Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy Everywhere

I have been on a long business trip for the last two weeks and haven’t been able to attend any of the “We are the 99%” gatherings, which have sprung up everywhere.  The right wing clearly doesn’t know what to do with this movement and has resorted to using petty and cliché descriptions of the protestors as communists, lacking any demands, unfocused, and unsophisticated.  From time to time, the protests are taken seriously and the protestors are arrested en masse.  Clearly the powers-that-be have no idea what to do with this movement.   Their efforts to be dismissive have run aground as “occupy” camps and rallies are now literally arising in every town and hamlet.  No further proof of this is needed than the fact that next Saturday, Hendersonville, NC will have an “Occupy” movement made up mostly of retirees.  Hendersonville is a beautiful little town of 10,000 people about 22 miles from Asheville.  Like many towns in Western North Carolina, it has high unemployment and a high poverty rate, with pockets of affluence.  With about ¼ of its population over 65, it has the feel of a retirement community.  It is an unlikely place to find an “Occupy” protest. 

I am in Asheville as we speak.  Earlier today, I went by the Occupy Asheville site but it was pouring rain and really cold so I wished them well from my car rather than joining in.  I admit, with some embarrassment, to being a person who really does not like to attend demonstrations, rallies and protests.  When everyone is chanting, “What do we want?”  I want to respond, “To put my arm down” or “A cup of coffee.”  I have dragged myself to many demonstrations over the years but largely leave that part of movement building to others who seem to enjoy it.  I do love the Occupy Wall Street movement, though, and may just have to pitch my tent in downtown Oakland when I get back. 

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute, Columbia University and author of, 'The Price of Civilization' captures the spluttering outrage of those who can’t believe the other 99% would ever dare say anything in his Huffington post op-ed,
“Here's a short note to the titans of Wall Street to help them understand what's happening.
Let me start with the Wall Street Journal, which seems to be the most confused of all. In its Friday edition, the Journal editorial board couldn't understand why the protestors would want to protest JP Morgan and hedge fund manager John Paulson. The Journal also couldn't understand why the protesters were failing to champion something as wonderful as the Keystone Pipeline, which the Journal assures us would create many jobs.

The protesters are annoyed with JP Morgan because it, like its fellow institutions on the street, helped to bring the world economy to its knees through unprincipled and illegal actions. The Journal editorial board apparently missed the news carried in the Journal's own business pages that JP Morgan recently paid $153.6 million in fines for violating securities laws in the lead-up to the 2008 financial collapse. JP Morgan, like other Wall Street institutions, connived with hedge funds to peddle toxic assets to unsuspecting investors, allowing the hedge funds to make a killing at the expense of their "mark," and the world economy.”
“Mr. Paulson actually made some extraordinary statements in the New York Times on Friday (hard even to believe the nonsensical quotations are correct, but there they are, in the paper of record). He too expressed befuddlement about the protests against his business dealings. Didn't the protestors know that he had created 100 high-paying jobs in NYC? 100?”
He goes on to say,
“What the protestors do know is that Mr. Paulson's success in shorting toxic assets bundled for gullible investors has netted him billions. In 2007, he reportedly took home $3.7 billion by betting against the U.S. mortgage market. And the protestors can also do their arithmetic. Paulson's take home pay was enough to cover not just 100 jobs at $50,000 per year but rather approximately 70,000 jobs at $50,000 per year. Nice try, Mr. Paulson, but the people in Liberty Plaza don't think your hedge-fund play is really worth the compensation of 70,000 people. Nor do they understand why hedge fund managers pay a top tax rate of 15% on their hedge-fund earnings.

The protestors are not envious of wealth, but sick of corporate lies, cheating, and unethical behavior. They are sick of corporate lobbying that led to the reckless deregulation of financial markets; they are sick of Wall Street and the Wall Street Journal asking for trillions of dollars of near-zero-interest loans and bailout money for the banks, but then fighting against unemployment insurance and health coverage for those drowning in the wake of the financial crisis; they are sick of absurdly low tax rates for hedge-fund managers; they are sick of Rupert Murdoch and his henchman David Koch trying to peddle the Canada-to-Gulf Keystone oil pipeline as an honest and environmentally sound business deal, when in fact it would unleash one of the world's dirtiest and most destructive energy sources, Canada's oil sands, so that Koch can profit while the world suffers. And they are sick of learning how many Republican politicians - the most recent news is about Herman Cain - are doing the bidding of the Koch brothers.

Here, then, Wall Street and Big Oil, is what it comes down to. The protesters are no longer giving you a free ride, in which you can set the regulations, set your mega-pay, hide your money in tax havens, enjoy sweet tax rates at the hands of ever-willing politicians, and await your bailouts as needed. The days of lawlessness and greed are coming to an end. Just as the Gilded Age turned into the Progressive Era, just as the Roaring Twenties and its excesses turned into the New Deal, be sure that the era of mega-greed is going to turn into an era of renewed accountability, lawfulness, modest compensation, honest taxation, and government by the people rather than by the banks.

That, in short, is why Wall Street is filled with protesters and why you should wake up, respect the law rather than try to write it, and pay your taxes to a government that is ruled by people rather than by corporate power.”

1 comment:

Anne Weiskopf said...

Thanks for a great post Kim. The summary of why the protestors are protesting - is dead on. One quick comment - the Occupy movements (or at least #OccupyBoston) does not affiliate with ANY political party or politician. It's not surprising that the right is trying to position this as a 'left' movement - but it's much deeper then that. Here's my take from a visit a few weekends back....