Saturday, October 15, 2011

What Else Can We Do - Occupy Wall Street?

A few weeks ago at a monthly luncheon where some friends gather to talk politics we went through what has become a monthly litany of complaint about the obstructionist Republican stance in Congress, greed on Wall Street, and the resulting paralysis of the means to govern by President Obama.
“The President’s jobs bill doesn’t have a prayer,” said one to approving nods around the table.
“We need to write more letters and make more phone calls,” I said, realizing how lame it sounded as the words came out of my mouth.
“Writing and making phone calls don’t accomplish anything anymore,” responded one, lamenting not rebuking.
“I wish there was something else we could do that would make a difference,” said another.
Within days of that conversation, a demonstration in New York City calling itself “Occupy Wall Street” caught my attention. The previous week on September 17 I saw the news about 1,000 demonstrators in lower Manhattan, a couple of hundred staying in cardboard boxes in the park, and on the 19th how several had been arrested, but didn’t think much about it. On September 24th, the day after our lunch conversation, at least 80 arrests were made on September 24, after protesters started marching uptown and forcing the closure of several streets. If that didn’t get my full attention, the arrest of 700 on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1 certainly did.
Was this that “something else” for which my friend and the rest of us were longing?  As the movement has spread over the country, there is a recognition on the part of masses of people that the ordinary political processes and ordinary citizen involvement in those processes is simply not working. Occupy Wall Street has touched a deep and sensitive nerve in the United States.
How do we make sense of the movement? Is it a flurry of activity today and gone tomorrow, as Republicans and some Democrats hope? Is it the birth of a movement that will be an effective counter to the Right Wing extremism that has taken over the Republican Party? Is it that “something else” that demands my participation?
This morning, I saw this piece by Walter Brasch in OEN (Op Ed News) titled OCCUPY WALL STREET: Separating Fact from Media. Based on what I have been reading and seeing on the news, Brasch seems to be on target. I hope you’ll follow the link and read his entire article. What follows are some excerpts:
After citing the responses of some Fox News pundits and mainstream media reports on the movement who, Brasch says, just don’t get it, he asks who the protestors are and what they stand for.
“The protestors rightly say they are part of the 99 percent; the other one percent have 42 percent of the nation's wealth, the top 20 percent have more than 85 percent of the nation's wealth, the highest accumulation since 1928, the year before the Great Depression. Even the most oblivious recognize the protestors as a large cross-section of America. They are students and teachers; housewives, plumbers, and physicians; combat veterans from every war from World War II to the present. They are young, middle-aged, and elderly. They are high school dropouts and Ph.D.s. They are from all religions and no religion, and a broad spectrum of political views.”
Despite their different views, Brasch says they share some core beliefs:
“The protestors are fed up with corporate greed that has a base of corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the rich. They support the trade union movement, Medicare and Social Security, affordable health care for all citizens, and programs to assist the unemployed, disenfranchised, and underclass. A nation that cannot take care of the least among us doesn't deserve to be called the best of us.”
And, he says, they are mad! 
“They're mad that the home mortgage crisis, begun when greed overcame ethics and was then magnified by the failure of regulatory agencies and the Congress to provide adequate oversight, robbed all of America of its financial security. During the first half of this year alone, banks and lending agencies have sent notices to more than 1.2 million homeowners whose loans and mortgages are in default status, according to RealtyTrak. Of course, less regulation is just what conservatives want--after all, their mantra has become, "no government in our lives."

 “The protestors are mad that the wealthiest corporations pay little or no taxes. They point to the Bank of America, part of the mortgage crisis problem, which earned a $4.4 billion profit last year, but received a $1.9 billion tax refund on top of a bailout of about $1 trillion. They look at ExxonMobil, which earned more than $19 billion profit in 2009, paid no taxes and received a $156 million federal rebate. Its profit for the first half of 2011 is about $ 21.3 billion.”

 “They rightfully note that it is slimy when General Electric, whose CEO is a close Obama advisor, earned a $26 billion profit during the past five years, but still received a $4.1 billion refund.”

 “They're mad that the federal government has given the oil industry more than $4 billion in subsidy, although the industry earned more than $1 trillion in profits the past decade.”

 “They're mad that Goldman Sachs, after receiving a $10 billion government bailout, and a $2.7 billion profit in the first quarter of 2011, shipped about 1,000 jobs overseas. During the past decade, corporations, which have paid little or no federal taxes, have outsourced at least 2.4 million jobs and are hoarding trillions which could be used to spur job growth and the economy.”

“They're mad that corporations that took federal bailout money gave seven-figure bonuses to their executives.”

 “They're mad that the U.S., of all industrialized countries, has the highest ratio of executive pay to that of the average worker. The U.S. average is about 300 to 475 times that of the average worker. In Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, and England, the average CEO earns between 10 and 20 times what the average worker earns, and no one in those countries believes the CEOs are underpaid.”

 “They're mad that 47 percent of all persons who earned at least $250,000 last year, including about 1,500 millionaires, paid no taxes, according to Newsmax. If you're a Republican member of Congress, that's perfectly acceptable. They're the ones who thought President Obama was launching class warfare against the rich by trying to restore the tax rate for the wealthiest Americans. They succeeded in blocking tax reform and a jobs bill, but failed to understand the simple reality--if there is class warfare, it is being waged by the elite greedy and their Congressional lackeys.” 
Brasch concludes with a response to the charge that the protestors are not patriotic:
“Herman Cain, Fox TV pundit Sean Hannity, and others from the extreme right wing said the protestors are un-American, apparently for protesting corporate greed. The Occupy Wall Street protestors aren't un-American; those who defend the destruction of the middle class by defending greed, and unethical and illegal behavior, are.” 
I don’t know about you, but this makes a lot of sense to me. I am angry about all of the things Brasch attributes to the protestors. What do you think? Is it past time for you and me to stop talking and get onto the streets? Is this our “something else”? What else can we do?

- Milo Thornberry

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