Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

It’s interesting that people tend to define what Americans are upset about in ways that suit their agenda. Conservatives are constantly defining people concerned with inequality as ‘losers’ who are just jealous of their betters. They dismiss inequality as just the natural results of some people being more talented than others, with some people just uncomfortable with that fact. They believe protestors are just lazy, and have not worked hard enough. That’s not it at all. It’s actually much simpler than that.

No, we’re protesting because the wealthy are becoming wealthy at our expense. When the rich send our jobs overseas, raid our pensions, lobby against worker protections and bust unions, their wealth is coming at our expense. When CEO’s get millions of dollars in bonuses for laying off thousands of workers to shore up stock prices, that comes at our expense. When corporations hide profits offshore and pay nothing in taxes while we’re told Medicare and Social Security are broke, we know they’re getting rich at our expense. When CEOs make 300 times what the average worker makes, far more than anywhere else in the world while refusing to give out pay raises higher than inflation, we know they’re getting rich at our expense. When Americans need to become debt-serfs just to go to college, we know they’re getting rich at our expense. When colleges jack up tuition year in and year out to pay astronomical salaries to professors for a few hours of work, and even low-level administrators make six-figure salaries, we know they are getting rich at our expense. When health care companies rake in billions in profits while denying coverage, they are getting rich at our expense. When we pay twice as much as anywhere else in the world for health care, and 50 million of us have to go without, they are getting rich at our expense. When even the simplest medical procedures are far too expensive for the average person to afford, while doctors and hospital administrators live in gated mansions, we know they’re getting rich at our expense. When pharmaceutical companies engage in rampant price gouging, with Americans paying up to one hundred dollars a pill, we know they are getting rich at our expense. When corporations employ thousands of highly paid lobbyists to wine and dine our representatives in Washington to write legislation that favors them and penalizes us, we know they’re getting rich at our expense. When we’re taxed to build a new stadium with luxury skyboxes we’ll never see the inside of, we know they’re getting rich at our expense. When taxpayer money gets funneled to defense contractors to build weapons that will never be used, we know they’re getting rich at our expense. When public infrastructure is sold off to corporations who charge exorbitant fees to use what our grandparents and great-grandparents built, they’re getting rich at our expense. When politicians retire and take cushy jobs from the industries they were supposed to be regulating, we know they’re getting rich at our expense.

So no, it’s not envy. The rich are getting rich by screwing the rest of us over. That’s the reason we in the 99 percent are mad, got it? And we know that most of the wealthy are where they are because of family wealth, social connections and luck rather than superior ability. We know that there is no justification for a hedge fund manager to make more in a single day than the rest of us will make in twenty years of work. I’m sorry, no one is that “talented.” No one. There is no reason why half of the country’s financial assets are in the hands of 1 percent of the population. There is no way to justify 400 people earning more than half the country. We know the system is rigged for their benefit, and that we’re getting screwed left and right. Now we’re finally starting to demand that things change, and we know Washington won’t hear us, because our politicians are bought and sold pawns of corporate America. That’s what the protests are about.

We used to believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. It’s clear to see that’s not what’s happening any more. While the rich are building bigger and bigger yachts, the rest of us are drowning. The rich are getting richer at the same time the rest of us are getting poorer. We have to pay more for all the necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, transportation – with all that wealth is flowing to the top one percent. While worker productivity keeps increasing, we’re keeping less and less of the fruits of our labor every year. We’re not stealing from them – they’re stealing from us. We pay more and more taxes for less and less from our government. Too much of our tax money goes to corporate welfare, military spending, nest-feathering, and interest to the investor class. We see politicians giving themselves gold-plated benefits that they deny the ordinary Americans who are theoretically their bosses. They pass ever more onerous laws for us while removing protections for average American from fraud, pollution, unsafe workplaces, unsafe food, dangerous working conditions, etc.

The bailouts just brought this into sharp relief. It was so blatant, so transparent an attempt to screw us over that even believers in the system could no longer justify it to themselves or others. We were finally robbed, en masse, in the daylight, out in the open. The nakedness of the system was finally there for all to see, rather than just revealed piecemeal in isolated factory closings, tax reductions, and mass layoffs. And it was the galvanizing force that was needed to finally start talking about what’s been happening to us for the past thirty years.

In the past, the obscene fortunes of the super-rich were tolerated because we were told that their wealth was necessary for them to “innovate”. People like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates weren’t resented because one could theoretically see and touch the end result of their fortunes when you listened to your iPod or booted your Windows computer. But the new rich seem to be producing nothing of value. Their financial instruments seem to be little more than gambling. Their gambling losses were subsidized by the rest of us, with all of us paying the price for their greed. They are more interested in making profits overseas than putting Americans back to work. They are engaged in wealth extraction rather than wealth creation, with the 99 percent as the victims. And it’s obvious they’re using that wealth to buy our government out from under us, the one that theoretically belongs to We The People. They are not getting rich by “innovating” or making the country a better place for all of us, they are getting rich by screwing us over. Finally, it was obvious for all to see and the cognitive dissonance was too much to bear. Capitalism for the poor and socialism for the rich has always been the way in this country, but now it was out in the open where it was obvious everyone.

That’s why we’re protesting. It’s not because we’re lazy or jealous. It’s because we’re finally sick of getting screwed.

They’re getting rich at our expense. Period.

Got it?

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