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Occupy Congress Continued

Thanks to all of you who contacted your Congresspersons and Senators about SOPA and PIPA.  What these bills seem to be attempting to do is two things: promote private ownership of internet content and to sharply censor the non-conformists under the pretense of protecting property. SOPA looks quiescent for now but it’s going to take constant vigilance to make sure it stays that way.  PIPA is still in play, as far as I can tell.

One thing I learned when I was on the board of ed is that politicians will back down and even do a 180 if opposition is noisy and persistent.  This is probably why our political class is quite content to cast the Occupations in a negative light.  They’re noisy and persistent but if they can be made to look dirty and violent, their message doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

I had some connection problems in our room in Washington and on the train on the way back so I wasn’t able to upload my pics or process my video yet.  Then I found out from the insurance claims adjuster that all of the siding on one side of my house needs to be replaced including vapor barrier, weather stripping around the windows and the shutters as well.  The claims adjuster said her own house had suffered some structural damage from the wind storm as well, although nothing this extensive.  We both think the wind came from a different direction since neither of us had ever seen anything like it before.  Anyway, it’s been an interesting week in a Chinese proverb way.  So, I am uploading a few pics tonight to try to catch up.

Some interesting tidbits: we met a ragtag triplet with the letters “SD” on their shirts.  They reminded me of the stereotypical fife and drums trio from the Revolutionary War.  It turned out that they were three of the contingent from San Diego who were thrown off the Greyhound bus in Amarillo, Texas.  That’s not quite accurate.  What *really* happened is that the bus driver pulled over, got out of the bus – and locked them in.  Then he unloaded their baggage and forced them off the bus leaving them stranded in Amarillo.  But here’s the great thing about the Occupation.  The deserted in the desert contacted Occupy Amarillo and Amarillo came to their rescue, picked them up, gave them a place to stay, fed them and sent them on their way to Washington.  That’s a heart tugging story with a happy ending.

Then there was a contingent from Walla Walla, Washington.  They were senior citizens who had become very active in the Occupy movement and had canvassed their neighborhood advocating the protection of Medicare.  They struck some kind of deal with their city officials so that their site remained intact and free of harrassment from the local constabulary.  They say they are getting an overwhelmingly positive response from everyone they have talked to about Medicare.  Another success story of people sticking up for each other.

Then there was the not-so-good stories.  One woman from Portland told horror stories about the Portland police.  It sounds like the whole Portland police force is made up of sadistic automatons.  Their attitude seems to be “crack heads first, ask questions later if they’re conscious”.  She said that she had a concussion from one of her unfortunate encounters and she hadn’t done anything to provoke it except be present.  The police attack without warning and in as brutal a fashion as they can get away with.

We spent much of the afternoon in conversation between the four of us, Lambert, Marsha (CoyoteCreek), DCBlogger and me, and went back to the Capitol lawn at about 6:00pm.  There was a festive mood and music playing.  It was hard to tell how many people were there because there was no lighting except flashlights.  We sat on the muddy ground on plastic rain ponchos and took it all in.  It’s a different mood in Washington than it is in Manhattan.  The police are a lot less menacing and they don’t seem to outnumber protestors.  They ride around the city on bikes in colorful jackets and blue helmets.  They’re, dare I say it?  Friendly.  Really weird.  And also a nice change.  You would have really had to get up into their grill to get your ass hauled away.  In fact, early in the day, one occupier got righteously indignant about all of the fencing around the lawn so he started to tear it all down.  They let him.  The occupiers either rolled up the fencing neatly and moved it out of the way or used it as ground cover over the muddy ground so they could erect their makeshift structures.  There was a staging area, a kitchen and a medic area.  The kitchen served oatmeal, bottled water and fresh fruit for breakfast.

The GA took awhile to get started.  I blame the location.  It’s a wide open space with no natural acoustical advantages.  The voice dissipates quickly.  We tried a double mic and it took several attempts to get it to propagate.  The GA read the agenda and the plan to visit representatives.  Each congressional office building was assigned a color.  To visit your rep, all you needed to do was find the color of his/her building.  We decided to go have lunch at this point since Marsha hadn’t eaten anything all day, so we didn’t participate.  Later, we heard that the occupiers found the offices deserted for the most part.  Maybe they were busy, I don’t know.  But the vast majority of occupiers are old enough to vote.  They are constituents.  They deserve some respect.  I can only imagine what those nice elderly gentlemen from Walla Squared are going to tell their neighbors about their visit to their congresswoman, Cathy McMorris Rogers.  From what they told me about her, they were not impressed with her or the fact that she always seems to be standing behind John Boehner when it’s picture time at the Capitol.

Here are some pictures from our day.  Be sure to check out updates from Lambert, CoyoteCreek and DCBlogger at Corrente.  Also, Lambert hosted Virtually Speaking during the pajama party in our room last night.  Check it out.

Setting up:

Occupy Applique:

The GA tries the double mic:

{Ok, I started to video this with my iPhone and thought I stopped recording when I put my phone in my pocket.  Ha-Ha.  Always double check.  Yes, that is my voice.  I couldn’t always hear what was being said and mostly just caught the tail end of each statement.  Still, this gives you an idea of the challenges of doing a GA on the lawn.  If I were the occupiers, I’d walk down the mall and look for a circular concrete plaza on the right side a couple blocks up.  I think it’s the Naval Heritage Center. It’s a much better space for a GA.  Don’t know what the rules are for occupying it for that purpose but it didn’t look like anyone was using it.  hint-hint}

The Agenda:

Night on the Capitol lawn:

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Monday: Hungary, Occupy Congress and other stuff

This morning, Paul Krugman had a guest poster, Kim Lane Scheppele, to explain what is going on in Hungary.  Remember how excited we were 20 years ago when Hungary escaped the tyrannical clutches of Communism?  Unfortunately, they have fallen into the hands of what looks like fascism:

In a free and fair election last spring in Hungary, the center-right political party, Fidesz, got 53% of the vote. This translated into 68% of the seats in the parliament under Hungary’s current disproportionate election law. With this supermajority, Fidesz won the power to change the constitution. They have used this power in the most extreme way at every turn, amending the constitution ten times in their first year in office and then enacting a wholly new constitution that will take effect on January 1, 2012.

[…]

In the new constitutional system, the legal supervision of elections has also been changed. Before the last election, the norm was for the five-member Election Commission to be politically diverse and for the government of the day to consult the opposition before nominating candidates. But the rules were changed last year so that each new national election is now accompanied by a new choice of election commissioners. As a result, the existing commissioners were removed from their offices without allowing them to finish their terms and now the Election Commission consists of five members of the governing party.

The new election law specifies the precise boundaries of the new electoral districts that will send representatives to the parliament. But the new districts are drawn in such a way that no other party on the political horizon besides Fidesz is likely to win elections. A respected Hungarian think tank ran the numbers from the last three elections using the new district boundaries. Fidesz would have won all three elections, including the two they actually lost.

 Read the whole thing.  These people are like Republicans on Red Bull.  The only reason I can’t say they’re significantly worse than our Republicans is that if Republicans take power in 2012, I wouldn’t put it passed them to start emulating the Hungarians.  Their plan is almost in place as it is, what with The Big Squeeze eroding everyone’s livelihoods and ruining lives and families with crushing debt.  And if I were Republicans in 2013, the first thing I would do after indefinitely detaining the Occupiers is make damn sure that no other party ever won another election or had sufficient representation in Congress to knock them out.  In fact, they’ve pretty much adopted the Hungarian model when it comes to the 60 vote threshhold in the Senate.  Filibusters used to mean something.  Now, no piece of legislation can get past Republicans (and some Democrats) without a supermajority.  The only way to get around the Republicans in the Senate is to reduce their numbers to insignificance and they know it.  Which is why we should expect them to try to reduce ours to insignificance preemptively and forever.
And then there’s this tasty nugget:

The new constitution also accepts conservative Christian social doctrine as state policy, in a country where only 21% of the population attends any religious services at all. The fetus is protected from the moment of conception. Marriage is only legal if between a man and a woman. The constitution “recognize(s) the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood” and holds that “the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence.” While these religious beliefs are hard-wired into the constitution, a new law on the status of religion cut the number of state-recognized churches to only fourteen, deregistering 348 other churches.

 You know, Richard Dawkins might come off as a bit of a belligerent, but he’s absolutely right about the damage that is caused by the sanctity of the religious point of view.  You can’t touch the religious without all Hell breaking loose around you.  It’s about time that the non-religious stood up and fought back.  In Hungary, 79% are secular and they are going to have to live under this regime. (That could happen here, although no one can deprive women of their right to abortion.  The state can only deprive them of a *safe* abortion.)  We need to put religion back in its place.
After I read this piece, it struck me that we don’t have much time.  The forces of authoritarianism are already upon us.  And contrary to the Democratic party’s point of view, Obama is probably the WORST person to run for the presidency next year.  If there is a Hungarian style regime in the works, the people who vote for it are definitely motivated to vote against Obama and there are more and more of them everyday as this sorry state of an economy drags on and on.  Wasn’t the Republican plan always to make life about as bad as it could get for the Democratic president and sit on all of the money until we begged for mercy and blamed the Democratic president?  And didn’t the Democratic party take the bait,  thinking Americans were stupid an proposed an inexperienced schmoozer for president?  It looks like all Republican dreams are about to come true.  What we need is to think out of the box, to pull a surprise move, to introduce a little chaos and metaphorically monkeywrench their plans.  Otherwise, we’re all going to Budapest.
******************
Speaking of going somewhere, Partition Function put up a link to the Occupy Bus for the Occupation of Congress Rally in Washington, DC on January 17, 2012.  I made a reservation for the bus and will leave from Trenton, but I think it would be really cool if we Conflucians could have our own caravan.  And it would be even cooler if Katiebird could go, provided her health holds up.  As you know, she lives in Kansas so it’s a flight for her.  We have a little bit of money in the kitty but to pay all of our expenses, we could probably use a little more.  I’d like to thank everyone for throwing in a bit for my trips to NYC to cover the Occupation of Zuccotti park.  It has taken a load of worry off of my mind.  So, if you would like to help keep us warm and fed, please consider a modest donation of $10.17.  The donate button is to the upper left of this page.
And if you’re planning to attend yourself, check out this page for details about where the Occupy Bus will be departing from a city near you.
*****************

About Occupy: On Saturday, as the Bishop was scaling a fence in his magenta cassock, someone with the system password put up a greeting from Mumia Abu-Jamal on the OccupyWallSt.org page.  At first, I was pretty pissed off.  It seems that no matter how hard ordinary people who are not authoritarian religious nutcases try to defend a different point of view, they are always brought to a screeching halt by naive defenders of Mumia Abu-Jamal.  I have seen it so many times in the past couple of decades that I feel a deep sense of despair when this kind of crap shows up again.  Suddenly, no matter if you are against a stupid war or against indefinite detentions or rigged elections or any other important thing, you are conscripted to defend this convicted murderer.  It’s at that point that the people whose support you need the most decide that your cause is just another crazy radical fling that will go the way of the other fling.

Most of the world thinks Mumia is just where he is supposed to be right now.  There was plenty of evidence to convict him. But whatever.  Just when you think a movement is about to go mainstream, some nitwit has to start emoting over Mumia, as if there weren’t other disadvantaged and poorly represented African-American men and women wrongly imprisoned and innocent.  It’s been thirty years and Mumia, the celebrity prisoner, is still attracting a cadre of followers who cannot see that just because a person was a Black Panther at some point in his life does not mean that the world is out to pin murders on him and put him away for life.  Sometimes, a cold-blooded murder of a police officer is just a cold-blooded murder of a police officer.  We don’t attack the police even if they’re complete thuggish assholes sometimes (no offense).  When you need them, they’re usually there for you.  That doesn’t make them our best friends but it does mean that we need to treat each other with respect even if we have to be civilly disobedient.

So, Mumia represents everything the Occupiers are against and I was really worried that the support for Mumia was going to be the downfall of OWS.  In fact, I wrote emails begging them to take Mumia’s greeting down.

But, you know what?  That was the wrong thing to do.  Because I checked the thread on that greeting yesterday and the vast majority of people thought like I did.  Here’s the top comment on that thread with plenty of mojo:

I have been working at Occupy Wall Street since week 2. I am involved heavily in several working groups. I attend meetings and actions every day of the week. But this? This is bullshit. Here’s the thing y’all. Yes, the criminal justice system is brutally unfair. It is racist. It is classist. It is broken beyond all repair. The prison industrial complex has swallowed any hopes that a poor black man ever had to a right to a fair trial in this country. HOWEVER, Mumia? Mumia is guilty as hell. Guilty, guilty, guilty. He stood over Officer Daniel Faulkner with a gun registered in his own name and shot him point blank in the face in front of multiple witnesses. Because of Mumia’s involvement with The Black Panthers, because of his background as a guerilla journalist, and because of the undoubtedly racist climate of Frank Rizzo’s police department in the 1980’s, Mumia’s conviction became a cause celibre. I do not believe in the death penalty. I think that our justice system is a sham. But slapping Mumia’s face on the front of the OWS website is insulting and offensive to all of us who have worked so hard these past few months. This movement is about socio-economic inequality and corporate corruption. It is not about promoting the latest Free Mumia rally on campus. Please show some respect for the legions of us who have put in so much time, and do not glorify the convicted murderer of a police officer. No matter how many college kids wear his face on their shirts.

They are occupiers and have dedicated time and their presence to the occupation.  They are just average folks and they do not want the occupation to be associated with Mumia.  It’s pretty definitive.  Yes, there are a few vocal and persistent supporters but their obsession is not that of the vast majority of occupiers.  The occupation is to save America, not to give Mumia Abu-Jamal a platform to proclaim his innocence and unfair incarceration due to his political beliefs from 30 years ago.

I’m really rather encouraged.  This is the way the system is supposed to work.  Give everyone a voice and let the conversation and arguments carry the day.  It is regrettable that Mumia was convicted of being in the wrong place at the time when a police officer was gunned down and that Mumia was seen shooting the cop, and that he owned the gun that was used to shoot the cop, and that he was in turn shot by the cop, and that he pretty much confessed to shooting the cop to other cops and medical technicians before he was taken in for surgery, or that he tried to represent himself in court and did such a lousy job of it that he had to be replaced as his own defense attorney before he did real damage to his case.  He’s had his day in court and his appeals and many opportunities to change public opinion and he’s still in jail.  There’s a reason for that.

All these things are regrettable, but they are not our problem. If Mumia was such a good guy, such a saint who shared our concerns for economic and social justice, he would refrain from ruining every attempt to get something off the ground by inserting his “greetings” and attempting to co-opt a movement to work in his defense.  To me, he sounds like a narcissist.

Our problem is finding a place to occupy, to protest and to voice our grievances about economic injustice and the rigging of the rules in favor of the rich and powerful to the detriment of everyone else no matter how hard working. Our task is to invite others to join us.  Our task is to become a force to be reckoned with. Once we have solved our own problems, which affect millions of people in this country, those who are concerned with the plight of Mumia can turn their attention to it.  But leave the rest of us out of it.

The community seems to be pretty much agreed on that.

And here’s a little video of the activities of December 17.  I’m sorry to have missed this one.  Bishop Packard’s attire was lovely.

Uncle Sam Contracts Frater Magnus to Safeguard his Healthcare Liberty

Lincoln_A

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. – Abraham Lincoln

There’s a sucker born every minute. – P.T. Barnum

BenjaminFranklinWe, the People, are born every minute. The last ten years provides ample evidence about the regularity to which Lincoln alludes.

Geese are but Geese tho’ we may think ’em Swans; and Truth will be Truth tho’ it sometimes prove mortifying and distasteful. – Benjamin Franklin

The Constitution of the United States is like a manual for building a nation of equals before the law. It embodies the wisdom that some people gain power and freedom by stealing the power and freedom of others. It enacts principles to thwart those who conduct such thefts. “Liberty” is a common code word for describing the nation’s promise of power and freedom to its citizens.

Interestingly, the founders were all too aware that the apparatus they made to uphold the liberty of the nation’s citizens, i.e. the government, could also fall under the influence of those who would thieve the liberty of others. Accordingly, citizens must be mindful of what they, and others, ask of their government, while using the government as a tool to promote liberty, and other Constitutional and DOI objectives, and thwart liberty thieves. Unfortunately, some citizens are so focused on defending their liberty from the government that they lose sight of the reason that the government was created, i.e. they lose sight of the enemies of liberty. They are so focussed on the tree, that they lose sight of the forest that is being clearcut all around them. Continue reading

It’s Time to Downsize the US

Alexander_cuts_the_Gordian_KnotIn difficult circumstances, such as the current economic crisis, it’s normal to work out how one got there as a means to avoid repeating the process. In the current situation, the discussion seems to range between those who feel that the situation is already working itself out, to those who feel that structural dangers remain and proper regulation is required, to those who feel that the problems were the result of regulation and government programs in the first place.

Count me somewhat on the side of the last group. I say somewhat because I think that the problem has to with the inappropriateness of the regulations that were employed, but unlike them I do not think that the problem is humans using morals and reason to regulate the marketplace. In other, more localized, words, I reject the notion that the Tenth Amendment prohibits spending programs and regulations.

My sense is that the regulations that were deployed to prevent economic disaster were structurally and functionally inadequate because they half-heartedly represented the Great American Project as manifest in the Constitution of the United States. The problem with the regulations wasn’t that they were half-hearted. That half-heartedness is symptom of the larger problem. They were structurally and functionally inadequate because the US can no longer afford to provide its citizens the rights and freedoms guaranteed in its Constitution. The regulations failed because they had a relationship to expectations that are suited to an America that does not exist, in an economic sense. The problems with the public education system, illegal immigration, crime and punishment, and social security, to name a few, are all relatively easy to solve, once the very costly, burdensomeness of the Constitution is overcome. It’s time for America to wake up and downsize its’ dream, the dreams of its citizens, and smell the aroma of the box store, bulk size, generic coffee reality that its best and its brightest have packaged for Uncle Sam’s future.

Downsizing America

Given the economic realities of the new US of A, what aspects of the American vision should no longer be seen as part of the covenant between the citizens and their government? A quick look at some fundamentals of democracy should provide some context about what avenues should be open to being cut. Then the process of contracting out the bureaucratics to the private sector can begin. This said, these are preliminary thoughts, so all that I will provide is a rough and general sketch.

Democracy is expensive and inefficient, even when it’s practised by politicians who are not neo-conservative Republicans. This is unsurprising by design. After all, it’s said that, in an ideal democracy, the populace is educated, they have access to all of the information they need to make a good decision, and they are free to make that decision. How does this ideal fare when it faces the real world?

Immediately, one is struck by the gross redundancy in the ideal system. Providing that much information to so many amounts to an excessive effort for minuscule return. The set of possible decisions for any question is extremely limited, given the options for action, and polling research has already proven that we only need small sample populations to get the gist of what people want. In fact, given the history of their wants, and given the nature of the question, there is probably no need to poll them further because it should be derivable from past decisions. The cost savings to be gained by dismantling the information network should be substantial. Mainstream media can remain as is.

The efficacy of sampling also suggests a direction for schooling provision. Once again, the system is entirely redundant. Imagine, though it’s a laughable thought, that a university degree was all the education one needed to be capable of making good decisions. What do you think it would cost to bring the 71% of Americans who do not have a degree, into the range of democratic competence? How could it possibly be worth the cost? In fact, apart from the decreasing number of specialty jobs that actually require a well-schooled employee, there is no good reason to maintain anything, but a shell of the existing system, apart from creating athletes for the circus part of social diversion. This is because we can use the same polling methodology and randomly choose children from the masses to receive schooling similar to the one that is provided today, and then poll them to find what the rest would have wanted, if they had the schooling.

Given the earlier recommendation of using past polling to extrapolate their wants, this process is admittedly redundant, but it does double duty in terms of providing training for the small percentage of jobs that actually require advanced schooling. Then again, perhaps it is wasteful to randomly select children, as this disregards the advantages of choosing children who are more likely to do well at university, based on their family background. Given past polling, it’s probably best to err on the side of efficiency. The point to take here is that there is no value in giving people more schooling than they need to do the small range of relatively unskilled jobs that await them. Furthermore, think of the dissatisfaction that is avoided when people don’t have enough education to be hired below their level of training.

If the vast majority of people are no longer making decisions, then there’s no reason to prop up the facade that they actually are involved in decision-making. If voter turnout is any indication, many will appreciate avoiding the exercise. To be fair, eternal vigilance is an unwieldy burden to bear, if the only benefits people accrue is to not have decisions made for them by their betters.

In fact, if they are not needed for decision-making, their representatives are redundant for the same structural reasons. The cash to be gained, by trading in the clunker of a public decision-making structure, should be sigificant.

All of these actions would save the economy trillions and once again put America front and center as an economic powerhouse, through the tax dollars it would free up and save. At the same time, it would give Americans a leg up on the rest of the developed/undeveloping world, by readying its citizens for a life of diminished possibilities long before the others face the challenge, should they.

The Constitution is in the way of progress in the US, to the extent it promotes the values of the ideal democracy. Perhaps it was prescient to send home Churchhill’s bust because his notion that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”, seems to have gone bust for America.

chrwsbwp

This is “a frayed thread” in honor of GW’s administration crying wolf at election time.

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