Occupy Wall Street and the so called 99% movement got a big boost this past Saturday as hundreds of thousands of citizens from the developed world marched in cities across the globe. In Europe, the 99% movement spread to Spain, France, the UK, Greece, Germany and Italy to name but a few. Asia, Africa and Australia were also well represented and of course North America, where people turned out in dozens of Canadian cities, including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax and Winnipeg, and over 70 Cities in the United States.
The concerns of the activists differ depending on the country in which they live. Most European activists are protesting government austerity measures, the European Central Bank and NATO actions in Libya and Afghanistan. Japanese protesters chanted anti-nuclear slogans at the Tokyo Electric Power Co, while Canadians protested what they called “government-abetted corporate greed”. Regardless of their motives, all were protesting in solidarity with the 99% movement occupying Wall Street.
Since becoming the global economic powerhouse in the last thirty to forty years, American economic and financial practices have been emulated in much of the world, thanks in no small part to globalization and the heavily American funded IMF and World Bank forcing austerity and privatization. It’s no wonder that the citizens from Belgium or Greece can relate to someone from small town USA.
Fortunately, people are not yet as desperate in much of the world compared to the United States (Greece and Italy aside). The social safety net and banking systems are better in countries like Germany and Canada making the 99% movement in these countries more of a pre-emptive protest.
In the United States the damage has already been done. Preferential tax treatment has helped drive the U.S. to its worst level of income inequality since the Great Depression. Since the start of “Reaganomics” in the early 80’s, the income gap between the very rich and everyone else has more than tripled. Also, in terms of income inequality, the United States currently ranks as more unequal than the Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, and Pakistan (and just ahead of Uganda).
The current corporate oligarchy in the U.S. derives from three distinct seats of power in the United States; they are also in the order of where the responsibility lies.
- The American Supreme Court
- The White House
- Wall Street
The American Supreme Court
Back In 1886, the case of Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific, the Supreme Court ruled that the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause guarantees constitutional protections to corporations in addition to natural persons. In short, a corporation is a person. The main purpose of the 14th Amendment was to protect freed slaves, but thanks to this ruling, corporations were given the rights of ordinary citizens without much of the responsibility. The operational principles of the corporation have since given it a highly anti-social “personality”: it is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful and it does not suffer from guilt.
Fast forward more than a hundred years to 2010 and another landmark Supreme Court decision; Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. This ruling (reversing several election laws) gives corporations the ability to donate as much money as they please to political campaigns. In short, money equals speech. Through this law, Wall Street has more power and influence on government policies than it has ever had before.
The White House
Corporations have had the “person” status for about 130 years and yet people have only realized the way they impact our lives over the last decade or two, what has changed? The government had always been there with their corporate leash to ensure the relative stability of the economy and the companies themselves, kind of like a government police force looking over the corporate “persons” through regulations or laws. These regulations were in place to help protect the environment, the economy and everyday people. Because of the anti-social personality of corporations, a corporation left to its own devices through laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a “psychopath.” Psychopaths need to be watched.
Unfortunately Ronald Reagan didn’t see it that way and the era of deregulation began, only to be sped up by Bill Clinton and both Bushs. Thousands of lobbyist jobs have been created over the same time period to further loosen the leash. Deregulation is great for business as it brings down barriers previously off limits; add in free trade agreements, tax breaks for the wealthy and government subsidies in a now globalized economy and you get what we have today.
Blaming the other two institutions for the state of things without placing some of the blame on Wall Street is the equivalent of placing the blame for a child’s actions solely on the parents. The Federal Reserve, the central banking system of the United States, is considered part of the American Government, but is not actually controlled by it. The Fed is in fact privately owned with 100% of its shareholders being private banks. Through the Federal Reserve, banks are actually encouraged and rewarded to borrow more and more. Any change to the banking system requires a steep change to the Federal Reserve.
Wall Street crime is nothing new, but the schemes and methods they use are increasingly complex and at times perfectly legal. If a corporation has a legal way of making money fast and easy, it will not think twice, nor will it think twice about the consequences, knowing the government will bail them out.
Back to the People
The 99% movement and Occupy Wall Street are about to enter their second month. Occupy now has the backing of some unions, a few politicians and celebrities, a multinational movement to support it and some specific goals. The trouble is the grass roots movement still does not have any significant leaders, and in my opinion is not focusing its anger in the right place. Protesting corporate influence and Wall Street might feel good and righteous, but it is also futile. These days Wall Street does not have to answer to anybody and therefore won’t listen to anyone.
The only real place to lobby for change is in Washington. In order to fight the corporations we must play the same game they’ve been playing for years, we need to lobby the government. We need to occupy the White House in order to influence the Supreme Court, only then can change take place.
On paper the odds might seem against us: the courts, the government and the corporate elites have been in control for decades and have since entrenched themselves, but thanks to the actions of regular people from around the world this weekend, we are reminded they are but one percent, we are the 99%.
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