Louis XVI, Tahrir Square and Occupy Wall Street

One of the more overlooked aspects of our American history–particularly by those Francophobes who revel in pointing out how if it weren’t for the United States “everyone in France would be speaking German”–is the fact that, without support from the French government in 1777 and 1778, the United States would not exist today, and we would all be drinking tea instead of coffee (ahem, sorry, couldn’t help it).

In fact, when the French government first decided to become involved in the ongoing conflict between the British crown and her subjects in the American colonies, it was King Louis XVI (husband of Marie Antoinette, formerly of guillotine fame) who authorized the selling of gunpowder to the revolutionaries.  Of course, this aid was done in secret, mostly because France was worried about igniting a costly open war with her neighbor to the north.  In addition, it is commonly accepted that one downside to aiding commoners rebelling against a neighboring monarchy is the tacit suggestion that, well, it is okay for commoners to rebel against a monarchy.  And since France was itself a monarchy, there was a fear that France was greenlighting rebellion in general, including at home.  Fast-forwarding 15 years to now-Citroyen Louis Capet’s conviction and execution by the National Convention, one wonders if Louis could see how his decision to support rebels who would overthrow their own government, albeit in another country, came back to haunt him.

Which brings us to a discussion of the 2011 Arab Spring, an uprising in north African nations which would lead to the fall of governments in Tunisia, Egypt and, eventually, Libya.  Most Americans who followed this excursion into uncharted political territory probably most closely followed the revolt in Egypt, led by protesters who occupied Tahrir Square in central Cairo, demanded a voice in their own government, relief from stifling economic policies, and an end to the system as it currently existed.  While American news corporations covered the event ad nauseum, questioning the slow commitment by the United States government to intervene on behalf of the protesters, who, after all, were merely crying for democracy, the form of government the United States has always claimed it wished to help foster around the globe, the State Department and White House were exceptionally–and perhaps rightly–cautious in lending their support to the protesters.  Of course, the party line was that support from the United States could cause to delegitimize the protests, since the United States was seen as too closely associated with President Hosni Mubarak and his regime (the U.S. did prop him up for years, after all).  But its fun to consider that, possibly, the career diplomats in Washington understood something that Louis XVI failed to fully appreciate–that support for open revolt against a government who doesn’t allow its people to truly have a say in decision-making, that is controlled by narrow interests who do not have the well-being of the majority of citizens at heart, and who have done little to relieve the suffering of its people in the worst economic crisis of their lifetimes might not be in the long-term interests of the United States, considering that politicians in Washington were essentially guilty of almost everything Mubarak was pilloried for by the people of Egypt.

And now as the Occupy Wall Street protest, and the broader Occupy movement, digs in, entering its second full month, and begins to draw crowds that would make those in Tahrir Square proud (see the recent October 15 march on Times Square), it will be telling to see how American authority and the broader corporate-state complex react.  Reports of 3G networks being taken down to hamper protester communication in Times Square are an eerie reminder of Egypt’s decision last Spring to “shut off the Internet.”  And all of this begs the question: how far is American government, “harbinger of democracy and justice to the globe,” willing to go to suppress the ability of its own people to voice displeasure with the wholly inadequate and completely unacceptable job that it is doing to secure its citizens’ right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”  And if the answer to that question is, “as far as it takes,” then it seems that Americans have another problem entirely.

Bloomberg Brings New Meaning to the Term ‘Sanitize’

Last night, NYC Mayor and genuine mainstream media mogul-cum-1%er Mike Bloomberg paid a personal visit to Liberty Plaza to notify #occupywallstreet protesters that he was done acknowledging their right to peaceably assemble–a right he has up until now been unwilling to deny existed in the U.S. Constitution–but instead was going to remove them by force from the park that has been their home for the last month under the auspices of “cleaning” the park.  Ultimately, the Occupiers have been told, they would be allowed to return to the park, but without any of their equipment, sleeping bags, etc.  After all, they must “follow the rules.”

As an adherent of the public workers who protested the draconian, extra-legal actions of Republican Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans who control the Wisconsin Legislature in Winter 2011, these Goon Squad tactics bear a strong semblance to the move to “clear” the Wisconsin State House during that time of peaceful occupation.  As the reader may recall, protesters were removed in order to “clean” the State House at that time, and then were not allowed to re-enter the building, despite a requirement in the Wisconsin Constitution that citizens have access to their State House and legislators.  People in Wisconsin, peaceful and law-abiding as they were, found themselves “duped” by the authorities, locked out of their own government, and told their rights had no meaning.

Will the Occupiers in Liberty Plaza, who speak for the 99% of us who have been locked out of our own government by the interests of Wall Street, and told their rights to peaceably assemble and petition their government for a redress of grievances have no meaning, fall for the same lies as the Occupiers in Madison?  Or will they stand up?  Will Michael Bloomberg really arrest the thousands of Americans, old and young, employed and unemployed, student and teacher, veteran and peace activist, who all agree that he and his ilk are the problem with America, not the solution?  And does he honestly think that sanitizing this Park–which is truly meant to be the sanitation of the consensus-based democracy and the collective care for the needs of all members of society that have been the true protest taking place near Wall Street, and the development that truly disturbs the 1% who own Congress and the White House–will end the Occupy Movement?  Tune in tomorrow at 6 am (this illegal and unconstitutional mass arrest by NYPD, should it take place, will be televised on http://www.livestream.com/globalrevolution) to find out how far elected officials and their NYPD White Shirts will go to defend the interests of the 1%ers and the rest of the global corporate elite.

What #occupywallstreet is doing right…

Livestreams.  Media teams.  General Assemblies.  Modified Consensus decision-making…  These are the hallmarks of a truly organic and democratic process.

As America finally begins to understand, follow, and embrace the #Occupywallstreet movement, it is becoming clear that this is NOT just a protest.  This is a culture.  This is a lifestyle choice.  This is an authentic alternative to a form of society where people surrender their natural rights to a government controlled by non-human corporations.

Most importantly, #Occupywallstreet is choosing to resist the typically American reaction to war with those who disagree with their methods, their targets, or the reasons they believe we have come to this sorry state in American history.  The people living in Liberty Plaza, and occupying the myriad cities around this nation, are rightly embracing all comers who wish to participate in the open process that OWS and all the #Occupiers have chosen as the valid method for redressing grievances and floating solutions.  At the end of the day, the open practice of democracy, listening to various opinions, and working together to agree on a common objective is the truly radical act.

Remember that the two major parties, mainstream media, and the 1% want #Occupywallstreet at each other’s throats.  They want OWS to turn on the Tea Party.  They want the 99% to fight amongst themselves.  Let’s not give them the satisfaction.  Let’s continue to have compassion and empathy for each other–an act that scares them most of all.

#Occupy

Solving America ends its hiatus in honor of, and to cover the developments of, Occupy Wall Street.

Solving America believes the developments that began on Wall Street and now have spread to Boston, Seattle, LA, San Francisco, and nearly every state in America, are the beginning of a global shift in American politics–the very kind of shift Solving America was created to support.

In the coming days, Solving America will return to frequent posts, focusing on the Occupy protests, their accomplishments, and what this new movement means for the future of democracy in America.

Cheers.

Lobbyists Set Sights on Super-Committee

Yesterday’s “The Notion” blog, hosted by The Nation magazine’s online entity thenation.com, delved into the world of high-stakes lobbying in its piece “Who’s Paying the Super Committee?” Indeed, that seems like a very fair question. After all, if your government was going to choose 12 legislators out of 535, endow them with super-human powers such as the ability to recommend budget cuts that cannot be amended or deleted, and the heretofore unimaginable super power of getting a guaranteed up-or-down simple-majority vote in the Senate on your cuts, wouldn’t you want to know which lobbyists, and possibly even which clients, have staked out a financial position and own a piece of the action?
Because if you were a lobbyist, or if you were a high-end, cash-soaked corporate executive, and you heard that the Congress of the United States was going to agree to a process where they would fast-track legislation that essentially could not be debated, could not be altered, could not be scrutinized to any meaningful degree, you might–because you are a corporate executive and you think this way–try to influence the language in that legislation to benefit you and your corporation. After all, “corporations are people,” and we believe that all good people deserve success in life, right?
Now, I know what all of you conspiracy theorists and critics out there are going to say. You’ll say, “but wait, isn’t this whole Super Committee essentially a way to circumvent the typical legislative process? Isn’t this something akin to a Patriot Act for the debt ceiling, where in our moment of weakness (credit downgrade leaves us wondering who we are as a people… *sigh*) and national unity (we need to find a way to tighten our belts, and live within our means, you know, put America back on the track to fiscal sanity, because we never know when another downgrade may hit, and then we’ll be all the way down to AA! *gasp*) we agree to a whole bunch of things we would never agree to if we were thinking straight?” True. This is certainly possible. (See Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine for more on this phenomenon.) I agree it is fair game to suggest that the Super-Committee process is potentially being used in a nefarious way to “ram through” cuts that could never otherwise be accomplished; I will also agree that the Super-Committee process may be the “gun to the head” of Congress that will bring some compromise and action. (Recall that a refusal to accept the proposal of the Super-Committee, which in theory could include revenue rises, automatically triggers $1.5 trillion in cuts, taken equally from defense and non-defense discretionary spending.)
In any event, the purpose of this piece was to discuss the lobbyists and clients who have bought off–er, excuse me,–have “influenced” the members of the Super-Committee. These members, for those of you keeping score at home, are:

House Republicans
Reps. Dave Camp, Michigan, Jeb Hensarling, Texas, and Fred Upton, Michigan

House Democrats
Reps. James Clyburn, South Carolina, Chris Van Hollen, Maryland, and Xavier Becerra, California

Senate Republicans
Sens. John Kyl, Arizona, Rob Portman, Oregon, and Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania

Senate Democrats
Sens. John Kerry, Massachusetts, Max Baucus, Montana, Patty Murray, Washington

This elite club of Super-Congressmen, who include two Freshmen (Portman and Toomey), will shape the face of American domestic fiscal policy for generations to come between now and Thanksgiving. It appears that these Super-Heroes of American Politics may have already had their opinions shaped for them, in the form of PAC contributions and industry donations.

All told, the 12 members of the Super-Committee have hauled in around $200 million in PAC contributions and industry donations since 1998. Some of the largest contributions come from the Usual Suspects, including Labor, Health, Financial Services, and Lawyers. You may be surprised to hear that, generally speaking, these PACs and groups donated far more to the Democrats than the Republicans. Then again, this may not be surprising. Perhaps, just maybe, the Democrats’ price is a little higher.

So, as this process shakes out, and more and more pressure is put on these 12 people to cut a deal that will sell off America’s investment in its people (or not–the pressure to pass nothing and trigger the automatic cuts may be considerable high, especially if the compromise the Super-Committee reaches includes revenue rises), watch for the language that emerges. My hypothesis is that those with a financial stake in the outcome–those who have paid to have their voices heard–will be getting more and more of what they want. That’s when it becomes incumbent on the American People to push back, shine the light on the rat hole, and demand that all of us have our voices heard, not just those that pony up the cash.

Wisconsin: the Coalmine’s Canary?

Like many others, this author followed the amazing actions in Madison, Wisconsin, this past February with both shock and pride.  Shock at the actions of a Governor and state Legislature who decided it was within their right to roll back 50 years of collective bargaining rights, rights which, to union workers and Americans who believe in the general freedom of citizens to assemble and negotiate their own working conditions, are as important as the freedom to speak freely or carry a firearm.  Pride at the public workers who, in the face of daunting odds, police lockouts, and vile attacks from all quarters (“public workers are lazy, only care about themselves and their pension,” etc., etc., etc.).  For weeks on end, public workers and their private sector brothers and sisters stood vigil at the State House in Madison, and were there to point the spotlight at Scott Walker and his Republican counterparts.  And when Gov. Walker finally signed the rights-stripping-bill into law, public workers chose not to throw in the towel, sulk, or surrender.  Instead, they went to work, doing what public workers do: organizing, rallying support to their cause, collecting signatures, explaining to potential voters the detrimental effects of the law…  You know, taking part in democracy.  After only a few weeks, voters in Wisconsin had collected enough signatures to trigger recall elections in seven Wisconsin Senate districts.  Today, those elections will take place.

On Tuesday, August 9, Wisconsin voters go to the polls to signal their (dis)approval of six Republican state Senators who supported Gov. Walker’s rights-stripping bill.  According to the New York times, with over $30 million spent by candidates, local organizations, and outside groups, these are some of the most expensive local elections of all time.

So, what will be the outcome of today’s elections?  We’ll know in a few hours.  Either way, it is clear that Wisconsin is a bit of a “canary in a coalmine” for the rest of the country: if Democrats win the three seats they need to take back control of the Wisconsin Senate, recall campaigns may begin to pop up all over the country, in states like Ohio, Indiana, and Maine, where similar Republican-controlled legislatures have proposed similar rights-stripping measures and other extreme legislation.  Alternately, it may also trigger much more “Citizens United”-style spending by outside groups and corporations who support these types of laws they believe are good for austerity and long-term fiscal health (the theory goes that collective bargaining rights = negotiations over working conditions = things like health care, insurance, pensions, etc. = bloated government funded at taxpayer’s expense).

If Democrats do not win the number of seats they need, and the outside money that was pumped into Wisconsin by multi-million dollar organizations as part of an archaic system that still believes money equals speech and that those who can afford it should have an unfair ability to influence elections with their cash over those who are merely average citizens without bottomless pockets proves to have been money well-spent, then watch for Republican-controlled State Houses and Governor’s Mansions around the country to push full-throttle on more union-stripping, pension-stripping, voting rights-revoking measures from the east coast to the west.

Tea Party Legislators Not Fit to Lead

Political blog The Hill’s Cameron Joseph wrote an important piece today, highlighting the response of the internet darling Tea Party Patriots to senior Democratic leaders’ references to the “Tea Party Downgrade,” a recently popular characterization describing Friday night’s lowering of US credit by rating agency Standard & Poor’s.

Concluding that President Obama was to blame before his conservative allies in the House and Senate, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler shared what might be one of the funniest, if most unfair, comments of the debt ceiling / downgrade debacle: “When Washington, D.C., gets slammed from the right by communists, you know we have a problem with our leadership.”  (This author believes most communists would take offense to the notion that President Obama, who has done nothing but appease fiscal conservatives since passing the Affordable Health Care Act, is politically left of them, or that someone as ultra-right as Mark Meckler, who is quoted as saying that the debt-ceiling debate in Washington was a “model for what should happen in all countries,” is speaking on their behalf, but that is merely an aside…)  It is Meckler’s contention that President Obama is responsible for the downgrading of US credit, suggesting that S&P’s decision to lower the United States’ credit rating from AAA to AA+ resulted “from a lack of leadership that has failed to face our debt problems or corral overspending.”  (His grammatical fiasco, not mine.)

And why shouldn’t Mr. Meckler try to lead the discussion in this direction?  A CBS/New York Times poll cited in an earlier post (“This is What Democracy Looks Like?”) shows that the Tea Party suffers from a 40% disapproval rating, twice as high as its 20% approval rating.  These numbers come in large part from the role Tea Party legislators played, or are perceived to have played, in holding up any kind of bi-partisan, balanced compromise the vast majority of Americans (66% according to CBS) were seeking before the August 2nd Drop-Dead Date for a debt ceiling increase.

As the American people try to make sense of today’s 634-point nosedive in the market, they are going to look for someone to blame.  In the opinion of this writer, it is impossible to find fault landing more squarely on the shoulders of any one political constituency than on people like Mr. Meckler, who actively sought to place like-minded legislators into power in the US Congress, and on those legislators themselves, who believed either that deep, rampant, and immediate spending cuts with no hint of revenue increases of any kind (taxes, again, are anathema for Mr. Meckler’s friends) were the only cure for what ailed the American financial system, or that perhaps, just maybe, a massive reduction in domestic spending, and therefore a massive gap in the dollars going into our economy and the productivity coming out, was well-timed for a nation on verge of recovery, and just what our nation needed to “get back on track to fiscal sanity.”  It is clear that “fiscal sanity” turned out to be either ignorance, willful or otherwise, of how our economy actually functions, or indifference about the outcome of such a drastic reaction to last fall’s elections and the alleged mandate that Tea Party legislators inherited.

In all fairness to those who believe that our government spends too much money, I agree.  But, I believe there is a right way to go about changing the way we do business in America, and a wrong way.  Nothing about what the Tea Party orchestrated last week in Washington was right.  And now average Americans must suffer the consequences, potentially in the form of a tragic, double-dip recession.  It is clear that Tea Party legislators in the US Congress are not yet ready to lead America.  Their cavalier attitude towards the future of this country, and the “who cares if it breaks, it isn’t mine” treatment of something as fragile as a post-Great Recession economy, should leave the American voter no doubt that these amateurs may have in fact won elections in 2010, but they are far from professional politicians, and are not yet ready for prime time.  As for Mr. Meckler, he should probably save his ammunition for a fight he can win, or at least one he hasn’t already lost.

Gang of Six, Redux

The more things change, the more we forget the past.

An article in today’s New York Times invites us to consider the important work left to be done by the so-called Congressional “supercommittee,” a 12-member panel of Republican and Democratic legislators charged with the massively significant task of agreeing on a minimum of $1.5 trillion more in cuts, by Thanksgiving, in order to avoid triggering cuts to both parties’ most sacred programs, including defense and domestic discretionary spending.

In advance of this next chapter in the Three-Ring Circus Freak Show that has become domestic politics in this country, this author would like to remind everyone that there has always been a post-partisan solution on the table, throughout the John Boehner-Barack Obama Standoff, and before the Democrats caved on their insistence that the compromise be balanced between reductions in expenditures and rises in revenues.  This plan, of course, was proposed by a working group of six US Senators, known as the Gang of Six.

The plan was brave, if not naive, in its willingness to make massive changes to programs and spending priorities both Republicans and Democrats held dear.  The plan seemed to anticipate the dire situation at hand, and, for a brief moment in time, put the good of the nation, its citizens, and its future, ahead of short-term political gain and self-centered political advancement.  This quality may have been the plan’s undoing.  In any event, it is worth reviewing the Jamie Dupree’s “Washington Insider” blog, in the off-chance that Americans actually insist that we find a meaningful compromise going into the Thanksgiving Massacre.

The Gang of Six plan would cut the deficit by $3.7 trillion to $4.65 trillion, depending on whose numbers you use.  Publicly-held debt would be stable by 2014, and publicly-held debt would be reduced to 70% of GDP by 2021.  Both security and nonsecurity discretionary spending will be cut.  Spending caps will be imposed, and nearly $2 trillion in tax revenues will be realized.  All in all, the plan takes evenly and broadly from a variety of areas to significantly reduce the debt and improve America’s long-term fiscal health.

With all the talk about the impending fiscal disaster that may, in fact, be striking momentarily in the form of Wall Street’s reaction to the S&P downgrade, Americans who care about a post-partisan solution to the economic problems we face would do well to consider the Gang of Six plan, and remind their legislators, as well as personalities in the mainstream media, that this plan is, in fact, still out there, still viable, and still ready for enactment.

Thank You, Standard and Poor’s

After a few days of reading and reflection, this writer is now prepared to opine on the recent degrading of US credit.

In a statement released August 5, 2011, the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s made financial history by being the first such company to lower the United States credit rating from the perfect AAA to the less-than-ideal AA+.  While pundits, politicians, and Americans still stumble through defining what, in fact, the outcome of this change will be, one is left to speculate that this may be the beginning of dark times in the American economic landscape.

Of course, it didn’t take long for the political establishment in this nation to respond.  The White House was quick to point out that, in their opinion if not in reality, S&P’s decision was based on fuzzy math.  True to form, the leaders of both Houses in Congress did not pass up an opportunity to take partisan political shots at the other party’s spending priorities.  Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) stated that “[t]he action by S&P reaffirms the need for a balanced approach to deficit reduction that combines spending cuts with revenue-raising measures like closing taxpayer-funded giveaways to billionaires, oil companies and corporate jet owners” and chastised “hardliners who have already ruled out the balanced approach that the markets and rating agencies like S&P are demanding.”

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) also chimed in:

“This decision by S&P is the latest consequence of the out-of-control spending that has taken place in Washington for decades. The spending binge has resulted in job-destroying economic uncertainty and now threatens to send destructive ripple effects across our credit markets.

“Republicans have listened to the voices of the American people and worked to bring the spending binge to a halt. We are no longer debating how much to spend, but rather how much to cut. Unfortunately, decades of reckless spending cannot be reversed immediately, especially when the Democrats who run Washington remain unwilling to make the tough choices required to put America on solid ground.”

John Boehner’s quote is especially interesting since his Republican Party was the only one cited by name for promoting intransigence that led to a more negative projection of future spending controls.  While both parties were castigated in the S&P press release, the agency reserved a special admonishment for the Republican party and its insistence on not including any revenue rises.  Ever…:

“Compared with previous projections, our revised base case scenario now assumes that the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, due to expire by the end of 2012, remain in place. We have changed our assumption on this because the majority of Republicans in Congress continue to resist any measure that would raise revenues, a position we believe Congress reinforced by passing the act.” (my italics)

While the S&P was very careful to walk the political minefield without scoring points or taking sides, portions like this show a clear connection between the development of a less optimistic fiscal assumption upon which the decision to downgrade was made and the Republican’s “resistance” to any revenue rises.  In a strange twist, it is the insistence on only spending cuts, an insistence Republicans assured Americans would be good for their economic future, that played a significant role in the decision to downgrade America’s credit.  It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to state that S&P downgraded America’s AAA credit rating, in large part, because of Congress’ inability to raise revenues and create a more balanced, and therefore more effective, delevering scenario.

So today, this writer would like to thank Standard & Poor’s for the part it is playing in America’s future.  After all, this may be the first case of an “activist credit agency” trying to parlay its influence into more balanced fiscal policy and a less partisan, dysfunctional Congress.  Indeed, maybe (remember, this author said “maybe,” not “definitely”) Americans should be thanking S&P (up to the point where their interest rates go up, which this correspondent would argue is certainly cause for throwing tomatoes and other rotten vegetables) for giving post-partisan American voters ammunition to discuss the arrogant and self-serving actions of Congressional Republicans who have deemed that they, with control over only 1/3 of the houses of government, know better than the rest of America what citizens of this country want.

Further, the S&P decision has given the broader American citizenry ammunition to show how the general gridlock that dominates Washington, DC, and its political environment is harmful to America’s future.  It is up to all of us to make these points loudly across the American landscape, especially this month while your Congressional representatives are home relaxing in the midst of the worst jobs outlook since the 1930s.

A New Direction

Fellow Americans and Citizens of the Global Community.

In the wake of President Obama’s signing of the so-called “debt ceiling deal” this week, it has become evident to this writer that American Government continues to fail its people.  This latest incident, already hailed as one of the truly epic failures of opportunity in American history, serves to drive this point home further, like one more nail in a coffin.  The “deal” is being seen by the vast majority of Americans for what it is–an abandonment of any attempt to show the American people that the average citizen of this country still has even a vestige, even a splinter, of the influence over American Government that the average corporate board holds.  This new law represents Congress’ and the President’s unwillingness to continue to masquerade as a Government of, by, and for the People.  In fact, this law is so blatant in its disregard for social and economic justice, that its passage and signing insults us.  It is proof positive that the Government no longer believes Average Americans are smart enough to see what it has done, and no longer cares even if they are.

Today, we Move in A New Direction.

This weblog will be dedicated to the premise that American Government is not beyond saving, but rather can be restored once we abandon our need to justify its current actions and positions.  This site will promote the notion that American Government in its current form is broken, but not unfixable.  This writer, and the posts, articles, ideas, and comments shared here, will approach this growing American problem as one that can, in fact, be solved.  This will require viewing our situation from a new perspective, where party is irrelevant (if not part of the problem itself) and the mainstream media is complicit.

Come forward with your best dreams and hopes for this nation and real concepts for making them a reality.  Come forward with your real ideas for Solving America.