Sunday, 13 November 2011

Naked and Afraid

Many of us find ourselves in situations where we feel we have nothing to offer, because of personal circumstances, we're really stretched in one way or another. And at the same time we see the suffering of humanity, see conflict and wars and destruction, and feel compelled to come forward. Yet we are naked and afraid.
We don't come full of promise, bursting with proclamations of what we will achieve. We come because we must. Because we have to respond, and we know we are being asked to give everything. Not materially, but to give up everything we have been holding on to, the familiar which keeps us in our comfort zone. And rise to heights we have not dreamed of. That is what is required. We sense that.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Terry Patten - Beyond Awakening, The Future of Spritual Practice

Research is teaching us that the most important creative new ideas come not from remarkable individuals but from the interactions of highly creative and collaborative communities.
We keep encountering fresh evidence that, in the famous phrase, "we are smarter than me." Meanwhile, many of us are discovering that "my" creativity is an expression of something larger, the inherent creativity of the Kosmos itself. We're realizing that we don't have to "try" to be creative, but that, when we get out of the way, we already are creative. In fact, we're an expression of creativity itself!

Greece and Italy - Bankers Rule OK!

Italy and Greece: rule by the bankers

By michael roberts It looks as though, by Monday, both Greece and Italy will be ruled by so-called ‘technocratic’ governments.  Even though both Greek prime minister George Papandreou and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi were elected comfortably in parliamentary polls and were never defeated in any vote of confidence in parliament, they have been ousted – to be replaced by unelected ex-central bankers and former executives of hedge funds and investment banks.  From now on, financial markets will rule directly over the lives of the Italian and Greek people.
Democracy should be put above markets, said Papandreou.  Berlusconi said that the appointment of a government of technocrats would be “an undemocratic coup” that ignored the 2008 election result.  But it is still happening.  In Greece, Lucas Papademos will become prime minister.  He was head of the Greek central bank when Greece joined the euro and boasts of his leading role in achieving that.  Now he takes over in order to keep Greece in the euro, a decision that now President Sarkozi says was “a mistake”.  Papademos was in charge when Greek officials lied about their fiscal position to the EU authorities and he presided over the failure of the Greek government to collect taxes from rich Greeks (like himself).  But he is now the financial markets’ own man.  Greece is to be run by the very man most responsible for getting them into this mess.  It’s like Alan Greenspan taking over as President after Wall Street demanded President Obama step down for failing to cut entitlement spending enough to balance the budget!
In Italy, Mario Monti and  Giuliano Amato are to take over.  Monti is a mainstream economics professor who briefly worked for (guess who?) Goldman Sachs and then became EU competition commissioner for many years, where he insisted on  ‘liberalising and deregulating’ markets.  He is a close friend of the new ECB chief, ‘Super Mario’ Draghi, another Italian banker.  In the 1990s, when a number of countries, including Italy and Greece, engaged deliberately in credit swap transactions to take part of government debt and deficits off the official accounts with the connivance and help of Goldman Sachs in particular, Draghi was director general of the Italian Treasury and then joined Goldman Sachs (2002-2005).  Draghi and Papademos both got their doctorates in economics at MIT in 1978.  Amato is a ‘centre left’ ex prime minister who was close to the corrupt social democrat premier Craxi of the 1990s.  He was head of the Italian anti-trust commission which tried to deregulate the economy especially in financial services.
Now Silvio Berlusconi is like the Rupert Murdoch of Italy, only worse.  He is Italy’s media mogul who dominated politics there for 15 years through a range of trickery, bribery and corruption (he is facing up to 15 charges in the courts once he resigns), alongside his penchant for parties and young women.  His denial of any euro crisis was staggering.  He told the press only last week : “The life in Italy is the life of a wealthy country: consumptions haven’t diminished, it’s hard to find seats on planes, our restaurants are full of people.”  Speaking earlier at the NYSE, he said  “Italy is now a great country to invest in… today we have fewer communists and those who are still there deny having been one.   Another reason to invest in Italy is that we have beautiful secretaries… superb girls.”   In the earthquake that hit central Italy in 2009, he told homeless survivors that they should see their plight “like a weekend of camping.”  And so it went on.
But at least Berlusconi was elected.  Now he is to replaced not by new elected leader but by central bankers and investment bankers.  They will take orders from the EU, the ECB, and the IMF, the dread Troika.  The IMF is led by ex-French finance minister Christine Lagarde.  Lagarde used to head up a global law firm that advised on ‘creative accounting’ schemes for government debt and her deputy David Lipton used to work at Moore Capital, a global hedge fund.  The EU  body that will oversee the Greek bailout package and may buy Italian debt is the EFSF.  Its headed by Klaus Regling, who worked at hedge fund Moore Capital!   In 2009 he lectured: ” The monetary union will work better in the next ten years than in the last ten years, considering the overall scheme of things”.  Fees from EFSF bond issuance will be worth 1% of a likely $100bn of issuance to the big European banks and the likes of Goldman Sachs.   So they will be making good money out of the ‘bailout’ funding.
These bankers are now in charge because the elected leaders of the Greek and Italian people were unable to satisfy the demands of investors in their government bonds.  Europe’s banks, pension and insurance companies and hedge funds stopped buying government debt in Greece and Italy.  It’s not that the elected leaders did not try to meet the demands of the financial sector.  The social democrat leaders in Greece were prepared to face riots, strikes and opposition in their party to do the bidding of finance capital.  Italy’s centre left opposition is now allowing yet another draconian budget in to go through parliament on the nod this week.  But all their efforts were not enough to assuage the needs of their creditors.  Now the bankers prefer to have their own people directly in charge.
And what is the plan?  The bankers will insist on introducing more public sector spending cuts, higher taxes. massive privatisation of state assets and other measures to ensure that all the bonds held by the European financial sector are paid back in full and there is no default.  The Greeks have been allowed to default partially on 50% of the debts held by the private sector, but so that the average Greek still suffers a 30% reduction in living standards over the next decade.  Even that will not relieve Greece of its burden.  Government debt will still be at 120% of GDP by the end of the decade at best (probably more like 140%), keeping the burden of repayment on the backs of a whole generation of Greeks.  The Italians are facing the same treatment.  As one Italian citizen, Pietro Pappagallo, a 58 year-old from Bari, put it: “Im worried about my savings that could become waste paper.  All the efforts to put something aside and I won’t get anything for it.   I’ve already faced four changes of my pension.  I had planned my life out and now they say I have to work more.  As a father, I worry for my children, who will probably never have a pension.”
Finance capital wants to be paid in full (with the least amount of default on their investment).  But the Euro leaders also want what they see as profligate states like Greece and Italy to toe the line on fiscal prudence and run balanced budgets and get their debt down so that the burden of taxation on the profits of the capitalist sector can be reduced.  And they want the Eurozone to survive as the core of Europe’s prominence in world affairs.  The breakup of the euro would be disastrous for that.  But after the traumatic events of the last few months, they are now prepared to countenance the ousting of Greece from the euro unless they meet their fiscal targets and slash living standards for the Greek people.   But if Italy fails, then the euro would break up.  That is why the bankers have taken over.
The reality is that, despite all the efforts of the social democrat leaders in adopting ‘neo-liberal’ policies of fiscal austerity, privatisation, reduction in pension benefits and the destruction of the labour protection laws, Greece will still not meet the targets set by the Troika.  They are set to default outright in 2012.  Italy is different.  Although its government debt ratio is high by European levels, most of that debt is owed to Italian banks and not to foreigners; the government is already ‘balancing its books’ (if you exclude interest payments on the debt) and Italian capitalist industry can still sell things overseas.  So Italy can avoid default – at the expense of living standards, jobs and public services.
There is an alternative to this misery.  I have outlined it in previous posts (see An alternative programme for Europe, 11 September 2011).  Democratically elected governments in both countries should announce together that they are defaulting on all public sector debt held by the private sector.  If that busts their banks (as it would), they should be taken over with customer deposits protected and then run as public enterprises directed to lend to industry and households to boost investment and consumption.  Instead of slipping into a debt spiral that leads to economic recession (or continued depression as much of Europe is already in), recovery could be kickstarted by state-led investment.  Of course, this is anathema to Europe’s capitalist leaders and capitalist sectors because it would threaten the profit-based economy they preside over.  So instead, we shall have the bankers rule.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Tony Porter: A call to men | Video on

Tony Porter: A call to men | Video on

Jeremy Rifkin

The democratization of the economy goes hand and hand with the democratization of governance. The internet generation is driven by a new political agenda. Their politics has little in common with the right/ left dichotomy that characterized the ideological politics of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions. The young activists of the October 15th movement judge institutional behavior from a new lens. They ask whether the institutions of society -- be they political, economic, educational or social -- behave in a centralized manner and exercise power from the top down in a closed and proprietary fashion, or whether they function in a distributed and collaborative way, and are open and transparent in their dealings. The new political thinking is a game changer that has the potential to re-make the political process and re-shape political institutions in every country.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Re-occupying Trust - Lynne McTaggart

Trivializing the movement
Last week, the New York Post provided front page space for a rant about how these ne’er do wells were getting fed by a former cordon bleu chef of the Sheraton midtown hotel, as if their true purpose was to freeload off the kindness of strangers.

The UK press has chosen to both trivialize and demonize the movement by focusing on the fact that as the nights grow cold and draw in, most of the protesters are actually abandoning their tents at night and sleeping in of the comfort of their own beds – evidence, the papers claim, that they must not be truly serious.

Many columnists accuse the protesters of ‘forcing’ the temporary closure of the City of London’s landmark, St Paul’s cathedral, around which they are camped, even though the church itself made the decision to shut its doors and lose vital church income.

And now, in Oakland, California the spotlight has moved from the protesters to the police, after they attempted to disband marching protesters with tear gas, and Scott Olson, two-time Iraqi war veteran and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, landed in Highland Hospital with a fractured skull after a jittery Oakland policeman shot him in the head at close range with a police projectile.

Emergent purpose
To my mind, the most interesting aspect of this movement is twofold. The first is that the purpose of it is not declared – not even yet formed -  but expected to be emergent as time goes on. Many of the protesters themselves are having difficulty articulating anything more than an inchoate rage against the machine and a sense that something fundamentally human is now missing from their lives.

#Occupy Wall Street offers up some general goals in its self-proclaimed ‘modest’ Call to Action; it would like to see the money taken out of politics, freedom to be universal, the election process to undergo a complete overhaul and the corporation to separated from the state.

At this point, the specific call to action largely focuses on feeding the revolt itself  – among workers, the unemployed and anyone else – as well as the formation of ‘general assemblies’ wedded to true consensus decision-making and a new way of communicating, based on dialogue, rather than debate.

The goal of #Occupy, as Daniel Zetah, a 35-year-old builder and environmental educator from Minnesota, sees it, is ‘to create a new system of governance that allows for true democracy where corporation voices are not seen as people and we have direct control over our government.

‘We want corporations and the government to completely split.  We want to cleave this relationship that is so toxic.  That is probably the largest goal we have today.’

Nevertheless, the way this is all to come to pass has yet to be mapped out – a topic to be explored in the new participatory way.

Transcends politics
The second fascinating aspect is that as far as is possible in this extraordinarily polarized time, this is a movement that appears to transcend politics, judging from its enormous and growing support – a kind of global Arab Spring. In an October Time magazine poll, 45 per cent of Americans claimed to agree and support the #Occupy movement, a percentage that is climbing every day.

Several members of #Occupy Wall Street have even been identified as originating from the Tea Party.  Although commonly believed to be #Occupy’s polar opposite in many regards, the Tea Party agrees broadly with the Occupiers in their massive distrust of government and their desire for back-to-basics liberty.

This movement is not about economic revolution as we presently understand it, in the sense of any alternative system to capitalism we now have, such as socialism or communism.  It is not even about the haves against the have nots.

The fledging manifestos of the movement do not focus on economic redistribution or anything overtly Marxist.  They emphasize the fact that we are all united in our desire to work and use ‘the sweat of our brow.’  They ask for fairness, equality, fundamental freedoms, equal representation and community consensus – all basic American values, indeed, all basic platforms upon which my country was founded.

Collapse of trust
Something more fundamental to the human experience is going on here than the sense of unfairness about bankers and their bonuses or the current recession, the lobbying system or paralysis of government, in the US or the rest of the world.

This movement is all about the utter collapse of that most basic of qualities in any society – that its citizens have faith and trust in an entity designed for the public good  - both by those in Zucotti Park and those who pass them on the way to their high-rise offices on Wall Street.

I thought of this when examining a recent study by Eileen Bjornstrom, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Missouri College of Arts and Science.  Bjornstrom came up with an ingenious piece of research:  to examine the ‘relative position’ of people in a community – that is, where one fits into the income distribution in their neighborhood - and how this affects both your ability to trust your neighbors and also your health.

After applying this to the 2001 Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey, Bjornstrom’s results utterly confounded everything she thought that she would find.

The wealthiest in the community were worse off than the poorer ones in many regards.  Those with a higher income, compared to the rest of their community, were more likely to be distrustful of their neighbors and consequently more isolated. They also reported poorer health than people who declared that their neighbors could be trusted.

In other words, those who’d achieved the American Dream most acutely felt the current American nightmare of isolation, distrust and consequent poor health. Our current measure of ‘success’ had led them to a physical and emotional cul-de-sac.

Bjornstrom did not find a direct link between low relative position on the economic scale and good or poor health.  In fact, money per se was not the decisive factor.

The only key to a healthy life had to do with whether or not you trusted those around you. And those who had money felt the need to develop a fortress mentality, which made them miserable and eventually ill.

Bjornstrom’s prescription for the more affluent individuals was to get to know and trust their neighbors through ‘shared community resources that promote interactions, such as sidewalks and parks’ and other ways to increase community cohesion.

Starting over
This study offers a number of ideas that can be valuable to #Occupy.  It shows that the extreme individualism of the West doesn’t work on any level.  In their own way, the rich are also miserable.  Separation and unfairness, even when in your favor, not only is contrary to your makeup, which always seeks fairness, but could even kill you.

The study also underscores the necessity of trust in any society.  As Eric Uslaner, a political scientist at the University of Maryland discovered that the more unequal any society, the more distrustful its citizens.

The most powerful aspect of the #Occupy movement is its desire to raze the hash we’ve made of our political and economic structures, with their emphasis on competition above all else, and to start over from America’s basic ideals.

As I wrote once in The Field, “We have to imagine another way to live, an entirely new way to ‘be.’ We have to blow up all of our societal creations and begin again, building over scorched ground.”

The #Occupy Movement initiators have intuitively understood that the most important place to start is to re-establish trust and to work on building community, from the bottom up.