25 October 2011

Occupy America, and the world

“Let them eat cake!” – Marie Antoinette Hapsburg Bourbon, Paris, France, 1789

Sometime this past spring, looking at the actions and reactions of various governments to the current Great Recession, I wrote that, “Governments around the world are on a binge of slashing budgets and cutting programs that work to the benefit of everyone in the name of protecting the abundance of wealth of a few. One of these days we the people are going to wise up and stop letting the rich con us into believing that they deserve wealth which amounts to hundreds or thousands of times their fair share. When that happens, maybe the needs of the many will finally outweigh the greed of the few.”

I had no idea it would take place so soon after I wrote that, nor as strongly voiced and as widespread across the world.

The 400 richest persons in America (0.000001% of the population) have as much as the bottom 150,000,000 people (50% of the population).  That top 1% we’ve been hearing so much about control 60% of the wealth of the country, leaving a mere 40% of the wealth for the bottom 99% upon which they sit.

And most recently, figures from the 2010 census indicate that the poor in our country number 148 million.

During a discussion about why people allow the wealthiest to con the rest of us into believing they somehow deserve their gross overabundance, hundreds of times their fair share, when so many go about in want and need, I quipped that everyone wants to be a slave-owner.  That was the real reason so many who would have never had the chance to own even one slave supported the planter aristocracy of the South in its rebellion. 

The same goes for those who have always supported the interests of the commercial-financial-industrial elite who have always controlled nearly every facet of life in the country we call America, often even against their own interests.

Or as author John Steinbeck put it, “Socialism never took hold in America because here the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”  Whether you advocate or oppose socialism, you have to admit that his observation about the view of the poor, shared by the working- and middle-classes, about themselves is dead accurate.

In addition, people in America are trapped in and by what radio personality Jean Shepherd called the “creeping meatball”.  This, he explained, “is the passive acquiescence of people who surrender to the demands of the consumer culture and collaborate in their own manipulation.”  The Youth International Party of the late 1960’s picked up on this with their slogan, “Rise up and abandon the creeping meatball!”.

I should be up front about the fact that I am a socialist, a member in good standing of the Socialist Party USA.  In fact, I am a social anarchist.  To paraphrase a line in the graphic novel V for Vendetta, anarchism is not chaos and does not mean without rules; it literally means (and I looked it up in the dictionary to check) “without rulers”.

Rulers have subjects.  One cannot be a subject and still be a citizen, because citizenship implies a stake in the ownership of society as a whole.  What we are seeing in the streets and parks and public squares of America today is the occupation of spaces by Americans who are tired of being treated as subjects of an unelected, self-interested, avaricious minority and its loyal servants in the halls of governmental Authority.

In short, the ultimate reason behind the Occupy Wall Street movement is that the Wall Street 1% got a $700,000,000,000 bailout, while the Main Street 99% got the bill, along with a request to sacrifice.  That request to sacrifice was followed closely by another to keep sacrificing in order to maintain the lifestyles of the rich and shameless who did the robbing in the first place, accompanied with guilt-trips and condescension.

The current so-called “debt crisis” has been imposed upon the governments of the world by a web of financial markets—including stock exchanges and brokerages, commercial and investment banks, insurance companies, credit and finance companies—running rampant with speculation, fraud, irresponsibility, avarice, and selfish ambition.  They appeal to the governments of the world to be bailed out of the quagmire they have created for themselves by cutting back spending on programs and infrastructure which benefit the general welfare in order to provide a life-raft for an industry of proven detriment to the 99% of the population. 

The aim of this salvation is for them to continue doing that which brought us, America and the rest of the world, to this low point in the first place.  To help manipulate the decisions toward that end, they threaten governments which such extortionist actions as downgrading their credit rating if they don’t prostrate themselves in compliance before the gods of wealth and commerce.  In other words, the governments of the First World are now facing the same kind of blackmail visited upon those of the Third World by the same culprits.

How out of touch with reality the government and the minds which drive the world’s financial markets are can be clearly seen in the declaration by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research that the Great Recession ended in June 2009.

Tell that to the 30 million unemployed, the 60 million more under employed, and the countless millions more underpaid in America.

The roots of the current Great Recession reach back to the early 1980’s with the advent of Reaganomics, the “supply-side” policies of Ronald Reagan and the neoconservatives in his administration that mark the beginning of the New Gilded Age.  Trickle-down economics for a trickle-down democracy.

The idea was to give the private sector, Corporate America, the main role in forming economic and social policy.  Free enterprise, open markets, abolition of tariffs, turning governmental functions over to private corporations, deregulation of industry and finance, slashing of support for higher education, and destruction of organizations of the working- and middle-classes were hallmarks of Reagan’s administration.

Ironically, economists call this “neoliberalism”.

Reagan is only the most notorious (in America) example.  Every president since him has followed the same general direction, including both Democrats.  The same is true in most countries around the world; for example, Tony Blair continued along the same path laid out by his two immediate predecessors, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

Deregulation of greed is one of the worst ideas humanity has ever conceived.

Let’s check out some of the results of what Reagan started.

When I was in at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga my first semester, fall 1981 in the first year of Reagan’s regime, tuition was $325 per semester, before he took his scythe out and started cutting.  Back when the federal support to higher education which had done so much to advance the standard of living in this country was intact.  This fall, now that my son is at the same school, tuition is $3359 per semester.  Of course, tuition would naturally increase through the years, but an exponential increase of over 1000% is way too much.

Does anyone want to argue that making the postal service into a nongovernmental corporation was a good idea?  Hey, Mr. Reagan, how’s that working out?

Remember when the savings & loan industry was strong?  A lot of you may not even remember that such a thing once existed.  Yes, there are still savings & loans, but the number of these people’s banks is rather small compared to their former count.  Reagan and his acolytes deregulated it and immediately the thieves did to that industry what Wall Street did recently to the finance and credit industry.

Deregulation of the housing market helped bring about the bubble and burst of the Clinton and Bush years.  Ditto with dot com.

Deregulation of the credit and finance industry which allowed it to offer promiscuous lines of credit which responsible businesses not primarily motivated by unbridled greed would never have considered holding out.  Then when their irresponsibility began to bit them in the ass, they turned to their pawns in Congress to protect them and turn Americans into debt slaves.

The chaos of the stock markets of the past several years, both in America and around the world, is unlike anything seen since before 29 October 1929.

One of the clearest examples of just how bad an idea giving corporate interests and financial markets primary control over economic and social policy is food prices.  As with college tuitions, food would naturally be expected increase overall through the years.  But in 2008, they took a quantum leap upward due not to decreased supply (there was and still is more actual food than previously) but to market speculation.

Capitalism was an improvement over feudalism in Late Middle Ages Europe and over the planter economy of the antebellum South in 19th century America.  Yesterday’s reform has become today’s ideology of oppression.

In a letter to one Col. J. S. Wilkins, President Abraham Lincoln wrote, “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavour to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”

This happened soon after the Paris Commune of 1871 and the Great Upheaval of 1877 in the United States in a series of Supreme Court decisions leading up to Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (1886) andPembina Consolidated Silver Mining Co. v. Pennsylvania (1888).

As Ryan Grim and Mike Sachs laid out in their recent Huffington Post article, Justice Stephen Field invented the idea of corporate personhood as a matter of U.S. law.  On little or no grounds, he wrote into opinions and commentary material to be later given as precedent to support their cause, the prospect that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution intended to give citizenship and equal protection of law to the former slaves gave the same citizenship and equal protection of law to money.

This was the series of decisions which formed one of the main bases upon which the current Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John Roberts justified their outrageous decision that dollars equal speech under the 1st Amendment in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010).

And to be fair, it is not only the conservative wing of the Court suffering from rectal-cranial inversion syndrome.  It was the LIBERAL wing of the current Court that ruled in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) that governments could take private property of citizens (subjects) under the power of eminent domain and turn it over to private for-profit corporations.

A “long train of abuses and usurpations” indeed.  I have digressed thus to show that even the body which is supposed to safeguard the rights of American citizens is as much a part of the problem as any other branch of government.

In the face of the Great Recession, those governments I spoke of earlier are responding the same way in which their predecessors initially responded to the Great Depression of the 1930’s: with painful, punitive measures of austerity.  What saved America, and the world, from absolute degradation was the reversal of this by programs such as the New Deal.

Those programs were not, as many of its detractors claim, intended to destroy capitalism and the gross overabundance of wealth held by the few, but to preserve it.  They did, however, have the trickle-down effect of making the lives of individuals people better as well as lay the foundation of the prosperity which broke out following the War.

Several pundits, as well as many Americans “occupying” streets and parks and public places in America have noted that the Occupy Wall Street movement is inspired by the rising up of people in various countries during the Arab Spring.  As Karl Vick describes in his recent TIME magazine article, a more accurate parallel is the Occupy Tel Aviv movement during the summer of 2011.

At its height, the movement in Israel had over 100 separate camps and over 350,000 people marching in the streets.  Out of a population of around 7,000,000.  Theirs were specifically economic causes, like their American counterpart.  Many of the same economic causes over which the various risings that inspired the Israelis were the initial causes for the risings by the people of Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, and Syria, though their causes were political as well.

Had the Iranian people not risen up nonviolently against the Islamic Republic and continued to do so for as long as they did, it is possible that the events of the Arab Spring could have been much bloodier and even more chaotic.

The risings in those countries, as well as those against austerity in Spain, Portugal, and Greece, helped inspire the citizens of Israel.

Israeli Arabs, by the way, played a significant part in the movement that swept across Israel this past summer, and many of the Israelis Jews who participated have also been in the lead of those inside Israel supporting the nonviolent movement of the Palestinians for equal human rights.

That reminds me of a story that starts, “A Palestinian, an American, an Iranian, and an Israeli got onto a boat in Paris, France…”

The citizens taking part in the Occupy Wall Street and related protests around the country are more the heirs of the Sons of Liberty who carried out the Boston Tea Party on 16 December 1773 than the movement which has adopted Tea Party as its name.   Sam Adams and his men had risen up, as Englishmen, in protest of laws enacted by Parliament to secure a trade monopoly for corporations based in the mother country, primarily the British East Indian Company, to the detriment of merchants and citizens in the American colonies.

Unlike Adams and the other Sons, however, the Occupy Wall Street movement is neither violent nor destructive.  The protest against corporate power is the only similarity.

Pundits, news reporters, and supporters of corporate power have complained that the Occupy Wall Street Movement has no specific goals and no clear leaders, even though in truth everyone knows what the problem is.  Others have suggested its participants take their concerns to the government. 

I ask this, Why should Occupy Wall Street address itself  to government which has been reduced to a mere frontline of pawns defending Corporate America from those who would be citizens rather than subjects?  Go back and read the description I gave earlier about exactly who is in charge of social and economic policy in this country.

Part of the criticism is coming from Wall Street itself, and I suspect its denizens do not know what to do with an “attack”, as it were, behind their lines.

Israeli protestor Stav Shaffir, quoted in Vick’s article, has sound advice for the movement and an answer for its critics: "As a movement that goes up against the most powerful force, if you act like an organization, like an institution, you lose. If you have one head, they know what to cut off. You have to be like water, to be everywhere, to be unpredictable. We work like an open code. Everybody should act their part. Everybody should act like a leader."

If neoliberal capitalism and the hierarchical trickle-down democracy under which it is currently governed are the permanently engraved ideals of the Republic of the United States of America, then there is no room for improvement, no chance for growth, no space for hope, no anything but more of the same, no hope.

The first step on the road to taking backing personhood for each individual in America, and then the rest of the world, should be taking away personhood from corporations.  By constitutional amendment if necessary.  If corporations were actual persons, not a single one of them would be out of prison, and many of those in prison would be in maximum security.

The time has come to take a stand, for citizenship against for subjection, for government to function for the GENERAL welfare rather than that of a narrow group, for the 99% of the people, for the needs of the many over the greed of the few.  After all, you can't abandon the creeping meatball if you don't first rise up.

As Bobby Sands once said: “Everyone has his or her particular part to play.  No part is too great or too small.  No one is too old or too young to do something.”

Our day will come.


From the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”


Ryan Grim and Mike Sachs, “Corporate Citizenship: How Public Dissent In Paris Sparked Creation Of The Corporate Person” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/12/corporate-citizenship-corporate-personhood-paris-commune_n_1005244.html).

Karl Vick, “What Occupy Wall Street Can Learn from Occupy Tel Aviv” (http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2097627,00.html).

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