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The Story of Broke (2011)

Annie Leonard, Story of Stuff

The United States isn’t broke; we’re the richest country on the planet and a country in which the richest among us are doing exceptionally well. But the truth is, our economy is broken, producing more pollution, greenhouse gasses and garbage than any other country. In these and so many other ways, it just isn’t working. But rather than invest in something better, we continue to keep this ‘dinosaur economy’ on life support with hundreds of billions of dollars of our tax money.

The Story of Broke calls for a shift in government spending toward investments in clean, green solutions—renewable energy, safer chemicals and materials, zero waste and more—that can deliver jobs AND a healthier environment. It’s time to rebuild the American Dream; but this time, let’s build it better
(8 November 2011)
Recommended by Peter Rothberg of The Nation who wrote:

When filmmaker and activist Annie Leonard set out in 2007 to share what she’d learned about the way we make, use and discard “Stuff,” she thought 50,000 hits would be a great audience for her “20-minute cartoon about trash.” Today, with over 15 million views and counting, The Story of Stuff is one of the most watched environmental videos of all-time.

Earlier this year, Leonard came out with The Story of Citizens United, the best short history of the growth of corporate power I’ve ever read, heard or seen.

Now, Leonard is back with The Story of Broke, a new 8-minute animated movie that directly challenges those who argue that America is penniless and incapable of paying its bills, let alone making investments in a more sustainable and fair economy. Released seemingly in perfect harmony with the growth of the Occupy movement, this film explains why the economic crisis we find ourselves in is the result of choices made and how we, the public, can force different decisions.

End Bonuses for Bankers

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, New York Times
More than three years since the global financial crisis started, financial institutions are still blowing themselves up. The latest, MF Global, filed for bankruptcy protection last week after its chief executive, Jon S. Corzine, made risky investments in European bonds. So far, lenders and shareholders have been paying the price, not taxpayers. But it is only a matter of time before private risk-taking leads to another giant bailout like the ones the United States was forced to provide in 2008.

The promise of “no more bailouts,” enshrined in last year’s Wall Street reform law, is just that — a promise. The financiers (and their lawyers) will always stay one step ahead of the regulators. No one really knows what will happen the next time a giant bank goes bust because of its misunderstanding of risk.

Instead, it’s time for a fundamental reform: Any person who works for a company that, regardless of its current financial health, would require a taxpayer-financed bailout if it failed, should not get a bonus, ever. In fact, all pay at systemically important financial institutions — big banks, but also some insurance companies and even huge hedge funds — should be strictly regulated.

Critics like the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators decry the bonus system for its lack of fairness and its contribution to widening inequality. But the greater problem is that it provides an incentive to take risks. The asymmetric nature of the bonus (an incentive for success without a corresponding disincentive for failure) causes hidden risks to accumulate in the financial system and become a catalyst for disaster. This violates the fundamental rules of capitalism; Adam Smith himself was wary of the effect of limiting liability, a bedrock principle of the modern corporation.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a professor of risk engineering at New York University Polytechnic Institute, is the author of “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.” He is a hedge fund investor and a former Wall Street trader.
(7 November 2011)

Why Iceland Should Be in the News, But Is Not

Deena Stryker, The South African Civil Society Information Service
An Italian radio program’s story about Iceland’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world. Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt. The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion.

As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example. Here’s why:

Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland, (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors. But as investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt. In 2003 Iceland’s debt was equal to 200 times its GNP, but in 2007, it was 900 percent. The 2008 world financial crisis was the coup de grace. The three main Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro. At the end of the year Iceland declared bankruptcy.

Contrary to what could be expected, the crisis resulted in Icelanders recovering their sovereign rights, through a process of direct participatory democracy that eventually led to a new Constitution. But only after much pain.
(15 August 2011)

Resources for Understanding the Crisis in Greece

Rust Belt Radical
The crisis in Greece leaps from one crumbling precipice to another. The situation changes from hour to hour. This week’s attempted capitalist coup, where all of the capitalist parties are to unite in government to prevent the Greek people from having a possibility of rejecting the savage austerity about to be imposed, shows just how unstable Greek society has become. A crisis of legitimacy has engulfed all of the traditional parties and organizations.

The Greek working class is inspiringly militant and creative; young folks in Greece rose in rebellion for weeks in December, 2008 over the cop killing of Alexis Grigoropoulos. That generation is now facing the most dramatic political and economic crisis in many decades. Greece is the sight of a real class war; if the Greek working class is forced to succumb to the austerity imposed upon it, it is hard to imagine any working class being able to resist the ruling class assault.

If you are like me, following Greek strikes and street actions has become routine these last few years and nothing warms your heart more than to catch a glimpse of Loukanikos, the Riot Dog, darting through tear gas to safety on the television news. If you are like me, you are constantly trying to figure out who is who politically and organizationally and without much luck at that. There is a bewildering array of organizations and coalitions and just what the politics and alignments are at any given time is sometimes hard to judge without reading Greek (difficult even if you do speak Greek, I imagine). If this week shows anything, it is that the machinations of the capitalist parties in Greece are even more Byzantine.

In the hope of coming to some grip on the situation, here are a selection of links to Greek leftist political and workers organizations followed by links to blogs and other news sources in English. Not all of
(7 November 2011)
It’s hard to get a picture of events in Greece from the mainstream press. Greece is important not only for its own sake, and the well-being of its citizens, but because it may be a harbinger of what’s in store for other countries.