OCCUPY WALL STREET: Separating Fact from Media

 

By Walter Brasch

 

Newspaper columnist Ann Coulter, spreading the lies of the extreme right wing, called the Occupy Wall Street protestors, “tattooed, body-pierced, sunken-chested 19-year-olds getting in fights with the police for fun.” She claimed the protestors, now in the thousands in New York, are “directionless losers [who] pose for cameras while uttering random liberal clichés lacking any reason or coherence.” (Several hundred thousand of these “directionless losers” are expected to attend rallies in more than 650 cities, Oct. 15.)

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House majority leader, called the protest nothing more than “growing mobs,” completely oblivious to his myriad statements that he supports “mobs” when they are from the Tea Party. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, tacking as far right as possible to avoid anyone thinking he was once a moderate, called the protest “dangerous.”

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain, in a moment that demonstrated how out of touch he is with the economic reality of the five-year recession, argued, “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks; if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”

Glenn Beck, too irrational even for Fox News, which terminated him less than two years after it tried to make him a TV superstar, told his radio audience, the protestors “will come for you and drag you into the streets and kill you.”

Lauren Ellis of Mother Jones, at one time a cutting edge magazine for social justice, believed that the protestors have a “lack of focus.” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, wrote, “A protest without an objective is like a party or a picnic of the unemployed and the indolent. Unless you have an objective, what are you doing out there?”

First, let’s see just who these protestors really are. And then, let’s see what they stand for, since the mainstream media, of which Fox News is an entrenched part, don’t seem to be getting the message from the people.

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.

 Support has come from senior politicians with very different philosophies. Vice President Joe Biden believes the protests are because “In the minds of the vast majority of the American–the middle class is being screwed.” Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), unlike a vast majority of Republican politicians, stated, “If they were demonstrating peacefully, and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed—I would say, ‘good!’”

 Second, like all protests, there are different opinions within the ranks. But, there is a core of 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.

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.

 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.

 [Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist, and the author of 17 books. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a social issues mystery set in rural Pennsylvania.]

 

 

 

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The Debt Ceiling Crisis: Let’s Get Personal

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH 

 

You have a credit card with a $25,000 limit.

Because you have a good job, you only have $6,000 on the card, and routinely pay the monthly statement and a little extra on the principal.

But then you decide you need a 52-inch high-def LCD TV screen to go into your “man cave,” and your family rightfully decides they need a vacation. So, you add a few thousand to the credit card. But, it’s all OK since you just got a promotion at work.

A couple of months later, your 2008 Honda begins puffing smoke. By the time repairs are done, it’s another thousand on the card.

And then your boss calls you into her office. Your work has been excellent, she tells you. You have made numerous contributions to the company, she says. But her boss has figured out he can make even more money for himself and the nebulous apparitions known as stockholders, so he is sending much of the company’s manufacturing needs overseas, where labor (and often workmanship) is much less of a financial burden. Besides, he won’t have to deal with unions overseas. Oh, yeah, says your boss, you’ve been replaced by some guy in Pakistan who’ll work for a tenth of your salary.

But there’s good news, says your boss. Because of your long and dedicated service, you’ll get four whole weeks salary—and health care benefits for two full months. You’ll surely find work in that time, you believe.

Three months later, you’re still unemployed. The mortgage is due. Bills pile up. But, you’re optimistic. You have a good work record. You’ll find another job. Besides, your wife (who had quit her job to spend full-time taking care of the home and raising the three children) just got a job at $7.80 an hour as a clerk at a big-box department store to help out. It’s only temporary, the two of you believe. You’ll get a job soon; she’ll be able to quit her job. A few more months go by, and both of you are now working—she as a near-minimum-wage clerk; you as a part-time customer service representative for a hardware store at two bucks over minimum wage. That’s all you could find. You don’t have health benefits; hers, which cover the family, are significantly less than what you once had.

You’re depressed, but there’s no money for social workers or psychologists. You and your family are a bit testy, snapping out for no apparent reason; there’s no money for marital counseling.

The bills pile up. There’s unreimbursed medical costs, a couple of unexpected veterinary bills for your two dogs, clothes for the kids, gas for the cars so you can get to your jobs. And then that variable interest mortgage hits a new high. You put a few more necessities onto the credit card and are now are at $24,950 of your $25,000 debt limit.

So, you go to the bank—the one that sold you the house, and which gladly gave you a mortgage when times were good and it could make a lot of money—and ask for a raise in the credit limit.

But times aren’t that good right now, and the bank refuses to raise your credit limit. After all, says the banker, there’s no way you could make monthly payments.

You plead that if the bank doesn’t raise the credit card limit, you won’t be able to survive, that you’ll have to default. That means you’ll lose your house and, probably, your cars. Your credit rating, once among the best, will plummet even further. Too bad, says the banker. Get another job, he says. One that pays better. Or, maybe work two jobs. Of course, there’s no jobs at the bank, or anywhere else. But that’s not his problem.

You again plead for help, but the banker isn’t interested. It’s your fault you’re in this mess, he tells you. You spent too much, he coldly explains. Cut spending, and you’ll be able to meet your minimum monthly payment—you know, the one with the 13.5 percent interest that goes to the bank—and, well, figure out something. He has no compassion and won’t help.

But there may be hope. Another banker comes into the office, hears your story, and wants to raise your debt limit, but the other banker has taken a stand. With you in the office, the two of them talk, argue, and shout loud enough so the other bankers and customers can hear them. It’s now 3:55 p.m., and the bank closes in five minutes, at which time the credit card, because of steadily rising interest, will be maxed out.

Finally, the two bankers agree to provide a miniscule amount of help. They will temporarily raise your credit limit, but will now dictate exactly what you can spend, and how you’ll spend it.

Since you like hunting, and they like hunting, they’ll let you buy all the guns and ammunition you want. But, they can’t help you on your health bills, or even lower the insurance premiums and co-pays. And, they can’t do much for that inflated mortgage payment. Or to help you find another job.

You will have to wear old clothes, used clothes, or lower your clothing expenses, they say, but there’s a solution. They give you a catalogue of very nice clothes—men’s, women’s, children’s. The pictures of the clothes, in full color on glossy paper, is just what you need to reduce your costs so you look presentable at the next job interview. And no one notices that the clothes the banker wants you to buy are all made in Pakistan.

 

[Water Brasch’s current book is Before the First Snow, the story of a ’60s “flower child,” and the reporter who covered her life, and that of America, for more than three decades. The book is available at www.greeleyandstone.com]

 

 

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