For a More Progressively Evolving Society

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why This Blog

      For centuries spiritual and religious leaders have been teaching humanity how to realize the Truth within themselves.  Some have instructed their followers to shun the world and its temptations; others have preached simply that individuals must lead moral lives in society to attain eternal spiritual happiness.  But very few have ever discussed in detail the mundane spheres of government, politics, and economics.  Development in these realms, so it seemed, was not important for the spiritual journey of the individual soul.  

      PROUT and NeoHumanism are substantially synthetic, and their propounder, P R Sarkar, is a most unusual guide.  He espouses, through PROUT and NeoHumanism, that this physical, material world is neither an illusion nor a great temptation, but the starting point of our spiritual journey; thus we must develop it even as we develop ourselves to make it a perfect base for spiritual effort, transpersonal growth.  This effort is not the struggle of a few isolated individuals but the task of humanity as a whole.  Human society and its institutions should not impede our progress; rather they should be carefully planned and designed to accelerate our progressive march toward perfection.

      We are living in a most unusual time.  Governmental corruption is becoming more and more painfully evident all over the world; the over-indulgence of a small segment of humanity and the resultant poverty of the majority is creating an imbalance that is upsetting the world's economy.  Today people, even in wealthy nations, are beginning to learn what it means to do without.  At this crucial moment in world history, proper leadership is essential.  PROUT speaks of a new kind of leader, a sadvipra or "true spiritual leader."  Instead of the most spiritually evolved members of society renouncing the world and seeking their own enlightenment in caves and monasteries and thus leaving the guidance of society to the corrupt politicians, spiritually developed individuals should take on the leadership of society.  Since their goal, developed by regular meditation and uncompromising morality, is only the realization of the Supreme Consciousness -- not any mundane wealth, power or fame -- there will be no chance of their corruption.  Inspired and guided by them, mankind will accelerate its march toward Absolute Truth and reach new heights of spiritual and material perfection.

      Slander, jealousy, party politics, lethargy, grandiloquence and so on are the various kinds of social evils which, if given scope, make great criminals of people.  These evils are very evident in the modern world, and the reason for this is sectarian bias.  The loathsome race for political status will not relax its grip over society unless the human mind is freed from the lust for power.  It is time for people to be very cautious lest this political tendency continue to shape them into criminals.  If the nature of the entire human race becomes infected with criminality, if people become intolerant of others' opinions and beliefs, if they become corrupt and sell all their good judgment and talent for the sake of status, then humanity's age-old civilization will end in smoke.  

      These postings discusses all the problems that beset modern mankind -- governmental corruption, economic injustice, overpopulation, crime -- and offer practical solutions for them.  Our first step is to realize that the true goal of humanity, the ultimate goal of evolution, is not the amassing of more and more material wealth, rather it's the expansion of consciousness.  Through proper education and practical techniques of psychic expansion, humanity will come to realize that the hoarding of wealth and all the ills of corruption and scarcity it creates, are nothing but the misdirected longing of the human soul for infinite happiness -- a longing which cannot be satisfied by money but only by internal bliss, optimizing psycho-spiritual parallelism.  

      PROUT offers balance between the physical, psychic and spiritual realms of existence in a progressive manner, furthering human evolution towards its desideratum.  Thus as human attention and activity are directed ever more toward subtler pursuits such as artistic endeavor and spiritual practice, the selfishness and greed which dominate people's minds today will be supplanted by new dispositions of love and familia.  As we expand our minds toward the Infinite and learn to share our mundane treasures, we will realize substantially that we are all indeed one humanity, that we are all the children of one Infinite Intelligent singularity guiding us all toward perfection.  Instead of being based on competition and mutual hostility, society will be operated through mutual cooperation and love, a force of nature throughout the Universe.

"I want every person to be guaranteed the minimum physical requirements of life; every person to get scope for the full exploitation of their psychic potentiality; every person to get equal opportunity to attain absolute truth; and, endowed with all the glories and achievements of the world, to march toward the Absolute. In and through this movement humanity should be made conscious of the purpose and meaning of life."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Has a Harvard Professor Mapped Out the Next Step for Occupy Wall Street?

Lawrence Lessig's call for state-based activism on behalf of a Constitutional Convention could provide the uprooted movement with a political project for winter

Observers and participants alike have interpreted the Occupy Wall Street movement as expressions of frustration with persistently high unemployment and underemployment, with the appearance of growing income disparity in the United States, and with the sense that the richest among us are disproportionately responsible for the current crisis.  But the fundamental problem, you could argue, is that we have simply not had meaningful financial reform in response to the crisis.  The Dodd-Frank Bill that was passed last summer was better than nothing, but it did not do what needed to be done to fix the problems that caused the current crisis:  We haven't punished anyone.  We haven't broken up banks to prevent them from being "too big to fail" in the future.  The banking system that's brought us the current crisis remains in power, barely chastened.  "Why?" ask the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

Lawrence Lessig has an answer.  In his new book, Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It, he spends 20 pages reviewing the the 30 years of deregulation that led up to the financial crisis and outlining our present circumstances.  In fact, this book, published just before Occupy Wall Street began, is perfectly positioned to become the movement's handbook.  While few protesters will need convincing that the government is corrupted by money, the book lays out the case in a such a comprehensive and persuasive manner -- and proposes such specific and radical solutions -- that it seems tailor-made for the Occupy movement.  And it's ambitious proposal for state-based activism on behalf of a Constitutional Convention could provide the movement with a next organizing step as it nears its two-month anniversary Thursday -- and faces such questions as how to ride out the winter and how to respond to police crackdowns. 

* * *

Lessig, director of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics at Harvard University and a professor at Harvard Law School, spent 10 years fighting to reform the nation's copyright laws.  The effort produced a half-dozen books, led to the creation of the Creative Commons licensing system and a case before the Supreme Court, which ultimately failed.  Rather than dissuading him, Lessig concluded four years ago that this failure perfectly situated him to take on an infinitely harder challenge -- the reform of Congress itself.  The shift in focus led him to leave Stanford University and relocate his family to the east coast to teach at Harvard in 2008, where he began the research and activity that gave rise to his latest book.

His first congressional reform effort wasChange Congress, a grass-roots movement to gather pledges from elected officials to reform campaign financing, and pledges from potential donors to not give money to officials who hadn't taken such a pledge.  But as that movement failed to gain sufficient momentum, he's shifted focus towards more dramatic strategies, exploring the possibility of a Constitutional Convention at the September 2011 conference and in this book.

The strategy for non-fiction books of this type is well understood: it's anecdote-plus-conclusion.  A story, followed by the lesson the author wants us to learn from it.  As an academic, Lessig has the research chops to find the anecdotes that best fit the narrative case he's making, and to lay them out in wonderful detail.  But his real gift is in the art of stringing them together into a story.  That means that this book is as persuasive as it is enjoyable to read.  This is very good indeed, because if Lessig is to succeed, he'll need to persuade a great many people.

Lessig is most comfortable in the section where he describes government corruption, telling not the story of corrupt individuals, such as Rod Blagojevich and Jack Abramoff, but that of an entrenched set of incentives that skews the motivations of political actos -- the system itself.  Lessig, a liberal, takes great pains to extend a hand to Republicans, and makes arguments that are direct appeals to Republican priorities.  "The single most salient feature of the government that we have evolved is not that it discriminates in favor of one side and against the other," he says, "it discriminates against all sides in favor of itself."  The corruption happens at the level of the institution, not the individual, he argues.

All along, we are reminded how difficult this problem will be to solve.  Not only is it rooted in the deepest part of the political system, but there are a host of interests who will fight any reform.  The businesses and individuals who make large contributions to government will oppose reforms because they are a threat to their power.  Politicians will oppose them because they threaten the system that allows them to stay in power.  And lobbyists will fight them because ultimately they threatens their entire profession.  At every point, Lessig points out counter-arguments to the case he's making, explains difficulties that may not be obvious, and generally reminds us that the problem is large and solutions will be difficult.

So his focus is not so much on the solutions, but on the first step: laying down the argument for why change needs to happen.  Seventy-five percent of the book is a deep examination of the problem of corruption:  what corruption means (from an almost philosophical perspective); the specifics of how corruption operates in our particular system; and an analysis of how our government will continue to fail us, given the present system.

The bulk of the first part of the book consists of detailed scenarios of government activities that seem obviously to put the interests of specific parties (read: corporations) ahead of the interests of the nation at large.  His telling of the lead-up and aftermath of the current financial crisis is worth the price of admission by itself.  (Fun fact:  credit for many of the key deregulations, including the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and the decision that federal agencies should not regulate the growing derivatives market, goes to the Clinton Administration.)

But consider the case of food subsidies and tariffs.  These manipulations began during the Great Depression, when the cost of actual staple foods -- flower, rice, etc. -- was high enough that starvation was not unheard of.  The government introduced tariffs to protect domestic farmers, and subsidies to lower the costs of food.  But the system has now been in place for close to a century and political money has twisted it into shapes that have no hope of being justified by any actual utility.  We place tariffs on sugar, so that sugar in the U.S. is two to three times as expensive as in other countries.  And we subsidize corn production: the US government spent $73.8 billion between 1995 and 2009 subsidizing corn, driving its price close to zero.  One result of these policies is that High Fructose Corn Syrup was nonexistent in 1980, but accounted for 41 percent of all sugar consumed by Americans by 2006.  Another result is that cattle raised in the U.S. are now fed almost entirely corn, which they don't digest well, requiring antibiotics on a massive scale and producing poorer quality meat.  And even though the subsidies account for huge outlays for the federal government and the tariffs make products more expensive for Americans (the sugar tariffs cost the overall economy an estimated $3 billion per year, while providing $1 billion of extra profits to domestic sugar producers), they've proved impossible to eliminate under the current system.  Every time a politician floats the idea of reforming or eliminating the farm bill, they're reminded that a small percentage of the money the beneficiary companies make is allocated to campaign contributions, and crucial for the reelection of a large number of senators and representatives.

Again, Lessig takes great pains to point out that eliminating these influences is in the interests of both Republicans as Democrats.  Reform of the tax code and the education system can't happen under the current system.  The government has grown wildly under every Republican president in memory.  Folks on the right want a smaller government, a simplified tax code, and efficient markets.  How the current system has blocked those reforms just as much as those of the left is also explained in the book.  But the point is that this effort can only succeed by finding common ground between these two groups, and finding a way for them to come together on the central issue that prevents everything else from being addressed.

* * *

The subtitle of the book promises solutions, and in the last 50 pages it delivers.  But it's complicated.  To be taken seriously, a solution must be presented with a strategy for how it's going to be brought about.  It must deal with the realities of a relatively disengaged electorate, an entrenched political system, and the boundaries set by Supreme Court decisions.  And so what we get is actually nine pages of solution, and 41 pages of strategy.

The central part of the solution is elections funded through small-dollar contributions. Several states have systems that encourage this, which are opt-in.  Candidates pledge to limit their fundraising and spending, and in return the state gives them a chunk of money to run their campaign.  The broad outlines are similar to the system of public funding for presidential elections.  Lessig has a slightly different proposal, known as the Grant and Franklin Project.  Under this system, the first $50 of every person's tax contribution goes into a pool to be distributed to congressional candidates.  Each tax payer then receives a voucher to be distributed to the candidate of their choice or split up between several candidates.  (The actual proposal is more complicated -- for instance, the voucher can be accompanied by cash contributions of up to $100.)  To be eligible to receive funds through the vouchers, a candidate agrees not to raise any funds outside the system.  This would raise approximately $3 billion per year, or $6 billion per election cycle, which would make it competitive with the current funding system and provide candidates with a strong incentive to opt in.

The proposal addresses several of the concerns that threaten to have other solutions declared unconstitutional.  It doesn't allow for anyone's money to be used to support a candidate or position they don't want to support.  And it doesn't limit anyone's speech.  But Lessig points out its weaknesses.  It doesn't do anything about the type of spending permitted by the recent Citizens United decision, for example.

Lessig points out another problem with this, or any similar system: For every type of reform that's been tried in the past, money has continued to find a into the system.  "Block large contributions from individuals, and they become soft contributions to parties.  Block soft contributions to parties, they become bundled contributions coordinated through lobbyists.  And on it goes," he writes.

Calls for constitutional conventions have served an important function in pushing Congress to pass reforms.

But I don't think this is intended to be the be-all end-all solution so much as a starting point for a larger discussion.  And in fact, Lessig recognizes that a large-scale debate is a necessary step in reform.

There are four strategies presented for getting the necessary laws passed, but the first three are presented and dismissed as being impossible or extremely improbable.  It's only when we arrive at "Strategy 4:  The Convention Game" that we see what Lessig has had in mind all along.  Article 5 of the United States Constitution describes how the constitution can be amended.  Congress proposes amendments, and the states ratify them.  This is how all the existing 27 amendments have been passed.  But there's another way -- states can ask Congress to call for a constitutional convention.  The convention proposes amendments instead of Congress, though they also have to be ratified by the states.

It sounds a bit like shooting for the moon:  we'll get the states to call for a Constitutional Convention, which will then propose an amendment to the Constitution that'll transform how congressional elections are financed, and will then be ratified by three-quarters of the states.  But it does address three important obstacles to any solution.  First, it harnesses the intelligence and creativity of a great many people to a problem that Lessig himself admits he hasn't quite found the perfect solution to yet.  Second, it bypasses the usual means of reform (Congress, presidential elections, etc.) which the lobbyists and other interested parties have learned so well to manipulate.  And lastly, such a convention would be free to propose solutions that would otherwise be subject to be striken as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Now, we haven't had a Constitutional Convention since the one that wrote the original constitution.  (And never mind that since the Articles of Confederation were in effect at the time, making that one technically illegal when it happened.)  But we've come close.  The Seventeenth Amendment, which changed the election of Senators to be by popular vote, was proposed by Congress when 27 states had called for a convention and it seemed imminent that more were about to.  In fact, there have been over 700 such calls in our history, and they've served an important function in pushing Congress to pass certain reforms.

So how do we begin a popular movement that might end with states petitioning for a convention?  Lessig calls for mock conventions to happen all across the land:  assemblies of regular people to think of these, and other, problems, and come up with solutions that might work.  Not only would these conventions come up with a spectrum of solutions which could be evaluated and selected from, but they'd build national support for the idea that a convention like this could work.

It sounds unlikely to happen.  But this is where Occupy Wall Street comes in.  Properly leveraging its support, it could generate enough energy to do what Lessig, while writing this book, couldn't quite picture.  In fact, the original call for Occupy Wall Street, from Adbusters, called on president Obama to "ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington."  Already, "The 99 Percent Declaration" is calling for "a NATIONAL GENERAL ASSEMBLY beginning on July 4, 2012 in the City Of Philadelphia" to address the influence of money in politics and other issues.

Properly presented, the strategies and aims of Lessig's book could make it the handbook the protesters have been looking for -- and provide a pathway for them to ride out the winter ahead.

FAIL: Super Committee Comes Up Empty

Brian Beutler 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rep. Deutch Introduces OCCUPIED Constitutional Amendment To Ban Corporate Money In Politics

Rep. Deutch Unveils OCCUPIED Constitutional Amendment
Bans Corporate Money in Elections and Declares Corporations Are Not People

Washington, DC, Nov 18 - Today, Rep. Ted Deutch (FL-19), a Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, introduced the Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy (OCCUPIED) Constitutional Amendment. The OCCUPIED Amendment both overturns the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that wrongly awarded the Constitutionally-protected free speech rights of people to corporations and totally bans corporate money from America’s electoral process.

“No matter how long protesters camp out across America, big banks will continue to pour money into shadow groups promoting candidates more likely to slash Medicaid for poor children than help families facing foreclosure,” said Rep. Deutch. “No matter how strongly Ohio families fight for basic fairness for workers, the Koch Brothers will continue to pour millions into campaigns aimed at protecting the wealthiest 1%. No matter how fed up seniors in South Florida are with an agenda that puts oil subsidies ahead of Social Security and Medicare, corporations will continue to fund massive publicity campaigns and malicious attack ads against the public interest. Americans of all stripes agree that for far too long, corporations have occupied Washington and drowned out the voices of the people. I introduced the OCCUPIED Amendment because the days of corporate control of our democracy must end. It is time to return the nation’s capital and our democracy to the people.”

Though several amendments aimed at overturning Citizens United have been introduced in recent weeks, Rep. Deutch’s OCCUPIED Amendment is the only proposal that: 
  • Makes clear that free speech and other constitutionally protected rights are those of natural persons and not corporations or entities formed to promote their business interests.
  • Reaffirms that corporations are formed under the laws of Congress and the States and are thus subject to laws enacted to protect the environment, ensure public health, and other safeguards for the people.
  • Overturns Citizens United by ending corporations’ ability to spend unlimited amounts of their general treasury funds in elections.
  • Sets the stage for real campaign finance reform by reasserting the authority of Congress to regulate all election contributions and expenditures, including those of individuals and groups funneling money anonymously to influence elections.
The introduction of Congressman Deutch’s amendment was applauded by several public interest leaders dedicated to stopping corporations from buying elections to pad their profits:

“Public Citizen enthusiastically applauds and endorses Representative Ted Deutch’s proposed constitutional amendment, which would comprehensively repair the damage done to our democracy by Citizens United,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen. “It would clarify that constitutional rights are intended for real, live, breathing human beings. It would end corporate spending on elections. And it would give Congress authority to adopt a sensible campaign finance system. It would make American stronger, more democratic and more just.”

“We join Americans across the nation in applauding Congressman Ted Deutch for affirming fundamental truths self-evident to almost everyone except five guys on the Supreme Court:  For-profit corporations are not people and thus are not entitled to the same constitutional rights as people,” said Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media Democracy, publisher of and, and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General. “No other congressional effort has so directly confronted the twin problems created by judges who have arrogantly granted rights to corporations, without democratic consent, and overturned bipartisan laws that limited the corrupting influence of money in our elections.”

“The problems caused by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United must be addressed – and we’re delighted to see Representative Deutch offer a comprehensive solution to stop the flood of corporate money in our electoral system,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of Policy and Programs for People for the American Way. “Our democracy belongs to all of the people, not just the wealthy, and not to large and powerful corporate interests. Amending the constitution is the best tool we have to protect that democracy for the American people.  Rep. Deutch’s amendment is a positive step toward ensuring that our elected officials remain accountable to the people they are in office to serve.” 

Click here for a backgrounder on the amendment.

Click here to read the OCCUPIED amendment.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The New Progressive Movement

OCCUPY WALL STREET and its allied movements around the country are more than a walk in the park. They are most likely the start of a new era in America. Historians have noted that American politics moves in long swings. We are at the end of the 30-year Reagan era, a period that has culminated in soaring income for the top 1 percent and crushing unemployment or income stagnation for much of the rest. The overarching challenge of the coming years is to restore prosperity and power for the 99 percent.

Thirty years ago, a newly elected Ronald Reagan made a fateful judgment: “Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.” Taxes for the rich were slashed, as were outlays on public services and investments as a share of national income. Only the military and a few big transfer programs like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits were exempted from the squeeze.

Reagan’s was a fateful misdiagnosis. He completely overlooked the real issue — the rise of global competition in the information age — and fought a bogeyman, the government. Decades on, America pays the price of that misdiagnosis, with a nation singularly unprepared to face the global economic, energy and environmental challenges of our time.

Washington still channels Reaganomics. The federal budget for nonsecurity discretionary outlays — categories like highways and rail, education, job training, research and development, the judiciary, NASA, environmental protection, energy, the I.R.S. and more — was cut from more than 5 percent of gross domestic product at the end of the 1970s to around half of that today. With the budget caps enacted in the August agreement, domestic discretionary spending would decline to less than 2 percent of G.D.P. by the end of the decade, according to the White House. Government would die by fiscal asphyxiation.

Both parties have joined in crippling the government in response to the demands of their wealthy campaign contributors, who above all else insist on keeping low tax rates on capital gains, top incomes, estates and corporate profits. Corporate taxes as a share of national income are at the lowest levels in recent history. Rich households take home the greatest share of income since the Great Depression. Twice before in American history, powerful corporate interests dominated Washington and brought America to a state of unacceptable inequality, instability and corruption. Both times a social and political movement arose to restore democracy and shared prosperity.

The first age of inequality was the Gilded Age at the end of the 19th century, an era quite like today, when both political parties served the interests of the corporate robber barons. The progressive movement arose after the financial crisis of 1893. In the following decades Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson came to power, and the movement pushed through a remarkable era of reform: trust busting, federal income taxation, fair labor standards, the direct election of senators and women’s suffrage.

The second gilded age was the Roaring Twenties. The pro-business administrations of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover once again opened up the floodgates of corruption and financial excess, this time culminating in the Great Depression. And once again the pendulum swung. F.D.R.’s New Deal marked the start of several decades of reduced income inequality, strong trade unions, steep top tax rates and strict financial regulation. After 1981, Reagan began to dismantle each of these core features of the New Deal.

Following our recent financial calamity, a third progressive era is likely to be in the making. This one should aim for three things. The first is a revival of crucial public services, especially education, training, public investment and environmental protection. The second is the end of a climate of impunity that encouraged nearly every Wall Street firm to commit financial fraud. The third is to re-establish the supremacy of people votes over dollar votes in Washington.

None of this will be easy. Vested interests are deeply entrenched, even as Wall Street titans are jailed and their firms pay megafines for fraud. The progressive era took 20 years to correct abuses of the Gilded Age. The New Deal struggled for a decade to overcome the Great Depression, and the expansion of economic justice lasted through the 1960s. The new wave of reform is but a few months old.

The young people in Zuccotti Park and more than 1,000 cities have started America on a path to renewal. The movement, still in its first days,  will have to expand in several strategic ways. Activists are needed among shareholders, consumers and students to hold corporations and politicians to account. Shareholders, for example, should pressure companies to get out of politics. Consumers should take their money and purchasing power away from companies that confuse business and political power. The whole range of other actions — shareholder and consumer activism, policy formulation, and running of candidates — will not happen in the park.  

The new movement also needs to build a public policy platform. The American people have it absolutely right on the three main points of a new agenda. To put it simply: tax the rich, end the wars and restore honest and effective government for all.

Finally, the new progressive era will need a fresh and gutsy generation of candidates to seek election victories not through wealthy campaign financiers but through free social media. A new generation of politicians will prove that they can win on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blog sites, rather than with corporate-financed TV ads. By lowering the cost of political campaigning, the free social media can liberate Washington from the current state of endemic corruption. And the candidates that turn down large campaign checks, political action committees, Super PACs and bundlers will be well positioned to call out their opponents who are on the corporate take.

Those who think that the cold weather will end the protests should think again. A new generation of leaders is just getting started. The new progressive age has begun.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and the author, most recently, of “The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity.”

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Too Big to Fail: The Movement -- And Everybody Needs One, Every Day

A Movement Too Big To Fail 

Chris Hedges, TruthDig 
October 17, 2011

There is no danger that the protesters who have occupied squares, parks and plazas across the nation in defiance of the corporate state will be co-opted by the Democratic Party or groups like MoveOn.  The faux liberal reformers, whose abject failure to stand up for the rights of the poor and the working class, have signed on to this movement because they fear becoming irrelevant.  Union leaders, who pull down salaries five times that of the rank and file as they bargain away rights and benefits, know the foundations are shaking.  So do Democratic politicians from Barack Obama to Nancy Pelosi.  So do the array of “liberal” groups and institutions, including the press, that have worked to funnel discontented voters back into the swamp of electoral politics and mocked those who called for profound structural reform.

Resistance, real resistance, to the corporate state was displayed when a couple of thousand protesters, clutching mops and brooms, early Friday morning forced the owners of Zuccotti Park and the New York City police to back down from a proposed attempt to expel them in order to “clean” the premises.  These protesters in that one glorious moment did what the traditional “liberal” establishment has steadily refused to do-fight back.  And it was deeply moving to watch the corporate rats scamper back to their holes on Wall Street.  It lent a whole new meaning to the phrase “too big to fail.”

Tinkering with the corporate state will not work.  We will either be plunged into neo-feudalism and environmental catastrophe or we will wrest power from corporate hands.   This radical message, one that demands a reversal of the corporate coup, is one the power elite, including the liberal class, is desperately trying to thwart.  But the liberal class has no credibility left.  It collaborated with corporate lobbyists to neglect the rights of tens of millions of Americans, as well as the innocents in our imperial wars.  The best that liberals can do is sheepishly pretend this is what they wanted all along.  Groups such as MoveOn and organized labor will find themselves without a constituency unless they at least pay lip service to the protests.  The Teamsters’ arrival Friday morning to help defend the park signaled an infusion of this new radicalism into moribund unions rather than a co-opting of the protest movement by the traditional liberal establishment.  The union bosses, in short, had no choice.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, like all radical movements, has obliterated the narrow political parameters.  It proposes something new.  It will not make concessions with corrupt systems of corporate power.  It holds fast to moral imperatives regardless of the cost.  It confronts authority out of a sense of responsibility.  It is not interested in formal positions of power.  It is not seeking office.  It is not trying to get people to vote.  It has no resources.  It can’t carry suitcases of money to congressional offices or run millions of dollars of advertisements.  All it can do is ask us to use our bodies and voices, often at personal risk, to fight back.  It has no other way of defying the corporate state.  This rebellion creates a real community instead of a managed or virtual one.  It affirms our dignity.  It permits us to become free and independent human beings.

Martin Luther King was repeatedly betrayed by liberal supporters, especially when he began to challenge economic forms of discrimination, which demanded that liberals, rather than simply white Southern racists, begin to make sacrifices.  King too was a radical.  He would not compromise on nonviolence, racism or justice.  He understood that movements-such as the Liberty Party, which fought slavery, the suffragists, who fought for women’s rights, the labor movement and the civil rights movement-have always been the true correctives in American democracy.  None of those movements achieved formal political power.  But by holding fast to moral imperatives they made the powerful fear them.  King knew that racial equality was impossible without economic justice and an end to militarism.  And he had no intention of ceding to the demands of the liberal establishment that called on him to be calm and patience.  “For years, I labored with the idea of reforming the existing institutions in the South, a little change here, a little change there,” King said shortly before he was assassinated.  “Now I feel quite differently.  I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire system, a revolution of values.”

King was killed in 1968 when he was in Memphis to support a strike by sanitation workers.  By then he had begun to say that his dream, the one that the corporate state has frozen into a few safe clich├ęs from his 1963 speech in Washington, had turned into a nightmare.  King called at the end of his life for massive federal funds to rebuild inner cities, what he called “a radical redistribution of economic and political power,” a complete restructuring of “the architecture of American society.”  He grasped that the inequities of capitalism had become the instrument by which the poor would always remain poor.  “Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism,” King said, “but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all of God’s children.”  On the eve of King’s murder he was preparing to organize a poor people’s march on Washington, D.C., designed to cause “major, massive dislocations,” a nonviolent demand by the poor, including the white underclass, for a system of economic equality.  It would be 43 years before his vision was realized by an eclectic group of protesters who gathered before the gates of Wall Street.

The truth of America is understood only when you listen to voices in our impoverished rural enclaves, prisons and the urban slums, when you hear the words of our unemployed, those who have lost their homes or cannot pay their medical bills, our elderly and our children, especially the quarter of the nation’s children who depend on food stamps to eat, and all who are marginalized.  There is more reality expressed about the American experience by the debt-burdened young men and women protesting in the parks than by all the chatter of the well-paid pundits and experts that pollutes the airwaves.

What kind of nation is it that spends far more to kill enemy combatants and Afghan and Iraqi civilians than it does to help its own citizens who live below the poverty line?  What kind of nation is it that permits corporations to hold sick children hostage while their parents frantically bankrupt themselves to save their sons and daughters?  What kind of nation is it that tosses its mentally ill onto urban heating grates?  What kind of nation is it that abandons its unemployed while it loots its treasury on behalf of speculators?  What kind of nation is it that ignores due process to torture and assassinate its own citizens?  What kind of nation is it that refuses to halt the destruction of the ecosystem by the fossil fuel industry, dooming our children and our children’s children?

“America,” Langston Hughes wrote, “never was America to me.”

“The black vote mean [nothing],” the rapper Nas intones.  “Who you gunna elect/ Satan or Satan? In the hood nothing is changing,/ We aint got no choices.”

Or listen to hip-hop artist Talib Kweli:  “Back in the ’60s, there was a big push for black … politicians, and now we have more than we ever had before, but our communities are so much worse.  A lot of people died for us to vote, I’m aware of that history, but these politicians are not in touch with people at all.  Politics is not the truth to me, it’s an illusion.”

The liberal class functions in a traditional, capitalist democracy as a safety valve.  It lets off enough steam to keep the system intact.  It makes piecemeal and incremental reform possible.  This is what happened during the Great Depression and the New Deal.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s greatest achievement was that he saved capitalism.  Liberals in a functioning capitalist democracy are at the same time tasked with discrediting radicals, whether it is King, especially after he denounced the war in Vietnam, or later Noam Chomsky or Ralph Nader.

The stupidity of the corporate state is that it thought it could dispense with the liberal class.  It thought it could shut off that safety valve in order to loot and pillage with no impediments.  Corporate power forgot that the liberal class, when it functions, gives legitimacy to the power elite.  And the reduction of the liberal class to silly courtiers, who have nothing to offer but empty rhetoric, meant that the growing discontent found other mechanisms and outlets.  Liberals were reduced to stick figures, part of an elaborate pantomime, as they acted in preordained roles to give legitimacy to meaningless and useless political theater.  But that game is over.

Human history has amply demonstrated that once those in positions of power become redundant and impotent, yet retain the trappings and privileges of power, they are brutally discarded.  The liberal class, which insists on clinging to its positions of privilege while at the same time refusing to play its traditional role within the democratic state, has become a useless and despised appendage of corporate power.  And as the engines of corporate power pollute and poison the ecosystem and propel us into a world where there will be only masters and serfs, the liberal class, which serves no purpose in the new configuration, is being abandoned and discarded by both the corporate state and radical dissidents.  The best it can do is attach itself meekly to the new political configuration rising up to replace it.

An ineffectual liberal class means there is no hope of a correction or a reversal through the formal mechanisms of power.  It ensures that the frustration and anger among the working and the middle class will find expression now in these protests that lie outside the confines of democratic institutions and the civilities of a liberal democracy.  By emasculating the liberal class, which once ensured that restive citizens could institute moderate reforms, the corporate state has created a closed system defined by polarization, gridlock and political charades.  It has removed the veneer of virtue and goodness that the liberal class offered to the power elite.

Liberal institutions, including the church, the press, the university, the Democratic Party, the arts and labor unions, set the parameters for limited self-criticism in a functioning democracy as well as small, incremental reforms.  The liberal class is permitted to decry the worst excesses of power and champion basic human rights while at the same time endowing systems of power with a morality and virtue it does not possess.  Liberals posit themselves as the conscience of the nation.  They permit us, through their appeal to public virtues and the public good, to see ourselves and our state as fundamentally good.

But the liberal class, by having refused to question the utopian promises of unfettered capitalism and globalization and by condemning those who did, severed itself from the roots of creative and bold thought, the only forces that could have prevented the liberal class from merging completely with the power elite.  The liberal class, which at once was betrayed and betrayed itself, has no role left to play in the battle between us and corporate dominance.  All hope lies now with those in the street.

Liberals lack the vision and fortitude to challenge dominant free market ideologies.  They have no ideological alternatives even as the Democratic Party openly betrays every principle the liberal class claims to espouse, from universal health care to an end to our permanent war economy to a demand for quality and affordable public education to a return of civil liberties to a demand for jobs and welfare of the working class.  The corporate state forced the liberal class to join in the nation’s death march that began with the presidency of Ronald Reagan.  Liberals such as Bill Clinton, for corporate money, accelerated the dismantling of our manufacturing base, the gutting of our regulatory agencies, the destruction of our social service programs and the empowerment of speculators who have trashed our economy.  The liberal class, stripped of power, could only retreat into its atrophied institutions, where it busied itself with the boutique activism of political correctness and embraced positions it had previously condemned.

Russell Jacoby writes:  “The left once dismissed the market as exploitative; it now honors the market as rational and humane.  The left once disdained mass culture as exploitative; now it celebrates it as rebellious.  The left once honored independent intellectuals as courageous; now it sneers at them as elitist.  The left once rejected pluralism as superficial; now it worships it as profound.  We are witnessing not simply a defeat of the left, but its conversion and perhaps inversion.”

Hope in this age of bankrupt capitalism comes with the return of the language of class conflict and rebellion, language that has been purged from the lexicon of the liberal class, language that defines this new movement.  This does not mean we have to agree with Karl Marx, who advocated violence and whose worship of the state as a utopian mechanism led to another form of enslavement of the working class, but we have to learn again to speak in the vocabulary Marx employed.  We have to grasp, as Marx and Adam Smith did, that corporations are not concerned with the common good.  They exploit, pollute, impoverish, repress, kill and lie to make money.  They throw poor families out of homes, let the uninsured die, wage useless wars to make profits, poison and pollute the ecosystem, slash social assistance programs, gut public education, trash the global economy, plunder the U.S. Treasury and crush all popular movements that seek justice for working men and women.  They worship money and power.  And, as Marx knew, unfettered capitalism is a revolutionary force that consumes greater and greater numbers of human lives until it finally consumes itself.  The dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico is the perfect metaphor for the corporate state.  It is part of the same nightmare experienced in postindustrial mill towns of New England and the abandoned steel mills of Ohio.  It is a nightmare that Iraqis, Pakistanis and Afghans, living in terror and mourning their dead, endure daily.

What took place early Friday morning in Zuccotti Park was the first salvo in a long struggle for justice.  It signaled a step backward by the corporate state in the face of popular pressure.  And it was carried out by ordinary men and women who sleep at night on concrete, get soaked in rainstorms, eat donated food and have nothing as weapons but their dignity, resilience and courage.  It is they, and they alone, who hold out the possibility of salvation.  And if we join them we might have a chance.