likewise, the movement’s malleable and open nature has created space for a range of supporters and affinity groups, like the Occupied Wall Street Journal, now published in Spanish and online, and, a collective started by Nation writers Jeff Sharlet, Kiera Feldman and Nathan Schneider, which has gathered some 2,000 signatures and published short dispatches and vignettes by Lemony Snicket, Alice Walker, Ursula K. Le Guin and others. True to spirit, anyone who identifies as a writer can sign the petition, and the original organizers are taking a step back from the project to make way for new blood, including from outside New York. These media endeavors may not work per se under the auspices of the New York General Assembly, but they’ve lent their creative energies to the mix—helping to break through the establishment press’s early condescending coverage.

At the moment, the movement’s energy is overwhelmingly directed at keeping this fusion of forces alive, to focus on what unifies—the common belief, for example, that capitalism is out of control and that the political system has broken down—rather than what divides; and to debate without hard preconceptions a range of solutions. As Kobi Skolnick, an Israeli-American activist who comes out of the peace movement, put it, “Socialism is a great idea. Anarchism is a great idea. Moderating capitalism is a great idea. We can’t afford to have an either/or mentality anymore.” It’s a message that even Occupy Wall Street’s revolutionaries can get down with, for now. As Alexandre Carvalho says, “We are on a path that goes to revolution, but it can pass through reform.”

In this early stage, the movement seems both extremely fragile and extremely potent. The threats of police action, internal rancor, negative public opinion and burnout all loom; like the winter, some of those perils are unavoidable. But so far the Occupiers have pulled off a remarkable feat—to summon all the specters of left history and yet slip past the fatal noose of infighting. Who knows how long this will last? If it does, perhaps the culture of anarchism will be remembered as the left’s exonerater instead of as its hangman’s knot. …




By Frances Fox Piven

… The war against the poor at the federal level was soon matched in state capitols where organizations like the American Federation for Children, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Institute for Liberty, and the State Policy Network went to work.  Their lobbying agenda was ambitious, including the large-scale privatization of public services, business tax cuts, the rollback of environmental regulations and consumer protections, crippling public sector unions, and measures (like requiring photo identification) that would restrict the access students and the poor had to the ballot.  But the poor were their main public target and again, there were real life consequences — welfare cutbacks, particularly in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, and a law-and-order campaign that resulted in the massive incarceration of black men.

The Great Recession sharply worsened these trends.  The Economic Policy Institute reports that the typical working-age household, which had already seen a decline of roughly $2,300 in income between 2000 and 2006, lost another $2,700 between 2007 and 2009.  And when “recovery” arrived, however uncertainly, it was mainly in low-wage industries, which accounted for nearly half of what growth there was.  Manufacturing continued to contract, while the labor market lost 6.1% of payroll employment.  New investment, when it occurred at all, was more likely to be in machinery than in new workers, so unemployment levels remain alarmingly high.  In other words, the recession accelerated ongoing market trends toward lower-wage and ever more insecure employment.

The recession also prompted further cutbacks in welfare programs.  Because cash assistance has become so hard to get, thanks to so-called welfare reform, and fallback state-assistance programs have been crippled, the federal food stamp program has come to carry much of the weight in providing assistance to the poor.  Renamed the “Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program,” it was boosted by funds provided in the Recovery Act, and benefits temporarily rose, as did participation.  But Congress has repeatedly attempted to slash the program’s funds, and even to divert some of them into farm subsidies, while efforts, not yet successful, have been made to deny food stamps to any family that includes a worker on strike.

The organized right justifies its draconian policies toward the poor with moral arguments.  Right-wing think tanks and blogs, for instance, ponder the damaging effect on disabled poor children of becoming “dependent” on government assistance, or they scrutinize government nutritional assistance for poor pregnant women and children in an effort to explain away positive outcomes for infants.

The willful ignorance and cruelty of it all can leave you gasping — and gasp was all we did for decades.  This is why we so desperately needed a movement for a new kind of moral economy.  Occupy Wall Street, which has already changed the national conversation, may well be its beginning.




By Dave Johnson, Campaign for America’s Future

Congress’ “supercommittee” of the 1% is preparing an austerity plan for the 99%. Will We, the People be allowed to vote on this plan, or, like Greece, will the elites just tell us how it is going to be? Our deficits were caused by tax cuts for the rich and huge increases in military spending. But instead of addressing these causes the elite supercommittee is said to be preparing to take money out of the economy by cutting the things We, the People do for each other. That’s right, at the very time when 99% of us need more we will get less so that the 1% can enjoy record-low tax rates — and it looks like We, the People will have no say in it.

Last week Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou proposed a referendum on the austerity plan that European governments are preparing for the country. “The markets” — another name for the 1% — went berserk in reaction. Pressure was applied, and now the Greek people will not be allowed to vote on their austerity plan after all, they will just be told. Richard Eskow writes about this elite veto power over democracy, in Vetoing Democracy: In Athens or Washington, Elites Still Call the Shots,

And what was most striking was the assumption the elite – the 1%, if you will – have veto power over the democratic process. In most of the commentary that flowed from the powerful and the press, a surprising number of world leader didn’t even acknowledge that Greece had the right to its own democratic decision-making process.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, whose nation will benefit from “bipartisan” U.S. actions to create a free trade agreement between the two countries, said that “The world has plunged into fears again because of the Greek prime minister’s radical step to hold a referendum.” Closer to home, French President Sarkozy said that “the Greek’s gesture is irrational and, from their point of view, dangerous.”

The first part of that statement is a slur against democracy. The second part is, of course, a threat. …




By Melissa Gira Grant, AlterNet

Rumors of a possible eviction of Occupy Wall Street began late in the afternoon last Thursday, right after Mayor Bloomberg alleged that the occupiers at Liberty Plaza – formerly Zuccotti Park – had refused to report a rape at the occupation last Saturday, October 29th. But members of the Safer Spaces working group have strongly refuted Bloomberg’s assertions and attempts to smear the occupation:

“[When] the survivor decided to make a report to the police and to push for a criminal investigation and prosecution… supporters from OWS accompanied her to the police station, and will continue to support her throughout the legal process… we were troubled at the time of her report that responding police officers appeared to be more concerned by her political involvement in OWS than her need for assistance after a traumatic incident of sexual violence… It is reprehensible to manipulate and capitalize on a tragedy like this to discredit a peaceful political movement.”

The question of how safe Liberty Plaza is – and for whom – has consumed occupiers and critics for weeks. With Bloomberg and his ad hoc protest committee within City Hall seizing on the issue of public safety as rationale for breaking up the protests, occupiers are working overtime to hold the park from threat of eviction, as well as to prove to the City that they are capable of keeping their own peace. That’s meant addressing reports of sexual assault, along with rumors that NYPD are directing the homeless, drug users, and people struggling with mental illness to the park, and grappling with how to effectively prevent violence without relying on the kinds of policing that have been used against the occupation. Where once the occupation was thought of as its own demand, now the demands of how to keep occupiers safe dominate their days. …


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