Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street’

In America, the Rich are Never Wrong

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump ... I was great, but my mic was lousy

Donald Trump … I was great, but my mic was lousy

Here’s a delayed look at the week that was. (I couldn’t let that televised national embarrassment Monday night go by without somehow acknowledging it. Besides, it ties in neatly with the rest of the menu.)

Monday night, 86 million people turned on their TVs to watch a rich, white man who inherited a fortune bragging about rooting for the collapse of the home mortgage market in 2008 and how “smart” he is to avoid paying taxes. The man also happens to be running for president of the United States as the Republican Party nominee.

During the debate, the nominee also body-shamed a former beauty queen and displayed a shocking lack of knowledge about such things as economics and world affairs. He did sniffle and interrupt his female opponent a lot.

This was white privilege on display in all its arrogance. Donald Trump has got his – well, his daddy gave him a lot to start with – and now he wants to get more of ours. When the debate was over, Trump said if people thought he did lousy it was because somebody turned his microphone sound down too low. Because, in Donald Trump’s world, the rich are never wrong.

Speaking of the rich never being wrong, last week also marked the fifth anniversary of the Occupy Movement in America. It arose seemingly out of nowhere with thousands of Americans of all ages, colors, genders, creeds, etc., setting up camp or just sitting down — and staying — in large numbers in places where people don’t usually set up camp or squat, if you will, for more than a couple of hours at most. Bank doorways. Parks. The middle of Wall Street.

Five years later, the Occupy Movement is, at least physically speaking, a mere memory, a blip in the history of protest movements in the United States. To some, it is a might-have-been movement that missed its moment. To others, it was merely a forbearer of things to come. It was often criticized (by me included) as having no central theme. What was its point?

Today, it’s clear what the point was and remains: America is divided into two groups of people — the haves (like Trump) and the rest.

The haves are the one percent — the individuals and corporations — who control enormous amounts of wealth and want more. The rest, the 99 percent, is us, trying to figure out how things got so out of whack. Wall Street was and still is the symbol of this unfair, obscene distribution of wealth, hence the occupation of the financial district. But as the remaining Occupiers marked their fifth anniversary, it was obvious to anyone who has paid attention to the presidential campaign for the past year that the movement’s message did not disappear in the fog of tear gas, Mace and flash-bang grenades that dispersed many Occupiers in cities across America.

Sen. Bernie Sanders made income disparity the central part of his vigorous campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. It resonated so strongly that, even in defeating Sanders, Hillary Clinton (who is also very wealthy, but not Trump-like) agreed to include it in the party’s platform as she accepted the nomination. Her challenge as president will be to live up to her words and stand up to Wall Street.

If anyone doubted that this is necessary and that the culture of greed still prevails among the one percent, two recent hearings in Congress, of all places, should have put that to rest.

One involved a bank, Wells Fargo, whose employees, under pressure to meet aggressive demands to increase profits, created 2 million phony accounts in customers’ names to collect $2.4 million in unauthorized fees on them.

The other hearing involved a pharmaceutical company, Mylan Inc., which holds 90 percent of the market share on EpiPen, an epinephrine auto-injector, which reverses deadly allergic reactions. Since 2007, the company has raised the price 15 times. EpiPens went from roughly $50 each for a pack of two to $608. Millions of children rely on EpiPens’ life-saving qualities. Many parents are having trouble affording them.

Banks and pharmaceutical companies have been among the chief miscreants in the “get it any way you can” philosophy that dominates corporate America and Wall Street. Even when corporations are found guilty of egregious, illegal, unethical behavior, the persons responsible for creating the atmosphere of unyielding greed seem to never face any repercussions. The rich are never wrong.

Thousands of Wells Fargo employees were fired, either for setting up the phony accounts or for refusing to set up the accounts.The company was fined $185 million by federal authorities and agreed to pay restitution to its customers, but that won’t break the bank. CEO John Stumpf apologized to Congress, sort of, while ignoring many strong suggestions that he resign and that he should be arrested. But this time, the company’s directors went against common practice by making Stumpf give up $41 million in benefits and forgo salary while an investigation proceeds. They also made the executive responsible for running the scam retire without any severance pay. So maybe the Occupy message is starting to get through.

Meanwhile, the Mylan CEO, Heather Bresch, tried to convince Congress that she was doing the world a favor with her blackmail pricing. Showing no apparent understanding of the fears faced by those who rely on her product, she told Congress her company was compassionate and had worked hard to educate the public about the dangers of allergic reactions. Bresch said the company only makes $50 in profit per pen, which is probably a low estimate, but still sounds pretty good, considering it costs only a few bucks to produce.

Bresch was paid $2.4 million in 2007 and $18,931,068 in 2015. She rounded it off to $18 million when asked at a congressional hearing, prompting one congressman to note that it must be easy to ignore $931,068 in annual salary when one reaches a certain level of pay.

And isn’t that the point? It has all been too easy for corporations to boost their bottom lines and top executives’ astronomical pay because no one at the top has been made to pay the price for the pain inflicted upon millions of Americans by illegal, unethical, money-grabbing tactics. Bankers don’t go to jail in this country. Drug company executives don’t go to jail in this country. Insurance executives don’t go to jail in this country. Wall Street brokers don’t go to jail in this country.

In this country, a billionaire who doesn’t pay his employees, stiffs his creditors, brags about not paying taxes, routinely degrades women, espouses racist policies, sets up a phony university, gives voice to hatred and violence, promulgates a fiction that his president wasn’t born in this country, insults military heroes, is ignorant of the Constitution, and lies as naturally as he breathes gets to run for president as the candidate for what is now a sorry excuse for a major political party.

And apparently, to a sizable portion of the 99 percent, this is OK, because he’s rich. And not black. Or a woman. Which may explain why Trump and the rest of his ilk continue to act as if the rich are never wrong.

… and so it went.


Occupy Movement Coming to Orange

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

By Michael Kaufman

The “Occupy” movement is about to set up tent in Orange County Feb. 2, thanks to a number of local activists inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street (OWS) campaign. “It is truly amazing how a small, leaderless movement centered in a half-acre park in lower Manhattan captured the imagination of the world and rapidly spread to over 80 countries and 1,000 cities,” says Newburgh resident Bennett Weiss. 

Weiss, a jewelry and arts and crafts maker, says the last year will be remembered as “the year ordinary people took to the streets. From Tahrir Square in Cairo to Madison, Wisconsin, something special was happening: Voices long silenced by fear or deadened by hopelessness rang out in protest. No movement better encapsulates the raw and awesome power of people coming together in new and vital ways than the Occupy movement. And now it’s coming to Orange County.”

Weiss, of course, is one of the organizers. A longtime activist for peace and social justice he was a frequent visitor to Zuccotti Park before protesters were forcibly removed by police. He was also the organizer of a September “Rally for Economic Justice” in New Canaan, Connecticut, home to more than a few well-to-do corporate executives, including General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. “What better place to demonstrate against the concentration of wealth than one of the places where it is concentrated,” he said at the time.

During his visits to Zuccotti Park he created and distributed more than 3,000 buttons bearing messages, such as “Economic Justice,” “Wake Up From the American Dream, Create A Livable American Reality” and “We’re the 99 Percent.” These activities were described in an article in the Times Herald-Record, eliciting a sarcastic comment from a reader who suggested that by accepting donations for the buttons Weiss was “exercising his rights under our capitalistic system to make money and take a shot at being among the one percent.” This, the reader suggested, seemed “somehow counter intuitive for the OWS crowd.”

Weiss calmly replied, “I don’t ask a penny for my buttons, but rather state clearly and emphatically when asked how much my buttons are, ‘Please make a small donation if it’s easy to do so and please do NOT make any donation if it’s not easy… all I ask is that you wear your button all the time.’ Doing this, I have raised money for a cause I strongly believe in, paid for my button costs, given away thousands of free buttons, and had the good fortune to meet and talk to some of the most dedicated and interesting people. 
“But perhaps more to the point,” he continued, “I DO understand your cynicism. We live in a culture where the bottom line is all that makes sense and greed is the only plausible explanation for hard work. We have arrived at a place where venality is considered the norm and claims of non-monetary motivation are suspect. How sad.”

Weiss says the launching of Occupy Orange will be anything but sad. “This meeting will be a  celebration of the momentous successes of the past year, a pep rally to keep our  spirits high for the  challenges that lie ahead, and an opportunity to learn  firsthand from experienced Occupiers what it’s like on the ground  (sometimes  literally on the ground) of an Occupy site.  There will be great food, music, and speakers from unions and community groups.” 

Sponsoring groups thus far include Orange County Peace and Justice, CSEA of Orange County,   Democratic Alliance, Community Voices Heard of Newburgh, and District 1199, Service Employees International Union. 1199 members were among the earliest trade unionists to show support for OWS.

“The Occupy movement, by raising awareness of the massive dissatisfaction with economic injustice has started a vigorous dialogue that we will keep open,” says Weiss. “Whether your primary concerns are local, as in the case of the Valley View Nursing home closure, regional, as in the case of our escalating home foreclosure rate, or global, as in climate change and never-ending wars, you will find  that promoting economic justice  plays a big part of the solution.”

Diane Newlander of New Windsor, agrees. I’ve been to Occupy groups on Wall Street, in New Paltz and Poughkeepsie, and wondered why there was no ‘Occupy  Orange.’ Now that it is 2012, the time has come to get organized. We are the 99%.  Join us!”

Weiss says there will be “great food” served at the Feb. 2 event but attendees are also encouraged to bring canned goods for a food drive to benefit the needy of our community. The first Occupy Orange meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 2, at Mulberry House, 62-70 West Main, Middletown. “It’s going to be a lively, dynamic extravaganza,” he quips. “I guarantee it or your money back. There’ll be lots of politics, philosophy and pizza for all.”

And if Newlander’s name seems familiar, it is. She has served as chair of New Windsor Concerned Citizens, and was a member of the New York State Advisory Panel on Transportation Policy for 2025. She also was president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County. Her involvement is but one example of Main Street joining with Occupy Wall Street in the fight for economic justice. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s the economy, stupid.
 Michael can be reached at

NBA Players Too Occupied with Greed

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

By Bob Gaydos

Having spent most of five decades tracking, reporting and commenting on the news of the day, I have developed a routine, a defense mechanism actually, for dealing with those days when the news is just too damn depressing. I turn to the sports page.

Of course, in the past couple of decades, sports news has been far from the guaranteed escape from the real world it once was. Some of that is probably due to my evolution as a human being (leaving behind childish things, etc.), but most of it I am sure has to do with the devolution of sports from fun and games to law and order. Hue and cry. Sturm und drang. Sue or be sued. Pick your couplet.

Monday was one of those days. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for some reason decided to go Big Brother on the Occupy Wall Street protestors, sending in hundreds of police before dawn to break up the Zuccotti Park encampment while preventing legitimate news media from covering the action and even arresting several reporters. Instead of trying to talk to protestors and resolve complaints about the occupation, the mayor and police used the oldest and lamest of excuses for their illegal actions against the press — it was for their safety. Right. Just like tossing the protestors belongings into dumpsters was for their health and well-being.

What with police on the West Coast dealing with Occupy movements by beating Iraq War veterans and college students and using tear gas as if they had a quota to meet, I needed a break.

I turned to sports.

Thanks for nothing, NBA players union.

On that very Monday that thousands of Americans across the country, ranging from college students to retirees, union and non-union, encompassing all census classifications — the truly average Americans — were being manhandled for protesting against the profound economic inequities that have turned so many of their dreams into nightmares and bullied a once model political system into becoming an obedient servant of wealthy masters, the very talented, privileged and self-absorbed players of the National Basketball Association rejected an offer from team owners to share half the income derived from playing basketball.

That’s a long sentence; let it sink in.

Not only did the players reject the latest offer from the owners, but they also decided to decertify their union and sue the league under anti-trust laws. We can start with how dumb this is by noting that, with no union, the owners say there are no contracts and, thus, no pay checks. For most Americans, this is considered a powerful incentive to work out a deal, but apparently not for pro basketball players.

That may have to do with the fact that the average salary of an NBA player is about $5.5 million a year. That’s an average, which means even the guy who only gets to play when the game is out of hand, is a borderline millionaire.

What the players did not consider, however, was the impact of their decision on all the other people — the 99% that the Occupiers are demonstrating for — who will also lose their jobs if there is no NBA season. No games means no need for concessions, no maintenance crew, no security, no ticket sellers, no locker room employees, no trainers, maybe even no office personnel for teams with smaller bankrolls. And of course, no games.

The irony of their action, taking place in Manhattan not far from the OWS crackdown, was lost on these young millionaires, locked in a struggle with billionaires over how to divvy up the loot from their overpriced tickets. I will go out on a limb here and state that probably not one of the NBA players — multi-millionaires to borderline millionaires — was part of that 1% of wealthiest Americans before signing a contract to play professional basketball. I don’t ever remember reading a story about some really rich kid deciding to play pro ball. If someone else has, please let me know. No, they were, I feel secure in saying, rock solid members of the 99%. And not long ago, either.

Instead of arguing with the team owners — who will survive a lost season but who do after all have a right to try to control their product and get a fair return on their considerable investments — the NBA players could have taken a cue from other labor unions and marched with the Occupy Wall Street protestors. Imagine Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James walking with the OWS throng and speaking out for the need to regulate the way large financial institutions deal with other people’s money. Calling for a lessening of the power rich corporations have over politicians. Demanding that those who caused the worldwide economic crisis be prevented from continuing to profit on it while others pay the price in lost jobs and homes.

“Hello 99 per centers! We stand with you! We have been fortunate to become successful and be rewarded financially for God-given talents, but we came from you and we understand your frustration and anger with the inequities in our society. It is time for our elected leaders to work for the benefit of the 99%, as well as for the 1% who finance their campaigns. Indeed, it is time for all of us to set aside selfish demands and begin to work for the common good. We are going back to playing basketball, which is what we do, so that others can go back to doing what they do. And we told the team owners we would take a smaller percentage of the profits if they reduced the price of tickets. Whaddya say, owners?”

Can you imagine the response? The players would be real heroes. Unfortunately, for the players at least, that didn’t happen. They’re still looking for more money and are not playing basketball. Fortunately, for the rest of us in the 99%, the Occupiers understand the situation and are committed to fighting for a larger goal — a more equitable society for everyone, whether they can dunk a basketball or not.