When Lady Liberty Wept
By Gary Corseri
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,” she recalled,
“With conquering limbs astride from land to land””
And yet, even so, it had come to pass,
With every military base, with drones
Hovering everywhere, in the drowned dreams
Of exiles, “refuse,” “yearning to breathe free.”
And what freedom now in the Surveillance State
Where every thought was subject to review
And “newsmen” scurried to assess the threat
From hydra-headed, huddled masses–lost,
Renditioned, imprisoned, killed at the behest
Of elected, cowardly Pinocchios,–
Smiling before drug-induced amnesiacs?
They could not remember who they claimed to be;
Nor why; nor how it mattered to posterity.
Only a looming sense of dread embalmed
Them in a kind of amber ghosts might study
In the years ahead–if there were years” ahead.
And so, she wept” as some say Mother Mary weeps;
As some say Rachel wept for her lost children.
Copper-colored tears from cupreous eyes;
Copious tears from her iron skeleton.
And the wind blew the tears upon her torch.
And the light went out.
By Gary Corseri – Copyright, 2013. Permission is granted for reprint in blog, or web media if this credit is attached and the title and contents remain unchanged. Gary Corseri has published novels and collections of poetry, and his dramas have appeared on Atlanta–PBS and elsewhere. He has taught in US public schools and prisons, and at US and Japanese universities. His work has appeared at periodicals and websites worldwide, and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library.
We have barely recovered from shock over the story of wayward billionaire monk Luang Pu Nen Kham Chattiko as the media digs deeper into details of his wealth and alleged crimes.
It would not be a mistake to say that it was by chance that our society found out about the wealth of Nen Kham, aka Phra Wirapol Sukphol, from Ubon Ratchathani, who ran his religious business in the northeastern province of Si Sa Ket.
As layers and layers of scandal and crime are unfolded while the runaway monk is reported to have left France for the US where he has a huge mansion, we have come to realise that one major actor is missing from the picture. Yes, it’s the Sangha Supreme Council _ the ruling body of monks.
We have not heard a word _ let alone seen a move _ from this top body of the clergy on the shameful Nen Kham since day one after the scandal was exposed by the media.
However, one may argue that the council does not see the necessity to make any move at all as the National Office of Buddhism, which serves as the council’s secretariat, has joined the investigation with the Department of Special Investigation.
Perhaps the 22-strong council may think its regional office has already pursued the case.
Is that enough? I don’t think so.
The Nen Kham scandal is a disgrace not only to the billionaire monk but sangha society as a whole. This disgraceful case reflects flaws in Thai Buddhism and also the weakness of the Sangha Supreme Council as a ruling body that fails to maintain itself as a knowledge-based institute and is gradually suffering a decline.
If the council has attempted to turn things around, we are not yet convinced.
Otherwise, commercialisation of Buddhism, the root of all evil, would not be so rampant.
Undeniably, one of the flaws is the screening (or lack of it) in the ordination process. It’s an open secret that the system is too antiquated to select quality people _ scholars or those who really want…
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But there’s a problem with austerity. It dawned on me recently that I admire austerity. Some of my life-long heroes were austere. But they practised austerity, they didn’t impose it. When there isn’t a true, genuine, shared austerity, for a higher …
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Ireland : No more austerity ( and dump the euro )
Today, my wife and I are traveling to Ireland to visit the town where my grandfather grew up (and maybe have a beer or two–if we survive my driving!). The economy there presents a sad case study for the austerity programs being forced on economies …
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An end to austerity will not boost Europe
The eurozone periphery is on a risky path to end fiscal austerity and accept larger budget deficits. Portugal is the most recent dramatic shift in that direction; Italy, Spain and even France are also abandoning plans to cut spending and raise taxes …
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Civilians on unpaid leave in Pentagon austerity move
WASHINGTON, July 8 (Reuters) – Civilian defense workers across the United States began taking unpaid leave on Monday in a Pentagon-imposed austerity move expected to save $1.8 billion through Sept. 30 by effectively cutting the pay of about 650,000 …
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Globe and Mail
Greek municipal workers riled by government’s austerity plans Add to … The Globe and Mail. Published Monday, Jul. 08 2013, 3:01 PM EDT. Last updated Monday, Jul. 08 2013, 3:28 PM EDT. Oops, something bad just happened, don’t worry, I’m sure it is our …
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The management of Hebrew daily Maariv announced Monday that the newspaper would not be printed for Tuesday morning, due to austerity measures. Employees were reportedly instructed to stop work on the current edition, but they instead decided to take …
See all stories on this topic »IMF, smokescreens and visions
The Express Tribune
There is nothing home-grown about the IMF austerity packages, which have delivered little in Europe or elsewhere. But, at least, the IMF has a vision. Some economist like Joe Stiglitz view it as immune to evidence and that is why they dub this vision …
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Sydney Morning Herald
The rift was all about the austerity that Portugal is being forced to carry out in exchange for its bailout from the troika of European Union, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank. Vitor Gaspar, who was an architect of the cutbacks …
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South China Morning Post
President Xi Jinping has consulted retired party leaders on his anti-corruption and austeritycampaign, the Communist Party’s official newspaper reported on Monday – a move some analysts believe is a sign that the current leadership lacks the …
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UAE royals eschew wedding feasts to set example of austerity
As Muslims across the region prepare for the start of the annual month-long Ramadan fast this week, the message is going out strongly from Gulf royals, mosques and the street that – theoretically at least – waste is out and austerity is in. It is a …
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Indonesia: Draconian austerity amidst impressive economic growth
In Defense of Marxism
The fuel price increase in Indonesia is part of the capitalist austerity which is now being implemented all over the world. The capitalist crisis that exploded in 2007 has not subsided. On the contrary, it is getting deeper. For the capitalists, there …
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Georgiades Says Cyprus Making ‘Good Progress’ Before Aid Review
Cypriot Finance Minister Haris Georgiades expressed optimism about the first review later this month of the government’s progress in meeting budget-austerity conditions tied to the international rescue of the country. “We are doing good progress …
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Public Support Grows for Snowden in Europe: Germany and France Should offer NSA Whistleblower Asylum
Europeans are pissed off at the US, in the wake of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s latest revelation that the US was aggressively spying on its European allies, both at their and the European Union’s embassies in Washington, and in Europe itself, gleaning not information about terrorism, but inside-track knowledge about trade negotiation positions and other areas of disagreement or negotiation.
Leaders in Germany, France, Italy and other European countries are demanding that the US cease its spying on them, and give a “full accounting” of the spying that it has been engaging in. But given the steady stream of lies coming from the NSA, the Obama Administration, Secretary of State John Kerry, and other American sources, why should they believe anything they are being told?
If, as Martin Schulz, the president of the European parliament, said today, the NSA is like the Soviet-era KGB, why would anything the US says about its nefarious activities have any credibility whatsoever?
At this point, pressure is building on European governments in Germany, France, Italy and elsewhere to stand up to the US and to grant Snowden asylum in Europe.
It makes sense. The US, weakened as it is economically these days, is still able to threaten weak nations in Latin America, which are stuck with the reality that the great consumer vacuum cleaner to the north is their biggest market, and are thus seriously at risk if the US threatens, as it did in the case of Ecuador, to impose import duties on goods shipped to the US for sale here. Europe has no such concerns. The US is in no position to economically threaten Europe.
Moreover, Snowden is widely seen among the people in European countries, where there has been plenty of ugly history of repressive spying regimes, as an unvarnished hero. Opposition politicians in both Germany and France, and even members of the ruling parties, have been calling for both countries to grant him asylum. The Green party in both countries, and in the European Parliament, has been calling for their home countries and for the European Union as a whole, to grant him asylum.
Germans have vivid memories of both the Nazi SS, and more recently, of the East German Stasi, who attempted in a pre-computer era to do precisely the kind of all-encompassing surveillance and monitoring that the NSA is now doing electronically in the US and around the globe. Germans understandably have a visceral aversion to such government snooping. Meanwhile, in France, there is a long tradition of granting asylum to those who are in trouble with authorities in their home country, as well as a simmering grudge against the US, which has long made known its disdain for French politics and French insistence on maintaining an independent stance within NATO….
For the rest of this article by DAVE LINDORFF inThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent three-time Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper, please go to: http://www.thiscantbehappening.net/node/1847
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper http://www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books (“This (more…)
Patience with the government’s austerity plan is running thin in Portugal with banners reading ‘Enough’ and ‘Government Out’. In their fourth general strike in two… read full article
Austerity: ‘unprecedented erosion’ in living standards
New Internationalist (blog)
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Are we now living in a German Europe? In an interview with EUROPP editors Stuart A Brown and Chris Gilson, Ulrich Beck discusses German dominance of the European Union, the divisive effects of austerity policies, and the relevance of his concept of the ‘risk society’ to the current problems being experienced in the Eurozone.
How has Germany come to dominate the European Union?
Well it happened somehow by accident. Germany has actually created an ‘accidental empire’. There is no master plan; no intention to occupy Europe. It doesn’t have a military basis, so all the talk about a ‘Fourth Reich’ is misplaced. Rather it has an economic basis – it’s about economic power – and it’s interesting to see how in the anticipation of a European catastrophe, with fears that the Eurozone and maybe even the European Union might break down, the landscape of power in Europe has changed fundamentally.
First of all there’s a split between the Eurozone countries and the non-Eurozone countries. Suddenly for example the UK, which is only a member of the EU and not a member of the Eurozone, is losing its veto power. It’s a tragic comedy how the British Prime Minister is trying to tell us that he is still the one who is in charge of changing the European situation. The second split is that among the Eurozone countries there is an important division of power between the lender countries and the debtor countries. As a result Germany, the strongest economic country, has become the most powerful EU state.
Are austerity policies dividing Europe?
Indeed they are, in many ways. First of all we have a new line of division between northern European and southern European countries. Of course this is very evident, but the background from a sociological point of view is that we are experiencing the redistribution of risk from the banks, through the states, to the poor, the unemployed and the elderly. This is an amazing new inequality, but we are still thinking in national terms and trying to locate this redistribution of risk in terms of national categories.
At the same time there are two leading ideologies in relation to austerity policies. The first is pretty much based on what I call the ‘Merkiavelli’ model – by this I mean a combination of Niccolò Machiavelli and Angela Merkel. On a personal level, Merkel takes a long time to make decisions: she’s always waiting until some kind of consensus appears. But this kind of waiting makes the countries depending on Germany’s decision realise that actually Germany holds the power. This deliberate hesitation is quite an interesting strategy in terms of the way that Germany has taken over economically.
The second element is that Germany’s austerity policies are not based simply on pragmatism, but also underlying values. The German objection to countries spending more money than they have is a moral issue which, from a sociological point of view, ties in with the ‘Protestant Ethic’. It’s a perspective which has Martin Luther and Max Weber in the background. But this is not seen as a moral issue in Germany, instead it’s viewed as economic rationality. They don’t see it as a German way of resolving the crisis; they see it as if they are the teachers instructing southern European countries on how to manage their economies.
This creates another ideological split because the strategy doesn’t seem to be working so far and we see many forms of protest, of which Cyprus is the latest example. But on the other hand there is still a very important and powerful neo-liberal faction in Europe which continues to believe that austerity policies are the answer to the crisis.
Is the Eurozone crisis proof that we live in a risk society?
Yes, this is the way I see it. My idea of the risk society could easily be misunderstood because the term ‘risk’ actually signifies that we are in a situation to cope with uncertainty, but to me the risk society is a situation in which we are not able to cope with the uncertainty and consequences that we produce in society.
I make a distinction between ‘first modernity’ and our current situation. First modernity, which lasted from around the 18th century until perhaps the 1960s or 1970s, was a period where there was a great deal of space for experimentation and we had a lot of answers for the uncertainties that we produced: probability models, insurance mechanisms, and so on. But then because of the success of modernity we are now producing consequences for which we don’t have any answers, such as climate change and the financial crisis. The financial crisis is an example of the victory of a specific interpretation of modernity: neo-liberal modernity after the breakdown of the Communist system, which dictates that the market is the solution and that the more we increase the role of the market, the better. But now we see that this model is failing and we don’t have any answers.
We have to make a distinction between a risk society and a catastrophe society. A catastrophe society would be one in which the motto is ‘too late’: where we give in to the panic of desperation. A risk society in contrast is about the anticipation of future catastrophes in order to prevent them from happening. But because these potential catastrophes are not supposed to happen – the financial system could collapse, or nuclear technology could be a threat to the whole world – we don’t have the basis for experimentation. The rationality of calculating risk doesn’t work anymore. We are trying to anticipate something that is not supposed to happen, which is an entirely new situation.
Take Germany as an example. If we look at Angela Merkel, a few years ago she didn’t believe that Greece posed a major problem, or that she needed to engage with it as an issue. Yet now we are in a completely different situation because she has learned that if you look into the eyes of a potential catastrophe, suddenly new things become possible. Suddenly you think about new institutions, or about the fiscal compact, or about a banking union, because you anticipate a catastrophe which is not supposed to happen. This is a huge mobilising force, but it’s highly ambivalent because it can be used in different ways. It could be used to develop a new vision for Europe, or it could be used to justify leaving the European Union.
How should Europe solve its problems?
I would say that the first thing we have to think about is what the purpose of the European Union actually is. Is there any purpose? Why Europe and not the whole world? Why not do it alone in Germany, or the UK, or France?
I think there are four answers in this respect. First, the European Union is about enemies becoming neighbours. In the context of European history this actually constitutes something of a miracle. The second purpose of the European Union is that it can prevent countries from being lost in world politics. A post-European Britain, or a post-European Germany, is a lost Britain, and a lost Germany. Europe is part of what makes these countries important from a global perspective.
The third point is that we should not only think about a new Europe, we also have to think about how the European nations have to change. They are part of the process and I would say that Europe is about redefining the national interest in a European way. Europe is not an obstacle to national sovereignty; it is the necessary means to improve national sovereignty. Nationalism is now the enemy of the nation because only through the European Union can these countries have genuine sovereignty.
The fourth point is that European modernity, which has been distributed all over the world, is a suicidal project. It’s producing all kinds of basic problems, such as climate change and the financial crisis. It’s a bit like if a car company created a car without any brakes and it started to cause accidents: the company would take these cars back to redesign them and that’s exactly what Europe should do with modernity. Reinventing modernity could be a specific purpose for Europe.
Taken together these four points form what you could say is a grand narrative of Europe, but one basic issue is missing in the whole design. So far we’ve thought about things like institutions, law, and economics, but we haven’t asked what the European Union means for individuals. What do individuals gain from the European project? First of all I would say that, particularly in terms of the younger generation, more Europe is producing more freedom. It’s not only about the free movement of people across Europe; it’s also about opening up your own perspective and living in a space which is essentially grounded on law.
Second, European workers, but also students as well, are now confronted with the kind of existential uncertainty which needs an answer. Half of the best educated generation in Spanish and Greek history lack any future prospects. So what we need is a vision for a social Europe in the sense that the individual can see that there is not necessarily social security, but that there is less uncertainty. Finally we need to redefine democracy from the bottom up. We need to ask how an individual can become engaged with the European project. In that respect I have made a manifesto, along with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, called “We Are Europe”, arguing that we need a free year for everyone to do a project in another country with other Europeans in order to start a European civil society.
A more detailed discussion of the topics covered in this article is available in Ulrich Beck’s latest book, German Europe (Polity 2013). This interview was first published on EUROPP@LSE
Surreal Collages Redefine Ordinary Objects in a Funny Way
A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse
What is a revolution? We used to think we knew. Revolutions were seizures of power by popular forces aiming to transform the very nature of the political, social, and economic system in the country in which the revolution took place, usually according to some visionary dream of a just society. Nowadays, we live in an age when, if rebel armies do come sweeping into a city, or mass uprisings overthrow a dictator, it’s unlikely to have any such implications; when profound social transformation does occur—as with, say, the rise of feminism—it’s likely to take an entirely different form. It’s not that revolutionary dreams aren’t out there. But contemporary revolutionaries rarely think they can bring them into being by some modern-day equivalent of storming the Bastille.
At moments like this, it generally pays to go back to the history one already knows and ask: Were revolutions ever really what we thought them to be? For me, the person who has asked this most effectively is the great world historian Immanuel Wallerstein. He argues that for the last quarter millennium or so, revolutions have consisted above all of planetwide transformations of political common sense.
Already by the time of the French Revolution, Wallerstein notes, there was a single world market, and increasingly a single world political system as well, dominated by the huge colonial empires. As a result, the storming of the Bastille in Paris could well end up having effects on Denmark, or even Egypt, just as profound as on France itself—in some cases, even more so. Hence he speaks of the “world revolution of 1789,” followed by the “world revolution of 1848,” which saw revolutions break out almost simultaneously in fifty countries, from Wallachia to Brazil. In no case did the revolutionaries succeed in taking power, but afterward, institutions inspired by the French Revolution—notably, universal systems of primary education—were put in place pretty much everywhere. Similarly, the Russian Revolution of 1917 was a world revolution ultimately responsible for the New Deal and European welfare states as much as for Soviet communism. The last in the series was the world revolution of 1968—which, much like 1848, broke out almost everywhere, from China to Mexico, seized power nowhere, but nonetheless changed everything. This was a revolution against state bureaucracies, and for the inseparability of personal and political liberation, whose most lasting legacy will likely be the birth of modern feminism.
A quarter of the American population is now engaged in “guard labor”—defending property, supervising work, or otherwise keeping their fellow Americans in line.
Revolutions are thus planetary phenomena. But there is more. What they really do is transform basic assumptions about what politics is ultimately about. In the wake of a revolution, ideas that had been considered veritably lunatic fringe quickly become the accepted currency of debate. Before the French Revolution, the ideas that change is good, that government policy is the proper way to manage it, and that governments derive their authority from an entity called “the people” were considered the sorts of things one might hear from crackpots and demagogues, or at best a handful of freethinking intellectuals who spend their time debating in cafés. A generation later, even the stuffiest magistrates, priests, and headmasters had to at least pay lip service to these ideas. Before long, we had reached the situation we are in today: that it’s necessary to lay out the terms for anyone to even notice they are there. They’ve become common sense, the very grounds of political discussion.
Until 1968, most world revolutions really just introduced practical refinements: an expanded franchise, universal primary education, the welfare state. The world revolution of 1968, in contrast—whether it took the form it did in China, of a revolt by students and young cadres supporting Mao’s call for a Cultural Revolution; or in Berkeley and New York, where it marked an alliance of students, dropouts, and cultural rebels; or even in Paris, where it was an alliance of students and workers—was a rebellion against bureaucracy, conformity, or anything that fettered the human imagination, a project for the revolutionizing of not just political or economic life, but every aspect of human existence. As a result, in most cases, the rebels didn’t even try to take over the apparatus of state; they saw that apparatus as itself the problem.
It’s fashionable nowadays to view the social movements of the late sixties as an embarrassing failure. A case can be made for that view. It’s certainly true that in the political sphere, the immediate beneficiary of any widespread change in political common sense—a prioritizing of ideals of individual liberty, imagination, and desire; a hatred of bureaucracy; and suspicions about the role of government—was the political Right. Above all, the movements of the sixties allowed for the mass revival of free market doctrines that had largely been abandoned since the nineteenth century. It’s no coincidence that the same generation who, as teenagers, made the Cultural Revolution in China was the one who, as forty-year-olds, presided over the introduction of capitalism. Since the eighties, “freedom” has come to mean “the market,” and “the market” has come to be seen as identical with capitalism—even, ironically, in places like China, which had known sophisticated markets for thousands of years, but rarely anything that could be described as capitalism.
The ironies are endless. While the new free market ideology has framed itself above all as a rejection of bureaucracy, it has, in fact, been responsible for the first administrative system that has operated on a planetary scale, with its endless layering of public and private bureaucracies: the IMF, World Bank, WTO, trade organizations, financial institutions, transnational corporations, NGOs. This is precisely the system that has imposed free market orthodoxy, and opened the world to financial pillage, under the watchful aegis of American arms. It only made sense that the first attempt to recreate a global revolutionary movement, the Global Justice Movement that peaked between 1998 and 2003, was effectively a rebellion against the rule of that very planetary bureaucracy.
In retrospect, though, I think that later historians will conclude that the legacy of the sixties revolution was deeper than we now imagine, and that the triumph of capitalist markets and their various planetary administrators and enforcers—which seemed so epochal and permanent in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991—was, in fact, far shallower.
I’ll take an obvious example. One often hears that antiwar protests in the late sixties and early seventies were ultimately failures, since they did not appreciably speed up the U.S. withdrawal from Indochina. But afterward, those controlling U.S. foreign policy were so anxious about being met with similar popular unrest—and even more, with unrest within the military itself, which was genuinely falling apart by the early seventies—that they refused to commit U.S. forces to any major ground conflict for almost thirty years. It took 9/11, an attack that led to thousands of civilian deaths on U.S. soil, to fully overcome the notorious “Vietnam syndrome”—and even then, the war planners made an almost obsessive effort to ensure the wars were effectively protest-proof. Propaganda was incessant, the media was brought on board, experts provided exact calculations on body bag counts (how many U.S. casualties it would take to stir mass opposition), and the rules of engagement were carefully written to keep the count below that.
The problem was that since those rules of engagement ensured that thousands of women, children, and old people would end up “collateral damage” in order to minimize deaths and injuries to U.S. soldiers, this meant that in Iraq and Afghanistan, intense hatred for the occupying forces would pretty much guarantee that the United States couldn’t obtain its military objectives. And remarkably, the war planners seemed to be aware of this. It didn’t matter. They considered it far more important to prevent effective opposition at home than to actually win the war. It’s as if American forces in Iraq were ultimately defeated by the ghost of Abbie Hoffman.
Clearly, an antiwar movement in the sixties that is still tying the hands of U.S. military planners in 2012 can hardly be considered a failure. But it raises an intriguing question: What happens when the creation of that sense of failure, of the complete ineffectiveness of political action against the system, becomes the chief objective of those in power?
The thought first occurred to me when participating in the IMF actions in Washington, D.C., in 2002. Coming on the heels of 9/11, we were relatively few and ineffective, the number of police overwhelming. There was no sense that we could succeed in shutting down the meetings. Most of us left feeling vaguely depressed. It was only a few days later, when I talked to someone who had friends attending the meetings, that I learned we had in fact shut them down: the police had introduced such stringent security measures, canceling half the events, that most of the actual meetings had been carried out online. In other words, the government had decided it was more important for protesters to walk away feeling like failures than for the IMF meetings to take place. If you think about it, they afforded protesters extraordinary importance.
Is it possible that this preemptive attitude toward social movements, the designing of wars and trade summits in such a way that preventing effective opposition is considered more of a priority than the success of the war or summit itself, really reflects a more general principle? What if those currently running the system, most of whom witnessed the unrest of the sixties firsthand as impressionable youngsters, are—consciously or unconsciously (and I suspect it’s more conscious than not)—obsessed by the prospect of revolutionary social movements once again challenging prevailing common sense?
It would explain a lot. In most of the world, the last thirty years has come to be known as the age of neoliberalism—one dominated by a revival of the long-since-abandoned nineteenth-century creed that held that free markets and human freedom in general were ultimately the same thing. Neoliberalism has always been wracked by a central paradox. It declares that economic imperatives are to take priority over all others. Politics itself is just a matter of creating the conditions for growing the economy by allowing the magic of the marketplace to do its work. All other hopes and dreams—of equality, of security—are to be sacrificed for the primary goal of economic productivity. But global economic performance over the last thirty years has been decidedly mediocre. With one or two spectacular exceptions (notably China, which significantly ignored most neoliberal prescriptions), growth rates have been far below what they were in the days of the old-fashioned, state-directed, welfare-state-oriented capitalism of the fifties, sixties, and even seventies. By its own standards, then, the project was already a colossal failure even before the 2008 collapse.
If, on the other hand, we stop taking world leaders at their word and instead think of neoliberalism as a political project, it suddenly looks spectacularly effective. The politicians, CEOs, trade bureaucrats, and so forth who regularly meet at summits like Davos or the G20 may have done a miserable job in creating a world capitalist economy that meets the needs of a majority of the world’s inhabitants (let alone produces hope, happiness, security, or meaning), but they have succeeded magnificently in convincing the world that capitalism—and not just capitalism, but exactly the financialized, semifeudal capitalism we happen to have right now—is the only viable economic system. If you think about it, this is a remarkable accomplishment.
Debt cancellation would make the perfect revolutionary demand.
How did they pull it off? The preemptive attitude toward social movements is clearly a part of it; under no conditions can alternatives, or anyone proposing alternatives, be seen to experience success. This helps explain the almost unimaginable investment in “security systems” of one sort or another: the fact that the United States, which lacks any major rival, spends more on its military and intelligence than it did during the Cold War, along with the almost dazzling accumulation of private security agencies, intelligence agencies, militarized police, guards, and mercenaries. Then there are the propaganda organs, including a massive media industry that did not even exist before the sixties, celebrating police. Mostly these systems do not so much attack dissidents directly as contribute to a pervasive climate of fear, jingoistic conformity, life insecurity, and simple despair that makes any thought of changing the world seem an idle fantasy. Yet these security systems are also extremely expensive. Some economists estimate that a quarter of the American population is now engaged in “guard labor” of one sort or another—defending property, supervising work, or otherwise keeping their fellow Americans in line. Economically, most of this disciplinary apparatus is pure deadweight.
In fact, most of the economic innovations of the last thirty years make more sense politically than economically. Eliminating guaranteed life employment for precarious contracts doesn’t really create a more effective workforce, but it is extraordinarily effective in destroying unions and otherwise depoliticizing labor. The same can be said of endlessly increasing working hours. No one has much time for political activity if they’re working sixty-hour weeks.
It does often seem that, whenever there is a choice between one option that makes capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and another that would actually make capitalism a more viable economic system, neoliberalism means always choosing the former. The combined result is a relentless campaign against the human imagination. Or, to be more precise: imagination, desire, individual creativity, all those things that were to be liberated in the last great world revolution, were to be contained strictly in the domain of consumerism, or perhaps in the virtual realities of the Internet. In all other realms they were to be strictly banished. We are talking about the murdering of dreams, the imposition of an apparatus of hopelessness, designed to squelch any sense of an alternative future. Yet as a result of putting virtually all their efforts in one political basket, we are left in the bizarre situation of watching the capitalist system crumbling before our very eyes, at just the moment everyone had finally concluded no other system would be possible.
Work It Out, Slow It Down
Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom—that the current economic and political system is the only possible one—the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance. Next, you are likely to be asked for a detailed program of how this system will be brought into existence. Historically, this is ridiculous. When has social change ever happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence conceived of something they called “capitalism,” figured out the details of how the stock exchange and factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. In fact, the idea is so absurd we might well ask ourselves how it ever occurred to us to imagine this is how change happens to begin.
This is not to say there’s anything wrong with utopian visions. Or even blueprints. They just need to be kept in their place. The theorist Michael Albert has worked out a detailed plan for how a modern economy could run without money on a democratic, participatory basis. I think this is an important achievement—not because I think that exact model could ever be instituted, in exactly the form in which he describes it, but because it makes it impossible to say that such a thing is inconceivable. Still, such models can be only thought experiments. We cannot really conceive of the problems that will arise when we start trying to build a free society. What now seem likely to be the thorniest problems might not be problems at all; others that never even occurred to us might prove devilishly difficult. There are innumerable X-factors.
The most obvious is technology. This is the reason it’s so absurd to imagine activists in Renaissance Italy coming up with a model for a stock exchange and factories—what happened was based on all sorts of technologies that they couldn’t have anticipated, but which in part only emerged because society began to move in the direction that it did. This might explain, for instance, why so many of the more compelling visions of an anarchist society have been produced by science fiction writers (Ursula K. Le Guin, Starhawk, Kim Stanley Robinson). In fiction, you are at least admitting the technological aspect is guesswork.
Myself, I am less interested in deciding what sort of economic system we should have in a free society than in creating the means by which people can make such decisions for themselves. What might a revolution in common sense actually look like? I don’t know, but I can think of any number of pieces of conventional wisdom that surely need challenging if we are to create any sort of viable free society. I’ve already explored one—the nature of money and debt—in some detail in a recent book. I even suggested a debt jubilee, a general cancellation, in part just to bring home that money is really just a human product, a set of promises, that by its nature can always be renegotiated.
Labor, similarly, should be renegotiated. Submitting oneself to labor discipline—supervision, control, even the self-control of the ambitious self-employed—does not make one a better person. In most really important ways, it probably makes one worse. To undergo it is a misfortune that at best is sometimes necessary. Yet it’s only when we reject the idea that such labor is virtuous in itself that we can start to ask what is virtuous about labor. To which the answer is obvious. Labor is virtuous if it helps others. A renegotiated definition of productivity should make it easier to reimagine the very nature of what work is, since, among other things, it will mean that technological development will be redirected less toward creating ever more consumer products and ever more disciplined labor, and more toward eliminating those forms of labor entirely.
What would remain is the kind of work only human beings will ever be able to do: those forms of caring and helping labor that are at the very center of the crisis that brought about Occupy Wall Street to begin with. What would happen if we stopped acting as if the primordial form of work is laboring at a production line, or wheat field, or iron foundry, or even in an office cubicle, and instead started from a mother, a teacher, or a caregiver? We might be forced to conclude that the real business of human life is not contributing toward something called “the economy” (a concept that didn’t even exist three hundred years ago), but the fact that we are all, and have always been, projects of mutual creation.
It’s as if American forces in Iraq were ultimately defeated by the ghost of Abbie Hoffman.
At the moment, probably the most pressing need is simply to slow down the engines of productivity. This might seem a strange thing to say—our knee-jerk reaction to every crisis is to assume the solution is for everyone to work even more, though of course, this kind of reaction is really precisely the problem—but if you consider the overall state of the world, the conclusion becomes obvious. We seem to be facing two insoluble problems. On the one hand, we have witnessed an endless series of global debt crises, which have grown only more and more severe since the seventies, to the point where the overall burden of debt—sovereign, municipal, corporate, personal—is obviously unsustainable. On the other, we have an ecological crisis, a galloping process of climate change that is threatening to throw the entire planet into drought, floods, chaos, starvation, and war. The two might seem unrelated. But ultimately they are the same. What is debt, after all, but the promise of future productivity? Saying that global debt levels keep rising is simply another way of saying that, as a collectivity, human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace.
Even those running the system are reluctantly beginning to conclude that some kind of mass debt cancellation—some kind of jubilee—is inevitable. The real political struggle is going to be over the form that it takes. Well, isn’t the obvious thing to address both problems simultaneously? Why not a planetary debt cancellation, as broad as practically possible, followed by a mass reduction in working hours: a four-hour day, perhaps, or a guaranteed five-month vacation? This might not only save the planet but also (since it’s not like everyone would just be sitting around in their newfound hours of freedom) begin to change our basic conceptions of what value-creating labor might actually be.
Occupy was surely right not to make demands, but if I were to have to formulate one, that would be it. After all, this would be an attack on the dominant ideology at its very strongest points. The morality of debt and the morality of work are the most powerful ideological weapons in the hands of those running the current system. That’s why they cling to them even as they are effectively destroying everything else. It’s also why debt cancellation would make the perfect revolutionary demand.
All this might still seem very distant. At the moment, the planet might seem poised more for a series of unprecedented catastrophes than for the kind of broad moral and political transformation that would open the way to such a world. But if we are going to have any chance of heading off those catastrophes, we’re going to have to change our accustomed ways of thinking. And as the events of 2011 reveal, the age of revolutions is by no means over. The human imagination stubbornly refuses to die. And the moment any significant number of people simultaneously shake off the shackles that have been placed on that collective imagination, even our most deeply inculcated assumptions about what is and is not politically possible have been known to crumble overnight.
This article is an excerpt from The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement, by David Graeber. Copyright © 2013 by David Graeber. Published by arrangement with Random House, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc.
THERE are three reasons why a managed exit by Ireland from the eurozone is the most urgent economic priority. But first consider this reality.
He was referring, in particular, to the impact of eurozone polices on peripheral countries. But much closer to the centre, France — whose credit rating was downgraded late last year — is now deeply mired in a second recession, with no obvious way forward. The Economist has called France “the time-bomb at the heart of Europe”.
In the late summer of 2010, I argued in these pages and elsewhere that if Ireland did not change course, matters would be taken out of the government’s hands. They were. The “inconceivable” happened. The “inconceivable” may be happening again.
The austerity doctrine imposed the burden of adjustment to the post-2008 economic collapse on the labour market. It is an indefensible misuse of economics that the eurozone “authorities” should seek stability on the back of tens of millions of unemployed — this month’s eurozone unemployment figures reached yet another record.
It is equally indefensible that, within an economic epoch characterised by intellectual capital and innovation, youth unemployment should now stand at an average of 25% — and more than double this in some of the peripheral countries which are most in need of their intellectual capital and capabilities.
At this stage in the present recessionary cycle, there is no sense in what is being done to the economy — and what is being planned for forthcoming budgets. After five austerity budgets the deficit has been reduced, at a terrible cost, and with much further to go. The country has been brought to the brink just to impose further cuts of €300m — of which half is slated to come from health including disability services that are already bleeding.
“Adjustment” to an economic shock is never painless. Adjustment to the post-2008 crisis required deleveraging the banking system, restructuring the economy and restoring competitiveness. However, the larger point is that the whole Irish political system proved incapable of delivering a consensus around how we could ourselves undertake these “adjustments”. Instead, it ceded responsibility to our “partners” — and it has used the power of strangers to enforce regressive and counterproductive policies. The policies reflect the self-interests of other and larger powers.
The economies of a still growing number of countries are being impoverished while countries at the centre — Italy and France — are caught in the headlights of a still lengthening recession across the eurozone. The only response has been “we need more integration”, or, to put it another way, more and more power and control to the centre. But it is the policies dictated from the centre that are the cause of the problem, and which are now subverting what the wider European project was originally all about.
Ireland is caught up in this nihilism. We have learned the hard way that no one at the centre is much interested in Ireland, except as a nuisance in terms of its corporation tax (which is now under very real threat). Also, as a “poster child” for policies that have failed and whose failure has, as the IMF have repeatedly pointed out, jeopardised global economic stability.
So, to return to the three primary reasons for a managed exit by Ireland from the eurozone.
The first arises from the fact that, facing into an unprecedented economic crisis, the eurozone “authorities” required countries with very different economies and burdens to conform to the stability and growth criteria — a maximum 3% budget deficit and a 60% debt/GDP. These were originally “indicative”. And yet, in the face of a seismic and accelerating economic crisis, these indicative criteria were transformed into articles of faith, to which all had to conform. It made no sense.
Furthermore, the intellectual underpinning of austerity which the eurozone “authorities” adopted was the Roghoff/Reinhart theorem — that is, above a debt/GDP ratio of 90%, countries enter a kind of “black hole” from which they cannot escape. This has been discredited. Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman and others have argued that the line of causation probably does not run from “high” debt to low growth but rather from low growth to rising debt. Common sense would indicate that this was surely the case in the post-2008 eurozone.
These fundamental errors were reinforced by the destructive time-table initially required for adjustment. In the case of Ireland, being compelled to even attempt to meet the “stability” criteria by 2014 was deeply damaging — it further exacerbated the underlying problems of adjustment. The eurozone authorities were wrong in their myopic fixation on reducing debt and effectively ignoring what is key to the whole ratio, namely, growing GDP, while simultaneously pushing ahead with, and incentivising, structural reforms.
Instead, there has been a succession of crisis summits involving people with big jobs talking about people with no jobs being “more flexible”.
In recent months, the eurozone authorities have started backtracking: Grudgingly accepting the evidence that their short- term austerity doctrine has been enormously damaging to the eurozone and to global stability. It is a bit late for them to be making speeches on “rebalancing austerity”.
It is little comfort to Ireland or its economy to have “good” school reports from a troika comprised of European institutions whose policies were deeply flawed and an IMF that has no business lending its credibility to an ideologically driven agenda.
It defies common sense that an Irish government should still feel obligated to defend such policies and attempt to impose two more years of “fiscal consolidation”.
Talk of “exiting the bailout” is wide of the mark. The burden of ‘troikanomics’, including onerous debt-servicing costs, stretch into a future that is dominated by those who preached the austerity doctrine in the first place.
Ireland’s growth capacity has been compromised; the best and brightest — our engineers and architects, doctors and nurses, teachers, entrepreneurs — have left and the morale of those remaining is being destroyed. This is not “adjustment”; it is tantamount to self-harm.
The second reason for a managed exit by Ireland is that these same policies are doing enormous damage to two of the most fundamental pillars of a stable and functioning democratic economy. Healthcare and education are the foundations for sustainable growth, innovation and social solidarity. The cuts being imposed arising from the doctrine of austerity are not evidence-based. At the micro-level, in schools and local health provision, they are doing damage that will take years to reverse. The only force that is driving these cuts is short-term book-keeping to appease the troika.
The third reason relates to the damage that is being done to the wider EU project. Ireland is, by its history and conviction, empathetic with Europe and with European solidarity. Austerity has, however, reinforced German hegemony within the eurozone and there is little evidence of the solidarity that was once at the heart of the European project. The UK’s disenchantment with Europe has become significantly more marked. Recent survey evidence demonstrates a deep-seated and widening gulf between the peoples of France and Germany. Expectations of recovery are no longer taken seriously by people in the eurozone.
Recovery cannot be built on a lack of confidence or disillusionment. Ireland has become dependent on the powerful and the peddlers of myths. It does not have to be dependent. It can contribute far more to the European ideal and the single market, outside of the eurozone. Denmark is a case in point.
There is no longer any appetite for the argument that only further integration will solve this crisis. This is a self-serving argument and finds no resonance among national populations. There is always a danger to democracy when the elite — the ‘authorities’ — become semi-detached from the beliefs of the people from whom they get their legitimacy. Riot control is a poor and an obdurate response to the reality that the ‘authorities’ have lost the argument.
In a world a little braver, a bit more far-seeing and one which was capable of learning — and moving on — Ireland would host a meeting of the peripheral countries. They would hammer out the basis for a managed exit from the eurozone for all or some. Those who aspire to national leadership would come out from behind the barricades of “There is no alternative” and would take up again the freedoms and responsibilities of which they are trustees.
Spain’s High Court has turned down Switzerland’s request to extradite Hervé Falciani, the former HSBC Private Bank employee whose tax-evasion whistleblowing activities have become a cause célèbre. The French–Italian computer expert, who in 2008 made off with files detailing 130,000 of the Geneva-based bank’s clients, will not be required to return to Switzerland to face four charges relating to his data grab.
The court ruled that the principle of “double incrimination” is not satisfied in this case, meaning that the offenses of which Falciani is accused are not listed as such in Spanish criminal law. The Monaco-born IT expert was arrested in Switzerland – where he is accused of financial espionage, violation of the bank secrecy law, revealing commercial secrets and stealing clients’ private data – but he left the country, finally being arrested again in Spain last July.
The High Court in Madrid also considered that the information Falciani had facilitated to the tax authorities in France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the United States was related to criminal activities that are “in no way eligible for legitimate protection.”
Falciani, who had been released on bail for by the Spanish courts before his April 15 extradition hearing, is now free to travel outside Spain. Had the court ruled in favor of the Swiss request, the Spanish government would have had the last word on the extradition process.
Information released by the former bank employee has allowed the Spanish state to recover more than 300 million euros of lost taxes between 2010 and 2011, with further related investigations still in progress.
Nahikari Otaegi, a young Basque mother of two children, is getting ready to go to jail. She will be bringing her seven month-old daughter Oihana with her but will have to leave her three year-old son
She has been sentenced to six years of prison for alleged membership of SEGI – the banned Basque pro-independence left youth organisation. According to the Spanish state, to be a member of SEGI is to be helping ETA, the armed Basque resistance group; however no “terrorist” action was proved against either Nahikari or her seven male co-sentenced, no possession of arms, no plans, maps – nothing like that. The evidence against them consisted of T-shirts, CDs and posters which indicated that they are pro-Basque independence and for socialism, in accordance with which they have been doing open political work for years. But according to the Spanish state, as in the infamous words of a previous harrier of pro-independence Basques, the ‘liberal’ judge Garzón: “everything is ETA”.
Nahikari, partner and two children
ETA, on the other hand, has been in ceasefire for over two years now and seeking a resolution process but the response of the French and Spanish states, especially that of the latter, is to keep up the repression. Many more Basques, young and older – 200 according to one estimate – are awaiting trial. Some are on the run too and the Spanish state hunts them down when it can: currently there are Basques awaiting or under threat of extradition in Belfast, London, Rome, Brazil …. One of those who is in exile, in the northern Basque Country (i.e. under French rule), is Nahikari’s partner Aitor Mokoroa. And therein lies an intensification of the tragedy facing this family – he won’t be able to visit her in prison, for that would mean his arrest, his incarceration too – and the three year-old would have to be cared for by grandparents, cut off from both mother and father.
Nahikari was arrested in Donosti/ San Sebastian in December 2007 in an early morning police operation which dragged in another 27 youths. Many of them afterwards alleged that they had been tortured and forced to sign statements during the five days’ incommunicado detention permitted by Spain’s anti-terror laws. Many of the young women also alleged a sexual component to the torture, such as having their breasts and nipples, buttocks and vagina fondled while they were hooded and being threatened with rape. Some of the male youths alleged that they were threatened with having sisters or partners arrested and raped. Among the more physical torture methods were having to maintain stress positions for hours and part-suffocation with a plastic bag. Their parents and siblings mounted a campaign of protest to government and church figures without receiving any satisfaction.
Those who are inclined to disbelieve those claims should read the annual reports of Amnesty International as well as the reports of a number of other human rights agencies, including relevant committees of the UN and of EU.
Subsequently ten were released but eighteen were convicted and sentenced to six years in prison. They served eighteen months in jail, Nahikari doing hers in Soto del Real prison in Madrid and in Brieva jail, in Avila, after which they were released while they appealed their conviction. In 2011 the Spanish Supreme Court ordered the National Court which had convicted to them to review their judgements, which they did a month later: “Apart from a including a few phrases of our lawyers, the judgement and sentences were exactly the same as before, even to including identical grammatical errors,” stated Nahikari. They appealed again and a few weeks ago the sentences on seven were overturned but confirmed on eight, including Nahikari.
Nahikari admits that when she heard the result, she felt crushed and only wanted to stay at home with her children and partner. But as time went on she felt she had to speak out, to affirm her existence and her humanity in the face of the attempts of the state to eradicate both.
A campaign organised by Basque youth quickly grew in Donosti, with press conferences, demonstrations, posters, pickets and videos, photos and text updates on the internet, using email, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. The Basque Government police, the Ertzaintza, body-armoured and masked, raided the encampment and arrested youth, including one of the seven youths whose appeal had been successful. More Basque youth gathered and six of the eight sentenced youth took up residence in an area of the Basque city, surrounded by hundreds of supporters, who took part in a rota to maintain a “human wall” around the sentenced youth.
The Ertzaintza made three attacks on the “human wall” during early hours of mornings. The first two were unsuccessful but in the third, which lasted over three hours, they dragged away sufficient people to clear a path through to six of the youth, which they arrested, along with a couple of others. Nahikari spoke emotionally of the effect of watching that police operation on video and also the solidarity protest demonstration that followed.
In an interview with Ainara Lertxundi, a reporter for the pro-Basque independence left bilingual daily newspaper GARA, Nahikari explained why they had gone ahead and had children, despite the constant threat of Spanish jail. “We wanted to have children while we were still young. They have robbed us of a major part of our youth between arrests, court cases, appeals and jail. Aitor and I decided to go on with our lives and not to allow the state or Spanish judges to control our lives to any greater degree but recognising that it was going to be very difficult. And it is. But why should I put my life on hold while I await their decision?”
As Nahikari went on to point out, she is not the only one in this situation. According to Aske Gunea (“Free Space”) which ran a high-profile practical solidarity and publicity campaign for the eight sentenced youth, there are another 200 Basques awaiting trial or sentencing or results of appeals. There are already 600 men and women who belong to the Basque political prisoners’ collective serving time in French and Spanish jails – out of a total population of less than three million in the whole Basque Country.
Solidarity with the prisoners is very strong in the Basque Country. Each Friday sees the gathering of solidarity pickets of Etxerat, the relatives and friends’ collective in every town or city district. Several times a year, there are huge demonstrations; last January’s, in Bilbao, organised by Etxerat and Herrira, a campaigning organisation, sponsored by the Basque trade unions and many Basque local, cultural and sports associations, jammed the streets with an estimated 115,000 people. “After everything we have to go through, that solidarity is like oxygen”, says Nahikari gratefully. These days her phone doesn’t stop ringing as well-wishers call.
The Spanish and French states have a deliberate policy of dispersing their prisoners across their territory’s jails, laying a heavy burden on the prisoners’ relatives, who have to travel hundreds or thousands of kilometers to the prison and back again. Often they have to book overnight accommodation near the jail, adding to their expenses. Some can’t make the long journeys, being too young or too elderly or too ill. Thousands make the journey but put their lives in danger on the way – visitors have been in two serious traffic accidents already this year.
As Nahikari will be going to one of the Spanish prisons which contain women with children, she has a choice: Valencia or Aranjuez. The first is 570 km away from the Donosti/ San Sebastian in the Basque Country (although a little further from where Ekaitz lives with his father), a journey of about five-and-a-half hours), whilst the second is 495 km away in Madrid, a journey of nearly five hours. And of course the same distance and hours back again.
Aitor and his partner and daugher will not see one another for four-and-a-half years. Ekaitz will be able to see his mother and sister every month or so, for an hour-and-a-half or two, depending on the jail, in the face-to-face family (or “open”) visits. “We discounted the weekly ones with a glass partition (between visitor and prisoner),” she explains, “because it would be very traumatic for Ekaitz to see me through glass but not to be able to touch me …. and for me too.” Once ever three months, prisoners are permitted an open family visit of four hours.
Nahikari is considering what to bring with her. She has investigated the regulations and also talked to a Basque female former prisoner. The mothers are not permitted to bring their own pushchair or even children’s toys but she has been advised to try it as sometimes particular favourite objects of the child have been permitted. “The bottles and soothers (‘dummies’) are allowed but the thermos and bottle heater have to be applied for for security reasons … but I don’t expect to have any problems with all that.”
The reporter writes that Nahikari’s voice sounds strong as she says that … but that she wrings her hands and seems to look away into the distance through the walls of the room ….
Nahikari and daughter — both are going to prison
The GARA article and interview by Ainara Lertxundi: http://gara.naiz.info/paperezkoa/20130424/399307/es/Est…vidas