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Looking Back at Recent History: Feb. 2011

The TEA Party has consistently gotten more publicity — let's face it, the TEA Party primarily WAS publicity, and that's nothing to sneeze at in today's media dominated world.  But many of the events in this Top Ten list that Annabel and I compiled in early 2011 turned out to have more impact than anything on Fox News at the time. And of course all of this was six months before the Occupy movement transformed our national narrative, in my opinion, for the better. When it was originally published, this essay received nearly a million hits and was shared 60K times.

Below is a look back at what we were thinking in February of 2011.  (Or, click here for video evidence.)

by Annabel Park & Eric Byler

Years from now, we will think of February 2011 as the tipping point in America’s great awakening. After all the warnings and wake-up calls, this be will remembered as the time when the American people decided to come together, confront the plutocracy that plagues our republic, and do something to change the economic inequality / instability that has grown from it. There is a tide. If you don't yet feel it, here are Ten Wake Up Calls that we predict will help define February 2011 in America.  The more people who get involved, the more meaningful it will be.  So, please share this page with others who may still need a reason to wake up and stand up.

1)  Egypt.  It had to have an impact: so many Americans glued to their televisions, watching as people take to the streets, ready to die for freedom, destined to topple an oppressive regime that had dominated them for decades.  How?  By peacefully demanding self-governance.  Their triumph made us believe we could, and should, demand the same.  

wisconsin1.jpg2)  Bob Herbert's Challenge To America.  While some Americans looked at Egypt and thought, "They're trying to get what we already have," Bob Herbert's Feb. 12 column challenged us to look in the mirror.  He wrote, "Senator John Kerry said that the Egyptian people 'have made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities.' Americans are being asked to swallow exactly the opposite. In the mad rush to privatization over the past few decades, democracy itself was put up for sale, and the rich were the only ones who could afford it. ...The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that's a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away."  Herbert's analysis connected the erosion of the American democracy to the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision and the infestation of money in politics.  

3)  The Protest & the Prank Call in Wisconsin  Even Fox News has acknowledged the historic showdown in Madison, Wisconsin has nothing to do with balancing a budget as Gov. Walker claims.  "It’s about the power," Paul Krugman wrote on Feb. 20 in his NY Times column. "The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.  So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t."

Fully aware that this is a power play, tens of thousands of people have been protesting for the last 10 days in the state capitol in Madison. The Wisconsin protest has sparked a movement, theSave the American Dream movement, which launched with rallies across the country on Feb. 26.

KochWalker.jpg

With the state capital overflowing with protesters, and Governor Scott Walker insisting Wisconsin's public sector workers should be punished for the global credit crisis, journalist Ian Murphy called the Governor's office on Feb. 23 falsely identifying himself as California billionaire David Koch.  Their now infamous phone callposed a vital question to the nation: would a taxpaying resident of Wisconsin be granted the same access?  "That's where you see the access and power that major corporations and wealthy contributors will have in a Walker administration," Ezra Klein pointed out.  And Mary Bottari of PR Watch outlined theshocking corruption implied in this now infamous recording.  But both Klein and Bottari would readily agree: this same type of corruption permeates our federal government as well.  News of Gov. Walker's disgrace has penetrated layers of society who could care less about collective bargaining, but enjoy a good prank.  Thus, America now has names and faces — two men who are not in jail, but in power — to symbolize the systemic, institutionalized corruption at the heart of our republic.  Money buys influence because money buys elections, and this incident will help push America into changing that. 

4)  Johann Hari's article in The Nation.
  If you haven't caught the bug, you will when you read this article.  Johann Hari begins with, "Imagine a parallel universe," speaking of the almost unimaginable success of UK Uncut: a leaderless social movement that swept Great Britain, announcing to the world:"There is an alternative to making the poor and the middle class pay for a crisis caused by the rich."  Hari recounts how UK Uncut transformed the national dialogue on proposed budget cutsby comparing the price tags for missing revenue caused by corporations who refuse to pay their taxes and cuts in housing subsidies, for instance, that would drive people who DO pay taxes out of their homes. 

The resulting uproar changed the course of history.  Hari's follow-up article laid out some steps for making this happen in the United States, and among the many promising results: US Uncut held dozens of protests at Bank of America branches on Feb. 26 calling attention to the fact that they didn't pay any taxes in 2010.  US Uncut is working in concert with a coalition of more than 40 organizations called Save the American Dream which on the same day held rallies at all 50 state capitals and elsewhere in support of the people of Wisconsin.

5)  It's the Inequality, Stupid.  To drive home the point about the economic inequality in America, Dave Gilson and Carolyn Perot put together this Mother Jones piece with 5 powerful graphics illustrating the fact that 99% of Americans have been left in the dust over 30 years by the wealthiest 1%.

This graphic should become the symbol of an historic democracy movement with many names and no identifiable leader.  We challenge Americans to use their creativity to render countless interpretations of this graphic.  We want people to see this image on T-shirts, on bumper stickers, on billboards, on bridges, and even on jumbotrons.  We have a political system that benefits people with money. Blinded by a false paradigm of left vs. right, we focus our anger at one another, instead of the underlying threat to our republic: the corruption of our government by endless cash and those who wield it.  We hope that this graphic will emerge as a symbol and a constant reminder of the road map to economic ruin — a course that has yet to be corrected — a course we must correct, even if it means bridging partisan, ethnic, and cultural rifts to do so.

6) The Great American Rip-off  Much has been said about "too big to fail" banks and the massive, recurring bailouts ensured by our current banking system.  Prof. Lawrence Lessigand others have anguished over the fact that we have yet to correct this system, calling it, "the dumbest form of socialism ever produced by man: where we socialize the risk, but privatize the benefit."  And Matt Taibbi wrote in Rolling Stone Magazine, "This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world's wealth — and nobody went to jail."  Terrified that this injustice would inspire a movement to change all of that, corporate interests including the Koch Brothers spent billions in 2009 and 2010 on misinformation campaigns and political theater designed to turn the resulting Great Recession into a weapon to divide us rather than the unifying wake-up call it was destined to be.  Now, potentially, this tactic will backfire, and the wake-up call so feared by the ruling elite will sweep the nation with double the force.

7)  BP makes US sick. If there was no accountability for corporate tycoons who destroyed our economy, would destroying our environment lead to a different outcome? In a Truthout article entitled "We're poisoned, we're sick," Dahr Jamail and Erika Blumenfeld remind us that fellow Americans living along the Gulf of Mexico have been suffering symptoms of toxic chemical exposure for months.  Now BP has been awarded a $7.2 billion deal to explore deep water drilling in India.

8) House of Representatives run amok Goldman Sachs recently distributed a privatememo to its clients warning that the dangerously ideological House budget proposal would severely damage our economy. The best thing they could say about it was that it would likely be vetoed. And this analysis by Center for American Progresscompares the ten safety net programs slated for deep cuts with the cost of the tax breaks for the super-wealthy, exposing the warped and misaligned logic of expecting hard-working Americans to accept drastic cuts that will negatively impact our quality of life, in order to pay for corporate welfare in the aftermath of a crisis. Whether or not the hardline position of House leaders is political posturing, the impending showdown between ideological extremism and informed pragmatism (and possible shutdown of the federal government) will be yet another illuminating jolt for our silent, disengaged majority. The price for apathy is too steep to pay.

9) The Stiglitz Deficit-reduction Plan. We support this plan by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz because it improves efficiency, bolsters growth, and reduces destabilizing inequality. If the tide we are sensing truly lifts all boats, this plan will be attainable despite the inevitable wailing of powerful interest groups and right-wing media holdings.  Elements of Stiglitz' plan include:

  • Increase spending on high-return public investments.
  • Cut military spending.
  • Eliminate corporate welfare.
  • Negotiate prices with drug companies.
  • End special benefits to the energy sector.
  • Create a fairer and more efficient tax system, by eliminating the special treatment of capital gains and dividends.
  • Increase taxes to the top 1% by 5%.

10)  Tax Week, April 11 to 17, 2011.  As April 15, 2011 nears, the American people are on the verge of watershed accomplishment.  Imagine if the national narrative about Tax Day 2011 were based on accurate information, and a need for real change, instead of the misinformed and misdirected anger from a year ago?  This is within our reach.  And our medium term goal should be seize the opportunity.  Rather than "we're broke" and "we don't like paying taxes," what if the spirit of Tax Day 2011 said this:

We see the whole truth.  We understand the link between budget deficits, tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%, and corporate welfare.  We understand that we are broke by design because the taxes that are owed to this nation are paid by everyone except those who benefit most from doing business here.  We are not going to allow the corruption of our government to continue without challenge.  We demand nothing less than a fundamental change to our power structure.  Once people see the whole truth, that change will be inevitable.  Cut entitlement programs?  We agree!  Let’s cut corporate entitlement programs: cut corporate tax loopholes, tax havens, tax breaks, and subsidies. 

 

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