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The Fourth of July –Time to Win Back our Democracy

July 4, 2011

Rhode Islanders set fire to the Gaspee, artist unknown; source: Providence Journal, http://newsblog.projo.com/2011/05/ri-archaeologist-follows-the-m.html

The real start of the American Revolution:  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island reminds us that the first act of colonialists to throw off the British yoke ataully occurred in 1772 more than a year before the Boston Tea Party, “amidst growing tensions with American colonies, King George III stationed his revenue cutter, the HMS Gaspee, in Rhode Island.  The Gaspee’s task was to prevent smuggling and enforce the payment of taxes.  But to Rhode Islanders, the vessel was a symbol of oppression. The offensive  presence of the Gaspee was matched by the offensive manner of its captain, Lt. William Dudingston.  Lt. Dudingston was known for destroying fishing vessels and confiscating their contents, and flagging down ships only to harass, humiliate, and interrogate sailors.  But on June 9, 1772, an audacious Rhode Islander, Captain Benjamin Lindsey, took a stand….Aboard his ship, the Hannah, Captain Lindsey set sail from Newport to Providence.  On his way, he was hailed by the Gaspee to stop for a search. The defiant Captain ignored the command and continued on his course.”  The Gaspee chased the Hannah and its likely cargo of valuable sterling silver.

But Lindsey had a plan. He lured the British ship into shallow waters. The Hannah sailed easily over the sandbars, but the heavier Gaspee got stuck. Lindsey rounded up 60 of his compatriots. Their long boats encircled the Gaspee. Following Dudingston’s refusal to surrender, the brave Rhode Islanders boarded the Gaspee and fought to victory. The British included the wounded Lt. Dudingston were taken as prisoners.  You can see Senator Whitehouse telling the story here. 

Today’s King Georges and Dudingstons are the powerful corporate interests include Big Wall Street and Big Energy. These powerful forces armed with  have funded the Tea Party activists and their allies in Congress. They have supported Governors such as Scott Walker (WI) and John Kasich (OH) and states to launch numerous strikes against the economic interests of the great majority of Americans. Not content with record incomes and the lowest tax rates in decades, the right are on the attack and are fighting every gain made for average Americans since the Franklin Roosevelt ushered in the New Deal, i.e. Social Security, Medicare, public education, and all things regulatory from food and workplace safety, to big finance and the environment.

“There’s class warfare, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.” Warren Buffett, Source: Common Dreams

Turning Back the Clock: The newly elected GOP governors in states like Wisconsin and Ohio have fought aggressively and successfully to eliminate the collective bargaining right so public employee unions.  But even more astonishing is the willingness of the right wing warriors to slash medicare, social security, aide to the poor, funds for public safety, education, research & development and desperately needed infrastructure investments. Extended unemployment compensation? Forget it. Yet they are adamant in their defense of tax breaks and loopholes for the wealthy and corporate subsidies.

So-called “conservatives” are using every tool at their disposal — obfuscation, divide and conquer strategies, and the issues of budget deficits and the debt ceiling to bully Democrats into submission.  And they are willing to strip away our democratic institutions to achieve their endsWith a majorities in the House of Representatives and a highly conservative Supreme Court, and with virtually unlimited funding, the right is making substantial gains. The speed of the offensive (somewhat a kin to “shock and awe”) is astonishing.

However, these latter day Dudingstons have an Achilles heal; more and more Americans are beginning to see through the lies and numerous public opinion polls  show that large majorities favor tax increases on the wealthy rather than cuts in Medicare, Social Security or in vital public program (e.g. education) to reduce government deficits. The key is to highlight how the Republican plan will hurt the majority of Americans and will do little to create jobs or curb the deficit. (See previous post on joblessness and its causes). We can take inspiration from the following examples of grassroots actions:

Nurses United take on Wall Street; demand tax on financial transactions. Source: http://www.nationalnursesunited.org/blog/entry/nurses-take-on-wall-street1/

National Nurses United Wall Street Protest: On June 22, more than 3000 nurses and members of other unions marched on Wall Street to demand a tax on financial transactions. Such a tax makes good sense. By placing a small fee on each trade of stocks, derivatives, foreign exchange, and other financial instruments would bring in hundreds of billions in revenues which could be used to create jobs and pay for urgently needed services including health care. As NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro pointed out, the United States had a transactions tax from 1914 to 1966, which levied a 0.20 percent tax on all sales or transfers of stock. In 1932, Congress more than doubled the tax to help financial recovery and job creation during the Great Depression.

Grassroots action spurs Senate recall election in Wisconsin: Earlier in the year Republican legislators under the leadership of Governor Scott Walker passed a law that effectively strips public employees of their long-held rights to collectively bargain. We reported previously on the massive protests at the State’s Capitol by teachers, police, firemen, and a  host of unions all united to stop the GOP Jihad. The passage of the anti-labor law did not stop the movement — which has been successful in getting the tens of thousands of signatures necessary to force recalls on 6 sitting GOP senators. (Republicans were able to get the signatures to put 3 Democratic Senators up for recall.) A movement is now underway to recall Governor Scott Walker. For details go this link and browse the links on the site.  According to the latest polling the Democrats are likely to pick up several seats with three needed to swing control of the Senate to the Dems. Stay tuned.

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Movement to abolish corporate citizenship: One of the biggest w’ins for Corporate America, and loss for democracy, was the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission) — which in the name of “free speech” for corporations —  gutted existing campaign finance  laws ruling that corporations, wealthy individuals, and other entities can spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. A few days ago the Supreme Court once again sided with the power of special interests over the people. By the same 5-4 vote voided an Arizona state law which provides additional public funding to candidates when they face big-spending opponents. The system has been used in every statewide and legislative election since voters approved it in 1998, after a rash of political scandals in the Arizona capitol. (Source, Washington Post,  June 27, 2011). New Justice Elena Kagan dissented saying that the states have a right to combat “the stranglehold of special interests on elected officials.”

Now comes Move to Amend (see link): This coalition is attempting to reject the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, and move to amend the Constitution to:

  • Firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.
  • Guarantee the right to vote and to participate, and to have our vote and participation count.
  • Protect local communities, their economies, and democracies against illegitimate “preemption” actions by global, national, and state governments.

President needs pressure: Unfortunately, President Obama, whose heart I believe is in the right place, has failed to mobilize public opinion in an effective manner. He needs to be far clearer and stronger on what for the majority of Americans are likely to lose if the GOP budget and tax policies are enacted. Please call the White House Comment page or send a comment telling President not to defend the middle class. White House: 202-456-1111.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 4, 2011 6:59 pm

    I agree that we need to win back the Democracy, but I think corporations are an easy target. There are so many problems with the country, and certainly there’s not one easy answer. That said, I think the bashing of someone such as the governor of Wisconsin is rather misplaced. It seems we’ve forgotten both the concept of public service and what it means to work (that is, contribute to society, rather than drain it). There are more than enough examples of public unions out of control (there are too many stories from here in California to list here). In what world does it make sense that government workers — public servants — are doing significantly better than the average worker, that is, the average worker who is paying for the government worker? Here’s another look at what’s come out of Wisconsin lately … http://bit.ly/kYzv3V … frankly, I don’t see how turning a deficit into a surplus, having teachers work 40 hours a week and asking teachers to teach six classes a day are bad things.

    • Henry S. Cole, Ph.D. permalink*
      July 4, 2011 10:46 pm

      Maria, True there is not one easy answer; but as Warren Buffett says; the wealthy are waging and winning a class warfare. It’s easy to pick on teachers, but they did not cause the
      collapse of the economy — that was Wall Street speculation, greed and a distinct lack of regulation of financial markets the world over. The guys who caused the mess for all of us
      are still sitting pretty — with some help from their friends in government. As far as teachers go, when I was a school kid, teachers were respected even revered. It’s a shame to see the Scott Walkers and Chris Christie vilify teachers, fireman, policemen, and other public officials. Why should a Wall Street executive make $50 million in a single year without doing anything worthwhile for the country? If you’re a small business owner (like me) good luck getting a loan at a reasonable interest rate from the guys (Bank of America etc) who got trillions in bailouts. Who is really out of control?

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