Time to Occupy Congress with Strategic Demands? A Ten Point Proposal.
Submitted to the Sovereign People of Occupy Wall Street for deliberation.
As Occupy Wall Street moves into the winter of 2011, many are asking: What now? The failure to issue demands which are understandable to a much broader segment of the populace plays into the hands of those who will define us if we do not define ourselves. These enemies are powerful and determined. Gandhi carefully chose an issue which symbolized a reasonable and fundamental right when he marched in protest of the salt tax.
OWS has met with resounding success in its first stages, in identifying the problems associated with crony capitalism and revealing the coordinated attack by the wealthiest one percent upon the middle class, as detailed by one of Occupy Wall Street's true founders, David DeGraw, in his landmark report "The Economic Elite vs. The People of the United States of America." But to move forward, we must defeat the media assault which seeks to paint us as a directionless, inarticulate mob who have merely lost the economic race.
The world must never be allowed to forget that it is crony capitalists who thrive on hand-outs from the government, who want something for nothing, not the hard-working people of Occupy Wall Street.
Now that key demands are crystallizing even among a remarkably diverse movement, it is vital to sharpen our focus on the culprits who have put the backs of the middle class to the wall. One constructive criticism we hear is: "Why are you occupying Wall Street? They did not bail out themselves, or hand themselves these prerogatives. The Congress did. The people should be occupying Congress."
In a representative democracy as broken as ours, those who pass the laws which are ultimately enforced by state power are responsible for the appearance of legitimacy behind that power. Without this legitimacy, state force becomes naked force, and the powers behind it can be readily seen for what they are: opportunists, corrupters, crooks. Corruption will always be with us. Laws can only strive to make it more difficult. Unfortunately, under the present system of campaign finance laws, open corruption is perfectly legal.
We demand that Congress change the laws which enable and perpetuate the crony capitalism which has pushed us into the streets in protest, to be met by force purporting to enforce the rule of law. The present laws in fact only enforce crony capitalism, which is nothing more than socialism for the one percent. This has drawn wealth upwards from the middle-class through bailouts, war profiteering, and the enormous range of legal swindles such as tax write-offs, deductions, offshore havens, depletion allowances, and other devices.
It is said erroneously that Occupy Wall Street merely wants to "tax the rich." This is incorrect. OWS wants to stop the full range of devices by which wealth is further being transferred from the assets, benefits, and retirement accounts of the 99% to the portfolios of the one percent, of which tax policy is only one. Foreclosures continue. Congress eyes cuts in benefits worked for long and hard by the middle class, including social security, even as TARP and other bailout payments which reward only casino gambling continue into the trillions. As the unemployed continue to sell off pieces of their retirement accounts, mutual funds and stocks, corporations like JPMorgan/Chase and Goldman Sachs are spending record amounts to buy back their own stocks at bargain prices.
Wall Street manipulates the cycles time and again to buy cheap what the middle class has paid for dear, and is now forced to sell on Wall Street's terms to survive. These are attacks on an entire class whose parallels can only be found in feudal times, during the Middle Ages, when nations of freemen were overnight forced into serfdom.
It is often said by the Disinformation Media that Occupy Wall Street is "redistributive," seeks to redistribute wealth. This is yet again incorrect. We seek not the redistribution of wealth, but to keep the wealth which is already ours.
It is time to Occupy Congress, in stages, with demands which are clear, reasonable, and which resonate with the 99%. It is imperative that these demands strike at the heart of the power which the one percent wields over our political process. This power, first and foremost, rests on what can only be called legalized bribery, that is, the current system of money in politics which wrongfully equates money with "free speech."
Money in Politics and Buckley vs. Valeo
The decision of the US Supreme Court in Buckely vs. Valeo is fundamentally corrupt for one simple reason: were the premise of this decision to be sound, it would eliminate the crime of bribery, because handing out money in all instances would be tantamount to free speech. If money were equal to speech, I could claim the First Amendment for trying to give a police officer a one-hundred-dollar bill to avoid a speeding ticket. Clearly the Founders intended no such outlandish interpretation.
The distinction between what can be ethically considered legitimate campaign contributions, or bribes, of course, is the expectation of a quid pro quo. The citizens' watchdog MAPLight.org has identified two disturbing trends which expose how the wealthy maintain their grip. The first trend is that, on average, 80% of every congressman's campaign contributions come from outside the district, tending to flow from a relatively small number districts in wealthier urban financial centers to the much greater number of poorer rural districts, by average income. The data found that campaign contributions tended to flow from wealthy zip codes, like Chevy Chase, outward like spokes to congressmen representing poorer zip codes. This pattern repeats itself with corporate contributions.
The second disturbing trend found by MAPLight.org is that money from industries tends to flow to members of committees charged with regulating and overseeing them, such as finance or telecommunications, i.e. "committee member-shopping." At this point I might add that it behooves any serious student of campaign finance to read the startling and not at all tedious MAPlight.org report “Remote Control: U.S. House members raise 79% of campaign funds from outside their districts.”
It is never too late to rectify an obviously tarnished and absurd Supreme Court decision. It is within the prerogative of Congress to pass a law which forces the Supreme Court to revisit Buckley vs. Valeo, and to throw it back into the political arena. Any set of demands which does not fundamentally re-align the system of power relationships and incentives in Washington is doomed to fail, and amounts to merely shuffling chairs on the deck of the Titanic. For these reasons, a radical restructuring of money in politics should be our First Demand. Once this is done, many other reforms will fall into place, because the incentives which dictate whom politicians must please to win re-election will be re-aligned.
The majority of the population is now against the wars yet the wars continue. Why? Bank bailouts are unpopular, yet they are passed. Why? Because the politicians are no longer answerable to the voters in their own districts, but to money which allows them to fend off any challenger, with a barrage of advertising which may distort, impugn, and misrepresent. When money is removed, all outcomes will more accurately reflect the popular will, of which most politicians are fully aware. On many issues, from pollution to predatory financial practices, the problem is not so much lack of knowledge of how to fix them, as lack of political will to do so. Politicians know exactly what the problems are and how to fix them, because we have told them over and over. The problem is they simply do not care.
Therefore the First Demand:
1. Get the Money Out of Politics. Set a limit on campaign contributions to $2,000, per cycle, to come only from "natural persons" qualified to vote in that district. No corporate contributions from within or outside the district, no contributions from special interests of any kind, be they union, NRA, or corporate PACs. Only people who can actually vote for a particular candidate can give money to him or her.
This makes sense because why should I be giving money to someone else's congressman? I want my congressman to do what I want because I live here and vote, not because you who lives somewhere else gave him money. Perhaps I cannot afford to give him as much as you did, or anything. Congressmen should represent their districts, period.
Once corporations are banned from making campaign contributions, the stage will be set to eliminate corporate "personhood," and to directly challenge Citizens United. Corporations will be unable to openly bribe congressmen, through "campaign contributions," into defeating these measures, or watering them down. Our demands will have little chance of passing in effective form as long as Congress answers to the corporate powers which flood the system with money. If the incentives are skewed, the results will be skewed, and even if the demands are agreed to in principle, politicians beholden to money will constantly be busy finding ways to undermine the intent of the laws. Their payday will still depend on how clever they are at manipulation, not how faithful they are at representation.
Free speech is different from bribery. The two are not one and the same. Citizens should only be allowed to give money to candidates who would represent them in Congress. Giving money to one who would not should be considered bribery. Citizens who are not represented by a particular candidate have no business giving money which dilutes the influence of citizens who are.
MAPLight.org has documented significant correlationships which are suggestive of quid pro quo in corporate campaign finance. It found that congressmen who voted for TARP, the "Troubled Assets Relief Program," received nearly 50 percent more in campaign contributions from the financial services industry than congressmen who voted no. Legislators who voted for the automobile industry bailout in 2009 received an average of 40 percent more in "contributions" from that industry than those who voted against it. And House Energy and Commerce Committee members who voted yes on an amendment in 2009 favored by the forest products industry, to allow heavier cutting of trees, received an average of $25,745 from the forestry and paper products industry. This was ten times as much as was received by each member voting no.
The legal definition of "bribery" is: "The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of something of value for the purpose of influencing the action of an official in the discharge of his or her public or legal duties." This data is enough to condemn the entire present system.
There are some who will object to this new rule because they make donations to favorite representatives or senators in other districts who particularly embody their politics and their values. But, first, no campaign finance rule can prevent any citizen from volunteering and working his or her heart out for any candidate he or she likes, however far away. Secondly, and more saliently, the net effect would be to the advantage of the ordinary citizen and against the money power. There will be less need to support an honest congressman far away if there are fewer outsiders trying to buy yours out.…(FOR FULL REPORT PLEASE SEE ARTICLE: “Demand to Get the Money Out of Politics: A “One Demand?”)
Once this first critical demand is established and made law, all other demands will follow more easily. Points Two through Ten:
2. Stop the rapid transfer of wealth upward from the middle class to the one percent which already owns one-third of all wealth, by ending further payments from the TARP and other bank bailouts. Repeal the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, which bails out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac with unlimited lines of credit, and allow homeowners to renegotiate with banks based on present values, not purchase values. These hand-outs may cost middle-class taxpayers up to $23 trillion for incompetent and slovenly business practices, according to Neil Barofsky, former Inspector General for the TARP bailouts. Politico reports:
"A series of bailouts, bank rescues and other economic lifelines could end up costing the federal government as much as $23 trillion, the U.S. government’s watchdog over the effort says – a staggering amount that is nearly double the nation’s entire economic output for a year."
Alternatively, or concurrently, a proposal put forth by political and financial columnist Matt Taibbi could be implemented which recommends a tax of 0.1 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all trades of derivatives. Taibbi says this would generate enough revenue to "pay us back for the bailouts, and still have plenty left over to fight the deficits the banks claim to be so worried about." Taibbi says "It would also deter the endless chase for instant profits through computerized insider-trading schemes like High Frequency Trading, and force Wall Street to go back to the job it’s supposed to be doing, i.e., making sober investments in job-creating businesses and watching them grow." Finally, revoke the Federal Reserve's recent approval for Bank of America to shift trillions of dollars worth of derivative obligations from Merrill Lynch and the BAC holding company to the FDIC insured retail deposit division, a transaction which has the potential to trigger a major devaluation and a run on the dollar.
3. End the wars. Wars are one of the most profitable enterprises of Wall Street. Wars are about Wall Street, and Wall Street is about Wars. In 2006 the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy found that stock price gains for defense contractors averaged 48 percent more than the overall stock market. Defense corporation CEOs are not only in the one percent, but often in the .1%.
We demand that Congress pass Rep. Barbara Lee-Rep. Ron Paul H.R. 780: "Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act" - "To provide that funds for operations of the Armed Forces in Afghanistan shall be obligated and expended only for purposes of providing for the safe and orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan" (emphasis mine.) Part of an orderly withdrawal is the strengthening of Afghan civil society in order to prevent civil war. We demand Congress devote 5% of one year's cost of military operations as reparations, to jump-start Afghan-run infrastructure programs run by the clean ministry the Afghan National Solidarity Program. Half of Afghans are malnourished and many more survive day-to-day after 10 years of occupation, and this is shameful. The Afghan National Solidarity Program can create basic jobs which Afghans want and need building their water, irrigation, and sanitation infrastructure. Incredibly, this winter many Afghans are faced once again with completely preventable starvation.
We will send every congress member a copy of Marine General and double Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler's book "War is a Racket" and demand he or she read it. On the kick-off day for End the Wars we will march holding the likeness of General Smedley Butler, who said in 1935:
"War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives... A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small 'inside' group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes."
Marine General, Double Medal of Honor Winner Smedley D. Butler, "War is a Racket"
4. End the Fed. Stop the 6% interest which the US taxpayer must pay to the Federal Reserve for the issuance of its own currency, which must be paid in addition to the interest due to the bond holder. The original deal in 1913 creating the Federal Reserve Bank had a simple back-out clause. The investors loaned the United States Government $1 billion. And the back-out clause allows the United States to buy out the system for that $1 billion. If the Federal Reserve Bank were demolished and the Congress of the United States took control of the currency, as required in the Constitution, the National Debt would virtually end overnight, and the need for more taxes and even the income tax, itself. Thomas Jefferson was concise in his early warning to the American nation, “If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all their property until their children will wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”
Article I, Section 8, Clause 5, of the United States Constitution provides that Congress shall have the power to coin money and regulate the value thereof and of any foreign coins. But that is not the case. The United States government has no power to issue money, control the flow of money, or to even distribute it – that belongs to a private corporation registered in the State of Delaware – the Federal Reserve Bank. [Proposal taken from Coup Media Group straw poll of demands.]
5. Stop ocean dumping. The oceans are dying, the most important link in the web of life that is our complex ecosystem. There is a "garbage patch" in the Pacific Ocean, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is now twice the size of the state of Texas, and growing. Most of this is un-biodgradable plastics. The oceans can no longer be seen as infinite depositories of refuse. By instituting an outright ban on ocean dumping, market mechanisms will be forced to respond to new requirements for materials recycling and reduction in a way which incorporates the true cost of plastics and other disposable materials. Consumers will discipline themselves to producing less garbage, moving to reusable containers and shunning products packaged in materials which cannot be composted when the cost of garbage loads to municipal dumps becomes exorbitant, with the outlet of ocean dumping gone. This would also reduce the use of fossil fuels, which are the key ingredient (petroleum) in plastics. With demand for disposable plastic packages reduced because they are too expensive to discard, plastics and other hydrocarbon synthetics manufacturing would decrease.
Devote $200 billion of the current Pentagon budget to naval technology to create robot ships to sweep the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and other similar gyres, with the attendant job creation for American shipyards, engineers, and subcontractors. Clean-up of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch should be a national and international challenge as the Apollo Space program was, in order to show what is possible in a 21st Century drive to clean up the Earth. Large portions of the Pentagon budget and its attendant engineering expertise should be devoted to creating state-of-the-art clean, renewable energy solutions for transfer to the civilian sector. Correct the current "brain drain" to new weapons technology to solving the water crisis with the research and manufacturing of next generation desalinization plants, powered by solar energy.
6. CONGRESS PASS HR 1489 (“RETURN TO PRUDENT BANKING ACT")
THIS REINSTATES MANY PROVISIONS OF THE GLASS-STEAGALL ACT. — Wikipedia entry summary: The repeal of provisions of the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 by the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act in 1999 effectively removed the separation that previously existed between investment banking which issued securities and commercial banks which accepted deposits. The deregulation also removed conflict of interest prohibitions between investment bankers serving as officers of commercial banks. Most economists believe this repeal directly contributed to the severity of the Financial crisis of 2007–2011 by allowing Wall Street investment banking firms to gamble with their depositors’ money that was held in commercial banks owned or created by the investment firms.
7. End the "war on drugs," as many law enforcement officers, former law enforcement officers, and police chiefs are calling for, including Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.
8. Require colleges which accept federal grant, loan and research money to limit tuition and expense increases to no more than one-half the rate of inflation, to compensate for decades of these costs rising at far greater than the rate of inflation.
9. Pass legislation which outlaws the death penalty in all 50 states, in the name of Troy Davis, "Troy's Law." We have not forgotten. Before he was murdered by the State of Georgia by the denial of his Constitutional right of due process, Troy Davis wrote in his last letter: "We need to dismantle this Unjust system city by city, state by state and country by country. I can’t wait to Stand with you, no matter if that is in physical or spiritual form..." What Troy has written has come to pass, and he now stands besides Occupy Wall Street in spirit. Rather than kill him, his spirit has multiplied in us and is manifest in our determination to abolish the death penalty, which has been shown by the DNA exonerations of the last two decades to be wildly unjust. Occupy Wall Street says this to Troy's killers: WE ARE ALL TROY DAVIS!
10. Re-establish the Bill of Rights of the Constitution as the Law of the Land, by repealing the Patriot Act, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (HR-6166,) which allows for the indefinite detention and trial by military tribunal of American citizens. We are the Sovereign People. We will not be spied upon by our employees, the US government, without the probable cause and warrant required by our birthright, the Bill of Rights.
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” — Fourth Amendment to the Constitution
This is regrettably a woefully incomplete list of demands, drawn from many fine proposals and commentaries by the people of OWS, and this is only one possible statement. But for now we only need show the world that we are not a mob, we are not malcontents, we are not slackers, but a determined, purposeful movement seeking to make changes which will improve many lives and reverse the taking of our futures.
We can begin to occupy Congress by setting a date to occupy for our First Demand, on which occupiers and their supporters will furnish congress members and their staffs with this demand. Every congress member has multiple district offices in addition to his or her main office in Washington. Supporters will occupy congress's phone lines. To announce the start of this campaign, we will also occupy spaces in buildings owned by the people in Washington DC, such as in the Rayburn and Longfellow office buildings.
We will continue this campaign until congress members meet our demands, or see themselves swept from office in next year's elections. Let it be known that they have received their own "eviction notices."