31 October 2010

The world we knew does not exist anymore

    The world we knew does not exist anymore; our daily lives have been deeply transformed. A new way of being is beginning to take shape for Humanity: the first planetary human civilization. How will it be? How do we want it to be?

Throughout human history, countless civilizations have risen, reached their peak, and declined. Current civilizations, while resisting decline, are nonetheless showing signs of fatigue. At the same time, technological advances allow us to glimpse the world to come, the future that is already on our doorstep.
But, how will this world be?
Will it be a mere mechanical projection of our current civilizations?
Will it be a global “free market” in which a few people enjoy economic gains at the expense of the great suffering majorities?
Will it be an apocalyptic videogame or a World War fought with sticks and stones as Einstein predicted?
Will it be a kind of Disneyland where human beings lose the meaning of their existence?
None of these projected scenarios will come true. Humanity finds itself at an historical crossroads where old paradigms no longer provide answers and are no longer of use for orienting one’s actions. Humanity is looking for a new paradigm that will fulfil its aspirations for a new destiny, one that cannot be patched together or rescued from the wreckage of a violent system.
At the World Centre of Humanist Studies, we believe that this new world will be as we build it, and that it is in our hands, and in those of all human beings on this planet. The evidence of this new civilization will be our highest human values in action: solving conflicts through nonviolent means; the absence of discrimination due to physical, economic, or cultural causes; the absence of physical, economical, racial, religious, and gender-based violence; freedom of thought and beliefs; a way of thinking that takes into account interpersonal and intercultural relationships and historical processes; an ecosystem that will be useful for life in general and not only for the uncontrolled consumption of a minority; a spirituality based on a deep experience of the humane. In short, a civilization that places the human being as the highest value.

    This new world will not be just a blueprint on paper, but a reality constructed by human intentions and actions. But in order for these intentions to stay on track, we must begin to study this new world, to imagine it, to dream it, and then to start laying the groundwork to make it a reality.

Assuming the spirit of those humanist times and their greatest achievements, the Second World Symposium proposes a dialogue, neither abstract nor institutional, that will seek an agreement on fundamental points, which are: the opening of new paths for research, communication, and collaboration, the building of new bridges among “people of good will” - representatives from different cultures, beliefs, and ideologies - in order to raise the pillars of a new planetary civilization.
Now is the moment to choose and to create, to put our best aspirations and energies to work to build the civilization that we have for so long deeply desired and yearned for: the Universal Human Nation.

Foundation of the New Civilization -- II World Symposium

World Center of Humanist Studies (WCHS)

Background and Conceptual Foundation

The World Center for Humanist Studies is an organism that is part of the Humanist Movement. The Movement first appeared on the 4th of May 1969, with a public presentation by its founder, Silo, known as “the Healing of Suffering”, in an outpost in the Andes called Punta de Vacas, close to the border between Argentina and Chile.

The Humanist Movement is based on the current of thought known as New Humanism or Universalist Humanism. This current can be found expressed in Silo’s works and in those of the diverse authors who are inspired by it.

This current of thought, which also implies a sentiment and a way of life, takes shape in multiple fields of human endeavor, giving rise to diverse organisms and action fronts. All of them are applied to their specific fields of activity with a common aim: to Humanize the Earth, thereby contributing to increased liberty and happiness in human beings. In themselves they have in common the methodology of Active Nonviolence and the proposal for personal change as a function of social transformation.

Other organisms to emerge from the Humanist Movement are the Humanist Party, the Community for Human Development, the Convergence of Cultures and World without Wars and without Violence.

The World Center for Humanist Studies was founded in the First World Humanist Forum in Moscow in October 1993.

1. Definition

The World Center for Humanist Studies (WCHS) is an organization dedicated to the study, investigation and diffusion of the thought and vision of Universalist Humanism and its application to current social and scientific problems. It supports all tendencies that go towards the development of knowledge over the limitations placed by prejudices that are accepted as absolute and immutable truths. It also promotes structural, dynamic, relational and critical thinking.

At a world level, the WCHS develops within a diversity of countries, continents and cultural zones. It proposes the elaboration of productions (writings, audiovisual, etc), programs of work, trainings and the diffusion of the Universalist Humanist doctrine: all of which is oriented towards personal and social transformation and guided by a commitment to apply this knowledge only for the wellbeing and development of the human being. It also proposes the creation and development of new Centers for Humanist Studies (CHS), especially in those cultures where it is not sufficiently represented.

To carry this forward the WCHS forms commissions, action fronts and other types of bodies necessary for the fulfillment of its goals. It organizes courses, seminars, debates, conferences, congresses, symposia and other events that are appropriate for the diffusion and presentation of its productions. It edits, emits and publishes its positions for the public opinion as well as to be considered in the decisions taken by relevent authorities. In the development of these activities agreements will sometimes be made of mutual collaboration and interchange with other persons, associations or organizations (public, private or mixed) but without establishing any organizational dependence with them.

At a local level, participation in the CHE is open to everyone who has a genuine interest in realizing the investigations and works directed toward these goals, stimulating the interchange and joint work among its members.

2. Background

The WCHS, an initiative of Silo, was created in the 1st World Humanist Forum in Moscow in October 1993. Its activities were framed within the orientation of Universalist Humanism.

In its first stage, which lasted until the begiining of 1998, the WCHS carried out seminars and studies dedicated to the investigation of humanist traditions and innovations in different cultures, and in the economy and social sciences in general. These seminars were developed together with the Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, cultural centers in Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, Mexico and Madrid and other university and scientific institutions. In 1994 the WCHS participated in the 2nd Humanist Forum in Mexico and in the following year in the Open Meeting of Humanism in Santiago de Chile.

The results of these investigations were published in the World Center for Humanist Stdies Annual” in 1994, 1995, 1996 and 1997. Also the “Dictionary of New Humanism” by Silo was published, which is today incorporated in his Completed Works, Vol. II.

Beginning in April 2006 the continuation of the WCHS was set in motion by the CHS in Buenos Aires. In this same year new Centers of Humanist Studies (CHS) were formed in Barcelona, Santiago de Chile, Madrid, Moscow, Paris and Rome.

What began then was a sustained activity by both autonomous and simultaneous action in different cities and countries. Meanwhile, beginning with seminars given in different cities in the Americas and in Europe, the study and investigative methodology of the WCHS was developed.

In November, 2008, the 1st International Symposium of the WCHS, “Ethics in Knowledge”, was held in the Parks of Study and Reflection Punta de Vacas. The symposium in Punta de Vacas was preceded by presentations in the Universidad de Cuyo, Argentina and the Universidad de Santiago, Chile. In this event the World Federation of Humanist Studies Centers was constituted, shaped by the CEH’s earlier mentioned and others in formation, and formalized by the assistents taking the “Oath of Ethics”.

In Abril 2009 the CHS in Europe organizad the “Internacional Symposium about Non-violence” in the Parks of Study and Reflexion in Attigliano.

3. Conceptual Foundation

While Universalist Humanism is an extensive and rich doctrine we can highlight the following points as a conceptual base over which a new vision of the human being, society and history has been constructed.

3.1 The Human Being

Universalist Humanism defines the human being as an historical being whose form of social action transforms his own nature, a being open to the world with a social-historical dimension. A being whose consciousness is active and whose activity is the transformation of the world in accordance with his intention, an intention directed to the overcoming of pain and suffering that leads to the humanization of nature, society, one´s own body and oneself.

3.2 Humanist Moments

Universalist Humanism emphasizes the existence of humanist moments in the history of different cultures where the following charactistics can be found:

  • location of the human as the central value and concern
  • affirmation of the equality of all human beings
  • recognition of personal and cultural diversity
  • development of knowledge beyond that accepted as absolute truth
  • freedom of ideas and beliefs
  • rejection of all forms of violence

3.3 Beginning with experience

Universalist Humanism develops its doctrine beginning with human experience. It doesn´t begin from ideas, theories or abstractions but instead from the observation of one’s own experience. This leads its development to include the observer in structure with the phenomena being observed, not from an assumed objectivity that does not consider how the observer affects that which is being observed. This posture of the observer leads one to employ a rigorous phenomenological description before a theoretical description. This is a method that leads not only to an explanation but above all to the understanding of what is being studied.

In this sense and in essence, Humanist Psychology begins from the experience of the existent as the structure consciousness-world.

Moreover, the consciousness is experienced as open to the world and in constant dynamic. It is in this dynamic structure where the base of human experience is found and where the doctrine of Universalist Humanism begins.

It is from this foundation that a methodology of thought and an ethic of action based.

3.4 Methodology of thinking

We can observe a double capacity in the consciousness. On one hand, it has the ability to perceive phenomena from both the external and internal world; on the other hand, it attempts to order and give meaning to what is being experienced through thinking. It is from the registers of thinking and the observation of its mechanisms that a methodology of knowledge based on the “experience of thinking” can be founded. The most general developments of thought permit the elaboration of principals and universal laws.

For its studies and investigation the WCHS proposes a method based on the observation of the experience of thinking. This method, together with universal principals and laws, forms a coherent structure that facilitates the understanding of the problems being addressed. (Principals, laws and the method are developed in the book “Método Estructural Dinámico”, Jorge Pompei, CMEH 2008.)

The Method is presented as an assembly of analytical-synthetic procedures that enables an ordering of the phenomena being studied and facilitates their understanding. The use of the Method tends to re-educate the way one approaches learning and one’s way of understanding and in so becomes a tool that transforms both the one who investigates and the surrounding world.

3.5 Ethics of Action

Having experience as the initial consideration, the validity of behavioral acts cannot be pondered without the register that one has of them.

It is because of this, rather than an external moral value, that Univeralist Humanism proposes “Principals of Life” that relate with internal registers and orient behavior towards carrying out “vaild actions”.

The indicators that enable the identification of these “valid actions”, that is those that produce meaning, coherence and internal growth are:

  • the register of deep relaxation when they are carried out
  • the desire to repeat them
  • the sensation of internal growth

On the contrary, actions that produce contradiction between what one does and what one thinks and feels weaken the internal development of people.

In social terms, having relationships with others must consider not harming others with one’s own actions; for this to be coherent with the aforementioned we should consider the Golden Rule which states “Treat others as you want to be treated”.

This constitutes a scale of values whose highest value is coherence, a new moraity that is not indifferent to whatever type of action, and a new aspiration to be consistent in the effort to give direction to human endeavor.

Genuinely solidarious actions, those that look out for the wellbeing of others over one’s own interests, go in this direction and are those that help the growth of human society.

The search for knowedge and its application should necessarily also have sn ethical framwork that demands that the investigation and the use of knowledge will only be in favor of the growth of human life, never generating or justifiying harm or destruction.

It is for these reasons that the WCHS proposes that scientific research should be accompanied by an “Oath of Ethics” that explicitly commits scholars and researchers to apply their knowledge only in favor of human life. This “Oath of Ethics” gives a basis to all research and guides the mental direction of the investigador, deepening a process of self transformation while he develops his study.

Only this, and nothing else, can be the final interest of knowledge, which is the patrimony of the human process and can then be considered “good knowledge”.

3.6 The social and ethical construction of nonviolence.

Universalist Humanism aspires to the building of a Universal Human Nation as the goal of the human social process. In order to work towards this objective it is necessary to have a methodology of action that is coherent with its ethic. This methodology is nonviolence.

Nonviolence can be understood as a system of determined moral concepts that rejects violence, as well as an operating strategy of the systematic and consistent denouncement of the forms of violence that the system applies.

Nonviolence is recognizable in the actions carried forth by Mathatma Gandhi, Martin L. King, Kwame Nkrumah and others.

While pacifism is the denouncement against the arms race, nonviolence is a method of action and a way of living.

This method of action is formed by the internal coherence of thinking, feeling and acting in the same direction and the social coherence of treating others as you want to be treated.

In moving towards liberty the human being fights to overcome conditions of pain and suffering. In doing so the methodology of nonviolence is a tool for transforming the social-historical environment and for building a Universal Human Nation that is coherent with his own register of his internal unity.

4. Personal formation of the WCHS members

Cooresponding to the proposal of Universalist Humanism for simulataneous social and personal change, the members of the WCHS periodically carry out works of personal formation. These works are found in the Manual of Personal Development for Members of the Humanist Movement. The manual includes themes for study, seminars and retreats that are generally held in the Centers of Work in the Parks of Study and Reflection in different cities and countries on 5 continents.

The study themes are organized in 4 parts:

  • Themes of Universalist Humanism
  • Themes of overcoming suffering
  • Themes of nonviolence
  • Themes of Humanist Psychology

The seminars and retreats of personal work are based on the books Self Liberation by L. Ammann and Guided Experiences by Silo (Completed Works, Vol. I). Among the diverse works we note the seminars on the practices of attention, psychophysics and relaxation, and the retreats of self knowledge, guided experiences and the space of representation.

Both the seminars and retreats should be considered as indepentent units, meaning that each work group can choose to work with any of them following their own interests and needs.

5. Reference Materials

5.1 Official materials

Humanist Document
Ethical Commitment
Completed Works, Silo, Vol. I & II.
Psychology Notes, Silo.
Método Estructural Dinámico. Teoría y práctica, Jorge Pompei. CMEH, 2008.
Personal Development Manual for Members of the Humanist Movement. Center of Studies. Parque Punta de Vacas. 2009.

5.2 Publications of the WCHS

El humanismo en las diferentes culturas. Anuario 1994 del CMEH. Virtual ediciones, 2008.
Aportes a la cultura humanista. Anuario 1995 del CMEH. Virtual ediciones, 1996.
Perspectivas humanistas. Anuario 1996 del CMEH. Virtual ediciones, 1997.
Introducción a la economía del nuevo humanismo. Anuario 1997 del CMEH. Virtual ediciones, 1997.
Violencia y tolerancia: historia, actualidad y perspectivas. Anuario 2006 del CEH Moscú. CEH Moscú y URAP, 2007.
Bases humanistas para la convergencia entre culturas. Anuario 2007 del CEH Moscú. CEH Moscú y URAP, 2008.
Ética en el conocimiento. 8 DVD con el desarrollo del simposio. CMEH, 2009.
Ética en el conocimiento. Ponencias del simposio. Anuario 2008 del CMEH.
Video Bizancio, la raíz común. CEH Moscú, Fundación Pangea y UNED, 2009.
5.3 Recommended Materials

Memorias del futuro, Javier Tolcachier. Virtual ediciones, 2008.
Humanism in India. Notes for a Study of History, Fernando Garcia. 2008.
La necesidad de una ética sabrosa, Néstor Tato. Ediciones el Escriba, 2008.
La no-violencia a través de sus guías, Néstor Tato y Clara Serfaty. Virtual ediciones, 2008.
Interpretaciones del humanismo, Salvatore Puledda. Virtual ediciones.
El fin de la prehistoria, Tomás Hirsch. Tabla Rasa ediciones, 2007.
Video Federico II, un puente entre Oriente y Occidente. Fundación Pangea y UNED, España, 2007.

Organizational guidelines

1. General

The World Center for Humanist Studies is the sum of Centers of Study organized in different cities, countries and continents, in a worldwide federation and in continuous development and expansion.

The coordination of the WCHS is carried out in a World Coordination Team (WCT) of approximately 12 members who distribute among themselves the functions of communication, dissemination and administration that are necessary for each stage. Example of functions could be: information (website, e-mail lists), translations, publications, press and dissemination, global events, finance, legal, etc. The work of the WCHS functions is collegiate and with parity among members, who are renewed every 2 years through direct elections by all active members around the world.

The fundamental body of the WCHS are the Centers of Study (CHS) which instigate their actions in a local geographical ambit: city, neighbourhood, university, etc, with possibly more than one CHS in the same space.

Anyone who shares the objectives of the WCHS, subscribes to the Humanist Document and the Oath of Ethics, contributes an annual personal membership fee and is willing to participate in a process of formation in Universalist Humanism, related with its conceptual foundations, methodology of investigation and ethics, can be a full member of a CHS.

Anyone who, without taking on the above commitments, would like to support the activities or contribute financially for specific ends can be a supporting member of a CHS. Supporting members do not participate in decisions or votes, but they do receive periodic information regarding the activities and projects of their respective CHS and the World Center.

2. Formation of a CHS

A CHS starts with an initial group or instigator who sets activities in motion starting from the basic materials of the WCHS. This initial group elaborates a plan of work (research, study groups with other centers, actions towards the environment) and starts periodic meetings to implement the plan and the personal formation of its members; they start a website and e-mail list.

When the initial group has acquired a minimum development (around 10 active members) and permanence in their activities, it can be constituted as a Center of Studies; electing the functions of local coordination and contact person with the WCT and other centers through a direct vote.

According to the degree of development of the CHS in their point of application and with the aim of facilitating the fulfilment of the objectives in the relationship with the environment, CHS’s tend to legalise themselves as “non-profit-making associations” (or however this may be called in every place).

3. Finance

Every CHS finances their activities with the personal contributions of their active members, for which an annual membership fee is established, amount determined through agreements between the CHS’s of a country. From the amount collected in each CHS, part is deferred to its own activities at the base and part goes to the World Center. The proportions are defined by the World Promotion Team. The World Coordination Team will account annually for the money received.

All the functions, as much in the CHS as in the World Coordination Team, are ad honorem.

4. Direct Elections

Periodic renewal of functions (maximally every two years in the base and every two years at the world level) as well as the fundamental decisions for the functioning of the CHS and the WCHS will be carried out through direct elections with the participation of active members. Re-election will be limited.

5. Recommendations for the new stage

It is recommended that in order to start this new stage, worldwide coordination becomes the responsibility of a “World Promotion Team”* of approximately 10 members. They may come from the Commission that prepared this document and others may join whom the Commission considers convenient. It will cease its functions when the coordination teams form after the elections.

* The definition of the implementation details remains the responsibility of this team, such as calendars with dates for economic campaigns and elections, parameters to define the amount of the annual membership fee, distribution by coordination level of these funds, specific functions of the Worldwide Coordination Team, definition of the official logo, etc.

29 October 2010

Super Computer in India - Can/Will the people do it ?

Super Computer is an aspect that is increasingly used to show the technological strengths of a nation.
The news that China has made a super computer that is 1.4 times faster than the current champion ( http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/28/technology/28compute.html?_r=2&nl&emc=a1 ) seems to be taking the world by a surprise-storm.
Can India do this ?
And, I would go to the extent of raising the question, "Will Indians, the people, do it ?"
Before someone comes up with a doubt, as to how can simple people take up such a seemingly-mammoth task, let me introduce you to the (known) facts that using Linux operating system that is free and open source) and normally-unused-old-junked (but working) computers (P-II, P-III, P-IV types), if a university (that would immediately benefit from such an environment) provides the place to keep a thousand or two computers in a large hall (or multiple rooms) connected over LAN, such a super computer can be created by students and Linux enthusiasts quiet easily.
Also, let me tell you, that this super computer will be a very much working model that can used for production purpose. Let us not forget that Google started in this way.
It is time that Linux Users Groups (LUGs) and Universities came together to take such an initiative and demonstrate the real ability to create and demonstrate this ability in real life.
It could possible involve these steps :
1. A University (Delhi University South Campus could be a place) and LUG/s come together and announce this initiative and request people to give away their old-useless-junked Computers ((P-II, P-III, P-IV types) for this cause. The equipments (Computers, Switches/Routers, LAN cables etc.) required are listed on a website created for this purpose. Announcement clarifies that all donors will be acknowledged on the website;
2. A team goes out to Industry (online and offline) requesting and getting the maximum possible Computers for this project. With the first few received, the setup can get created and, later on, more computers just go on getting plugged in the setup;
3. Complete work is done only on Voluntary basis (all volunteers will be acknowledged on website as part of the team);
4. On a pre-announced date (when the setup is completed), someone from the field of Computers, Science (who is making a difference in India) is invited to inaugurate/announce the availability of such a super-computer. This event will have all the donors, volunteers present and will surely make a big difference for everyone involved.

Crazy idea ? Yes it is, just like anything futuristic is.
Perhaps, we will get some more crazy minds to work it out. Because, its time that Indian came out of their mental-cages to demonstrate their abilities and take charge of the world, to give a creative, non-violent direction to the society, that it needs very badly.

26 October 2010

Socialism? The Rich Are Winning The US Class War: Facts Show Rich Getting Richer, Everyone Else Poorer

By Bill Quigley
25 October, 2010  -  Countercurrents.org
The rich and their paid false prophets are doing a bang up job deceiving the poor and middle class. They have convinced many that an evil socialism is alive in the land and it is taking their fair share. But the deception cannot last – facts say otherwise.
Yes, there is a class war – the war of the rich on the poor and the middle class – and the rich are winning. That war has been going on for years. Look at the facts – facts the rich and their false paid prophets do not want people to know.
Let Glen Beck go on about socialists descending on Washington. Allow Rush Limbaugh to rail about “class warfare for a leftist agenda that will destroy our society.” They are well compensated false prophets for the rich.
The truth is that for the several decades the rich in the US have been getting richer and the poor and middle class have been getting poorer. Look at the facts then make up your own mind.
Poor Getting Poorer: Facts
The official US poverty numbers show we now have the highest number of poor people in 51 years. The official US poverty rate is 14.3 percent or 43.6 million people in poverty. One in five children in the US is poor; one in ten senior citizens is poor. Source: US Census Bureau.
One of every six workers, 26.8 million people, is unemployed or underemployed. This “real” unemployment rate is over 17%. There are 14.8 million people designated as “officially” unemployed by the government, a rate of 9.6 percent. Unemployment is worse for African American workers of whom 16.1 percent are unemployed. Another 9.5 million people who are working only part-time while they are seeking full-time work but have had their hours cut back or are so far only able to find work part-time are not counted in the official unemployment numbers. Also, an additional 2.5 million are reported unemployed but not counted because they are classified as discouraged workers in part because they have been out of work for more than 12 months. Source: US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics October 2010 report.
The median household income for whites in the US is $51,861; for Asians it is $65,469; for African Americans it is $32,584; for Latinos it is $38,039. Source: US Census Bureau.
Fifty million people in the US lack health insurance. Source: US Census Bureau.
Women in the US have a greater lifetime risk of dying from pregnancy-related conditions than women in 40 other countries. African American US women are nearly 4 times more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than white women. Source: Amnesty International Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA.
About 3.5 million people, about one-third of which are children, are homeless at some point in the year in the US. Source: National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
Outside Atlanta, 33,000 people showed up to seek applications for low cost subsidized housing in August 2010. When Detroit offered emergency utility and housing assistance to help people facing evictions, more than 50,000 people showed up for the 3,000 vouchers. Source: News reports.
There are 49 million people in the US who live in households which eat only because they receive food stamps, visit food pantries or soup kitchens for help. Sixteen million are so poor they have skipped meals or foregone food at some point in the last year. This is the highest level since statistics have been kept. Source: US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
Middle Class Going Backward: Facts
One or two generations ago it was possible for a middle class family to live on one income. Now it takes two incomes to try to enjoy the same quality of life. Wages have not kept up with inflation; adjusted for inflation they have lost ground over the past ten years. The cost of housing, education and health care have all increased at a much higher rate than wages and salaries. In 1967, the middle 60 percent of households received over 52% of all income. In 1998, it was down to 47%. The share going to the poor has also fallen, with the top 20% seeing their share rise. Mark Trumball, “Obama’s challenge: reversing a decade of middle-class decline,” Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 2010.http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2010/0125/Obama-s-challenge-reversing-a-decade-of-middle-class-decline
A record 2.8 million homes received a foreclosure notice in 2009, higher than both 2008 and 2007. In 2010, the rate is expected to be rise to 3 million homes. Sources: Reuters and RealtyTrac.
Eleven million homeowners (about one in four homeowners) in the US are “under water” or owe more on their mortgages than their house is worth. Source: “Home truths,” The Economist, October 23, 2010.
For the first time since the 1940s, the real incomes of middle-class families are lower at the end of the business cycle of the 2000s than they were at the beginning. Despite the fact that the American workforce is working harder and smarter than ever, they are sharing less and less in the benefits they are creating. This is true for white families but even truer for African American families whose gains in the 1990s have mostly been eliminated since then. Source: Jared Bernstein and Heidi Shierholz, State of Working America. http://www.stateofworkingamerica.org/swa08_00_execsum.pdf
Rich Getting Richer: Facts
The wealth of the richest 400 people in the US grew by 8% in the last year to $1.37 trillion. Source: Forbes 400: The super-rich get richer, September 22, 2010, Money.com
The top Hedge Fund Manager of 2009, David Tepper, “earned” $4 billion last year. The rest of the top ten earned: $3.3 billion, $2.5 billion, $2.3 billion, $1.4 billion, $1.3 billion (tie for 6th and 7th place), $900 million (tie for 8th and 9th place), and in last place out of the top ten, $825 million. Source: Business Insider. “Meet the top 10 earning hedge fund managers of 2009.” http://www.businessinsider.com/meet-the-top-10-earning-hedge-fund-managers-of-2009-2010-4
Income disparity in the US is now as bad as it was right before the Great Depression at the end of the 1920s. From 1979 to 2006, the richest 1% more than doubled their share of the total US income, from 10% to 23%. The richest 1% have an average annual income of more than $1.3 million. For the last 25 years, over 90% of the total growth in income in the US went to the top 10% earners – leaving 9% of all income to be shared by the bottom 90%. Source: Jared Bernstein and Heidi Shierholz, State of Working America. http://www.stateofworkingamerica.org/tabfig/2008/01/19.pdf
In 1973, the average US CEO was paid $27 for every dollar paid to a typical worker; by 2007 that ratio had grown to $275 to $1. Source: Jared Bernstein and Heidi Shierholz, State of Working America.http://www.stateofworkingamerica.org/tabfig/2008/03/SWA08_Wages_Figure.3AE.pdf
Since 1992, the average tax rate on the richest 400 taxpayers in the US dropped from 26.8% to 16.62%. Source: US Internal Revenue Service. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/07intop400.pdf
The US has the greatest inequality between rich and poor among all Western industrialized nations and it has been getting worse for 40 years. The World Factbook, published by the CIA, includes an international ranking of the inequality among families inside of each country, called the Gini Index. The US ranking of 45 in 2007 is the same as Argentina, Cameroon, and Cote d’Ivorie. The highest inequality can be found in countries like Namibia, South Africa, Haiti and Guatemala. The US ranking of 45 compares poorly to Japan (38), India (36), New Zealand, UK (34), Greece (33), Spain (32), Canada (32), France (32), South Korea (31), Netherlands (30), Ireland (30), Australia (30), Germany (27), Norway (25), and Sweden (23). Source: CIA The World Factbook: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2172.html
Rich people live an average of about five years longer than poor people in the US. Naturally, gross inequality has consequences in terms of health, exposure to unhealthy working conditions, nutrition and lifestyle. In 1980, the most well off in the US had a life expectancy of 2.8 years over the least well-off. As the inequality gap widens, so does the life expectancy gap. In 1990, the gap was a little less than 4 years. In 2000, the least well-off could expect to live to age of 74.7 while the most well off had a life expectancy of 79.2 years. Source: Elise Gould, “Growing disparities in life expectancy,” Economic Policy Institute.http://www.epi.org/economic_snapshots/entry/webfeatures_snapshots_20080716/
These are extremely troubling facts for anyone concerned about economic fairness, equality of opportunity, and justice.
Thomas Jefferson once observed that the systematic restructuring of society to benefit the rich over the poor and middle class is a natural appetite of the rich. “Experience declares that man is the only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to…the general prey of the rich on the poor.” But Jefferson also knew that justice can only be delayed so long when he said, “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
The rich talk about the rise of socialism to divert attention from the fact that they are devouring the basics of the poor and everyone else. Many of those crying socialism the loudest are doing it to enrich or empower themselves. They are right about one thing – there is a class war going on in the US. The rich are winning their class war, and it is time for everyone else to fight back for economic justice.

Bill is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach Bill at quigley77@gmail.com

Systemic Washington-Sanctioned Fraud

By Stephen Lendman
25 October, 2010  -  Countercurrents.org

It's the American way. More for the rich. Crumbs for the rest, and fraud as a way of life since the republic's beginning, though hardly on today's scale. Perhaps the first prominent example was in 1792, involving former Assistant Treasury Secretary William Duer. Appointed by Alexander Hamilton in 1789, he left a year later to profit from insider trading, or so he hoped.
At the time, US bonds were junk paper. The market for them was volatile, so profiting meant being savvy enough or tipped off in advance to buy or sell ahead of news. As a former Treasury official, Duer had insider information. Using leverage, it paid handsomely for a while until too much money caused a speculative glut, an earlier type bubble that took down much of the New York Stock Exchange when it burst, Duer with it.
Way over his head in debt, he, nonetheless, hung on, expecting to beat the market but failed. Instead of getting richer, he went bankrupt, ended up in debtors prison, and Alexander Hamilton had to buy worthless bonds as the lender of last resort. Sound familiar?
In 1795, Georgia sold 35 million acres of western land to four companies for half a million dollars, less than two cents an acre in one of America's most corrupt ever deals. By taking bribes for their votes, every member of the legislature, except one, profited, but not for long. Voters caught on, tossing them out next election. The fraudulent contract was annulled. In 1802, the federal government bought the land for $1,250,000, but it didn't end there. The Supreme Court got involved, ruling the original deal, though flawed, was legal, forcing Congress to award the claimants over $4 million.
Corruption and fraud flourished during the Civil War in the form of tainted beef and pork, shoddy blankets and uniforms, knapsacks coming unglued in the rain, guns that blew off soldiers' fingers when firing them, and much more, war profiteers benefitting handsomely.
During the Gilded Age, a post-Civil War boom, men like Rockefeller in oil, Carnegie in steel, Gould and Vanderbilt in railroads, Morgan in banking, and others profited the way Vanderbilt explained, saying "What do I care about the law? Hain't I got the power?" Indeed he and others did through unscrupulous deal-making, buying off politicians, gaining monopoly power, and as Matthew Josephson said in his book, "The Robber Barons:"
"the ancient barons-of-the-crags - who, by force of arms, instead of corporate combinations, monopolized strategic valley roads or mountain passes through which commerce flowed." They, in fact, controlled commerce and corrupt politicians they bought and sold like commodities.
In her book titled, "The History of the Standard Oil Company," Ida Tarbell, chronicled one of many, John D. Rockefeller and the colossus he built by circumventing laws and crushing competition ruthlessly.
Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner first coined the term "gilded age," reflecting the rampant greed, pervasive fraud, corruption, and speculative frenzy during America's greatest ever growth period, creating enormous wealth and corporate power through politically aided deal-making.
For example, Ulysses S. Grant's administration wreaked of graft, mismanagement, and corruption, he and his son going bankrupt from fraudulent investments gone sour. Succeeding administrations were also tainted by letting business entrepreneurs operate freely with little government interference.
They took full advantage, including through insider trading, stock manipulation, and other forms of fraud. In the late 1800s, it enriched men like Jay Gould, James Fisk, Russell Sage, Edward Henry Harriman, JP Morgan, and Daniel Drew, deal-maker pioneers of swindling, double-dealing, and other forms of financial chicanery to amass fortunes, that in Drew's case left him broke when he died in 1879, ruined by fellow manipulators.
An earlier article continued the story with the 1913 Federal Reserve Act, giving banks money creation power, letting them more than ever game the system fraudulently. The 1920s stock selling scandals followed, culminating in the 1929 crash, the Great Depression, WW II, post-war prosperity, resulting excesses, late 1960s - 70s turbulence, inflation, the beginning of modern deregulation, neoliberalism and globalization, what Reagan and his successors accelerated.
Reaganomics spawned savings and loan fraud, junk bonds, leveraged buyouts, greenmailing, Boesky, Milken, Dennis Levine, then more crime on the order of Enron, Worldcom, Madoff, other Ponzi schemes, market manipulation, bubbles, false accounting, phony financial products, misrepresentation, and other scams, conspiracies, bankers plundering the Treasury, and "foreclosuregate."
Involved is massive fraud, forged documents, fabricated and backdated ones, perjury, lost paperwork, and false affidavits causing millions of mortgage defaults, evicting owners after seizing their properties illegally.
Fraudulent Foreclosures
William K. Black is a lawyer, academic, former S & L regulator, and author of the book titled, "The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One: How Corporate Executives and Politicians Looted the S & L Industry." He and Economics Professor L. Randall Wray also co-wrote an article titled, "Foreclose on the Foreclosure Fraudsters, Part I: Put Bank of America in Receivership," saying:
Overwhelming evidence shows "the entire foreclosure process is riddled with fraud, (yet) President Obama refuses to support a national moratorium," making him conspiratorially complicit in a huge scandal, ravaging millions of homeowners lawlessly. Protecting bankers, not victims, is policy, so coverup and denial of systemic fraud persists.
Moreover, "despite our pleas the FBI has continued its 'partnership' with the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA)....the trade association of the 'perps.' It created a ridiculous....definition of 'mortgage fraud,' (saying) lenders - who (created them) - are the victims. The FBI" plays ball. It's why no one's been prosecuted nor likely will be, except perhaps some lower level officials taking the rap for their bosses, top executives continuing to profiting hugely by scamming innocent victims hung out to dry.
In fact, criminal CEOs "looted with impunity, were left in power, and were granted their fondest wish when Congress....extorted the professional Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) to turn the accounting rules in a farce." It let banks "refuse to recognize hundreds of billions of losses, (produce fake) 'income' and 'capital,' " so fraudsters got richer than ever.
Black and Wray want it stopped by "prompt corrective action," halting foreclosures until corrective steps are taken and "financial institutions that committed widespread fraud (are put) in receivership," replacing their bosses with honest, competent, officials, if any can be found at a time of unbridled, anything goes greed.
Along with Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Wells Fargo, Bank of America tops the list, criminal enterprises, operating with government complicity. Besides B of A's other chicanery, its books wreak with "many billions of dollars of fraudulent loans originated by Countrywide," its 2009 acquisition.
Countrywide is symbolic of industry practice, selling "hundreds of thousands of fraudulent loans through false reps and warranties," most then illegally foreclosed. Like other mortgage scammers, it "victimized hundreds of thousands of people and hundreds of" counterparties, causing massive amounts of losses, homeowners, of course, hit hardest. In fact, Countrywide "defrauded more people, at a greater cost, than any entity in history."
But other mortgage lenders contributed their share as part of a giant con game against the public from which they keep profiting, scooping up foreclosed properties on the cheap, then defrauding new unwary buyers when they resold - properties they don't own because the entire scheme is fraudulent. It means evicted owners are entitled to their homes back.
As analyst Bob Chapman explains:
"The fraud committed by the foreclosure mills, at the behest of the banks, puts all foreclosures into question and even the status of those homeowners who are currently paying their mortgages. That means if (they) all stop paying their mortgages, they could end up owning their homes. This is a mega crisis far bigger that Bear Stearns and Lehman," but even bigger ones are coming after years of systemic fraud, the extent of which is staggering.
As for housing says Chapman:
"Foreclosures are now one in 12. Four years ago it was 1 in 100. For sure home prices have not bottomed. It could be the mortgage market is dead and all the bondholders are sunk." If true, the nation's "financial structure is close to collapse."
Countrywide did its share to cause it. According to Black and Wray, its top executives were "infamous," yet B of A made them senior leaders, and administration officials "trivialize (their) criminality," refusing to hold them and others accountable for obvious reasons. Because they, and earlier administrations, helped engineer the housing bubble since the mid-1990s. Though now deflating, victims continue being scammed.
So instead of fixing the problem and aiding homeowners, it festers, grows, and lets "too big to fail" systemically dangerous institutions (SDIs) get bigger, creating greater than ever risks. As a result, we're literally "rolling the dice with disaster every day," world economies held hostage by powerful banks.
The obvious solution is avoided, placing B of A and other insolvent banks in receivership, breaking them up, replacing and prosecuting their culpable officials, and restructuring a dysfunctional system into a workable one, excluding predatory banks.
In her extraordinary book, "Web of Debt," and regular writing, Ellen Brown explains how, again in her October 21 article titled, "Repairing a Dysfunctional Banking System," saying:
Stopping financial predators depends on "turning banking into a public utility, one that advances the credit of the community," not third party criminal enterprises pretending to be legitimate. Today, it's worse than ever, Brown quoting Ann Pettifor, a fellow of the London-based New Economics Foundation, saying:
"(T)he banking system is now fully dysfunctional. It has failed in its primary purpose: to act as a machine for lending into the real economy. Instead (it's) become a borrowing machine....from the real economy, and then refusing to lend, except at high rates of interest," effectively "lobotom(izing) the real economy."
As a result, it's being wrecked. Unemployment and poverty keep rising, and millions of homeowners are losing their most precious asset, mostly by criminal fraud. "Our homes," says Brown, "have become pawns in a great pawn shop run for the benefit of large institutional investors and the banks that profit from them. Our (securitized) sliced and diced houses are the chips moved around in a global casino," the model having "crashed against the hard rock of hundreds of years of state real estate law (with) requirements" banks haven't met, and can't meet "if they are to comply with the tax laws for mortgage-backed securities."
The name of the game is fraud, outright categorical massive theft because that's how the system is structured. Banks aren't creating credit responsibly. They're, in fact, "vacuuming up our own money and lending it back to us at higher rates," usurious ones on credit cards. They're "sucking up our real estate and lending it back to our pension (and) mutual funds at compound interest. The result is a mathematically impossible pyramid scheme," inherently prone to fail.
It's flawed, fraudulent, and essential to replace, Brown proposing a "public credit solution" through publicly-owned banks - "a public utility operated for the benefit of" communities nationwide, they, in turn, returning profits to the locales where they were generated, not to a Wall Street crime syndicate.
Since 1919, North Dakota has been the precedent-setting model as the nation's only state-owned bank, the BND. Sustained by its distinctiveness and strength, it's been a credit machine, delivering productive financial services for agriculture, commerce and industry, what no other state can match because they don't have state-owned banks, but easily could.
Earlier, Brown explained that the BND:
"chiefly acts as a central bank, with functions similar to those of a branch of the Federal Reserve," but not disadvantaged in the system it and giant banks control and manipulate to their advantage.
In contrast, BND is an independent public bank, 100% state-owned, operating in the public interest. It also "avoids rivalry with private banks by partnering with them." Local banks do most lending. BND participates in their loans, shares risk, "buy(s) down the interest rate and buy(s) up loans, thereby freeing up banks to lend more," as part of a continuing prosperity-creating virtuous circle.
Year after year it works, freeing North Dakota from today's credit crisis and worst of the economic downturn. It's a win-win for the state, its agriculture, commerce, industry, entrepreneurial startups, students, homebuyers needing loans, and virtually anyone in the state able to qualify.
Compared to predatory banks, state-owned ones have enormous advantages. They don't answer to Wall Street, don't pay outrageous salaries and bonuses, don't speculate in derivatives or other high-risk investments, return handsomely on equity, and deliver prosperity, lifting all boats fairly. It thus begs the question why other states aren't run like North Dakota, currently "rated AA and recently returned a 26% profit to the state," producing credit for economic growth. As Brown explained:
When community-owned banks like North Dakota's create profit-generating credit, "the result can be a functional, efficient and sustainable system of finance," compared to the rest of the country's broken one, hostage to predator bank scams, double-dealing, and other forms of flimflam, robbing millions of homeowners of their properties.
North Dakota's model is a workable alternative, a public ownership way for everyone, lifting all boats fairly and equitably, instead of bilking the many for the few, and wrecking America in the process.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Miners: Pressed Down To Dice With Death

By Farooque Chowdhury
25 October, 2010  -  Countercurrents.org

Deaths come in rows in mines. Crude appropriation of labor, and deprived life invigorate it. But all fail to subdue miners the world over. They stand unvanquished atop this profit driven world, symbolized by the San Jose miners in Chile.
Despite the ruthless reality, in Chile, miners felt proud as Sepulveda, one of the rescued miners in the desolate Atacama Desert, said: “We have to change the way we work. The working world needs lots of changes. We, the miners, we won’t let it rest.” It resound a manifesto.
Miners know the reality of ruthless poverty: ageless death waits there down into mines. The alliance of profit and hunger compels them to work in places feared by death. “I left school and started mining because there are no other jobs available,” said D R Congo worker Antoine. “At least I can earn something every day.” (Solidarity Center Education Fund) Hunger pushes similar millions to mines with least or no safety measures.
The San Jose miners “knew they were dicing with death in a mine plagued by accidents. Some had been planning to quit…but desperation drove them on.” It was a desperation made by poverty, a grand act of theft by capital. María Segovia said, “The mine was weeping a lot.” María, sister of Dario, one of the rescued miners, used miners’ expression for falling rocks and the sounds of creaking. They knew that the sound warned of trouble.
Miners, as all workers followed by a huge reserve army of labor, have no choice between low wages and weak safety standards. The triumph in Chile was followed by deaths of miners in Ecuador, and China.
The Asia-Pacific experiences more than half the world's mining, one of the most dangerous occupations, accidents. China has the highest incidence of mining deaths and accidents in the world. In 2008, there were 2,845 mining accidents in China, killing 4,746 people, an average of 13 deaths each day of the year. (Lee Han Shih, “Death by Mining - A Third World Affair”, asia! magazine, March 2, 2009) In China, 153 miners got trapped in a flooded mine. Accidents killed 2,631 coal miners in 2009. In 2002, it was 6,995.
In 2007, 108 died in Kemerovo Oblast, Russia; in 2005, 210 coal miners died in the Sunjiawan mine, in China; in 2006, 50 miners died in Dhanbad, India. (Down to Earth, Jun. 2007 vol: 16, issue: 20070615) In Kazakhstan in 2004 – 2006, 91miners died in mines.
The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said: “More than 103,000 workers died in the mining industry … from 1911 to 1995.” (NIOSH Worker Health Chartbook, September 2000) The US Mine Safety and Health Administration said: From 1880 to 1910, mine explosions and other accidents claimed thousands of victims. With 3,242 deaths, 1907 was the deadliest year in US coal mining history. The year also saw America's worst mine explosion ever that killed 358 near Monongah, WV. One of the deadliest non-coal mining accidents was in Montana in 1917, 163 died. During earlier decades, total deaths in all types of US mining averaged 1,500 or more. It decreased on average during the 1990's, to below 100 and reached a record low in 2004 with 55 deaths. In 2007, there were 65 mining fatalities. In 2001-2005, the annual average in coal mining decreased to 30 fatalities. In metal and nonmetal mining, there was an average of 233 deaths annually in the 1930s. It decreased to 32 in 2001-2005. There was an all-time low 23 coal mining fatalities in 2005. In 2002, it was 28. In metal and nonmetal mining, the all-time low for fatalities was 26 in 2003. It increased to 32 in 2007. These are only a tiny fraction of miners’ full death-“story”.
All citizens in all countries shall be haunted by the question: why death is so cheap in mines? Susan Kushner Resnick, author of Goodbye Wifes and Daughters, the story of the Smith coal mine disaster of 1943 provides an answer:
Another year, another group of men killed in a coal mine. You already know the story, because it rarely changes. Inspectors discover violations. Mine operators ignore them. Miners work through the danger because they need to make a living. Gas builds up and explodes. Some men die instantly from the force of the blast, and some die from the carbon monoxide. There are always a few unaccounted for or trapped, and those mysteries keep everyone’s hope alive for a while. Then, usually, they die, too….This is what happened Monday in the Upper Big Branch Mine in Whitesville, West Virginia.…25 miners died after an explosion. And Massey Energy, a firm notorious for cutting safety corners, owns the mine.…A bigger problem than the inherent danger of harvesting profit from the earth was the dearth of safety laws.… “We can be preventing these disasters and we aren’t,’’ said Phil Smith, communications director for United Mine Workers of America. Why not? ….The most obvious is that the wealthy mine owners value profits more than lives. It’s simply easier to pay fines than to fix what’s broken in a mine. Massey Energy could certainly fix its mines. It had revenue of $2.6 billion in 2008. …many companies choose to run cheaper, more dangerous mines. As inspectors slap them with bigger fines, they fight safety even harder. “Many of the operators are contesting citations and delaying the process of the citations being enforced,’’ Smith said. But that can’t be the only reason miners are dying. Politics may also play a part. Don Blankenship, president of Massey, is a big wig in West Virginia political circles. He reportedly gives thousands of dollars to politicians. Finally, there are paychecks. If the Upper Big Branch mine had been unionized, Smith said, “our safety committee would have made sure the mine was aggressively followed up on and citations dealt with.’’ But it wasn’t. Not everyone can find a job in a union shop. But some choose to work in nonunion mines because they tend to pay better. Smith says when a union mine and a nonunion mine are located near each other, the nonunion men make a bit more per hour. What they lose, he notes, is the freedom to complain when safety is ignored. That kind of talk can lead to an escort to the door. … Bob Wakenshaw was 12 when his father and both grandfathers perished in 1943 in Montana’s worst coal mine disaster. It was during World War II, when miners didn’t complain … because they were providing coal for the war effort. They felt it was their patriotic duty. Besides, they were finally making money after the Depression. The same motivation is likely driving today’s miners. They’re just trying to take care of their families. “If, in these dire economical times, you are afraid of losing your job if you complain, that threatens your family and livelihood,’’ Wakenshaw said. (“Mine disasters and money”, The Boston Globe, April 7, 2010, [paragraphs in the original have not been followed here])
In 2006, 63 Mexican miners buried and died inside a mine. Their bodies were not even recovered. Columnist Fernando del Paso penned: “Here we didn’t lift a finger, we didn’t even try — not even modestly — to save the life of at least one of our miners in Pasta de Conchos.” Raúl Vera, a bishop, has called for a reopening of the investigation, and for filing charges against all responsible including the former and present ministers of labor.
Death, poverty and fear constantly accompany miners, as like all working people. Their families are not free from fear that the system supplies. Michael D. Yates, Associate Editor, Monthly Review writes: “The climate in such a [mining] town is one of perpetual insecurity and fear, emotions compounded by the danger of the work in the mines….Fear of losing a job. Fear of not finding a job. …Fear of boss’s wreath. Fear your house might burn down. Fear your kids will get hurt.” (“Class: A Personal Story”, Monthly Review, July-August, 2006)
There are diseases in miners’ world. Diseases among miners differ depending on type of mine: coal, gold, etc. But most miners suffer irrespective of country and type of mine. Thirst for higher profit, and state’s denial to take responsibility creates and worsens the situation that take away miners’ earning, and life.
In sub-Saharan Africa, mining for gold, diamonds, and precious minerals could be driving entire Africa’s tuberculosis epidemic. Gold mining countries had about 50 percent higher rates of tuberculosis than countries that did not mine for gold.
Researchers at Oxford and Brown universities, the University of California, San Francisco and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine estimate that the mining industry in Africa may be implicated in as many as 760,000 new cases of tuberculosis each year, due to factors such as silica dust in mines, crowded working and living conditions, and the spread of HIV. Tuberculosis has been on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa over the past 20 years with a doubling of the annual incidence from 173 to 351 per 100,000 population between 1990 and 2007. (David Stuckler, Sanjay Basu, Martin McKee and Mark Lurie, Mining and Risk of Tuberculosis in Sub-Saharan Africa, American Journal of Public Health, June 1, 2010)
Similar facts from other countries make an epos of miners’ pain. But miners’ seemingly endless journey through pain and death down to mine only reminds those lines:
O death! The poor man’s dearest friend,
The kindest and the best!
Welcome the hour, my aged limbs
Are laid with thee at rest! 

Farooque Chowdhury, a Bangladesh-free lancer, contributes on socioeconomic issues.

Mass Protests In France: An Interim Balance Sheet

By Dr. Peter Custers
25 October, 2010  -   Countercurrents.org

Street protests peaked just before the senatorial debate was scheduled to take place. On Thursday October 21, the Senate of France witnessed acrimonious debates over the package of pension reforms proposed by France’s rightwing ruler Sarkozy. The French President has put forward a plan for changes in retirement rules which at first sight appear unexceptional. Taking as starting point the fact that its population, just as elsewhere in Europe, is ageing rapidly, the French government argues that two adjustments in pension rules are urgently required. The age at which people are allowed to retire and have the legal right to a pension, is to be raised from 60 to 62 years. Further, whereas until now people were entitled to a full pension, and in consequence would normally retire, at the age of 65, - Sarkozy wants to raise this age to 67 years. Whereas elsewhere in Europe, similar reforms in pension rights have evoked little no public outrage, - reactions by the French population have been highly critical, to say the least. Over a period of roughly a month, mass protests in cities all over France have been staged, and have snowballed into a major challenge to Sarkozy’s government.
In analyzing the reasons for the large response to, and the success of the social actions, we need to highlight at least two factors, i.e. their unitarian thrust and their militancy. Over a period of about a month, mass demonstrations and manifestations have been organized throughout the length and breadth of the country, i.e. in many cities simultaneously. These protests have been marked by a large degree of unity between France’s main trade union bodies, i.e. CGT, CFDT and FO. Whereas several years back, when similar protests were staged, the unions failed to sustain a united opposition against the government’s plans, - this time round all the three mentioned trade union confederations have stuck together. In consequence, people’s participation in the protests has been overwhelmingly large. Estimates regarding the number of participants in 6 consecutive days of national actions range from 1 to over 3 million people for each. Again, public sympathy towards the protests has largely sustained. According to France’s leading daily Le Monde, - fully two-thirds of the French population, more than 70 percent, believe that the protests against Sarkozy’s pension reforms are justified!
Again, the French protests have also been marked by growing militancy, - a fact noted with great concern by French officials. During the week leading up to the debate in the French Senate, which has obviously been a crucial week in the whole conflict, the country has witnessed continuous workers’ strikes in key sectors of the economy. Most threatening to the government was the fact that workers of oil refineries joined the strikes. French and European newspapers have reported that all of France’s 12 oil refineries were paralyzed by workers’ resistance for over a week. Further, the strikes have been backed up by actions aimed at blockading the transportation of oil from oil distribution centers. And while these actions entailed a risk that public sympathy towards the protests would wane, the strikes and blockades have been highly effective. Half of the air flights from Paris’ international airport Orly had to be cancelled due to the disruption in gasoline supplies. And according to both Le Monde and Le Figaro, by the middle of the week as much as a third of the gasoline refilling stations, i.e. 1600 in a total of 4000, had to be closed due to depletion of stocks. By then, Sarkozy intervened and ordered that protestors obstructing transports from oil distribution centers be dislodged.
There is yet a third factor that is very significant in France’s present wave of protests: youngsters are taking part enthusiastically. The numbers of high school students for instance who joined the demonstrations on October the 20th was stated to be nearly 200 hundred thousand. Both universities, traditionally a legendary seat of French social resistance, and high schools have witnessed fierce opposition against Sarkozy’s pension reform plans. This might seem surprising at first. For why should young people seeking work today worry about a retirement age that lies beyond the horizon, at the end of their working life? Yet interviewed by journalists, student activists have expressed a common sentiment. They fear that an extension of the working life of the elderly will negatively affect their own chances at finding employ. And unemployment is an issue that cannot be slighted, certainly not in today’s France. According to official data, France’s unemployment rate as of June of 2010 stood at 10 %, - up from 7.5 % in the middle of 2008, i.e. before the financial crisis hit the European economy. French youngsters are especially vulnerable. According to reliable sources, the employment rate among people aged less than 25 years is only 28.1 %, meaning that less than a quarter of those seeking paid work succeed.
Economists defending Sarkozy’s pension reforms have now launched a publicity offensive, saying it is wrong to presume that changes in the retirement age for the elderly automatically affect the chances of youngsters seeking work. They dispute the idea that there is a direct connection between the two. Yet the discontent in France has much broader contours than the issue of pension reforms alone. Everywhere in Europe, huge financial resources have been allocated since 2008 to save powerful banks and other financial institutions from bankruptcy. Meanwhile, policymakers have stubbornly stuck to old policies, even as people know that deregulation of financial markets and neo-liberal policymaking were decisive factors triggering the crisis. Instead of fighting the current recession with large scale public investments aimed at stimulating employment - for instance via projects accelerating the shift to renewable energy, - policymakers are obsessed with balancing budgets and with cutting spending so as to reduce their public deficit. Against the given background, the French protests may be read as a referendum on neo-liberalism, or rather as a second one. When referendums were organized on the draft European Constitution several years back, - the majority of the French voted ‘no’ because the draft enshrined neoliberal policymaking. As the French Senate continued debating the pension reforms last Friday, the unions have announced fresh days of national protests.