If you get your news from traditional media outlets, you are likely unaware that this past weekend thousands of Americans have taken part in protests against Wall Street and the global corporate aristocracy it represents. If you get all your news from Twitter feeds, Facebook and community blogs, however, you know everything there is to know about the protest but are largely unaware of just how much everyone hates you.
In any case, these protests, which were part of a nationally organized Day of Rage called “Occupy Wall Street,” have received little media attention whatsoever. And while, sure, you can argue this apparent media black-out is evidence of a corporate conspiracy to restrict the free flow of information, it’s only fair to point out that these protests were really—and I mean really—lame.
So yeah, this was not your father’s protest. When your father protested, shit got burned, property was damaged, and hundreds upon hundreds of college kids huffed tear gas while running face-first into nightsticks. What happened this weekend, on the other hand, was not so much a protest as a group exercise is loitering politely.
No kidding, the protestors did a bang up job of putting the “civil” in Civil Disobedience. Polite and respectful to authorities, the protestors obeyed police requests, stayed within suggested boundaries, and were even considerate enough to hold their protests primarily during the weekend, so as not to disturb all those Wall Street fat cats they were supposedly there to protest. In the end, there have been seven arrests since the protests began on Saturday. Four of those arrests were of people wearing masks in pairs (apparently, it’s cool to wear a mask, just as long as you’re the only one). One arrest was for a person who hopped over a street barrier.
The other two arrests were for, according to authorities, “shits and giggles.” And hey, you get cops all gunned up and prepped in riot gear, you’ve got to give them someone to arrest or taze. I mean, without some sort of release, three days of listening to protestors drone on and on about Rachel Maddow and Michael Moore could lead to some serious pent-up desires to pull a trigger.
No matter how you look at it, though, unless this event was organized by Emily Post and sponsored by Wellbutrin, I’d have to say it flopped worse than Green Lantern. And I’m basing that judgment off the assumption that Ryan Reynolds didn’t participate in the Day of Rage. If he did, I’ll have to expand my analogy beyond cinematic disasters to account for natural ones.
Still, it’s not like you can blame the protestors. They staged the event one week after the 10-year anniversary of 9-11. Any direct action edgy enough to warrant a barrage of rubber bullets and real media coverage would likely have you labeled as a terrorist on FOX News and tried as one in Federal Courts. Even without the haunting memory of September 11th fresh on the minds of the protestors, the Day of Rage was doomed to fail, and it’s very likely that our days of meaningful direct action and civil disobedience are over. The relative impotence of this weekend’s demonstrations is not so much reflective of a poorly organized and anesthetized crowd of demonstrators, but rather of how complete and exhaustive is the corporate world’s manipulation of the public sphere and the lexicon that frames it.
Just look at the “real” news that came out of this past weekend. The real news had nothing to do with the people’s rage against the rich. In fact, quite the opposite. You see, it was the Republicans’ criticisms of President Obama’s efforts to tax millionaires that received the lion’s share of media attention. The president’s notion of a real tax rate for the wealthy is being described as discriminatory, and Republicans in the House and Senate are claiming that taxing the rich would be an act of “class warfare.”
In fact, Republican Representative Paul Ryan—author of the House Republicans’ The Path to Prosperity, a heartwarming retelling of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, minus all the heartwarming bullshit—stopped by FOX News Sunday long enough to say that, “Class warfare may make for good politics but it makes for rotten economics.” Ryan went on to criticize the president’s political theatrics in a time of crisis, then capped off the interview by spending the afternoon punching welfare recipients in the face and tossing their babies into traffic.
Well, that last bit is as of yet unconfirmed, but I think it’s a safe bet that it happened.
Now, if you spend a minute really weighing the juxtaposition of politicians floating their “class warfare and wealth discrimination” dogma in the press alongside the unreported reality of thousands of people marching in the streets to protest the economic crimes the wealthy have waged against us all…well, actually, if you’ve made it this far into the sentence without stabbing yourself in the face with something sharp, it’s probably best if we leave well enough alone and move on to the real point of this column.
Because it’s not my intent to pile abuse upon the liberals and progressives for their inability to find a legitimate toe-hold in public discourse, nor am I interested in discussing, in-depth, the extent to which corporate interests control our media, our schools or our politicians. The way I see it, the genetically altered, cancer-causing milk has already been spilt. If you want to cry, go ahead. As for me, I’m more interested in taking a stick to the clumsy fool who keeps spilling the damn milk and giving my carpet lymphoma.
And in this case, I mean the rich.
Don’t get me wrong; I love the idea of taxing the rich. That said, the “class warfare” against the bottom 98 percent has been going on for well over 40 years, and a real tax for millionaires, billionaires and corporate nation-states is little more than a good first step in our approach to “moving forward.”
Because there are 40 years of war-time reparations that need to be addressed, and I’m afraid a “fair” tax system just isn’t going to cut it. For the last 40 years, the balance of wealth between the have-nots and the have-every-damn-thing-I-wants has tipped entirely in favor of the latter group. In America, and globally, the wealth is so concentrated in the hands of so few, anyone that speaks about modern economies as if they are different than those that existed in monarchies is being either willfully deceptive or ignorant.
There are big differences between corporations, billionaires and millionaires, of course, but they are similar to the differences between military generals and the troops out in the field. In the end, we have an economic regime that has used its wealth to push legislation through our government that creates tax loopholes and deregulates our industries so that the “wealthy” can make more money. And what do they do with that new money? Read the previous sentence and “rinse and repeat” until every last morsel of wealth is sucked from the American economy and off-shored to Dubai, Europe, and China.
As for us peasant folk, we’re left with gigantic oil spills, a collapsed economy, gutted neighborhoods, global warming—yes, I said Global Warming, because I’m not intellectually numb enough to let dogmatized morons dictate my language—and an education system so woefully behind other industrial nations that most American students find it difficult to even name other industrial nations. So, yeah, tax the rich.
But first, we need to punish them. Punish them for putting their private bank accounts above the best interests of their nation. Punish them for using their inherent lobbying advantages to undermine sound government practices. Punish them for viewing the declining standard of life in America as an “opportunity cost” they are more than willing to let us all pay.
In other words: Off with their heads.
Er, well, okay, I’m not actually suggesting that we should go all French on the “aristocracy,” or anything like that. (Though if you manage to get a legal permit for a guillotine, let me and the protestors down on Wall Street know ASAP.) I also am fully aware that, considering both parties’ economic dependency upon corporations and wealthy donors, the chance of any real legislative reversal of the last 40 years is highly unlikely. Likewise, as we’ve seen this past weekend, traditional protests and attempts to call attention to social inequity are no longer viable.
Still, that doesn’t mean we have to buy into the “talking-points game” both parties want us to play. Phrases like “pay your fair share” on the left and “class warfare” on the right are little more than scripted rhetorical frames that will allow both parties to broach a conversation about increasing taxes upon the wealthy without actually having to address all the crimes that same class of people have committed against the dignity of the American citizens the last 40 years. Both parties know this, and both parties believe that, as long it remains a conversation about taxes, real change—the kind that might really upset those millionaires, billionaires and corporations—will never even come up. The politicians and their wealthy handlers know that America is in serious trouble, and they know changes must be made and soon. But both Democrats and Republicans are eager to “limit” the conversation to Federal tax rates. Within that limited window of conversation, the parties will negotiate a solution that could stabilize America but will appease the rich. Not to make things right. Not to begin the reversal of 40 years of corporations looting our treasury. Only to stabilize the economy while appeasing the wealthy.
And they want you to help them establish that limit. They want you to embrace their topic-restricting talking points.
My advice: Don’t buy in. Instead, expand the window of conversation. Force it to widen from issues of economic security into ones of crime and punishment. Sound, equitable economic polices moving forward are nice, but we need reparations first. Tax the rich? Yeah, but only after we punish them. Class warfare? You’re damn straight, and it’s time the other 98 percent of us get our well-deserved pound of flesh.
Can we change things? Probably not, but still it would be fun to watch millionaires and billionaires actually having to defend themselves. No, not their rate of taxation or their unfettered ability to profiteer. I want to see them sweat it out while they’re defending their own continued existence. And that’s the message we need to drive into the minds of the toxically wealthy: Why are you worried about your tax rate when you should be worried about the guillotine?
And in the meantime, I think we can all have a hell of a good time entertaining the various manners in which the toxically wealthy can be punished. Now, I was joking earlier about the French approach to economic revolution, and I mean that. For me, I’m more into ironic forms of punishment.
You know, make Steve Jobs handle customer complaints in Microsoft’s XBOX division. For that matter, let’s make Bill Gates field those calls as well. God knows the bastard has it coming.
And how about a phonetic punishment for the Koch brothers? Imagine how great it would be to force them, by court ruling, to buy the world a Coke. Literally, every one on the planet, and the Koch brothers aren’t set free until they have hand delivered an ice-cold Coke to every man, woman and child on the planet.
Bankers will be forced to scour garage sales, handing over stacks of their own hundred dollar bills in exchange for used paperbacks and rundown 19-inch TVs in the hopes that they’ll finally learn the true meaning of the phrase “default swap.”
And the entire staff of every cable news channel in America will be forced to spend the rest of their lives editing the blogs of recovering meth addicts, conspiracy groups and Star Wars fans so that they will understand the true pain of being exposed, daily, endlessly, to incomprehensible, mindless gibberish.
Yeah, it’s all a fantasy, and a very silly one at that. And sure, none of what I’d like to see is legal or even constitutional—or ever will be. Still, I dare you to review my fantasy and to explain how any of it—any of it—is in any way unjust.
Do that, and you’ll get a Coke on me.*
* For the record, as I am entrenched amongst the other 98 percent of America, there’s a strong chance that the Coke you get will have fallen off the back of a delivery truck.**
**You’re not getting a Coke.