I Have a Dream…on MLK Day 2017

On this Martin Luther King Day, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has never seemed more imperative, or more poignant.

In 2008, Americans had the dream that electing our first Black president would lead to a permanent undoing of racism, opening the door to a new age of American egalitarianism.

But here we sit on the other side of eight years of a stellar Black first family in the White House, feeling like Hamlet looking from “Hyperion to a satyr.” Are we really going to go from the noble, wise, sylvan-tongued, sane, progressive Barack Obama to a crass, dumb, twittering, insane conservative populist like Trump? Really? REALLY??!!


This seems like a bad dream, except that every day we wake up and it goes on, but worse.

As we gaze grimly at the nightmare of the Trump inauguration, I hold out the dream that the outrageous thievery of Donald J. Trump will galvanize Americans of all walks of life to unite under the banner of the 99%. This time it won’t just be leftists and twenty-somethings setting up camp in the parks, it will be all of us—the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans who are going to get kicked in the shins, the groin, the stomach by the thugs that Trump is currently assembling and giving the glorified title of “Cabinet.”

This is not a Presidential Cabinet, it’s a gang of thieves and crony henchmen out to continue the work of the euphemistically named “Citizens United” by giving corporations unfettered rule over people and the planet.

Remember back in the Occupy days, there was a card deck depicting the worst capitalist criminals? I think it’s time to bring an updated version of those cards back, and while we’re at it let’s create a 21st century version of Monopoly too, with Trump hotels going up against Pachamama eco-resorts, Rex Tillerson and his Big Oil against Elon Musk and Solar City, and wild cards like Monster Hurricane (caused by warmer seas), Mass Shooting in Airport, and Next Incurable Infectious Disease.

Ok, I admit I’m getting a little punchy here. But seriously, if you can’t find the dark humor in our current predicament, well, let’s just admit that they’ve won, and go overdose on Oxycontin with the neighbors.

But no, I do have a dream. I do, I have a dream! I dream that Americans will stop being querulous but passive, stop being distracted by football and Facebook, come together in churches and schools, town halls and libraries, public parks and town squares—that we’ll look each other in the eye and realize that there is more that unites us than divides us; that all of us want a good quality of life—meaning friends, love, good food, recreation, stimulating education, satisfying work, good health…and that none of this is too much for citizens to ask of the richest country in the history of the world.

I have a dream that we’ll come together and realize that it is not necessary, and not right, that so much of our common wealth goes to support the development and production of weapons and implements of war. We don’t have to subsidize the fossil fuel industry that is poisoning us. We don’t have to support the chemical companies and Big Pharma, evil twins that thrive on the sickness of others, aided by their nursemaid, Big Insurance.

I have a dream that we will wake up and see that we are all interconnected, from the humblest bacteria to the mightiest whale, from the flowers in the field to the birds in the sky. Instead of blundering destructively about the planet, I dream we will learn to be alert and attuned to the tiniest variations in ecological balance, and make global harmony our imperative mission.


I dream of a future in which human beings will learn to be truly inclusive, not just with each other but with all life on the planet. In my dream, superficial differences and artificial boundaries between humans will be a thing of the past. We will celebrate our differences while also understanding our fundamental commonality. We will work together to create the best possible lives for all.

The current nightmare of Trump and his gang may act as the catalyst to get us pole-vaulting into this future all the more quickly.

Let’s face it, we’ve been sleep-walking for a long, long time, trapped in a trance that forced us to do the bidding of the elites.

Enough of that. Time to wake up now.

No more nightmares. The spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. is beckoning to us now, telling us this is our time….time to make our dreams come true.




Which Side Are You On?

So here we sit on the eve of May Day 2012, and there is an eerie calm-before-the-storm kind of feeling.

The mainstream media is still doing its best to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary is going on.

The only May-Day related event reported in the NY Times today was that a lawsuit was filed in federal court to keep police from using “pen” barricades to hold demonstrators against their will.

Apparently news of the remarkable energy, creativity and defiant spirit showed by the Occupy movement in the countdown to May Day is not fit to print, ie, not important to the intended audience of The Times.

But if you move over to Twitter and search #Occupy, #OccupyWallSt, or #MayDay, you get a whole different picture of what’s going on.

Instead of the nose-in-the-air ho-hum of the fat-cat NY Times, suddenly you’re plunged into a hum of activity, down on the ground with a million twittering mice running around energetically, purposefully and thoughtfully.

There is @OccupyColleges calling for a student strike to protest the debt-bondage of student loans.

#OWS is trumpeting the latest total of 135 U.S. cities where general strikes have been organized for tomorrow.

The Nation, Democracy Now, and Truthout are publishing advance stories preparing for what’s coming.

The media landscape itself bears evidence of the huge and widening gap between the 1%-dominated old guard, napping on its laurels, and the feisty up-and-at-‘em new media webizens, who are vigilant and unafraid to welcome in something new and different.

For make no mistake, the General Strike planned for tomorrow is something new.

International Workers Day has not been celebrated in the U.S. for a long time.  In fact, during most of my lifetime it was demonized as a Communist holiday, which you’d be unpatriotic–unAmerican!–to take seriously.

We’ve come a long way in a very short time.

Thanks to the Occupy movement, being a worker, rather than a boss, is no longer a sign of personal shortcomings, as in: what’s wrong with you, that you’re still only earning minimum wage, bub?  You dumb or something?

Likewise, the Occupy Foreclosures movement has taught us that it’s not that we were stupid to apply for that tempting mortgage, it’s that the banks were predatory and sleazy to talk us into it.

Thanks to the Occupy movement, the onus has shifted to the 1% to prove that what they’re doing is responsible and for the good of all, rather than motivated by naked greed and self-interest.

The rapacious vulture Capitalism that has dominated the U.S., and hence the world, since the end of World War II has been exposed, and there is no going back.

It may be true that many of the strikers are motivated by self-interest rather than pure altruism.  They want jobs, along with affordable housing, education and health care.

But it’s also true that the Capitalist masters of the universe have lost control of the ship and can no longer pull levers to make jobs and other social benefits magically appear.

Unless, that is, the ultra-rich 1% can be persuaded to part with a fair portion of their loot.

History shows that when the gap between the haves and have-nots widens too far, something snaps and the mob takes over to reset the balance.  Think the American, French and Haitian Revolutions.  Think the Communist takeovers of Russia and China.

When it happens, it isn’t pretty.  Haven’t those in power learned their lesson?  Don’t they realize that they can only push the 99% so far before all the police barricades in the world won’t be able to hold us back?

I don’t think we’ve hit that snapping point yet.  But May Day 2012 is going to be something to watch, and something to participate in, too, if the spirit moves you.

Me, I’ll be teaching my classes this May Day, but with a tip of my hat to what’s going on down at the barricades in New York and all across the country.

And you?  Where will you be on this historic International Worker’s Day?

“Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on?”

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

1% > 99%: Don’t Mess with the Rich, and Leave Inequality Alone

Why does it not surprise me that no comments were allowed on this op-ed piece from Sunday’s NY Times, which has been rankling at me for the past couple of days?

The authors, one a prof of law at Yale, the other UC Berkeley professor of law and economics, pose as compassionate conservatives who are concerned about the growing gap between the fabulously wealthy 1% and the rest of us 99%.

Their solution?  Impose a new, automatic tax on 1-percenters whose income exceeds $330,000—currently 36 times the median American household income.

“This new tax…would apply only to income in excess of the poorest 1-percenter — currently about $330,000 per year,” the authors (who admit to being part of this bracket) say. Their aim is not to “reverse the gains of the wealthy in the last 30 years,” but just to “assure that things don’t get worse.”

Ahem.  How about making things better???

A stark picture of the lives of those in the median (full disclosure: you’ll find me in this social landscape) was painted in today’s NYT editorial on the middle class: 

“Recent government data show that 100 million Americans, or about one in three, are living in poverty or very close to it. Of 13.3 million unemployed Americans now searching for work, 5.7 million have been looking for more than six months, while millions more have given up altogether. Even a job is no guarantee of middle-class security. The real median income of working-age households has declined, from $61,600 in 2000 to $55,300 in 2010 — the result of abysmally slow job growth even before the onset of the recession.”

You would think that our elected representatives in Congress would be concerned about this dismal state of affairs, and would be doing everything in their power to make things better for those hundreds of millions of troubled Americans, wouldn’t you?

Hah!  No, our reps in the House couldn’t be bothered to pass a bill giving us a very modest payroll tax cut, amounting to about $1,000 per year per median paycheck…because they’re holding out for strings attached that will, for example, fast-track the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Let’s connect more dots here.  According to a recent report by the non-partisan group Public Campaign, “30 multi-million dollar American corporations expended more money lobbying Congress than they paid in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010, ultimately spending approximately $400,000 every day — including weekends — during that three-year period to lobby lawmakers and influence political elections.”

You know, there would be nothing so wrong with corporations lobbying Congress IF they had the best interests of society as a whole at heart.  But we all know that’s not true. While 2010 was a “record year for executive compensation,” it was also a record year for lay-offs. And don’t even get me started about corporate sins against the environment.

It all comes back to the greed of the 1%.

In an unusual personal aside, the Yale and Berkeley profs confess that their “grandparents would be shocked to learn that the average income of the 1-percent club has skyrocketed to more than 30 times the median income — just as we will be shocked if 20 years from now 1-percenters make 80 times the median, which is where we will be if inequality continues to grow at the current rate unabated.”

So they want to hold inequality to its current levels.  That’s like saying let’s hold global warming to where it is now.  Hello-o?  Both inequality and global warming are at deadly levels right now.  Maintaining the status quo is like setting the throttle in full gear and leaving the wheel to have a drink, while the bus rolls off the cliff.

Professors, you should be ashamed of not having had the courage to enable the comments on your brilliant proposal.

Let me just put a little spin on your title, may I?  Instead of “Don’t Tax the Rich, Tax Inequality Itself,” how about: “Don’t Mess with the Rich, and Leave Inequality Alone.”  Let’s call a spade a spade–and let the debate begin!

Ruminating on the demand for “demands”: Protesters, stay on target!

This morning we were discussing Nietzsche in my Seminar class at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, and I asked the students to think about Nietzsche’s advice to his readers in the preface to The Genealogy of Morals.  “One thing is necessary above all if one is to practice reading as an art,” Nietzsche said; something that has been unlearned most thoroughly nowadays….something for which one almost has to be a cow and in any case not a “modern man”: rumination.”

In other words, Nietzsche says you have to read his work like a cow lying in a sunny field chewing her cud: slowly, deliberately, with total concentration.

If the “modern men” of 1887 had already “unlearned” this art, imagine how far away it seems to us now, in our age of the 24-hour media news circus, the Twitterati, and the sound bite.  Hardly anyone has the patience to just sit and ruminate anymore.  We are too busy clicking and chatting and running from one appointment to the next.

It’s in this busy, hectic spirit that, after having ignored the Occupy Wall Street protests entirely for their first ten days, we are now hearing impatient cries from the media for a list of “demands.”

It irritates me to no end that the media punditocracy, from Nick Kristof to Bill O’Reilly, are now pushing the protesters to get their collective act together and come up with a proper bullet-pointed list of all their grievances.  Unspoken is the subtext: tell us what’s upsetting you, dear children, so we can pat you on the head and make everything all right.

It’s condescending, again, and way too simplistic a response to the complex and serious nature of this rapidly spreading protest movement, which some are now calling the Tea Party of the left.

Some of the protesters, nettled by the insinuation that they lack focus and don’t know what they want, have hurried to put together a bonafide, if tentative, list of demands. These have been launched into the great wiki of the blogosphere, where thousands of minds are now busily turning them over and vetting them for possible political viability.  Not only the trade unions, but also Moveon.org and other big national political organizations are now poised to make hay in the sunshine of this nascent movement.

They all ought to take a deep breath and follow Nietzsche’s advice.  Take the time to ruminate.  Don’t leap too fast.  What is the hurry?  It took many years of steady, malicious manipulation to get us 99%-ers into this fix.  It’s going to take at least as long to get us out of it.

What the protesters really want cannot be contained by the old-fashioned concept of “demands.”  Their motivation comes from a much deeper place, a primal sense of justice and community.  They know that the 1%, the wealthiest Americans, have been living like parasites on the great sleeping flanks of the 99% for at least the past quarter-century.  If we 99 percenters wake up and stretch and begin to roar, there’s no telling what we might be able to accomplish together!

That’s why the protesters should not be lured in and fobbed off with the promise of a few candies or pats on the head.  What’s needed is deep systemic change of our social system.  There are some pretty radical ideas floating around out there right now, including complete debt forgiveness as a grand national “stimulus” plan.  Why bail out the banks?  Why not bail out the consumers?

This idea has merit, but it shouldn’t be just about getting us back into the same old groove of shopping for cheap foreign-produced goods, the production of which are contributing more and more to the destruction of our planetary environment.

There should also be a massive subsidy plan for renewable energy.  Instead of destroying the boreal forest in Alberta and building a misbegotten pipeline, we should be investing in low-impact renewable energy, especially solar and geothermal, which seem like the least hazardous forms of energy production currently available.

Coming up with “demands” implies faith in a political system to respond.  The Occupy Wall Street protesters are down there on the front lines precisely because they know the current political system cannot be trusted.  They’re right.

“I am no man–I am dynamite,” Nietzsche wrote in his autobiography, Ecce Homo. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are, similarly, much more than a group of individuals assembled in one place.  They are the long fuse that has now been lit; or to use a more contemporary metaphor, they are the surge in the power line.

What will happen next we do not yet know, but one thing is certain: it will not be reducible to, or solvable by, a simplistic list of “demands.”

Don’t Pepper-Spray Our Dreams

New York Times reporter Ginia Bellafante has totally missed the mark in her coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Where I see a vibrant grassroots movement unfolding organically, she sees a disorganized group, marred by a “lack of cohesion” and an “intellectual vaccuum.”

Where I see a clever use of street theater to get across messages that might be too threatening to convey in a more direct, hard-driving tone, she sees an “apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably.”

Where she sees the cause of the protesters as “impossible to decipher” because of the “diffuse and leaderless” nature of this movement, I see the cause as rather starkly clear, if expressed in a multitude of colorful ways by the individual protesters.

It’s summed up in the movement’s use of the concept of 99% to identify themselves. Last week there were protesters who wore placards saying “I am Troy Davis.”  This week, almost all Americans could don similar placards proclaiming: “I am one of the 99%”–that is, the majority of citizens who are receiving almost nothing in the way of benefits from the vast wealth generated by Wall Street.

Even the disdainful Ginia Bellafante noted the growing economic inequality of America in her article on the protest:

Last week, she said, “The Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, which included more than 50 New Yorkers whose combined net worth totaled $211 billion, arrived at the same moment as census data showing that the percentage of the city’s population living in poverty had risen to 20.1 percent. And yet the revolution did not appear to be brewing.”

Well look again, Ms. Bellafante and you Wall Street billionaires. The revolution is at your doorstep.  It may be young, motley and impulsive, but have’t revolutions always been started by the young, idealistic and passionate of any society?

They may not be arguing from any one intellectual vantage point, but they don’t need to be quoting Marx or Dewey or John Maynard Keynes to be able to pinpoint the source of the problem in our society: that the rich own our political system, and they are more interested in personal gain than in a healthy society where young people who work hard will know that they can look forward to a secure future.

We’ve seen the same kinds of protests from young people living under dictatorships in the Middle East; and in London; and now in New York and other American cities.  They all want the same thing: a social system that prioritizes the well-being of ordinary people over the need of the wealthy elite to accumulate ever more billions in personal property.

Is this too much to ask?

I don’t think so.  And it’s not “communism,” either. It’s what used to be called the American Dream, a dream that has faded for too many of us as cost of living has soared, wages have stagnated, housing values have fallen, and jobs have disappeared.

In today’s harsh world, idealist visions are often met with pepper spray.

That’s no way to treat the dreams and aspirations of our young people.

Mayor Bloomberg, you should be ashamed.

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