Saturday, October 22, 2011

The 99% Solution

by Michael K. Smith

The sudden return of mass protest around the theme of class warfare is the best news we've had in a long time. While a clueless alliance of Blue Dog reactionaries, Tea Party Know Nothings and "traditional" cement-head Republicans waxes rhetorical about "unfunded mandates," the deranged killing machine known as U.S. foreign policy continues to run amok on a limitless credit card without a peep of protest from the political class. Fortunately, the people in the streets know self-serving hypocrisy when they see it.

Calling themselves "the 99%," the Occupy Wall Street campaign has loudly rejected the notion that the U.S. operates with the consent of the governed, and in just a few weeks has mushroomed from a local protest into a global movement against unrestrained greed.

Calls for the movement to provide instant solutions and precise demands badly miss the point. In the initial stages protest is its own message, and need not sign its name to a laundry list of grievances. With time those grievances can't help but become well known, but for now, "Make the Banks Pay," should be a clear enough message to those who have lost their jobs, homes, and pensions to the Wall Street swindlers.

As always, dangers abound, and the Pelosi narcotizers are already at work trying to co-opt the movement. But it appears they will have no easy time of it. Something more than a cosmetic jobs bill (offering employment to perhaps four percent of the workers who need it) and Obamacare administered by HMO profiteers will be necessary if protesters are to be enticed away from their anti-corporate rebellion. But there is no sign the Democrats are prepared to abandon their GOP Lite dogma, which means that the protests can only grow, as they are doing.

Popular rebellion has re-emerged because of longstanding elite contempt for the common people and the commons. Wages and benefits have been cut, jobs exported, government services slashed. Pensions have been looted, the environment and the Bill of Rights trashed, millions of homes foreclosed. And six countries have been attacked by Obama in less than three years, with attendant destruction on an appalling scale, while Obama indulges political rhetoric appropriate to a juvenile gang leader. And through it all the two major candidate producing organizations, the Democrats and Republicans, have continued to proclaim the U.S. the land of democracy, prosperity and freedom. All of these values still exist in America, of course, but increasingly only for the favored few who own the private economy and run the national security state. For the rest, life is a mad scramble to catch the crumbs falling off their plates.

The banks cannot be forced to pay by re-electing Obama, who came to the White House on an avalanche of Wall Street contributions and returned the favor with the most generous bail-out package in financial history. Obama is what Malcolm X termed a "House Negro," so identified with his owner that he uses the pronoun "we" to inquire after the master's failing health. "What's the matter boss - we sick?" One can easily imagine Obama asking George Soros the same question about the ailing U.S. economy.

Political scientist Michael Parenti has helpfully outlined the one percent of the population that the Wall Street protesters are demonstrating against as follows:

"You are a member of the owning class when your income is very large and comes mostly from the labor of other people - that is, when others work for you, either in a company you own or by creating the wealth that allows your investments to increase in value." Parenti notes that this has little or nothing to do with engaging in hard work. "Hard work seldom makes anyone rich. The secret to wealth is to have others work hard for you. This explains why workers who spend their lives toiling in factories or offices retire with little or no wealth to speak of, while the stockholding owners of these businesses, who do not work in them and usually have never visited them, can amass considerable fortunes."

And amass fortunes they have. According to PBS, the top twenty percent of Americans own 84 percent of the nation's wealth, while the bottom forty percent have only 0.3 percent, that is, virtually nothing. But as the Tea Party reminds us, that's OK, because poor people have "never given anyone a job," while the rich always allow us to prostitute ourselves to their demand for limitless profit.

What is it about elite generosity we don't understand?


Street, Paul, "The Filthy Rich," Z Magazine, October 2011

Rasmus, Jack, "Emerging Labor Responses to the Economic Crisis," Z Magazine, September 2011

Parenti, Michael, Democracy For The Few, Seventh Edition, p. 7

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