Occupying Wall Street

By Thomas Heaney

Plenty Justified and Long Overdue

It is gratifying to finally see Americans in the streets advocating for academic justice. It is particularly apropos to see it happening on Wall Street, the literal and figurative epicenter of mythological “US Free Market Capitalism.” The underlying movement was aptly characterized by Russ Feingold. “It’s like the Tea Party – only it’s real.”

Virtually every Republican Senator and Representative is still insisting that job creation depends on tax cuts for rich people and corporations. They keep insisting without evidence that failure to cut taxes “kills jobs.” What they never say is what tax rate will be low enough to stimulate job creation.

What’s going on here is clear and it isn’t job creation. It’s successful war on the lower classes by the very richest in society. They are rich and want to keep getting richer. This is greed-based exploitation of workers pure and simple.

Since we are currently at historically low corporate and individual tax rates, it is only logical to reject current Republican tax policies and related economic theory. The record they have created in the US economy in the last decade is nothing short of miserable.  Yet there have been no alternative proposals forthcoming from the right.

Today’s “free” markets are really nothing like the utopian unregulated entrepreneurial nirvana touted by McConnell, Boehner, et al. One obvious roadblock to entrepreneurs entering these “markets” is the army of lobbyists hired by corporate interests.

The size and monopoly power influence by the likes of BP and Exxon-Mobil have given them the economic largesse to protect their position. And protect it they have. While many Americans remain unemployed, large potential corporate employers have been spending huge bucks.

The problem is the biggest corporations haven’t been investing in US-based domestic human capital. Instead they have hired legions of state and federal lobbyists to allow more environmental pollution. They have worked steadfastly to undermine domestic labor unions, mislead the consuming public about pollution risks, and bought influence in judicial appointments and elections everywhere possible. When they do hire workers, they look to hire first in the cheapest foreign, non-union, labor markets, especially in countries lacking environmental protections.

The question is not why Americans would choose to take their message to Wall Street or any other street. To do so is a cherished and protected right, guaranteed by the constitution. Van Jones (http://rebuildthedream.com/) recently put it very well in an interview with Ed Schultz. The question is “Why is Wall Street Occupying Washington DC with thousands of paid lobbyists?” I would follow quickly with another question. What are we going to do about it?

I would suggest that this would be a great theme for protestors, legislators, and President Obama to focus on. It is also a fine theme for the President to continue to emphasize directly in appeals to the American public. Apparently he’s been getting under the skin of McConnell, Cantor and Boehner. That’s a sure sign of that some amount of truthiness is making its way into the cold depths of Republican souls.

They don’t like campaign mode rhetoric. This is an amazingly hypocritical stance to take. After all, Mitch McConnell has stated for several years that his number one priority is to defeat the President. Apparently, McConnell doesn’t realize that his job as Senator is to legislate. Making a political win your number one priority is itself a campaign tactic. Legislating is the specific work he is supposed to be doing in office. He hasn’t been doing it. He’s been busy campaigning!

While today’s metaphorical “street fight” is focused on Wall Street, there are state-level causes to be taken up. Corporate funded class warfare is being waged on American workers in every state capital, in every state house.  The chief perpetrator is ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council). Voter disenfranchisement is among the worst aspects of what this anti-democracy group is calling for.

All of this ought to be powerful incentive for Americans to re-assert their rights to vote and act in their own short- and long-term economic self-interest. I’m hoping to see an American Spring with resurgent worker rights and a re-built American Dream for all to share.

How that message filters through corporate mass media outlets is cause for vigilance and action where necessary. Economic justice is what American workers should demand for themselves and their co-workers collectively. As a country we should settle for nothing less.

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