Monday, October 17, 2011

Revolution 6, The French Connection

If there is any particular section of the populace that should learn from mistakes made in the past it should be scientists, those who build upon the knowledge of others who have preceeded them, in sort of a stepping stone process that leads from one step to the next.
Another section should be that of our politicians, whose great responsibility includes steering a way through the future that bypasses those mistakes made by others in past epochs to the mutual benefit of their constituents, the ones who placed them in office to begin with, to lead them into prosperity and hope for the future.
One example of the way our government is supposed to work is that of the financial crisis foisted upon us by the previous administration, and how to end it. When the public and businesses are not spending enough to stimulate the economy, there is only one other entity that can, the government. Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to know this during the Great Depression when he instituted such massive spending plans as the Public Works Program, which pumped billions back into the stagnant economy, and put hundreds of thousands of unemployed to work, resulting in the construction of badly needed infrastructure such as the Triborough Bridge (now the Robert F Kennedy Bridge) and the Lincoln Tunnel. As long as the government kept priming the pump the economy improved, when it didn't, it declined.
Of course Roosevelt's "relief, recovery and reform." programs would only work if all of those involved actually wanted to solve the problem. Unfortunately, our current president is hampered in his ability to follow the Roosevelt prescription due to an obstructing House of Representatives, which actually desires to see the economy fail in hopes of political gain in next year's elections. Their rejection of Obama's $447 billion Jobs Program is proof of this.
We know how to fix the problem, but a broken, corrupt, and quite frankly outmoded political process, keeps us from doing so.
Another example our so called leaders in Washington should keep in mind, and for their own good, would be that of the French Revolution. In that conflict the French people rose up to eventually depose of a monarchy that had ruled the country for centuries. Why? There was no one reason, but a series of events, and long time situations embedded within the political and social structure of the country that acted as a catalyst sparking the flames of rebellion.
France had been involved for decades in foreign wars, including our own Revolutionary War ten years before. This depleted France's treasury, as well as the acts of maintaining a standing army and navy, and supporting allies. Due to royal abuse of the country's finances, France's economy was already in bad shape, resulting in a nation that was virtually broke.
Also the idea that King Louis XVI had the absolute right to rule due only to the long held assumption that he and his descendents, and would be heirs, were handpicked by God, by divine right, didn't hold fast during times of a secularized Enlightenment. This notion of his humanity held true when a guillotine easily parted the divine King's head from his divine shoulders in 1793.
There were many other provocations that angered the general populace causing them to rise up. A strict class system that placed the clergy and nobility essentially above the law of the land, allowing them to amass wealth without having to pay taxes, even while doing so placed the country's future at risk. This was certainly an overriding irritation.
And many other reasons. However I find the similarities between the conditions that sparked the French Revolution, and those that exist in the United States today... striking.
Our own country has been in an almost constant state of war since the Vietnam era, feeding Eisenhower's infamous "military industrial complex," seemingly without end. During the last ten years we've been involved in two massive and unnecessary occupations, wasting literally over a trillion dollars of our national treasure, at a time when we are indebted 14 times that amount (not to mention the senseless loss of life involved in these conflicts, both of our own armed forces, but also those of the citizens within those countries). The defense industry is wrought with corruption and waste. Billions of tax payer dollars have simply vanished, in the Department of Defense accounting books, and in the countries themselves. Vanished. Gone. Poof! No one knows where it all went and no one is held accountable. We might as well just vacuum the cash from our back pockets and bank accounts and hand it all over to Haliburton and Afghanistani war lords.
Our government seems to believe this is the natural order of things, the way it should be. Banks are allowed to run rampant, speculating in obscure entities such as derivatives and collateralized debt obligations, bringing the country virtually to it's knees while being assured by our government that they will be bailed out if the need arose... and it did. Meanwhile millions of middle class homeowners are being thrown into the streets by these very same banks that are being bailed out by those who are being made homeless. It is nothing short of insane.
The Republicans refuse to raise taxes on the richest among us, and the Reagan and Bush tax cuts have ensured the greatest disparity of wealth our nation has ever seen. Those who are wealthy, the elite who actually control the country through their cash infusions into the political system (, facilitated by a corrupt Supreme Court, constitute a privileged class in which the rules that apply to the rest of country do not apply to them. Ex presidents who start unnecessary wars are allowed to leave office with impunity, as are those who are responsible for the banking crisis that has caused the recession we find ourselves in. Millions of Americans, through no fault of their own, are suffering greatly, while a handful amass unheard of fortunes. President Obama, although campaigning on "change we can believe in," seems to have been, until recently, complicit, retaining the very same individuals who helped create the financial crisis to begin with, in positions of power, such as Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, and former Director of the White House United States National Economic Council, Larry Summers.
On and on.
The similarities between the condition of our own country today and those that existed before the onset of the French Revolution are indeed striking.
Of course the revolution in France was fraught with violence and war. However an expatriate lawyer from South Africa named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi showed there were other ways to speak truth to power that were totally non violent. Ways that achieved amazing results.
Which brings us to a burgeoning movement of civil disobedience that began, in this country at least, in New York City, and which has now spread throughout the country, and to which other similar movements throughout the world have pledged solidarity.
We've spoken of it before. It's named Occupation Wall Street. And last Saturday it began to move.

To be continued.

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