This Struggle Has Re-awakened Our Imagination

November 23, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

By Arundhati Roy

Text of a speech given by Arundhati Roy at the People’s University in Washington Square, NYC on 20 November, 2011.

india-arundhati-at-mike3Tuesday morning, the police cleared Zuccotti Park, but today the people are back.

The police should know that this protest is not a battle for territory. We’re not fighting for the right to occupy a park here or there. We are fighting for justice. Justice, not just for the people of the US, but for everybody.

What you have achieved since September 17th, when the Occupy movement began in the United States, is to introduce a new imagination, a new political language into the heart of empire. You have reintroduced the right to dream into a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies, mesmerized into equating mindless consumerism with happiness and fulfillment.

As a writer, let me tell you, this is an immense achievement. And I cannot thank you enough.

We were talking about justice. Today, as we speak, the army of the United States is waging a war of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. US drones are killing civilians in Pakistan and beyond. Tens of thousands of US troops and death squads are moving into Africa. If spending trillions of dollars of your money to administer occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan is not enough, a war against Iran is being talked up.

Ever since the Great Depression, the manufacture of weapons and the export of war have been key ways in which the United States has stimulated its economy. Just recently, under President Obama, the US made a $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia – moderate Muslims, right? It hopes to sell thousands of bunker busters to the UAE. It has sold $5 billion-worth of military aircraft to my country, India, which has more poor people than all the poorest countries of Africa put together. All these wars, from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Vietnam, Korea, Latin America, have claimed millions of lives — all of them fought to secure the “American way of life”.

Today, we know that the “American way of life” — the model that the rest of the world is meant to aspire towards — has resulted in 400 people owning the wealth of half of the population of the United States. It has meant thousands of people being turned out of their homes and their jobs while the US government bailed out banks and corporations — American International Group (AIG) alone was given $182 billion.

The Indian government worships US economic policy. As a result of 20 years of the free market economy, today, 100 of India’s richest people own assets worth one-quarter of the country’s GDP while more than 80% of the people live on less than 50 cents a day. Two hundred and fifty thousand farmers, driven into a spiral of debt death, have committed suicide. We call this progress, and now think of ourselves as a superpower. Like you, we are well-qualified. We have nuclear bombs and obscene inequality.

The good news is that people have had enough and are not going to take it any more. The Occupy movement has joined thousands of other resistance movements all over the world in which the poorest of people are standing up and stopping the richest corporations in their tracks.

Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States on our side, trying to do this in the heart of Empire. I don’t know how to communicate the enormity of what this means.

They, the one percent, say that we don’t have demands” perhaps they don’t know, that our anger alone would be enough to destroy them. But here are some things — a few “pre-revolutionary” thoughts I had — for us to think about together:

We want to put a lid on this system that manufactures inequality. We want to put a cap on the unfettered accumulation of wealth and property by individuals as well as corporations. As “cap-ists” and “lid-ites”, we demand:

One, an end to cross-ownership in businesses. For example, weapons manufacturers cannot own TV stations; mining corporations cannot run newspapers; business houses cannot fund universities; drug companies cannot control public health funds.

Two, natural resources and essential infrastructure — water supply, electricity, health, and education — cannot be privatized.

Three, everybody must have the right to shelter, education and healthcare.

Four, the children of the rich cannot inherit their parents’ wealth.

This struggle has re-awakened our imagination. Somewhere along the way, capitalism reduced the idea of justice to mean just “human rights”, and the idea of dreaming of equality became blasphemous. We are not fighting to just tinker with reforming a system that needs to be replaced.

As a cap-ist and a lid-ite, I salute your struggle.

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Banks Promise Not to Commit Fraud … Until Next Time

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By John Reeves

As part of a settlement with the SEC last month, Citigroup (NYSE: C) promised it would never again, as The New York Times put it, “violate one of the main antifraud provisions of the nation’s securities laws.” That seems like a noble aim, and we’d love to believe that Citigroup means what it says.

Unfortunately, Citigroup made a similar pledge in July 2010, according to the Times. Oh, wait, and there were other agreements in May 2006, March 2005, and April 2000. When it comes to financial fraud, it seems, you can have five strikes, and still be up at the plate.

And Citi isn’t the only one. According to the Times’ study, during the last 15 years, there were “at least 51 cases in which 19 Wall Street firms had broken antifraud laws they had agreed never to breach.” Here is a complete list of 16 of those companies that declined to comment on the findings:

American International Group (NYSE: AIG)
Ameriprise
Bank of America (NYSE: BAC)
Bear Stearns
Columbia Management
Credit Suisse
Deutsche Asset Management
Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS )
JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM )
Merrill Lynch
Morgan Stanley (NYSE: MS )
Putnam Investments
RBC Dain Rauscher
Raymond James
UBS
Wells Fargo/Wachovia (NYSE: WFC )

This is pretty outrageous even by Wall Street standards, and it tells us a lot about our current regulatory system. If financial firms know that their promises to “not commit fraud” are meaningless, then we’ve created a culture where there is very little downside to unethical behavior and the aggressive pursuit of dubious new products.

The SEC seems to be saying, “Hey, our lawyers are overmatched vis-a-vis these big firms. The best we can do is try to squeeze out a token settlement every once in a while, and call it a day.” Surely our financial institutions know this, and probably view the occasional SEC wrist slap as the part of the price of doing business.

All hope is not lost, however. Just the other day a federal judge called into question the toothless practice of asking firms to make meaningless pledges to not break securities laws in the future. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff asked the SEC if these agreements were “just for show.” He also made it clear that he had very serious concerns about the settlement between the SEC and Citi. He has yet to decide whether or not to approve the deal.

One way or another, we need to ensure that in the future, financial fraud is treated like the serious crime that it is. Maybe the fines should include a few more zeroes at the end of them, and then double from there for future infractions. Remember the “zero tolerance” policy toward petty crime in New York City in the late 1980s and 1990s? Maybe we need “zero tolerance” for financial fraud on Wall Street in 2011 and beyond. Anything would be better than the current “zero effectiveness” approach. We can do better than this.

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