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Politricks

Occupy Wall Street: We are the 99%

“None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This is the common rhetoric voiced at the Occupy Wall Street Movement which begun September 17th, 2011.  It has since migrated and picked up massive amounts of support across the nation and the world to cities such as: Boston, San Diego, North Carolina, Washington DC, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Toronto; to countries such as: London, Ireland, Portugal, Greece, Australia, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Austria, and Germany – and many more with each passing day.  After and continuing to personally attend this mass movement, Occupy Wall Street truly encompasses a wide variety of issues many of which range from deep-seeded long-term issues to more recent disasters such as the economic collapse of 2008.  Generally speaking, they vary on numerous topics, from our diminishing education funds, to rising healthcare costs due to increasing privatization; from deteriorating living conditions on massive scales, to increasing unemployment rates; from our collapsing infrastructure of our highways, trains and bridges, to our exponentially increasing spending rates on our “defense budget.”  I will do my best to not marginalize the movement, but rather give an in-depth analysis of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

What exactly is Occupy Wall Street?  Simply put, when we take a closer at everything, we realize that each one of our lives, even life itself, is a commodity.  Society has confined, condensed and commoditized the value and worth of each individual into a simple price tag.  Economic transactions no longer define what we are, but who we are as well.  The vehicle you purchase and drive now apparently represents who you attempt to show others.  The apartment or house in which you invest now apparently reflects your personality.  And the clothes you buy and wear, or the food you purchase and eat are all now apparently indicative of your priorities.  One can apparently even place a price tag on the life of another by merely filing a lawsuit to financially compensate for all damages (who says money can’t buy love these days?).  This movement seeks to correct this lifestyle which has otherwise been exploited and corrupted by businesses and a corporate-backed banking system that aim to progress only their own agendas at the cost of the people.  We are tired and disgusted with how corporations continue to take profit over people.

The next question then is who exactly is Occupy Wall Street?  Contrary to popular belief, especially to what numerous mass media outlets have attempted to portray, there exists no individual leader for Occupy Wall Street.  There is no Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. leading the way; there is no Mahatma Gandhi guiding the nation; there is no Ernesto “Ché” Guevara rallying the people.  The only one trait that is “individual” about us is that we, the people, stand together as a singularity as a testament to the fact that our movement does not revolve around a single entity much like how many of our everyday lives are structured.  The people of this movement are not just a bunch of tree-hugging hippies, disgruntled college students complaining about the rising costs of tuition, or a bunch of psychologically damaged homeless people who retain no clue about how these establishments are run – although this movement DOES advocate for all of them and more.  We are the people: doctors, nurses, teachers, construction workers, electricians, store workers, managers, consultants, truck drivers, engineers, plumbers, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, even soldiers – we are the blood, sweat and tears of our nation, we are the backbones of this country who have built and continue to keep this nation running.

A US Army Soldier and US Marine at Occupy Wall Street

Let us also make one more point crystal clear: this is NOT anti-America; if anything, this movement and protest is 100% pure American.  This nation was supposedly founded upon and prides itself upon freedom of speech found in the First Amendment of the Constitution.  Remember how America obtained its independence: through their voice and actions.  It would be contradictory against America itself for anyone or anything to label it un-American or unconstitutional.  Rather, Occupy Wall Street is anti-corporation, particularly anti-banks and anti-corporate run governments who control this nation at the great expense of its people.  We aim to, at the very least, hold those responsible for the economic collapse of 2008 accountable for their actions.

The economic collapse of 2008, whose aliases include the financial crisis of 2008, or the sub-prime mortgage crisis, led to our current economic downturn in the world.  But in what ways does this have any connection with the Occupy Wall Street movement?  It has EVERYTHING to do with it.  Herein lays the first injustice: according to http://aim.org, around the turn of the century, banks and mortgage firms, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, eased their credit requirements on their loans at the request of the Clinton administration (the reasons for the Clinton and all other administrations for easing government regulations on businesses will be further highlighted in this article).  A mortgage is a fancy name for a loan for a home.  They had even gone so far as to not ask for a down payment on any loan or even have any legitimate verification of any income or assets.  Additionally, word on the financial market at the time was that property was the number one investment for anyone’s portfolio.  Couple all these factors together and you witness this mass movement on the housing market.  For instance, although slightly exaggerated, the average Joe was buying a $200,000 home with terrible or no credit and with no down payment on the mortgage while only making perhaps $25,000-$30,000 per year – all the while, the banks were approving it despite going against standard regulation and basic common sense; however, this was all part of their plans to make a quick buck.

See, banks and mortgage firms such as Goldman Sachs and Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac would then take these mortgages and group them as “securities,” and these securities would then be traded among investors on Wall Street – in other words, they essentially traded a loan as if it was a commodity.  The value of property continued to increase and investors kept making money off of these projected values – NOT real values – until around 2005 and 2006 when the prices of homes peaked.  This created a problem because the vast majority of homeowners could not pay their mortgages and therefore could not back up any of these projected or even real values of their homes.  Additionally, the banks and mortgage firms could not pay them off either because the homeowners were not paying them.  As a result, homes were foreclosed, and banks and mortgage firms declared bankruptcy on a massive scale at an incredibly fast rate.

Herein lays the second injustice: next, the government decided to bailout these banks and mortgage firms.  According to http://propublica.org:

  1. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac received $200 billion USD in bailout money.
  2. American International Group (AIG) received $180 billion USD in bailout money.
  3. Goldman Sachs received $12.9 billion USD in bailout money.
  4. Citigroup received $280 billion USD in bailout money.
  5. Bank of America received $142.2 billion USD in bailout money.

The list goes on and on…but I presume you get the picture.

Where did the government get all this money?  Well it could not afford to print out more and it would have been ludicrous to ask government officials to pay all this off with their own money.  So, you guessed it; herein lays the third injustice: the money came from the people.  According to http://pewtrust.org it cost:

  1. An average of $5,800 USD loss of income per household; or a total of $648 billion USD.
  2. An average of $2,050 USD per household to fund the government response organization TARP; or a total of $73 billion USD.
  3. An average of $30,300 USD loss of value per household; and nearly one million foreclosed homes in the third fiscal quarter of 2009.
  4. An average of $66,200 USD loss of stock value per household; or approximately $7.4 trillion USD in stock wealth.
  5. Approximately 5.5 million lost jobs.

Again, the list goes on and on…but again I presume you get the picture.

Not only did this bailout cost the people billions of dollars, but it also cost us our lives and our simple essences of livelihood itself.  Our survival unfortunately is so dependent, if not entirely, upon these financial institutions and systems that regulate our lives.  In order to get food, we need to pay money for it; in order to get water, we need to pay money for it; in order to pay for heating, we need to pay money for it – minus the select few who can produce and sustain themselves independently.

So the questions the Occupy Wall Street movement asks, or even the average person asks following this meltdown, are nothing short of reasonable: How could this happen?  How can the government expect us to bailout the financial institutions that caused this mess in the first place?  Why did the banks receive these generous bailout while the people were hung out to dry?  Who is REALLY responsible?  We must first turn our attentions to the banks and corporations, but as we look closer into these corporations, we see the true nature by which they operate and advance their agendas.

In politics and governments in general, we have something called “special interest groups” – or basically corporations and organizations – that lobby, or legally bribe with money, officials to persuade them into either making a decision or not making a decision.  Herein lays the fourth injustice: it has become quite clear, especially following the economic collapse of 2008, that these corporations and organizations take precedence over the people and that our governments are too easily influenced by them.  Let us take a look at our good friends at Goldman Sachs, an investment banking and securities firm and one of the biggest contributors to the economic collapse of 2008; according to http://newint.org:

  1. Goldman Sachs uses something called derivatives – basically projected values, NOT true values – to otherwise mask the true value, or lack thereof, of an investment, which they pass off as some form of regulation to the government.
  2. The government accepts these complicated and bogus forms of regulations because numerous banking lobbyists like Goldman Sachs have been pushing to get rid of strict regulations since the early 1990s.  Between 1998 and 2008, they have spent approximately $3.4 billion USD to push for derivative banking and deregulation.
  3. Take Goldman Sachs and add them together with dozens of other banks, investment and securities firms; then multiply all this money by the millions, if not billions or even trillions.
  4. The result = these banks took many high risks with the money of the people with little to no restriction from the governments.  Then the economic collapse of 2008 occurred from their reckless greed.

And it’s not just the banks that have a special interest in getting what they want by bribing or paying off the government at the cost of the people.  Let us take a look at the tobacco lobbyist British American Tobacco (BAT); again according to http://newint.org:

  1. In 1995, British American Tobacco began working closely with pharmaceutical companies to lessen the health restrictions placed on them by the government – because hey, tobacco and cigarettes are too healthy as is, killing over 5 million people per year.
  2. British American Tobacco then began working closely with the European Policy Centre, a think tank organization, which acted as a “neutral” front for the BAT – a think tank is a research organization hired to solve complex problems and to predict or plan future developments.
  3. The European Policy Centre, of course on behalf of the BAT, convinced the government that the risk of costs to businesses is a greater concern than the assessment of health impacts on the people.
  4. Now there exist even less restrictions from the government which are intended to protect public health.

For even more examples of how corporate lobbying has and continues to take over our governments, from the arms industry with lobbyists like BAE to the food industry with lobbyists like the CIAA, check out the article “The best influence money can buy – the 10 Worst Corporate Lobbyists” by Helen Burley, Oliver Hoedeman, and Donough O’Malley – http://www.newint.org/features/2011/01/01/10-worst-corporate-lobbyists/ ; remember, Google is also your friend in this case.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is fed up with government serving the interests of the banks and corporations who lobby for their agenda with little regard to the interest of the people.  We see that governments do NOT serve the interests of the people, that governments do NOT represent the people – that governments only serve the interests of the CORPORATIONS, that governments only represent the CORPORATIONS.

Now there exists a shift of the people, to use their own powers and their own innate rights to bring about change and reformation, to pick ourselves back up and clean up the mess we partially made from the economic collapse of 2008, and to hold the top 1% who hold 42% of the financial wealth in this country responsible for their actions.

Capitalism and democracy can never go together – such combination is a paradox.  “If true capitalism were in place, wouldn’t these banks be allowed to fail?  What we have is crony capitalism.” – @AnonyOps. This is not democracy.  Our governments do not fully represent us.  This is what we call a corporatocracy.

What is our one demand?

We want our nation back.  We are Occupy Wall Street.  We are the 99%.

Works Consulted

Beaumount, Thomas, Karen Mracek. “Goldman Reveals Where Bailout Cash Went.” USA Today 26 Aug 2010. n. pag. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/banking/2010-07-24-goldman-bailout-cash_N.htm>.

Blodget, Henry. “CHARTS: Here’s What The Wall Street Protesters Are So Angry About….” Business Insider. 11 Oct 2011: n. page. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <http://www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street-protesters-are-so-angry-about-2011-10>.

Burley, Helen, Olivier Hoedeman. “The Best Influence Money Can Buy – The 10 Worst Corporate Lobbyists.” New Internationalist Magazine. 01 Jan 2011: n. page. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.newint.org/features/2011/01/01/10-worst-corporate-lobbyists/>.

Davis, James F. “The Cause of the 2008 Financial Crisis.” Accuracy in Media. 14 Oct 2008: n. page. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.aim.org/guest-column/the-cause-of-the-2008-financial-crisis/>.

Kjellman, Krista, Scott Klein, Jesse Nankin, Eric Umansky. “History of U.S. Gov’t Bailouts.” ProPublica. (2009): n. page. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.propublica.org/special/government-bailouts>.

Sabolich, Michelle. “Foreclosure Activity Hits Record High in Third Quarter.” RealtyTrac 15 Oct 2009. n. pag. RealtyTrac. Web. 12 Oct 2011. <http://www.realtytrac.com/foreclosure/foreclosure-rates.html&gt;.

Schaeffer, Michael. “Thieving Financial Institutions Were Bailed Out Four Times in 2008: an Outline of the Four Bailouts.” The Activists. 10 Oct 2011. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://theactivists.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/thieving-financial-institutions-were-bailed-out-four-times-in-2008-an-outline-of-the-four-bailouts/>.

“The Impact of the September 2008 Economic Collapse.” Pew Charitable Trusts. 28 Apr 2010: n. page. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://www.pewtrusts.org/our_work_report_detail.aspx?id=58695>.

“Why?.” OccupyWallStreet. 12 Sep 2011. Web. 12 Oct. 2011. <http://occupywallst.org/>.

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Discussion

6 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street: We are the 99%

  1. Wow, that was so informing !
    And very well done.

    Posted by Fatimah (@tabbyrexrox) | October 14, 2011, 6:15 AM
    • “We Are ‘The 99%’ We Are ‘Occupy Wall Street’ We Are ‘Sparticus’ We Are ‘The Arabian Spring’ We Are ‘The Masses’ We Are ‘The Downtrodden & Huddled’ We Are ‘Us Others’ We Are ‘Humanity!”

      Posted by twittisist | October 14, 2011, 3:40 PM
  2. Great piece! Especially for someone looking to understand the entire picture from square one ! Very well written and informative.

    Posted by Hiba Ali (@hibtweets) | October 14, 2011, 6:58 AM
  3. VERY interesting to read this! THANK YOU!

    Posted by Anisah | October 14, 2011, 4:11 PM
  4. Another good piece. Good research. You know what I was thinking while reading through this? I thought people should have begun such movements when the whole financial ‘business’ became too complicated to understand! I’m sure over 50% of the world’s population (don’t quote me on this) doesn’t understand this information that they deliberately convolute.

    I’m starting to develop the belief that the more complex they make things, the more loopholes they’re trying to create, the more shady work is going on – in most areas of work/life. Also, complexity just kills the essence of transparency and eventually accountability because the layman will never comprehend what’s going on – easily duped. Or am I thinking too simplistically?

    Thanks for sharing this piece bro.

    @___Eternity

    Posted by @___Eternity | October 15, 2011, 3:24 AM
  5. Hi Kevin and others,

    I think this was a well written and interesting piece… but let me point out a few issues I have (because I don’t think that anyone from OWS even really KNOWS anyone who works on WS…) I think you always need to show both sides of the coin, so let me state my side.

    WALL STREET AND YOU, PLUS BASIC ECONOMICS

    Let me start off by saying, I work on Wall Street. Yes, I work at a big bank and (gasp) even work in capital markets, which means I am a dreaded trader. (I know most people don’t understand what investment banking is… I went to a top 25-university and I have plenty of friends who don’t get it. Basically, when companies need to raise money, for example if Apple needs to get cash, they can issue debt [bonds] or equity [ownership, aka stocks]. How do they issue it? Using investment banking. But hey, maybe I don’t want to keep my equity or debt forever.. so I sell it through the secondary market- which is what I do.)

    I’ll start off by stating something more populist, but we’re integral to the system. I agree that we need to reform the system, but (alert!!) that does NOT mean we can break up Wall Street. We need a healthy financial system.

    Case and point: we have many mutual fund clients and pension fund clients. So when Average Joe gets a 401k plan from his employer, it doesn’t go into cash. It goes into equity and bonds because those will get you returns. Cash will get you no return, though it is safer. You expect a minimal amount of growth from a mutual fund while including safety. It’s all about risk-reward.

    You get rid of Wall Street, and when Mom and Dad retire, you’ll see their pensions fall to basically nothing. Why? Because of inflation and the growing cost of goods. There will ALWAYS be inflation, and there are healthy levels of inflation! I don’t really want to get into economics, but when you have a country that is growing and prospering, you’ll have inflation. When you have zero inflation or negative inflation (called deflation), that is a bad thing. It reflects on your economy and shows that your economy isn’t growing. It also decreases liquidity, meaning it’s harder to borrow money – for everyone.

    WALL STREET AND ME

    Secondly, I certainly am not part of the 1%. I make enough money to afford my rent, to slowly pay down my student debt, and to put a little aside into my 401k. I am able to afford to buy a new handbag every year, or to buy a nice dinner once a month. Trust me, I’m not throwing benjamins around, but I live within my means.

    Which I think is the main reason that OWS is misguided. Yes, I said it.

    There are hundreds and THOUSANDS of people who work on Wall Street who are just like me. In fact, WE are the majority. We make a comfortable living, but no, we don’t get million dollar bonuses. I think that fact is lost on many people of the OWS movement.

    And second disclosure, I’m Kevin’s sister! (GASP.) Third disclosure, there are a lot of members of our immediate family (Mom, Dad, and Uncle) who work on WS and trust me, none of us are making million dollar bonuses.

    OWS hurts people like us – because when it comes to firing people, it’ll be US, the middle people, who get fired. You think they’ll fire Jamie Dimon (JPMorgan CEO) or Brian Moynihan (Bank of America CEO)? No, they’ll fire me, and my mom, and my dad, and my uncle.

    WHY OWS ATTACKS THE WRONG PEOPLE

    Let me start off with a simple question: when you have to pay for rent, do you tell your landlord, “Let me actually pay you $500 more than you wanted”?

    Answer, NO! No one would do that!

    So why would corporations do that?

    Corporations, just like you and me, are only going to pay as much as asked, and if possible, much less. GE and Exxon don’t have to pay corporate taxes. Why? Because it’s the law. Does that make it wrong for them to not pay taxes? Yes and no. It’s 100% legal, but if the government isn’t asking for it, are you going to just give your money away? Corporations try to pay as little as they can – JUST LIKE YOU AND ME. It’s called shopping around. I saw a great handbag at Bloomingdales – am I just going to buy it now? Fuck no! I’ll wait for it to go on sale and buy it online. Corporations, just like you and me, are going to go to the place where we can get what we want for the least amount of money.

    LET ME INTRODUCE THE REAL PROBLEM

    Herein lies the problem of government and commerce sleeping in the same bed. If I want that handbag from Bloomys, I can try and ask them if they’ll give me half off. They won’t. If a corporation lobbies hard enough for tax cuts, they’ll get it.

    That’s the real problem. So wake up, people – you look at a petulant child and disapprove of their actions, but the real blame belongs to the parent. We need a stronger government, who can reign in things like crazy derivatives (Sheila Bair, I’m looking at you), and a government that wants to fix the corporate tax code.

    Let’s look at someone like Jeff Immelt. He is the CEO of GE, one of the world’s largest corporations. GE has prospered under the US’s lax tax code. He is also an adviser to President Obama. Immelt has actually been advocating for a more unified tax code – even at the expense of his own company. We need people like him! People who really get it.

    Side note: derivatives are a very useful financial tool. HOWEVER, they are 100% not for most people. People need to take responsibility for what they’re buying. It goes two ways. I’ll get back to this in a minute…

    WHY CAPITALISM AND DEMOCRACY ACTUALLY HAVE TO GO TOGETHER

    This is the point that I most disagree with you on.

    At its core, capitalism allows for the diversification of products. Capitalism is the most independent form of economics there is. Take it from someone who actually studied economics at university, please. Don’t listen to all the white noise.

    Capitalism means that you or I could go out and make something and sell it. It means that whatever we make, we own.

    You think a Steve Jobs/Apple could exist in a socialist society? No. Nor would it exist in any other economic system. The government would take whatever you made, twist it to what they want, and then own it.

    Capitalism means I get to decide what price I want to sell my product at. It’s my choice, not government. I get to go out and sell my cupcakes for $7 a pop. Some idiot will buy it? Why is that my fault? Maybe my cupcakes really are that good! If no one buys them, then that’s my fault – they’re too expensive. I need to adjust my thinking.

    People, I feel, have the biggest problem with this. But in our society, you ARE what you have and what you eat. That’s how we express ourselves – I wear what I wear because I like it. I like having the choice of what I get to wear. I choose to be a vegetarian because I don’t agree with the meat industry. That’s my choice. If I didn’t live in a capitalistic society, I wouldn’t have a choice. We’d all wear exactly the same thing and eat the same thing and live in the same places… We see places like this all over the world, and we choose not to live there.

    I think you mix up two things… capitalism is an economic system. Democracy is a governmental system. Democracy and capitalism both value independence and the fact that we get to make decisions.

    In a country as big as this, we don’t get to all make our voices heard in a normal way – can you imagine millions of people shouting to get their voices heard? I know that’s what this movement is “supposed” to be about, but come on – even ten people shouting at once, you can’t hear what any of them are actually saying.

    No, instead we get to choose through what we buy, and what we wear, and what we eat, and yes, most importantly, but by whom we vote to represent us. THIS is what America is about – the freedom to express ourselves. Democracy and capitalism, the freedom to make our own destiny, that’s ALL America is about.

    WHY IT’S HARD FOR SOME PEOPLE TO TAKE OWS SERIOUSLY

    I know people I work with, granted who are biased, don’t take OWS seriously. They DO think they’re a bunch of dirty hippies. And I know you guys would be lying if you said there weren’t ANY dirty hippies involved.

    But I also know that’s definitely not all of you.

    The big problem people have with OWS is because we, yes WE as a nation and as a unified people, have not been acting like responsible adults.

    ABOUT HOUSING AND THE BAILOUT

    We take out loans on houses we can’t afford, which was a point you made. Yes, the bank was pushing for it – but hello?! You don’t want to take ANY responsibility for that at all? I hope you’re joking. When I was looking for apartments, I made a budget for myself. I didn’t look for apartments that were $5000/month because I want to be able to afford it!

    Now we come to the dreaded bailout. I personally don’t think the banks should have been bailed out.

    There. I said it.

    Have it on record that at least one person on Wall Street doesn’t think banks should have been bailed out. It is counter-intuitive to capitalism.

    But I, unlike most of people who are just anti-bailout for the fun of it because it’s easy to blame the big guy, understand why the government felt the need to do it.

    You have a lesser evil situation. Both ways suck and it’d be best to have to do neither, but you live in the times you live. So you either bailout banks or you watch your economy freeze. Completely frozen. Imagine you go to the bank and you can’t get cash. Multiply that by at least a billion when you account for all the people and all the corporations who can’t get money. Yeah, it’s kind of nightmarish. I don’t have a crystal ball; I couldn’t tell you which situation is worse, but that’s what government faced.

    ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT

    We complain about the lack of jobs. Yes, unemployment is a big problem here. It was at 9.1% last month. But there are lots of jobs out there. Maybe not accessible, but they exist. People don’t want to take them or are unqualified to take them. Net this fact out and, yes, you’ll still have a bit more unemployment than you want but you’ll decrease the number by a lot.

    Note, most economists agree that an unemployment rate of about 6% is healthy. Not going to get into this, but it has to do with how this number is calculated and who is considered unemployed.

    The problem with unemployment is that the duration of unemployment has increased. Yes, this is a huge problem. But the real issue is that we have a lot of people who just simply aren’t qualified for things. We as a nation and as individuals suffer from an ego problem. We think we deserve all these things and we have to wake up and realize that maybe we don’t.

    I’m a big advocate of engineering and of math and science. I don’t have numbers on this, but I know Americans are notoriously unskilled in these fields. Well when you have millions of students studying English or US History- no kidding, you’re going to have a much more difficult time finding a job. Yes, you have every right to study whatever you want, but this comes back to responsibility- you do something that’s fun for now but know there aren’t jobs in that field – then NO KIDDING, you’re not going to get a job!

    OVERALL…

    OWS brings to light a lot of stuff that everyone is upset about. Yes, even the 1% is upset about it. (See: Vikram Pandit).

    But it doesn’t attack the real culprit, and it fails to look in the mirror. Let’s not play the blame game. Let’s not blame Wall Street for all our problems – because Wall Street is inextricably connected to Main Street, just like you and I are inextricably connected as Americans.

    PS this is a long note… whew. Feel free to write back – questions, comments, complaints. Trust me, I work on Wall Street – I have thick skin.

    Posted by Kristin | October 15, 2011, 10:54 AM

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