capitalism

September 24-25: Resist the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh

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Coming off the protests against the Republican National Convention (RNC), I’m not sure entirely how I feel personally about organizing in response to the G20 in Pittsburgh, but I’m really heartened to see that some solid people are putting work into giving the G20 a rowdy midwestern welcome. After seeing folks take to the streets to oppose the G20 in April in London, hopefully those of us in the U.S. can take a similar approach.

September 24-25: Resist the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh

Join Thousands at a Convergence of Action, Resistance and Hope

Pittburghers didn’t ask the G20 to come here, but it is our intention that the worldview the summit represents will die here.

This September 24-25 Pittsburgh will host the next summit of the G20, a group of finance ministers and central bank governors from the world’s largest economies who meet twice yearly to discuss and coordinate the international financial system. Around 1,500 delegates, including heads of state, will be here along with more than 2,000 members of the media, and thousands of police and security agents tasked with squelching dissent.

This summit, and the predecessor meetings this past April in London, occurs on the heels of the worldwide financial meltdown that has been severely impacting hundreds of millions around the world. Since its inception, the G20 has been a tool used to promote a world vision based on the ability of capital to move as it pleases, at the expense of labor, human rights and the environment.

Now that the system these leaders have forced on the world is in crisis they continue to operate as if they have the answer. We know that they do not. To save countries, they propose we turn to institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an entity that has historically imposed murderous structural adjustment programs on the world’s poor.

G20 summits, alongside other meetings of institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), an entity that has historically imposed murderous structural adjustment programs on the world’s poor.

G20 summits, alongside other meetings of institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the World Trade Organization, have rightfully been targeted by hundreds of thousands of people around the world because they represent a global vision based on war-making, social and economic injustice, and corporate greed. Pittsburgh will take its place alongside people around the world who have protested and resisted such gatherings in their hometowns.

Pittsburgh was chosen as the host city because of its history, and because the President is looking to buttress his working class credentials. It is true that our city has much to offer the world in terms of progress, we just happen to disagree with the politicians on what these words mean or what others should take from our experience. Pittsburgh has experienced 50 years of population loss and industrial decline as well as more than 150 years of industrial class conflict. We have gained an instinctual knowledge that you get what you are willing to fight for. We celebrate that worker and community self-organization has often succeeded where government, bosses and the supposedly enlightened have failed.

What has carried us through the tough times has been our relationships, the tight knit nature of our mostly non-corporate dominated neighborhoods, a do-it-yourself ethic, the unpretentious manner in which people treat each other, and a sense of local pride that isn’t based on salary or one’s place in some hierarchy. Pittsburgh never died, and the currently-in-vogue talk of “rebirth” measures success, growth, and progress in terms of the number of corporations based here, the multi-national profits, or the success of our politicians at going from Mayors to County Executives to Governors.

For our measuring stick, we look to whether or not all have the resources needed to lead and pursue rewarding lives, and if we are meeting community needs without the involvement of the state. We look to the health of our environment and the treatment of other living things, the equality of educational opportunities, the degree to which we lessen our participation in the exploitation of others, and how successful we are in moving towards a new kind of society in which you don’t have to fuck people over to survive.

And in these respects, our city is making progress. We find inspiration and common cause in the efforts of the multitude of other projects and initiatives that are transforming Pittsburgh into a more just and sustainable place to live, efforts that are in a conflictual relationship with state power, and will be joining resistance to the G20. And truly, if the G20 were about anything besides state power and money it would be these efforts that other countries would be coming here to discuss and look at, because there is much that we have to offer in creating a better world.

Pittsburgh is not without its problems, and there is much that needs to be addressed. During the summit and its lead-up little will be said about the troubling grip the UPMC medical industrial complex and others hold over the region, the chronic illnesses caused by the extremely high levels of particulate matter in our air, the troubling ethical questions posed by the warfare robotics that are being pioneered here, the police violence and acts of unaccountable brutality against the public, a stacked deck against labor organizing, a depressingly inadequate public transit system, and a political process marked by a lack of ethical accountability and transparency.

We should be clear then, we love our city, and in so far as we see the G20 as a threat to our collective health and well-being we intend to be an obstacle to its ability to function. This is an unavoidable decision given what the summit is, and what it represents. The presence of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh will be a major – if short-lived – disruption to the city and the people who work and live here, with or without protests. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has acknowledged as much, stating the summit will result in “chaos” due to security cordons, increased traffic, etc.

The government has already staked out its position: the needs of 20 politicians justify whatever disruption and cost to our city, and the responsibility felt by thousands to participate in resistance to the G20 and to articulate an alternate vision for society is more than unimportant, it’s a threat.

Based on past summits the media will play the state game by focusing on whether protesters will be able to disrupt the ability of the summit to meet, using ominous and sensationalist stories with unsubstantiated claims of evil outsiders come to wreck havoc on the good people, because these stories, even if refuted and later disproved, serve to justify attacks on the public’s liberties and dignity. This must not, and will not, deter resistance. The stakes are too high.

The real value of this summit, to its participants and those resisting it, is not in the substance of the “leaders’” discussions. Our power is not in whether or not we have the ability to prevent a bunch of finance ministers and heads of state from talking. The real importance is in the way an undisrupted ceremony reinforces the dominant worldview. If that view is flawed, it must be rejected, and the spotlight such a gathering creates must be one in which people will manifest liberating social conflict.

We therefore believe that the necessary attempts of thousands to interfere with the summit are not an ends in and of themselves, they are a critical part of the means we can use to achieve the victory we are collectively organizing for in September: to heighten existing social resistance, and to present an alternative narrative of why our world is the way it is. We must make it clear that the world need not be this way, and talk about our vision for a movement towards a new society based not on profit and coercion but rooted in meeting collective needs for both material comfort and the freedom to pursue fulfilling lives of opportunity and dignity.

In this effort we invite and encourage your participation!

In Struggle,

Pittsburgh Organizing Group

http://www.organizepittsburgh.org

If your group would like to endorse this call, let us know at pog@mutualaid.org

People’s Summit and Tent City in Detroit Advocates an Economic Agenda for the Rest of Us

This week, activists from across the country gathered in Detroit for the People’s Summit and Tent City to counter the National Business Summit in Detroit.

The People’s Summit was organized to promote “active resistance, political discussion and strategizing” with the end goal of developing “people’s stimulus plans” and an “economic bill of rights.” In announcing the event, the organizers wrote:

On June 15-17, 2009, the National Business Summit, sponsored by the Detroit Economic Club, will take place at the Renaissance Center, General Motors Corporate Headquarters. Millionaire capitalists like the heads of Conoco-Phillips, Dow Chemical, General Motors, Chrysler, Humana Inc., Ascension Health, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, BNSF Railway Co., and PVS Chemicals, and well as the presidents of the National Council on Competitiveness and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, will gather at this summit. President Barack Obama and cabinet members have been invited.

These wealthy businesspeople will put their greedy heads together to discuss “innovation and policy ideas in technology, energy, environment and manufacturing.” In other words, they will be strategizing on how to further increase their profits at the expense of the ever-shrinking middle class, the vast working class and the growing millions living in utter poverty.

The National Business Summit will be held in a city with record-high unemployment and poverty rates, lay-offs, budget cuts, school closings, utility cost hikes and shut-offs and massive home foreclosures. With a registration fee of $1,495, it is unlikely that any victims of foreclosures and evictions, let alone laid-off workers, will be able to attend the National Business Summit. No one at this event will be speaking in the interests of those most affected by the economic collapse.

Throughout the People’s Summit, video of the event was collected and posted on their blog. A sample of the video–from a protest outside of the National Business Summit–can be seen below:

For more video, visit their blog.

Meltdown in Detroit: Economic Collapse, a People’s Plan for Recovery

Last weekend, The Nation magazine held an event in Detroit titled “Meltdown in Detroit: Economic Collapse, a People’s Plan for Recovery” that explored the economic crisis and how Detroit and the rest of the country can move on from the crisis.

The event featured a panel discussion with many prominent activists including Barbara Ehrenreich, Robert Pollin, Elena Herrada, Grace Lee Boggs, JoAnn Watson, and Diane Feely. Videos of the panelists are published below.

Robert Pollin, Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Institute

Barbara Ehrenreich, Author/Activist

Elena Herrada, Detroit Union Organizer/Activist

Grace Lee Boggs, Detroit Activist

JoAnn Watson, Detroit City Council Member

Diane Feely, Union Organizer/Activist

Economic disaster is no match for people’s spirit and self-organizing

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This article is reprinted from an anarchist newspaper published out of Berkley, California called Slingshot. I think it does a good job of discussing current popular responses to the global economic crisis while also looking at the challenges for leftists and progressives. How can we respond to the current crisis in a way that is both relevant and challenges the underlying system/logic that brought about the current crisis? As a whole, I think “the left”–especially in the U.S.–has done a pretty bad job of responding to the current crisis.

Economic dislocation and pain has always given rise to creative forms of protest, direct action and rebellion. Right now, the French are showing the way with a wave of “boss-nappings” — when the boss tries to close a factory or layoff workers, the workers lock managers inside and won’t let them leave until demands for better severance pay are met. But outrage has been overflowing all over from unrest in Bolivia to Greek farmers blocking roads to riots in Vladivostok, Russia, and clashes with police in Reykjavik, Iceland. At the recent G20 protest in London, hundreds of people smashed the windows of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The US has a powerful history of action during hard economic times — from general strikes to bread riots to widespread squatting that occurred during the depression in the 1930s. And while protest in the US often lags behind the rest of the world these days, things haven’t been totally boring in the USA. There have been marches on Wall Street and in Chicago, 300 members of the United Electrical workers seized their factory in December to protest its closing.

Given that recessions are part of capitalism’s normal functioning, it isn’t always clear whether popular uprisings inspired by economic pain can go beyond purely reformist and limited goals. While it is encouraging to see more people in the streets and less respect for bosses, corporations, and authority, it makes no sense to demand “jobs,” “more economic activity” or “more money” out of precisely the same system that has let us down. The recession is causing pain for people precisely because the economy has so much power over people’s lives — demanding that the system start working “better” so it can even further dominate our lives makes no sense.

Protests related to an economic downturn risk being myopic — addressing symptoms, but not causes, and seeking crumbs, not the whole pie. But popular eruptions don’t have to be so short-sighted.

How can we seize on capitalism’s current self-inflicted wounds — widening tiny cracks into huge breaches in its rotten facade? In the last issue of Slingshot, I suggested that the recession creates opportunities for people to build alternative economic structures outside the capitalist system that can enable us to live more sustainably during the recession and after it is over. These alternative structures can replace competition, consumption, and privatization with cooperation, sharing, and a broad re-evaluation of what we really need to make us happy and free.

The other opportunities opened by the economic collapse are exciting chances to mount direct attacks on the structures of capitalism, industrialization, and hierarchy that create and sustain material inequality and misery, and that — in the process — are wreaking devastation on the environment. Right now millions of people see banks, the stock market, and the dog-eat-dog economy as the problem, not the solution.

A boss-napping in France that forces a company to pay an extra three months severance is ultimately not very threatening to capitalism. The workers are still accepting their status as workers and the bosses’ right to own the factory and close it if they like. The extra wages can be factored in as a cost of doing business. The manager taken hostage is usually just another paid employee of a big corporation — not all that close to the people who are really in charge. Such an action fails to question the flaws in the system that run deeper than a periodic downturn leading to some layoffs, business failures and foreclosures. How can such actions be put in a broader context and make wider demands?

Even when the capitalist economy is booming and consumption is growing, all the hours spent at work, new products to buy, and technological improvements leave us poorer in the things that really matter. When the economy is healthy, we are robbed of our time to invest in relationships and community. A world in which all our needs are increasingly met through the market — rather than voluntarily by other people around us — replaces meaning, depth and intimacy with distraction, superficial interactions, and loneliness.

The gross domestic product grows as more and more people eat highly processed food transported over great distances, and fewer and fewer people have the time to grow their own food in a garden and sit with friends cooking a slow supper. The mainstream assumption that more money, consumption and higher production improves the “standard of living” or human happiness is absurd — based on manufactured misunderstandings about what really matters.

This recession is perhaps the first major economic collapse since society has become fully aware of the environmental consequences of capitalism’s model of limitless economic growth. During the Great Depression, it was clear that capitalism led to economic inequality, arbitrary displacement and misery. Capitalism meant millions would live alienated, meaningless lives based on mechanistic consumption and production, rather than humanistic pursuits of freedom, joy and beauty. In the 1930s, the scale of world capitalism and the state of environmental awareness made it difficult to understand capitalism’s even more dramatic flaw: a model that requires limitless growth cannot coexist with a finite planet.

The subprime mortgage recession of 2008 — or whatever future generations may eventually call these times — is occurring within a far different context. Now, perhaps the chief indictment against the system is on environmental grounds. The idea of restoring the economy to “normal” becomes even more sinister when one considers the health of the world’s ecosystems.

Will the failures of the capitalist economy beyond temporary layoffs be on trial during this long, hot summer of discontent? Can a factory occupation demand not just severance pay, but that the factory be turned over to its workers rather than closed? And once we own the factory, will we redirect its function away from producing limitlessly for profit and consumerism, and towards manufacturing things we actually need in a way that doesn’t undermine our ability to live on a fragile planet? Or will we decide we don’t need factories and the stuff they make at all?

Militant tactics like wildcat strikes, bread riots and neighborhood eviction defense contain within them very important seeds for a different world. Each of these actions represents people alone or in groups stepping outside the dream world of the system — a world of consumers and spectators powerless to control their own lives. To the contrary, when you’re in the streets, you are a full participant in history, not a passive observer. You’re helping to determine what will happen next and how social institutions shall be organized or transformed.

First Monthly Really, Really Free Market on Sunday

Really, Really Free Market

The first Really, Really Free Market of the summer will be held this Saturday, May 31 from 1pm to 5pm. The market–which is basically a flea market where everything is free–will take place at the empty parking lot at the corner of Wealthy and Fuller. For more information on the event, there is a Facebook event.

It’s kind of hard to describe exactly what the Really, Really Free Market is beyond describing it as a free flea market. In the past, there has been a ton of clothes, free food, bike repair stands, books, garden tools, guitar lessons, and all sorts of random things. As always, you are encouraged to bring usable things that you no longer need. Also, if you can teach a skill or provide a service–for example, guitar or bike repair–you can bring that to the market. In other cities, people have done self-defense workshops and given haircuts.

Markets will be held on the last Sunday of every month through the Summer. The dates will be June 28, July 26, and August 30.

If you would like to help out with the Really, Really Free Markets, check out the Good Morning Revolution website. These kind of projects always need a bunch of help and I am sure they would appreciate your help.

New Report Criticizes Banks Behind Subprime Lenders

Who's Behind the Economic Meltdown

Who’s behind the financial meltdown? It’s a question that has been asked often in recent months–one that has been answered in many different ways. Large banks, mortgage companies, and deregulation have all been faulted for their role in the crisis.

The Center for Public Integrity has released a new analysis called “Who’s Behind the Financial Meltdown?” that analyzes the top 25 subprime lenders and the banks that demanded the troublesome loans. In their detailed look at the financial crisis, the Center for Public Integrity finds that those top subprime lenders were either owned or backed by the giant banks that are now collecting bailout money. Indeed, far from being “victims” of the financial crisis, the banks–including prominent ones such as Lehman Brothers, Citigroup, and Merrill Lynch–deliberately financed the lending practices that led to the financial crisis. These high-risk, high-yield bonds backed by home mortgages were aggressively sought by the largest banks in the United States and Europe. Some of these banks later bought up the troubled mortgage companies once they failed.

Some key findings from the report:

    At least 21 of the top 25 subprime lenders were financed by banks that received bailout money — through direct ownership, credit agreements, or huge purchases of loans for securitization.
  • Nine of the top 10 lenders were based in California, including all of the top 5 — Countrywide Financial Corp., Ameriquest Mortgage Co., New Century Financial Corp., First Franklin Corp. and, Long Beach Mortgage Co.
  • Twenty of the top 25 subprime lenders have closed, stopped lending, or been sold to avoid bankruptcy. Most were non-bank lenders.
  • Eleven of the lenders on the list, including four recipients of bank bailout funds, have made payments to settle claims of widespread lending abuses.

On top of these findings, the report also examines how Washington ignored the risk posed by these loans and in many cases altered regulations that made it easier for banks to pursue these loans.

AIG Bonuses Higher Than Originally Reported; Cuts for Michigan

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When the AIG bonus story broke, I posted my reactions. Like everybody who wasn’t an AIG exec, I was pissed, and couldn’t believe their shamelessness, their audacity, their unquenchable greed for more money while average people were getting screwed, etc. Then I read Gary Younge’s article “Bonus Outrage: Class Struggle or Class Envy?” in the April 13 issue of The Nation, arguing that all the attention on AIG’s malfeasance let the real culprit for our economic crisis off the hook: capitalism. At a time when a discussion of the exploitation inherent to our economic system was slowly starting to take place in society, people started focusing on cussing out these extra-super-duper greedy execs. This was a distraction that took away from a more important conversation about capitalism that needs to happen.

But still, I couldn’t help but indulge my knee-jerk rage when I saw David Sirota’s post today on the under-the-radar story that the bonuses were actually almost four times the amount originally revealed–a grand total of $454 million! Almost half a billion! From a company who received $180 billion in taxpayer dollars from the bailout! This is ludicrous!

But you already knew that. Astounding corporate greed is not exactly newsworthy. And on any other day, I might have overlooked the story, remembering Gary Younge’s wisdom that focusing on AIG misses the real story. But shortly after hearing the new numbers, I also listened to this NPR story about the budget cuts Gov. Granholm had to make in Michigan’s budget for the second time this year, totaling around $300 million. A few crucially important areas are protected like health care for senior citizens and schools (although they certainly aren’t swimming in cash), but just about everything else is on the chopping block. And things would be a lot worse if our state wasn’t getting $1 billion from the federal recovery package (although, as the story points out, we’re already over a billion in the hole).

Devastating cuts for Michiganders, a half a billion as a slap on the back for those that helped send the economy down the toilet. Maybe we should be focusing on the bigger picture here, but it’s hard when Wall Street bandits give themselves taxpayer-funded bonuses larger than your state’s budget cuts and almost half the size of its deficit.

Bling H2O: Making Unsustainable Water a Fashion Statement

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Yesterday, I wrote about a new bottled water company out of Grand Rapids called Boxed Water Is Better that claims to offer a more “sustainable” alternative to bottled water.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is another packaged water product that is available in Grand Rapids, Bling H2O. While not made here, it’s worth noting because it’s so horribly offensive.

It’s sold at the 1913 Room located in the Amway Grand Plaza downtown and goes for a whopping $64 dollars per 750ml bottle. It’s sold as a pure status symbol to appeal to the “super-luxury market.” Its website says:

It’s couture water that makes an announcement like a Rolls Royce Phantom… the “Cristal” of bottled water.

The water comes packaged in a frosted glass bottle that is “exquisitely handcrafted with Swarovski crystals.” The 60 crystals spell out the word “bling.” At the Amway Grand Plaza:

The restaurant serves Bling H2O with tulip-shaped flutes atop sterling silver wine coasters.

A rose is placed into every empty bottle to dress up what Chad LeRoux, director of marketing for the hotel, calls “a novelty item that you can take away with you as a memory of the 1913 Room.”

Unlike Boxed Water Is Better, Bling H2O makes no claims of sustainability. Instead, it says only that its water comes from an undisclosed source in Dandridge, Tennessee. The company says it goes through a nine-step purification process, but with no universal standards for bottled water, it’s impossible to know if it is really any “better” than other water. From there, the water is shipped to high-end hotels and restaurants around the world, a process that results in an untold number of CO2 emissions. The only real mention of the environment comes in the claim that the bottles are “reusable.”

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As if the price, packaging, and environmental aspects weren’t offensive enough, the company’s website throws in a healthy dose of sexism as well. The homepage features a woman that appears to be wearing nothing but a strand of pearls with the bottle of water propped between her heel and buttocks. The water itself is also sexualized, with the company repeatedly describing the different aspects as “pretty.”

While it might seem to be a relic of the pre-economic crisis times, Bling H2O is still alive and kicking. It just released a bargain version that goes for just $20 in plastic bottles. Of course, you’ll have to do without the crystals.

How Many Earths Does Your Lifestyle Require?

For those of living in the global north–especially the United States–it’s no secret that we consume way more than we need. Moreover, much of this comes at the expense of others around the world.

A good way of exploring this idea is to take an “Ecological Footprint” quiz which will tell you roughly how many Earths would be needed if everyone in the world lived your lifestyle. For example, I live a pretty Spartan lifestyle–I don’t consume animal products, I try to grow as much of my own food as I can, I try to seriously limit my energy usage–yet if everyone in the world lived how I did, 1.86 worlds would be needed:

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While that looks good by comparison with the averages for folks living in the United States, it’s still nowhere near being within the biological capacity of the Earth. Moreover, it’s another reminder that while I can take a lot of individual actions such as riding a bike or turning down my hot water heater–those actions can only go so far when we have an economic system that is based on the destruction of the Earth.

Trashing capitalism now in vogue, but its generation of misery is nothing new

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As the economic crisis has worsened, confidence in capitalism seems to be sinkin’ like a stone.

I wrote about a month ago that The Nation–widely considered the most influential progressive publication in the country–started a series of stories in print and online on socialism and its relevance in the midst of havoc the unfettered free market has wreaked on the country and the planet. Others have followed suit: the cover of this month’s issue of In These Times magazine features the headline “The Meltdown Goes Global: It is time to rethink capitalism.” Hell, even the New York Times–certainly no bastion of anti-capitalist thought–ran a piece at the end of February whose tone mocked conservatives’ obsession with using “socialist” and “socialism” as dirty words, entitled Socialism! Boo, Hiss, Repeat.” And shockingly, some of their coverage of the G-20 actually treated protestors who identified as anti-capitalist, with anti-capitalist demands, as legitimate!

And the shift isn’t just in the media. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll indicates that barely more than half–53%–of American adults think capitalism is a better economic system than socialism. And Republicans thought big government bailouts and stimulus packages were scary! It can’t be long before conservative pundits look at those numbers and start calling for that 53% to start arming themselves for a fight against the impending tide of Communists coming to take away their guns and plasma screen TVs in service of The Party.

Yes, all signs seem to be pointing towards a growing number of Americans realizing that maybe the free market isn’t the same as freedom, and that capitalism might actually be causing all kinds of global misery rather than economic prosperity. And that’s certainly a very good thing.

But the framing of this discussion has really been irking me lately. The recession is being called a meltdown, a catastrophe, a disaster. And it is all those things, to be sure: working- and middle-class folks’ retirements have evaporated into thin air, unemployment is at astronomical levels, foreclosures are happening left and right. And this is all quite tragic.

But the misery bred by capitalism is no new development. I was thinking about this as I read that In These Times cover: “It is time to rethink capitalism.” Now is the time, now that “average folks” are being hit by the free market’s latest temper tantrum? Everything was cool before, but now we’ve gotta rethink this capitalism business?

News flash: the majority of the world has been getting screwed by global capitalism since its inception. Pick your poison: Columbus’ landing in Americas and the subsequent slaughter of millions of indigenous peoples, slavery and present), the fact that the average CEO in this country makes 344 times that of the average worker, the fact that half of the world lives on $2 or less a day, the incredible amount of violence and environmental destruction required to keep the system a-churnin’. The list goes on and on. These things have been happening for hundreds of years but few in the mainstream media and general populace in this country have batted an eye–quite the contrary, they’ve been ardent defenders of what is supposedly the greatest and most free economic system in the world. Once folks start losing their jobs, houses, and retirement, though, they begin rethinking capitalism.

I suppose this is the way things work in this country. The Vietnam War was rotten from the get-go, but it was poor and working-class folks who were the ones fighting and dying at the outset. It wasn’t until years into the slaughter, when bright-eyed middle-class kids–you know, the ones who were supposed to become doctors and lawyers and upstanding, all-American citizens–started coming home in flag-draped coffins that popular opinion turned against the war.

The same is true of our current economic collapse: it has taken a society-wide bludgeoning for folks to rethink a fundamentally unjust economic system. It’s just a shame there had to be so much suffering before we got here.