Thursday, February 25, 2010

Strike in Greece, Clashes in Athens

From Infoshop

http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=2010022514314433

Thursday, February 25 2010 @ 02:31 PM UTC

Contributed by: WorkerFreedom

The general strike in both private and public sectors has seen mass protest marches across the country and extended clashes in Athens with dozens of shops and banks destroyed and one man arrested. Strike in Greece, Clashes in Athens

Libcom

The general strike in both private and public sectors has seen mass protest marches across the country and extended clashes in Athens with dozens of shops and banks destroyed and one man arrested.

The first general strike as a response to the austerity measures in Greece has met with huge success as the country has been immobilised by the strike with no boats airplanes buses or trains moving within or from and into the country. The media strike which is part of the general strike means there are no news broadcasts or newspapers which limits the extent of our information gathering on the strike and its protest marches

In Athens the protest march is expected to have gathered around 40,000 people and had a very dynamic character. The first incident occurred when a plain clothed policeman was stopped and beaten by protesters. Later riot police tries to side the numerous anarchist block but was deterred by large numbers of protesters. Before reaching Syntagma square several corporate shops and banks were smashed by protesters. In sytnagma square extended clashes between protesters and riot police forces unfolded with use of tear gas on the part of the cops and rocks and molotov cocktails by the protesters. During the clashes Giannis Bardakos, a member of a socialist opposition party DIKKI, was arrested. DIKKI has published a communique condemning the arrest and the "policy of occupation forces' imposed poverty and underdeveloped applied by the State of oppression and violence" adding that "anti-people's terrorism will not pass". The encircling methods of the police at the corner of Phillelinon street however failed, two workers who the cops had arrested were rescued and the two riot police squads were encircled by protesters and heavily beaten with many riot shield broken. The clashes continues across Panepistimiou street where the posh Zonars cafe was invaded by large numbers of enraged workers and teachers who smashed it. The protesters then moved towards the Polytechnic which is under occupation by students in response to the breach of campus asylum in Zografou a few days ago, with many shops across Patision avenue destroyed. The general feeling is one of great success with the forces of repression humiliated and the working class having proved its will to struggle against the state onslaught.

The protest march in Salonica gathered around 5,000 people under rain. Despite small skirmishes no clashes ensued until protesters returning to the Universities moved to destroy car control medal bars at its entrance and came under police attack. The police with utter disregard to the constitution moved its forces into the university asylum and led the protesters to barricade themselves in the rectorial headquarters which are now under occupation in protest to the renewed breach of the asylum.

Protest marches took place in many other towns with mass participation: in Heraklion Crete the marches numbers more than a thousands, while in Volos 500 marchers broke away from the march to break the security cordon of the METKA factory and hold an assembly in the premises.

As far as the antifascist counterdemo planned for today afternoon in Amerikis Square, both the fascist gathering and the antifascist counterdemo were declared banned by the district attorney. As a result, antifascist marches were prevented to reach the square by strong riot police forces and marched instead in the streets of Kypseli chanting antiracist and proletarian solidarity slogans. The fascist scum never even appeared for their advertised bigotry stunt at the square. .

http://libcom.org/news/general-strike-greece-clashes-athens-24022010

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Second Strike Paralyzes Greece

From the New York Times

ATHENS — Flights at Greek airports were canceled, public transportation was halted, and schools closed Wednesday as public-sector employees and private-sector workers walked off their jobs in the second 24-hour strike in two weeks against austerity measures.

The government is under intense pressure to plug a budget deficit that equals 12.7 percent of gross domestic product and to avert the first national default among the 16 countries that use the euro.

The day was largely peaceful, though police officers fired tear gas to disperse around 50 young demonstrators who pelted them with stones and paint near the Parliament building in the city center. They were part of a crowd of more than 20,000 who marched holding banners reading “tax the rich” and “hands off our pension funds.”

At the same time, government officials and representatives of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund were discussing the imposition of additional measures to reduce the national debt — now more than $400 billion — and increase revenue. But the strike included journalists, effectively creating a media blackout that kept Greeks in the dark about any progress.

Continue reading at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/world/europe/25greece.html

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How Does a Corporation Speak?

By William A. Cohn

February 18, 2010 "Information Clearing House" -- Prague -- A corporation speaks by clear-cutting old-growth forests, by dumping pollutants in our communities and denying care for our elders, by off-shoring to avoid paying taxes, and by outsourcing and eliminating jobs. This inanimate Frankenstein constructed by law now enjoys vast legal and constitutional rights which it wields against humans, animals and nature.

The Supreme Court's 5 to 4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC giving corporations greater rights to use shareholder money to influence elections is radical, already impacting the November U.S. midterm elections and politics in general. Yet it is only the latest of many expansions of corporate rights over the past 150 years. Let's step back to consider the most recent fallacy made by the high court in equating corporations with natural persons and citizens.

A widely held criticism of law is that it is a tool used by those with power to serve their ends. Rather than upholding principle, law thus distorts our shared values and common sense by its application of rarified opaque terminology and legalistic logic, rooted in arcane precedent and procedure, which drives outcomes which often defy what makes good sense. That is an easy attack to make in this case.

The five natural persons who made this ruling, and in so doing exposed their judicial and doctrinal hypocrisy, profess to be concerned with protecting political speech and thus serving the values embodied in the First Amendment by promoting free speech. But it is evident that a
corporation cannot think; and so it cannot speak.

Speech requires thought. Even when a baby gurgles and coos its speech emanates from its senses (hungry, excited, colicky). Speech then evolves into expression reflecting cognition. We think and reflect before speaking when we care what we say. Political speech demands thought and reflection. Again, a Corporation cannot think; and so cannot speak. It can, however, use money to drown out voices which stand in the way of its profits. It can make a democracy a plutocracy.

A corporation is an empty shell. It is nothing more than papers filed with the state for the purpose of letting entrepreneurs conduct business with limited liability, and the prospect of unlimited profit. A corporation has perpetual existence. Natural people die. A corporation
is a legal fiction, which if hypothesized as a real person would be diagnosed as psychopathic. The English jurist and statesman Lord Edward Thurlow asked, "Did you ever expect a Corporation to have a conscience, when it has no soul to be damned, and no body to be kicked?"

Will this twisted ruling further transform American society from the ideal of one person one vote toward the practice of one dollar one vote?

An outrage of this magnitude must not be met with meekness. Corporations exist to enable real people to evade responsibility for their actions. Accountability and citizenship are irreconcilable with today's corporation. Our Frankenstein can only be stopped on its destructive path by taking away its privileged status.

William A. Cohn, a constitutional law scholar, is lecturer at the
University of New York in Prague (www.unyp.cz) where he teaches courses
on law, ethics and logic

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPLTN62a72o&feature=sub

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Socialism and the Greek debt crisis

I commented to a friend the other day when I read about the proposed austerity measures in order to service the debt that this was straight out of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine.

From World Socialist Web Site

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/feb2010/pers-f18.shtml
18 February 2010

Greece has become a test case for draconian attacks on the living standards of broad sections of the population throughout Europe. The massive holes that the economic crisis and bank rescue packages have ripped in the budgets of the EU member states are now to be filled at the expense of the working class.

At their February 16 meeting, the EU finance ministers virtually disenfranchised the Greek government and placed the country’s budget under EU scrutiny. Such treatement of a member state has never occurred before in the history of the European Union. Every transaction of the Athens government will now be meticulously examined in Brussels, every vote in the national parliament closely monitored. The non-elected officials of the Brussels Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) are taking control of an entire country, dictating their conditions to its government and parliament.

In just four weeks, the Greek government must present a first report on the success of its austerity measures to the EU and the ECB. If they are judged inadequate, the 15 other states belonging to the eurozone may invoke a qualified majority vote to force Greece to adopt further austerity measures. Under discussion are an increase of the regressive Value Added Tax (VAT) and additional spending cuts, among other things.

The cuts are being driven by the interests of the powerful financial institutions that determine the policies of the EU, as well as Europe’s largest economy, Germany. While most EU members wanted to give the Greek government time to implement the austerity measures it had already adopted, Germany, Austria and Sweden were insisting on the immediate tightening up of spending cuts. The state secretary in the German Finance Ministry, Jörg Asmussen, cited the examples of Latvia and Ireland, where public sector pay has been reduced by 20 and 15 percent, resepctively.

The measures are aimed at drastically cutting the living standards of broad layers of the population. According to the head of the German Ifo Institute, Hans-Werner Sinn, “The Greeks have become accustomed to the good life.” Now they need “to be prescribed a course of thrift: however difficult it is for the Greeks, they have to lower real wages.” And this, even though the national average wage is only half as high as in Germany, while prices are almost the same.

The austerity measures being dictated to Athens express fudamental changes in the relationship between states in the European Union. For a long time, Germany was regarded as Europe’s “paymaster,” because it paid relatively large sums into the EU budget to compensate for regional differences. These served to expand and strengthen the EU, and the German economy, in turn, benefited the most. The corruption of the Greek elite, which now serves as a pretext for imposing brutal attacks on the working class, was tacitly condoned by Brussels and Berlin because it allowed the big corporations and banks to take over the Greek market.

But now Berlin is no longer willing to play the role of “paymaster.” The Merkel government has opposed any proposal to help the Greek government financially. The German media is full of propaganda about the Greek crisis being “home-made,” because the Greeks had been “living beyond their means.” For the German bourgeoisie, the issue is not so much the Greek debt, but the principle that the crisis should be paid for by the working class. This is true not only for Greece but for workers throughout Europe and in Germany itself, where the Merkel government is preparing a merciless austerity programme.

The aggressive actions of Germany are also exacerbating the conflicts within the EU and threaten to blow up the European institutions.

In their attacks on the living standards of broad sections of the population, the EU can rely on the Social Democrats. In Spain and Portugal, social democratic goverments are pushing through massive cuts. In Greece, the PASOK government of Giorgos Papandreou owed its election victory last year to the massive discontent with the conservative government of Kostas Karamanlis and to numerous populist promises. Once in office, Papandreou dropped his campaign promises and presented an austerity programme that includes dramatic cuts in the living standards of the working class—incluing job cuts, wage cuts, a higher retirement age and many similar measures.

Papandreou and his finance minister George Papaconstantinou have travelled throughout Europe to convince bankers and government representatives that they will enforce the programme against all opposition. Nevertheless, it does not go far enough for EU Commissioner Olli Rehn. “In mid-March, Greece will have to propose additional measures in order to achieve the reduction targets this year,” he said.

While the EU is relying on Papandreou, he is relying on the unions to enforce the attacks against the working class. Resistance is growing against austerity measures. On February 9 and 10, public sector workers went on strike, and a one-day general strike is planned for February 24. However, the unions are limiting the protests to isolated actions. They see their task as letting off steam in order to keep the resistance under control and to ensure that the government does not get into serious trouble.

They are supported by many supposedly “left” organizations—from the KKE (Communist Party of Greece) and the SYRIZA coalition, to numerous smaller groups. What unites all these parties is their purely opportunist and nationalist orientation. They either orbit around PASOK or seek to put it under pressure.

But there is no national solution to the Greek crisis. The EU has presented the country with a dire ultimatum: either it keeps the euro and accepts the austerity measures dictated by Brussels, or it leaves the eurozone, which would most likely lead to the collapse of the Greek currency.

The austerity measures dictated by the EU place fierce class conflict on the agenda throughout Europe. Fewer and fewer people are willing to accept drastic cuts, while the financial elite enrich themselves uncontrollably.

The working class needs an international political strategy. Greek workers must turn to the European working class, who in turn must support Greek workers in their struggle against the austerity measures being imposed by Athens and Brussels.

The attacks of the EU cannot be stopped by national protests and pressure on national governments. They require a political offensive by the European working class, aimed at the socialist reorganization of society. It is not the profits of the financial and industrial corporations—which determine the policies of Brussels—but the social needs of society that must form the basis of economic life. The European Union of the banks and corporations must be replaced by the United Socialist States of Europe.

Peter Schwarz

RIOT 2010: Anti-Olympic Riots and Militant Actions Rock Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories


CrimethInc. presents breaking news from Vancouver, where united indigenous and anarchist resistance has disrupted the capitalist and nationalist triumphalism at the opening of the Olympic Games.

“We love athletics” —anarchist contestants for the 2010 Olympics

CrimethInc. presents breaking news from Vancouver, where united indigenous and anarchist resistance has disrupted the capitalist and nationalist triumphalism at the opening of the Olympic Games.


Anti-Olympic Riots and Militant Actions Rock Vancouver, Coast Salish Territories

The following report was collectively produced by several participants in this past weekend’s militant resistance to the 2010 Olympic games. This is not a full analysis of Olympic Resistance but rather an in-depth account of what just went down. For more background on why people are resisting these games, check no2010.com and olympicresistance.net.

This was not “just another summit”—this was the culmination of several years of direct action by indigenous people, anarchists, anti-poverty activists, environmentalists, and others against the 2010 Olympics. One of the most inspiring aspects of this convergence was the framework that created it. Unlike many summits, which lack an anti-racist and anti-colonial analysis, indigenous sovereignty and decolonization was front-and-center this time. Indigenous people called upon their allies to help defend their territory against further colonization, and solidarity activists answered that call. An anti-capitalist analysis permeated the entire movement and it was a radicalizing force among the broader activist community. This was not a showdown in which local issues were left on the back burner; as far as the authors know, this was the first summit in North America that was entirely focused on local issues.

The movement was mostly local, as well. Although the numbers may seem small in comparison to mobilizations in Europe and the US, Vancouver is a very isolated city and is not easy to travel to—as many who have tried know. A border separates it from every other major urban center on the West Coast, and the guards turned away countless people hoping to join us. It takes several days of traveling by car to reach Vancouver from Canada’s other major urban centers. Although many people did travel here from across Turtle Island [North America, in the colonial lexicon] and even Europe, the majority of the participants were from the immediate vicinity.


Anarchist hurdles


Anarchist bowling

February 12: First Day of Action

The first official day of action for the Anti-Olympics Convergence was quite a busy day. After the torch run was successfully blocked in two different neighborhoods, thousands of Anti-Olympics dissidents marched on the opening of the games.

8:30 a.m.
Hundreds of downtown Eastside residents, including native warriors, anarchists, and other supporters successfully blockaded the intersection of East Hastings and Cambie Street. When police attempted to disperse the crowd by force, some stood their ground while others sat down in the middle of the intersection, refusing to comply with the police orders. Unable to clear the street, the police were forced to tell the torch relay to change its route and not travel down Hastings into the downtown Eastside.

A fascinating bird’s-eye-view of this blockade from start to finish is available here.

9 a.m.


Local residents and other protesters successfully keep the Olympic torch off Commercial Drive.

Hundreds, including many anarchists, took the streets and used barbed wire and boulders to block the torch from coming through their neighborhood. Once word came in that the torch was being re-routed, they moved up Commercial Drive to ensure that it would not get around them and up the Drive. They met a line of mounted police (chant: “Get those animals off those horses!”), but ran through an adjacent alley to take the streets again. A minor confrontation occurred with a few Olympics enthusiasts. The torch was successfully kept off Commercial Drive, and when torchbearer Carrie Serwetnyk arrived she was chased out of the neighborhood and had to be escorted into the back of a police cruiser with torch in hand.

3 p.m.: Take Back Our City Mass Mobilization


Traffic cone contends for the high jump gold medal at the opening ceremonies.

Several thousand protesters, including one hundred in a black bloc, assembled at the epicenter of the Olympic circus at 3 p.m. Led by indigenous elders, they marched from the Vancouver Art Gallery to disrupt the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympics at BC Place. The participants respected the call that this be an all-ages, family-friendly demo. However, in contrast to many demonstrations, “family-friendly” did not mean imposed pacifism. This march respected the autonomy of all, and there was a great deal of communication between various groups in order to mutually support each other.

In response to a request for people to move to the front in order to protect indigenous elders from police harassment, the black bloc and native warriors faced off with the pigs. The black bloc contingent was organized, closing ranks and holding police at bay. Members confiscated officers’ hats, vests, and flashlights while tossing orange pylons, tires, and other debris their way—simultaneously mocking the display of state force and inspiring, supporting, and defending those around them. After a long pushing match during which police officers and protesters exchanged blows, it was clear that the conflict was in a stalemate and the crowd began to disperse. Police managed to kidnap three people who were charged with breach, and one with assault.

February 13: Heart Attack!


Black bloc intent on “clogging the arteries of capitalism.”

8:30 a.m.
400 anarchists arrived bright and early at Thornton Park at 8:30 a.m. for the “Heart Attack” demonstration. Calling for a diversity of tactics to “clog the arteries of capitalism,” the march was intended to cause mayhem and attack the corporate heart of downtown Vancouver. After giving time and cover for everyone to “block up” and practicing a turn-around drill in case it was necessary to reverse direction, the march immediately took over both directions of Main Street and moved north towards East Hastings. Things got off to a slow start, with only minor debris being dragged into the street. A marching band arrived and joined the ranks of black-clad militants chanting “What’s the direction? Insurrection! What’s the solution? Revolution!” Marchers tricked the police into thinking they were heading towards the police station. As police scrambled to protect their fortress, the march headed west on East Hastings—through Canada’s poorest neighborhood—towards the intended target: the heart of Vancouver.

As people gained confidence, they started dragging everything that wasn’t bolted down into the streets in order to block police vehicles from following in their wake. Some began spray-painting buses and attacking luxury cars. No damage was done to any buildings in this neighborhood, however. Heart Attackers were received with popular support, and many downtown Eastside residents felt inspired by our presence and joined in.

Arriving at Victory Square, the scene of the previous morning’s successful Olympic Torch blockade, the march took a left up Cambie Street. The energy intensified as it entered more opulent territory, and more property being damaged. A dumpster was dragged out of an alley, spray-painted, and overturned in the middle of the street, as police nervously looked on. Officers kept their distance from the unruly crowd, however, which was now smashing parking meters, defacing billboards, and continuing to obstruct intersections with newspaper boxes.


What dumpsters were to the Pittsburgh G20, newspaper boxes were to the Heart Attack march in Vancouver.

The party really got started as the ungovernables turned onto Georgia Street and made their way closer to Vancouver’s Olympic celebration zone. This hub of capitalism features many flagship stores of Olympic sponsors and is the central gathering point for Olympic tourists and enthusiasts. The streets were crowded with these consumers, and the arrival of the march was hardly met with the same level of support it had received in the downtown Eastside. At this point several belligerent individuals attempted to interfere with the march, leading to physical and verbal confrontations. Some of these vigilantes tried to unmask demonstrators, but were met with overwhelming resistance and forced off the street. One man attempted to incite other Olympic supporters to confront us but couldn’t garner any support and had to settle for urging police to “go get these guys.”


We were made for this.

The march made it fourteen blocks down Georgia Street, wreaking havoc upon the Olympic spectacle. As newspaper boxes continued to appear in the street, chairs, lumber, a ladder, and other instruments were seized from our surroundings in order to escalate the conflict. Having pierced the pericardium, the bloc attacked the aorta, smashing in the windows of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Olympic department store in front of thousands of shocked upper-class spectators. At this point newspaper boxes ceased to function merely as passive blockades, as anarchists gave them wings and sent them flying through the windows of Hudson’s Bay and a TD bank. This attack on the intersection of Granville and Georgia—the pulse of corporate Vancouver—broke the spell of the Olympic delusion.

As the march proceeded west towards the Lions Gate bridge and the Westin Bayshore hotel, which housed the International Olympic Committee, riot cops appeared in greater numbers, attempting unsuccessfully to flank the crowd on the left. One demonstrator blocked the path of the police and was shoved, initiating hand-to-hand streetfighting. The pig who had initiated the conflict was immediately punched in the face by a member of the black bloc, and was forced to retreat as he realized he was surrounded by militants ready to defend their comrades. Soon after this confrontation a line of riot cops blocked the street ahead. Boxed in with nowhere to go but through the line, many of the black bloc ran, kicked, punched, and scrambled their way to the other side.

Unfortunately, not all were able or willing to fight their way through. As cops attempted to make arrests, all hell broke loose with anarchists on both sides of the line coming to defend and de-arrest their comrades, fighting the police for control of the intersection. This intensity of hand-to-hand conflict between anarchists and police has not been seen in “Canada” for nearly a decade. Several of the de-arrests were successful, but a handful of arrests were effected. In the end, the police held the intersection, successfully fragmenting the rioters into smaller and more vulnerable groups. Many dispersed at this point, but a group of approximately one hundred, including a festive marching band, were able to continue south, looping around to head west on Robson. Over an hour later, this group was surrounded and detained by riot cops; the police were eventually forced to release them by bystanders and supporters chanting “let them go.”

Subsequent Repression

Immediately following the dispersal, police attempted to use any excuse they could to harass, detain, and arrest suspected rioters, legal observers, media, and organizers. Several people were snatched off the street while leaving the intersection of Robson and Jervis. A few hours later, Gord Hill was given a $115 ticket for swearing at a police officer who was making an arrest outside of the Vancouver Media Co-op. Another known organizer was arrested on E. Hastings for “riding a bike on a sidewalk.” He was then charged with obstruction as he stood up for a homeless man who was being hassled by Police in Pigeon Park. Two legal observers were also ticketed for jaywalking on E. Hastings.

A reconvergence of the Heart Attack march had been planned for Robson and Granville at 5 p.m. that evening. However, it was canceled due to a variety of factors including the arrests, the increased repression, and the fact that police knew about this reconvergence point and would likely be eager to make more arrests. Those who did appear were illegally detained by riot police in front of thousands of Olympic spectators, but were released after a short period of time.

The following day, several people were snatched in relation to the Heart Attack demo, and police are still investigating videotapes and looking for more victims. We hope they won’t find any.

Also on Sunday, about 5000 participated in the 19th annual Women’s Memorial March, honoring missing and murdered women from Vancouver’s downtown Eastside. Led by indigenous women, this event was not an explicitly anti-Olympic protest, but many anarchists and other protesters participated.

Post-Action Debrief

As some had predicted, the primary tactic of the police was fear. They did not use the LRAD they had purchased; they never used tear-gas, rubber bullets, or any other form of long-range combat tactics. When they did attempt to control or arrest protesters, they used a hands-on approach. It was clear to some of us that they desired to avoid images of Vancouver engulfed in tear gas during the first day of the Olympic Games. The Olympics are all about nationalist propaganda, and the whole world actually is watching, unlike at most other demonstrations. Even with their billion-dollar security budget and high-tech crowd-control weapons, the police were unable to prevent a riot that had been announced years in advance. They effectively had their hands tied.

The black bloc relied heavily on what was readily available to them in the streets instead of bringing their own materials into the demo. Unfortunately, there were no mass supplies—no hard banners, paint bombs, projectiles, batons, or bandanas—to share with others who wanted to join.

One criticism was that people kept attacking the same windows, even throwing paint bombs at them after they were already smashed, instead of using that energy and opportunity to destroy additional property. A window that is smashed, has paint on it and a newspaper box through it does make a great photo-op, but smashing windows at a protest can be quite risky. If you’re brave enough to take that kind of action, make sure it counts!

The original target for the Heart Attack march had been the intersection of Denman and Georgia, in hopes of blocking traffic in and out of the Lions Gate Bridge, a major artery leading to the Olympic Games. Blocking the bridge turned out to be unachievable, but the march did succeed in clogging the arteries of Vancouver commerce in general. Considering the scale of militant confrontation, anarchists suffered very few arrests—at least thus far.

On the other hand, yet again the call for decentralized actions didn’t produce widespread resistance—at least as far as we know at this moment. Many anarchists argued that it would be easier to act in cells in their respectful communities and target corporate sponsors as the security apparatus would be concentrated in Vancouver. However, it is undeniable at this time of writing that the most effective resistance yet has been at the convergence itself.

This is only a preliminary assessment of this convergence. There are many other actions and demonstrations planned, and we won’t know the full scale of everything until the dust settles. The Olympics continue in Vancouver for two weeks. There is still time to plan solidarity actions. A list of corporate sponsors can be found here. A full assessment of this movement, the involvement of anarchists, and what it means for the future of militant struggle in “Canada” will appear in the near future.


Anarchists to pigs: Get the fuck out of our community!

Further Coverage
Vancouver Media Coop
Friendly Fire Collective
Insurgent Photo

Monday, February 15, 2010

2,000 Protest Opening Ceremonies of 2010 Olympics


Take Back the City Protesters confront police line

Police clash with anti-Olympic protesters
CBC News, Friday, February 12, 2010
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2010/02/12/bc-anti-olymp...
Rows of police prevent anti-Olympic protesters from getting within 200 metres of BC Place, site of the opening ceremonies Friday night. Rows of police prevent anti-Olympic protesters from getting within 200 metres of BC Place, site of the opening ceremonies Friday night. (CBC)

Anti-Olympic protesters clashed with police in downtown Vancouver on Friday night as the marchers tried to approach BC Place, where opening ceremonies for the 2010 Games were underway.

Some protesters sprayed vinegar in officers' eyes, threw sticks, and spit on officers, police said.

Two officers were injured with flying objects and one was sent to hospital with a shoulder injury but was treated and released, said Const. Lindsey Houghton.

The 125 officers assembled in two rows, along with six police officials on horseback and managed to hold back the crowd, estimated at 1,500.

No protesters were injured.

One man was taken into custody and is facing a charge of assault, Houghton said.

Protesters got as far as the corner of Robson and Beatty streets before being stopped at the police lines, about 200 metres from BC Place stadium.

The protesters rallied outside the Vancouver Art Gallery at 3 p.m. before starting their seven-block walk to the stadium. They marched along West Georgia Street to Homer Street, where they turned south then east on Robson toward BC Place, where the ceremonies began at 6 p.m. local time.
Anti-Olympic protesters march along Robson Street in downtown Vancouver on Friday as the opening ceremonies were set to begin. Anti-Olympic protesters march along Robson Street in downtown Vancouver on Friday as the opening ceremonies were set to begin. (CBC)

Placards carried by the demonstrators suggested many disagreed with spending taxpayer money on the Games instead of targeting social problems.

Organizers said they wanted the protest to remain peaceful.

About 200 protesters forced organizers to reroute the Olympic torch relay twice early Friday as the runners made their way through the Downtown Eastside.

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/british-columbia/story/2010/02/12/bc-anti-olymp...

Two officers injured in protest; one arrested
http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20100213/bc_olympics_pr...
Upwards of 1,500 protest marchers opposed to the Vancouver Winter Olympics were stopped short of reaching the site of the Games' opening ceremonies Friday evening by a three-deep line of police.

The protest was largely peaceful, with only one arrest after two officers were hurt during a confrontation when marchers came face to face with police.

The chanting demonstrators, who are opposed to the Games for all kinds of reasons, had hoped to reach the plaza of B.C. Place Stadium, where 60,600 people were witnessing the colourful spectacle.

"We knew this was going to be a successful march from the beginning," said Sozan Savehilaghi, an organizer with the anti-Olympic 2010 Welcoming Committee. "People we were talking to on the streets when we were flyering, everybody was like, 'Yeah, the Olympics is really like a pain."'

But the police, clad in fluorescent yellow vests and baseball caps, blocked protesters on the street in front of the stadium. Behind the human barricade was a line of horse-mounted officers dressed in riot gear, their horses' eyes covered by protective shields.

The protest was largely peaceful until objects began being hurled at police from inside a group of masked, black-clad demonstrators shielded by their own large banners.

Police reacted by beginning to push the crowd back step-by-step. Scuffles broke out on the front line as banners were torn down.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu said two officers were hurt -- one stabbed in the hand by a pointed stick, the other taken to hospital after being hit in the shoulder by something thrown from the crowd.

Chu said one protester was arrested and would likely face an assault charge.

The protest began a few blocks away at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the city's traditional site of demonstrations.

Some groups were opposed to the Games on grounds the money would be better spent helping the homeless and alleviating poverty on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, or that despite claims of being green they were a blot on the environment.

Despite the partnership of four First Nations in the Games, aboriginal dissidents protested the Olympics were taking place on stolen land while many natives live in poverty.

But others -- opposed to Canadian troops in Afghanistan, upset at a road-building project outside Vancouver -- had no apparent connection to the anti-Olympic movement.

Chu said the demonstrators were able to exercise their right to protest but police were there to prevent the marchers from potentially disrupting the opening ceremonies.

"That line had several surges during the evening, with protesters trying to get past the line," he said.

"I can tell you our officers acted with exceptional restraint, and in the end the protesters even shook some of the officers' hands before they left."

Chu said the final legal of the torch run, which had been diverted a couple of times earlier Friday, was not affected by the march.

Anti-Olympic protest mostly peaceful, despite tense moments
By Doug Ward, Vancouver Sun, February 12, 2010

Protestors push against Vancouver police lines Thursday outside the BC Place before the start of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games to protest the Olympics and poverty.

VANCOUVER -- There were some tense moments but the march by thousands of anti-Olympic protesters to B.C. Place stadium Thursday was a mostly peaceful affair that did not disrupt the arrival of spectators to the 2010 Olympic opening ceremony.

The police allowed the protest march of about 2,000 people to proceed unimpeded from the Vancouver Art Gallery to the corner of Beatty and Robson in front of the stadium.

A nearly two-hour standoff between two phalanxes of police and protesters followed with the anarchist black flag waving about 40 meters in front of the Terry Fox monument and beside the Alberta House where people drank beer and watched the opening ceremony on television.

At one point there was pushing and shoving between police and protesters when a small group of demonstrators surged toward the police with a banner made of bamboo.

The police grabbed the bamboo banner, linked arms and briefly pushed back against the crowd.

Said Vancouver police in a statement after the standoff: "Protesters intent on provoking police moved to the front of the line and began throwing traffic barricades around. Their tactics then escalated as they sprayed vinegar in officers' eyes, threw sticks, and spit on members.Officers on the front line maintained restraint and despite several surges from the crowd, the line held steady."

Demonstrators started shouting “the whole world is watching” but gradually the tension dissipated and many protesters began to walk back towards the art gallery.

The anti-Olympic demonstrators began the march chanting their signature slogan: “No Olympics on Stolen Native Land.”

As they marched along Georgia Street underneath the giant posters of Olympic athletes on the wall of The Bay department store, a small group of anarchists in black hoodies and bandannas, began chanting “this is a ...class war” and “smash...the state.”

Protest organizer Alissa Westergard-Thorpe, midway into the march, said she was happy with the event.

“We’ve had a really lively festival at the art gallery and we’re having a really boisterous march. We’re happy that so far we’ve been allowed to exercise our rights to expression and assembly.”

Another protest leader, Chris Shaw, speaking to the crowd at the outset, said that “I’ve been dreaming about this for seven years.”

He applauded the demonstrators for confronting the “Olympic circus”

He added that “I wasn’t very proud of my country when I watched the flags go up and all the hooliganism and boosterism. That’s shameful.”

Standing along the protesters were many neutral rubber-neckers who came to watch what would happen. “This protest is about five years too late,” said Jay Sher, who was waiting for his daughter who was attending the opening ceremony.

“But most of us are here to watch to see if the protesters cross the police line. It’s like watching a NASCAR race and waiting to see the crash.”

The protesters carried banners that read: “5 RINGS SHACKLE US TO DEBT,” “ALL OF CANADA IS A FREEDOM OF SPEECH ZONE.”

International media jogged amid the crowd and climbed on top of barricades and newspaper boxes to take photographs.

Earlier on Friday more than 200 protesters - many of them dressed in black with their faces covered by scarves - blocked traffic along Commer
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

Saturday, February 13, 2010

America, the land of inequality

From World Socialist Web Site

13 February 2010

New studies reveal that the social divide between rich and poor in the US has grown much starker in the current economic crisis, and that even before it hit the country was the most unequal of the advanced economies, with great wealth and extreme poverty having become virtually hereditary conditions.

President Barack Obama has done nothing to reverse decades of wage stagnation, mounting poverty, and attacks on the social welfare system. On the contrary, following George W. Bush, he has seized on the crisis to redistribute wealth to a tiny financial elite through the ongoing bailout of the finance industry.

This demonstrates a fundamental political reality: no reform that benefits the broad masses can come from a government and two-party system so openly in the clutches of Wall Street. The financial aristocracy’s grip over all the levers of state power must be broken by the working class, independently mobilized behind a socialist program.

The impoverishment of the working masses amidst the current economic crisis is documented by a recent report from Northeastern University analyzing unemployment in 2009, based on income data for the previous year.

Unemployment in the fourth quarter of 2009 for those in the bottom 10 percent of household earnings was at the Depression level of 31 percent. A broader measure of unemployment, the labor market underutilization rate—which combines unemployment, underemployment, and those who have fallen out of the workforce because they have ceased actively searching for work—was over 50 percent among the bottom decile of earners, for the second decile, 37.6 percent, and for the third and fourth lowest income deciles, 17.1 percent and 15 percent, respectively. For the top 10 percent of earners, the underutilization rate was 6.1 percent.

The data is indicative of “a true Great Depression,” according to the report, yet “there was no labor market recession for America’s affluent.”

The sharp polarization that reveals itself in fabulous wealth for a handful, on the one hand, and unemployment, wage cuts, homelessness and hunger for broad layers of working people on the other, marks an intensification of longer-term trends.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), “While many middle-income families have lost jobs, homes, and retirement savings during the latest recession, their economic woes date back much further.” In the 30 years before 2008—the onset of the current crisis—nearly 35 percent of total income growth in the US was cornered by the top one-tenth of 1 percent of income earners. The bottom 90 percent shared only 15.9 of income growth in the same period.

According to the United Nation’s Gini coefficient, which measures the national distribution of family income, the US had the highest level of inequality of the highly industrialized countries, based on the data available in 2008. It was ranked as slightly more unequal than Sri Lanka, and on a par with Ghana and Turkmenistan. In the Central Intelligence Agency World Fact Book’s Gini ranking for 2008, the US fell just behind Cameroon.

The apologists for US capitalism have long claimed that, though inequality may be great, America is a land where anyone can go “from rags to riches” by “pulling themselves up by their boot straps.”

Not so, according to a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which concludes that in the US “mobility in earnings, wages and education across generations” is at or near the lowest of the advanced economies. The US joined Italy and Britain as the countries where a worker’s father’s earnings are most determinant of his or her own wages. Moreover, in the US the role of parents’ educational level on the educational achievement of their children was more pronounced than any other country, the report reveals.

The vast polarization of wealth in the US will only intensify. According to the Obama administration’s rosy economic estimates, unemployment will not return to its pre-crash levels before the end of the decade. More realistic observers, however, acknowledge that mass unemployment will be a fixture of US life, and higher-paying jobs destroyed in the recession will never return. Combined with declining home values, skyrocketing health care and higher education costs, chronically high unemployment will result in steadily rising poverty.

But for the CEOs and bankers perched at the pinnacle of US society, the economic crisis has proven an out-and-out bonanza, a recent New York Times report reveals. John G. Stumpf, the head of the bank Wells Fargo, took home $18.7 million in 2009. Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan was number two in banker pay with $17.6 million in compensation. Lloyd Blankfein, whose Goldman Sachs has reaped windfall profits in the financial collapse, was awarded “only” $10 million.

These big name bankers are only the tip of the iceberg. “There are probably thousands of people that are in the Millionaire Club—or even the Ten Millionaire Club—that have gotten no heat,” Wall Street compensation expert Alan Johnson told the Times.

Obama defends these obscene pay packages. “I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth,” he said of the eight-figure rewards for same financial executives whose firms have benefited from trillions in taxpayer support. “That is part of the free-market system.”

In fact “most of the American people” not only begrudge these ill-gotten gains. They wonder why they have yet to see news footage of bankers and traders arrested and hauled from their plush offices. Now working class anger is becoming increasingly trained on the political system, which, as a year’s experience with the Obama administration has taught, does the bidding of Wall Street regardless of which party controls the White House and Congress.

The antidote to the plundering of society that has gone unchecked for decades is the nationalization of the banks and their transformation into public institutions, democratically controlled by working people. The ill-gotten gains of the lords of finance must be expropriated and used to put in place a program of full employment, free universal health care, free higher education, and infrastructure development.

The fight for this program requires the mobilization of the working class in the US and internationally, independent of the Democrats and Republicans and all the political formations that defend the existing capitalist set-up.

Tom Eley

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

FREE MUMIA

From Worker's World

http://www.workers.org/2010/us/free_mumia_0218/

Feb. 13 international teach-in to demand:

Published Feb 10, 2010 7:21 PM

In light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened the door for reinstatement of the death penalty for political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal, activists from the Philadelphia region, across the U.S. and around the globe will take part in an important teach-in in Philadelphia on Feb. 13, to take up the next stage in the struggle to free Mumia.

The event, from noon to 5 p.m. at the Abiding Truth Ministries Church in west Philadelphia, will provide updates on the latest legal developments, including the Jan. 19 U.S. Supreme Court decision that sends Abu-Jamal’s case back to the Third Circuit Court to reconsider a ruling made by Judge William Yohn that overturned the death sentence in 2001. The Supreme Court’s decision also went against a 2008 Third Circuit Court ruling which granted a new sentencing phase jury trial if the death penalty was to be reinstated for Abu-Jamal.

Both decisions are very dangerous, particularly in light of the recent election of Philadelphia’s first African-American district attorney, Seth Williams, who campaigned on the promise to execute Abu-Jamal should the death sentence be reinstated.

The Feb. 13 program will connect local, national and even international activists involved in the 28-year-long fight to free Abu-Jamal through a network of video conferencing and video streaming. While most participants will gather for the teach-in in Philadelphia, those from other U.S. cities as well as Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean will be able to share in presentations and discussion on upcoming action proposals via the Internet.

Information will also be provided for those unfamiliar with this important case of the U.S.’s most prominent death row inmate, whose legal case dates back to Dec. 9, 1981, when Abu-Jamal was framed up for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Throughout the long series of legal proceedings since then, which have often involved gross violations of his civil and legal rights, Abu-Jamal has maintained his innocence. The Feb. 13 meeting will address the state’s efforts to silence Abu-Jamal — referred to by many as “the voice of the voiceless” — a campaign dating back to the 1970s Cointelpro campaign, when he was a young leader in the Philadelphia chapter of the Black Panther Party.

Students and Young People for Mumia

Recognizing that it will take more than one campaign or one rally to win this important struggle, the meeting will provide updates on ongoing campaigns as well as the opportunity for new proposals to be raised, including expanding outreach to and education of students and youth, many of whom were not yet born when Abu-Jamal was first incarcerated or were young children during the massive rallies on his behalf in the late 1990s.

The necessity to reach young people was addressed by Larry Hales, speaking on behalf of the national youth organization FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together). Hales noted, “If it were not for a vigilant international campaign, Mumia would not be alive today. But much more vociferous action is required now, during this period of extreme economic downturn when millions have been laid off, are suffering, and more and more people are being fed into the prison industrial complex.

“Students and young people are needed at the forefront of such a movement. Mumia, who first became politically active at the age of 15 and was a former member of the Black Panther Party, is a hero for young people.

“He has continued to be a member of the community of oppressed people fighting for a better world free from oppression, repression and exploitation,” said Hales. “He has continued to speak for the voiceless, the hundreds of thousands who are locked in cages, removed from society, and the many more who are caught up in the so-called criminal justice system.”

FIST is calling on students and youth to join in a new formation, Students and Young People for Mumia. Hales, who had a face-to-face meeting with Abu-Jamal this past September, told Workers World, “Mumia Abu-Jamal faces perhaps the most crucial period since 1999, when then governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Ridge, signed the last of the two death warrants for Mumia, the first being in 1995.

“Life in prison is no option over the death penalty, but the struggle to free Mumia has always been a struggle that has had to fight to keep him alive while at the same time demanding his freedom. At all costs it is important to stop the plans of the state of Pennsylvania to kill Mumia.”

The Feb. 13 teach-in will provide updates on two important international petition campaigns on Abu-Jamal’s behalf. The petitions are addressed to both President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and call for an investigation into civil rights violations in this case as well as an examination into the role played by the treacherous Cointelpro campaign against Abu-Jamal.

The teach-in will also take up a series of meetings and demonstrations being proposed from March through July 2010 to broaden awareness of the case and garner more support for Abu-Jamal. “Time is running out,” stressed Pam Africa, chairperson of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is a key sponsor of the Feb. 13 event. “The time for organizing is now, organizing with all the strength that you have. Tell the people they must get into the streets in order to save this brother who has been on the front lines, from death row, on every issue of social justice that there is.”

For more information on the Feb. 13 event, call 215-476-8812, 212-330-8029, or 212-633-6646, or visit www.freemumia.com or www.millions4mumia.org.


Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Spanish Communist Party seeks to re-found United Left

From World Socialist Web Site

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2010/feb2010/pce-f08.shtml

By Alejandro López and Paul Mitchell
8 February 2010

The Spanish Communist Party (PCE) is seeking to re-found the United Left (Izquierda Unida), the political coalition that it set up in 1986. The manoeuvre reflects the rapid decline and lurch to the right of the PCE/IU.

IU coordinator and leading PCE member Cayo Lara declared that the re-founding congress will be the “reconstruction of the alternative and transformative left,” adding that the coalition is the only “political force able to make a broad and open appeal to all segments of the left.”

The ruling Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) led by José Luis Zapatero has become widely discredited after six years in power. It has defended the interests of Spain’s ruling elite at the expense of the working population, pandered to the right-wing Popular Party (PP) and sought to block the working class from defending its economic and political interests. Those workers who voted for the PSOE in 2004, after eight years of the PP’s pro-business and pro-war policies, feel betrayed by its continuing attacks on living standards and democratic rights.

A key requirement of the ruling elite is the formation of a mechanism with which to prevent social opposition from developing into a political movement that might threaten the fundamental interests of big business. Once again, the PCE is being called on to fulfil this role.

The IU was thrown into crisis in early 2008 on the eve of the general election, which threatened the downfall of the PSOE government. A faction led by IU coordinator Gaspar Llamazares, backed by the PCE, attempted to oust the “critics” from the organisation as it sought to get closer to the PSOE. This had reached the point of offering to take up ministerial positions in a new government.

Both factions had the same essential political orientation, differing only on tactics. The main concern of the “critics” was that the IU had become so closely associated with the PSOE government that it would be unable to maintain support amongst more left-leaning workers.

In the event, the IU lost most of its own seats, ending up with just two deputies—down from 21 in 1996—and the PSOE sought the support of the Basque and Catalan nationalist parties instead. Subsequently, Llamazares resigned his post as coordinator and major figures like Inés Sabanés and Rosa Aguilar deserted the coalition. The PCE put Lara forward as its candidate to replace Llamazares. He was appointed as coordinator in December 2009 by the Federal Political Council with 65 percent support. Straight away, Lara declared that there is “great fear to appear anti-PSOE” within the coalition, adding that “we must refine our tactics” and avoid “bad misinterpretations.”

In order to prepare for the re-founding of the IU, the PCE held its own congress in November 2009. A motion to leave the IU, effectively leading to its collapse, received the support of only 13 percent of the delegates.

Francisco Frutos was replaced as general secretary by José Luis Centella, the only candidate standing, with 85 percent of the votes. Centella comes from the PCE Andalusian section, which has historically been more conciliatory towards the non-PCE parties within the coalition.

In his farewell report, Frutos admitted the scale of the crisis within the IU when he said that the organisation had nearly collapsed, but claimed “the relationship between the IU and CP (Communist Party) has improved immensely since the IU Conference in 2008, because there is mutual respect.”

“We, the founders of IU, are not going to allow it to go up the creek. And it nearly happened. IU was on the point of disappearing as a political reference after the last general elections,” he added.

Frutos warned, “The worst crisis of capitalism can end up with a new defeat and reverse for the workers movement and the left as a whole…the social, syndicalist, political and intellectual response of the left is practically non-existent in Europe.”

Centella concurred saying, “There isn’t much room for the left. The problem is that IU has not looked for its space, has not known how to define it, it has not had the will. Now it is beginning to do it.”

When asked if he thought the process of IU re-foundation would reduce the PCE’s domination of the coalition, Centella answered, “We will confront the re-foundation with all our loyalty. We want to be part of IU, not the hegemonic part or the one which is sitting in a corner. We want to converge with other forces. We will be less hegemonic, but there will be more people.”

“What is new is that the concept of revolution today is not that of the last century. Today the fundamental question is a participating democracy, not to take the power,” Centella declared.

Centella’s avowal of reformism is in line with the PCE’s Keynesian policies of “a public banking system; for the strategic sectors of the economy to be in public hands, beginning with energy; a clearly progressive fiscal system and mechanisms for democratic control.”

During the PSOE government of Felipe González that came to power in 1982, disillusionment quickly set in. Popular discontent erupted leading to a general strike over González’s decision to join NATO, the closure of steel plants and shipyards and soaring unemployment which reached 24 percent. It was during this crisis, in 1986, that the PCE created the IU as a coalition of PSOE dissidents, liberals, left nationalists, radicals and Greens in order to divert the mounting rebellion into a movement to pressurise the PSOE to implement a more left-reformist policy.

A consequence of this policy was the election in 1996 of the PP, a party with clear links to Franco’s fascist National Movement. Its leaders had held high positions within the regime, including Manuel Fraga, a former Minister of Tourism, and the new PP Prime Minister José María Aznar, who had belonged to the Falangist Youth.

The fact that the PSOE lost 11 percent of its votes, while the IU obtained its best ever results, gaining 10.5 percent, indicated that workers were looking to the IU for a political alternative to the pro-business policies, privatisation and social attacks of the PSOE government. But support for the IU subsequently nose-dived, despite the extremely rightwing character of the Aznar government. This was because its policies were virtually indistinguishable from those of the PSOE. After the catastrophic vote in 2008, even Frutos was forced to note that “the people prefer to vote for the original [the PSOE], not the copy [the IU].”

Today, Spain is experiencing a social catastrophe. Unemployment stands at 20.5 percent, and among those aged 16-25 it is 40 percent. The last publication from the Centre of Sociological Studies shows that around 70 percent of workers see the economic situation as bad or very bad. According to Le Figaro, 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, earning less than 7,753 euro annually for a single person and less than 11,630 euro for a couple. The PSOE is preparing cuts in social spending and a reform of labour legislation, as demanded by big business.

Last October, the PSOE was able to pass the annual national budget. The IU had been “offering their hand up to the last minute” in an attempt to convince the government to implement an alternative budget. Instead the government rejected its “offer” and looked to the Basque Nationalist Party and Canaries Coalition for support. The IU’s main objective has been to pressure the government to modify its fiscal policy, especially the increase in the VAT sales tax. It has removed from its programme the nationalisation of companies privatised under the González governments, the abolition of companies based on temporary work and the withdrawal of Spain from NATO.

The IU has not even tried to mobilise its supporters against the government’s many attacks, including raising taxes on the middle and working classes and cutting the 400 euro handout it promised every taxpayer in its election manifesto. Minister of Labour Celestino Corbacho recently declared that he is proposing to raise the retirement age to 67.

The IU has also covered for Spain’s largest trade union, the CC.OO that was founded by the PCE, which has strangled every initiative or independent action by the working class. Lara declared, “We wanted to strike, but it is a question that must be decided by the unions, and the major trade unions have said that the conditions do not exist [to strike].” Delegates at the PCE congress refused to change any policies relating to the CC.OO with one saying, “We will not put [CC.OO] on an equal basis with the others…. CC.OO remains the reference trade union of the PCE. ”

Friday, February 5, 2010

Sovereign debt fears trigger plunge in global markets

From World Socialist Web Site

By Patrick O’Connor
5 February 2010

Stock markets in the US, Europe and other regions plunged yesterday in response to growing fears over the size of sovereign debt in several countries. Greece is on the verge of national bankruptcy and international investors are sceptical about the government’s ability to implement the savage cuts to wages and social spending required to lower its deficit from 12.7 percent of gross domestic product to just 3 percent by 2012. Portugal and Spain face a similar situation.

Underlying the crisis in the eurozone is the question as to whether US capitalism can finance its mounting debts and remain solvent in the long term. On Wednesday, Moody’s Investors Service warned that America’s triple-A sovereign credit rating will soon come under pressure unless economic growth is higher than forecast, or the Obama administration moves to reduce the fiscal deficit by initiating new and deeper spending cuts. Moody’s warned that the current US debt trajectory was “clearly continuously upward”.

This year’s US budget deficit of nearly $1.6 trillion is equivalent to 10.6 percent of GDP, a record high since 1945. As a proportion of GDP, the US deficit is not far off Greece’s but is higher than Spain’s and twice the eurozone average. Only the dollar’s status as the world currency has so far prevented Washington from coming under the same pressures as Greece and other southern European countries.

Yesterday’s market decline began in Europe after European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet issued what was reported as an “unusually stern warning” that other eurozone countries as well as Greece required “strong reforms” to cut their deficits. Spain’s leading share index closed 6 percent lower, Portuguese shares lost 5 percent, and the Greek index declined 3.3 percent. London’s FTSE100 finished down 2.2 percent to its lowest level since last November. The euro fell to a seven-month low against the dollar.

Yesterday’s sell-off on Wall Street was partially due to worse than expected employment data. Initial claims for jobless benefits rose last week, dampening expectations of any improvement in the official unemployment rate that is to be updated today. The Dow Jones index briefly fell below the 10,000 mark before closing at 10,002—2.6 percent lower. This was its worst one-day decline since April 2009. The Dow has lost 6.5 percent in the past fortnight. Other New York indexes also finished lower yesterday—the S&P 500 lost 3.1 percent and the Nasdaq 3 percent.

Asian markets were mostly lower. Japan’s Nikkei index was down 0.5 percent while China’s Shanghai Composite lost 0.3 percent.

A Barclays Capital spokesman said the European Union may need to invoke emergency treaty powers to guarantee Greek debt. “If not contained, this could result in a ‘Lehman-style’ tsunami spreading across much of the EU,” Barclays’ Julian Callow told the British Telegraph.

This threat underscores the reality that the measures taken in response to the 2008 financial crash—including unprecedented bank bailouts, coordinated global stimulus spending measures, and near-zero official interest rates in many economies—have only compounded the underlying contradictions that gave rise to the crisis. Moreover, the latest share market gyrations may point to the imminent winding back of the stimulatory fiscal and monetary policies that triggered something of a rebound in the financial sector’s fortunes over the past 10 months.

The International Monetary Fund recently warned governments that withdrawing emergency stimulus spending too soon risked triggering a “double dip” recession. “But if bond markets decide that sustained public spending and high deficits in some countries risk creating an unsustainable debt position, then they will take matters into their own hands,” a Wall Street Journal article noted. “Schroders on Wednesday became the latest big investor to warn that the debt markets are in no mood to forgive politicians who fail to grasp their concerns. Faced with this pressure from the markets, policy makers in highly indebted countries will face an unpalatable choice: cut voluntarily, and take the risk the recovery is damaged; or have cuts forced on them in the midst of a market crisis. They may not have long to make up their minds.”

This now applies to many of the world’s major economies. “The issue of sovereign debt dominated many discussions in the Davos World Economic Forum last week,” the Financial Times explained. “While much attention focussed on the fiscal crisis in Greece, considerable concern was also voiced about the outlook for countries such as the US and UK... At the heart of investor concerns is whether countries such as the US with its rising debt burdens has the political will, or the sense of consensus, to take decisive measures to cut debt.”

Put more directly, “investor concerns” centre on whether national governments are going to be able to ram through draconian cuts to public spending—including welfare support, social infrastructure, health, education, and public sector jobs and wages—in the face of overwhelming opposition within the population. The global financial elites are now being forced to take note of a new factor in the situation—the re-emergence of the class struggle, with the working class beginning to intervene in defence of its interests.

The Wall Street Journal yesterday noted that investors had initially welcomed the EU’s endorsement of the Greek government’s plan to slash the deficit, but the country’s bonds were promptly sold off again after trade unions announced that a general strike would be held on February 24.

One WSJ commentator, Paul Hannon, wrote a piece for the newspaper’s internet blog section titled “Is Greece Governable?” Bemoaning a lack of “obedience and sense of common purpose” among ordinary Greeks, Hannon equated “governability” with Prime Minister George Papandreou’s ability to crush resistance to his austerity drive. “Having questioned the governability of Greece, bond investors are now having the same doubts about some other countries with large budget deficits, which explains why the cost of insuring Portuguese government bonds against default has risen to a record high, and why investors are also selling Spanish government bonds,” the article continued.

Portuguese workers are reportedly staging their first protest against spending cuts today. The country’s minority social democratic government is in a major crisis, with opposition parties pressing a regional finance bill that could increase overall spending. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Jorge Lacao has warned that approval of the legislation “brings problems for governability”, adding that “what is at stake is the credibility of the Portuguese state at a time when it is absolutely indispensable that the state shows rigour in its public accounts”.

The question of “governability” is increasingly relevant to every advanced capitalist state, not just the most vulnerable eurozone economies, which have been dubbed the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain). That includes the US where unemployment is continuing to climb and the Obama administration is preparing massive inroads into social programs, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Howard Zinn: "We Should Not Give Up the Game Before All the Cards Have Been Played"

From Alternet: http://www.alternet.org/media/145499/howard_zinn%3A_%22we_should_not_give_up_the_game_before_all_the_cards_have_been_played%22_

February 2, 2010

American historian, playwright and social activist Howard Zinn died January 27, 2010, aged 87. His light will shine bright into the far off future. A new socially just world will owe a great debt to Howard and others like him who gave so much of themselves for us. -- ZNet Staff

Below is an excerpt from his recent book A Power Governments Cannot Suppress published by City Lights Books, www.citylights.com. At the bottom of this commentary are links to various ZNet obituaries remembering Howard.

In this world of war and injustice, how does a person manage to stay socially engaged, committed to the struggle, and remain healthy without burning out or becoming resigned or cynical?

I am totally confident not that the world will get better, but that we should not give up the game before all the cards have been played. The metaphor is deliberate; life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world.

There is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions, by extraordinary changes in people's thoughts, by unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, by the quick collapse of systems of power that seemed invincible.

What leaps out from the history of the past hundred years is its utter unpredictability. A revolution to overthrow the czar of Russia in that most sluggish of semi feudal empires not only startled the most advanced imperial powers but took Lenin himself by surprise and sent him rushing by train to Petrograd. Who would have predicted the bizarre shifts of World War II-the Nazi-Soviet pact (those embarrassing photos of von Ribbentrop and Molotov shaking hands), and the German army rolling through Russia, apparently invincible, causing colossal casualties, being turned back at the gates of Leningrad, on the western edge of Moscow, in the streets of Stalingrad, followed by the defeat of the German army, with Hitler huddled in his Berlin bunker, waiting to die?

And then the postwar world, taking a shape no one could have drawn in advance: The Chinese Communist revolution, the tumultuous and violent Cultural Revolution, and then another turnabout, with post-Mao China renouncing its most fervently held ideas and institutions, making overtures to the West, cuddling up to capitalist enterprise, perplexing everyone.

No one foresaw the disintegration of the old Western empires happening so quickly after the war, or the odd array of societies that would be created in the newly independent nations, from the benign village socialism of Nyerere's Tanzania to the madness of Idi Amin's adjacent Uganda. Spain became an astonishment. I recall a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade telling me that he could not imagine Spanish Fascism being overthrown without another bloody war. But after Franco was gone, a parliamentary democracy came into being, open to Socialists, Communists, anarchists, everyone.

The end of World War II left two superpowers with their respective spheres of influence and control, vying for military and political power. Yet they were unable to control events, even in those parts of the world considered to be their respective spheres of influence. The failure of the Soviet Union to have its way in Afghanistan, its decision to withdraw after almost a decade of ugly intervention, was the most striking evidence that even the possession of thermonuclear weapons does not guarantee domination over a determined population.

The United States has faced the same reality. It waged a full-scale war in Indochina, conducting the most brutal bombardment of a tiny peninsula in world history, and yet was forced to withdraw. In the headlines every day we see other instances of the failure of the presumably powerful over the presumably powerless, as in Bolivia and Brazil, where grassroots movements of workers and the poor have elected new presidents pledged to fight destructive corporate power.