Friday, 23 December 2011

Voices from the Occupation: Occupy Justice - One Day, Two Courts

Voices from the Occupation
Occupy Justice – One Day, Two Courts

This week in London, the City of London Corporation is attempting to gain an eviction order for the St Paul’s camp.  Justice Lindblom has presided over 5 days of evidence from both sides.  Meanwhile, Occupy London have occupied their own court house in Old Street, and enlisted the support of legal professionals, to begin to put those responsible for the financial crisis on trial.  Today’s article brings you reports from both courts, and the inspirational tale of how to Occupy Justice.

Old Street Magistrates Court – Occupied

As reported here on 20th December, members of Occupy London and Occupy Veterans arrived at the Old Street Magistrates court at 4.30am, in a tank festooned with flowers, and sporting a banner calling it ‘The Tank of Ideas’.  The Grade II listed building at the east end of Old Street (north side) has been empty since 1996, but was sold onto an Indian property venture in 2006.  Throughout this time, it has been left empty and plans for a community justice project on the site have been dropped.  Latest plans are for the building to be converted into a hotel.  However, Occupy London have other ideas.  The group Occupy Justice, the title of the occupiers at Old Street, have already gained the support of a retired Judge and Prosecutor, together with a working prosecutor who are providing them with information about how to structure the trial.  It is also reported that they have confirmed they will attend to ‘try’ the case.  Their intention is to call witnesses, and invite members of the 1% accused to attend the court to defend and account for themselves.

(Picture by @HeardinLondon)

The court house is vast.  It runs over several floors, includes several court rooms, and an old police station, including cells.  The old cells have chalk boards by each cell door where the name of the detained would have been inscribed in the past.  These now bear the names – Goldman Sachs, Tony Blair, etc.  A peace flag now hangs proudly from the flagpole on the roof of the building.

I took a short tour of the building on film below.

To some, this may appear a mere media stunt, designed to get Occupy London in the headlines.  
Firstly, I would challenge the implicit suggestion in the statement, namely that a PR stunt is somehow a bad thing. Why would that be a bad thing?  The media is occupied most of the time with adverts of one kind or another; drink THIS beer, eat THIS chocolate, play THIS game, use THIS shampoo and THAT mascara and for pity’s sake wear THIS perfume!  Surely it is simply common sense to attempt to disrupt this endless stream of consumer messaging with something different – something inspiring, something thought provoking?

Secondly, there is a remarkable point to be highlighted by the occupation of the Old Street Magistrates Court.  A group of human beings crashed the global economy in the pursuit of their own personal mega-wealth.  The FSA report, the Public Accounts Committee report and the Vickers Report all point to fraud, corruption and vigilante capitalism of the highest degree.  To date, there have been no arrests, no charges and no single conviction of anyone responsible for the financial crisis.  Not even one. In 3 years. In stark contrast, in the three months since the Occupy Movement began, this group have seen 5000 arrests in the US alone, hundreds in the UK.  Police have used pepper spray, rubber bullets, flash bang grenades, sound cannons.  Libraries have been burned or thrown into dumper trucks.  People have been pulled, half asleep from their tents in the middle of the night.  People have been kettled, punched, kicked and pushed.  People have been charged, gone to court and faced fines and imprisonment for daring to protest this injustice.
The growing realisation for human beings, the realisation which has them pitching tents, moving their money to credit unions, attending general assemblies, supporting every way they can – is this; the economy doesn’t work for us, the government doesn’t work for us, the media doesn’t work for us, the police force doesn’t work for us, the justice system does not work for us.  If the institutions of our world, at a local and global level, do not work for 99% of the population, then they do not work.  They are bogus, bankrupt and benefit a tiny proportion of people, over the exclusion and disenfranchisement of the many, and the plunder of the planet.

By occupying this court, Occupy London are, consistent with the movement itself, ceasing to make demands and adopt conventional protest tactics.  If no one in authority will hold this trial, we will hold it ourselves – say Occupy London. Below, Leon of Occupy Justice talks about why he occupies, the plans for the court, and reads the initial statement of Occupy Justice.

Royal Courts of Justice – Occupy Fighting for Justice

Picture from

Meanwhile, studiously under reported by the corporate media – the future of the St Pauls occupation is being defended in Court 25 of the Royal Courts of Justice.  Throughout this week, witness testimony has been made for and against the occupiers remaining in situ.  I attended the afternoon session on Thursday 22nd December, having been following live coverage from the court via @alburyj on twitter.

In recent weeks, the City of London Corporation - the secretive, undemocratic body which runs the City of London borough - set in chain high court proceedings to evict Occupy London from the St Pauls site.  This week, the case has been heard before Justice Lindblom at the Royal Courts of Justice.  With support from John Cooper QC, members of Occupy London are defending themselves as litigants in person – George Barda, Daniel Ashman and Tammy Samede are in court as OccupyLSX.  The courage of these three cannot be understated.  Daniel Ashman discusses the potential repercussions of his role as litigant in person, in the film interview below.

The City of London’s case has been based on health & safety grounds and obstructing the highway.  However, in order to gain an injunction to evict, as reported by the Guardian this week, it is not enough that the obstruction is wilful, and without lawful excuse – but unreasonable.  This means that the Occupy London defence has centred on the level of communication (often one way on the part of Occupy London) to both the City of London and St Pauls in an effort to remediate any health & safety or fire safety concerns.  The second and more vigorous line of defence has been that the site at St Pauls is perfectly reasonable, given the state of nation and world, and the need for people to have a place to meet and discuss alternatives.  This has given the Occupy movement a voice within the Justice system, on formal record, of what this movement is about.  Win or lose, defence witness after defence witness has taken to that stand to raise the issues which the camp exists to highlight.  In this sense, Occupy London has already won.  Even if the eviction order is approved, it only stands for tents and structures - not people.  It also only covers the City of London land, not St Pauls.

Picture from GoogleImages

I was brought to tears twice that afternoon, by two witnesses.  The first, an ordained minister who had come to take a look at Occupy London and still hadn’t left.  He is perhaps in his late fifties, with short white hair and blue eyes.  He wears a black jacket and is slightly stooped in the stand.  He brings to the attention of the court, the fact that the grounds of St Pauls had been the site of the Moots in 1213-15.  People from all counties met and camped to produce the Magna Carta, in protest at the greed of the King and his refusal to honour their rights and freedoms.  This is that moment for our time, he argues.  Questioned as to why people had to camp and not simply just rally at the site without the tents and structures – the Minister points out that this would make it impossible for many people to participate.  It would make it impossible for him to participate as he is from the Isle of Wight and could not afford to keep making trips into London.  He also makes the point that one of the most important purposes of the camp is to create a community.  The camp is now his home, so a decision to evict would make him homeless and that community would be destroyed by the eviction order.
Finally, asked why he was a part of the Occupy Movement, the Ministers voice cracks and tears come to his eyes.  He answers that he has a wonderful eleven year old son, and he has to help to make this world a place worthy of him.  He has never found a place where he felt that he was really contributing to making the world a better place, and now he has.  That every fibre of his being tells him he has to be a part of this.  He must be here.  Across the public gallery, a ripple of consensus jazz hands wave in the air.

Next to the stand is Matthew Horne (pictured, above left), a young Iraq veteran who works in the Tech team at Occupy London, maintaining the IT systems and networks which keep the movement going.  Matthew is small, wiry, dressed in military camouflage jacket and trousers.  He has black hair and eyes, with olive skin – he is softly spoken with a northern accent.  He tells us that while he was in Iraq, he was asked to do terrible things.  He saw private security operatives vastly outnumbering British forces, causing chaos in the cities, while the British forces took the brunt of the response.   

He tells of his anger at coming home, to find out that a station his unit had been defending in Iraq, (he calls it basically a suicide mission), which they had been told was a vital logistics station – was in fact an oil field, protected for Halliburton.   
He says to us ‘We were told we were fighting for freedom and democracy – but where’s the freedom and democracy in bashing down the door of a family in the middle of the night and dragging a husband out of his wife’s bed based on just some suspicion?  We didn’t let them assemble freely, we didn’t let them vent their anger in protest, we shot people and beat people and tortured people’.   
He tells us that families in Iraq and families in Britain are suffering under the same system, just in different ways.  The Iraqi families have their liberty, home and lives taken by bombs.  But British families have their liberty, homes and lives taken away by the financial crisis, which is a robbery and not a recession.  He uses the example of the couple whorecently committed suicide after years of struggling to live on their meagre benefits – 'people are dying here because of the system we’re in', he says. 
Asked why he is camping at St Pauls, Matthew tells the court that Occupy is now his home.  He comes from a backwater part of world where there are so few jobs that DFS opened a new store, offering 19 jobs - and 2000 people applied.  'In that environment', he says, 'how can I live?  I cant afford to learn to drive, I couldn't afford the fuel, I can't afford the train fares, I can't afford to go back to education'.  He tells of being rejected from a BT role as a telcomms engineer, without an interview, becuase he didn't have GCSE Maths, despite running mililtary telecoms in Iraq for four years.  He says that conventional protest has been proved a catastrophic failure.  36 million people worldwide marched against the Iraq war, over 1 million in the UK alone and their voices were simply ignored.  Protest is so contained and restricted that it has no impact. He says ‘The government doesn’t represent me, but Occupy represents me.  Occupy is me’. We are here to represent all the people who are suffering in the world because of this system and arent able to pitch a tent.

The court is adjourned over night, with final submissions and statements to be made the following day.  Judge Lindblom confirms that he will not be in a position to make a decision this week, so the news is – Occupy London will be camping at St Pauls over Christmas!  A decision will not be made before 11th January 2012.

Occupy Christmas

As I write this, final submissions and statements are being made to Judge Lindblom.  All four Occupy London sites are now confirmed safe from eviction for the rest of the year.  The Bank of Ideas goes back to court on 11th January, Occupy Justice on the 3rd, St Pauls no sooner than the 11th and Finsbury Square has no eviction proceedings against it.  As camps across the world have been ripped apart, the UK camps are still going strong.  But this hasn’t stopped the camps innovating by finding alternative spaces to Occupy; empty offices, courts, social clubs and community centres have all been occupied across the UK, but the camps remain as the bridge between them, the villages of hope in our bustling cities.  I hope that the Justice system can be used to protect these sites; I hope we can start taking back our justice system with judges making a stand for the right of people to peacefully assemble to shape their world.  I hope.  Whatever happens – this is merely the beginning.  As the saying goes – you cannot evict an idea whose time has come. Occupy is an idea whose time has come.

Occupy London have a packed calendar for Christmas – for full details please go to the website.  Scriptonite will be having a family Christmas and bring Voices from the Occupation back in a few days.  Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas period with your friends, family and community.  Thank you for reading and commenting through 2011.  Here’s to making 2012, the year we changed the world.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Voices from the Occupation - Occupy is Everywhere

Voices from the Occupation
Occupy is Everywhere

It can be all too easy to see the Occupy Movement as a Western phenomenon, centred on Wall Street and London.  However, as the weeks have rolled on, the movement has become a truly global conversation; now with over 2000 occupations, in every populated continent on the planet.  Today’s article brings you stories from the Occupations all over the world, from camps you may not have seen in the news or the papers.


Occupy camps have set up all over Asia. Let's start in China – major camps in Hong Kong, Luoyang and Zhengzhou.  In India, Kolkata and Mumbai.  In Indonesia, Jakarta.  In Tel Aviv in Israel and Tokyo, Japan.  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  In Pakistan, we have Islamabad.  Manila in the Philippines and Seoul in South Korea. Taipei in Taiwan and Istanbul, Turkey.  All these camps have been established on or since the 15th October call to Occupy the World.

Occupy Taipei has highlighted the myth of the Asian tigers.  On October 15th, hundreds gathered around the world’s second largest building, Taipei 101.  People have taken to their streets and their tents. They express a deep frustration that the so called economic miracle of Asian development benefitted the 1% in Taiwan, far more than the 99%.  The population there now faces the squeeze of stagnating low wages, limited worker rights, and job losses, while the cost of living has continued to rise.  There is also the issue of Migrant workers in Taiwan, who are paid a pitiful wage, have no holidays and zero rights.  This practise has been developed into de facto slavery.  On December 12th, at least 2000 marchers took to the streets to protest for the rights of these migrant workers.

 Occupy Hong Kong set up their tents outside HSBC bank.  

Occupy New Delhi, India this week braved physical threat and arrest to Occupy the infamous Plachimada Coca-Cola plant.  Protesters and the people of Plachimada have been fighting for decades, for the simple right to fresh air and water in their area.  Coca Cola has continued to pollute the air and extract up to 1 million litres per day of water from the local supply, leaving the local population thirsty, as wells run dry.  Meanwhile a ‘community owns resources’ experiment has been set up in Hazaribagh to demonstrate an alternative to the capitalist model 


Meanwhile in Africa, site of the Arab Spring which preceded and inspired the Occupy movement, protests have spread, almost unreported, across the continent.  Centring on South Africa, with occupations in more than 5 major cities, including Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg, the occupation has spread to Egypt and Tunisia. 

The Occupations across Africa have faced violent responses by both military and police, but have continued and grown in number and voice.  People have lost life and liberty to carry their fight for freedom forward. 


The Spanish movement Los Indignados were bringing tens of thousands of people to the streets of Barcelona and Madrid months before The Occupy Movement event existed, and is credited as the first incarnation of the current movement in Europe.

But Occupy has spread like wildfire across Europe.  The UK has over 25 occupations across the country from London to Bristol, Cardiff to Edinburgh, Dublin to Exeter, and Norwich to Manchester.  There are multiple occupations alive and kicking in Belgium, Bosnia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.

Although the news cameras may start and stop outside St Pauls Cathedral, people all over Europe are talking together; using their camps and social media to discuss ideas of social and economic justice, and a sustainable society for people and planet. 

Occupy Stockholm set up camp outside the Swedish Central Bank.

In Croatia, thousands have joined to camp and march against what they see as corporate greed and social injustice. 

North America

 While the Occupy meme kicked off in Wall Street, the Occupy movement has reached an audience in every state in the US today, and multiple cities in each.  There are over 50 protests in California alone, and hundreds more across the country.  There have been brutal forced evictions from camps in New York, Denver, Oakland, and Los Angeles to name but a few.  A peaceful student occupation, on the University of California Davis campus saw students pepper sprayed in the face by police, while sitting down.  US veteran Scott Olsen was put in hospital in critical condition after being shot in the face by a tear gas canister by police in Oakland. The Denver camp was evicted on 18th December.

This seemingly coordinated action to evict camps up and down the US of A has resulted in a reimagining of the Occupy Movement, with a shift in focus toward direct action.  In recent weeks, the Occupy our Homes movement has seen protesters move from their evicted camps, into the homes of people being foreclosed upon by their mortgage companies in an effort to force concessions and have people keep their homes this Christmas.  Ports across the east and west coasts have been partially or completely shut down my thousands of protesters in organised shut downs in recent weeks. 

While USA Today is asking if Occupy Wall Street is over, given the camp has been destroyed, people across the US are clear that this is merely the beginning.  Human ingenuity being what it is, people find a means to develop the movement around each obstacle that appears in their way.


Australia and New Zealand are also hosting multiple and active Occupations.  Occupy Melbourne has seen several altercations with police, but still kept their sense of humour.  They are credited with creating the concept of the ‘Tent Monster’, and invited people to join International Wear a Tent Day to support the Occupy Movement.  They agreed by consensus at their General Assembly this week, to set expand to multiple sites, including strategic occupations and direct actions.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, the wonderful Auckland Camp on Aotea Square is facing eviction within 48 hours and is challenging this petition in court. 

South America

Last but most definitely not least, Latin America has embraced the occupy movement.  There are occupations right now in multiple locations across Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. 

Occupy Buenos Aires took to the streets in their thousands on 15th October and started a wildfire of Occupations across Argentina.

Occupy Rio in Brazil has taken up specific local issues.  It has been voicing popular dissent to prevent the progression of a controversial hydroelectric dam building project.  It has also bought attention to the plight of the most impoverished of Rio, as the government attempts the forced eviction of favela residents in order to make way for world cup 2014, leaving people homeless.

Occupy the World Over

What is so striking about this journey around the world of Occupations is the demonstration of how to have a global idea, and retain a local, culturally relevant expression of it.  This was the promise of globalisation, the idea of a core set of non-negotiable universal values, but the preservation of local cultures, traditions and heterogeneity.  But the current system cannot deliver on this promise.
The global klepto-capitalist system we are faced with today seeks monopoly, homogeneity and economies of scale.  

But in its own globalisation, the Occupy conversation has succeeded in maintaining common cause, common tactics, common ideals, but very much a local flavour.  Anyone who has visited even more than one camp in one city will tell you that no two camps are the same.  I have spent time at Occupy Bristol, St Pauls and Finsbury Square, and each camp has been familiar and alien to the other at the same time.  There is something amazing about feeling safe in the knowledge that you are valued, welcome and equal whoever you are and whatever your personal circumstances – while being enlivened by the newness and difference of local micro-cultures.  It speaks to me of a world that is possible.  A globalised world does not have to be the mono-culture of Coca-cola, McDonald’s, CNN and GAP.  It can be globalised promises of how each human being is responsible for treating others and the planet, together with the vibrancy of local custom, language, tradition, festival, and clothing.  There are some things which are best globalised and scaled up – science and technology to name but two.  However, there are other things which are best managed locally – like government, food production, water and energy supply.  It is possible to have conversations locally, which are best held locally – and conversations globally which are best held globally.  Occupy is a global conversation, with local action and despite half the world being in winter – it continues to grow.  I look forward to being a part of each of its tiny steps forward through a fresh new year.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Voices from the Occupation: Putting the 1% on Trial

Voices from the Occupation
Putting the 1% on Trial

This morning, members of Occupy London in collaboration with a Veterans group called Occupy Veterans, took occupation of The Old Street Magistrates Court building in London, UK.  In their initial statement, the occupiers state their intention to hold trials of the 1% responsible for the global economic crisis. Today’s article reports from the Old Street occupation, and sets the occupation in context – Occupy is no longer waiting for the broken wheels of justice to turn in its favour, it has seized the wagon.

Who Dunnit

The following is the initial statement released by the occupiers this morning.

It is too soon to tell if this Occupation with be quashed by police, but at time of writing, it is one of the most exciting occupations to date.  The team has vowed to engage real legal teams to the site to prosecute, defend, judge and jury.  The accused will be invited to attend the Old Street Magistrates court to participate in the trial.

Why do we need to Occupy a Court?

Today, the law is busier protecting the members of the 1% than holding them to account.  In a previous article, I discussed the two tier legal system operating today.  If you or I were to steal, commit fraud or murder – we would be arrested, put on trial and imprisoned if found guilty.  However, the biggest banking corporations get to attend an inquiry, get written up in a report and fined.  This has resulted in corporations viewing fraud as a legitimate option, and balancing the risk by keeping aside a few quid to pay off the fines.  In short, it is good business to keep playing these god awful games with the economy.

Who are the Accused?

While Occupy Justice have yet to release further information on who they intend to try, in recent weeks, we have seen various possible suspects. 

The FSA and RBS

The FSA released areport revealing the outrageous behaviour of the RBS board, including Chief Executive Fred Goodwin (Sir, no less) and the head of its commercial arm Johnny Cameron.  RBS chose to buy a Dutch bank ABN AMRO, for £45bn in the midst of the financial crisis in 2007.  The board were asked repeatedly if they were undertaking due diligence and thoroughly reviewing the ABN AMRO books ahead of the purchase, as the investment business was known to operate in the US and the subprime collapse was in full swing.  However, despite this, Fred Goodwin declined, stating ‘due diligence light’ was all that was required.  Months after buying the business, in cash, RBS collapsed under the weight of the toxic debt on ABN AMRO’s books, together with the impact of its collusion in dodgy derivatives.  It was kept afloat by taxpayer funded life support of £46bn.  The FSA report, despite stating clearly the culpability of the board, and the complete incompetence of its own role as regulator – refused to pursue enforcement action against any person or organisation involved.  Meanwhile, Fred Goodwin retired on a £300k plus per annum pension, free to gain lucrative consultancy positions.

MF Global UK and JP Morgan

MF Global engaged in a scheme called hypothecation.  They were able to make their own bets on the market, based on using their own customer’s funds as collateral.  However, when the bets started going bad, they started using actual customer funds to make the bets.  Finally, they sold their debt to JP Morgan, ran away with the proceeds and the company collapsed.  Customers of MF Global are now missing $1.2bn, which the courts say they can only claim from MF Global, not JP Morgan who actually have it (because they bought it from MF Global).  This means that they will likely never get their stolen money back.  Again, Chief Executive Jon Corzine stands down, but he has not had to pay a penny in return for the theft.
This operation could not have proceeded without the UK arms, as banking rules in the US make it illegal to do what they did by running the fraud through the City of London.

Northern Rock and George Osborne

Remember them?  Northern Rock saw enormous growth through the early 2000’s, in a similar way to RBS.  They were achieving this purported balance sheet miracle, by indulging in the same high risk ventures as other mortgage lenders.  In short, they borrowed huge sums, lent out to subprime (skint) customers, then bundled loads of these debts together (to make collateral debt obligations) and selling them on to investment banks like Goldman Sachs.  This practise created a paper based profit, in reality the bank was just generating debt.  Vast and unsustainable debt.  The bubble burst in 2007, and there was the first run on a UK bank in 150 years.  The UK government, that’s us, stepped in and bought Northern Rock for 1.4bn. While the board walked away with their bonuses and pensions intact, thousands of staff lost their jobs, while more lost their savings which were manifested in company share save schemes, the shares now worthless.  The same went for their wider shareholders.
In January 2009, it was decided that shareholders were not eligible for compensation for their losses.

By 2011, the bank had been split into two vehicles, one squeaky clean retail bank ready to go back to business; the other, a worthless toxic shell containing the debts which dragged the bank to ruin.  In recent weeks, George Osborne (UK Chancellor) sold the Good Bank to Richard Branson’s Virgin Money for a mere £747m, half what we paid for it.  Furthermore, the Bad Bank, with its £21bn of toxic debt, remains ours.

But Aren’t the Government Getting Tough on the Banks?

You would certainly think so if your main source of news is the Corporate Media.  The news cycle for the last few days has focussed on Brave Dave Cameron and George Osborne getting tough on the City by implementing the recommendations of the Vickers Report in full.

The Vickers Report is the outcome of the so called Independent Commission on Banking - a review of the financial crisis and banking operations in the UK.  It was supposed to usher in a new era in the UK financial services industry – of responsibility and prudence.  It has instead produced watery platitudes to such a degree that the UK government felt it could apply it in its entirety. 

At the outset, we were discussing holding the worst offenders of the derivatives market accountable, of fully separating investment banking operations from retail banking operations, of preventing any bank from becoming too big to fail.
On all three counts, the Vickers Report manifestly fails.  It suggests only ‘ring fencing’ retail operations, not formal segregation.  It does nothing to limit banking organisation growing too big, or making loans and investments so big that their failure could wreck the system.  No one will be going to court to face trial for their role in the collapse.

If You Want Something Done Right, Do it Yourself

The list goes on; there is no shortage of people and organisations which should be facing serious questions about their behaviour in the boom years.  Not only to hold them to account for past endeavour, but as the MF Global case shows, because they are still out there doing the same thing, right now.  As you read this, trillions of pounds of debt teeter on the brink, and all of it insured by us.  It has to stop.  Private profit with the assurance of socialised losses cannot be permitted to continue.  These organisations are ravaging people and planet in their greed for ever accumulating wealth.  This is not a recession, it is a robbery.  Right now, we are forced to watch as the robbery is perpetrated, funded by us, while our teachers, nurses, bin men and lollypop ladies are bearing the brunt –losing their jobs and their pensions.  In a matter of weeks after the crisis, the narrative shifted from bad banks, to bad public sector.  We are told on a daily basis that our money should be going to pay down the deficit, rather than heal the sick, teach the children, care for the elderly and the vulnerable.  None of these groups caused the financial collapse – the bankers did.  They continue each day.  It is on us to save ourselves, because our institutions are manifestly failing.  This is one means of making this statement.

Occupy your Mind, Occupy our Homes, Occupy the Streets, Occupy Justice….the Occupy Movement continues to grow, morph and develop.  So, please send your support to Occupy Justice and watch this space for further reports as the occupation progresses.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Voices from the Occupation - The City of London is the World's Greatest Money Launderer

MF Global’s Guide to Casino Banking – The House Always Wins

The Occupy Movement’s successful slogan of the 99%-1% equality gap may well need to be revised, as the 1% begins feasting on its own members.  The story which has yet to hit headline news around the world, yet independent media sources have been covering extensively, is the collapse of MF Global – the 8th biggest bankruptcy case in US history and the biggest banking collapse since Lehman Brothers.  Today’s article takes a look at the seditious acts of corporate greed, and the role of the City of London as the world’s largest money launderer, which make this story top of the news agenda for anyone interested in economic justice.

MF Who?

Exactly.  Headed by former Senator for New Jersey, and co-chair of Goldman Sachs Jon Corzine - MF Global were one of the world’s largest broker-dealers in derivatives.  Derivatives are the shady financial instruments responsible for the financial collapse we are still watching unravel.  Essentially, a means of traders, through complicated tools, to turn debt into profit.  The missing point being, the debt doesn’t actually turn into profit for anyone except the person making the trade – by allowing them to cash in on mega salaries and bonuses in the short term.  In the long term, the debt is still a debt, ready to go toxic and drag the company down.

MF Global filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US on 31st October 2011.  The reasons given were a liquidity crisis – in plain English, they ran out of cash. However, over the days and weeks since, a catalogue of theft, manipulation and cover up has been laid open for the world to see.  Despite this, the story has garnered little air time in the UK.  There is good reason for this, which I will come to later, but first – what were they up to?

Hypothecation Squared

MF Global were masters of rehypothecation.  This is where a broker-dealer uses its customer’s funds as collateral on its own investments and deals.  Imagine, you go to the Bookie’s and put a five pound bet on a horse.  Using rehypothecation, the Bookie you place the bet with can now bet on a horse himself using YOUR fiver as collateral.  That seems a little weird, does it not?  But it gets worse.  Under US law, it is permitted for a broker to rehypothecate up to 14 times the initial sum.  So in the case of you and the Bookie – since you’ve handed over your fiver, he can head off to the races and place a £70 bet himself, with just your fiver backing up his losses.  Shocking?  Yes.  But not as shocking as the fact that in the UK, there is no upper limit on this practise at all.  This means the Bookie can bet as much as he wants – millions, billions, trillions – all with just your fiver as back up (which doesn’t even exist, as you are betting it anyway). 

Of course, MF Global made maximum use of its UK operation in order to get past the 14 times rules in its US base. While on their hypothecation rampage – what did they invest in?  Something solid - like gold, oil, rare earth minerals?  No.  They invested over $6bn in soon-to-be worthless European government debt.  Yes, they used their debt to buy some more debt; debt which was about to go loco as the Euro zone started to hit the skids.  Bear in mind, MF Global made this investment after Iceland, Ireland and Greece were under the cosh of the IMF and the Euro was starting to look shaky.  The so called sovereign debt crisis (what happens when tax payers get made responsible for corporate debt) was alive and kicking when these deals were made.  Much to Jon Corzine's surprise (as per his testimony at the senate hearings) the debt went bad, MF Global went under and the rest of the world was left scratching its head.

There were a group of people who were having an even worse day than the rest of us though: MF Global’s customers.  Major investors used MF Global to trade on their behalf, however their money was supposed to be held separately from other people’s money and the cash of MF Global itself in what are called ‘segregated funds’.  This means that the George Soros’ and Warren Buffets of the world don’t mingle their huge wealth with the rest of us plebs, but have it segregated and retain some independence over their investments and trades.  However, as the deals went bad for MF Global and they struggled to cover their trades in their final weeks, the company broke this rule.  It started using customer funds, which should have been segregated, to make its deals and cover its trades.

So, if we return to the Bookie, not only has he made all these bets on lame horses based on the money we gave him to bet for us.  But when the bets start going bad, he goes into our accounts, takes our actual money, and starts using it to make other bets, hoping to make back the money he’s lost. But then these bets go bad too.  You go along on Saturday morning to pick up your winnings, to find the doors locked and the windows boarded up.

This was the experience of the MF Global customers.  In fact, they were short $1.2bn.  To which, Jon Corzine simply shrugged his shoulders and claimed he simply had no idea where the money had gone.

JP Morgan Strikes Again

After their pivotal role in the collapse of both Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers in 2008, one might think that JP Morgan would be keeping a clean ship.  One would be wrong.  JP Morgan was MF Global’s largest creditor.  They were in fact using the same instruments, Repurchase Agreements or Repos, which sunk these aforementioned banks.  So folks; same players, same tactics, same result.

Repos are where one company sells its security to another for a fixed period, promising to buy it back at a future date at a greater price.  Let’s head back to the Bookie analogy to explain.

As his bad bets start accumulating, he realises he is about to go bust, he’s busy using your money but it’s not enough.  So he goes to the local Bank and offers to sell his business (including all the customer accounts) to the Bank to raise some cash.  However, he also promises to buy his business back in a week.  The Bookie’s plan?  To use the money from the sale of his business to bet again, win, and buy back his business from the bank with the proceeds.  If it works, the Bank makes money as the Bookie has to buy back at a higher cost than he sold, and the Bookie manages to stay afloat.  A potential win-win, but a high risk endeavour.

In this case, JP Morgan is the Bank to MF Global’s Bookie.  JP Morgan happened to enter into a repo with MF Global for, surprise surprise, $1.2bn; the same value of the reported missing segregated funds of MF Global customers.  Customers are only able to gain their funds back from MF Global’s remaining assets, not JP Morgan.  In short, they may never see anything near that whole sum back.  'They was robbed'.

The Bookie is now sipping a mango sunrise cocktail in Maui, while you bang on the door of his battered old betting shop, while down the road the Bank Manager buys a Ferrari on the bonus he made from setting up the deal in the first place, and wonders how much to sell on the premises for.

The regulators role in this is even more nauseating. One of the biggest con jobs in 2008 was the role of the credit ratings agencies.  Just months before collapse, Lehman Brothers and others were rated AAA, by theagencies.  This meant that pension funds were investing in their products on the basis that they were deemed as safe as government bonds.  Just a few months later, the banks collapsed and millions lost their pensions. 

In February 2011, just months before its collapse, MF Global bid for and won Primary Dealer status for the New York Federal Reserve.   This meant, the Fed investigated MF Global and agreed they met the highest standards required, and accordingly they were given the coveted Primary Dealer status.  This means the Fed sees the firms as so safe, so well run, that they can deal with the Fed direct, carrying out monetary policy.  They also benefitted from being able to borrow and lend direct to the Fed at a bargain rate compared with the rates that Banks outside of the deal have to pay to lend to each other.

The Broker played the same games, in the same way, using the same instruments and supporters which the banks that failed in 2008 did.  It failed in the same way the banks in 2008 did.  The regulators and ratings agencies failed to prevent or foresee their failure, just as in 2008.  Only this time, they took their own customers down with them.

Boo Hoo for the Investors – What’s it Mean for us?

Corzine and his motley crew are now being probed by the FBI and attending senate hearings to account for their grand theft, but with recent inquiries and hearings fresh in our memory, and their subjects (Hank Paulson, Fred Goodwin, Dick Fuld) still free and banking away in the world – we hold out little hope of proper accountability being applied.  But what they hearings may lack in teeth, they make up for in information sharing.  They give us a chance to find out what is still going on in our financial system.  Did you think all that bad behaviour that took us into 2008 had stopped?  Did you think we were making our way to a recovery?  Well, this case tells you the truth is the exact opposite.

It has also has uncovered the UK for what the financial services industry has known it is for a long time – the money launderer of the world.  This behaviour could not have happened if it were not for the zero-regulation zone that is the City of London.  We act as a haven for the dodgy traders of the planet.  Meanwhile, we don’t even get to skim off the top as unwitting accomplices.  As this week’s report to the Public Accounts Select Committee will reveal – our big banking firms are not paying their taxes, and they are not even being asked to by our taxman.  They are being allowed to keep the gains to themselves, and when their company finally goes bust, we get saddled with the debt.

It is not just hyper-hypothecation and repos either.  This week, the Guardian published a damning article about the practise of ‘dividend washing’.  Another scheme whereby, the City of London engages in a pass the parcel game with dividends, into the accounts of various tax havens and back to the customer, avoiding UK, French and German tax as it goes.

Worse even than this, is that our government is doing it’s very best to exacerbate this situation.  In recent weeks, the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, used the British veto for the first time during an attempt by European heads of state to make a start on tackling the banking system.  Europe is seeking to close down the loop holes and up the regulation to recoup the taxes, limit the riskier end of the behaviour and start balancing the books of the state over the books of the crony corporatists.  It is no mystery to me at all that the ratings agencies and central banks are now piling the pressure on Europe to change course, they want them to stop and stop now.

While MF Global went relatively unfelt here – there are other much bigger players which are doing the same thing – and when they fail, they will collapse the banking system again – and it is the tax payer which pays up.

Whatever Happened to those ‘Lessons Learned’ in 2008?

The biggest lesson learned by the financial services industry in 2008 was this – when you fail, no one will be held accountable, you will keep all your bonuses, salary and pension earned, and the tax payer will bail out the biggest companies.  In short, carry on as usual – the buck stops with the tax payer.

And when the country collapses under sovereign debt?  You can make a killing on lending to it with outrageous interest rates, under the loan agreement you can privatise its profitable services like health, transport, education, while stripping back labour and civil rights. 

What Can We Do?

We mainly need to get out of our comfort zone and start educating ourselves on these financial instruments.  
 If you are staying at a camp, attend the lectures at the Tent City University and read the books in the library.  It is more important that you know why the austerity measures are happening, than simply being upset that the local school is closing.  This is important because this knowledge can then spread like a virus.  People are able to analyse what they are being told to do, and most importantly – kick back against the system attempting to strip them of their rights and freedoms.  Set in its proper context, austerity and restrictive legislation go hand in hand. 

We may not have as many rights as we would like, but we do have a freedom of mass communication and information sharing that makes it possible for us to organise like never before. 

If you are reading this at home, or at work, you can be a part of this too.  Support your fellow human beings in their endeavours to bring social and economic justice to the world.  Donate to the organisations taking banks to court over their tax avoidance.  Support your local occupation.  Be active in conversation by sharing what you know in those water-cooler conversations, including why acquiescence is not an option.  Teach your children.  Wake up people! Stand up for yourselves and each other! These people are sleep walking us over a cliff – and as Jesse Jackson so eloquently put it, when speaking at Occupy London this weekend – the Occupiers are the canaries in our mind, warning of the dangers, hear them.

Together, we can make a great leap forward as a people - and make the failure our biggest breakthrough.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Voices from the Occupation - D15: A Grounds Eye View

Voices from the Occupation
D15 Occupy Everywhere Day – A Ground’s Eye View

In the week that TIME Magazine, made ‘The Protester’ its Person of the Year, the Occupy movement held Occupy Everywhere Day (D15).  Occupy Everywhere day, or D15, encouraged sneaky, cheeky acts of civil disobedience around the globe, and got it.  You might not have seen it on the news, but this article takes you along for a journey through the day of Occupy London, who spent the day reclaiming public spaces, and bringing festive cheer to the streets of London.

Occupy Your Mind

One of the issues raised by the Occupy Movement is the growing erosion of public space.  In places like London, there are few open, free spaces to join together as a community and remember you are just that, a community.  It prevents people talking, getting to know each other, sharing ideas.  In fact, it has people feeling alone, when they are surrounded by others.  Occupy Your Mind was a small march from St Pauls, stopping at spaces along the way and reclaiming them for a short period by filling them with people, dancing and song – and to learn a little about the history of the space prior to its commodification.  There were about 50 marchers, including a papier-mâché brain, a tiger, a bunch of pigs, a pantomime horse and a sound system being pulled along by a bicycle.

First stop was Paternoster Square.  We were not allowed in, so decided to sing carols to the security guards, passersby and watching police.  It was interesting to see the change in people.  Everyone is busy and rushing somewhere in Paternoster Square…but just for a few minutes, they stopped to watch us and talk to each other about what was happening.  For those few minutes, there was community created in Paternoster Square.  And it was fun! (Excuse the god awful singing….)

From Paternoster, the march moved merrily along Cheapside on to Guild Hall. 

The Guild Hall has been thoroughly surrounded in recent weeks and a no go area.  However, this week, the barriers came down.  So, with Bob Marley blasting out of our sound system, we went and held a picnic in the square…including protest cup cakes.

The March continued its happy, peaceful way along Moorgate and on to the Finsbury Square camp, where they held a Ceilidh. 

Occupy Together

 At 3pm, hundreds clustered on the steps of St Pauls for some speakers to address the Occupy London in celebration of Occupy Everywhere day.  These included Wayne Malcolm of the Progressive Black Churches; the 12 year old activist and blogger Lib Dem Child; and the Reverend Jesse Jackson, veteran US civil rights campaigner.

The crowd was cold but ebullient.  There was a lot of dancing as music played while we awaited a late Jesse Jackson.  People danced in circles, photographers took snaps of Sister Ruth and other resident features of OccupyLSX, a small group of women pitched a tent before the stage and held up a placard about inequality.  As I milled through the waiting crowds, I noticed a familiar face – albeit inconspicuous in black garb and a beanie hat – Alex Thomson, Chief Correspondent for Channel 4 News.

Have to confess to a little attack of the star struck – I’m only human.

Finally, Jesse Jackson arrived.  Saskia from Occupy London read out the initial statement of OccupyLSX so Jesse Jackson could hear it.  It was moving listening to the statement again and feeling it ripple through the crowds. 

First speaker was Wayne Malcolm.  The line of his short speech for me was ‘we are not going to stand idly by while the crime of the century happens right before our eyes’.  There were whoops and cheers throughout and his message found a crowd absolutely in sync with it.  It is not enough to bemoan the current state, you need to get up, get together and do something about it.

Next up was Lib Dem Child.  Lib Dem child is a twelve year old, yes twelve year old, blogger and activist.  She set up her blog in April 2010, when just eleven, to support the Liberal Democrats.  I find it somewhat ludicrous, that while most of the mainstream media insist they have no idea what the Occupy Movement is all about, this young girl managed to understand it perfectly.  She stood before the crowd and read her speech with gusto.  It moved me, it resonated with me and I agreed with most of it, as did the audience (apart from Sister Ruth who got a telling off for yelling “you’re drunk!” at her – Sister Ruth is a bit odd.  She also yelled out that Wayne Malcolm was her husband. I rather like Sister Ruth).  I loved the juxtaposition of the incredibly powerful words and articulate ideas which spoke of a woman well beyond those meagre years (I was still climbing trees!), and the apologetic muttering as she took time to turn her pages, which was so absolutely, adorably 12 years old.

So, from the mouths of babes, to the mouth of a 70 year old African American man, seasoned in civil disobedience, protest and activism.  Jesse Jackson gave Lib Dem Child a big warm hug, thanked her for her speech and took to the microphone.  He was softly spoke.  It was not a vintage, fire brand, angry Jesse Jackson that Occupy London got on December 15th – it was a thoughtful, moved, full of love Jesse Jackson.  He told the crowd that the Occupy Movement was a spirit, whose time had come.  He said that the Occupiers are canaries in the mind, warning of the dangers, seeking out equality gaps.  He reminded us that Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Mandela – were criticised as marchers in their time, but celebrated as martyrs in history.  He asked the world to hear Occupy, see the martyrs now and make a change for the better.  He was gracious during an angry interruption.  He signed off with ‘I love you’.

Occupy The Streets!

As the press chased Jesse Jackson to his car, I walked off in the direction of Piccadilly Circus – for the Occupy the Streets demonstration.  The plan was to meet at Piccadilly Circus at 6pm, and then to hold a street party with music and dancing nearby. 

As I walked along the Strand and Fleet Street, I smiled at everyone who caught my eye.  I skipped part of the way, because I felt like it, and smiled at people who giggled at me.  Suited men, cigarette in one hand, pint in the other circled outside the Waldorf.  Coaches filled with theatre goers were stationed outside the Peacock and the Aldwych theatres.  As I strolled through Trafalgar Square, crowds filled the space – people were watching a children’s choir sing Christmas carols.  Making my way up Haymarket, I thought back to the scenes from the 30th November and the raid on Panton House, it seemed like a different street altogether, somehow smaller, than the scene of that action.  Finally, at Piccadilly, I rested against the railings to the tube underpass.  The police presence was gargantuan.  There were seven police vans along Haymarket, and five more parked outside the Criterion Theatre.  There was a continuous line of police circled around the square.  The large crowd present were only there to watch a Michael Jackson performer advertise the Thriller show and looked around bemused and confused at the police lines.  Mumbles of ‘what on earth is going on?’ started to ripple through the crowd.  They began to melt away, although some stayed to form a new crowd.

I spotted a couple of familiar faces…Bear, Pedro, guy from Panton Street, lovely Scottish red coat lady, dreadlock/skinhead girl.  We asked each other the same question: where is everybody?  Moments later, the sound system arrived, on wheels, pulled along by some occupiers…and with it, a couple of hundred dancing happy people.  Piccadilly Circus turned into a street party in seconds.  Music thumped, bodies popped, hands waved in the air, police frowned, passersby clapped, bobbed their heads, joined in. 

All of a sudden, in homage to the wonderful Occupy Melbourne protesters, our very own Tent Monsters arrived.  Tent Monsters, are people dressed in tents.  They make slits in the tent, through which their head, arms and legs can pop.  This means they can appear to be a normal tent, then suddenly limbs pops out and the Tent Monster runs off down the road.  Our Tent Monsters did some very accomplished bopping.

I turned to a police officer and asked ‘what do you think of the tent monsters?’  Without looking at me, he answered ‘I think it’s a waste of a good tent’.  

There was a vigil being held nearby for the International Day against Violence against Sex Workers.  One of the vigil members came and informed us via the sound system and asked that we raise our voices for their cause, which we promptly did.  After the vigil, people from it arrived at the street party carrying candles.

At 6.30pm the police announced that our party was over, and the battery on my mobile phone packed in so no more filming for Scriptonite.  The sound system, music still blaring, set off down Regent Street, followed by the vast majority of the street party, including vigil members and passersby.  The tune played as we ran was this:

The police, in vast numbers, ran ahead and formed a line at the lower end of Regent Street, so protesters fanned into a small side street called St James’ Place.  We jogged together, a couple of hundred protesters, through the street singing along to I’ll Occupy.  However, calls started to come from the front of the party ‘The Met! The Met!’ and it was too late.  As we turned around to leave there was a solid wall of police closing off the street behind, a line of TSG police ahead.  We were kettled.  To my left, a girl in her early twenties was pulled INTO the kettle by a police officer who threw her to the floor.  She hit the floor like a dead weight and lay there.  Pedro ran to the police line and demanded to know why this had happened, I joined.  I was pulled back and Pedro was set upon by three officers who, while pressing his body and face into the ground told him he was being arrested for ‘assaulting a police officer’.

The OccupyLSX live stream was capturing us from outside the kettle.  I called Green & Black Cross legal to update them on Pedro, gave the young woman a hug, and rang my wife to let her know what was happening.  We thought the party was over but the police released the kettle and we set off once more.  With a solid police line each side of us, several police vans in tow, and two police helicopters soaring overhead – we marched back up Regent Street, past the Ritz, down through Green Park, along the embankment, through Trafalgar Square.  All the while, we were dancing, blowing trumpets, whooping – there was even an impromptu leaf war in Green Park as protesters showered each other with bundles of fallen leaves from the piles around the edges of the park.

Walking the Strand once more, we were still in our full number and making a lot of noise.  As we reached Charing Cross rail station, a crowd of TSG officers in their all black outfits charged the party and seized the sound system, switching it off and taking it into the grounds of the station.  After a small set to, and a round of Christmas carols sang at the officers, at 8.15pm the crowd dispersed, the party was over and people started walking back to St Pauls; police officers, police vans and helicopters in tow.

The End of a Beautiful Day of Reclaiming the Streets

As I made my way back, I was absolutely filled up with joy.  It was a wonderful day of cheekiness, music, dance, art, passion, power and love.  The purpose of this day was not to overthrow the system, but to reclaim public spaces.  It was to bring a spirit of celebration to every street we touched.  To take the party to the streets.  To surprise people, busy rushing from one place to another, with something to stop, look at and talk to their neighbour about.  To remind people that although it’s cold and it’s Christmas, we are still here and we are growing.  To say that you may not hear about it on the news, but a revolution is happening.  To invite people who can’t share a tent with us, to share a dance with us.  Actions such as these took place all across Britain yesterday.  Occupy Worthing sang alternative Christmas carols outside the town hall, Occupy Norwich did a flash mob, Occupy Exeter got on the radio and spoke to their community, in Glastonbury a group occupied the street outside St John’s Church, Occupy Edinburgh had live stand up, all over the country people took actions, as individuals and groups, as occupiers and not.

But the week isn’t over.  Saturday December 17th is the UK Uncut Christmas Special.  In the morning, Santa will be presenting the HMRC with a sack of coal for being thoroughly bad this year.  In the afternoon, the Vodafone and Top Shop (both companies are flagrant tax dodgers) stores on Oxford Street will be getting a rather large visit.

So, what has the Occupy Movement achieved? Well, it’s bringing protest back from the dead in the UK.  In collaboration with other vibrant movements, it can be a force for change in this world, which today, is in such great need of just that.  So, as you prepare for Christmas, think of those people out there making a stand through the winter for freedom, social and economic justice and a world that works for everyone.  As the festive season passes, and a new year begins, let us make this the year.  Let us make it the year we never forget.  Let us make it, the year we fought for a better world and won, for all of us.

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