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"Transpartisan" is not a synonym for “neutral"

Eric Byler is an award-winning film director and a co-founder/president of Coffee Party USA. This essay was originally published July 4th, 2011.

by Eric Byler

A transpartisan approach to civic engagement steers clear of pre-packaged issue platforms.  It encourages all Americans to put the facts first, and use their own intelligence in approaching complex issues. 

Coffee Party USA is an invitation to participate in the democratic process with civility, with respect, and within a transpartisan framework.  But let me make this clear: transpartisan is not a synonym for “neutral.” It is not a barrier to participation.  It is not a constraint.  It is a liberation.

Understandably, the word "transpartisan" attracts people who want to have a voice in our political process, but are turned off by the partisanship and ugliness with which it is waged.  Often, they are conflict-averse, as most humans are.  So, they seek a non-partisan or transpartisan group with which to organize.  But they are often unable to take collective action because their desire to avoid conflict supersedes their desire to have impact. 

To silence them, all that is required is a loud, aggressive, (and usually extreme) position.  If it is repeated often enough, it is labeled “controversial” and “partisan,” and so too is anyone who challenges it.  Thus, a conflict-averse citizen or organization is barred from taking a position on anything people scream about in front of cameras.  If we allow this to govern our civic life, the result will be a political process dominated by people who thrive on conflict, who subscribe to dogmatic ideologies, and aren't able to use their intelligence to examine complex issues because they are too busy fighting.

Chasing the Middle

Another pitfall for active citizens who are conflict-averse is that they spend too much time and energy “chasing the middle.”  If your only goal is to find the "center" between two opposing arguments, you are giving up your right to define your own values.  Since the 2008 election, the Republican party has moved to the right, decrying health care and climate change policies they had once championed in order oppose President Obama.  Does that mean that a "centrist" must re-calibrate his or her beliefs on those issues in order to find the new "middle?"  As responsible citizens, we cannot allow someone else's electioneering strategy to alter who we are.  

Let's be cautious of the assumption that, "the right answer is always in the middle."  Often, the right answer simply cannot be found on the line defined by the only two options we are given.  Often, it's somewhere else entirely.

Transpartisanship and Coffee Party USA

So, how can the Coffee Party, or any transpartisan organization have impact in a deliberative process dominated by conflict-driven political entertainment? 

  1. See transpartisanship as an exploration, not a constraint.
  2. Learn to deal with criticism, and accept that conflict cannot always be avoided. 
  3. Remember that our guiding principles cannot be abandoned, even in the face of strong rhetoric.

Organizing with the Coffee Party is not going to be a refuge from criticism or unfair accusations.  Any movement, in fact any opinion that stands in the way of somebody's political agenda is sure to get a dose of that. 

But, if you are willing to transcend partisanship, and stand up to the bullying and misinformation that disguise and perpetuate the Cycle of Corruptionwithout becoming part of it — your civic life will have an authenticity and integrity that enriches our deliberative process, and sets an example that inspires others to join you. 

The Rich Don't Need a Free Ride

Why should I pay no taxes while someone who gets up and goes to work every day does?

by William Rice

Despite popular fascination with the rich and famous, most working people have little understanding of the finances of the wealthy. And the rich use that unfamiliarity to their advantage as they wield their outsized influence over public policy.

Take the competing tax proposals of this year's most celebrated Republican presidential candidates. Going almost unmentioned amid all the discussion of the 9-percent federal sales tax in Herman Cain's "9-9-9" plan, or the surviving deductions in Rick Perry's 20-percent flat tax, is that under both plans capital gains wouldn't be taxed at all. Perry would also not tax dividends, and the other GOP hopefuls would largely exempt from taxation both of these kinds of passive income as well.

Now, if you're a middle-class wage earner for whom dividends and capital gains are, at most, modest entries on your annual mutual fund statement, their exemption from taxation is a minor consideration when examining the merits of a tax plan. But if you're among the independently wealthy who live almost entirely on dividends and capital gains, such a provision holds great appeal. It means you would pay no federal income tax at all. Nothing. Nada. Zero.

Of course, all the candidates would also eliminate the estate tax, meaning that rich people would never be taxed on their inherited assets or income. As in pre-revolutionary France, taxes would be left entirely to the middle-class and poor.

I'm quite familiar with these permanent passive-income tax holidays promised by the GOP presidential hopefuls, because I'm one of those independently wealthy people who would benefit so handsomely. I'm no Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, but I do have enough money that the money I make from having money is enough for me to live on. I mostly volunteer my time to worthy causes, and though I occasionally pull down a paycheck or charge a client fee, the bulk of my income comes from interest, dividends, and capital gains.

Why should I pay no taxes while someone who gets up and goes to work every day does? The reason usually offered for taxing passive income at a lower rate than wages, salaries, and small-business income is that such preferential treatment encourages investment and job creation. And that may be true of entrepreneurs who start businesses, seek investors, and then sell off their creations and start all over again.

But I don't do any of those things, and there are millions of rich people like me who don't either. Like a lot of them, I inherited stock in big companies like IBM and General Electric. I support myself primarily by going to my mailbox, picking up dividend checks, and depositing them. Occasionally I sell some shares at a profit. And conservative tax reformers believe I should be rewarded for this great exertion by exempting me entirely from taxation.

This is neither fair nor logical at a time of rising federal debt and severe budget cuts. True "job creators" could be encouraged without benefiting those like me who don't need any more economic breaks. The preferential treatment already accorded capital gains and dividends from startup companies could be increased. Those who make a majority of their money from working could be encouraged to save and invest by taxing their investment income at lower rates than those of the already independently wealthy.

Coming Out of the Money Closet

Some of you may know me from my videos parodying the notion of a “Corporate Person American.”  In them, I turn to music and to comedy to express the indignation I feel about our nation’s irrational, immoral upward redistribution of wealth. One reason I’m so familiar with our dysfunctional economic system is that I’m one of those who have gained (at least materially) from it. Though I’m not really a “Corporate Person American,” I am an American who benefits from corporate-influenced policies. The following essay — which has been syndicated in about a dozen newspapers — is my attempt to address this same issue I take on in my videos, but from another, more personal angle.

By William Rice

I recently came out of the money closet. 

It’s said that personal finances are the last taboo; if so, I and scores of others broke it by posting messages to the website “We Stand With the 99 Percent” in which we announced ourselves as wealthy supporters of the Occupy movement.  Each message ended with the statement: “I am the 1 percent. I stand with the 99 percent.”

This was in response to the claims of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other critics that the Wall Street protestors’ advocacy of the economic interest of 99 percent of the American public was somehow pitting one group of Americans against another.

The messages on the website offer a fascinating glimpse into the emotional role money plays in all our lives, and now in the raw politics of recession.  The posts vary widely: some are from trust fund babies, some from Internet millionaires, some from the simply comfortably middle class.  But all argue that it makes no sense for any Americans to suffer privation when so many have so much. 

This may be another big, welcome change that comes out of the Occupy movement.  Just as cancer and other diseases are now discussed openly, much to the benefit of personal health and public education, even though they were at one time kept strictly private; so another central element of our lives—money—may finally become a fit subject for general discussion. 

It may be a hard transition for some rich people to make. Many of those posting on the “1 Percent” website completely or partially obscure their faces, like criminals on a perp walk or protestors afraid of police surveillance.

Among the independently wealthy, such training starts early.  Many of us are told not to talk about money when we’re young, presumably for fear of kidnappers and moochers.  Plus, wealth—ironically, like poverty—is a marker of unwelcome distinction among kids just wanting to be like everyone else. 

As we grow older, the rules are internalized: we become vague and furtive when issues of personal finance arise; cover stories are carefully constructed; make-believe or lightly-compensated jobs are attended to; tight-lipped nods of sympathy are offered to the economic tales of woe offered by our friends.

For some, the secrecy comes not only from a desire to fit in but from deep sense of guilt. Many of the 1 Percent posters agonizingly admit to ancestors growing rich from slavery, colonization and child labor.  These are not easy ethical issues to resolve.

Lessig delivers message to #OccupyDC on Money in Politics, will return #Oct29 for Citizens Intervention at US Capitol

by Eric Byler

Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig spoke yesterday at Occupy DC at McPherson Square (video coming soon) about how We the People can fight against corruption in our government and restore our democracy.  And he will return to Washington DC as a keynote speaker at the Citizens Intervention rally at the US Capitol on October 29th.

Why is our political process so dysfunctional?  What is the relationship between lobbying, campaign donations, tax loopholes, and our national debt?  The videos below offer an outstanding introduction to Lessig's latest book: A Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress and a Plan to Stop it. Lessig's lectures and his writing have the potential to become a graduate level course on how to save our Republic, a course that America can take together.

WARNING: the truth will not only set you free, it will make you a little angry.  But these videos not only reveal some of the machinations of what Christopher Hedges calls The Corporate State, they also illuminate a path toward constructive and collective actions we can take to restore government of, for, and by The People; not the Funders.

Tea and Coffee at Harvard

My takeaway from A Conference on the Constitutional Convention

by Al Cannistraro

Al Cannistraro is a retired Social Security Disability Adjudicator from New York City.  He lives in upstate New York near Albany, where he pursues various and sundry interests.

A "Conference on the Constitutional Convention," a three-day event held recently at Harvard Law School's Ames Courtroom, located in historic Austin Hall on the Cambridge campus. "ConConCon," as it was also called, examined the "pros and cons" and "ins and outs" of attempting to hold an Article V Constitution Convention to make necessary updates to the US Constitution. The clause of Article V that was specifically examined and discussed allows for a convention to be initiated by applications from 34 of the 50 states (two-thirds), with any resulting proposed amendments to be put up for ratification by three-fourths of the states.

The event was co-chaired by Mark Meckler, a lawyer and former network and Internet marketer, who also is a spokesman for and co-founder of Tea Party Patriots, and Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard law professor and founder of Rootstrikers. The event drew approximately 400 participants from across the political spectrum, several of whom were pro-convention activists and/or Article V experts.

Lessig and Meckler opened and closed the event.

Instapundit founder Glenn Reynolds delivered a "Keynote from the Right,” while Prof. Lessig delivered a keynote from a different perspective. Speakers on different panels focused on legal and procedural issues, political issues, and strategies. A Closing Panel looked forward to possible next steps.

#OccupyWallStreet First Official Statement — unclear this is NOT

by Eric Byler

Quoted below and read aloud by Keith Olbermann above, yesterday's first official statement from the General Assembly at #OccupyWallStreet deftly and powerfully illustrates the threat to life and liberty represented by unchecked and unregulated accumulation of power by multi-national corporations with bases in America.  Before they can be expected to identify the solution, we should — and I am certain History will — acknowledge and appreciate the heroic acts of patriotism that have finally forced the nation to focus on the problem.  

The statement focuses on the impact that corporate corruption of our democracy, and the policies it produces, has on the quality of life for human beings in America.  That is the essence of the matter, is it not?  Pundits and political activists have looked at corporate spending to influence our government through the very narrow-minded frame of "which political party does the spending help?" instead of what is the impact on the PEOPLE who live in this country?  The Occupiers have it right.  What matters is the quality of life for the 99%, not the profit margin for the 1%.  It's as simple as that.

Despite criticisms that the Occupy phenomenon lacks a clarity of vision or purpose, this official statement matches up quite nicely with what I learned from founding members of #OccupyDC.  See video below.  I would venture a guess that the same messaging consistency is present in the emerging occupations around the U.S.  This thing is big.  This thing is growing.  And it's not going away.

The United States of America was born out of a collective response to an abuse of power — a defiant response to a collusion between the British government and a corporation with which it was deeply engaged: the East India Tea Company.  Now, more than two centuries later, a new generation of patriots must use the tools that were bequeathed to us by our founders — including the right to free speech and the freedom to assemble — to respond to an abuse of power that is many times more potent.  That is why I am supporting and documenting #OccupyDC, now in its 6th day at McPherson Square.  That is why I am supporting and documenting the October 6 occupation beginning today at Freedom Plaza.  And that is why I am helping to plan the Citizens Intervention at the US Capitol on Oct. 29th (I'll be too busy producing the event to document it — to this I am hoping others will step up).

As Jon Stewart points out in the hilarious segment below, one spark for the American Revolution was a felony act of civil disobedience from which the Tea Party borrowed its name.  Stewart lambastes Sean Hannity and other character actors in corporate media for hypocritical responses to a genuine grassroots movement (after two years of cheerleading and orchestrating the Tea Party).

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Parks and Demonstration
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

Cenk Uygur, what's on your mind? — interview with Annabel Park as America awaits new show on Current TV

Coffee Party's Annabel Park interviews Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks at the historic Commander Hotel in Cambridge, MA during the Conference on the Constitutional Convention

Lawrence Lessig of Rootstrikers and Harvard Law School hosted the Conference on the Constitutional Convention along with Mark Meckler of the Tea Party Patriots to consider whether America needs changes to the constitution.

Former Vice President Al Gore and Current TV recently announced the signing of Uygur and the world's most successful on-line news show for a 7 PM ET slot starting this fall.

Corporations Strike Back — counter protest planned for Oct. 29 Enough is Enough rally

Corporate-person American pioneer Will Rice gathers supporters for his counter-protest at the Enough is Enough rally and Citizens Intervention at the US Capitol #Oct29 2011.  The petition demands that corporations should be allowed to purchase time on stage for supporter of the "Citizens United" Supreme Court decision.

More info at www.CitizensIntervention.com

Transpartisan agreement: Congress is broken

Some Coffee Party members are attending a transpartisan conference in Boston hosted by Coffee Party "rock star" Larry Lessig and Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler [watch LIVE web cast]. I met Mr. Meckler last night at a reception and found him to be a thoughtful and open-minded person. Looking forward to being on a panel with him tomorrow.  I expected that conservatives would have only token representation, as they often do unfortunately at trans-partisan events.  But this place is crawling with them, and that's a good sign. 

I am not sure how I feel yet about calling a new Constitutional Convention under Article 5, but one thing I have learned in the past few years is that our Congress is broken. Our country is suffering from systemic, institutionalized abuse of power, and that is what our Constitution was designed to protect us against.

Eric Byler

Conference on the whether or not we need a Constitutional Convention

by Lawrence Lessig

Two hundred and twenty four years ago, people of radically different views put aside those differences long enough to save this Nation. America was on the brink of collapse. Its first constitution was an unmitigated disaster. Only a radical, and some say illegal, reform could restore the promise of the nation declared a generation before when it claimed its independence from Britain.

We forget this fact about them today. To us, they all look very much alike — white guys, some in wigs, eloquent and brave no doubt, but certainly not the picture of significant difference in either ideas or values. Yet when the men who founded this nation met in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, there were fundamental differences among them. Slavery, for example: The men who founded this nation were critically divided on this fundamental question. Some thought it natural and appropriate. Some thought it the quintessential injustice. Yet they were able to put even this difference aside enough to craft a pact that would give birth to our constitution (and eventually, death to slavery).

On September 25 & 26, I will co-host a conference at Harvard with Tea Party Patriots co-founder Mark Meckler, on whether it is time for a new constitutional convention. Our conference is obviously not that convention. We don't pretend to parallel that event two and a quarter centuries ago, and certainly not any of its characters.  [MORE]

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