Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Success Formula for the Occupy Movement


I’m in love with the Occupy Movement. Having attended the first day of the October2011 sponsored occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. and a meeting of the local group Occupy Springfield as well as watching and reading news of other gatherings around the country and the world, I am heartened by the extent to which this movement has stirred people to action. They have called their dissatisfaction to the world’s attention, and the world has responded positively. Every world leader must now be aware that there is a powerful wave of discontent among the majority of the world’s people. That should make knees knock in some places of power.

The question now is what is the next step? If all the movement can express is its discontent, it is unlikely to have a very deep impact. What is needed is a focal point around which these now disparate movements can operate.

The movement exists largely because of anger. People are angry at the rich and powerful 1% who have hoarded wealth in their own coffers at the expense of the 99% who have seen their buying power shrink over the past 40 years. Americans are also angry because their patriotic energies have been diverted into expensive, wasteful and unnecessary wars.

Anger is a powerful emotion that can provide valuable motivation, but if the movement is to achieve positive ends, that energy must be used in a positive manner. If the movement is to really accomplish anything beyond stirring unrest, it needs, as a starting point, to limit the scope of its outrage to a few issues it can impose on the present system.

For instance, in my area the anger has generated a call for the local “Occupy” group to confront the police over its “right” to use public places on their own terms rather than accepting rules like allowed hours of operation, etc. If the group accepts this as a valid way to protest, it will dissipate its energies and go in no positive direction. The movement will have morphed into a fight against park rules emplaced by representative government. If the movement removes its own impetus in this way, the other side wins because they have distracted the protestors from their initial purposes.

Unless the Occupy Movement influences the American political process by shifting the emphasis from empowering and enriching a small percentage of the population to enhancing the lives of 100% of the population, all the furor will have come to nothing. It is my conviction, too, that any significant change in the American system will have profound impact on the world. Regime change does indeed begin at home. Endnote – explanation that these are systemic changes that need to be put in place.

If that is an agreed upon goal, then it’s reasonable to ask what the movement might do that will advance that goal and to evaluate every proposed action against that goal. It’s also reasonable to recognize that the sea-change demanded by the primary objectives (or is that primary objections?) is national in scope. Occupy Movement members should certainly seek to find candidates for local office who accept and will act on the movement’s philosophy, but this central goal can only be achieved on a national scale.

Another issue of great importance is time. The movement must ask itself whether a proposed action can advance desired objectives within the timeframe allowed by the present political system. The problem is endemic to our huge economic and political system. Given that the ultimate goal is a complete remake of the current system, it is overly optimistic to think that much change could be accomplished before the next presidential election. It is more likely that the movement could gather enough clout before November, 2012 to influence the platform of the existing parties. While it is much more likely that the Democratic Party platform will be drastically impacted by this kind of progressive action, it is not at all unrealistic to expect to have some impact on the Republican platform as well. After all, some Republicans holding national office have already endorsed the Occupy Movement’s ideals, and any political party that would completely ignore the focused anger of 99% of the people would be on a fast road to the trashcan of history. This writer has no doubt that a longer term plan – up to twenty years – will be necessary if the movement should decide to create another party to rival the two now in existence or to force one of the existing parties to accept all of our demands as its permanent platform. (I say twenty years because that’s how long it took American colonists to move from anger at the king to declaring independence.) It’s also realistic to recognize that Congressional and Presidential elections are not all that need to be influenced. The Supreme Court is currently just as corrupt as the Congress, and civil servants have been appointed over the last thirty years by right wing presidents intent on proving that the government is dysfunctional. Remedying these situations will call for a long term plan implemented over time.

The first objective though, that of significantly influencing the Democratic Party platform before the 2012 presidential election can be accomplished. As evidence of that, one has only to look at the Tea Party’s accomplishments in moving the Republican Party further right in less than two years between its inception in 2008 and the Congressional sweep in 2010. The Occupy Movement could do the same by forcing the Democratic Party or perhaps even the entire political spectrum further left between now and 2012.

What it would take is:

1. A simple, clear mission statement such as:

i. The mission of the Occupy Movement is to end lobby-induced governmental corruption, stop wasteful governmental spending, and end discrimination in economic policy and the administration of justice.

2. A clear statement of demands. The Tea Party didn’t even have this. They accomplished their purpose just by saying they were fed up with business as usual. As a result of this lack of direction they have now been co-opted by special interests. The Occupy Movement could do more and protect itself at the same time by being more succinct and thus diverting co-option. Here is a suggested list as a starting point:

i. Tax reform

ii. Social Security contribution reform

iii. Reduction of the military budget from its current $733 billion, which is more than the rest of the world combined, to 1/3 of the rest of the world’s expenditure in the prior year, combined with a call for world-wide arms reduction.

iv. Campaign finance and process reform

v. Means tested single payer health care

3. A census of Occupy Movement members that would allow the movement to say we have X members who will not vote for a Democrat or Republican unless he or she agrees to implement our demands. (Attendees at Freedom Plaza all signed in. If all locals did the same, we would just need to count all members in a central database.) Imagine the effect this could have on a political party if we had 150,000,000 members. That is not an unattainable number if we truly are the 99%. We just need to frame our positions clearly and launch a national petition drive.


1. Proposed mission statement - The mission of the Occupy Movement is to stop wasteful governmental spending, and end discrimination in economic policy and the administration of justice. - The other night I listened as a member of my local Occupy group read a lengthy mission statement. I agreed with all the sentiments he expressed, but don’t believe that a statement of that length will have the desired impact. This is the day of the Tweet, and few people seem to have the attention span to comprehend and apply a lengthy statement. This proposed statement is an attempt to state the mission in as few words as possible while striving to use language that will allow people of all political stripes to nod in agreement. The devil is always in the details, but getting people to nod at the beginning of your “sales spiel” is sound strategy. A mission statement is not a strategic plan, but is the intellectual and emotional basis for such a plan. The objectives detailed below are the framework for a strategic plan. The plan is to get enough signatures endorsing these objectives to influence the platforms of candidates for national office.

There is never any doubt that those most motivated by greed and personal interest will find a way around any system put in place to thwart them, but it is essential to start somewhere. What I am about to propose are starting points for national debate. The need for that debate is part of my belief that we cannot afford to ignore timelines in our planning. These suggestions are kept simple in the hope that alternate objectives to be met arrived at by consensus will be the same. I do not purport to be “the man with the answers”, but only to be a man who is offering a starting point. Here are the suggested initial positions and the arguments for them that generated the five objectives stated above:

1. Equal taxation for all personal incomes and capital gains above the poverty level and mandatory taxation for retained corporate earnings – This is a response to the grossly unjust present tax system. That system was devised as a way to give special incentives to certain kinds of spending, but its injustices are widely recognized. This goal lumps personal incomes and capital gains in the same category because the latter are used by the wealthier among us as tax dodges, and that tactic can be counteracted by eliminating the difference in taxability between the two. Corporations use the same dodge, and they should be taxed for Retained Corporate Earnings, which are revenues set aside for future use. Taxing those earnings could spur some investment of earnings in jobs as a way for the corporation to shelter itself from taxation while not offering a large enough shelter to starve government coffers. Dividends to stockholders should also be taxed as personal income. The essential point would be to set the taxation levels so that we would experience some improvement over our present national tax income.

Initial review of this proposal by progressive editors has raised the argument that taxation should be higher on high earners than on lower level earners. I can support that to a point, but that point is very low on the income scale in my mind. I have no vendetta against the very wealthy and believe that each of us should contribute an equal percentage if our incomes to the nation’s coffers as long as that percentage does not interfere with our ability to meet family needs. In other words, great care should be taken to avoid placing undue burden on the lower earners among us, but when a person’s income reaches a level at which he/she can be expected to meet all the financial needs of the family through prudent management (certainly a level higher than now identified as the poverty level), no special consideration is any longer needed.

2. Equal percentage contribution to social security for 100% of income – The present system that exempts higher incomes from contribution has been unjust from the day it was implemented. Requiring full contribution refutes the notion of trickle-down economics and fully funds social security so that those who were unable to achieve high income still have a safety net after retirement. The idea of “privatizing” social security is, of course, just a means of making taxed money intended as a pool for support of those in need after they are no longer able to work available to Wall Street investors and so is completely unacceptable. Instead, the movement should act to ensure that those funds are retained in government hands and not available as funds for any other purpose.

This writer also believes that means testing for withdrawal is an acceptable strategy if necessary to ensure availability of funds for citizens in need, so would be open to that stipulation provided it is made based on a reasonable level of income, which would, again, be well above the present poverty levels. Another method would be to reduce the amount of payments to eligible recipients based on a scale dependent on income.

3. Reduction of the military budget from its current $733 billion, which is more than the rest of the world combined (Source: Inter-Faith Peacemakers of Edina, 5320 Windsor Avenue, Edina, MN 55436 (952) 922-3401 www.mapm.org), to 1/3 of the rest of the world’s expenditure in the prior year. (Not to 1/3 of present spending, but to 1/3 of the rest of the world’s spending as a starting point.) These expenditure reductions should be combined with a call for world-wide arms reduction including a moratorium on international arms sales, nuclear weapons, and robotic weapons.

The Obama administration recently approached the UN with the statement that that body would need to find a way to increase its defense capabilities because US budget cuts will necessitate reduced military abilities. Part and parcel to our military budget reduction, we should call for new world-wide arms control measures as a means of ensuring our own national security as well as that of the world. That is why my recommendation includes moratoria on arms sales, nuclear weaponry and robotic weaponry. This would, of course, be hard fought in the US because so much of our economy is based on arms production and sales. This, combined, perhaps with some tax exemptions or other incentives, should give us leverage to argue for re-investment in alternative energy production, infra-structure improvement, etc.

A special note on robotic weaponry: This author believes that the development of automated warfare holds horrendous potential because it further removes public and even military awareness from the horror of war, and reduces it to something like a video game. Since the Vietnam war protests, our government has learned that it can keep wars going longer if the public is not subject to the draft and does not see daily body counts or photographic accounts of daily battles. Posting soldiers in Nevada to operate drone bombers in Afghanistan isolates even the military from the front lines. That isolation from the realities of war will make it much easier for governments to wage wars.

Robotic warfare can be waged with tools as simple and cheap as remote controlled model airplanes. The fact that the other side can also use these tactics puts our own security at greater risk. The evolution of military tactics into the use of robotics should be outlawed before it develops further.

4. Campaign finance reform - Repeal of the Citizens United decision through a constitutional amendment stating that corporations do not and cannot have the rights of citizens, but exist at the will of the state– not just to generate a profit, but for the betterment of `society. - This would be – and should be touted as – a return to the original Congressional stance on corporations which, when first established in this country, were chartered as being created for the interests of society and were not allowed to operate strictly for profit generation. Incorporated into this position should be the expectation that companies operating in the US are obligated to these terms regardless of where they are headquartered.

Existence for the betterment of society could be defined as job creation with appropriate wages and benefits, development of product lines designed to improve the personal and cultural well-being of the citizenry, and development of products and production methods designed to enhance the health and well-being of the planet.

The upshot of this change would be to greatly reduce the gambling aspect of the Wall Street investment wheel and increase the level of investment in bricks and mortar businesses engaged in culturally appropriate enterprise.

A further step would be to restrict national political campaigns to public airwaves in government sponsored programs that restrict the length and content of campaigns. While this is akin to the goal of repealing Citizens United, it goes further in that it seeks to stop the blitz of expensive, mud-slinging campaign ads that glut our network and cable airwaves during extended campaigns. Restricting all national campaigning to public airwaves would force candidates to discuss issues in debate formats devised by non-partisan panels.

5. Establish a single-payer health care system with participation based on means testing. The present system of private health insurance has long been an obscenity in that only the very rich can afford full coverage, pre-existing conditions are denied any coverage, and insurance companies with an average administrative overhead of 34% make huge profits while shielding themselves from having to pay out benefits. The Obama administration’s health care program is widely recognized as a compromise program that extends the insurance companies’ control of the health care system. The Medicare program operates with a 2% overhead expense even while offering Advantage Care options that provide nearly 100% coverage at reasonable cost. (For instance, my current Advantage Care plan costs me $100/ year for Part B coverage, drug coverage at $7.00 per prescription, primary care visits for $10 co-pay, specialist visits for $50 co-pay and hospitalization with a $2,500 maximum co-pay.) A single payer system modeled after this kind of Medicare plan but implementing a fair means test to determine premiums is, to me, an acceptable method of containing health care costs while ensuring coverage for all citizens.

While I see the last goal as essential to making our campaigns more meaningful, it would be the first of these goals that I would agree to drop. There are a great many other issues that will demand resolution as well, but as I said at the outset, it is essential for us to limit the scope of our protests if we want to accomplish needed change. The health care initiative is a largely unattainable demand at this time, and others would be, too. Still, I sure would love to force politicians to endorse these ideas if they want my vote!

My challenge to the Occupy Movement is to generate enough clout in the American political system to force these proposals or something like them into the debate for the 2012 presidential election.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The “Occupy” Movement

When David Swanson proposed the idea of Occupy DC via his newsletter this summer, I signed up immediately. This seemed to me like exactly what the country needed – a people’s movement that says not just that we are fed up, but what we see as being wrong with our country and exactly what needs to be done to make it the place we want it to be.

The United States economy has come full circle since the days of my father’s youth. The situation we now face – trying to recover from a huge economic failure – is so like that faced by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s that it seems uncanny until one realizes that following the money always leads to the same places and the same kinds of people.

The basic problem is not the structure created by our forefathers. It is the manipulation of that structure by the present system of corporate power and politicians owned and operated by the corporate powers that be. We can and must work within the framework of rights and responsibilities created and guaranteed by the Constitution.

My hope was that being on Freedom Plaza on October 6 would put me on-site for the beginning of a sea-change in American politics - a true dawning of the Age of Aquarius – and I believe it did. Although Occupy Wall Street stole some of Occupy DC’s thunder, the two movements have the same soul and will grow together. What I saw there was a gathering of people from all walks of life; all ages; all beliefs; all states, and the full range of life experiences from green youth to veterans of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

There were a few misguided people carrying signs supporting one or the other of the two political parties now in power in the United States, but most understood that the purpose there was not to beg those parties to do something for the people, but to tell them that the people were giving up on them. This was the true tea party – the Boston tea party revisited – but this time there were no costumes. These were the people stepping up to say loudly and clearly that they had had enough; that the usual flag waving and Bible thumping would never again lead them down the garden path; that the problems they were facing were real enough to bring them out into the streets demanding that their government change its ways. These folks aren’t just saying they are fed up, they are exactly defining the problem as they see it and refusing to take the usual political pap for an answer.

They aren’t just saying cut the defense budget. They are going to the Smithsonian drone displays and saying specifically that this kind of immoral approach is unacceptable. They aren’t just moaning that big business doesn’t care about them, they are shutting down the national Chamber of Commerce offices on the grounds that the huge controlling corporations have too much power. They aren’t just complaining about lobbyist control of government, they are stopping business-as-usual at the Hart Senate Office Building with their chants of “We are the 99%”.

They were in the streets saying what I have been trying to say to Springfield for years – that they are protesting not against the workings of one party or the other, but against the vile workings of the entire system.

They embrace no existing political party. They are, instead, very like the citizens of France storming the Bastille with pitchforks and pikes in hand demanding that the aristocracy quit robbing them of their self worth as well as their monetary worth.

Unlike the conservative Tea Party whose efforts are aimed at pulling the Republican Party further in their direction, this tea party is a signal to both parties that neither of them has met the needs of the people, but that both have become servants not of the people but of the corporations designated as people in the Citizens United decision of 2011. This stance has struck such resonance with the people of the United States that “Occupy” groups have sprung up in every city in the nation. This is a movement that truly is of the people and as such it is truly dangerous to the future of the current system of economic dominance by the United States.

“Occupy” does not call for the overthrow of capitalism, but for the reasonable management of it for the benefit of the entire nation - not just the top 1%. “Occupy” doesn’t call for the destruction of our ability to protect ourselves, but for reasonable expenditures and efforts to do so. “Occupy” doesn’t call for reductions in services to the people but for their expansion as needed to truly meet the needs of the people. “Occupy” doesn’t call for the destruction of the corporate system, but for the use of the corporate system as a tool for the betterment of our society – the way it was when Congress first recognized corporations. “Occupy” should not be seen by citizens as a threat to their well-being, but as a means to ensure that their voice can be heard in the halls of Congress.

The one thing we cannot afford to do is to cave and conclude that we have no choice but to continue along our present path. “Occupy” must build a political alternative to the entire existing political establishment, but do so within the framework created by the founding fathers.

This movement has the power to turn this country around for the benefit of its people and those of all the nations on earth. This will be a long and difficult struggle, but it is high time for an American Season not only to rival the overthrows of the Arab Summer, but to exceed them via the creation of a system of governance centered around the needs of the people rather than the desires of the rich and powerful whose attempts to create American hegemony actually morphed into the destruction of the American economy.

It is quite possible that “Occupy”, if it models itself after the actions of the founding fathers, could create a new American approach that would permanently change the world’s approach to commerce for the better. The people of this country and the world should hail the American “Occupy” movement as a welcome and even vital addition to their future and encourage it in any way they can.

Monday, January 3, 2011

America's Stockholm Syndrome

A question commonly pondered among my friends is, “Why do so many people in southwest Missouri, whom we know are not wealthy, so strongly support a system that shifts what little wealth they have to people who already have a lot more?”

One person might answer. “It’s because they don’t understand. Every time somebody says ‘taxes’ they are conditioned to say ‘evil’. Every time somebody says ‘liberal’ they are conditioned to say ‘taxes’. Ultimately, then, when somebody says tax the wealthy, they think – tax equals liberal equals evil.”

Another might say, “It’s because they are conditioned not to analyze things. They believe their duty is to get in line and not ask questions.”

Others think that as long as the nation is happy with its TV, couch and car there is little incentive to change.

Bob Burnett, a writer from Berkeley, CA, recently published an article (OpEdNews 12/28/10) that offered a very interesting theory on the question. He began with a famous old Groucho Marx story about a man who goes to a psychiatrist to ask what he can do for his brother who thinks he’s a chicken. The psychiatrist said, “Why don’t you just tell him the truth?” “I would,” the man replied, “but we need the eggs.”

America’s problem, Burnett asserts, is that we are all convinced that we need the eggs the top 1% supposedly lay for us, so we are willing to follow the right wing line and give them all the tax breaks they need. The problem, though, is that someone saying he’s a chicken doesn’t mean he’ll ever lay any eggs.

Take a good hard look. When was the last time that tax break laid any beneficial eggs for us? Did the tax break they’ve had for ten years keep us in jobs or help keep the deficit down?

Burnett likens the situation to Stockholm Syndrome, a condition by which hostages come to admire their captors and adopt their point of view. “Government is the problem” has been hammered into our heads so well and often that even the poor have come to believe their best interest is in a rich man’s pocketbook, but does the ability of the rich to buy luxury items really enrich the rest of us? Too many of us seem to believe that their lives won’t be as good if Donald Trump can’t have all the yachts he wants. Too many seem to believe that if they just hold their mouth right they might get to have all they want, too.

As Burnett asserts, “Not only are we not angry at the rich, we want to be like them!”

But that’s where the line gets drawn. I don’t want to be like them, and neither do most of the “evil” liberals I know. We want to live comfortably in a world where each of us strives to ensure that neither he nor his neighbor is deprived of work, shelter, health care or dignity. How evil we must be.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Why I Can't Vote Republican

One of my recent columns provoked a fine discussion including an interesting question from the right. The left talks about bi-partisanism, the reader said, but when did they last vote for a Republican? My answer is that my first national vote was for a Republican, and I voted for a local Republican in the last election, but I would not vote for any Republican on the national level now. The reason is morality.

You think that’s a shocking statement? After all, the G.O.P. is the moral majority, the opposition to abortion, and the party of church-goers, isn’t it?

I think morality is better displayed by seeking truth than by opposition to abortion or by wearing religion on your sleeve. The pro-life morality breaks down in the refusal to relieve a child raped by her father, and in unquestioning support for the death penalty and unnecessary war. Immoral behavior too often hides behind religious boasting. Morality, to me, is striving to live up to ideals by seeking to make the way the world is be closer to the way it ought to be.

The Republican Party has been the party of short-term self-interest for at least thirty years, and I can’t vote for that. After Eisenhower, the G.O.P. has nominated one slow-witted caricature after another and then let a network of very intelligent Machiavellians run the country behind the scenes. The only requirement for a president seems to be a certain ability to wave the flag and look pious.

The way the G.O.P. machine works its Karl Rovian black magic through a media network designed to broadcast any lie that will advance its march toward domination is enough to turn any moralist’s stomach.

Our right wing friends constantly decry the “liberal press”, but I defy anyone to point out a liberal media network as insidiously vicious as the FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck matrix that is underwritten by the “damn the truth, full speed ahead” support that people like our own (thankfully slipped away in the night) Vince Jericho lend it on the local level throughout the nation. It is a network of disinformation that leads by the nose those voters who buy into any sound bite that meets their emotional approval, and it is horribly dangerous to the future of democracy.

Any party that maintains such a media propaganda machine to support the kind of back-stabbing, ends-justify-any-means campaigns the G.O.P. constructs has strayed so far from any acceptable definition of morality that it will never capture a single vote of mine on the national level, and that’s the bottom line.

What’s essential for this nation is not the voter’s undying support for his party no-matter-what, but his or her constant striving to make that party adhere to truly moral behaviors and attitudes. When that happens I, too, will join the moral majority. In the meantime, as long as the G.O.P. continues its present tactics, their opposition will have my vote, and I’ll remain loyal to the moral minority.