SeaWorld: An Aqueous Problem of Conscience

Lynn Whitlark's photo.

So what’s to become of all the creatures currently in the SeaWorld (and similar) parks if the parks close down?ffacfaa0910346898216241e0e38c1fa_penguin460x345

I remember when the first of these “parks” opened — and it was such a new thing — a sealife circus (as opposed to an aquarium which is basically a sealife zoo.) And except for a few marine-loving locals to the coasts,, there was no such thing as a little kid wanting to become a marine biologists or aquatic vet. Now, most kids with the interest have visited these parks and fueled their imaginations to the point that every university with a coast nearby (and some inland schools) now offer it as a distinct major.

sandiego_173db531c6dc9The unexpected part of it all is that we ALL learned so much about the whales and dolphins and porpoises and penguins that when the news that they were unhappy and stressed and even abused started seeping into the press and online reports, it horrified us to the point that the parks themselves are now on the endangered list. Since awareness, understanding and information increases compassion and empathy — we now see these once ground-breaking circus parks as more problem than potential. And that’s in spite of all the better-than-it-used-to-be and better-than-it-might-be positive changes the company has made to its park assets. They raised our culture’s awareness without keeping up with culture’s conscience.

So what happens to the animals — and all those trained park workers, vets, trainers, and marine biologists now that attendance has dropped so low that the parks aren’t going to be able to pay the grocery bill or keep the lights on? manatee-at-seaworld-orlandoWill they be folded into the research and conservation wing of NOAA? Will they be scuttled and auctioned off to small family-run one-ring-tank circuses in the remote areas of the coasts? Will they show up in a black-market of private salt-water fish tanks? Will the US nationalize them to create a Smithsonian Sealife attic or gigantic National Aquarium Complex with branches on the many coasts?

175c1c8b7f014917848c72fd832f8591_turtlereef_2_460x345And what of all the animal rescues and rehabs the SeaWorld people participated in? 64747-bigthumbnailHaving all those marine vets within reach saved a lot of wildlife over the years. What happens when a fisherman or sailor comes upon a dolphin or manatee or sea-turtle in distress if there’s no park full of specialists to ferry help in?

There are no obvious answers to some of these questions. Without the parks as potential employers, how many of the university departments will survive? Which means even fewer professionals on call. Surely Not-For-Profits can’t employ all the people needed to do the work. Or all the professionals that will potentially flood the market if the parks disappear.

SeaWorld_Irina-Silvestrova-e1408116945543This is like a vet problem that has to help fold soldiers back into mainstream society after a war. These animals were part of an undesirable way of life that existed for a short time, and served an important purpose. But now we see that it’s no way to expect them to live for their whole lives.

So what is to become of them when our moral outrage out-distances their park-home? As morally objectionable as the public display of “freak shows” was in the early 20th Century — when public conscience closed them down with non-attendance, a lot of very unusual performers were suddenly out of work and homeless.

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And here we are again. Our compassion has the potential to be more cruel than our ambivalence. At least in the short-term.

Which is not a simple problem.

Lynn Whitlark's photo.

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The Success of Failed Attempts: Prohibition and US

Remember Prohibition?  Me neither.  It was way before my time.

But I’ve seen the movies.  The History Channel is all over this story.  Everybody knows it was an outrageous failure that flew in the face of American civil liberties…

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Right?

Except I think we may have been bamboozled.  So to speak.

According to TIME Magazine, there’s a little bit of the history that the photo above doesn’t bother to mention — and maybe we should make notes about this.

The rise of the United States is one of history’s amazing stories, even more remarkable when you realize how many of our forefathers were three sheets to the wind. John Adams drank hard cider with breakfast. James Madison drained a pint of whiskey each day*. By 1830 the average American was guzzling the equivalent of 1.7 bottles of hard liquor per week — three times the amount consumed today.

*For those keeping score, that would come to 3.5 quarts (just shy of a gallon) of whiskey per week.

That’s right.  Per capita, Americans drank an average AVERAGE of 1.7 quarts of hard liquor per week.  That’s 32 drinks per week.  4 1/2 cocktails a day.  Every day.  Per person.  Man, woman and child.  And since we assume the children were not REALLY drinking their fair share, that means Daddy and Mama — who at that time had 7 surviving children per household — were actually drinking more than 15 bottle of booze a week.

Okay — there were a few single folks.  And a few tea-totalers.  So let’s split the difference and say all the drinking adults drank maybe 10 bottles a week.

That’s the equivalent of more than a fifth of scotch whiskey a day.  Imagine living in a world where everybody drank a fifth of scotch a day.  People would be getting in gun fights in the street.  Wife and child abuse would be rampant.  Babies would be still-born, damaged by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome — before anybody knew what it was.  People wouldn’t live long enough to die of cancer or Alzheimer’s or heart disease or — well — of anything age related because they’d die of liver failure in their 40s.

Imagine that world.  A place where there were no (or few) medical anesthetics or analgesics.  Pain killers were narcotic or nothing.  Want to alleviate the symptoms of menopause, or even horrific PMS?  Have a bottle of corn liquor!  Pain from childbirth?  Have a drink.  Migraine?  Give me a break.  Have a drink.  Insomnia?  Muscle cramps?  Stress?  Exhaustion?  Relax.  Get some sleep.  Have a drink or two to unwind and then a couple more to put you to sleep at night.  Is the weather a bit nippy?  Aches and pains from all that rain?  Arthritis warping you hands and the knuckles in your toes?  Bourbon will fix that!  You won’t feel a thing!  Depressed?  Blue?  Burdened by nightmares?  Trauma?  (Think PTSD) — Bottoms up!

You won’t feel a thing.  Ask anybody.

And that’s probably pretty much the truth.  People drank to fix just about everything.  Monks made liquor to pay their bills.  Bitters — digestion aids — were loaded with wood spices, ginger, herbs and other medicinals and sold for their health benefits.

Everybody drank!  An average of 1.7 bottles of hard liquor (not beer or wine or cider or mead….) every single week.  So that 1.7 bottles of hard liquor was actually IN ADDITION TO any beer or wine or cider or mead that was consumed.

And the results were incalculable.  Think of the productivity loss!  Imagine walking the scaffolding to build skyscrapers with that much liquor in your system!  No wonder so many people died building the Brooklyn Bridge!  Or the Empire State Building!  Think about working as a telephone or telegraph lineman — or walking the catwalks in the saloons and Vaudeville theaters!  Or swinging a big knife as a butcher — or a scythe as a farmer!  Every aspect of life gets more dangerous with that much liquor in flow!

My grandmother was almost beaten to death by her father for letting a pig escape from its pen — because her father was constantly altered by alcohol,  and not quite in conscious control of his actions.  He was a “strong silent-type” pioneer who farmed and ranched some of the most difficult land in the dusty Texas Panhandle.  And he was a nightmare.  None of his sons survived — so he worked his daughters like pack-animals — and he beat them just like he beat the mules.

And nobody thought anything about it.
Why not?
Because it was common place.  Everybody drank that much.  Everybody beat their children and wives in fits of anger.  Everybody.

1.7 bottles of hard liquor — the average — probably the minimum for a real drinking adult — is enough to change everything.

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And that’s why Prohibition happened.  It happened in concert with the first Women’s Movement that gave women their first voice in the US.  Women finally got fed up.

Women got a voice, and one of the first things they said was; “put down that bottle!”

So?

So — no.  Prohibition didn’t last.  Bootleggers found a way to keep making moonshine and bathtub gin.  NASCAR was born via the car-chases — the result of moonshiners trying to outrun the local police on the backroads and dirt highways of the South.  We wanted our freedom so bad that we were willing to break the law — and laugh while we did it — just to keep drinking.  We made a sport of hiding away in private clubs and dark venues all over America —

And Prohibition was repealed — the Speak Easy died — bootleggers became political royalty — and gangsters moved on to organizing other crimes.

And, at least according to that first picture — Prohibition failed.

But the truth is — it changed the way we think about drinking in this country.  We no longer look the other way when people drink and abuse their family.   We don’t turn a blind eye to manslaughter with a vehicle when the driver was DUI.  We don’t excuse costly errors due to hangovers or absenteeism.  Suicide by alcohol — isn’t an unknown any more. And Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a known, rather than an unknown.

The town drunk isn’t a joke any more.

Public intoxication — to the point of doing harm to oneself or others — just isn’t cool.

And that’s not the way it was before.  We think about how much we drink.  We find designated drivers.  We hold bartenders accountable for letting people get so drunk — for hours at a time — that they are a public threat.

We don’t tolerate those things.   Now.

Prohibition may not be the law of the land any more — but a failure?

I don’t think so.

In the long game, Prohibition was what we needed to get sober enough  — for long enough — to think clearly and re-prioritize our beliefs and values and goals.  It was a sober night that let us grow up and choose better.  And be better.

People still drink.  There are still heavy drinkers.  But now we are pretty clear about addiction and recovery.  Drinking and alcoholism aren’t the same thing.  But we might never have known that without Prohibition.

There are still good reasons to drink.  And there are other choices that accomplish the same ends.  But we might never have known that without Prohibition.

There are behaviors that can be explained by putting them in the context of a few drinks — but explaining is not the same as excusing.  Alcohol is not an excuse for hurting others.  Or breaking laws.  Or failing — at anything.  Alcohol may explain it – but it doesn’t excuse it.  But we might never have known that without Prohibition.

We had to get away from that 1.7/per capita statistic long enough to stop thinking of it as normal.

prohibition

Now.

Let’s talk about guns, our relationship to our guns, and the relationship to violence.

Visiting Ronald McDonald House

The Ronald McDonald House Charities are a big deal for a regional medical center out in the middle of the south plains of the Texas Panhandle.  Not only is it a remarkable piece of utilitarian architecture, it is full of people working hard for good reasons.

When we closed our little toy store a couple of years ago, there were a lot of toys left.   We’ve managed to give most of them away (except for my own personal stash, and my closet of toys for kids who come to call…) but when we started packing to move, we found another small stash of brand new toys that needed a good hom.  So today — I took stuffed animals, bears with clothes to change, and a few odd baby rattles to Ronald McDonald House here at the TTU Medical Center.  The first time I took them a load of bears, I called and asked what they needed — but today I just showed up — and boy were they excited.  With the holidays right around the corner, they now have a full pantry of Santa.

So here’s the thing.

This is what corporate charitable giving should look like.  McDonalds is the undisputed king of fast food — we all know that.  And however much we make fun of them, they are the reliable place to stop when traveling, and the best fast, nutritious breakfast on the run — period.  They should probably burn the machines that make Chicken McNuggets, but that’s a whole other issue.

The bottom line is that they not only set the bar for consistent, clean, and reliable in fast food prep, they also set the bar for using corporate funds to do something healthy and beneficial to individuals in crisis, and to our society as a whole.  Giving the families of children in critical and long term medical centers a close, safe, clean, and comfortable place to stay is the work of corporate angels.  Whatever else McDonalds does as a company, they did this part right.  They make peoples’ lives better.  And they keep doing it.

This is what corporations should strive for.  Making peoples’ lives better.

As opposed to Chick-fil-a.  Home of using corporate charitable funds to encourage discrimation.  To make distinctions between those who deserve and those who do not.  Whatever else Chick-Fil-A does as a corporation — they got this part wrong.  They could have funded medical research.  They could have funded scholarships, or holiday toy drives, or book-mobiles or traveling dentistry….  But they didn’t.

They could have practiced pure religion — caring for widows and orphans.  The homeless. Veterans.  The handicapped.  The mentally challenged.  Single parents struggling to make ends meet.  People caught in the corporate greed machine that started the financial and home-loan crisis.  People injured in gun accidents.  People who have lost family members to food poisoning or anti-biotic resistant bacteria.

But they didn’t.  The corporation so-o-o-o Christian that they won’t sell chicken sandwiches on Sunday, chose to use their money to try and push their religious beliefs — which evidently they do not put into action — on others.

So bravo, Ronald McDonald House Charities, for demonstrating what good can come of good intentions.

*********************

McDonalds Egg McMuffin

So, go have the best, balanced, lean, and high protein breakfast you can get for cheap through a car window — an Egg McMuffin — and feel good about it.

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Egg McMuffin®

English Muffin
Egg
Pasteurized Process American Chees
Canadian Style Bacon
Liquid Margarine

300  Calories
18g Protein
12g Fat (19%)
30g Carbs (10%)
820mg Sodium (34%)

Just got this in email from the NRDC….

…and of the 14 or so things that have driven me away from active support of President Obama — this almost makes one of them go away….  Except how many times have we seen politicians kick something like this to the curb — only to find it somehow tacked onto another bill very quietly and and approved anyway….? ? ?

So, yes.  Thank the pig. (a BABE, PIG IN THE CITY reference) Then watch your back.

———–

Natural Resources Defense Council
Dear James,

Big Oil Bets It All…And Loses! White House

Today, President Obama changed the rules of the game: he stood up to Big Oil’s bullying and rejected the massively destructive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

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Let’s face it: Big Oil is used to getting its way. But not any more.

President Obama has just rejected a permit for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline — a project that promised riches for the oil giants and an environmental disaster for the rest of us.

His decision represents a victory of historic proportions for NRDC and hundreds of thousands of committed activists like you who have waged an uphill, years-long fight against one of the most nightmarish fossil fuel projects of our time.

Please thank the President right away for his game-changing decision.

But get ready to keep the pressure on the Obama Administration — because Big Oil is going to fight back hard and fast.

Why? Because this was a prime-time fight. The oil giants made sure of that.

First, they had their Congressional boosters put the President to an election-year test by forcing him to decide the pipeline’s fate within 60 days. Then, the oil lobby itself rolled out its biggest PR guns to get the job done.

The head of the American Petroleum Institute sent the White House a very public and blatant warning: Approve the Keystone XL or face “huge political consequences.”

Big Oil put all its political capital on the line — and a ton of money, too — AND LOST!

They lost because millions of Americans — including you — stood up and said, We’re done with fossil fuel schemes that destroy our land, poison our water and wreak havoc with our climate so that oil companies can make out like bandits.

And because Big Oil lost, this is not the end of the fight. This is the beginning of the real battle for America’s energy future.

That battle will be fought in Congress, where Representatives who’ve collected $12 million from the oil & gas industry over the past two years are sure to try to raise Keystone from the dead . . . it will be fought in British Columbia, where the oil giants want to ram a tar sands pipeline and supertanker traffic through the heart of the Spirit Bear’s coastal rainforest home . . . it will be fought in the Polar Bear Seas, where the Interior Department has given tentative approval for Shell to begin drilling this summer . . . and it will be fought state by state where NRDC is championing clean energy alternatives to a grim, pollution-filled future of coal-fired power plants, environmentally destructive fracking and offshore oil spills.

I know you’ll stand with us shoulder to shoulder in the critical weeks, months and years ahead. We need your kind of never-say-die commitment — the kind that killed the Keystone XL and just made our collective future a little bit brighter. Thank you!

Sincerely,
Frances
Frances Beinecke
President

P.S. Please be sure to thank President Obama. It’s so important that the White House feel overwhelming support for taking this stand against Big Oil, because we’ll soon be asking them to face down the oil giants again.

“An Open Letter to Chick-Fil-A” — and the Dilema it Leaves Us

This is a letter by someone I don’t know.  But he represents such a vast number of people I do know and care about —

JOHN PAUL – An Open Letter to Chick-Fil-A.

This presents a dilemma.  I know why Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays.  Anybody raised in a fundamentalist protestant church knows why.  Because somebody wanted to “keep the Sabbath holy,” but didn’t know enough to realize that the Sabbath meant Saturday.  And besides, what fundamentalist wants to share a day off with a bunch of Jews?  And what lunatic would close a business on Saturday?

So we all knew that Chick-Fil-A was run by those kinds of arbitrary rules.  And I understand that.  There is and will always be a segment of the population who believe they have the one and only true truth in the world, and everybody else is either choosing to disregard the truth, is too stupid to know the truth, or have been persuaded of a lie.  They are a very absolute people.  Everything in their world is solid black and solid white — like the little cows in their ads.

And that’s fine.  They’re entitled.  It is, as they say, a free country.

And as long as I didn’t know all the things discussed in this open letter and the supporting documents linked in it — it didn’t matter.  They make good food for a fair price.  No MSG.  No trans fats.  Lots of fruit and veggies.  They’re reliable.  They have a gluten-free menu.  They try and treat their employees fairly.

But now, having read and searched out to be sure of all the things in this letter — I know of other things in their black and white world which are counter to my own beliefs and practices.  And I can’t ever un-know what I know about Chick-Fil-A.  And I don’t think I can ever drive through one of their outlets again without being reminded where my dollars may get applied through their charitable giving.

And I have no idea how to resolve this.  No amount of boycotting is going to change their black and white beliefs.  They would rather lose profits and even go out of business than waver one iota from their absolutes.

And I know that I (and we — my family) inadvertently support other businesses who channel money into things we wouldn’t approve of — if we knew about them.  But we don’t — and so life goes on.

And we DO know about Chick-Fil-A.  And it makes me a little sick to think such a well manged and honestly good little eatery will be off the list of choices — but it has to be.  Because I can never not know these things about them again.

If I cared so much about the crimes being committed by banks that I would move my money to a small, locally owned bank or credit union — if I care so much about the business practices of other institutions that I would take my business elsewhere , then it’s not really a choice.  This is like leaving a country club that wouldn’t allow people of certain races to be members.  Or choosing a different university based on prejudicial admittance policies.

It’s such a little thing — but little things are important.

The View of OWS and Freedom in America — From Across the Pond

This article is from The Guardian, a print/internet paper from the UK.  It answers the question about how even our closest allies view what is going on in the US right now.

It also represents an outside view of how Wall St. (the money lenders, banks, speculators, and the mulit-national corporations that fuel them) changes everything around us — without getting called on it.

The Truth About Recent Crackdown on Occupy Wall St. (OWS) Across the United States

Here’s the text/content, in case the link or article fail to work:

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The shocking truth about the crackdown on Occupy

The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class’s venality

Brandon Watts lies injured as Occupy Wall Street protesters clash with police in Zuccotti Park

Occupy Wall Street protester Brandon Watts lies injured on the ground after clashes with police over the eviction of OWS from Zuccotti Park. Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that “New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers” covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, and penned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that “It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk.”

In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on “how to suppress” Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”. Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, “we are going after these scruffy hippies”. Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women’s wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the “scandal” of presidential contender Newt Gingrich’s having been paid $1.8m for a few hours’ “consulting” to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies’ profitsis less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists’ privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can’t suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.