Sunday, April 7, 2013

Occupy Wall Street and the Storming of the Bastille

Jean-Jacques Rousseau explained the "Social Contract" in his 1762 Treatise. He explained that there are certain unwritten understandings by which everyone in a society operates. When pressures from all sides cause dislocations in society they can cause revolutions. As the French and American Revolutions and the Arab Spring have shown us, changes often come only with significant upheaval. These changes often occur when the majority finally says to the powers that be that the status quo in the society is not good enough.

We have reached such a time in the United States of America. Bill Moyers quotes The Radicalism of the American Revolution by Gordon Wood:

"… our nation discovered its greatness "by creating a prosperous free society belonging to obscure people with their workaday concerns and pecuniary pursuits of happiness." This democracy, he said, changed the lives of "hitherto neglected and despised masses of common laboring people."

Unfortunately, the 1% of our population controlling 50% of our economy have turned away or forgotten this. In his article "How Wall Street Occupied America," found in the November 21, 2011 edition of The Nation, he points to a confidential memorandum published by former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell among his friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on August 23, 1971. Moyers says, "We look on it now as a call to arms for class war waged from the top down."

It is warfare waged successfully and largely unnoticed by the Middle Class. Like the frog, which dies in a pot growing steadily warmer, the American people have had too many distractions to notice the heat rising on the American Dream. Most of these distractions provided happily by the 1%. Like the Caesars before them, they allowed us great spectacles like the National Football League and interminable sex scandals on television, part of the television wasteland, and they provided us with foreign wars to make us afraid to complain.

But, like the frog that jumps out of the pot when the heat rises too quickly, the Occupy Movement represents the American People's response to the fact that the 1% has literally gone too far. In 2011, the early signs of this discontent have come because of over reaching political attacks on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin and Ohio, and attacks on the rights of women through state constitutional amendments.

The underlying assumptions of our Society and the American Dream must be fundamentally repaired before the genie of the Occupy Movement will go back into her bottle. Here are 10 ways the "Social Contract" is broken in the United States:

1. Home Values. Home ownership has long been the key to long-term prosperity for the American People. Homes paid for educations, retirements, and occasional vacations. Unfortunately, Wall Street was allowed to set aside regulations and add leverage upon leverage to the home mortgage market, which ultimately led to disaster. Now they are conspiring with real estate agents and appraisers to cram down home values, so that they can enjoy another 50-year run-up, primarily at the expense of the America People.

2. Loans for Education. A fundamental understanding of the American Dream has been that if we borrowed money to pay for college or community college education, we could expect a reasonable job at the end of it, which would allow us to build a family and a comfortable life for the next generation and ourselves. Now America's youth is facing an economy that has been eaten out by the 1%. As one of the writers on the web site known as "WeArethe99Percent" aptly put it, "The best and brightest of my generation are bagging your groceries."

3. Social Safety Nets in the Process of Destruction. The 1% is chiseling away at the social safety nets, which served and supported the American Dream for 75 years, since the Great Depression.

They are unwilling to pay their fair share for Social Security, putting the majority of the burden on average Americans, who earn significantly less than the $106,000 tax cap.

They have been destroying Medicare from the inside out. They have been consistently attacking the family doctor, by reducing Medicare payments to the point where few doctors accept Medicare any longer.

They want to destroy Medicaid, rather than face the fact that most modern industrialized countries provide healthcare for their populations in a dignified manner.

4. Labor Rights Are Being Destroyed. The American worker has spent a century fighting back the tycoons of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who wanted below minimum wage labor for their enterprises. Now we have to do it again! It is understandable that unions must bargain with management for their salaries and benefits. That's the nature of a capitalist society. But the attack on the collective bargaining rights of public employees and union members is outrageous. Luckily, this is the one over reach that has caused the American people to wake up and jump out of the pot. It is clear that the "Social Contract" will not be fixed until American conservatives stop their unjustifiable attack on collective bargaining rights.

5. Untrustworthy Banking System. The conservative mantra has been, "Freedom, freedom, give us freedom." Removing all the stops on the financial regulatory system invited the global financial meltdown, which has destroyed the value of our homes and the future of our children. No, the Occupy Movement will continue until the banking industry accepts sensible regulation once again, like the banking regulations, which made the second half of the twentieth century so prosperous.

6. Patriarchy Run Rampant. When women have their rights we will have peace in the world. The days of keeping the little woman barefoot and pregnant at home are over. While women get equal rights lip service in the United States, the reality is far different.

Conservative politicians keep throwing the "family values" hogwash in women's faces. All of them know that criminalizing abortion will save exactly zero babies, and yet they keep hyping the issue to distract the American people from what they are doing to our financial system. This is only one example of how the 1% keeps many women in line.

7. Defense Spending Out of Control. The 1% used the standard tactic of fear mongering to run up the defense budget, and take money from programs that supported the American dream. Wars created on the basis of lies were the justification for increasing defense spending by over $300 billion per year. But where is all of that money going? A ballistic missile submarine costs about $2 billion, but we haven't built more than a handful in the decade of the run-up, and very few surface ships. We've added about 27,500 men to the U.S. Marine Corps, but even granting that it costs $100,000 per year to field a Marine, that amounts to only a total additional cost of $2.75 billion per year. Comparable increases in manpower in the other services yield similar financial consequences. I say again, "Where is all of that money going?"

8. First Amendment Rights Threatened. The Right of Assembly and the Right to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances are two of the five fundamental rights found in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. How is it that states and local governments have been allowed to establish laws abridging those rights? This has to change! If we don't demand the reinstatement of these Rights, we can look forward to losing the Rights of Freedom of Religion, Freedom of the Press, and Freedom of Speech in the future.

9. Retirement Threatened. By destroying the value of our homes and trying to break our contract for Social Security—yes, Social Security is a contract not an "entitlement" (which is a 1% buzz word suggesting it's a handout). If they are allowed to continue, none of us will have any savings, nor will we have the safety net of Social Security, which so many of us rely upon. How Americans afford to retire is fundamental to fixing the "Social Contract" in our country. The Occupy Movement will continue until this is properly addressed. And that means making the 1% pay their fair share in Social Security and Medicare taxes.

10. Corrupt Attitude of Big Business. Over the past decade thousands of corrupt practices, many of them hugely costly to society, have crept into our society. Health insurance companies regularly deny legal and proper claims from doctors and hospitals over and over again. At the very minimum, they get to use the money owed to the doctors for a longer period, increasing their profits. Meanwhile, that creates additional administrative cost in our healthcare system.

I could go on and on with this topic, but I don't need to, because everyone reading this knows what I mean. We have to demand higher standards of ethics from the business community and our politicians, or see our Society devolve to the corrupt practices standards of the developing world. As an American I expect and demand better!

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