Un-Civil Disobedience

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Conditions Are Ripening!

The concept of civil disobedience draws back more than 150 years to Henry David Thoreau’s classic essay in 1849. Along with modern advocates, Gandhi and Martin Luther King to name a few, civil disobedience is one of the many ways people have rebelled against what they deem to be unfair laws. Yet the fact remains that many of the historic examples of civil disobedience have been against governments in general rather than specific laws.

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Henry-David-Thoreau
Henry David Thoreau

Examples include Egyptians against the British occupation in the 1919 Revolution, South Africa in the fight against apartheid, Singing Revolution to bring independence to the Baltic countries from the Soviet Union recently with the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia and the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, among other various movements worldwide. More often than not, these examples resulted in a change of government. That is a hell of a lot more significant than a protest march against jay-walking laws or the right to turn right on a red light.

In the aftermath of the April 15 bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the question of motive has yet to be fully answered. Undoubtedly, more will be revealed and perhaps foreign scoundrels will be uncovered.

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After events on 9/11 there is a natural tendency to look at a foreign source as the culprit. What about domestic terrorism? What about domestic terrorism completely unconnected to any religious or ethnic group? Sound absurd? Of course it does until we look back to domestically grown groups like the 1960s radical arm of the SDS known as The Weather Underground whose goal was to create a clandestine revolutionary party for the overthrow of the US government. Toward that objective, three bombs were set off in federal government buildings between 1971 and 1975.

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Who in the optimistic period following JFK’s inauguration in 1960 would have ever conceived of such a world? One could argue that these were acts of political terrorism against the Vietnam War and nothing to do with today’s reality.

But what about Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City in 1995, Major Nidal Hasan at Ft. Hood, Texas in 2009 or Faisal Shahzad in Time Square New York in 2010? Were these guys acting on convictions based on political, religious motives or a combination of both? Experts on domestic terrorism have been interviewed extensively since April 15th and the biggest concern is the risk of copycats. No one thus far has identified the most dangerous long-term, risk: economic terrorism.

Here is the point. Contrary to many statistics spit out from Washington, the conditions and outlook for the US economy are worsening for the masses of the population. This is hardly news. The fact that they are getting worse even now is easy to overlook, given many of the increasingly ebullient economic news headlines. The traditional notion that America was an upwardly mobile country has been quashed by three decades of downwardly miserable middle-class workers.

For example, look no further than the so-called “jobs report” for April that was released on May 3 stating “US employers add 165K jobs; rate falls to 7.5%.” The AP reporter stated “The U.S. economy showed last month why it remains the envy of industrialized nations…..”. Further on “Stock prices soared in response. The Dow was up 164 points in early-afternoon trading and briefly touched 15,000 for the first time.”

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Most jobs go to lowest paid.

Hooray for the investor, but too bad for the rest of the country. Why? Because, of the 165,000 jobs created 76% or 125,000 jobs were in the lowest paying jobs like hamburger flippers, hotel maids and check out clerks at Target. Almost one-fourth of those jobs created were temporary. Only 23,000 jobs were added in professional and technical areas.

There are still 14 million people out of work. Many of these are in the generation of baby boomers. How are they dealing with the losses? By killing themselves. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on May 3 that more people died from suicides than from automobile accidents. Between 1999 and 2010 suicides among American men in their 50s jumped nearly 50% and among women ages 60-64 the increase was an even more shocking 60%.

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Norimitsu Onishi of The New York Times wrote another one of those articles about Silicon Valley and how the middle class once again is getting squeezed. The average home price is $735,000 in Santa Clara and $925,000 in San Mateo. The average home price is up 30% in the past year while the median income has been down for the past five years. Said Russell Hancock, chief executive of Joint Venture, “We are becoming a community where our teachers, our police, our firefighters, our nurses, they can’t live with us. They have to come in from other places. Healthy communities have all these people living together.”

Please note the word healthy because that is what to focus on: mental health, spiritual health; the things that prevent people from becoming disillusioned and resentful. Signs that America offered great opportunity are starting to show. For the first time we may be seeing this on the immigration front. According to CBS News, the number of immigrants flowing into the US from Mexico is now being matched by an equal number returning south. What does this tell us? In the past, Mexican workers risked all sorts of peril in the search for dollar income. Even at $5-8 per hour, the income was far better than in their native country. That may be over now.

How could this dour outlook improve? Historically, the American dream was based on a good-paying job, a house in the suburbs and a car to get to work. Of these only car sales provide any sign of hope. And here the signs are strong especially for American manufacturers. But for all the noise about the recovery in housing, try to get a mortgage. If you are one of the few fortunate citizens to have a FICO score of 720 or more, try to find a homeowner willing to sell where the asking price is above the seller’s cost. Realtors speak about a shortage of properties as if there is a housing shortage. There is no housing shortage, just a shortage of sellers willing to sell at a loss. This is not the way a healthy economy functions.

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And healthy economies don’t exist with the need for government statistics to be gerrymandered to create artificial growth. Recently for example, Washington announced that it had suddenly found a way to hike GDP (and probably GDP growth as well). Suddenly, it has been revealed that nearly a half billion in annual output had been overlooked. That output is in the form of video games and related items. Wow, talk about a government out of touch with the poor masses. FYI, I think the last video game I played was Pong but even I know that video game sales exceeded sales of movies starting several years ago.

In the final analysis, what we are looking for is something like a brightly shining star in the universe called hope for the 75% of the 99% in this country that are still in a recession. For these people, this is the longest recession in the history of the United States. It is not easy to overlook the fact that economic distress and social unrest are closely related. What is a bigger stretch is to relate this to such seemingly unrelated things like domestic terrorism. But the potential is absolutely there.

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At least this observer identifies terrorism with the young. Of course, this bias may come from the reality that most people are younger than me. Therefore, virtually everybody that does anything is part of the younger world! However, in less than 30 days, graduating seniors of America’s colleges will be entering a job market with the greatest amount of student-loan debt in history, and the best job prospect being a hamburger flipper. The thought is terrifying. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average remains within a hair’s breath of its all-time high of 15,000. Another terrifying thought.