Now is the spring of Arab discontent made glorious by the Wall Street occupation of autumn

Peace, Unity, Equality
Occupy Wall Street protester, New York City, September 18, 2011. By David Shankbone (Own work) CC-BY-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

The drumbeat of political progress has seized the conscience of the world since the first Arabs in North Africa took to the streets last December, and the peals of their chants and screams have finally reached Wall Street.

The Arabs marched against tyranny, most certainly, but were motivated to do so because they could no longer afford to feed themselves or their families. While those in political and financial power during the Great Global Recession made sure they had consolidated the resources to take care of their own, the people, out of work and trying to get by, now watch helplessly as the price of food and fuel rise beyond their ability to pay for them. Moneyed men fight for bailouts and tax breaks, claiming they need bigger bottom lines so they can maintain their expanding belt lines, and those of their shareholders.

In our complicated world, while we are not all stockholders in multinational energy and agribusinesses, we are all stakeholders.  We are most satisfied with life when these businesses are successful at providing goods we can afford, so we can be free to engage in creative and noble pursuits for the betterment of our communities, our nations, and our little, blue planet.

Yet now, as many of those same companies complain to our governments about standing on the shores of uncertainty, they, and the politicians they pay, ignore the rest of us. They feign amazement at the tidewaters rising and falling against their paper tiger legs, and never lift their gaze at the rest of us for whom drowning in the turbulent waves of an uncertain sea is an everyday reality, and not just a rhetorical device to shine a light on the money they are afraid of not making.

All we ask is for them to reach out beyond that shore. Tow, throw, row, go. Some uncharacteristic generosity now could pay dividends later, for we can consume their goods, if we have the resources to do so. But they keep their hands in their own pockets, anxiously jiggling their coins like a young boy playing with his testicles. They withhold, and for those who are hungry, the shrinking away of opportunity is grist for the mill of anxiety.

That is all the hundreds of people who have been occupying Wall Street, since September 17, are asking for. This is a time for us to rise up and help one another. Many want to paint the protesters in Lower Manhattan as anti-business anarchists, like those who viciously riot in the towns where the World Trade Organization (WTO) has its meetings, but these brave people in New York believe in the promise of America, the ability for anyone to work hard, in business, and succeed. They are not anarchists. They don’t eschew their piece of the pie; they want to chew it, in large bites. The problem is, they don’t think that it will be there for them, and if something in our culture doesn’t change, it won’t be.

This is not class warfare, as some politicians and pundits doggedly demagogue. It is an appeal for community, for the lost value of caring for those who need our society’s attention. It has become apparent that, unless they are forced by federal law, those who have the resources to help rescue our society are too content to stand on the shore and watch the rest of us drown. Maybe they’ll be happy being kings with no kingdom, for a minute, but they are going to wake up with a huge hangover the next morning, incredulous that they stand alone.

multi-message protesters
Wall Street protesters at Manhattan's Zuccotti Park, September 19, 2011.By David Shankbone (Own work) CC-BY-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons



Too much doubt

A rally to save Troy Davis, Atlanta, GA, September 16, 2011

Tea Party narcissism and its inherent death culture

It’s truly frightening when the group that is not afraid of guns and touts “Second Amendment remedies” to get what they want, has achieved such an unreasonable command of the mainstream media. The radical right of the Republican leaning Tea Party has made it clear, in the last five days, especially, that they have no problem killing people, and watching them die, if that’s what it takes to get their country back.

For two debates in-a-row, Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for President of the United States have revealed a very dark and disturbing element of the psyche of the GOP primary voter. Last Thursday, during a debate at the Reagan Library, moderated by NBC News’ Brian Williams and Politico’s John Harris, cheers went up from the audience before Williams even finished asking the newest candidate, Gov. Rick Perry, of Texas, the following question:

“Governor Perry, a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates, more than any other governor in modern times. Have you – (Loud cheering, whistling and applause) Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?”

Monday night, the crowd reacted again during the CNN/Tea Party Debates, in Tampa, Florida, when Wolf Blitzer followed a line of healthcare questioning about a hypothetical, uninsured, 30 year old man who suddenly finds himself in need of six months of life-saving intensive care. Rep. Ron Paul, also of Texas, remarked that it was the young man’s responsibility to get coverage.

“But Congressman,” Blitzer asked, “are you saying, society should just let him die?”

“Yes,” someone shouted from the audience, before Paul could respond. That was followed by more shouting, “Yes. Yes. Yeah,” and the tittering of nervous laughter from the crowd.

In neither case was the crowd admonished by any of the candidates on stage for their visceral reaction to the question of letting people die.

Regardless of one’s position on the death penalty and publicly funded healthcare, these reactions point to what some psychologists might call a narcissistic view what it means to be part of a functioning community and society. The Tea Party lacks empathy for fellow citizens who are not like themselves, are willing to exploit the weakness of impoverished, elderly and unhealthy Americans for personal gain, and have an inflated belief that they are the “real” Americans. For a movement that is said to be founded on Christian principles, they behave more like barbaric Romans, cheering for their gladiators to slaughter the meek. “If he can’t protect himself, to Hell with him,” they seem to be saying, as they prevail on Caesar to give the thumbs down and end a “worthless” life.

Rep. Paul gave a very Libertarian answer, saying that private institutions should take up the funding slack, so the 30 year old can live. Gov. Perry said, quite defiantly, that if you commit a capital crime, “You will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed,” which, of course, was followed, of course, by more hootin’ and hollerin’ of support.

The irony is, that Reagan himself only oversaw one death penalty in the eight years he was governor of California. “Reagan later said it [allowing the execution to go forward] was the worst decision he had to make,” according to the website, On the Issues. He even granted clemency to another murderer, something Rick Perry has only done once himself, an unimpressive ratio from a state executive who is described as “unfeeling and unemotional” by anti-death penalty groups.

“The moment that would have broken my father’s heart,” Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, wrote in Time Magazine, “was the moment when applause broke out at the mention of more than 200 executions ordered by Rick Perry in Texas. It was stunning and brought tears to my eyes. This is what we’ve come to? That we applaud at executions?”

Justice may be blind, but we go to the polls with eyes open. The Tea Party sees itself as the saviors of freedom, but salvation does not pay the hospital bills of the uninsured and uninsurable, and Jesus won’t rescue a saved soul from the governor’s needle.

The reason executions are considered the “ultimate” justice is not just so they can be an applause line for narcissists who can never see it touching their lives. They are the ultimate because there is nowhere else to go from there. You cannot pull back from death. It is the brink to which the Tea Party will gladly take the rest of the country, a place, from which, there is no return. They will march us there at gunpoint, if they have to. We have to lock arms and not let them.


Shaken confidence: U.S. culpability in a post 9-11 world

9/11 attacks in New York City. (US National Park Service)

American resolve formed around the twisted steel ruins of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan in 2001, like 15-ton concrete blocks around re-bar. Our determination to avenge the acts of September 11 was certainly not a question. What should have been questioned at the time and wasn’t, was how we would react as a nation, after the shock, after the dust, after the sun rose on the twelfth and there were holes in the New York City skyline, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a field in rural Pennsylvania.

Hearts began to heal, even then, for those of us who were not directly affected by loss of a beloved family member, though as a nation, for weeks, palpable sorrow rode over us in waves, like bands of a fading hurricane. We had weathered the eye of the storm, and though buffeted by its aftermath, we would have found our own way to heal. Still, the government sought to intervene on our grief, distract us from our sorrow. They told us to behave as if nothing had happened, nothing to worry our pretty little heads about. Like a father who doesn’t want to bother his young children with difficult realities, we were told to “go shopping.”

At that point, the wall of American resolve segmented. Our willingness to stand together as a nation of guaranteed Constitutional liberties was broken. Instead of one, united wall, standing on the shoulders of our founding fathers, of the greatness of our Republic, our leaders gave in to the inevitability of war, the justification of hate, the easy propaganda of a public willing not to have to understand what happened.

“A great people has been moved to defend a great nation,” George W. Bush told the country that night. “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.”

But if one were to ask Osama bin Laden why he organized the attacks, he would not have said, “I wanted to extinguish the freedom the infidels represent.” His motives were more political than cultural. Having characterized the attacks that way, though, Bush made it possible for our government to begin dismantling those very freedoms of which he spoke, and blame it on the terrorists. His administration could then characterize its subsequent freedom squashing actions of torture, rendition and wiretapping, of invading Iraq, as a godly fight against “evil-doers,” and necessary.

President Bush and his administration’s springboard reaction was predictable, and the enemy who attacked us was counting on it. Though the world stood with us as brothers against the wanton destruction of lives, and the disruption of commerce the events of 9/11 brought, there were concerns that, in its reaction, a power as great as the United States could potentially abandon the concept of America as “guardian of liberty,” and engage in some wanton destruction of her own.

European newspapers were saying, within a week of the attacks, that although the old world saw the coalition building Bush was engaged in as a good sign, “The ‘war against terrorism’ is no licence to kill,” and “that even in Europe there are reservations about the US’s policy.” Unchecked, a military power like ours, combined with our immaturity as a nation, had the potential to subvert the peace of the entire planet.

Our elected representatives, afraid of appearing dovish, authorized two wars and the liberty limiting Patriot Act. Our check on political power, the radio, television and the newspaper agencies, afraid of appearing as unpatriotic outliers, asked only who we were going after and when. Few asked why.

Those who questioned our leadership’s course of action were quickly blackballed, black listed, really. Less than a week after the attacks, comedic pundit Bill Maher’s ABC-TV show, Politically Incorrect, was cancelled shortly after he called President Bush out, for calling the attacks “cowardly acts.”

“We have been the cowards,” insisted Maher, “lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, that’s not cowardly. Stupid maybe, but not cowardly.”

Bush and Dick Cheney have said many times that “history will decide” whether their administration’s policies  were necessary for the country and good for the world.  This anniversary is not just a time to reflect on the tragedy of what happened on that bright, Tuesday morning, ten years ago. It is a time to ponder the tragedy of what has happened to our country since: increasing intolerance; attacking the construction of mosques in communities where Muslims have lived for decades; the rise of Christian Dominionism; anti-immigrant paranoia; candidates who would have been considered part of a lunatic fringe twenty years ago are suddenly mainstream; and we continue to fight the longest wars in our history.

“While fighting a war with al Qaeda, America has waged a political war with itself,” the Rand Corporation‘s terrorism experts observed in a report released this past July. “This is nothing new in American life…[b]ut the shadow of 9/11 across America has exacerbated the internal conflicts. Fear may lie at the heart of much of America’s response, just as the terrorists intended. But the terrorist attacks have…if anything…magnified the extremes within America, from the isolationist impulse to go it alone to the internationalist impulse to remain a beacon of freedom for the world, from the reluctance to engage to the desire to sort things out. In what could be the final legacy of 9/11,” the Rand report continues, “the terrorist attacks have compelled America to become an exaggerated version of itself, with its own internal contradictions heightened and intensified.”

History, then, will not only judge the merits of our leaders and where they took us; it will also decide how far we allowed our country to be taken from the ideals in which the founders of this country believed, and for which, generations of Americans have fought and died. Who stood? Where did they stand? What did they do when they stood there?

On September 11, 2001, members of Congress stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang, seemingly spontaneously, “God Bless America,” in unison. It was, arguably, the high point of national unity that horrible day. We all stood with them.

Where did you stand, and what are you willing to do now to restore America as a beacon of liberty?

One World Trade, aka Freedom Tower, and other construction at Ground Zero, the corner of Liberty St. & Greenwich St., New York City. (June 2, 2011, by PBG)


A chink in the wall through which to speak

“Then, there is another thing: we must have a wall in the great chamber; for Pyramus and Thisby says the story, did talk through the chink of a wall.”
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act III, Sc. i), by William Shakespeare

Prowl the halls of government in Washington, DC, and you will find holes in walls, through which many who sought to govern met to speak in the past. They are grown over now, blocked up, filled with tough clay wasp nests, crammed with hard blocks of biscuit crumbs and teabags. Those the wall divides do not seek each other out, for fear of being perceived as lovers on a rendezvous, like Pyramus and Thisby, and appearing as an anathema to their basely, uninformed constituents, who hold that governing is no excuse for reasonable dialogue.

Such unreasonable performance from our elected officials prompted Mike Lofgren, a thirty year GOP Congressional staffer, to leave behind all the hard work he had put into helping our government work. In a scathing indictment of the political environment on Capitol Hill these days, Lofgren wrote the following in a (must-read) piece for

“…the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

“It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill.”

“A couple of years ago,” Lofgren’s essay later reveals, “a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.” Pretzel logic, to be sure, and one that we can all hope will backfire and teach this new incarnation of the GOP a lesson.

But even though he primarily blames his party for the problems in Washington, Lofgren also has some harsh words for the Democrats, though he refuses to lump them in with the GOP “craziness.”

“I left,” he said, “because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country’s future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them…

“While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations’ bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let’s build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it’s evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.”

So the GOP has succeeded, mostly, to get the average voter to despair the dysfunctionality of a government that gets nothing done.

To counter this congealing stone of cynicism, though, there may be  a lesson from the newly opened Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial near the National Mall. If you haven’t seen or read about it, the sculpture is a representation of a phrase from MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered a few hundred yards away, at the Lincoln Memorial, in August, 1963:

“Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope”

To illustrate that, the site shows a big mountain of stone, with a wide pathway cut through it. Rev. King himself is depicted on the “missing piece” of the mountain, thrust forward toward the DC Tidal Basin. In the words of the official website for the memorial:

“The boulder is the Mountain of Despair, through which every visitor will enter, moving through the struggle as Dr. King did during his life, and then be released into the open freedom of the plaza. The solitary stone is the Stone of Hope, from which Dr. King’s image emerges, gazing over the Tidal Basin toward the horizon, seeing a future society of justice and equality for which he encouraged all citizens to strive.”

The dedication ceremonies for the memorial were postponed last week, when Hurricane Irene roared up the east coast. Maybe, though, there is some serendipity in that unfortunate delay. Perhaps, when Congress comes back to town this week, they can all witness what an opening in the wall looks like, and actually find a chink through which they can speak, free of the “despair” in government that their stubbornness has wrought.

President Obama is pushing forward, because like Rev. King, he is not afraid. Despite the efforts of the Tea Party Caucus to fit him with the head of an ass, like Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he knows that he is in the right:

“I see their knavery: this is to make an ass of me;
to fright me, if they could. But I will not stir
from this place, do what they can: I will walk up
and down here, and I will sing, that they shall hear
I am not afraid.”

Be fearless and full of hope, America. Work for reasoned governance to prevail. It the patriotic duty of every thinking American to break through the wall, even tear it down, and emerge as “the stone of hope.” When you go to visit the MLK memorial, remember that our America, a country of, by and for the people, stands on his shoulders, as he gazes out toward the memorial for the man who penned those words, Thomas Jefferson.