Occupy Wall St.: Interview with David Kristjanson-Gural

Here is a link to a recent interview on WKOK with Mark Lawrence.

After you click on it, you will see a screen that says “no preview available.”  Never fear.  There should be a link in the upper left that says “download.”  You can download the file and listen to it on a computer, transfer it to an iPod or other mp3 player, burn in it on a disc and voila!  a good Chanukah or Xmas present.  Ask if you have problems.

https://docs.google.com/a/bucknell.edu/leaf?id=0B2lA_mBM6QWtZGMxNjg0OGYtNDEzYi00OGMzLWE2NDEtMTMxNTA2M2U0MzZi&hl=en_US

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I am the Spokesperson for #OWS and These are Our Demands

The general assemblies of New York, Oakland, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Dallas and 350 communities across the United States have appointed me spokesperson for the Occupy Wall St. movement.  I am hereby empowered to submit the following demands:

1. We demand free and fair elections based upon open discussion and debate and support of the majority.  To this end we demand that all elections be publicly financed, that candidates qualify for public financing by collecting signatures supporting their campaign, and that television stations be required to devote a percentage of prime-time viewing to candidates for the purposes of promoting their positions.  Elections will be run by instant run-off, permitting multiple candidates to express divergent views on economic and social policies.

2. In order to ensure public discourse is not co-opted by the corporate press, we demand that media companies be owned and managed by their staff – that no outside financial interest be permitted to own or influence the content of the news so that journalists can perform their democratic duty of informing citizens on the events of the day.   Citizens will receive a tax reduction of up to $200 to permit them to support media outlets with editorial views they support.

3. We demand citizen boards be empowered to decide on the regulation of large corporations.  These citizen boards, acting like juries, will hear testimony of the industry experts along with testimony of those affected by the enterprises’ activities.  These boards will make democratic decisions concerning what regulations are needed and how they are to be enforced, in order to prevent the types of abuses we see in the finance, energy, defense and pharmaceutical industries.

4. We demand the immediate expropriation of the health insurance industry, which holds American working people hostage to a system that systematically deprives a significant portion of the population access to vital health care services when they  need them.

5. We demand the immediate review of our constitutional rights and the emergency powers adopted under the Patriot Act and enforced by the Department of Homeland Security in order to protect the civil rights of all.

6. We demand the immediate institution of publicly funded zero-interest student loans and the gradual implementation of a publicly funded pre- and post-secondary education system in order to provide equal opportunity to education across lines of race, gender and class and to end the systematic debt peonage of young people.

7. We demand the restoration of the social safety net including eldercare, childcare, and parental leave so that we fully support the elderly, the young, the infirm and their caretakers and so that those suffering from mental illness and the men and women reeling from the post-traumatic effects of war need not live on the streets of our country to our collective shame.

8. We demand an end to imperialist wars that inflict untold damage on working people at home and abroad, that reinforce a cycle of violence that ends up making all of us less safe and that severs the bonds of international cooperation on which our survival as a species now depends.

9. We demand that private corporations producing goods and services be required to create an employee ownership plan that contributes a percentage of corporate profits into a fund to purchase shares in the corporations to be held by workers.  Over a 10 -12 year period this fund would become a majority stake in the company at which point elected representatives of the workforce will replace the managers and board of directors and any existing outside ownership of the enterprise will be purchased at fair market value by the workers.

10. We demand an immediate public investigation of the financial industry, with the purpose of punishing those responsible for willfully profiting by committing fraud on American homeowners and disabling small businesses by denying credit.  We demand that these financial industries be immediately broken up and replaced by institutions that are publicly-owned, worker managed and devoted to providing access to credit to home-owners and businesses, not to the maximization of profit for shareholders.

11.  In short, we demand an economy and political system that works for the 99%, that respects and incorporates the values of direct and representative democracy – the idea that people have a right to a say in decisions that directly affect them and the right to a government of, by and for the people.

So there they are, the demands of the Occupy Wall St. movement.  How do we best proceed?

Do we hand them over to the radical right, the Limbaughs and the Becks and the Koch brother lackeys, who can’t wait for the chance to ridicule and demean them?  Can’t wait because they know they control the bully-pulpit of the commercial media, that any sensible set of demands, demands that really get at the dark heart of the shameful domination of ordinary American’s by the corporate elite, indeed any demands Occupy Wall St. makes, can be painted pink, jeered at, confounded and distorted.

Isn’t that the function of the right-wing media – to take off the table any set of ideas that actually represent the will of the people, to keep the debate well to the right of what working American’s believe and value; to keep the moneyed interests of their wealthy funders safe from scrutiny; and to keep reasoned, well-intentioned, and compassionate voices from informing our public policy?

Please don’t imagine that the so-called ‘liberal media,’ the New York Times and NPR, are the answer.  The truth is that our commercial media system is a pale reflection of what a democracy requires of its press.  On the issues that count, issues central to our working and civic lives, these media outlets fail ordinary working Americans, again and again, by giving a pass to the corporate interests who have disemboweled our democracy, made off with our collective wealth, and left the middle class and working class in tatters.

Part of our work is to re-imagine our media system, to take it out of the hands of the 1%, and to begin to build a real, lasting and inclusive democracy that extends beyond the ballot box into the places where we sweat and toil to provide for ourselves and for our families.  Until we do that, no set of demands can be honestly considered.

But no, these are not the official demands of Occupy Wall St. and I am not its official spokesperson.  But these are real proposals, embodying the values of our democratic tradition, which have been imagined, fought for, and, in many cases, implemented in an ongoing attempt to reign in the reckless gluttony of high finance and the corporate elite.

Demand #1, for free and fair elections, has been partially implemented in Maine where it is now possible for an elected representative to actually legislate on behalf of those who elected her, rather than on behalf of her corporate supporters.

Demand #2 is based on the struggle that occurred in the 1930’s and that eventually resulted in the institution of public media, here and abroad.  It is based on efforts to return our public media to its proper place, as an independent source of investigative journalism and not a corporate-sponsored and therefore toothless imitation.

Demand #3 is based on developments in regulatory reform in Belgium intended to ensure that industry insiders do not capture regulatory boards, a solution which is sorely needed here in the U.S. in this era of regulatory capture.

Demand #4 is widely practiced in the area of health insurance in all other industrialized economies whose citizens widely support the view that private interests should not be permitted to profit by denying health care to those who need it.

Demand #5 is based upon broad-based support for reviewing the powers granted to the government by the Patriot Act and for protecting the civil liberties enshrined in our constitution and bill of rights.

Demand #6 has been widely practiced in most industrial countries in the post-war WWII era in order to provide equal access to education as a condition for meaningful participation in a representative democracy; in order to provide a basis for equal opportunity for positions of authority in the economy and in politics, and in order to prevent those most vulnerable in our society from experiencing poverty and destitution.

Demand #7 is prevalent in many industrialized countries and reflects the belief that those most vulnerable should not be pushed to the margins of our society and that the work of caring for others, be they young, old, infirm or otherwise dependent ought to be recognized and valued.  It reflects the belief that our veterans, young and working class, do not receive the treatment and care they deserve when they are ruined by war.

Demand #8 inspired ten million to take to the streets across the globe to protest the “shock and awe” bombing of innocent civilians in Iraq.  Ending these wasteful and immoral wars is a necessary precondition for building international solidarity to respond effectively and immediately to the threat of global warming.

Demand #9 is based on the Meidner plan, that came close to being implemented in Sweden in the 1970’s until it was derailed by corporate interests.  It is based on the belief that democratic participation ought to be extended to decisions affecting the work lives of individuals; that the corporate capitalist system disenfranchises workers who have a right to participate in decisions concerning the value they create.

Demand #10 is a response to the continued arrogance and hubris of an industry that has not demonstrated the ability to contribute to economic wellbeing, has arguably done more harm to the fortunes of American working families than any foreign threat, and that does not deserve the immunity from crime that has be granted it by the Obama Administration, this Congress or the Securities and Exchange Commission who’s mission is to uphold and enforce the law as it pertains to Wall St brokers, the banks and hedge funds who have made off with our national wealth.

Demand #11 is a summary statement of the purpose of Occupy Wall St. – to open a space, literal and figurative for the discussion of the ideas that the media have pushed to the margins, and that the corporate elites in this country, those who own and control the means by which we obtain our livelihoods, are afraid to acknowledge because they are afraid to openly debate and discuss the moral legitimacy of plutocracy.

What happens when the elites in a country are afraid to permit discussion of the underlying justification of the economy and political institutions?

That’s easy; the citizens take to the streets, rise up and demand to be included.  After all, when you are excluded from participating in meaningful public debate, excluding from decisions about how corporations are owned, operated, regulated and held accountable, excluded from discussions of whether and how real reforms might be undertaken; when you have no hope of intervening in a political system in which free speech has all been bought and paid for, what do you do?

You occupy.

That’s what’s happening now, and that’s why the corporate media keeps asking who is the spokesperson and what are the demands.

They don’t actually want to hear the demands; they just want us all to go away.

Let’s disappoint them, shall we?

Occupy Wall St.: Getting to know you

Occupy Wall St. befuddles the corporate media but that’s only because the message is so simple, so reasonable, and so unwelcome to corporate interests.  We want our democracy back; we want economic justice.  By occupying public space in approximately 350 cities and towns across the country, Occupy Wall St. is creating a dialogue about what has happened to our economy and democracy, how we can act to restore integrity to our democratic institutions and how we can restore fairness to our economic lives.

 

The occupations are making it possible for this debate to occur but they are doing more.  The occupiers themselves are also demonstrating, by their internal organization, what real democracy looks like.  The occupiers are taking their responsibilities as citizens seriously.  They are informing themselves, discussing issues, formulating tactics and engaging in non-violent civil disobedience in an effort, as Mahatma Gandhi recommended, to “be the change they want to see in the world.”

 

If we believe their two key messages – that our democracy is not working and that we need to restore economic justice – then we have a civic responsibility to take heed of the example of these, our fellow citizens.  We have a responsibility to inform ourselves of the arguments and evidence concerning our economic and political institutions, to decide what we believe to be true, and to then take what actions we deem to be appropriate.

 

We cannot rely on corporate media sources to uncover the message and meaning of Occupy Wall St.  To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the corporate media is not the solution to the problem; the corporate media is the problem.  By all means, examine what these folks are saying about this movement, but then check this version of the facts with other sources, sources not beholden to shareholders or corporate money.

 

Here is a short list of a few sources that will provide you with a powerful antidote to what the corporate media has been selling, sources that will help you to determine, for yourself what is true, and what is to be done.

 

For an overview of the causes and consequences of the financial crisis that began in 2008, see the documentary Inside Job, produced and directed by Charles Ferguson.  You can purchase this film inexpensively on-line and it is well worth the small investment, or you can borrow the film from Netflix or a local library.

 

http://www.sonyclassics.com/insidejob/

 

For ideas concerning how ordinary citizens can act to restore control of government regulation and insist that elected representative represent the will of the people:

 

1. Learn about how Iceland is responding to the crisis by using referenda to wrest control of the economic lives from the corporate financial elites.

 

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/11/15-3

 

2. Learn about how Maine has passed electoral reform to support public financing of elections.

 

http://www.newrules.org/governance/rules/campaign-finance-reform/campaign-finance-reform-maine

 

For news and editorial coverage that is supportive of the aims of the Occupy Wall St. movement :

 

http://www.commondreams.org

http://www.truth-out.org/

http://www.democracynow.org/

 

For economic facts, figures, humor and analysis:

 

http://anticap.wordpress.com/

 

For local information on Occupy Wall St. actions.

 

http://www.facebook.com/groups/132952800139539/

 

http://spillingink.net

 

If you support the value of democratic participation, inform yourself by confronting information in both corporate and non-corporate forms of media.  You find some surprising information and points of view.  And you will come to hold your beliefs with the secure foundation of having grappled with others who think differently.

 

 

 

Let’s Occupy Together

I’m not sure why the media are having such trouble figuring out the demands of Occupy Wall St.  Recently, a seven-year-old girl, Celia Cooley, went down to Zuccotti Park and, posing as a reporter, she asked people why they were there (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x12iOQYY0w8).  What they said was quite consistent and quite reasonable and quite comprehensible to this young girl.  They said: We want our democracy back.

Anyone who is confused about what the protesters want has probably been listening to too much corporate news.  Corporate news stations present themselves as trustworthy and unbiased, but they are owned by large multinational corporations like General Electric and Westinghouse, and these are the folks that are benefitting from the policies that the protesters decry.

These news outlets don’t want the message of Occupy Wall St. to be heard.  They don’t want the protesters portrayed as ordinary Americans who have been bilked of their savings and booted out of the middle class and who are justifiably demanding that things change. If you’ve been watching corporate news and you are confused, the first thing to do is to broaden your sources of information.  Go to the non-commercial news sites on the Internet and listen to the chorus of ordinary Americans who are saying very clearly what’s wrong and who are making sensible suggestions about how to go about fixing it.

Here is some of what you will learn.

The economic crisis did not start because suddenly poor people started taking out mortgages on homes they couldn’t afford to pay for.  It didn’t start because of some corporate bad apples. Think about it.  The job of a lender is to determine if a person is credit worthy.  The reason loans were given to people who couldn’t afford them was simply that banks no longer had an incentive to find out if people were credit worthy.  Why?  Because banks were permitted to sell the mortgages to other companies for a profit, rather than waiting to collect on the loan.  The big banks pushed loans on people because they were making profit, hand over fist, from selling these loans to investors.

Why were the investors buying bad mortgages? Because they were permitted to bundle them together with other loans to look like safe investments.  Why did these investments look safe, because the folks in the rating agencies, who were supposed to rate these investments, were not sufficiently regulated and worked in cahoots with the big banks.

The problem, in short, was not individual behavior; the problem was that the system was jury-rigged.  Corporate lobbyists took over Congress and rewrote the banking laws in their favor.  As long as home prices went up, banks made a killing.  When the music stopped, instead of taking their consequences, big banks got their insiders at the Fed and the Treasury Department in D.C. to bail them out.  Then they got their friends their in corporate media affiliates to point their fingers at the borrowers ( the ones who are now homeless) and at big government (for wasting taxpayer money).  Meanwhile, Wall St. banks go on their merry way, paying out bonus, rewarding failure, avoiding the consequences of their actions, and continuing to use our Congress as their personal playground.

That’s just wrong.  That’s why folks are on the streets.

If you are in the Tea Party, you probably believe many of the same things that Occupy Wall St. supporters believe.  People should play by the rules.  People should be punished when they do something wrong.  If you reward people for cheating, they are likely to continue to misbehave.  Like supporters of OWS, you probably believe that our government should be accountable to us, we the people, and that the government should not collude with powerful elites to deprive people of the right to a livelihood, or to kick them out of their homes.  You probably believe that government shouldn’t write laws that favor powerful interests in order to raise enough money to get re-elected.

I support Occupy Wall St.  You and I may have our differences, but I think we share a commitment to restoring the integrity of this democracy.  I think we can agree that when a government no longer is responsive to the desires of the citizens, that it is the responsibility of citizens to act together.  The government itself is not the problem; the problem is that the government has been taken over by wealthy elites who do not have our interests at heart.  It is time for us to stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, Republican and Democrat, on the streets of this great country and take our democracy back.

Turn off the corporate news, talk to your fellow Americans, one by one, until you decide for yourself whether what I am saying is true.  That’s what Celia is doing.  There is no other test in a democracy but that of the ability of ideas to stand the test of evidence and reason.  The values that our forbearers fought and died for are at stake.  Nothing less.

Makes Me Mad…”Objectives of the Mission”

Makes Me Mad… short comments on news, punditry or other nuggets of conventional wisdom make me mad enough to stop hollering at the radio/tv/newspaper/screen and write.

Cross-Posted at the CSCC Blog.

I don’t know if the military operations in Libya is a good idea or not.  But in favor or against, I wish the conventional wisdom would give up on the mania over “mission objectives” or “end game.”  This is offered up as serious critique of Obama’s decision to start a new war.   We either see this as a concern or criticism from politicians, or embedded in news articles without any attribution which reinforces the sense that it is an unquestionably valid point.

Here is my objection: wars are messy, complex events.  The mania over a defined mission is some sort of collective learned response to Viet Nam.  That war is commonly seen as a mistake because it went on too long and their was mission drift from supporting the South Vietnamese government (which we either directly or indirectly installed.  Sorry, no time to make myself a SE Asia expert this morning).  Hence, since then, Presidents, congressional leaders, and paid pundits want every conflict or war defined in terms of “mission objectives” and “end games.”  As if this is a board game or a shopping list with discrete boxes we can tick off and then “go home.”

Here are some US-led or US-involved military missions that I would like to know what the “mission objectives” are which, once we ding the bell and get the gold star, we can imagine withdrawing and no longer being involved.

The Korean peninsula

The “War on Drugs” in South and Central America

Afghanistan (did it start in 1979 or 2003?)

Iraq

The Global War on Terror

Patrolling the Red Sea against Pirates

Taiwan

Military/Intelligence Drone operations in Yemen, Pakistan and who knows where else?

My point?  As Tolstoy described it in War and Peace, and I am paraphrasing, war is only clear when seen from the lofty armchair of those not involved.  On the ground it is fog, murk, rattle, and crash.  It is a foolish to act as if there are clean and discrete wars on the one hand and murky, protracted ones with unknowable, uncertain outcomes down the road.  They are all murky, liable to be long, and chock full of uncertainty.

I wish our public conversation could start at that point instead of the public relations blitz that this war is going to be different.  Maybe, maybe, we could then have a more honest conversation about what our gold and blood are paying for.

Taking on Kids Media

 Most parents know that media companies don’t help our kids. We put up with the violence, the commercialism, the hyper sexualization and the cynicism that these companies sell because we don’t know what else we can do. We are told that it is our responsibility to protect our kids from harmful media but we are left entirely on our own to do so. Meanwhile a $15 billion dollar per year industry is working day and night to undermine our authority. It is natural to want to give up and give in; to convince ourselves it is really not that bad but it is hurting our kids and undermining the moral fabric of our society. It’s getting worse and it won’t stop until we decide to do something. The first important step to take is to acknowledge the extent of the problem; then we can start to work together to make the changes that we need to make if we are to come back to our collective senses.

The crux of the problem is that the big media companies (and there are now only four or five) produce programming that is directly contrary to the values that most of us try to instill in our kids. We want them to care about others but the main message of advertising and many television programs is me first. We want them to learn to plan for the future and make wise choices but much of the programming encourages instant gratification in the form of fattening, sugary foods and drinks, casual sex; the glorification of bling. We want them to develop imagination and a wide range of interests but most programming tells them that what counts in life is how much you own, where you live, what you drive.

We may comfort ourselves with thinking it has always been this way. We may remember as kids having a Lone Ranger lunch box a Barbie doll house and we turned out okay. But advertising to kids in the 60’s and 70’s was small potatoes. These days product promotion is built right into the development of new movies. The movie is written for the toy and the products are leveraged throughout the whole range of children’s media movies, TV, video games. Teams of child psychologists work tirelessly to uncover children’s deepest needs – needs for security, community, autonomy – and use what they find to sell them more things. They use MRI’s to find out what parts of the child’s brain lights up when she is mesmerized and they use this information to make ads more compelling. Advertisers know that the younger they reach kids the more likely kids are to absorb the brands, so children get inundated with slick messages well before they are able to distinguish fact from fiction.

This barrage of commercialism is having a significant impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of children. Gadgets are replacing creative play – among 9-12 year olds the time devoted to creative play has fallen 94% over the past 15 years. I’m talking about the kind of thing you and I did as children – being outside, making up games, exploring the woods, creeks, pastures and empty lots. Instead kids are playing out scripts developed by toy makers, screen writers or computer programmers. Creative play is critical for learning, especially when kids are young – it helps kids delve into their psyches, resolve fears and anxieties and interact with each other in ways that create bonds to people and to places. Being active and outdoors is part of it too: without regular physical play kids don’t get to blow off steam and burn off calories. Kids are being deprived of access to physical wellbeing, to their own imaginations and to a sense of belonging to a community. It is no wonder that we are seeing the types of physical and emotional problems once rare becoming commonplace – obesity, diabetes, attention deficit disorder. Studies have shown that the more media kids imbibe the higher their probability of becoming depressed and developing chronic anxiety.

The media companies have free rein because children’s advertising is no longer regulated. Every other developed country limits the extent to which advertisers can get to kids and we did too, until the early 1980’s. In the zeal for deregulation of the Reagan era the FTC was actually stripped of the right to regulate commercials directed at kids. The foxes are running the chicken coop and the farmer has been sent packing.

Nothing will change until we acknowledge the problem and work together to create solutions. Replacing commercial media with so-called educational media is not the solution – there is no evidence that educational media improves learning. The solution is providing kids regular opportunities to engage in creative play, to regulate media companies in order to minimize the types of programming and the amount of harmful advertising kids see, and to provide children with basic media literacy so that, very early, they begin to see through the veil of commercial media and think critically about the messages that are getting through.

Lots of good work is being done in this area – the Campaign for Commercial-free Childhood provides lots of suggestion for what can be done. The Mondragon Co-op Bookstore in Lewisburg will be running a documentary film series beginning in August on issues related to children. You are welcome to join in these efforts. I know as parents we have enough on our plate and its easier to think that things are not that bad. I think you will find that having company and a chance to discuss these issues together as parents can help overcome our inertia and begin to move us toward a better world for our kids.

Tax Day Tea Parties

Hey-

Here is Huntington Post on Tax Day Tea Party antics.

Here is the anti-tax organizing site.

Here is where you can sign up to be a citizen journalist.

I wonder if there are any of these around here?

Is this a model of media activism we like?  Want to implement?  Does it also give progressives a chance to interact with our likely adversaries?

Are these folks into radical change also?