George Zornick on the exposed anti-OWS memo, Ari Berman on Werner Herzog’s death penalty film, Max Strasser on Egypt’s Mubarak-era debt


WHO’S AFRAID OF OWS? On November 20, Nation editor at large Christopher Hayes unveiled a major scoop on his TV show, Up With Chris Hayes: a written pitch to the American Bankers Association from the prominent DC lobbying firm Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford, proposing an $850,000 smear campaign against Occupy Wall Street. Written by two partners with close ties to House Speaker John Boehner, the memo warned that the burgeoning movement ”has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye,” while noting that “the bigger concern…should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies.”

Proposing opposition research and targeted campaigns against sympathetic politicians, the memo belies conservative claims that the Occupy movement doesn’t have a clear purpose and won’t be effective.   GEORGE ZORNICK

KILLING FIELDS: Werner Herzog’s new documentary, Into the Abyss, tells the story of a triple homicide in Conroe, Texas, when a plan by two teenagers—Michael James Perry and Jason Burkett—to steal a red Chevy Camaro went horribly awry. Both were convicted, and Perry was executed eight days after Herzog interviewed him. Herzog never says whether they committed the crimes—the evidence presented strongly suggests they did—but innocence or guilt is a secondary issue for Herzog. “A state should not be allowed under any circumstance to execute anyone for any reason, end of story,” he says.

Yet this is not what Herzog disparagingly refers to as an “issue film.” It’s about the impact of violent crime, whether carried out by individuals or the state. It comes at a time of renewed debate over capital punishment, particularly in the wake of the execution of Troy Davis. Support for the death penalty in the United States is at its lowest levels since 1972. Against this backdrop, Into the Abyss makes for powerful viewing.

To read my interview with Herzog, visit   ARI BERMAN

MUBARAK’S FINANCIAL LEGACY: Under Hosni Mubarak, Egypt racked up foreign debts totaling around $35 billion, mostly owed to Western governments. The interest payments account for billions per year. Now, with the dictator swept from power, should Egyptians still have to pay off his debts? Activists and civil society leaders are saying no.

“The people want to bring down the debts,” labor organizer Kamal Abu Eita chanted at a recent event in Cairo to launch the Popular Campaign to Drop Egypt’s Debts. Those behind the campaign cite the international legal theory of “odious debts,” which states that debt incurred for repression or corruption is illegitimate. “This money could have been used to pay for the tear gas that was used against protesters, or pay for torture,” says Wael Gamal, managing editor of the independent newspaper Al-Shorouq.

Debt cancellation campaigners have precedent on their side. In 2004 the United States pressured international financial institutions and Western governments to forgive some 80 percent of Iraq’s external debt, arguing that Saddam Hussein’s borrowing was “odious.” But with European banks—some of the biggest holders of Egyptian debt—bailing out Greece, there’s probably little appetite for forgiving Egyptian loans right now. On October 30 the Independent reported that Britain is working to get Egypt to repay around $160 million lent specifically for weapons buying. Meanwhile, Egypt’s government, citing a “liquidity crisis,” is pursuing new loans from the IMF.

Still, debt forgiveness might be a quick way to inject liquidity and help the government meet the calls for social justice that were central to the revolution by freeing up funds for social services and improving long-stagnant public sector wages. As Egypt moves past the odious era of Mubarak, his financial legacy remains—for now.   MAX STRASSER

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