US admits FBI falsified evidence to obtain convictions


By Kate Randall 

20 April 2015

The US Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that over a more than two-decade period before 2000, nearly every FBI examiner gave flawed forensic hair testimony in almost all trials of criminal defendants reviewed so far, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The cases examined include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death, 14 of whom have been either executed or died in prison. The scandal raises the very real probability that innocent people have been sent to their deaths, and that many more wrongfully convicted are languishing on death rows across the US due to FBI analysts’ fraudulent testimony.

Testimony involving pattern-based forensic techniques—such as hair, bite-mark, and tire track comparisons—has contributed to wrongful convictions in more than a quarter of the 329 defendants’ cases that have been exonerated in the US since 1989. In their pursuit of convictions prosecutors across the country have often relied on FBI analysts’ overstated testimony on hair samples, incorrectly citing them as definitive proof of a defendant’s guilt.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the Innocence Project are assisting the government in the nation’s largest post-conviction review of the FBI’s questioned forensic evidence. The groups determined that 26 of 28 examiners in the elite FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far.

The nation’s courts have allowed the bogus testimony, masquerading as definitive scientific evidence of defendants’ guilt, to railroad innocent people and consign them to decades in prison, life in prison, or death row and the execution chamber.

Federal authorities launched an investigation in 2012 after a Post examination found that flawed forensic hair matches might have led to the convictions of hundreds of potentially innocent people nationwide since at least the 1970s. Defendants in these cases were typically charged with murder, rape and other violent crimes.

The scandal involves about 2,500 cases in which FBI examiners gave testimony involving hair matches. Hair examination is a pattern-based forensic technique. It involves subjective examination of characteristics such as color, thickness and length and compares them to a known source.

There is no accepted scientific research on how often hair from different people may appear the same, and any hair “matches” must be confirmed by DNA analysis. However, the Post ’s 2012 review found that FBI experts systematically testified to the near-certainty of matches of hair found at crime scenes to the hair samples of defendants. The FBI gave flawed forensic testimony in 257 of the 268 trials examined so far.

In 2002, a decade before the Post review, the FBI reported that its own DNA testing revealed that examiners reported false hair matches more than 11 percent of the time.

In Washington, DC, the only jurisdiction where defenders and prosecutors have carried out an investigation into all convictions based on FBI hair testimony, five of seven defendants whose trials included flawed hair evidence have been exonerated since 2009 based on either DNA testing or court appeals. All of them served 20 to 30 years in prison for rape or murder.

In an interview with the Post, University of Virginia law professor Brandon L. Garrett said the results of the DC investigation reveal a “mass disaster” inside the criminal justice system. “The tools don’t exist to handle systematic errors in our criminal justice system,” he said.

Those exonerated since 2009 in DC include:

* Donald Eugene Gates was incarcerated for 28 years for the rape and murder of a Georgetown University student. He was ordered released in December 2009 by a DC Superior Court Judge after DNA evidence revealed that another man committed the crime. The prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of an FBI analyst, who falsely linked two hairs from an African-American male to Gates.

* Kirk L. Odom was wrongfully imprisoned for more than 22 years for a 1981 rape and murder. He completed his prison term in 2003, but it was not until July 2012 that DNA evidence exonerated him of the crimes. A DC Superior Court order freed him from remaining on parole until 2047 and registering as a sex offender.

* Santae A. Tribble was convicted in the 1978 killing of a DC taxi driver. An FBI examiner testifying at Tribble’s trial said he had microscopically matched the defendant’s hair to one found in a stocking near the crime scene. In 2012, DNA tests on the same hair excluded him as the perpetrator, clearing the way for his exoneration.

Federal authorities are offering new DNA testing in those cases where FBI analysts gave flawed forensic testimony. However, in some 700 of the 2,500 cases identified by the FBI for review, police or prosecutors have not responded to requests for trial transcripts or other information. Biological evidence is also not always available, having been lost or destroyed in the years since trial.

Although defense attorneys argue that scientifically invalid testimony should be considered a violation of due process, only the states of California and Texas specifically allow appeals when experts recant their testimony or scientific advances undermine forensic evidence given at trial.

In a statement responding to the new scandal’s eruption, the FBI and Justice Department vowed that they are “committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance” and that are “also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

The scandal over fraudulent testimony, however, only reveals the corrupt and anti-democratic character of the US prison system as a whole. The United States locks behind bars a greater proportion of its population than any other country, topped off by the barbaric death penalty that is supported by the entire political establishment.

Whatever the hypocritical posturing of the Obama White House, it cannot bring back the years spent in prison by the wrongfully convicted or the lives of those likely executed for crimes they did not commit.

California governor’s emergency drought measures leave agribusiness giants untouched


By Evan Blake and Glenn Ricketts
20 April 2015

On April 1, California Governor Jerry Brown issued an Executive Order mandating that the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) implement water rationing guidelines that must lead to “a statewide 25% reduction in potable urban water usage through February 28th, 2016.” On Saturday, the State Water Board released draft regulations to meet this standard, which will be finalized after its May 5-6 business meeting.

The emergency regulations, taken in response to severe drought conditions, place the burden of water conservation primarily on the shoulders of working class residents, while leaving the vast agribusiness giants and other large corporate interests–which consume the overwhelming majority of the state’s water resources–untouched.

The restrictions come in response to Department of Water Resources (DWR) estimates of record low levels of mountain snow, which supply rivers and streams as it melts. On the Sierra Nevada mountain range, whose snowpack normally provides the largest yearly source of freshwater, there is a mere 1.4 inches of water content, five percent of the historical average of 28.3 inches for April 1 and 80 percent lower than the previous lows for the date in 2014 and 1977.

The State Water Board regulations released on Saturday set conservation benchmarks for the state’s 411 local water districts ranging from 8-36 percent, proportional to water usage measured last summer, and will take effect on June 1. Beginning in July, local districts that fail to meet their conservation requirement face fines of up to $10,000 per day. Under previous emergency legislation, local districts also have the authority to fine individual residents caught violating the measures up to $500 daily, effectively pitting neighbors against one another by encouraging reporting of wasteful consumers.

This is essentially a regressive and punitive consumption tax placed on working class families. A recent UCLA study found that wealthy neighborhoods in California on average use three times more water than working class communities, a discrepancy directly attributable to the acres of lawns and landscaping that adorn the properties of the rich who will have little problem absorbing any fines.

California’s agricultural industries account for roughly 80 percent of all potable water usage in the state, or 27 of the total 34 million acre feet of water used in California each year. However, Brown’s order only mentions agriculture in sections 12 and 13 and imposes no restrictions, let alone consumption fines or taxes on the largest enterprises.

Agricultural water suppliers responsible for farms 25,000 acres or larger are told to submit a “detailed drought management plan that describes the actions and measures the supplier will take to manage water demand during drought.” Those supplying water to farmland 10,000 to 25,000 acres do not need to “submit the plans to the Department until July 1st, 2016.”

The order does not require any usage reductions from agribusiness, and any measures taken by growers as part of their “drought management plan” are strictly voluntary.

When asked in an interview about the need to curtail agricultural water usage, Brown responded, “Then you’re putting government in a role of picking and choosing, maybe almonds instead of walnuts or tomatoes instead of rice. That is a big brother that outside of war or some unprecedented catastrophe shouldn’t even be considered.”

Brown has no trouble acting as “big brother” when it comes to regulating the water usage of working class residents. The governor refuses, however, to impinge in the slightest fashion on the profit interests of big business, and justifies this by insisting the present situation does not qualify as an “unprecedented catastrophe.”

In reality, it is the big agribusinesses that are holding the people of California hostage and sacrificing the needs of society to the single-minded drive to produce profits for top executives and wealthy investors. For all of Brown’s “environmentally progressive” posturing, he is nothing more than a tool of these corporate interests.

In response to the water shortage, growers are spending millions to drill ever-deeper groundwater wells, in order to gain access to the state’s natural aquifers, upon which they then draw water free of charge. As a result, naturally occurring arsenic is increasingly released from underground rock formations as the water level drops. The rising concentration of this cancer-causing element has rendered the drinking water unsafe for at least 255,000 people in 341 separate local water systems across the state, mostly in rural areas of the Central Valley.

Groundwater aquifers throughout the Central Valley, the breadbasket of California, also show high levels of carcinogenic nitrates, which stem from farming chemicals and animal waste and are linked to thyroid cancer, skin rashes, hair loss and birth defects. The region’s working class, largely Latino immigrant families, are hardest hit by aquifer contamination and spend as much as 10 percent of their already meager income on bottled water.

Governor Brown’s Executive Order absolves agribusiness for their past and ongoing crimes because he and the entire political establishment directly benefit from their patronage. Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of the largest almond, pomegranate, pistachio and mandarin orange farms in the state, and who possess a combined net worth of over $4.2 billion dollars, have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign coffers of each of the last three governors.

Governor Brown directly rewarded agribusiness for their support last year, when the Super PAC raising funds for his election, “Brown for Governor 2014,” donated over $5 million to the “Yes on Prop. 1” campaign. Proposition 1 cut the total budget for all state agencies managing and overseeing water resources from $11.14 billion down to $7.12 billion. It furthermore allows the agribusinesses to use inefficient, but largely cheaper irrigation systems, and ignore more sustainable watering or farm management practices that would produce the most substantial reductions in water usage over time.

The Resnicks donated $150,000 to the “Yes on Prop. 1” campaign, while the California Farm Bureau Federation and the Western Growers Service Association each donated $250,000. Prop 1 passed in November last year after its proponents spent nearly $22 million, compared to opponents of Prop. 1 who only raised $101,149.

The entire framework for attempting to achieve water savings under capitalism turns reality on its head. The State Water Board has proposed an addition to Brown’s restrictions, mandating that “The use of potable water outside of newly constructed homes and buildings that is not delivered by drip or micro-spray systems will be prohibited.”

If the same principle of adopting universal drip irrigation and other more efficient technologies were applied where appropriate to agriculture, the water savings would dwarf any potential savings through urban conservation. Instead, these giant and obscenely wasteful monopolies are untouchable.

As water has become scarce over the duration of the ongoing drought, agribusiness has responded by concentrating production on high value cash crops such as fruits, nuts and hay. Almonds alone use roughly 3.4 million acre feet of water per year, 10 percent of the state’s total usage, while alfalfa consumes roughly 6.8 million acre feet, or 20 percent of the state’s total usage.

Alfalfa is by far the most water intensive crop, as a majority goes toward feeding the state’s 1.8 million dairy cows, while the state’s horses come in close second. The most recent DWR data shows that 77.1 percent of all alfalfa is grown using the least efficient flood, or furrow, irrigation methods, while 17.9 percent is grown using inefficient sprinkler systems. A paltry 2.5 percent of alfalfa grown in the state uses the most water efficient drip irrigation methods. Transitioning to drip irrigation for this single crop would account for vastly more savings than those that will be realized by Brown’s Executive Order.

Statewide, 43 percent of all crops are grown using the least efficient flood irrigation, 15.4 percent using slightly more efficient sprinkler systems, and 38.4 using the most efficient drip irrigation methods. The majority of crops grown in the state would grow as well or better using drip irrigation, and shifting all applicable crops to these highly efficient watering systems would yield immense water savings.

To fundamentally address the unprecedented drought crisis requires multiple, massive public works programs for both agricultural and urban sectors. Techniques exist to sustainably produce more food while using exponentially less water, including hydroponics and aquaponics, drip irrigation for applicable crops and remote sensing farm management technologies. At the same time, the universal use of water efficient showers and toilets, drought resistant lawns composed of native species, advanced water capture and recycling systems that span entire cities and modern pipe and sewage systems would greatly improve water usage.

Far from investing the necessary resources for the repair and renovation of the country’s outmoded and decaying infrastructure, however, both Democrats and Republicans continue to starve it of necessary funds. The annual Pentagon budget- $360 billion- is 6.3 times the amount of federal funding for infrastructure even as cities across the country are plagued with bursting water pipes and drainage systems dating back to the early 20th, if not late 19th centuries.

To give precedence to the needs of society–for modern infrastructure and the application of the latest developments in science and technology to address water usage, climate change and the preservation of the planet–the outmoded capitalist system must be abolished and economic and political life reorganized based on the socialist principle of production for human need, not profit. This includes the nationalization of the major agricultural monopolies and other large corporations under the democratic control of working people. For this, a mass political movement of the working class, independent of both big business parties, fighting for a workers’ government and socialism, must be built.

The banker behind Hitler’s shadow empire

Hjalmar Schacht was the most powerful minister in Germany, an economic “wizard” with a destructive plan for growth

The banker behind Hitler's shadow empire

Adolf Hitler and Hjalmar Schacht in Berlin, May 5, 1934. (Credit: AP)

By mid-1936 Spain was economically backward, socially volatile, and politically explosive. After a rebellion’s coup failed and with a dawning civil war on their hands, it was unsurprising that the two Spains sought supplies from the great powers to make up for their deficits in armaments and technology. Foreign supplies were, as of the coup, a necessary—if not sufficient—element of victory in the dawning civil war. But only one side received the decisive support that allowed it to overcome its initial material, territorial, and financial inferiority, and it was not the side that had the initial economic, geographic, and strategic advantage. Eventually fascist intervention allowed Franco to undertake another Reconquista, cleansing Spain not of Moors but of Reds. In the thirty-two months of protracted war, all powers would somehow change their original strategic stance toward the “Spanish question,” but not enough to alter the strategic decisions at the dawn of the conflict. The course of great power diplomacy was dictated, through a web of interlocked and synchronized decision making, on a momentous day: July 25, 1936.

Intentions notwithstanding, Premier Léon Blum ultimately gave in to domestic and foreign political pressures by declining José Giral’s “fraternal” aid request and choosing to preserve his own Front Populaire at the expense of the Spanish one. This sequence of events proved harmful both in terms of fact and appearance. The French did not supply the Republic but provided plenty of excuses for others to arm the Nationalists. Britain’s formal neutrality fi t its policy objective of localizing the war in Spain while containing political and naval strategic considerations. The “continental arrangement” sought by Anthony Eden’s Foreign Office would not come, yet appeasement of the dictators with an eye to Moscow had already fundamentally altered Britain’s centuries-old strategy of balancing continental hegemons. Through official inaction and selective favors to the Nationalists, the British too undermined the Republic. A similar conclusion can be reached about the behavior of the United States: FDR’s government prioritized the protection of its investments in Spain, choosing a middle path that only further isolated moderate Republicans. The Soviet Union did sell war material to Madrid, but Soviet involvement often contributed to important rifts within the Republican government. All in all, Moscow ultimately contributed less to the Republican cause than originally believed. Foreign investors understood the implications of these diplomatic decisions very early in the war, and, fearing both Republican defeat and Communist victory, lacked trust in the Republican peseta for the remainder of the conflict.

After the fateful July 25 the two decisive intervening powers in the Spanish Civil War were therefore Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Hitler and Mussolini decided on intervention in favor of Franco’s Nationalists independently, yet within hours of each other. Their analogous answer to the Spanish question would bring them closer together; but whereas Mussolini merely continued his foreign policy objective of ending the left-leaning Spanish Republic, Hitler challenged his traditional Reich diplomatic service by betting on Francisco Franco.

It would prove to be a lucrative gamble. The contrast between the two decisive fascist interventions on behalf of the Nationalists will serve to highlight the uniqueness of Nazi designs. As will become clear, Nazi intervention was not driven by ideology. While Italian leadership worried primarily about international appearances, the Germans—often ruthlessly—played their hand differently, obtaining concessions fully compatible with their domestic economic needs. In a matter of months Spain would move decisively toward becoming an informal German colony. Unlike the Führer’s daring foreign policy, Germany’s grand economic strategy did not originate with Hitler—who was uninterested and largely incompetent in financial affairs—but with a man who was, at the time of the Civil War’s outbreak, his most independent and powerful minister: Dr. Hjalmar Schacht.

The macroeconomic quandary was anything but straightforward. Although employment had seen a marked improvement since early 1933, with such depressed exports in the context of low international trade it seemed impossible to reduce the large (and growing) trade deficit. The problem was compounded by two interwoven, politically driven obsessions: maintaining the international value of the Reichsmark and resisting inflation, lest it remind the German public of bleaker Weimar days. At the time Germany’s closest trading partners were competing to see how swiftly they could abandon the “fetters” of the international gold standard of pegged exchange rates, gaining world export market share through cheaper currencies. If there was ever a currency war, this was it.Hitler’s decision on July 25, 1936, to back Franco was not the only one he took while at the Bayreuth Festival – the yearly Richard Wagner extravaganza he never missed – that shaped German involvement in the Spanish Civil War. Two years before, on July 26, 1934, he had summoned Schacht, president of Germany’s central bank, the Reichsbank, to Bayreuth for a private audience. The chancellor could ill afford to immerse himself in Wagner; the strains of a foreign exchange crisis had almost claimed the life of Minister of Economics Kurt Schmitt, who had suffered a stroke while delivering a speech. Schmitt’s subsequent leave of absence extended beyond the necessary recovery time; it appears that he was eager to find a way out of a seemingly impossible job. If this was so, one cannot blame him. Few within the Nazi regime liked the former head of insurance giant Allianz. They derided him as a symbol of outdated conservatism, a bulwark against the populist revolution so many Nazi “old fighters” hoped for. The paramilitary SAs (Sturmabteilung), for instance, sang sarcastically, “The stockbrokers are party members / and capital’s protector is Herr Schmitt.” Meanwhile Hitler and his Cabinet pressured Schmitt to deliver on their economic priorities. By mid-1934 only a few economies had begun pulling out of the Depression. German growth and employment were improving from the economic trough, but exports languished. During a publicized national tour, Schmitt called this a problem of “export fatigue”; he promoted “exports as national duty”—even if that involved “dumping” or selling abroad below cost.

Yet international markets did not buy Nazi promises; they expected a Reichsmark devaluation against the U.S. dollar and British sterling. It was neither the first nor the last time they would be disappointed. There was no way around it: in the summer of 1934 Nazi Germany faced a financial dilemma. Summoning the successful president of the Reichsbank to Bayreuth was part of Hitler’s plan to solve the crisis so that he could focus on other pressing political issues. A few weeks earlier, he had unleashed the Gestapo on his own SAs and other political rivals, including a former chancellor. The bloodbath, in what became known as the “Night of the Long Knives,” gave Hitler more power, while pleasing the conservative armed forces, the Wehrmacht. Yet managing the domestic and international backlash required the chancellor’s full attention. With Schmitt out and the financial crisis unresolved, it was time for a new face: at Bayreuth Hitler offered Schacht the Economics Ministry.

In his unashamedly unapologetic autobiography, Schacht claimed he already foresaw the dangers inherent in Hitler’s unchecked power, yet the evidence suggests that, if he did, Schacht did not let it interfere with his accumulation of power. He wanted the new portfolio to complement his second coming at the Reichsbank, and it is plausible that he had been working behind the scenes to oust Schmitt, a man he never considered his intellectual equal. But then again, who was?

The Reichsbank president was not known for his humility. It was Schacht who was credited internationally for pulling Weimar back from hyperinflationary chaos in 1924; it was Schacht who had given legitimacy to many a German delegation in 1920s and 1930s international economic conferences; it was Schacht who was a member sine qua non of the transatlantic financial establishment. The press lauded him as the “the wizard of international finance,” an epithet that he embraced wholeheartedly.

The result of the Bayreuth meeting was the financial equivalent of the papal union of temporal and spiritual power: henceforth Schacht wielded unprecedented power over both monetary and fiscal affairs. Within months foreign media began addressing him as “Germany’s economic dictator,” while expressing confidence in his able management. Markets agreed, reacting positively to his appointment. The domestic media was no less exultant. But given the many constraints on Depression-era German economics, which path was right? The answer had escaped Schmitt and his predecessor, Alfred Hugenberg. To Schacht, however, it seemed clear: the Reich’s salvation required the emphatic— or, rather, ruthless—application of nationalist economic principles he had developed throughout his meteoric career. Schacht was not the only successful economic nationalist in the Depression. Yet it was his economic framework that changed the face of the German economy, its foreign economic relations, and eventually drove the type of foreign intervention the Nazis brought to warring Spain.

Excerpted from “Hitler’s Shadow Empire: Nazi Economics and the Spanish Civil War” by Pierpaolo Barbieri. Copyright © 2015 by Pierpaolo Barbieri. Reprinted by arrangement with Harvard University Press. All rights reserved.

Water, Capitalism and Catastrophism

Living Under the Shadow of a Sixth Extinction


Two films concerned with water and environmental activism arrive in New York this week. “Groundswell Rising”, which premieres at the Maysles Theater in Harlem today, is about the struggle to safeguard lakes and rivers from fracking while “Revolution”, which opens at the Cinema Village next Wednesday, documents the impact of global warming on the oceans. Taking the holistic view, one can understand how some of the most basic conditions of life are threatened by a basic contradiction. Civilization, the quintessential expression of Enlightenment values that relies on ever-expanding energy, threatens to reduce humanity to barbarism if not extinction through exactly such energy production.

This challenge not only faces those of us now living under capitalism but our descendants who will be living under a more rational system. No matter the way in which goods and services are produced, for profit or on the basis of human need, humanity is faced with ecological constraints that must be overcome otherwise we will be subject to a Sixth Extinction. Under capitalism, Sixth Extinction is guaranteed. Under socialism, survival is possible but only as a result of a radical transformation of how society is organized, something that Marx alluded to in the Communist Manifesto when he called for a “gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country.”

“Groundswell Rising” covers some of the same ground as Josh Fox’s “Gaslandia” but is more about the activism that has taken off ever since people became aware that fracking was a threat to their health and economic well-being. While most of us are probably aware that water that catches fire is probably not a good thing to drink, PBS veteran filmmakers and brothers Matt and Renard Cohen make the case that fracking’s economic benefits are dubious at best. For every farmer or rancher who has leased his land for drilling, there are many homeowners living nearby who get nothing but the shitty end of the stick: pollution, noise and a loss of property value.

One of these homeowners in rural Pennsylvania inherited his house and land from his father who taught Craig Stevens “conservative rightwing values” but it was exactly those values that turned him into an anti-fracking activist. Rooted in a space that has belonged to his family for 180 years, Stevens was shocked to discover that Chesapeake Gas owned the mineral rights underneath his land without ever having been given access to anything on the surface. His property has become collateral damage as mud spills poured across his land from nearby hills where Chesapeake cut trees in order to create a clearing for their equipment. The noise and fumes that emanate from the drilling have destroyed his way of life, so much so that Stevens is happy to speak at rallies alongside people whose views on private property are radically different than his own.

What gives the film its power is the attention paid to people like Stevens who organized petition drives and showed up at town council meetings to voice their opposition to fracking. They look like Tea Party activists or Walmart shoppers, mostly white and plain as a barn door, but they know that they do not want drilling in their townships and are willing to fight tooth and nail to prevent it. For all of the left’s dismay about its lack of power, the film’s closing credits reveal that there are 312 local anti-fracking groups in Pennsylvania made up of exactly such people who will likely be our allies as the environmental crisis deepens.

The film benefits from a number of experts on fracking who have become increasingly politicized as the White House and its friends in the Republican Party push for fracking everywhere as part of a strategy ostensibly to make American energy-independent but more likely to increase profits for a decisive sector of the capitalist economy. Chief among them is Tony Ingraffea, a Cornell professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department with a long career consulting for companies that would likely see eye to eye with the oil and gas industry. A Mother Jones profile pointed out:

Ingraffea isn’t the likeliest scientific foe of fracking. His past research has been funded by corporations and industry interests including Schlumberger, the Gas Research Institute, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman. His original doctoral work, in the 1970s, involved the study of “rock fracture mechanics”—in other words, how cracks in rock form and propagate, a body of knowledge that is crucial to extractive industries like oil and gas. “I spent 20, 25 years working with the oil and gas industry…helping them to figure out how best to get oil and gas out of rock,” Ingraffea explains.

But it was exactly such a background that prepared him to become a whistle-blower who now warns about the dangers of earthquakes and water contamination from fracking. Like Craig Stevens, Tony Ingraffea came to realize that there were some things more important than corporate profits, namely the right of citizens not to be poisoned by polluted water.

Besides causing earthquakes and making water undrinkable, fracking has another downside that runs counter to the claims made for it. As an alternative to the coal burning that is responsible for greenhouse gases that cause global warming, fracking also imposes a severe toll. According to Ingraffea, up to 8 percent of the methane gas that is created as part of the natural gas extraction process leaks into the environment where it hastens global warming. Because it is 80 to 90 times more potent than coal in creating the greenhouse effect, its unintended consequences negate its advertised benefits.

Global warming’s impact on the oceans is what led 36-year-old Canadian filmmaker to make “Revolution”, a film that is a follow-up to the 2007 “Sharkwater”. “Sharkwater” was made to protest their slaughter for shark fin soup, a delicacy in Chinese restaurants that has been reduced drastically partially as a result of the campaign the film helped to inspire.

“Revolution” emerged out of concerns that had been troubling Stewart ever since a question was posed to him during the Q&A of a screening of “Sharkwater”. If all marine life is facing extinction by the end of the 21stcentury, what good does it do to protect sharks that cannot survive when fish beneath them on the food chain have disappeared?” The film shows Stewart scratching his head after hearing the question and failing to come up with an answer. It is the new film that now tries to provide one.

Before making films, Stewart was a photographer who worked for the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s magazines. His skills with underwater photography and an undergraduate science degree were the preparation he needed to make the two films.

The first 1/3rd of “Revolution” consists of underwater footage of some of the world’s best-known coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. These reefs consist of millennia of accreted organic material that serves as a hub for all sorts of fishes. Without them, marine life will certainly disappear. But to Stewart’s consternation, it is the coral reef that is disappearing. Without them, there will be no fish, including the shark that sits on the underwater empire’s throne.

This discovery led him on a search to understand what was causing the collapse of coral reefs. It turned out that a rise in ocean temperature is to blame. While most people are familiar with the threat that carbon emissions pose to the atmosphere, it is arguably more of a threat to life underneath the water. CO2 gas leads to acidification in ocean waters and thus the bleaching of coral reefs that finally leads to their destruction.

Once this became apparent to Stewart, he embarked on a mission to hear what global warming activists were doing and to put himself at their disposal. The fruit of this is contained in the final 1/3rd of the film as he shows up at the Climate Change Conference that took place in Cancun in 2010 where he was appalled to learn from activists that his native country was the world’s leading polluter. On their behalf, he accepted the Swiftian inspired “Fossil of the Day” award for Canada, a country that is host to the Alberta Tar Sands drilling sites. Activists have fought to close it for the same reasons that activists oppose fracking in the USA: it despoils the land and water while it increases global warming. It is the source of the natural gas that would have been transported by the Keystone XL pipeline, which was overruled by Obama but remains a threat to the environment as long as big oil and gas interests continue to buy politicians. As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said she was “inclined” to approve Keystone XL. Does anybody think that she will do anything differently as President?

Largely as a result of the publication of books like Elizabeth Colbert’s “The Sixth Extinction” and Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”, as well as a myriad of scientific reports warning about the collapse of human and animal life as the 21st century stumbles forward on a path of environmental degradation, a debate has opened up on the left about what our response should be.

In the collection “Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth”, Eddie Yuen takes issue with an “apocalyptic” streak in exactly such articles since they lead to fear and paralysis. A good deal of his article appears to take issue with the sort of analysis developed by Naomi Klein, a bugbear to many convinced of the need to defend “classical” Marxism against fearmongering. Klein is a convenient target but the criticisms could easily apply as well to Mike Davis whose reputation is unimpeachable.

Klein’s latest book has served to focus the debate even more sharply as her critics accuse her of letting capitalism off the hook. This is not how Swedish scholar Andreas Malm views Klein’s work. In an article on “The Anthropocene Myth” that appeared in Jacobin, Malm credits Klein with laying bare “the myriad ways in which capital accumulation, in general, and its neoliberal variant, in particular, pour fuel on the fire now consuming the earth system.”

He sees Klein as an alternative to those who believe that “humankind is the new geological force transforming the planet beyond recognition, chiefly by burning prodigious amounts of coal, oil, and natural gas.” Some who share this belief, according to Malm, are Marxists.

Those who adhere to the Anthropocene myth tend to elevate the use of fire as a kind of original sin. Malm quotes Will Steffen, Paul J. Crutzen, and John R. McNeill: “The mastery of fire by our ancestors provided humankind with a powerful monopolistic tool unavailable to other species, that put us firmly on the long path towards the Anthropocene.”

This evokes the myth of Prometheus, the Greek god who was punished for bestowing fire to mankind and who was admired by Karl Marx for the words that Aeschylus attributed to him: “In simple words, I hate the pack of gods.”

While I am inclined to agree with Malm that it is the drive for profit that explains fracking and all the rest, and that the benefits of energy production are not shared equally among nations and social classes, there is still a need to examine “civilization”. If we can easily enough discard the notion of the “Anthropocene” as the cause of global warming, the task remains: how can the planet survive when the benefits of bestowing the benefits of “civilization” across the planet so that everyone can enjoy the lifestyle of a middle-class American (or German more recently) remains the goal of socialism?

Eddie Yuen was most likely alluding to this problematic by citing the 1970s Italian revolutionary graffitiL

Con la rivoluzione caviale per tutti.

(After the revolution, caviar for everyone.)

This is presented as an alternative to the call some theorists and activists for a “managed downsizing of the scale of industrial civilization.” Speaking in the name of the poor in the Global South, Yuen wonders why they should forsake automobiles, air conditioning and consumer goods in order to pay for the climate debt incurred by their former colonial masters.

Ironically, this was the same argument made in the NY Times on April 14th by Eduardo Porter in an article titled “A Call to Look Past Sustainable Development”. He refers to the West’s environmental priorities blocking the access to energy in countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh and Cambodia now flocking to China’s new infrastructure investment bank that will most certainly not be bothered by deforestation, river blockage by megadams, air pollution and other impediments to progress.

Porter is encouraged by the findings of the Breakthrough Institute in California that has issued an “Eco-modernist Manifesto” that, among other things, proposes the adoption of nuclear energy to reduce greenhouse emissions. Not surprisingly, the Breakthrough people urge the rapid expansion of agricultural technology in the countryside and the resettlement of displaced farmers into the city since that would reduce the environmental impact on the land by backward rural folk.

For a useful response to the Breakthrough Institute, you might read Steve Breyman’s CounterPunch article titled “Climate Change Messaging: Avoid the Truth”. Breyman is appalled by their support for nuclear energy and fracking, even if muffled.

While Eddie Yuen would certainly (I hope) not identify with such charlatans, I am afraid that there is a strain of techno-optimism that is shared by both parties. Yuen’s article is filled with allusions to Malthusianism, a tendency I have seen over the years from those who simply deny the existence of ecological limits. While there is every reason to reject Malthus’s theories, there was always the false hope offered by the Green Revolution that supposedly rendered them obsolete. In 1960 SWP leader Joseph Hansen wrote a short book titled “Too Many Babies” that looked to the Green Revolution as a solution to Malthus’s theory but it failed to account for its destructive tendencies, a necessary consequence of using chemicals and monoculture.

The real answer to Malthusianism is the reunification of city and countryside as called for by Karl Marx so as to provide crops with the natural fertilizers that were common before urban life became necessary for industrial production based on profit—in other words, capitalism. In the midst of the industrial revolution, the river Thames gave off a stench of human excrement that was unbearable for those living too close while wars were fought off the coast of Latin America to gain control of the guano necessary for crops. This contradiction persists to this day, even if it takes different forms.

Finally, on Eddie Yuen’s glib reference to caviar, there’s a need to understand that even if Malthus was wrong about food production, nature is not like the goose that laid the golden eggs. Caviar comes from sturgeons. The International for the Conservation of Nature  warns that they are more endangered than any other marine life:

Twenty seven species of sturgeon are on the IUCN Red List with 63 percent listed as Critically Endangered, the Red List’s highest category of threat. Four species are now possibly extinct.

Beluga sturgeon in the Caspian Sea is listed as Critically Endangered for the first time along with all of the other commercially important Caspian Sea species, which are the main producers of wild caviar. Beluga sturgeon populations have been decimated in part due to unrelenting exploitation for black caviar – the sturgeon’s unfertilized eggs – considered the finest in the world. The other species, Russian, stellate, Persian and ship sturgeon have also suffered declines due to overfishing as well as habitat degradation in the Caspian Sea region.

How will a future society guarantee everyone a comfortable and secure life? This question is not exactly germane to the struggles we are engaged with today, but there will come a time when our grandchildren or great-grandchildren will be forced to contend with it. To think of a way in which homo sapiens and the rest of the animal and vegetable world can co-exist, however, will become more and more urgent as people begin to discover that the old way of doing things is impossible. Films such as those reviewed in this article and the debate opened by Naomi Klein’s book and the question of “catastrophism” make this discussion more immediate than they have ever been. I look forward to seeing how the debate unfolds.

Louis Proyect blogs at and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

Economic stagnation, financial parasitism dominate IMF-World Bank meeting


18 April 2015

The spring meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank being held in Washington this weekend takes place under conditions of continuing stagnation in the real economy, combined with unprecedented levels of financial parasitism and social inequality.

Stock prices in the US, Europe and Asia have hit record highs and global corporations have amassed a cash hoard of some $1.3 trillion, fuelled by cheap credit from central banks and government-corporate attacks on workers’ wages and living standards. Yet the IMF warns in its updated World Economic Outlook published this week that the world economy will remain locked in a pattern of slow growth, high unemployment and high debt for a prolonged period.

In a marked shift from previous economic projections, the IMF acknowledges that there is little prospect of a return to the growth levels that prevailed prior to the 2008 financial crash, despite trillions of dollars in public subsidies to the financial markets. This amounts to a tacit admission that the crisis ushered in by the Wall Street meltdown nearly seven years ago is of a fundamental and historical character, and that the underlying problems in the global capitalist system have not been resolved.

A sample of headlines from articles published in the past week by the Financial Times gives an indication of the deepening malaise. They include: “An economic future that may never brighten,” “IMF warns of long period of lower growth,” “Europe’s debtor paradise will end in tears,” “QE raises fears of euro zone liquidity squeeze,” and “Global property bubble fears mount as prices and yields spike.”

The IMF report focuses on a sharp and persistent decline in private business investment, particularly in the advanced economies of North America, Europe and Asia. It concludes that “potential growth in advanced economies is likely to remain below pre-crisis rates, while it is expected to decrease further in emerging market economies in the medium term.”

It goes on to note, “Unlike previous financial crises, the global financial crisis is associated not only with a reduction in the level of potential output, but also with a reduction in its growth rate… Shortly after the crisis hit in September 2008, economic activity collapsed, and more than six years after the crisis, growth is still weaker than was expected before the crisis.”

This is a stunning confirmation of the analysis of the 2008 crash made by the WSWS and the International Committee of the Fourth International. On January 11, 2008, nine months before the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, the WSWS published a statement that began:

2008 will be characterized by a significant intensification of the economic and political crisis of the world capitalist system. The turbulence in world financial markets is the expression of not merely a conjunctural downturn, but rather a profound systemic disorder which is already destabilizing international politics.

The IMF report adds, “These findings imply that living standards may expand more slowly in the future. In addition, fiscal sustainability will be more difficult to maintain as the tax base will grow more slowly.” The meaning of this euphemistic language is that there is no end in sight to the global assault on the living standards and democratic rights of the working class.

The policies of austerity that have already thrown countless millions into poverty are not temporary. They will continue as long as capitalism continues.

The IMF’s updated Global Financial Stability Report, also released this week, acknowledges that central bank policies of holding interest rates close to zero and pumping trillions of dollars into the banking system by means of “quantitative easing,” i.e., money-printing, are having little impact on the real economy. Rather, they are increasing financial risk. According to the report, financial risks have risen in the six months since the last assessment in October 2014.

The IMF’s World Economic Outlook devotes an entire chapter to the slump in private investment. It notes that private investment in the major capitalist economies—the fundamental driving force of global growth—remains at historic lows. As a percentage of gross domestic product, it is below the level experienced in the aftermath of any recession in the post-war period.

But the report, setting the tone for the discussions this weekend among world finance ministers, central bankers and their myriad economic advisers, skirts the colossal role of financial speculation and parasitism in the investment slump and the crisis as a whole. All over the world, banks and corporations are using their massive profits and cash holdings to increase stock dividends and jack up their share prices by buying back their own stock, rather than investing in production. The speculative frenzy is compounded by near-record levels of corporate buybacks and mergers.

All of these activities are entirely parasitic. They add nothing to man’s productive forces. On the contrary, they divert economic resources from productive activity to further enrich a tiny global aristocracy of bankers, CEOs and speculators.

The IMF-World Bank meeting takes place amidst an exponential growth of financial parasitism, the likes of which has never been seen in the history of the capitalist system. In the past year alone, according to an article published this week in the Financial Times, some $1 trillion has been handed back to shareholders—many of them multi-billion dollar hedge funds and investment houses—in the form of buybacks and increased dividends.

Over the past decade, S&P 500 companies have repurchased some $4 trillion worth of shares. Major companies, including Apple, Intel, IBM and General Electric, play a central role in the ongoing buyback frenzy.

Last week alone, three corporate takeovers totalling over $105 billion were announced, including Royal Dutch Shell’s purchase of Britain’s BG Group. The value of all takeovers announced this year to date is more than $1 trillion, setting the pace for 2015 to be the second biggest year for mergers and acquisitions in history.

The result is massively inflated stock prices, the proceeds from which go overwhelmingly to the rich. Over the past year, the German DAX index has risen by 24 percent, the French CAC has increased 16 percent and Japan’s Nikkei has soared 36 percent.

Bank profits are also up. This week, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs all beat market expectations, announcing near-record profits for the first quarter of 2015, mainly on the basis of speculative trading activities.

As the real economy is starved of resources, leading to lower wages, declining job opportunities, rising unemployment and the substitution of casual and part-time employment for full-time jobs, fabulous fortunes are being accumulated on the financial heights of society.

The unprecedented degree to which the world economy is wedded to financial parasitism is an expression of the moribund state of the capitalist system.

There is another significant aspect to this weekend’s gathering that points to future developments. For seven decades, the IMF and the World Bank have formed two pillars of the economic hegemony of the United States. But the post-war regime is now cracking.

This week, Chinese authorities announced that some 57 countries—37 from Asia and 20 from the rest of the world—had signed up to the Beijing-backed Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. The Obama administration bitterly opposed its strategic allies joining the bank, but the floodgates opened after Britain decided to join despite objections from Washington that the bank would undermine US-backed global financial institutions.

The fracturing of the global post-war economic order under conditions of deepening crisis is a sure sign that the major capitalist powers are determined to assert their own economic interests, if necessary against the US. Not only are the economic conditions of the 1930s returning, so are the political and economic divisions that led to world war.

Nick Beams and Barry Grey

One and a half billion people live on less than $1.25 per day


By Zaida Green
17 April 2015

A new study by the UK’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) reports that the number of people globally living on less than $1.25 per day is likely to be far higher than the already staggering 1.2 billion estimated by the World Bank.

“There could be as many as a quarter more people living on less than $1.25 a day than current estimates suggest, because they have been missed out of surveys,” the report notes, suggesting that the total number of people living in extreme poverty could be undercounted by as much as 350 million.

If, as the report claims, global poverty figures are “understated by as much as a quarter,” then more than 2.5 billion people, or over a third of the world’s population, survive on less than $2 per day.

The most deprived layers of society—people who are homeless, or are living in dangerous situations that researchers cannot access—are left uncounted by household surveys, which by design are incapable of covering them.

Elizabeth Stuart, lead author of the report, told the World Socialist Web Sitethat “the poor quality of the data on poverty, child and maternal mortality” are some of the report’s most significant findings.

If one were to define poverty as living on less than $5 per day, over four billion people, that is, two-thirds of the human population, qualify as impoverished, according to World Bank estimates.

Meanwhile the world’s multimillionaires and billionaires, their stock portfolios soaring, are splurging on supercars, yachts and luxury apartments in record numbers. While the monetary policies pursued by the world’s central banks inject unimaginable amounts of wealth into the coffers of a parasitic financial aristocracy, the bulk of humanity struggles to survive amid poverty, austerity and war.

In March, Forbes reported that the combined net worth of the world’s billionaires hit a new high in 2015 of $7.05 trillion. Since 2000, the total wealth of the world’s billionaires has increased eight-fold. The magazine reported, “Despite plunging oil prices and a weakened euro, the ranks of the world’s wealthiest defied global economic turmoil and expanded once again.”

The amount of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent of the population will exceed that owned by the bottom 99 percent by next year, according to the Oxfam charity.

This week, the International Monetary Fund released its semiannual World Economic Outlook, where it warned that there would be no return to the rates of economic growth that prevailed before the 2008 financial crash for an indefinite period.

The IMF’s report further notes that despite record profits and huge amounts of cash being hoarded by major corporations internationally, private investment has plummeted in the six years since the official end of the post-financial-crisis recession. The report documents the single-minded focus of governments, central banks and policy makers in general on the further enrichment of the global financial elite at the expense of the world’s productive forces and the vast bulk of humanity.

The sheer levels of inequality across the globe, expressed in dilapidated infrastructure, the assault on the living standards of workers and youth, and the erosion of democratic rights, themselves inhibit serious studies of poverty, as demonstrated by the ODI’s report.

The ODI study notes that more than 100 countries do not have functioning systems to register births or deaths, making accurate counts of child mortality and maternal mortality impossible. Twenty-six countries have not collected data on child mortality since 2009. According to current estimates, anywhere from 220,000 to 400,000 women died during childbirth in 2014. Fewer than one in five births occur in countries with complete civil registration systems.

Many surveys are outdated, forcing researchers to either extrapolate from old data, or make assumptions about the relations between other data sets. The most up-to-date estimate of people living in extreme poverty was published almost four years ago. Only 28 of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa had a household income survey between 2006 and 2013. Botswana’s poverty estimates are based on a household survey from 1993.

Estimations of poverty are further complicated by disagreements over the poverty threshold. Some nongovernmental organizations have set their own national poverty lines. For instance, in Thailand, the official national poverty line is $1.75 per day and the poverty rate is 1.81 percent. However, urban community groups have assessed the poverty line to be $4.74 per day, bumping the country’s poverty rate to nearly half the population at 41.64 percent.

Wars and other violent conflicts have a devastating effect on research of any kind, halting studies, ruining infrastructure, and destroying records. The vast sums of money spent on war dwarf those needed to significantly reduce social misery. The United States alone spent $496 billion on defense last year, while, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture organization, “the world only needs 30 billion dollars a year to eradicate the scourge of hunger.”

These staggering levels of poverty, inequality and military violence stand as a damning indictment of the capitalist system, the sole aim of which is to enrich the financial oligarchy that dominates society at the expense of the great majority of humanity.

Self-organized workers press SYRIZA to keep its promises

By Marina Sitrin On April 16, 2015

Post image for Self-organized workers press SYRIZA to keep its promisesAutonomous and horizontal workers’ movements in Greece embarked on a caravan to Athens to remind the SYRIZA government of the base from which it arose.

Photo by Nikolas Georgiou.

Workers’ movements and their supporters from throughout Greece embarked on a caravan to Athens earlier this month to speak with and make demands on the new SYRIZA government. They are asking for concrete support for their struggles, each of which is based on self-organization and horizontality. Saturday, April 4 marked the first day of a caravan that traveled to various towns throughout Greece, meeting with and gathering other workers in struggle in each location, who then all made their way to Athens.

The struggles range from the Thessaloniki-based recuperated factory Vio.Me and the self-managed television and radio station ERT, who together are spearheading the caravan, to workers occupying their workplaces and resisting permanent layoffs in a variety of ways in other parts of the country. The caravan culminated in Athens with 500 women cleaners who are in negotiations with SYRIZA for what they hope will be their fair rehiring.

What all of the participants have in common is that they organize in assemblies, where each person has equal decision-making power, and attempt to break down hierarchies and power structures. They are petitioning the new SYRIZA government for a variety of things, the core of which is that they are able to maintain their horizontality and self-organization, which some want to see codified in law.

Almost everyone involved in the movements here in Greece would agree that it was through their struggle and support that SYRIZA was able to come to power. In some cases, SYRIZA members were and are movement participants, and in others the party actively supported and agreed to continue to support the movements’ activities and demands in the future.

Now, a few months after SYRIZA’s electoral victory, some movement participants are beginning to question whether the party will make good on its promises of support. These movements range from those opposing the mining project in Chalkidiki, the struggle for refugee and migrant rights, those opposing anti-terrorism laws, and many other struggles — from workers and students to autonomous health clinics.

Many people with whom I spoke believe that there are active negotiations taking place within the new government and that change will indeed come; others have already lost any confidence that the government will make the promised changes — and then quite a few fall somewhere in between, believing that there are good faith negotiations taking place, but that if there is no pressure from below, the government may not act on what they promised. The workers’ caravan to Athens comprises each of these perspectives, and thus they want to both speak to, and make demands on, the government.

Over the past few years, the two most important workers’ struggles in Greece based on self-organization and around the principles of autonomy and horizontality have been those of Vio.Me (a former producer of construction materials) and ERT (the occupied national public television). Vio.Me was occupied in 2012 and after numerous assemblies the workers decided to not only occupy, but put the workplace back into production, without bosses or hierarchy — recuperating it — intentionally using the same language as the movements in Argentina.

The case of ERT began in June of 2013, when the former government laid off all of the national television worker in the country. Both the Athens and Thessaloniki broadcasting agencies held assemblies and immediately decided to occupy the stations and continue to broadcast. While in Athens many workers eventually went back to work due to a combination of a violent police eviction and rehiring offers by the government, in Thessaloniki the ERT remained occupied and has been running and broadcasting news without hierarchies or bosses since June 2013.

In both Vio.Me and ERT, the workers describe what they are doing as something beyond just keeping production going, and explain how they are creating new relationships — both in how they are working together and with the concept of what the job is they are doing. As ERT describes, they are creating a different sort of news and they are doing so in an entirely different way. Similarly, Vio.Me has decided to produce ecological over toxic products. Both workplaces are also operating in innovative new ways with regard to consultation and communication to and with the broader community.

I spoke with Theo Karyotis from the Open Initiative of Solidarity with the Struggle of the Workers of Vio.Me (Solidarity Initiative) and Stavros Panousis from ERT — two of the main organizing groups of the caravan. The Solidarity Initiative is an assembly-based community group that works together with the workers from Vio.Me to help defend, spread and deepen their struggle. Theo explains the purpose and composition of the Solidarity Initiative below:

Self-management is an idea that brings together different ideologies from the left, so within the Solidarity Initiative we have people from different backgrounds — we have anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, Trotskyistis, autonomist organizations and individual activists.

What the Solidarity Initiative does is to help the workers organize and carry out the campaigns of Vio.Me — though now it has less and less responsibilities since the workers are taking more and more into their own hands. At first we helped a lot with foreign language communications and helped organize political campaigns, like the marches, writing certain texts, and so on. Of course we did this with the workers and the workers had final say.

It is important to be clear that we are two different entities, so for example sometimes the workers write a text on an issue and the Solidarity Initiative writes a different text. But again, the workers have a final say — the Solidarity Initiative always has at least five workers in the assemblies, and they have significant influence over any decision.

The ERT has been run collectively ever since it was occupied in 2013. Stavros described the massive solidarity they immediately received, with people from all over coming to encircle the outside of the station and prevent eviction. Below, Stavros describes both what they are and what they want to be. When I asked if they are an alternative sort of broadcasting he responded as follows:

No, we are pirates. We are not like a regular program. For all of this time we have managed things in a self-organized way — I think this is the most important thing we have accomplished. We have done things in a very special way and it is important to say that it was not in our minds to do it this way before. Well, maybe a few of us believed in this way of organizing, but as a whole the situation guided us to do things in this way, in this horizontal way. There was no manager or no one between the workers.

It was a long journey to get here since many people at first had resistance — people said things like ‘no one else can get be the one to film since I am the film maker,’ and ‘no one else tells the news, I tell the news.’

Each day we had fewer camera people and reporters from the inside, but life, the real situation, persuaded people to change their point of view and that if you — the people — don’t take the microphone and the camera and go outside, there will be no news. You will not be paid, maybe, but people want to help, so they went out and got the news and brought it in.

As time passed, you, the stranger, the one getting the news who was not before a part of the ERT, became a part of our assembly and could decide things related to what we are and what we are airing. It was our greatest accomplishment. We were (and are) changing the concept of news.

The new government has plans to take control of the ERT in Thessaloniki and run it again in a traditional way, both in terms of internal organization — with bosses and hierarchy — as well as in terms of programming. The assembly of the self-managed ERT wants to continue to organize in a horizontal way internally, and as they explained, most important is that the news continues to come to them in a democratic way. Their vision is one where people in communities have a say in what they want to see, can send in videos and can vote on what sorts of programming is done.

Both struggles had the support of SYRIZA in their campaign for state power, and in the case of ERT a worker was elected to the government. The purpose of the caravan, as explained by the participants, is to make sure that SYRIZA continues with their support.

The way people involved in the caravan describe their relationship to the government and their intentions range from a sort of meeting with allies, to reminding SYRIZA officials of the struggles to which they are committed and who their real base is — to those who see the caravan as a direct expression of workers’ power and as an ultimatum to the new government. The caravan is thus both a reminder and a confrontation.

As with so many people from the movements with whom I have spoken over the past weeks in Greece, they see the victory of SYRIZA as a possible opening for movements to gain more support for in the work they are doing — but everyone stresses that this can and will happen only if the movements stay organized, maintain autonomy and exert pressure on the new government from below to remind them of the base from which they arose.

As Theo from the Solidarity Initiative describes:

This week there is a big caravan and march to Athens from various places in Greece that is a joint effort between various workers’ struggles. One of the organizing groups is the recuperated workplace Vio.Me.

SYRIZA has always been sympathetic to the struggle of Vio.Me, which really is a struggle against the capitalist class and against the judicial system. SYRIZA declared themselves friends with Vio.Me, and the current Prime Minister and then President of SYRIZA even visited the factory and said they had just demands and should be supported. So now SYRIZA has to find a way to bring that into action.

We also have the struggle of the 500 women cleaners who worked in the Finance Ministry and were fired overnight. SYRIZA was elected on the promise they would hire them back. Now they are trying to make a compromise based on the agreements they are making with the Europeans, so are trying to hire them back under conditions that are negative for the workers.

Stavros from the ERT assembly explained:

The EU wants us to throw the towel in the ring — and the only people who can resist this are us. What is most important is to take our own lives into our own hands. We know how to do this. So we try and persuade the government, with others, to make the law not against us, but with us. That is the only thing we want. And then maybe, to invest in these solutions — in socially oriented solutions. And not from above.

We are taking part in a caravan with Vio.Me and others, and we are trying to make people sensitive to these cases, and to make people in government change the laws.

It is a sign to a government that is turning its back on its strongest allies — not allies in the party itself but allies in real life (though most people also voted for SYRIZA)… So we are going to shake them and say: look if we fall, you fall — maybe not the next day, but the day after.

Marina Sitrin is a writer, lawyer, teacher, organizer, militant and dreamer. She is the editor of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina (2006, AK Press); the author of Everyday Revolutions: Horizontalism & Autonomy in Argentina (2012, Zed Books); and co-author, together with Dario Azzellini, of They Can’t Represent Us! Reinventing Democracy From Greece to Occupy (2014, Verso Books).