Today was the day that the powers that are fought back. As Gandhi told us in the last century; "First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. Then you win." We are now fast approaching the end stage. It may not feel like it now, but consider that the Occupy Movement is scarcely two months old. We are now receiving major headlines in the mainstream media, and the frightened pawns of the corporate world are fighting back.
When you reflect on this, it seems totally surrealistic. Many of us had been aware of what the true nature of things was. Many of us watched as that purveyor of propaganda in our living room spewed out its lies and its agenda. Then a funny thing happened as we were just ready to throw a nearby object at the talking head on the screen, a few of us got up and turned the goddamned thing off. That was the start, it may have been a very small thing to do, but almost every historical movement starts with a small act of protest.
People from all political persuasions started to see exactly what was happening. Most of America watched as the politicians forecast a catastrophic economic collapse just days away. Those in Congress that questioned these dire predictions were told that if they didn’t shore up our crumbling economic system, martial law would have to be imposed to ward off the impending result of this economic failure.
Still, the people resisted. Phone calls, letters and e-mails went out to members of Congress imploring them not to give those on Wall Street the people’s money to stave off failure of the largest banks and brokerages in the financial sector. In one of the biggest flip-flops Congress had ever seen, the politicians saw the anger coming from their constituents. They voted to reject the largest transfer of wealth in history and voted to reject the bi-partisan plan offered up by Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson. The people breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Then, while most people were breathing that sigh of relief, after the failure in the House, the Senate acted, amending the bill and passing it by a 74 to 25 margin on Wednesday, October 1 2008. The bill was amended to include over $150 billion in tax breaks to individuals and businesses. These additions were designed to help win the twelve additional votes needed to get the bailout plan through the House of Representatives. Other additions included a temporary increase in the amount of bank deposits covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), to $250,000 from $100,000, and legislation requiring insurers to treat mental health conditions more like general health problems. In fact, it was the Democrats that carried the day, with 173 voting for and only 63 voting against. The GOP voted 91 for and 108 against. The Democrats gave the Republican President what he wanted, while the Presidents own party voted against it.
That was just the beginning. An economic stimulus bill was passed, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Again, the taxpayers were charged billions for an economic stimulus package. While the government was coming up with new and more creative ways to separate the taxpayers from their money, the House Oversight Committee tried to find out exactly who got bailout funds. Just a short time ago, we learned that the U.S. financial market was not the only recipient of the TARP program.
An example: Major French and German banks were among the biggest beneficiaries of the U.S. rescue of American International Group Inc., yet the American government shouldered the entire $70 billion risk of pumping capital into the crippled insurance titan. The report compares that with the $35 billion that France spent on its overall financial rescue program and the $133 billion that Germany spent. (Huffington Post 8/12/10)
So where was the outrage from our elected officials? The answer, unfortunately, was that there was no rage. Our elected officials seem to be either sleeping on the job, or they turned a blind eye to the rape of the American taxpayer.
Unfortunately for them, this time the American taxpayers seemed to finally understand just exactly where their political priorities seem to be. In the last year, the House of Representatives has engaged in partisan politics at the expense of the American people. At a time where American citizens are losing their homes to foreclosures while watching wages drop and the job market shrinking faster than the Polar icecap, they find nothing better to do than attack members of the opposing political party. This type of mentality is perfectly represented by the Republican candidates for President. The GOP consistently tries to lay all the economic woes of this nation on the president. While he too is not entirely blameless, putting the blame on his shoulders exclusively is not going to solve any of our economic woes.
For years the American people have seen its manufacturing jobs sent to nations that can provide cheap labor. As the factories in the United States close, so do our exports. The nation’s trade now shows more imports than exports. While manufacturing jobs are lost people are resigned to finding work in the highly touted “service industry” that our leaders are so fond of touting. This “service industry” usually translates into a job flipping burgers or working two part-time jobs with no benefits at places like Wal-Mart. There has been no cost of living raises for Social Security recipients or retired government workers or for retired military for the last two years, even though gasoline and food prices have risen steadily.
I could go on and tell you that at this present time 15% of Americans are now receiving food stamps but the majority of you already know what is happening. The days where one could reasonably expect to do as well as their parents economically are fast coming to a close. The economy is so bad that students graduating with a degree are finding themselves keeping the part-time jobs that helped fund their education.
Today we watched as Occupy movements in Oakland and New York and many other cities that have Occupy groups finally moved on the encampments. Most of these cities had their Mayors participate in a conference call on Tuesday. They seem to have come up with a unified response to the Occupy Movement. All I can say is that these measures are pointless. The Occupy encampments being broken up will not slow this movement down at all. In fact, the arrival of winter in the northern cities probably would have made their numbers dwindle anyway. Even Asheville was broken up.
These tactics by city officials that equip their police with riot gear that make them look like combat troops will not help. There have been too many instances of police departments acting more like storm troopers than peace-keepers, and these instances of outright violence against peaceful people exercising their First Amendment rights of assembly to address their grievances are etched in the minds of our citizenry.
The Occupy movement is just not going to fade away. The Mayors of these cities may believe that they have “solved” their problem, but all they have done is escalate the situation. Tomorrow they will see more people in their city centers than they had when they enacted their “solution”. In Zucotti Park in New York City, there will be more protestors on Wall Street than they had before. The same goes for Oakland, Asheville, Charlotte and Portland and hundreds of other cities around the country. There is a simple reason for this. People are disgusted with their leaders in Washington and elsewhere.
The two-party system in the United States is on life-support and the men and women that participate in that system don’t even know it. In Occupy General Assemblies all over the nation nobody brings up political party affiliation. There is a very simple reason for this; both parties have been co-opted by the 1% that has led us to this point in history. The two political parties have allowed the majority of people in this nation to finally wake-up and see what is really going on. The greed that is the by-product of this corporate duopoly has become pervasive throughout. Predatory capitalism has finally reached the tipping point. When people lose their homes, their jobs and their self-respect, it must be replaced by something else. In this case, the American people are regaining something the oligarchy thought that only they possessed, and that is their dignity.
The years of watching this nation use war as an economic weapon are just about over. People that are struggling just to feed their families are not enchanted when they understand that their nation has eleven aircraft carriers worth an average of 30 billion dollars and operating costs of 15 billion dollars a year and find that our nearest competitor only has two. We are not impressed when we learn that this country has 1,100 military bases overseas. We are not impressed when we see that the military budget is $800 Billion before additional funds are added for each new military invasion of other nations. We are angered to learn that this nation spends six times the amount on its military than its nearest competitor (China).
Meanwhile, what has this nation received for its people? Well for one thing we have the largest inmate population on the planet. The United States incarcerates more people per 100,000 than any other nation on Earth. (That also begs the question of why haven’t we prosecuted any of the people who, by their fraudulent casino operations in the financial markets, been prosecuted?) We spend more on healthcare than any other industrialized nation, yet, almost one-third of our countrymen have no health insurance. The infant mortality rate in this nation is 6.06 per thousand. Higher than any European nation, in comparison, Cuba has an infant mortality rate of 4.90.
As far as wealth distribution, since 1979 the average pre-tax income for the bottom 90% of households has decreased by $900, while that of the top 1% increased by over $700,000, as federal taxation became less progressive. From 1992-2007 the top 400 income earners in the U.S. saw their income increase 392% and their average tax rate reduced by 37%. In 2009, the average income of the top 1% was $960,000 with a minimum income of $343,927.
In 2007 the richest 1% of the American population owned 34.6% of the country's total wealth, and the next 19% owned 50.5%. Thus, the top 20% of Americans owned 85% of the country's wealth and the bottom 80% of the population owned 15%. Financial inequality was greater than inequality in total wealth, with the top 1% of the population owning 42.7%, the next 19% of Americans owning 50.3%, and the bottom 80% owning 7%. However, after the Great Recession which started in 2007, the share of total wealth owned by the top 1% of the population grew from 34.6% to 37.1%, and that owned by the top 20% of Americans grew from 85% to 87.7%. The Great Recession also caused a drop of 36.1% in median household wealth but a drop of only 11.1% for the top 1%, further widening the gap between the 1% and the 99%.(Wikipedia)
This is NOT a nice picture; the top 1% owns 42.7% of the nation’s wealth! The bottom 80% own 7%! So for those that consider the American economic system to be fair, think again. This is primary reason that people have taken to the streets. So is this a “class war”? You can answer that question for yourself.
These are just a few reasons for the dissatisfaction that has led people to take to the streets. This is not a passing fancy or a fad. All across the planet, people are just tired of the way things are. They are tired of seeing corporations and the rich buying their lawmakers. Our government has become corrupt, from the top down. Our Representatives, Senators and yes, even our President are corrupt. Why don’t we deliver a list of demands to the government? Why should we do that? The fact is that they won’t do anything for us. They don’t represent us. They work for the 1% and nothing is going to change that. They enable them to pay for their political campaigns and make them rich. Can we compete with the 1%? The simple answer is no.
The solution is simple. Stay on the streets. Teach other Americans about the racket the 1% has. Tell them the truth and they will join us. Above all, refuse to vote for the corporately-controlled oligarchy that is out two-party system. Vote for the candidate of your choice, but don’t vote for the people that will abuse you, because they will, it’s their nature. Most of these people were born into wealth. They have no idea what it’s like to live from day to day, paycheck to paycheck, hoping that no sickness or injury will cause them to lose everything.
These people that make up the top 1% are not inherently evil (at least not all of them), but they just don’t care about us. We must care for ourselves and each other. That is our responsibility and our strength. Let the 1% do what they must and we will do what we must do to survive and even to prosper. Nothing has ever proclaimed that we should lick the boots that kick us. Our strength is in our numbers. The 1% are the ones that caused our numbers to rise. This is their undoing. Their actions have caused our burgeoning population. The 99% could have been the 55%, but no, greed is infectious at the top. Maybe we wouldn’t have noticed the disparity between the haves and have-nots, but the facts are glaring.
We are the ones we have been waiting for. No knight in shining armor is coming from either corporate party to save us. We must save ourselves. This is our destiny and just simple common sense. George Carlin said that there is a reason that they call it the “American Dream”… you have to be asleep to believe it.
Timothy V. Gatto
Read Tim's political book "From Complicity to Contempt" and/or his novel "Kimchee Days" at Oliver Arts and Open Press.
Photo: Ginger Liu