Student Riots in Italy: a dispatch from Jasmina Tesanovic

When I myself was a protesting student, I remember vividly remembered the cold warning in the text by Pier Paolo Pasolini. He reminded us youngsters that the police we faced in the streets were also someone's children, that not all young people were fortunate enough to be in colleges rather than wearing uniforms, and that we should join all together against the general oppressor, the system, capitalism, the corporations, name it…

That was then, and this is now, and while the students and policemen still have the same interests, they are still on the opposite sides of the barricade. Austerity has driven Italy to its knees. Day by day the future of Italy's young people is vaporizing, and now the streets are flooded by torrential rains, to boot. Italian cities rocked by earthquakes might as well settle for witchcraft, rather than find responsible and competent government officials who can rescue the nation's casualties.

Read the rest

Spain's pocket communist utopia, Marinaleda

Dan Hancox sez,

You may have heard about Spain's 'Robin Hood Mayor', Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo - who last week made global headlines after he led farm labourers into supermarkets to expropriate basic food supplies, which were then distributed to the massed ranks of the local unemployed (currently 34% in Andalusia).

The Spanish economic miracle has become a catastrophe; with a government whose cuts have pushed miners to armed conflict (firing home-made rocket launchers at riot police), an Economics Minister whose last job was director of the Spanish branch of Lehman Brothers, and a lost generation of 'indignados' with no homes, no work, and no faith in the system. And right in the middle of it all, Marinaleda, a self-described communist utopia led by the charismatic poet-rebel, Sánchez Gordillo: a town of landless labourers who for over 30 years since the death of Franco, have fought capitalism - and won. 'Utopia and the Valley of Tears' is their story, published this week. There is a short extract in The Guardian.

Utopia and the Valley of Tears: A journey through the Spanish crisis

Man in a coma is "fit for work," loses disability benefits

A post in a thread on rightsnet.co.uk claims that ATOS (a French private company that administers disability benefits assessments for the UK Department of Work and Pensions) has declared a man in a coma to be fit for work and cut off his benefits. This is part of a the stepped up campaign to stop "benefits cheats" by requiring complex paperwork from claimants. A companion piece on Libcom has comments from others who've been cut off, including a man who's suffered brain injuries that caused him to file his paperwork late.

Client’s husband is in hospital in a coma. He was sent ESA501.

Client contacted DWP to explain situation and was asked to obtain letter from hospital confirming he is in a coma. Did so. Was told to send it to ATOS rather than local BDC. Did so. Husband has now received decision letter – yep, as he has failed to return the ESA50 without good cause and is therefore capable of work [he is] no longer entitled to ESA…

Coma patient fit for work

Get a free copy of "Share or Die" - strategies for a shared, post-austerity world

Share or Die is a new anthology from Shareable.net (whose mandate is to promote sharing in all its guises), written by 20-somethings struggling through austerity and econopocalypse, who find in sharing a solution to some of their problems. I was privileged to write the book's foreword, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. You can buy a copy or get a PDF for free -- all the book's publishers ask is that you tweet the fact that you've gotten a copy yourself. Here's a snip of my foreword:

This was supposed to be the disconnected generation. Raised on video-games and networked communications, kept indoors by their parents' fear of predators and the erosion of public transit and public spaces, these were the kids who were supposed to be socially isolated, preferring the company of video-game sprites to their peers, preferring Facebook updates to real-life conversations.

The Internet's reputation for isolation is undeserved and one-dimensional. If the net makes it possible to choose to interact through an electronic remove from "the real world," it *also* affords the possibility of inhabiting the "real world" even when you've been shut away from it by your fearful parents or the tyranny of suburban geography.

Even as entertainment moguls were self-servingly declaring "content is king," they failed to notice that content without an audience was about as interesting as a tree that falls in the deserted woods. Conversation is king, not content. If we gather around forums to talk about TV shows or movies or games or bands, it's because we enjoy talking with each other, because "social" is the best content there is. Content is just something to talk about. That's why telcoms -- the industry that charges you to connect with other breathing humans -- is 100 times larger than entertainment.

Which is to say that our "disconnected" generation is more connected than any generation in history -- connected via a huge, technologically augmented peripheral nervous system of communications technologies that gives them continuous, low-level insight into their peers and the world they inhabit. Which is not to say that being wired up to the net's social radar is an unadulterated good: adding capacity and velocity to your nervous system can be a recipe for disaster, creating race-conditions in which minor disagreements snowball into vicious fights, where the bad as well as the good can find itself magnified through positive feedback loops that ratchet minor stimuli into feedback screams.

Download a Complete Copy of Share or Die

Austerity Jubilee: unemployed workers tricked into being Jubilee stewards, denied toilets, left to camp in the rain

Long-term unemployed workers say they were bussed to London to act as stewards for the Queen's Jubilee, told they would be paid for the work and cared for while in town. When they arrived, they were told they wouldn't get paid (this was "work experience" not a job), and were made to strip down and change into uniforms in public, pitch tents in the rain, sleep under a bridge, and left without toilet facilities for 24 hours. They were told that if they didn't accept this "training," they wouldn't be considered for work during the Olympics.

Close Protection UK confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff and 50 apprentices, who were paid £2.80 an hour, for the three-day event in London. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, which it had also won a contract to staff. Unpaid staff were expected to work two days out of the three-day holiday...

A 30-year-old steward told the Guardian that the conditions under the bridge were "cold and wet and we were told to get our head down [to sleep]". He said that it was impossible to pitch a tent because of the concrete floor.

The woman said they were woken at 5.30am and supplied with boots, combat trousers and polo shirts. She said: "They had told the ladies we were getting ready in a minibus around the corner and I went to the minibus and they had failed to open it so it was locked. I waited around to find someone to unlock it, and all of the other girls were coming down trying to get ready and no one was bothering to come down to unlock [it], so some of us, including me, were getting undressed in public in the freezing cold and rain." The men are understood to have changed under the bridge.

The female steward said that after the royal pageant, the group travelled by tube to a campsite in Theydon Bois, Essex, where some had to pitch their tents in the dark.

Unemployed bussed in to steward river pageant

Petition to save Canada's National Archive

Peter sez,

The Canadian federal government recently announced that they are cutting $9.6 million from the budget of Library and Archives Canada (LAC), Canada's national archives. This will seriously undermine the archives, which was already struggling due to chronic underfunding to live up to its mandate 'o preserve the documentary heritage of Canada.'

Hundreds of other archives across Canada will also be negatively affected by these cuts because LAC is terminating the National Archives Development Program (NADP), a long-running contribution program that helped fund projects by small archives to preserve documentary heritage locally and make it publicly available. The NADP cost only $1.7 million annually, but has done a world of good in helping to ensure that Canadian history survives and is accessible by all. If you want to help fight these devastating cuts to Canada's archival heritage, please sign the online petition to save the NADP and spread the word about these harmful cuts.

Make it Better - Write a Letter. Help save Canada's National Archival Development Program. (Thanks, Peter!)

Austerity obliterates ecology: Canadian budget to make environmental impact statements optional, class eco-groups as money-launderers


Chris sez, "The budget bill currently before the Canadian Parliament (Bill C-38) does a bunch of things that don't seem to have much to do with the budget--including completely gutting Canada's federal environmental laws. The Environmental Assessment Act is being completely repealed and replaced with a regime that gives the government the power to basically approve any project they want without any environmental review--including mining projects in Alberta's Athabasca Tar Sands and the Canadian portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. And while environmental protections are being slashed, $8 million is going to the Canada Revenue Agency to audit charities (with the understanding that the main targets will be environmental charities--which the government has labelled as money launderers working for foreign interests). By putting this in a budget bill, the Conservative government has ensured that there will be minimal debate on these changes, and they will almost certainly be passed by the majority-Conservative parliament. Canada's largest environmental groups have organized a website blackout on June 4 to protest and raise awareness of these changes."

BlackOutSpeakOut - Welcome / Bienvenue (Thanks, Chris!)

Austerity obliterates transparency: budget cuts mean cuts to Canada's Freedom of Information

A reader writes, "Yet another voice calling attention to the ever narrowing access to information in Canada as the Harper Government repeatedly thumb their nose at the Canadian Access to Information Act." And the CBC's Meagan Fitzpatrick reports:

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault reported today that the federal government's budget cuts could jeopardize a "fragile" access to information system that has been improving... Legault said the access to information areas within government departments tend to be vulnerable when there are cuts and she has already heard from some requestors that they've been told their files are being delayed because of cuts.

Budget cuts threaten access to information, watchdog says

Austerity obliterates history: Canadian heritage docs no longer available through interlibrary loan

A reader writes, "Canadian heritage documents that used to be accessible through inter-library loan will be no longer accessible. If you want to access documents of Canada's history, be prepared to do some traveling, and even at that, those documents may no longer exist since standards of preservation may be compromised. This is of particular concern since the Harper government has revealed revisionist tendencies in the past."

From Laura Mueller in Nepean/Barrhaven Local Community News:

"Unless something is done soon, Canadians are at risk of losing key parts of their historical and cultural record," Harder wrote to Minister James Moore. "Preservation of our country's heritage is not something we can afford to sacrifice."

The Ottawa Public Library system relies on the national library for key Canadian heritage documents accessible through inter-library loans.

"It's going to have a huge impact on inter-library loans," said Jennifer Stirling, OPL's manager of service and innovation. "(The archives contains) Canadiana that just can't be replicated elsewhere ... it's very sad to see this happen."

Here's the national campaign to save Canada's archives.

Federal archive cutbacks impact local libraries, Canadian heritage archives will no longer be accessible by inter-library loan

Canada's national archives being dismantled and scattered

A reader writes,

The Canadian government is slowly doing away with Canada's ability to access its own history.

Library and Archives Canada's collection is being decentralized and scattered across the country, often to private institutions, which will limit access, making research difficult or next impossible. It should be noted that Daniel Caron, the new National Archivist hired in 2009, doesn't even have a background in library nor archives but, a background in economics.

"The changes and cuts are being justified by reference to digitization. A generous estimate is only 4% of the LAC collection has been digitized to date -- a poor record that will be made worse by the cuts announced on April 30, 2012, which reduced digitization staff by 50%."

Save Library & Archives Canada

Innovation Under Austerity: Eben Moglen's call to arms from the Freedom to Connect conference

Last week saw the latest installment of David Isenberg's Freedom to Connect conference in Washington, DC. One of the keynotes came from Eben Moglen, formerly chief counsel of the Free Software Foundation, now the principle agitator behind the Software Freedom Law Center. Eben's keynote is one of the most provocative, intelligent, outrageous and outraged pieces of technology criticism I've heard. It's a 45 minute lecture with a 45 minute Q&A. I ripped the audio and listened to it while walking around town today and kept having to stop and take out my headphones and think for a while.

I found out about it via a message forwarded to me by the Open University's Marian Petre from the ACM's SIGCSE mailing list, where Adelphi's Stephen Bloch cherry-picked some of the best quotes from the talk, which I've pasted in below to give you a taste of what awaits you, should you be willing to give Eben such a generous chunk of your time. I think it was a very good use of my time.

Innovation under austerity is not produced by collecting lots of money and paying it to innovation intermediaries. [Several examples of disintermediation: TV, encyclopedias, book publishing, music recording, magazine publishing] Disintermediation -- the movement of power out of the middle of the net -- is a crucial fact about 21st century political economy.

Intermediaries that did well in the past ten years are limited to two categories: health insurers in the U.S., owing to political pathology, and the financial industry. Health insurers in the U.S. may be able to capitalize on continuing political pathology to remain failing and expensive intermediaries for a while longer, but the financial industry crapped in its own nest and is shrinking now and will continue to do so.

The reality that disintermediation happens and you can't stop it becomes a guiding light in the formation of national industrial policy. The greatest technological innovation of the 20th century is the thing we now call the World Wide Web. That innovation both fuels disintermediation by allowing all sorts of human contact to take place without agents, and is itself a result of disintermediated innovation.

The browser made the Web very easy to read. We did not make the Web easy to write. So a little thug in a hooded sweatshirt made the Web easy to write, and created a man-in-the-middle attack on human civilization. That's the intermediary innovation that we should be concerned about. We made everything possible... and then intermediaries to innovation turned it into the horror that is Facebook. It's intermediated innovation serving the needs of financiers, not the needs of people.

Read the rest

Pirates win more seats in German state elections


The German Pirate Party has taken seats in the fourth consecutive regional election, this time in North Rhine-Westphalia, where it received 7.5% of the vote, which will likely translate to 18 seats. These state-level elections are being viewed in part as a referendum on austerity and other Merkel doctrines, and there's a growing tide of disgust with business-as-usual across Europe. The Pirates are doing a good job of presenting themselves as a real alternative, albeit one with a specialized agenda. The trick will be for the Pirates to articulate the equation that all copyright policy ends up being Internet policy, and all Internet policy ends up being policy for everything, since everything we do involves the Internet. So far, many people are taking that idea to heart. Party founder Rick Falkvinge provides some analysis of the German PP phenomenon:

The first reason is that the German Piratenpartei was long-term from the get-go. Where most pirate parties are started like any internet project – “we’re going to change the world come next weekend” – the Germans knew they would be around for a long time, and invested early in the organizational foundation for that.

The second reason is timing and ripples on the water. When the Swedish Piratpartiet had its breakthrough in the European Parliament, and was in media all over the world, the German Piratenpartei was able to exploit that momentum when a local minister named Ursula wanted to create a net censorship to fight CP. T-shirts with the name “Zensursula” were common, zensur being German for censorship. The goverment did not win the narrative on that one, and the idea of censorship was abandoned while the Piratenpartei raked in new members. I’d say that this was the breakthrough in activist critical mass.

The third reason is Germany’s federal party support. Having won 1% in the European elections and 2% in the federal elections in 2009 entitled the Piratenpartei to considerable governmental funding, which is paid out to all parties that beat the half-percent mark in elections. This has allowed the Piratenpartei to buy themselves the appearance of an established party out in the streets – their posters and banners are everywhere on paid billboards, as well as on streetlights and more activist-associated locations. But all of it looks professional, yet with a new message. It looks electable, which is key.

German Pirate Party Scores Fourth Consecutive Election Win - Falkvinge on Infopolicy

Austerity is Europe's mutual suicide-pact


Laurence Lewis's Daily Kos editorial, "The cruel stupidity that is economic austerity," is a blazing indictment of austerity as a means of recovering from recession, and it cites experts and statistics showing that austerity programs (in Europe, particularly) are deepening the recession, destroying lives, and demolishing vital social institutions that are especially needed in economic downturns. Lewis's citations are not to the usual suspects in the fight against austerity, but rather to rock-ribbed conservatives and publications like The Economist, the chief economist of Standard Chartered, the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO. And there's Joseph Stiglitz, who compares austerity to medieval blood-letting: "when you took the blood out, the patient got sicker. The response then was more blood-letting until the patient very nearly died. What is happening in Europe is a mutual suicide pact."

How bad is it?

* In Greece, we now have record unemployment, which includes the majority of young workers. Homelessness is up 20 percent, with soup kitchens in Athens reporting record demand, and the usually low suicide rate having doubled.
* Portugal has complied completely with the austerity demands it accepted for its bailout deal, but its debt is growing and its economy is shrinking, its unemployment rate continues to reach new heights, there is a crisis in medical care, and a 40 percent rise in emigration, with the Portuguese government acknowledging its own failure by actually encouraging its citizenry to leave.
* In Spain, austerity has resulted in falling industrial output and deepening debt, with record unemployment and a stunning rate of 50 percent youth unemployment. And the Spanish government's incomprehensible response is to impose even more crushing austerity.
* Ireland has fallen back into recession as austerity has led to falling economic output. A better future is being sacrificed, as young workers look for work abroad, "generation emigration" expected to number 75,000 this year.
* The success of Italy's wealthy technocrat government was concisely summarized in similar terms: Italy's austerity measures are stunting activity in the euro-zone's third-largest economy, recent budget and economic data show, suggesting the steps are backfiring.

The cruel stupidity that is economic austerity (via Making Light)

(Image: GREEKS PROTEST AUSTERITY CUTS, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from piazzadelpopolo's photostream)

Great Squanderland Roof: funny BBC radio drama about austerity

Julian Gough sez, "I get the feeling you and some of your readers are, um, not entirely unconvinced by austerity as an economic strategy. So you might like the BBC's free Drama of the Week podcast. It's a satire on Eurozone austerity economics called The Great Squanderland Roof, by, er, me. It's free, downloadable worldwide till Friday, and it stars some great actors, like Dermot Crowley who was in Fr. Ted and, er, Return of the Jedi. What can we do but laugh? Hope you like it. Here's the official BBC blurb on it:"

Jude lives in a henhouse with no roof, in the bankrupt Republic of Squanderland. Purchased for ten million euro at the height of the credit bubble, his henhouse has been rated the asset in Europe most likely to default. To solve this small but symbolic problem and restore confidence in the markets, Europe's leaders need a plan. Sadly, putting a roof on Jude's henhouse quickly escalates out of control. Soon they are committed to building a roof over the entire country, half a mile above the startled voters... But what happens when a structure that's too big to fail finally fails? To the horror of Europe's bankers and politicians, Jude comes up with a dramatic (and rather romantic) solution to the Eurozone crisis... 'The Great Squanderland Roof' stars Rory Keenan as the hapless Jude (whose recent credits include 'The Kitchen' at the National, 'A Dublin Carol' at the Donmar and 'Birdsong' on BBC TV) in his debut BBC Radio role, Dermot Crowley as a banker turned government minister, and Stephanie Flanders, the BBC's Economics Editor.

The Great Squanderland Roof 2 Mar 12 (Thanks, Julian!)

America's tent cities

The BBC's Panorama looks at the rise of semi-official homeless tent-camps in American cities. These are springing up in states where austerity "balanced budget" drives are severely cutting services. Especially concerning is the report of homeless children who are going hungry, going to bed hungry, getting dizzy from hunger, waiting through the weekend to go to school (with subsidized meals) to eat. City services -- shelters, emergency rooms, police -- actually send people to the tent cities, because there is no official place for them to go.

According to census data, 47 million Americans now live below the poverty line - the most in half a century - fuelled by several years of high unemployment.

One of the largest tented camps is in Florida and is now home to around 300 people. Others have sprung up in New Jersey and Portland.

In the Ann Arbor camp, Alana Gehringer, 23, has had a hacking cough for the last four months.

"The black mould - it was on our pillows, it was on our blankets, we were literally rubbing our faces in it sleeping every night," she said of wintering in a tent.

The camp is run by the residents themselves, with the help of a local charity group. Calls have come in from the hospital emergency room, the local police and the local homeless shelter to see if they can send in more.

America's homeless resort to tent cities