Occupy Comics Review: love letter to an ongoing struggle

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The Occupy Comics anthology was finally released a few days ago via Black Mask Comics and it is nothing short of breathtaking. It is an example of the the great things than can happen when the spirit of the DIY punk attitude converges with some of the greatest talents in the comic industry. What they have produced is a love letter to one of the most inspiring social movements in recent history. The comic is alive. It is a living, breathing collection of stories and art that will live on and, just like the movement itself, continue to inspire for generations to come.

The project was organized by Mat Pizzolo and funded by a simple Kickstarter page.  A few of the of the contributors include Charlie Adlard (The Walking Dead), David Lloyd (V for Vendetta), Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night), Joshua Dysart (Swamp Thing, Unknown Soldier), and the legendary Alan Moore (Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell).

There are vignettes and short stories about everything Occupy: historical snippets of the Homestead Massacre, the Occupy Sandy efforts to assist people out in Far Rockaway, and the touching story of a family getting evicted from their home. All these works serve as powerful stories that encompass the struggle for social justice. Occupy Comics explores many different aspects of the movement, including a vignette from an “evil” banker that engenders sympathy from even the most anti-capitalist of Occupy supporters. The work is poignant while being non-partisan when it comes to the ideological vistas represented in OWS and that is one of its greatest strengths.

Anyone who participated in Occupy Wall Street before its main hub in Zuccottii Park was was brutally razed by Michael Bloomberg and his repressive army will immediately be transported back to the park where all of the great discussions, activism, interaction and protest took place on a daily basis. Reading through the comic is like opening a time capsule to the days when thousands of people were coming down to the park or marching against all of the impunity and criminality that precipitated the largest global economic crisis since the Great Depression.

One of the highlights of Occupy Comics is the brilliant essay by Alan Moore. His piece alone is well worth picking up the anthology. He wrote a 23 page article entitled, “Buster Brown at the Barricades: Foment in the Funnies and Comics as Counter-Culture.” Many people have been writing off Mr. Moore lately because of his acridity and criticism of the mainstream comics writers and the industry as a whole. Perhaps he hasn’t read a lot of their work. Perhaps he is a little jaded, but he is correct in his lamentations and opinions and his article proves that he continues to be passionate about comics and the power that they have wielded throughout history, both politically and as a story telling device. By reading his piece one gets the sense that his criticism comes from his sadness and frustration over the potential of what comics could be if they were not hijacked by the philistines in the entertainment industry.

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His article also reads like the perfect condensed history of the comic book: From its beginnings on the back of stones that nameless toilers stacked on ancient Egyptian pyramids to the Prohibition bootleggers that smuggled their booze from Canada, comics have always been a medium where the dispossessed, illiterate and unloved found solace, where the origins of the political cartoon scribed on an unused carton in 17th century Italy spoke truth to power. Occupy Comics is the perfect manifestation of that power and potential. It is a throwback to the origins of comics and a contemporary protest piece that will stand the test of time and serve not as a monument to a movement defeated, but a rallying cry to a struggle that continues every hour of every day.

To purchase this comic go here

NASA funded study warns of societal collapse-or, godspeed you bleak civilization!

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A trending article in The Guardian, along with a recent study funded by NASA written by Safa Motesharrei, Jorge Rivas and Eugina Kalnay, warns of the imminent collapse of global civilization. In their paper they maintain that two major themes reoccur throughout history that contribute to the collapse of societies: “(1) Ecological Strain and (2) Economic Stratification.” They also say that technology will only solve so many issues before it becomes obsolete at preventing the collapse. It sounds alarmist, but in 2014 the precariousness of planet Earth and the fragile fabric holding it all together becomes more strained every day.

They point out that societal “collapse” often appears as trivial but is indeed backed up by historical data. “The rise-and-collapse” process has occurred many times over the centuries and for largely the same reasons. From ancient Babylon, Mesopotamia, Sumeria and Maya, civilizations rose to great heights only to precipitate eventual collapse and downfall. They observe that the rise-and-collapse of civilization is the norm rather than the exception to large agrarian based civilizations.

One would not be mistaken for feeling compelled to believe that modern society is prone to the same fate. In fact, not only does their study, along with the thousands of years of the historical record say so, but so does any observation of the current state of the global capitalist economy. Capitalism, from its very inception, is a system based on compound, exponential growth. This, of course, is a great problem on a planet with finite resources. The ecological strain that the planet is currently undergoing due to this phenomenon is one of hitherto unprecedented heights. From global warming to resource extraction and unimaginable pollution the Earth is under extreme duress at the same time the expanding middle class in China is being told that with market discipline they will be able to behave like consumers in the U.S. This obviously is not sustainable but the system is not built to effectively and critically think about this. With every country under the the spell of global capitalism the rapacious onslaught on the world’s natural resources will continue unabated for the foreseeable future in the name of GDP, “progress” and “modernity.” Something has to give, the question is when.

The second major theme, economic stratification, is also rampant throughout the world and growing more acute in the U.S. each day. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at its highest point ever on March 5th, 2013. There are indicators all over that illustrate how the richest of the rich are doing better than ever while the poor and working class are suffering at near immeasurable levels. In 2012, the top 10 percent of  earners took home more than half of the country’s income– the highest recorded level ever.  Porsche reported its best year ever in 2012 and anyone living in NYC can simply walk down the street in Manhattan and see just how many high rise luxury rentals are being built, in fact, 2013 was the largest luxury real estate boom in NYC history. This explosion of wealth for the 1% is contrasted by the continued immiseration of the proletariat. Poverty has risen in the U.S. since the Great Recession despite the ostensible “recovery.” And perhaps the most condemning  report from Oxfam recently found that “Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population, and seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.” This stratification is extremely dangerous to political systems, particularly in the democratic tradition, as the disparities pose serious threats to political inclusion, government stability and the general welfare of people.

The specters of the past are not haunting us, they are already here, waiting to usher in the end of civilization as we know it and from the way things are going we welcome it.

At least we will have a soundtrack for it. . .

Capitalism Can’t Grow Forever!

One of the inherit features of any healthy capitalist economy is growth. The gross domestic product (GDP) has to consistently be expanding in order for the economy to create jobs. If there is an economic downturn and productivity becomes stagnant or slows down then workers get laid off, businesses close and no one is happy. Businesses must remain profitable and reinvest some of their realized profits in expansion in order to grow and remain competitive in the world of aggressive, cannibalistic competitors. Most economists agree that the compound rate of growth required for a healthy economy is around 3% per annum. “Growth! Growth! Growth!”That’s what is barked at us every time we hear Mitt Romney or President Obama speak about the economy.

Theoretically and historically it makes sense. Ever since merchants and traders began to sow the seeds of free trade that would help usher in the fall of feudal overlords, oppressive monarchies and slavery in the New World, there was what seemed like infinite growth for capitalism to expand and for trade to flourish. Over the last several hundred years the spread of capitalism helped fuel colonization, imperialism and wars for cherished resources. Not to delve too deep into the historical evolution and growth of capitalism, let us simply say that when capitalism was confined to several small regions, such as Western Europe, it was easy and justifiable to view economic growth as something infinite. When capitalism was confined to the textile factories of Manchester, or the shipyards and port of Liverpool, one did not think or pay any mind to the limits to capitalism’s potential for growth.

Fast-forward to 2012. Capitalism is everywhere. Virtually every country on Earth has an economy that is either capitalist in some way or is operating in a global economy that is dominated by it. It becomes plain to see that the growth that was so easy to attain during the last few centuries, or even since the end of WWII up until the 1970s, has become increasingly more difficult to maintain. It is ludicrous for proponents of capitalism to continue to think that a compound rate of growth for the economy can continue on a planet with finite resources. The “ecological footprint” test has shown that if every person on Earth consumed as much as the average person in the U.S., then we would need at least five more Earths in order to accommodate the levels of consumption. Everyone knows that that is an impossible task to realize but the dogmas and belief in capitalism  has billions in the developing world chasing the illustrious model of North American prosperity. And who can blame them? The U.S. was able to achieve its wealth and status with complete disregard for the natural world or the limited amounts of finite resources that exist on this planet so why should China or India act differently? There are only so many trees, cobalt mines and oil reserves to exploit and the leaders in the U.S. are more than proud that they snatched them up first. As stated above, for a system that depends on exponential growth, about 3% per annum, in order to survive, it is a lofty pipe dream to think that we can continue to use the same metrics for economic growth without completely depleting the Earth of all its resources while drastically sharpening the geographical conflicts that will arise as resources become more scarce.

The metrics used to determine the health of an economy must soon transcend the current model of infinite growth with limited resources. A system or a business that becomes more profitable the more that it consumes must be inverted somehow. Harmony with nature and a system that is serious about sustainability must be advocated for. What we currently have cannot last much longer given the rates of resource depletion, climate damage, and human suffering.

Occupy Wall Street and the Imperative to Question Capitalism

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement is gaining traction and support throughout the broader segments of civil society each day. And with each day that passes its legitimacy grows as exponentially as the fear of the 1% that is responsible for creating the global crisis of capitalism. The movement is only a few weeks old and already the illegitimate forces of the powers that be are acting irresponsibly by pepper spraying peaceful protesters, willfully misguiding marchers one minute only to “kettle” them and arrest hundreds of them the next. Do the authorities not understand that actions such as these only help to garner more support for the movement? Most of the mainstream media tries to marginalize the activists by characterizing them as unorganized and frivolous, or as hippies and anarchists. The past 40 years of disenfranchisement of the working class and concentration of monopoly capitalism on a global scale is beginning to be directly challenged by the nexus of global activists from the streets of New York City to the picket lines of Athens, and it’s making some people in power nervous…

At the heart of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement and the general resistance to capitalist structural adjustment and austerity measures globally is the desire among activists to bring into question many aspects of not just corporate greed, fraudulently foreclosed homes, inequality, imperialism, political corruption, and unemployment, but a genuine desire to create more serious discourse about the very social and economic system that, up until now, so many people have taken for granted and accepted as something as natural as the air we breathe.

In 2011 many people are beginning to see for themselves that capitalism is indeed not as natural and eternal as the champions of the status quo like to make them think. And as their pensions dwindle, their debts accumulate, their jobs vaporize, and their wages are further repressed in order to restore profits for big business and “liquidity” in the global markets, they are beginning to see that capitalism is not as beneficial for them or for society as a whole, especially when recklessness is rewarded and avarice is celebrated. People are also beginning to understand more that the traditional political parties, both Democrats and Republicans alike, provide no real alternatives to the problems that the majority of working people are faced with. In fact, the feeble solutions offered do nothing that will qualitatively alter the conditions that created the crisis in the first place. Just to quickly illustrate how perverse the situation is, it should be known that not one architect of the global meltdown has been charged or jailed for any of their criminal behavior in defrauding homeowners, destroying retirements, waging war and then making billions of of it, etc., but somehow 700 peaceful protesters were arrested for walking on a bridge!

The anti-Wall Street atmosphere is brimming with inquisitive and passionate people that are asking many questions about the fundamental operation of the capitalist mode of production as a whole. A lot of young people are beginning to question if the system we have is indeed sustainable or even worth keeping around much longer. For example, we are told incessantly by cheerleaders of the capitalist system that in order to bring the US, and naturally, Western Europe, out of recession and for profits to be restored to business that the economy must expand at 3% per annum. This means that GDP has to be on the continual rise day after day, year after year,which also means that in order for that to happen more markets have to be exploited, more resources have to be extracted, and America’s twisted consumer culture has to keep growing. This seems paradoxical for a society that is vowing to implement meaningful reforms or to be more “sustainable.” Can you see the ridiculousness of it all? Capitalism cannot expand at a compound rate forever! There is only one Earth and that one Earth only has so many resources to exploit and extract.

Another issue that many activists are beginning to discuss deals with the fact that in order for society to truly be a democracy and for resources to be distributed more equitably there has to first and foremost be democracy in the work place. We hear political figures speak about having a free and open democratic society all the time, but how democratic can any society be when most people that work 40-50 hrs a week enter into definite relations of production in the workplace that are anything but democratic! The workplace is the perfect example of a tyranny. The boss is the tyrant while the worker is forced to accept any and every decision that is made from the top tier down. How is that democracy? Democracy in society can only express itself as a democratic principle when it correlates to democracy in the places of employment. If the 99% of people that are represented as those that are not corporate CEOs, bankers, and entrenched politicians had more say in the decisions and the distribution of the surplus that is created in the workplace then we would begin to see a more equitable society and social order emerge. Democracy in its evolved form will manifest itself in a workplace that is run by those that actually work there!

These are just a few of the many questions that the 99% should be addressing about capitalism in its current, extremely unequal and exploitative form. The crisis evolved not out of thin air, but out of specific historical conditions that have hitherto coalesced into a crisis of epidemic proportions, and it is our responsibility to ask questions and search for answers that are truly historic. Capitalism is only the “end of history” for those that feel there is no more history to create; no more justice to be brought about, and no progression and dignity for the human condition to fulfill.

Hasta la victoria!

Real Estate Saves Capitalism Then Bursts – China Next?

>What They Don’t Tell You About the Economic Crisis.

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We are in the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. What has become known as “The Great Recession” is affecting millions of working people, not just in the United States, but all over the world. In a dramatic twist of irony it seems that those responsible for the economic crisis received the most assistance from the federal government, were the least affected by the negative ramifications of the crisis, and recovered the quickest from their losses. Many of the major banks that were on the brink of collapse such as Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, and J.P. Morgan Chase, are once again bringing in enormous profits. Where the free market failed for the capitalist class, the welfare state of, for, and by the rich stepped in.

Due to the fact that political system in the United States is made up of two parties -the Democrats and the Republicans- that are in many ways “two wings from the same bird of prey,” that bird of prey being the capitalist system, there are many issues that are not discussed in the discourse between Democrats and Republicans.  One would not expect cheerleaders of the system to continually critique or advocate for radical change to a system that they not only control, but profit from immensely, at least in the short run.

Some issues that are not explicitly acknowledged but are extremely important to keep in mind when thinking about the crisis of the American and global economy include the observations that:

The Great Recession is not over! Just because many of the companies and industries that the government bailed out have returned to profitability does not mean that the average college graduate (yay, that’s me!) is going to find the job search any easier. In fact, over eight million jobs were lost during the deepest trough of the recession and only one and a half million have been added. This is enough to keep pace with the rising amounts of available workers but not enough to make as much of a dent in the unemployment rate.

The real unemployment rate is actually much higher than official reports. For May 2011 the unemployment rate was listed at around 9.1%. This is an extremely high number, but to be officially unemployed one has to have looked for work within the last four weeks. Those that have searched for work but have not searched for over four weeks, also known as “discouraged workers,” are not included. Other “marginally attached workers,” workers that may not be discouraged but have not searched for work because of certain constraints, such as not being able to pay for daycare, are also not included. And neither are workers that are working part-time but want full-time work. If these people are included the actual unemployment rate is much higher. Some estimate the real rate at closer to double the government numbers.

 The Internationalization of American capital. Many staunch advocates of the status quo placate the frustrations of workers by assuring them that the economy is on the road to recovery and that growth will soon return, thus employing the millions or unemployed people again. This is lofty reassurance and pure naivety in today’s global capitalist economy. U.S. businesses have relocated labor abroad where the cost of production for goods and services is cheaper, labor standards are not enforced, and wages are a fraction of what they are in the U.S. This has made the plight of workers all over the world that much more difficult because multinational corporations relocate their operations in a race to the bottom, and since capital is mobile and labor is not, it ends up creating competition between different elements of the working class that should otherwise be more unified in their struggles.

The massive offshoring of U.S. manufacturing jobs over the last several decades is compounded by the technological innovations that render certain human labor unnecessary and less costly, which adds even more workers to the massive pool of unemployed. The manufacturing problem can be somewhat countered by weaker dollar because that would make goods cheaper to produce in the U.S., which would entice global businesses to invest and make goods in America, but it is too little too late and labor is still cheaper in other places abroad. All of this makes the recovery for the American economy that much more difficult, especially when the populace does not have the income to purchase their way out of the recession. This leads us to the next point, albeit in a roundabout way.

-Capitalism’s rapacious assault on the natural world is becoming undeniable and actually threatening the vital ecosystems that make life possible on Earth, which makes the idea of growing the economy out of recession an even more life threatening issue for countless people, animals, plants, that are already threatened by capitalism’s insatiable consumption. Capitalism is not synonymous with sustainability and the Earth can not support a vision of a global economy whereby the entire developing world aspires to become the massive consumer pigs of the United States. The neoclassical party program of unabated, vicious growth is finally reaching a point where capitalism’s natural lust for accumulation is building to such a crescendo that not even the precious finite resources of planet Earth can sustain it anymore. The idea of economies have sustainable, zero growth is a heterodox idea in today’s world but it is becoming increasingly more vital that we search for ways to create harmony with the natural world, rather than waxing poetic about green reform of environmental sustainability while embracing capitalism.

-The rising standard of living via the largest credit card bonanza in U.S. history came crashing down. Many economists and activists on the left have pointed out that since the 1970s the rising standard of living in America was fueled by the largest influx of consumer credit in history. the 1970s was a time when the American worker became more productive by using cost effective technology like computers. Worker productivity increased but the increased productivity did not translate to increased worker benefits or increased wages. Workers were actually making more in the 1970s per hour, adjusted for inflation, than they are today. The increased profits were extracted by business and bankers and injected in the the stock market or other highly capital intensive endeavors. The profits accumulated by businesses were also loaned back to the workers, with interest of course, so they could continue to fund their standard of living.  It was an extremely profitable time for American business and a time when American’s not only had more debt than what they actually made, but were also living outside their means in every way, shape, and form. This problem has not come to a disastrous climax and no one in the government or political apparatus has any real solutions on the table. The American Dream is even more of a myth than it previously was.

The solutions offered by the ruling class are to continue protecting their vested interests in the status quo and to claim that the only way out of the crisis and to balance the budgets that they so irresponsibly managed through war, tax loopholes for the hyper-wealthy, etc., is to cut funding for our schools, libraries, medicaid, pensions, etc. In other words, their aim is to continue to place the burden on the people that had little, if anything, to do with creating the crisis in the first place.