Left Forum, Mark Weisbrot, etc.

Zuccotti Park, 8:52am, March 17, 2012
Zuccotti Park, 8:52am, March 17, 2012
Zuccotti Park, 7:23pm, March 17, 2012
Zuccotti Park, 7:23pm, March 17, 2012
Zuccotti Park, 8:57am, March 18, 2012
Zuccotti Park, 8:57am, March 18, 2012

(1) Left Forum: Left Forum 2012 was a big success and a lot of fun.  Most of my time was spent at the D&Stable at the book exhibit, which involved, as usual, lots of great conversations with forum attendees (and we recruited lots of new subscribers).  But I also spoke on a panel organized by Dick Ohmann on the topic of “Occupy and Political Education.”  The discussion was great, with comments from activists from Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Pittsburgh, and even Occupy Binghamton.

I went to an interesting panel on “Freedom and the Economy,” featuring Alex Gourevitch, Corey Robin, and Doug Henwood.  Gourevich and Robin called for leftists to reclaim the concept of freedom, and in particular to talk about coercion/”unfreedom” that most workers face in the workplace. (Henwood mostly shrugged, doubting whether the left could reclaim the concept/term without a lot of work. But massive social change is going to take a lot of work anyway, right?) The discussion reminded me of this interesting blog post by Corey Robin, about the irony of the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez announcing that he will resign from Cato if the Koch brothers are successful in taking full control of it.  The argument is subtle, but it hinges on Robin pointing out that Sanchez and other libertarians downplay the kinds of unfreedom that people experience in the workplace, but Sanchez seems to be acknowledging it in is “presignation letter.”

On Saturday night there was a march from Left Forum to join OWS activists to assemble at Zuccotti Park. I am not sure whether the aim was to retake the park. What was clear, from early on in the march, was that the police were not going to treat protesters gently.  We were marching in the streets for part of the time, and the police were very aggressive in “encouraging” people to move to the sidewalk.  If the point was to keep traffic flowing, the police might well have just let us march–there was little traffic to block, and there were only a couple of hundred marchers, and Pace University, where the forum was held, is only about a five-minute walk from Zuccotti Park (most of it along Broadway).  It seemed pretty clear to me that the police had orders to be rough with us, and that the point was to intimidate people (as was reported even in the mainstream media; e.g. the New York Metro (NYC’s subway newspaper) had the headline: “OWS raises fist… NYPD puts it down.”  On the march to Zuccotti, we witnessed lots of shoving, hair-pulling, and yelling by cops, plus two arrests.  Here’s a photo of one of them:

As we were approaching Zuccotti Park, in the block of Broadway just before it suddenly there was a phalanx of cops, not quite shoulder to shoulder.  Larry Peterson of the D&S collective and I had no intention of getting arrested, so I went up to one of the cops to ask whether the line of cops meant that by going any further we were risking arrest.  He didn’t even respond, nor did any of the cops nearby (they were clearly under orders not to talk to protesters).  So, with the vague thought that I would complain to higher ups in the NYPD about this behavior, I read his nametag aloud (“Officer Morse”) and took his picture:

Officer Morse

We proceeded to Zuccotti Park, where there were around 500 people gathered.  We left shortly afterwards, but apparently more protesters massed there and stayed late.  Sometime around 1am, a lieutenant or captain started yelling in a bullhorn for people to disperse, that the park was closed (though it’s supposed to be open 24 hours).  Many refused to comply with what they regarded as an illegal order;  around 7o people were arrested, some brutally.  Someone named Cecily McMillan suffered from cracked ribs and was having some sort of convulsions as people urged the police to let her get medical attention.  I also heard reports that some guy got his head pushed against a plate glass window that cracked.

As I say, it all appeared to be a deliberate strategy to intimidate protesters via brutal crackdown.  The pictures at the top of this post tell the story:  around 9am on Saturday, the park was empty, but there were barriers stacked up ready to cordon off the park.  At around 7:20pm, the park was full of peaceful protesters assembling and exercising their free speech rights.  The following day at around 9am, you see the park cordoned off as (evidently) planned, and it was being hosed down (as if the protesters had created more filth in a hours than your average St. Patrick’s Day revelers).

This may become the pattern of the spring, as the Boston police, who were relatively gentle in the fall, at least compared with the NYPD and Oakland cops, were apparently rough on participants in a march in solidarity with the victims of police brutality at this weekend’s OWS actions; see pictures and a short piece about the march at the Boston Occupier online.  And the NYPD have been rough with protesters in Union Square (according to the OWS website).  Stay tuned–it could be an interesting spring…

(2) Mark Weisbrot in Boston on Monday: D&S is co-sponsoring a panel discussion on Monday the 26th featuring Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.  Here are the details:

Wrong Turn?  Are the European Authorities Pushing Europe in the Wrong Direction? Would Greece Be Better Off if it Defaulted and Left the Euro?

A panel discussion with Mark Weisbrot, Richard Parker, and Jeffrey Frankel

Monday, March 26.  4:30-6:00pm.  Littauer-140, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

The eurozone is in recession, and many economists believe that current budget tightening will impede recovery or perhaps deepen the recession. Greece in particular is in its 5th year of recession and has record unemployment.  Are the European authorities implementing the wrong policies? Is the eurozone facing a debt crisis or a policy crisis? Would Greece be better off if it defaulted on its debt and exited from the Euro?

Parker and Frankel are KSG professors; Frankel is a former member of Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, so it is likely to be a lively debate.

(3) David Graeber in Boston: David Graeber, whose book Debt: The First 5,000 Years I am still enjoying, will be in Boston, er, Cambridge, at a conference at Harvard, tomorrow.  Find info here.  The conference’s web page looks like a parody of obfuscatory academic discourse, but I’m guessing it will be a good event, so I am definitely going.

(4) Links: Here are some items that I’ve been meaning to post for a while; sorry for the link-dump (TM), but there’s some interesting stuff here.

(a) Rich People Complaining: Apparently not having read Cracked magazine’s list of six things rich people need to stop saying, Wall Street guy Andrew Schiff complained to a Bloomberg reporter about how hard it would be for him and his family to live on $350,000 in Brooklyn without a bonus this year. Yves Smith’s post on this at Naked Capitalism, and the comments, are great, though Smith appeared to claim that “no one” but the super-rich raised children in Manhattan back in the 80s (several people took her to task for this in the comment section, and I thought she reacted a bit too defensively).  And Chicago billionaire Ken Griffin told the Tribune that the ultra-rich don’t have enough influence:

“I think (the ultra-wealthy) actually have an insufficient influence,” Griffin said in an interview at Citadel’s downtown office. “Those who have enjoyed the benefits of our system more than ever now owe a duty to protect the system that has created the greatest nation on this planet.”

I guess from a billionaire’s point of view, the system is working just fine.  We thank him for his candor.

(b) Roubini on Greece’s Private Creditors: He says they got off easy, contrary to what the press has claimed. I may ask Weisbrot whether he agrees on Monday.

(c) Occupy the MBTA; Interest Rate Swaps: Occupy Boston’s work to resist proposed fare increases and service cuts proceeds apace; there’s a big rally at the statehouse planned for April 4th.  Meanwhile, the MBTA backed down from its initial two draconian scenarios, and we are taking credit. But we’re going to keep the pressure, especially on the legislature.  Here’s a video of Occupy folks “mic checking” MBTA board members. Look for an article by me in our May/June issue of D&S and the next issue of Progressive Planning magazine about Occupy the MBTA;  our May/June cover story will be about interest rate swaps, which have played a role in the MBTA’s debt.  The author of that piece, Darwin GrahamBond, is mentioned in this recent piece by Ellen Brown about interest rate swaps.  The Amalgamated Transit Union has endorsed the National Day of Action (which I believe Occupy Boston initiated) on April 4th;  this appears to be part of the ATU’s larger strategy of trying to rally public transit riders to support public transit.

(d) Matt Taibbi on Another Hidden Bailout: here;   I like his “reload” metaphor.

(e) Support Jesse Freeston’s “Resistencia”: Four days left to chip in via Indiegogo on a worthy film project on the military takeover in Honduras and the resistance movement.

(f) More from Remapping Debate on the Econ Profession: here;  hat-tip to Fred Lee.

(g) Massive Left Protests in Paris at Place de la Bastille: this past weekend; report from L’Humanité (the translation is kind of hilarious; the protests sound awesome).   More evidence that it could be an interesting spring…

That’s it for now.

–Chris Sturr

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