Monday, October 24

The American Dream is Alive and Well and Living in Denmark

I'm a big fan of TED Talks for this reason, the speakers, like Richard Wilkinson, explain problems is visual terms that make them easier to see:

I especially like when he says, if "Americans want to live the American Dream, they should move to Denmark."

Saturday, October 8

Iowa City is Otherwise Occupied

Occupy Iowa supporters in Iowa City have taken up residency in College Green Park for the forseeable future to organize and protest against the shift of power from the 99% of Americans who find themselves without a clear voice defending their rights from the 1% of Americans who hold the political capital. In a way, it might seem jaded that a college town in the Midwest is joining in the fray. After all, aren't these the children of relative wealth attending a university with aspirations to join the class that they are protesting?

Turns out, not so much. Because among the young people are also older people who have seen their economic stability shift dramatically thanks to the crisis in the financial and housing sectors. There are teachers, librarians, blue and white collar workers among the group, as well as self-proclaimed socialists and libertarians.

But they have camped themselves in a place where not a lot of Iowa Citians let alone others are likely to see them. If the purpose were pure political theater, this would be a poor choice of location as it is on the fringe of downtown in a residential neighborhood. However, as these occupiers are using their time to draft a statement of occupation, it is actually an encouraging move to restore the democracy that they believe is slipping from their grasps. As this and other Occupation groups meet together, it is likely that a political movement could arise that would rival the Tea Party as a grassroots movement. The chief difference here, it would appear, is that this movement is a grassroots movement without the backing of deep pocketed interests such as the Koch brothers.
It will remain to be seen what this all means, but for now, let's wish them well and hope that they become the change that we can believe in.

Monday, October 3

Arab Spring, American Fall

Does anybody see the twisted irony of Arab Spring turning into American Fall? I sincerely hope that, whatever measures that are taken to make our democracy better and more functional, we do not forget that we all are in it together. It is exciting to see a groundswell in cities of support for the occupiers on Wall Street. This group which was derided by people on the right and left for its seemingly unfocused views on what to do has, in recent days, led to groups in other cities to join.

And, not unexpectedly, the occupiers of NYC have come forth with ideas to strengthen democracy which can be found here. In a strongly worded "Declaration of Occupation" the group has laid out what they perceive to be the grievances against corporations and their role in undoing democracy. As is stated in their declaration:

"As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known.

- They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.
- They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give Executives exorbitant bonuses. - They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in the workplace based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
- They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
- They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices. - They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.
- They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is itself a human right.
- They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut workers’ healthcare and pay.
- They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people, with none of the culpability or responsibility.
- They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams that look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.
- They have sold our privacy as a commodity.
- They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.
- They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products endangering lives in pursuit of profit. - They determine economic policy, despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.
- They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them. - They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.
- They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.
- They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.
- They purposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media. - They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.
- They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad. They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.
- They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts."

Their demands are surprisingly simple: "We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power. Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone. To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal."

Ideology takes us so far then there is the living with the consequences. At the core of all the grievances stated is a sense of entitlement that these people feel that corporations have and a desire to right these wrongs. In essence, they are asking for fairness. These are not the cries of crazy lunatics, these are a measured response to a system that has gone off the rails. These people are asking for government to take an active role in making and enforcing rules that create more equitable conditions for all. It can be argued that these are unfair charges, after all don't oil companies clean up their spills and pay heavily for it? People have the right to opt out of having their private data being sold.

But the conditions that have driven these people to protest are more indicative of what happened when the rights of personhood were given and upheld by government. It is hoped by these protests that efforts to rescind much of this inequity will be addressed and that corporations will be able to carry on, but with less outright power than they currently have. Not surprisingly, this resonates with people across political spectrums. However, it remains to be seen if people power can hold its emotions in check while a reasoned approach, such as declarations and meeting with lawmakers and corporate leaders can happen.

Clearly the actions of these groups is seen as provocative, but I will hope that all will tamp down the strong emotions that will drive some to the streets and others to the authorities who are asked to clamp down on our civil liberties. I believe that we shall overcome, but we have to do it together.