As we wind down for the holidays, The Inclusive will feature the best pieces from 2011. This gives you an opportunity to read some pieces you might not have otherwise seen, and it allows our staff to, y'know, hang out for a bit.
This piece was originally published October 20th. My Christmas dinners were filled with conversations about the 99% and 99% of it was not factual or grounded in any sort of reality. So here's my refresher course on why we're all the 99% no matter what our ideological leanings.
We have never truly been a United States of America. Yes, geographically, we certainly do seem to stick together (even when it got messy in the middle there, there was still an "us" that didn't secede), but never ideologically. For as long as the our country has existed, there has always been one camp against the other: Federalists and Anti-Federalists, pro-Slave and anti-Slave, Hawks and Doves. Hell, there were even folks who didn't want us to rid ourselves of England's shackles in the first place. We are a country constantly at strife with itself over any myriad of issues. It's practically one of our founding policies.
Views on the Occupy Wall Street movement fall nicely in this national narrative. It took the occupation of Zuccotti Park a week to get mentioned in the press (mainly to say, why it wasn't news, curiously). In the successive week, the battle lines were drawn, the snark was unleashed, and everyone knew exactly where they sat regardless of what they knew of the issue at hand (or if there was an issue at all!) Before anyone could reasonably form an opinion, they had one; you were either with it or you were against it.
What was lost in all of this were, shockingly, the issues at hand. One of the narratives to come out of this was the misbegotten idea that there wasn't a clear focus and, thus, not worth our time. Who would follow a group without a pied piper, let alone a song for us all to sing along to? But no one thought about why there wasn't one salient point: there were too many things to be angry about to whittle down.
The economy has fallen asunder all around us. The unemployment rate is high and stagnant (if not growing) while the costs of living are growing daily. Jobs are scarce, especially for the kids who just got out of college, which is essentially a pre-requisite for obtaining a job that pays good money and offers solid benefits, are saddled with large amounts of debt and no job to offset them. They are forced to jump in the low-end job market, like the service industry, which is already flooded from men and women who had the gift and the curse of being so experienced in their positions that they became too costly and were made "redundant." (My father carried a job from the day he graduated college in 1979 until the fall of 2008, just as he was making the most money in his career. It took him two years to find something even somewhat comparable. He's one of the lucky ones.)
These jobs very rarely have benefits, which are nearly as important as the size of your paycheck these days, because god forbid you get sick -- you'll have to sell the house (if you're still lucky enough to own one, though one is lucky to live in one nowadays). But let's say you get this $9.80/hr job fifteen miles away by car, and, because of the economy, your family lives on one car. In the state of New Jersey (as I learned today), in order to obtain car insurance, you need to live in a house with people who have health insurance, or it's a $750 fine. And, of course, you need car insurance in order to operate a vehicle on the road. Nevermind the fact that simply giving the vehicle enough energy to function, requiring around $50 to fill completely. So now you have to pay for health insurance (the luxury that it is) in order to get to the job that makes this whole venture barely with the effort.
In 2009, our economy collapsed, with the banks and money lenders acting as the main schism. Our best attempt to clean up this mess was to loan to the banks $204,808,576,320.00 from the people of America or the country of China, which is just an extended IOU from the people of America.
Essentially, everyone was asked by teacher to bring cookies into class. Some bullies came by and stole our cookies and ate them all, leaving nothing left for the rest of the class. We went to teacher and told her what happened and she said, "ok, this is really bad situation here." So teacher rectified the situation by taking the box of cookies we had stashed away in our cubby holes and giving it over to the banks. "There -- now they have those cookies they lost!" Then none of those bullies get jailed for the crimes they committed.
To date, the banks have returned $96,249,045,000, leaving an outstanding debt of $108,487,042,320. But that's no excuse to cancel Christmas! Bonuses handed out by some of our largest banks just after the first bailout totaled $18 billion dollars between the banks, including a $50 million dollar luxury jet for the heads of Citigroup. Luckily, the Federal Reserve, the government-enacted central banking system that is in charge of the United States' monetary policy, is there to…bank the banks.
In order to generate these bailout systems, we have to pay a federal tax. It is the duty, shrouded as a burden, that every United States citizen is tasked with every year. But not for all people. Take the excessively rich, that top 1% who averaged $1,137,684.00 per household in 2007, all before the economic fall out (which accounts for why the bottom 90% earned an average of $31,244 per house hold). The data is collected during the fourth year of the George Bush tax cuts, dropped to 35% in 2003 from the rate of 39.6% just a decade earlier. This, coupled with strategic maneuvering around the tax codes, means a multi-billionaire like Warren Buffet pays 17.4% of his taxable income, a percentage less than the other twenty people working in his office (they averaged 36%).
This phenomenon extends past organic humans and move into brick-and-mortor ones, as corporations are people, too. Take GE, a company who reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, claiming $5.1 billion of that strictly from its operations in the United States in 2010. It paid exactly $0.00 in taxes over that period. However, it received a tex benefit of $3.2 billion. The company's CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, has recently obtained another position: President Obama's Jobs Czar, tasked to create more jobs in America after losing many overseas. Luckily he knows how to fix things (video): lower the corporate tax rate to 20% and allow tax havens even though he admits that empirically didn't work when tried last. Thankfully, the economy runs on confidence.
And how can we leave out Bank of America, who, for the year of 2010 showed a pre-tax loss of $5.4 billion in the United States last year and received a benefit of nearly $1 billion. This quarter alone, the now second-largest bank in the land made "only" $6.2 billion dollars, although their stock has declined more than 50% this year. They're looking to cut 30,000 employees, roughly 10% of the company, to get that stock number up through the end of year. And if that doesn't help, there's always their planned $5 monthly fee for using the now-ubiquitous debit card.
I'm picking on Bank of America too much. They did pay back their bailout, after all. And so much focus on the banks! I'm totally ignoring the other 83 of the 100 largest publicly-traded companies in the United States that have subsidiaries in tax havens and can cheat the system as well. Take Exxon Mobil, the oil company who had to raise the price per barrel because of the two wars raging in the middle east (aka "petroleum central") whose profits doubled from $3.95 billion in 2009 to $7.56 billion in 2010. Or the top five largest for-profit American health insurance companies who raised their profits by 56% to $12.2 billion in 2009 while 2.7 million people lost their private coverage.
And the wars! How can we forget the war in Afghanistation, which has cost $460 billion to date, and its upstart younger brother war in Iraq, which has quickly escalated to $797 billion. The 2011 budget of the Department of Defense (formerly the Department of War) is estimated to be larger than $200 billion, which goes to private defense contractors. Money that, once again, comes from the tax payers, either now or later. At least we get bang for our buck.
This all builds into the anger, frustration, and disgust personified by those who look to "occupy" Wall Street. Its proliferation in demonstrations across the country, and beyond our borders, is becoming less of a three-ring circus and more of a problem that won't go away. It's why there is a site dedicated to putting on these events for venting. It's why We Are The 99 Percent is gaining traction, a tumblr site that shows hand-written stories of economic hardship in a country -- ours -- whose income inequality sits between Uganda and the Ivory Coast (and is worse than Kazakhstan and Pakistan). This is highest discrepancy in the history of our records, dating back to 1913, using numbers culled from 2007, before things became worse.
Which leads to images like this: Here is a piece written in a mock up of the We Are The 99 Percent's signature style found circulating around Facebook recently.
This young man or woman is clearly living with great fiscal responsibility and should be applauded for his or her efforts; it's not easy to live debt free and still take on the burden of living on one's own and paying for college. It's clear from his or her actions that he or she has done everything right. Everything except the ending. Not only is he or she part of the 99%, they're a perfect example of it.
For some people, they look at Occupy Wall Street and see nothing but free-loading, anarchic, socialist, left-wing hippies clogging up the way for people who work real jobs and, through grit and determination, provide for their families, the way true Americans do. And how can we blame them? It's an instinct older than the country that they live in. But it doesn't matter. We don't choose the teams anymore, we don't even have that power. No, they've been chosen for us by large corporations, banks, health care providers, and a government system clearly sympathetic to their interests; they've already declared class warfare.
You can be left or right, red or blue, but the odds are? You're part of the 99%, and it's time we start acting like it.