Sunday, October 30, 2011
Saturday, October 29, 2011
I've always said that democracy is an ugly unattractive business, the plain jane of political systems. It's not about rushing off on winged feet to save civilization. It certainly isn't about messianic heroes on white horses riding in to save the day, even though that's what we think we are voting for every 4 years. Democracy is fractious committees made up of competing interests forging compromises that make no one completely happy, but that everyone can live with. Democracy is competing visions of a just society, each given a real chance of winning power, and all given a space to compete for that power without having to resort to killing each other.
From left to right, from Ron Paul libertarians to Occupy Wall Street, there is a call for some kind of "direct democracy." What exactly that's supposed to be, I'm not quite sure. What it may be is a justifiable desire to bypass a thoroughly corrupt and dysfunctional legislative system. OWS' most brilliant decision was perhaps to bypass that system entirely and go straight to the centers of power, which are not in Washington. In doing so, they made institutional politics beside the point. The politicians and political professional classes got pushed aside and rendered irrelevant.
I've read Thucydides and I've read Plutarch's jaundiced accounts of direct democracy in ancient Athens. I'm also a member of a minority that saw its rights put up for a vote many times. Democracy, especially without a framework of law, can become another form of tyranny, the worst according to John Adams. I seriously doubt that women's suffrage or the end of legal racial segregation would have ever happened if they were put up for a vote. History is full of crimes majorities perpetrated on minorities, and Thucydides and Plutarch are full of accounts of Athenian majorities stampeded into recklessly destructive decisions by unscrupulous demagogues.
And yet, the Athenians according to all evidence, valued their democracy greatly. They knew that there was nothing quite like it anywhere in the world at the time. Thucydides put his heartfelt praises of Athens and its people into the mouth of Pericles. Democracy gives people of all types and stations a voice, a say in determining their own destiny, and the course of their communities. Democracy turns subjects into citizens with the full dignity of sovereignty shared out among all. While democracies are notorious for their sparse public spectacles and pomp, democracy does have its splendor, its majesty.
That majesty was in peril of being lost, or turned into a cruel joke, as this country became increasingly oligarchic.
Now, something of democracy's old luster returns in the radical experiments with direct democracy of the Occupy movements. The left, once notorious for self-defeating factionalism, appears to have abandoned ideology entirely for consensus building. Lenin would be furious to see so decentralized and unstructured a movement, and to see it (so far) make some successes (interestingly, Lenin's most enthusiastic admirers these days are extremists on the right). It's greatest success thus far is redirecting the public discussion and setting the terms of the debate, something no Democrat or Democrats have been able (or willing) to do for 30 years. Occupy seized the initiative from the right and put the regressives on the defensive probably for the first time. It seized the initiative from the punditocracy and from the professional political classes. Where this goes from here remains to be seen.
Here is Occupy's most remarkable invention, the "human microphone," in action. Since this is not an officially registered protest event (there is no incorporated organization to request permission), Occupiers are forbidden to use any kind of amplification including basic megaphones. So, a single person speaks in short clauses, and the gathered crowd repeats them so that everyone can hear. An unexpected virtue of this system is that it compels people who disagree with an idea to not only hear it out, but to say it themselves. This system imposes a certain decorum on the proceedings and a measure of consideration both for speakers and for listeners. I've participated in this as part of the microphone, and it is remarkable.
The Reverend Canon Mark Oakley may resign from his post over the chapter's decision to pursue legal action against protesters camped outside the cathedral. The cathedral and the Church of England appear to be hurtling blindly toward a major disaster. The silence from Lambeth Palace across the Thames is deafening, as usual. The PM, David Cameron wants to push legislation specifically banning protest camps through parliament.
According to this article in The Independent, a cathedral chaplain, Fraser Dyer, resigned over the chapter's response to the protesters. He follows Reverend Canon Giles Fraser who resigned days ago.
I think this is going to be major catastrophe. I wonder if the remaining members of the cathedral chapter and the City Corporation really believe that a court order and a police sweep is going to end this. I think they should take a close look at the experience of Oakland last week. That police action only made things much worse for the city, and far from ending the problem, only made the protesters more determined and angry while increasing public sympathy for them. They are kicking a hornet's nest.
Does the Church of England hierarchy want something like this playing out on the steps of Saint Paul's?
Do they actually imagine that such an action would solve anything, or even end it?
Hat tip to Thinking Anglicans.
My friend Weiben comments on Facebook that the C of E hierarchy made complete asses out of themselves over sex and gender issues, and they're doing it again over social justice. At least they are consistent, he says.
The Sunday editorial pages in the UK appear to agree with Weiben.
It strikes me that the very same people who want to relieve business of the burden of regulation (and public responsibility) want to tightly regulate the rights of public assembly, free speech, and public petition. Parks and squares are public places intended for public enjoyment and public assembly (planned and spontaneous). If some people had their way, we'd all be confined to "free speech zones," areas cordoned off and surrounded by cops where we can do or say whatever we want, but only because it doesn't matter.
I'm tired of people on the left, especially liberals, falling for the old big versus small government argument perimeters set out by the right. The left is even more interested in limiting state power than the right. The right is only interested in limiting government power when it comes to property rights. In so many other areas, such as policing private morals and "security," the right is eager to expand the role and size of the state. The left wants to limit the war-making powers of the state. It wants to limit police powers, to make the state accountable before the law, and it is the left, not the right, that wants to ban the state from bedrooms and living rooms.
Friday, October 28, 2011
There is a new 876 page biography of Deng out by Ezra Vogel, but what's really remarkable is the review of that book by the famous Chinese dissident Fang Lizhi in the New York Review of Books. Fang notes how little Vogel has to say about the most notorious aspect of Deng's reign, the massacre of protesters camped out in Tiananmen Square in 1989. What he does say effectively agrees with the official Chinese government line, that the massacre was somehow necessary for the creation of the powerful and prosperous China of today. Fang takes that assertion apart, as well as claims that the regime under Deng set the stage for widespread prosperity in China. Indeed, having read Fang's critique, I wonder if what Deng really created was the prototype for the post-modern capitalist state.
Fang argues that China, long before Deng came to power, was sharply stratified between a very privileged and powerful elite of the Communist Party and everyone else (very similar to the stratification of society in late Dynastic China). Since at least the collapse of the Great Leap Forward, that elite first and foremost concentrated on staying in power. The Cultural Revolution was Mao's delusional paranoia writ large upon China, but it was also a brilliant diversion of the widespread rage over the famine that followed the failure of the Great Leap Forward, a famine that killed 40 million people, the worst in recorded history. Mao diverted public anger away from himself and onto the Party elite. One of those party elite who felt that popular wrath was Deng Xiaopeng. Deng slowly returned to power determined to see to it that nothing like that happened again.
Vogel asserts that Deng's reaction against the excesses and chaos of the Cultural Revolution created China's current economic and political power. Fang takes a more jaundiced view of Deng's accomplishments and their motivation. Fang argues that Deng's primary purpose was to put the Party elite firmly in control of China's political and legal system, and to enrich itself. Fang argues that the "Four Modernizations" slogans of the Deng era were all just empty rhetoric to sell these policies to a public that still had some residual belief that they lived in a revolutionary society. China under Deng exchanged brutal ruthless Communism for brutal ruthless capitalism so the regime could get rich. Deng's regime allowed only as much openess and freedom as was necessary for the creation of a technical and professional elite to make this arrangement work. Fang points out that despite greater access to the outside world, the regime actually tightened its grip on many other aspects of daily life such as publishing, internet access, religious belief (the state chooses Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian hierarchs, and maintains temples and monasteries as cultural institutions controlled by a government ministry), and including dress codes for women's fashions.
Fang scoffs at the claim that Deng "lifted millions out of poverty." He points out that the regime continues to exploit China's most valuable resource, its vast pool of cheap labor. Millions upon millions of poorly paid people forbidden to form unions, who have no job security, no social security, no access to regular health care, and no regulations guaranteeing their safety in the workplace are the foundation of China's current power and prosperity. As in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union, the very people who were in power and prospering under communism are the same ones who are now rich and still powerful under capitalism (they were the ones who held the deeds when all the state assets were sold off). Deng even created a slogan for this new naked inequality, "Let part of the population get rich first." There it is, the old Republican Party trickle down economics with flags and slogans.
Right wing pundits in the West appear to envy and even be in love with China. China is the new "can-do" country, the paradise of cheap labor and no regulation (but a hell of protectionist prohibitions and corrupt bureaucrats all wanting their take). As Margaret Thatcher once praised Singapore as a model for the rest of the world, so right wing pundits and politicos praise China as a model for success. The city state of Singapore is not, and never was, a democracy, and China certainly isn't. There is no shortage of right wing thinkers in this country who would argue that the USA is not really a democracy either.
The China created by Deng may now well be the template for the post modern capitalist state, run by and for a powerful elite who rule a rigidly stratified society in which those at the bottom should just be grateful that they are working at all and not starving. That template may well be the future being created for the West by very powerful people determined to create an international "plutonomy."
In this new world, all revolutions will come from the top down. Those who would dare to presume to decide things for themselves and to organize accordingly must be dealt with like all upstarts who presume upon their betters.
Oakland, CA, 2011
The reigning Western economic policy orthodoxy of impoverishing the populace in order to bail out the banks is precisely the sort of thing Deng would have endorsed. After all, it's the people who failed, not the leaders.
According to an article in The Atlantic, there is widespread popular interest in the Western Occupy movements in China. The article also contains a first hand account of the class struggle in contemporary China.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
It's not like Reverend Pat would ever give up even part of his lucrative enterprises for the sake of any of the poor folk who listen to him and hang on his every word.
Hat tip to JoeMyGod who has an iron stomach for this kind of thing.
Watching all of this, I think of those lines from Woody Guthrie's 1944 version of "This Land Is Your Land" that nobody likes to remember:
There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me,
Sign was painted said, "Private Property"
But on the back side it didn't say nothing,
This land was made for you and me.
and he added these lines:
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I'd seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
And so I ask the old socialist question, whose economy is it?
And I could further ask, if it's not mine, or if I have no share in it, then why should I care?
Unedited tape by a teargassed protester in Oakland. Warning, unedited.
Monday, October 24, 2011
2 Timothy 2:1-7
2Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.
3Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.
4No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
5And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
6The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.
7Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.
There is a regular interfaith service down at Liberty Plaza/ Zuccotti Park every Sunday at 3:30PM. It meets on the Broadway side just north of the big orange DiSuvero sculpture.
Last Sunday, we heard this quote from Hillel:
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?"
The Guardian issued an editorial sharply critical of the cathedral chapter, and by implication, the Anglican hierarchy.
Aspects of the protest camp are silly and rather squalid. But it still represents a profound and important moral revulsion which the Church of England needs to take seriously. These aren't the usual Spartist suspects. The sense that there is something outrageous, unjust and absurd about the world of modern finance has spread across the whole political and religious spectrum. Even Pope Benedict XVI has reinforced his predecessor's teaching with a demand that the markets of the world be brought under human control. The Church of England needs to be part of this discussion, for its own sake and for the sake of the country. And that is done far more effectively by theatre and by conversation than by lecturing or even preaching. It is no use having clever bishops saying clever things that no one listens to. Here at St Paul's right now, there is a chance to catch the attention of millions of people who would never listen to a bishop or recognise a Dean without a Torvill.
I can't help but agree with the editorial and feel that the Church of England is not only missing a golden opportunity to be truly prophetic and not just another faculty club, but squandering what's left of whatever good will it still enjoys with the public.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
Activists face intense pressure to reconsider the St Paul's camp, not least for the resonance of being seen as responsible for the closure of a national landmark for the first time since the second world war. Church officials say the closure is costing St Paul's about £20,000 a day in lost revenue.
(from The Guardian)
So that's what it all boils down to, money, the god we all REALLY believe in despite what we say we believe in.
When I think of the prospect of police armed with clubs and teargas attacking unarmed protesters outside a house of God, what comes to my mind is a Yiddish word, shanda.
Saturday, October 22, 2011
The canons of St. Paul's Cathedral in London decided to close the cathedral indefinitely for the first time since World War II. During the height of the Blitz, the cathedral closed for only 4 days. They cite all kinds of safety concerns for visitors as well as for the protesters. I cannot help but think that this is a melodramatic over-reaction. Camped out protesters are hardly German incendiary bombs raining down out of the sky.
I think the London protesters are right to see this as a move on the part of the City to close them down. We had a similar episode in New York when a scheduled "cleaning" of LibertyPlaza/Zucotti Park was used as a transparent pretext to shut down the protest. Supporters rallying at the park at the last minute prevented a confrontation by forcing the mayor and the police to back down in the face of public opinion on the side of the protesters.
The protesters are there because the London cops would not let them anywhere near the Stock Exchange. That center of the international financial industry must be protected from ... shame and embarrassment I suppose. The campers pitched their tents on the cathedral grounds and the cops were ready to move in and clear them out. Kudos to the cathedral for asking the cops to stand down and for welcoming the protesters to camp out there (would I be right to see the hand of Giles Fraser, frequent columnist for The Guardian and resident canon priest at St. Paul's in that invitation?). It is good to see at least part of the Church of England resisting the fate of so much of American Christianity, to be co-opted into becoming another collection agent for the banks (see right wing political efforts to clobber the poor with the cudgel of Calvinism, the one corner of Christianity where camels do pass through the eyes of needles). There appears to be a measure of good will between the cathedral and the occupiers. It seems to me that some kind of agreement could be worked out, especially if the City Corporation stays out of it.
Contrast that situation with New York where there is no good will at all between the occupiers in Liberty Plaza and the Mayor. Mayor Bloomberg is definitely part of the 1% and is not exactly shy about his complete lack of sympathy for the protests. The cops are not shy at all about using clubs, pepper spray, and mass arrests on unarmed and peaceful protesters. And yet, both sides managed to work out at least a modus vivendi for the occupation of that small park. The occupation in New York continues to flourish and expand. Occupy Wall Street now has public opinion to protect it from more aggressive police tactics. It seems to me that the custodians of St. Paul's could work out safety and sanitation issues with largely peaceful protesters instead of having an attack of the vapors and passing out on the fainting couch. I see no good reason why protesters, priests, worshipers, tourists, and pigeons can't find some way to live with each other.
Occupy proclaims a message that the Church should embrace. European political leaders, like American political leaders, refuse to confront those who are really responsible for creating this global economic crisis, the high rollers in the financial industry who gambled with everyone's money and threw snake eyes at the craps table. Instead we get bromides about already hard pressed middle and working class people living beyond their means, that austerity and more austerity is the solution to debt crises. The politicians and their financial backers want to reverse the parable of Dives and Lazarus and put poor old Lazarus in the flames of hell with rich fat old Dives in the Bosom of Abraham laughing at the poor wretch.
I wonder if the canons of St. Paul's would prefer the protests end like this:
I'm delighted that Themethatisme looks in on this blog. He sends this skewering of the Opinion of The City:
Friday, October 21, 2011
President Obama announced the complete withdrawal of American troops by the end of the year. Apparently, no agreement could be reached with the Iraqi government for legal immunity for American soldiers, so all of them will be withdrawn. Thus ends the biggest and deadliest boondoggle since the Vietnam War. The invasion of Iraq turned out to be as necessary as an invasion of Peru after Pearl Harbor. Despite heavy publicity and strong-armed attempts to massage meager evidence into an urgent casus belli, there was no real cause for the USA to invade Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction (he would have used them if he had them on our invading forces). There was no Iraqi involvement in the September 11th attack (though there was plenty of Saudi money involved and the Pakistani military provided the getaway and the hideout for the real perpetrators). Al Qaida had no presence in Iraq until we invaded.
The invasion and occupation cost the lives of 4,407 American soldiers. The British medical journal The Lancet, estimates an Iraqi death toll of more than 650,000. Billions of dollars were lost to corruption on the part of Iraqi officials and private contractors and still remains unaccounted for. The cost of the war was kept off of the federal books and was largely paid for by borrowed money dramatically escalating the national debt. The full cost of the war will probably end up in an economy-wrecking figure of trillions upon trillions of dollars. This was an imperial adventure paid for on a credit card.
After the lives lost, the biggest cost was to the power and moral authority of the United States. We squandered our power and influence in this invasion. The real winners of this war were the military contractors and their shareholders who made huge profits. Iran was also a big winner in this invasion. We very obligingly took out the one major check on Iranian power in the region. We alienated our sometime ally, Turkey which now has no reason or incentive to even listen to us. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains stalemated and insoluble with our capacity for influencing either side reduced to zero.
Our heavy-handed approach to prisoners of war was a gift to our enemies and an albatross around the necks of our allies. Our role as champion of human rights and democracy became a horribly ironic joke after we joined the ranks of nations who abuse and torture prisoners of war in the name of expediency. The pictures from the Abu Ghraib Prison of American soldiers humiliating and torturing Iraqi prisoners is something we will come to regret as deeply as the detention of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
The reluctance of our leaders to resort to the draft meant that troop levels were never adequate to the task of invading and occupying a large country, so their numbers were augmented by mercenaries. They were called "contractors," but they were in fact mercenary soldiers. They were paid far more than the regular troops, and were not bound by the same military legal codes and international treaties. They could, and did, kill civilians with impunity. This was our first major conflict to make extensive use of mercenaries, the bete noir of Machiavelli who dated the decline of Roman imperial might to the beginning of its reliance on mercenary forces.
There is the cost to the moral authority of the United States at home. Our leaders clearly learned nothing from the Vietnam War and instead seemed determined to do it all over again, only this time to "do it right." The same lies (in some cases word for word) were brought back to justify and explain the invasion. The reliance on military contractors (some of them fraudulent) instead of quartermasters for the equipping, billeting, and feeding of troops caused many to question the sincerity of all the "support the troops" rhetoric coming out of Washington. The pointlessness of the invasion, the lies used to justify it, the cronyism and corruption associated with it, the abuses it created caused Americans from right to left to call into question the very legitimacy of all of their institutions, and not just the federal government. Our compliant and corrupt corporate press with its class of privileged pundits must bear a large amount of blame for cheerleading this war. Corporations, especially military contractors, profited very well off of this adventure. Academic and religious institutions played their role in creating legal and ethical fig leaves for what was essentially a giant national smash-and-grab. The authority and legitimacy of entire classes of professionals emerges from this conflict dripping in slime.
Small wonder people are taking to the streets and dissing their leaders. Our rulers, both political parties and the media, forfeited their legitimacy in this conflict and in the epic grand larceny perpetrated by the all dominant financial industry at the same time.
The rest of us are left with a shrunken and impoverished democracy, with over 4000 dead, and thousands of severely wounded veterans who will need medical care for the rest of their lives.
George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, the whole Neo-Con cabal, Tom Friedman, Judith Miller, George Will, Christopher Hitchens, Charles Krauthammer, Fox News, et al, thanks for nothing. What are you guys doing still walking around loose?
Thursday, October 20, 2011
I will not waste tears over him. He was a monster supported by Western oil and military interests when they found him useful, and discarded when his shelf-life expired. He came to power in a coup in 1969 overthrowing Libya's King Idris. He discarded the country's 1951 constitution and became the longest reigning ruler anywhere since 1900, and the longest in the Arab World. He substituted charisma, ideology, and dynastic rule for the rule of law. He had exiled dissidents abroad assassinated. He made war upon the Berbers and their culture. He personally presided over executions. He waged 2 now largely forgotten wars with neighboring Chad and Egypt. He had over 1000 political prisoners in Abu Salim Prison in Tripoli massacred in 1996. He almost certainly ordered the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. It was Western oil and military interests eager to cut a deal with the newly cooperative dictator as well as Qaddafi's own stonewalling that prevented a full accounting for that crime.
While I shed no tears for Qaddafi, Justice was not served by his death today. He should have faced a trial, a full accounting for a long list of crimes going back 40 years. Others that we do not know about or have forgotten might have come to light. Most importantly, some small measure of the rule of law could have been planted in a land that has known only intimidation and revenge for 4 decades. Instead, he died in a crude brutal act of revenge, worthy of himself. And yet, after his brutal rule and after his very stubborn and violent resistance to the revolution that toppled him (with lots of NATO help), I don't think any end other than the one seen today was really possible.
In the end, a terrified old man hiding in a drain pipe found himself pulled out and shot by furious young men eager to visit generations of accumulated rage upon him.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Occupy the World!
The Atlantic has pictures of Occupy protests from New York to Paris to Sydney to Seoul to Tokyo to Amman to Chicago to Pittsburgh to Mexico City to San Juan to Vancouver to Rome to London to Little Rock to Taipei, and even in Dallas. These all took place on Sunday.
Down with the Vampire Squid!
Monday, October 17, 2011
Sunday, October 16, 2011
We opened the service with this radical anthem written by a lesbian to protest the takeover of the American landscape by banking and railroad interests.
Here it is sung by the Moron Fishingtackle Choir:
A CLARIFICATION (sorta):
To be honest, I read about the radical origins of America the Beautiful many years ago I remember not where. Perhaps someone with a little more time and scholarship can tell me what that source might have been, or if I just dreamed it sometime long ago.
Katherine Lee Bates did have a 25 year long relationship with Katherine Conan, a so-called "Boston Marriage." As to what if any sexuality was involved, the historical records remain discreet.
Speaking for myself, I have some specific demands.
*Bring back the Glass Steagall Act separating banking from speculation. It worked for 60 years to prevent the very economic collapse that we are living through now. Make the financial industry do what it is supposed to do, capitalizing the productive part of the economy. End the whole shareholder casino it has become. End that casino's dominance over the rest of the economy and over our political system.
*Medicare for everybody, end that huge drain on the economy and on everyone's future that is the healthcare and health insurance industries, an industry of middlemen and skimmers who don't really produce anything. Restore Medicare's negotiating power with Big Pharma. End the terrible insecurity that most people now live in, fear of financial ruin on top of a major medical catastrophe.
*I never thought I'd say this, but I think it's time for Congressional term limits. Public office is not a sinecure. New York City now has term limits (despite the Mayor). Everyone complained and panicked when the city charter was amended to limit terms of public office, but the result has been far from the catastrophe so widely predicted. If anything, it has brought a lot fresh new faces into city government, opened up public participation, and given broader representation to communities long under-represented such as the city's growing Asian population.
*There are petitions going around for Constitutional amendments to reverse the Citizens United ruling, for publicly financed campaigns, and to limit all campaign donations to $100. For a long time, I was deeply reluctant to mess with the Constitution, mostly because the people most eager to amend it for so long had less than benevolent intentions for the rest of us. But Congress is so broken that something has to be done, and there is a provision in the Constitution for the amendment process to be initiated by the states (this Congress will never fix itself).
*There are other petitions going around to end Congress' ability to vote itself pay raises, that pay increases would be pegged to the rate of inflation. Also their special medical and retirement insurance privileges would end. Congress would live under the same benefits available to all the rest of us. I support that.
*Expand Congressional representation. About 600 people now represent 300 million plus people. The whole English House of Commons is now about 600 people representing a smaller population. We could easily expand the House to a thousand or more. In addition, I'd take redistricting out of the hands of state legislatures and make some kind of independent commission responsible for that task.
*Repeal the Reagan era laws that drastically limit the rights of labor to organize and to act. Collective bargaining is a human right recognized by no less a capitalist than Adam Smith himself.
*End the Electoral College. No more 2000 elections. No more clouds of doubt hanging over the legitimacy of Presidential elections.
*End taxpayer subsidies to corporations. No more travesties like government handouts to the petroleum industry while it reports the largest profits of any industry in all of history.
*Restore progressive taxation rates. Warren Buffet should pay a higher tax rate than his secretary.
*End corporate tax breaks. General Electric and the banks should pay taxes like all the rest of us.
We are sovereign citizens of this country, and we should remain such regardless of our incomes. We are citizens at work as well as at home. We are not the hired help and we are not tenants. We are citizens.
The press wants demands, well these are some of mine.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
The weather was perfect, a cool breezy autumn evening. The crowd was immense, much larger than we expected. From our vantage point, it looked like Broadway was packed all the way to 34th street. Far from pot smoking hippies, the crowd struck me as very middle class, and very diverse in terms of age and ethnicity. The mood was determined and very happy and festive. I'm a great believer in the political power of a good time had by all. We left just as the police helicopters appeared, usually a bad sign. I'm not sure, but I think that there was no parade permit. I don't know if the cops are going to forcibly clear the square and Broadway or not. We decided not to stay and find out.
Here are some of my pictures from the rally.
The Conde Nast building and part of the crowd in Times Square
A picture looking down Broadway at the crowd as far as the eye can see
Yours Truly with my very wordy sign quoting Dr. King
Dangerous radical attorney David Kaplan (aka DKNY) reads The Occupied Wall Street Journal
There were lots of small children there, a presence that we hope will keep the cops at bay.
People and signs
The Vampire Squid
A gladiator; I must admit that I don't quite know what this is about. I saw lots of zombies in the crowd too.
Waving sparklers and singing "This Little Light of Mine"
A last view of the huge crowd there
One last note: tomorrow is the formal dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC. Of all the famous people from the last 70 years, Dr. King is probably the only one who really deserves a memorial on the Mall. And yet, as I stood there amidst the crowd in Times Square, I thought of Dr. King, and I remembered the epitaph on the tomb of Christopher Wren in St. Paul's London, "If you require a monument, look around."
"Now is the time." Get the word across to everybody in power in this town that now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time to make the real promises of democracy. Now is the time to make an adequate income a reality for all of God's children, now is the time for city hall to take a position for that which is just and honest. Now is the time for justice to roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. Now is the time.”
-- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Today, the church and the Port Authority came to a settlement apparently satisfactory to all parties. Apparently the original proposal for a new church three times larger than the old one at a new location in the WTC site is the plan that will be built.
(Big sigh of temporary relief)
Thursday, October 13, 2011
When Jesus met the Masters of the Universe of His day, he took out a bullwhip.
It should be an exciting day tomorrow. Our plutocrat Mayor will try to evict Occupy Wall Street at 7AM from Liberty Plaza.
I wonder what would happen to the very idea of currency if some vein was struck in the earth, or some rich asteroid was found that made gold as abundant as tin foil? It seems to me that all currencies are acts of faith whether they are Federal Reserve Notes or gold coins. The value we attribute to currency is ultimately arbitrary.
One of my favorite pieces of blasphemy was a very clever academic comparing a dollar bill to the Eucharistic Host. Each in and of themselves is worthless, a piece of paper, a flavorless cracker. What made each of them valuable, he said, was what they could be exchanged for; goods and services for one, salvation for the other. The dollar could be "transformed" by faith just as surely as the wafer could be turned into Jesus.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
The modern gay rights movement had several mothers and fathers, and one of the bravest and boldest was Frank Kameny who died yesterday at age 86. He was a WWII combat veteran and an astronomer employed by the government mapping office in the 1950s. He was dismissed from his job in 1957 during the purges of homosexuals. He was the only one out of thousands who challenged his dismissal. He founded the Washington DC chapter of the Mattachine Society, and made it into one of the society's most militant chapters. Together with Harry Hay in the early 1960s, he held the once very controversial view that there was nothing inherently wrong with homosexuality ("Gay is Good," a phrase he coined), a view not shared by most gay men and lesbians of the time. Kameny played a large role in what he called the "mass cure" in 1973 when the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of pathologies.
In later life, he played a major role in removing homosexuality as a disqualification for government service, and in 2009, received a formal government apology for his own dismissal in 1957. He was also active in the campaign to abolish DADT (Don't Ask Don't Tell), the last military policy aimed at banning gay men and women from service.
Thanks for everything Frank, and rest in peace.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The "53%" are those who pay federal income taxes as opposed to the 46% who don't. This assumes that the other 46% are simply freeloaders. My friend Doug Hayes over on Facebook points out that this is really an embarrassing admission by the right, that 46% of the population doesn't earn enough to pay federal income tax, and as we all know, that income threshold is a very low one (about $17,000 for a married couple filing jointly in 2011). That means that 46% of the population earns a pittance that does not even pay the bills.
The Dems are too inept and compromised to point this out, but I'm sure legions of others already have and will do so promptly.
The Establishment punditocracy wrings its hands over the trouble the Democratic Party leadership will have with an insurgency from its base. Good. I hope so.
The insurgencies from the right and left that both parties now face point to a major corrosive effect of concentrated money on democracy: elected representatives are no longer accountable or responsive to the people who elected them. In our system of legalized corruption, those who can donate huge sums of money to buy broadcast time and professional sales campaigns will always have the ear of elected representatives. Policy will always be shaped with the next extremely expensive election campaign in mind.
And for those of you who haven't seen it yet, Alan Grayson shuts down PJ O'Rourke and makes a clarion call:
Monday, October 10, 2011
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Perhaps it is time for the Democratic Party in Washington to get with its historic constituencies or get out of the way. It seems to me that many state level Democrats are way out ahead in this respect.
If this really does turn into an influential political movement, the spearhead of a return of left populism, then I'll take back everything I ever said about Americans being passive peasants.
The lesson of the Arab Spring is that when leaders and institutions fail, people can take matters into their own hands. Some very solid and entrenched mountains got moved in the Middle East, and others are getting very shakey. I see no reason why similar oligarchies here can't be brushed aside.
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Occupy Wall Street is now Occupy DC, Boston, LA, Tampa, Austin, Seattle, etc. Here's a great series of pictures from all of them posted at The Atlantic.
Our own Grandmere Mimi leaves Thibodaux to join the hippies in New Orleans.
And unlike the Tea Party, this is spreading without Koch brothers' money or free broadcast time from Fox News.
Occupy Wall Street spells it all out, and Keith Olbermann just reads it:
I now have reliable reports of "Occupy Casper, Wyoming" and "Occupy Syracuse." I've also heard stories of Canadians wanting to get in on the act. Fine with me. Hands across the border.
The protests have indeed begun in Canada. Check out Occupy Vancouver. Thanks Janet Murray.
Thursday, October 6, 2011
Zuccotti Park viewed from Liberty Plaza. In the background is a Di Suvero sculpture. In the foreground are throngs of people, protesters, gawkers, tourists, sympathizers, and street folk.
Zuccotti Park viewed from Broadway. Despite the apparent chaos, the whole thing was well organized with donations of food, blankets, and clothing constantly coming in. In the foreground in this picture is an impromptu library. There were kitchens, and a remarkably sophisticated press office fielding interviews and managing what appeared to be internet broadcasting equipment.
Here is dangerous radical attorney David Kaplan, who volunteered his services as a legal observer.
Here I am looking like warmed over death with sinus irritation. I have a terrible cold. I had a wonderful time despite that, and I hope I didn't donate my cold with the blankets.
Some of the young campers, most of which looked very young.
The police seemed very relaxed considering all the news about police brutality at the rallies, possibly because of signs like this, possibly too because most of the violence is committed by police supervisors who tend to be resented by the rank and file cops.
Various signs. There were a number of spreads of signs around the park.
A favorite sign.
Another favorite sign
Meditating to wake up.
Even more people camped out in the park
And what's a protest without drummers?
The park is right next to the World Trade Center site. Here is #4 WTC from the park.
And behind #4 World Trade Center, #1 rises.
Here is a collection of hardhat union signs at the WTC site. Could the slow-motion plutocratic coup d'etat threatening our country drive those old enemies hard hats and hippies together? Could be. Unions were a big presence in the park with the hippies; SEIU, TWU the transit workers, the UAW, and the teachers' union.
We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.-- Justice Louis D. Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court
Paul Krugman sides with the hippies this morning, and why not? The Very Serious Guys in Suits have been lying or stupid for 30 years.
Like the spokesmen for Arab dictators feigning bewilderment over protesters' demands, mainstream television news reporters finally training their attention on the growing Occupy Wall Street protest movement seem determined to cast it as the random, silly blather of an ungrateful and lazy generation of weirdos. They couldn't be more wrong and, as time will tell, may eventually be forced to accept the inevitability of their own obsolescence.
He goes further and I think hits the nail on the head:
Anyone who says he has no idea what these folks are protesting is not being truthful. Whether we agree with them or not, we all know what they are upset about, and we all know that there are investment bankers working on Wall Street getting richer while things for most of the rest of us are getting tougher. What upsets banking's defenders and politicians alike is the refusal of this movement to state its terms or set its goals in the traditional language of campaigns.