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The Boston Occupier - March 2012 - Issue 6

The Boston Occupier - March 2012 - Issue 6

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Published by Daniel Schneider
The sixth issue of The Boston Occupier.
The sixth issue of The Boston Occupier.

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Published by: Daniel Schneider on Mar 14, 2012
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 www.bostonoccupier.comIssue No. 6 March 2012
MBTA Budget Crisis: It’s Not About Scarcity 
By Jay Jubilee
 Just hours before this newspaper wentto press, the MBTA announced that it would scrap the two scenarios of plannedservice cuts and fare hikes which the agency announced on January 3rd and presented toBoston area residents at 31 public hearingsin the past six weeks.This announcement changes nothing.The MBTA still projects a $161 milliondeficit for the coming fiscal year. Until theagency’s fiscal problems are resolved, any new plan developed by the MBTA is boundto look far too much like the plans it now claims to have discarded: an unacceptableand toxic mixture of service cuts, fare hikes,and employee layoffs.Much is uncertain. What we do know isthat the MBTA Board is expected to handthe Massachusetts Legislature its proposalfor a “balanced budget” on Wednesday  April 4th. On that day, T-riders,community members, and Occupy activists will descend on the Statehouse to say “No!”to its toxic offering of fare hikes, servicecuts, and worker layoffs. We will occupy the steps of the so-called People’s Houseto demand comprehensive, affordable,and sustainable public transportationthat works for the 99% across our city and our state.Over the past two and a half months, atthe MBTA’s official hearings, the peopleof this city—by the thousands—haveexpressed concern and outrage over theplanned hikes and cuts. Seniors, youth,disabled persons, and workers have stoodtogether and testified to the harm thatcuts and hikes would cause in their livesand their communities. The support andsolidarity that people from all over Bostonhave offered one another at these hearingshas been truly moving.Several groups such as the T-RidersUnion (TRU) have offered creative solu-tions that would enable the T to balanceits budget without the toxic brew of cutsand hikes. Yet all indications so far arethat these proposals are not being takenseriously by the MBTA. Big business hashad the Board’s ear, however. And sincebusiness interests have opposed many service cuts (as bad for local commerce) itseems increasingly likely that the final plan will rely above all on major fare increases,costing each rider hundreds of additionaldollars per year. Such a plan will amount toa back-door tax on workers going to work,a tax on students getting to school, and atax on seniors and disabled persons whoneed to get to doctors’ appointments or torun errands. It’s not enough that the 1%profit off of our labor at work, they now  want to make us pay more to get to work inthe first place!Our April 4th “People’s Assembly,”beginning at 3pm at the Statehouse andextending into the evening, will build fromthe belief that this arrangement is wrongand unnecessary. Our starting point is the
Mortgage FraudSettlement
A Slap on the Wrist forBanks, Continued Troublesfor 99%
By John Lippitt 
Last month, a chapter was closed in thestory of bank malpractice in the United States.In a settlement reached in forty-nine states,five financial giants — Bank of America,Citigroup, J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo,and Ally Financial — agreed to pay $26 billionto resolve charges that they engaged in routineand widespread mortgage foreclosure fraud.The charges concerned instances of falsified orimproper documentation as well as occasions when the banks foreclosed on properties they did not even own. (The case did not addressthe banks’ roles in creating and reselling risky and fraudulent mortgages — key factors in thefinancial crash of 2008.) Although $26 billion sounds like a lot, itreally isn’t — especially when compared tothese companies’ $425 billion in revenue in2010 and $39 billion in profits. Furthermore,as reported by Adam Levitin of the blog CreditSlips, the banks will actually pay only $5 billion.The other $21 billion comes from reducing theprincipal, or the amount owed by homeowners who are in debt for more than their houses are worth. As the website Common Dreams notes,the financial burden of reducing the principal will be borne primarily by investors and by the government’s Making Home Affordableinitiative. This latter fact means that we, thetaxpayers, are again bailing out the banks!Suppose you were illegally foreclosed uponby one of these five companies and that youlost your home. The recent settlement wouldaward you between $1,500 and $2,000,calculates Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism.This is relatively small compensation for thetrauma of foreclosure. Seen another way, thesettlement sets the penalty for forgeries andfabricated documents at a paltry maximum of $2,000 per loan.Foreclosures are still occurring at very high rates. Alex Veiga of the AssociatedPress reports that over 900,000 foreclosuresoccurred nationwide in 2011, representing23% of all home sales. This is up from lessthan 1% in 2005. In January 2012 alone 1,333Massachusetts homeowners received fore-closure notices, and over 10% of all mortgageloans in the state are in default, observes Jennifer McKim of the Boston Globe.For several years activists in the housingmovement have made it their priority to takeon banks’ fraudulent and predatory foreclosurepractices. City Life / Vida Urbana (CLVU),a community organization based in JamaicaPlain, has been a national leader in organizingsuch actions and is joined in the Boston area by the Chelsea Collaborative and numerous localbank tenant associations (BTAs).Occupy Our Homes, an outgrowth of Occupy Wall Street, has been helping over thelast few months to organize grassroots actionsto prevent foreclosures in different U.S. cities. While Occupy activists have brought new energy and attention to the fight against unjustforeclosures, it is “important that Occupy Our Homes not eclipse existing organizing,”emphasizes Katie Gradowski, a Boston-basedactivist and participant in Occupy Boston.Housing-rights activism “precedes the Occupy movement, although it has now emerged
Harvard Community Protests Library Cuts
By Julie Walsh
 Across the country, March 1st protest actions tended to concen-trate on the debt-ridden plight of students. On the snowy Thursday evening at Harvard University, the focus was somewhat different.Fifty protesters gathered in front of Holyoke Center inCambridge to rally against the university’s secretive, top-downhandling of the restructuring of Harvard’s libraries, including plansto cut a substantial number of its 930 full-time employees. Rank-and-file members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) were joined by students, faculty, alumni, andparticipants in Occupy Boston and Occupy Harvard.“You say layoffs, we say back off! You say cut backs, we say fightback!” picketers chanted as they circled. “Harvard HAS the money,”read one man’s hand-lettered sign. Evan Greer, a radical singer/songwriter, belted out lyrics that he had penned for the occasion:
Is this a corporation, or a university? ‘Cause we’re still learning lots about this crap economy! 
The protesters joined him for the chorus:
“Which side are you on? Which side are you on?” 
The impetus for the rally began a few weeks before. On February 10, Harvard Library unveiled its plans for a new organizationalstructure aimed at eliminating “redundancy” across the university’s73 libraries. At the time, many staff members were looking forwardto the changes. Anna Aizman, a graduate student in ComparativeLiterature who works part-time as an assistant librarian, explainsthat her full-time colleagues were initially “excited that uncata-logued collections would finally be organized and recorded. Theseare people passionate about knowledge.”However, on February 13, the university foisted a surprise on its work force. A letter from the Vice President of Human Resourcesoffered voluntary early retirement to 275 members of the library staff. The buy-out package followed two previous rounds of layoffs,
Continued on Page 2Continued on Page 3
Continued on Page 3
(Photo: Doug Enaa Greene)
Also Inside:
p.4-5 “Students Rally for Education”by Dan Schneider and Julie Walshp.6 Is Voting Worth It?The Case For and Against p.6 “World Trade Organization”,a cartoon by John Jonik p.7 Consider Subscribing toThe Boston Occupier!
Page 2
February 2012
belief that when the political establishment proves ineptat representing the people’s needs, the people must takedirect action to defend their interests.This Assembly is part of a growing National Day of Action to Defend Public Transportation that hasalready spread from Boston to Chicago, Los Angeles,Philadelphia and other cities across the US.Transportation issues are generally presented to us by politicians and the mainstream media as “local issues,” just as local budgets are presented as in perpetual fiscal“crisis.” However, the current fiscal crisis facing masstransit agencies across the country has national andsystemic causes. When we look beyond the narrow frame of the MBTA budget, much of the mainstreamdiscussion stands revealed as a total farce. It’s built on alie: that there “is no money available.”There is plenty of money. We just need to go andget it.For example, each year the US government wastesclose to a trillion dollars (that’s one thousand billion!)on wars and other military spending. Such military spending necessarily means that legitimate public needslike public transportation (as well as healthcare andeducation) go neglected. There is a direct line to bedrawn from the great sucking sound of the Pentagonbudget, to the screeching breaks of trains that have notbeen replaced since the 1960s, when US bombs raineddown mercilessly on Vietnam (rather than, say, on Iraqor Afghanistan).Beyond government war spending, we can look atthe financial holdings of the 1%: the millionaires andbillionaires, the capitalist elite that owns the corpora-tions and that rules our society. The richest 1% of  Americans currently own more than 35.6% of total wealth. Worldwide, the top 1% owns over 40% of all wealth, and controls more than that (when you figurethat one only needs to own merely 51% of a company todictate its operations). The top 5% of households now own 63.5% of all wealth in the US, while the bottom80% of households altogether owns a mere 12.8%, withmany owning nothing at all. Many or even most T andbus-riders fall into the latter category, barely scrapingby, while a few have more than they could ever need. At last count, Massachusetts alone was home tobetween 50,000 and 100,000 millionaires, with plenty of billionaires to boot. Yet the tax contributions of theserich individuals and corporations have steadily fallen,leaving the public treasuries in a state of fiscal emer-gency. Imagine how easily a seriously enforced RobinHood tax could net the needed funds not just to wipeout the T’s projected annual deficit of $160 million,but to erase the T’s entire $8 billion debt and evento transform public transportation into a free serviceavailable and accessible to all. Let’s say, just for starters, we take 1% of the wealth back from the millionairesand billionaires. That revenue alone could wipe out theT’s budget “crisis” overnight.The fact that even such modest proposals are absentfrom the mainstream political scene, dismissed orignored as “unrealistic,” testifies to how deeply corruptand indifferent the current system is to the people’sneeds. It’s basic math, and yet such a simple actionappears as “impossible” within a system that is built to work for the 1%.This super-wealthy 1% has seen its income and wealth skyrocket over the past few decades, not justdespite but in large part because of the increasingimpoverishment of workers. Worker productivity has continued to rise but wages have remained flat ordeclined. This means that millions of people in theUnited States (and billions around the world) struggleto make ends meet, while the profit margins of the 1%rise astronomically, translating into still greater politicalinfluence. Moreover, as workers’ buying power falls,capitalists have sought to maintain their high rates of profit by engaging in rampant financial speculation,and by preying on public services… like the T.Denied the government funds it needs to extend - oreven sustain - day-to-day operations, the MBTA hasbeen forced to issue bonds to keep the trains running.Politicians and T administrators have fallen to theirknees before these false financial saviors, opening upthe T to be strangled by the spiraling serpents of debt(including billions of debt inherited from the Big Dig).This arrangement has generated tremendous profitsfor financial capitalists, bankers, and investors, just asthey hoped it would. They now suck away over 30% of all T revenues in the form of interest payments alone.Ironically, a similar 30% of the T’s revenue comesfrom ticket sales; one could say that any time you swipeyour CharlieCard, the money goes straight to bond-holders! WTF indeed.The combination of underfunding and privati-zation spells disaster for T-riders, workers, and ourT-dependent communities, as well as the environment.(Less bus service = more cars on the road = morepollution). But it doesn’t have to be this way. Once we trace the local crisis back to its systemic roots, wecan glimpse a whole new world of possibilities on thehorizon. A world without wars, and without the rule of the 1%, would be a world where transportation couldbe free. Join Occupy the MBTA this April 4th at theStatehouse. Come after school or after work. Helpus to expose this farce and to open a path to new possibilities. Help us to defend what ought to beconsidered a right: affordable, accessible publictransportation for all! Let’s come together to rejectthis false framework of scarcity as we demand: “NoHikes, No Cuts, No Layoffs!”
To become involved, visit www.occupymbta.org or  find the “T Riders Union” and “Occupy the MBTA” on Facebook.
MBTA Budget Crisis,
Continued from page 1
Honoring International Women’sDay  with Occupy Boston
By Kendra Moyer
March 8 was the 103rd celebration of International Women’s Day, a holiday first originated in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America and later adopted by anInternational Women’s Conference as an internationalcelebration. Women originally gathered to rally forequality in employment and the rights to vote and to runfor elected offices.In commemoration, Occupy Boston’s Women’s Caucushosted the Thursday evening General Assembly (GA) witha discussion and film honoring the struggles of womenthroughout the world in gaining basic human rights.The GA featured a screening of part of Ken Burns’ docu-mentary on the U.S.Women’s Suffrage Movement, “Notfor Ourselves Alone: the Story of Elizabeth Cady Stantonand Susan B. Anthony.” This was followed by a discussionabout women’s struggles for equality and human rights inthe home, the workplace, and wider society.Urszula Masny-Latos, the head of the MassachusettsNational Lawyers Guild, recounted her childhood memoriesof International Women’s Day in her homeland of Polandand how the holiday went from its early inception as a rally for socialist causes to a more sentimental Valentine’s Day orMother’s Day style of celebration.Other attendees at Thursday’s GA reflected on recentattacks on reproductive rights in the United States,including Rush Limbaugh’s vicious disparagement of reproductive health advocate Sandra Fluke. (Limbaughcalled Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating thatcontraception be covered under the new health care bill.)Recent legislation has also reduced access to abortion for women, changing the medical cut-off point from 24 weeksto 20 weeks into pregnancy. Clearly basic challengesremain in the struggle for women’s control over their ownbodies and reproductive choices. This battle continues tobe waged.GA participants also discussed the role of advertisingand corporate marketing. Women are often viewed ascommodities, shamed, and symbolically dismembered inadvertisements hawking everything from dish soap andbras to beer and vacations. While women have come along way, many are still confused and molded by mediaimages that expect unattainable beauty and demandcompliance to the dominant, capitalist social structure.Other topics of discussion included issues of women’shealth, the ongoing oppression of lesbians and transsexual women, sexual trafficking, violence against women, andthe role of women as freedom fighters throughout the African diaspora. The evening finished with a passionatereminder by Zoey White of the exclusion of transsexual women from the conversation. White drew attention tothe violence, homelessness, and sex trafficking faced by many transsexual women, who are generally forgotten andignored in discussions of such issues.From the “glass ceiling” to reproductive rights,from violence to discrimination against the transsexualcommunity, women still face many battles in fightingoppression while working in and out of the home andnurturing families. The gains that have been made in thestruggle for international women’s rights are still over-shadowed by an enduring legacy of second-class citizenshipand an ongoing need to be heard and truly understood andrespected as full human beings.
Above: A German promotional poster or the third International Women’s Day on March 8, 1914. Te ocus o this poster was women’s surage.(via Wikimedia Commons)
Page 3
February 2012
as an important thread for many occupations,”Gradowski continues.On January 30, CLVU, the ChelseaCollaborative, Occupy Boston, Mass Uniting,and several local BTAs worked together to stage amarch on the Boston offices of Fannie Mae andBank of America. Protesters demanded principalreductions for homeowners whose mortgages were “underwater,” or have balances that are morethan the current value of the homes. The march’shigh turn-out suggests the great potential for massactions against housing injustice in the Boston area.Homeowners nationwide are $700 billion“underwater,” as a CLVU press release states. The$17 billion set aside for principal reduction in therecent fraud settlement is a mere drop in the bucket.Becky Bond at CREDO Action notes three otherimportant points:Financial institutions, including these five,received a $700 billion bailout to keep them afloat when they crashed the financial system in 2008 —not to mention $1.2 trillion in low-cost loans fromthe Federal Reserve.The federal government’s track record inenforcing “consent decrees,” like those found in thissettlement, is remarkably poor. A consent decree is acompany’s agreement, without admitting guilt, thatit will not engage in a specific illegal behavior in thefuture. In the current settlement, there is essentially no penalty for Countrywide Mortgage’s failure tocomply with a previous consent decree for similarly fraudulent practices. (Countrywide is now ownedby Bank of America.)This settlement was reached without a full inves-tigation of the fraud that occurred. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama announceda new federal task force to investigate the financialsector. It may well uncover more extensive or egre-gious fraud than is currently known.This foreclosure settlement is an exampleof corporations getting off easily, while peoplecontinue to suffer. No bankers are going to jail,and the banks still come out ahead. From theirperspective, the $5 billion financial penalty issimply the cost of doing business.“The only big losers are the taxpayers and, of course, the homeowners,” states the CommonDreams website. Yves Smith at Naked Capitalismobserves that the settlement is a “raw demonstrationof who wields power in America.”However, despite the inequalities of influenceand wealth, “we the people” must continue to takeaction to prevent foreclosures and the eviction of homeowners. We must demand accountability from banks and financial institutions. And we mustdemand that our government truly become agovernment of, by and for the people.
1,333 Massachusetts home-owners received foreclosurenotices and over 10% of all mortgage loans in thestate are in default.
Mortgage Fraud Settlement
Continued from page 1
in 2004 and 2008-9. It was alsoout of synch with librarians’ sharedimpression that their facilities arecurrently understaffed. Just three days after the profferedbuy-out, picketers in support of Harvard’s library workers listenedoutside Lamont Library as one librar-ian’s open letter to the administration was read aloud. “We feel terrified andthreatened with losing our jobs,” theletter said. “This is a devastating timefor library staff. Please don’t sendus any more upbeat, jargon-filledemails.”Desiree Goodwin, also a Harvardlibrarian, says that a month lateralmost nothing has been clarified.The lack of information “has leftroom for rampant speculation aboutlikely scenarios, which the adminis-trators have still refused to confirm, deny,or clarify,” she states. “We need moreinformation about what these changesmean for staff.”“Historically, Harvard has neededa push to give fair conditions to its workers,” Giuliana Chamedes, a lecturerin the History and Literature program,told the Occupier. She cites the HarvardLiving Wage Campaign as an example.The campaign ran from 1998 to 2001and culminated in a three-week sit-in atthe president’s office, which at last spurredthe renegotiation of contracts for dininghall workers. Joshua Koritz, a library assistant andmember of the HUCTW, paints a similarimage of Harvard’s attitude toward itsemployees. “The university wants to puton a good facade, but behind that is anoverworked, underpaid, and generally terrified work staff,” Koritz says. He notesthat over 250 Harvard workers were laidoff in 2009, ostensibly because of therecessionary budget crisis. “The work of those people was forced onto the existing workers,” Koritz adds. “The expectationfrom management is that employees will work as many hours as necessary to finishtheir work, while only being paid for a35-hour work week.”The March 1st rally at HolyokeCenter was preceded by an “open forum” with Harvard Provost Alan Garber.Community members had hoped to ask questions and voice concerns about thelibrary’s restructuring and the university’streatment of workers.Unfortunately, the forum was anythingbut open: only questions submitted inadvance were considered, and these wereselected and read aloud by members of theadministration. The small audience wasconstituted almost exclusively of partici-pants in Occupy Harvard, on the onehand, and university administrators onthe other, who nodded as Provost Garber wiled away the hour with inconsequentialanecdotes. The voices of those who hadcome seeking dialog were effectively silenced, and the fate of library workers was barely mentioned. A similar strategy appears to havegoverned how the university addressedits library workers directly. “There werea number of public ‘town hall’ meetingsscheduled that were later canceled afterthe negative response to the first,” DesireeGoodwin told the Occupier. “These were replaced by online chats where thequestions could be carefully selected inadvance.” At the rally, however, students, unionmembers, and activists returned attentionto the university’s treatment of its workers.Geoff Carens, a library worker andUnion Representative for the HUCTW,manned the loudspeaker and led thecrowd into Harvard Yard. The marcherscircled administrative buildings, chanting“Shame on Harvard,” and paused on thesteps of Widener Library. Will, a Harvardundergraduate and part of the StudentLabor Action Movement (SLAM), spoketo the marchers and vowed to “keep onthe pressure” with weekly events.“Harvard has a surprising numberof pro-labor students, and the last few months have been a revelation in termsof how much support they’ve given us,”Carens commented. He called the helpof SLAM “invaluable” and also had highpraise for Occupy Harvard: “I’m very impressed with Occupy Harvard partici-pants and I’m proud to be working withthem.” What are the chances that this coalition will influence the university’s policies? Onthe optimistic side, protesters can counton Harvard’s squeamishness regardinganything that might tarnish its brand.There have been unofficial indicationsfrom the Director of Labor and EmployeeRelations, Bill Murphy, that managementis likely to revise its proposals based on thepush-back from students and workers.However, union leadership hasdone next to nothing to supportthe protests. Joshua Koritz worries:“Without real pressure from workers,students, and faculty, along withcommunity support, the Harvardadministration will do whatever they  want. As long as the HUCTW refusesto reach out to those who are already acting in solidarity, it is unlikely ourdemonstrations will get much biggerthan about 200. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.”Nonetheless, the Harvard community appears resolute in its fight againstthe university’s corporate interestsand practices. One of the next actionsplanned is a “speak out” on Tuesday,March 27th, at noon in Harvard’sScience Center. The event will exposethe damage already done to the librariesand attempt to put additional pressureon the administration.“We are going to force Harvard topay a price for any layoffs,” Carenspromises. “We’re going to give the 1%,in this case the Harvard Corporation,a major, major headache.”
Harvard Community Protests Library Cuts,
Continued from page 1
“The university wantsto put on a goodfacade, but behindthat is an overworked,underpaid, andgenerally terrified work staff.”
Students march through Harvard Yard in solidarity withthe Harvard Union o Clerical and echnical Workers(HUCW) on March 1, 2012. (Photo: Matthew J. Shochat)
Check out bostonoccupier.com for more greatcontent that couldn’t make it into our printedition:
Martial Law in Michigan by Josh Sager The Future of Black Politics by Ian Cornelius andDan SchneiderSanctions, Threats and Speculators: War Tax atthe Gas Pump by Jeff KleinPhotos from the Protest Chaplains’ Lent prayerservice in front of Bank of AmericaCartoons by Kip Lyall and John Jonik …and much more!

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