Ten Things to Know About Wall Street's Rapacious Attack on America
by Les Leopold, AlterNet Op Ed
But now Americans are fighting back and there's no telling where Occupy Wall Street can lead.
When you climb out of the subway at Wall Street, you might wonder why there are no protestors in the cavernous alley by the stock exchange. That's because since 9/11, Wall Street has been barricaded shut to prevent possible attacks. But up the block at Zuccotti Park between Liberty and Cedar streets, west of Broadway, the part'Ă˘€™s on.
There you'll find a festive group of about 1,000 people, mostly young folks having a good time accompanied by the occasional cluster of old lefties singing songs. People make signs while sitting on the ground then prop them up wherever they can find a space. They gather at tables filled with donated food and browse boxes of donated books. You also can't miss the swarm of media folks milling around asking questions, taping interviews and taking notes: theyĂ˘€™re the ones in dress suits who spend most of their time interviewing each other. My favorite sign held by an occupier is painted on a skateboard: "This is what Freedom Looks Like." My son would agree.
And my recurring thought is, "It's about f'ing time."
What took us so long? How much worse did it have to get before public outrage would finally focus on those who caused the problem and those who are milking us dry? Several of us have been pleading in blog after blog for more than two years to build a broad-based assault on Wall Street. Where was our answer to the Tea Party? Well, here it is.
There's no telling where this Occupy Wall Street can lead, especially if a virtuous media feedback loop continues: The more protestors, the more coverage, the more protestors. It's about the only good thing the mainstream media has done in years.
If unions throw into the mix full force, we may have something powerful in the making. It's far too early to tell, although the October 5 labor march in New York that drew upwards of 25,000 people was certainly a good sign. Will labor come back and do it again each and every week? Will unions mobilize support for the satellite occupiers in city after city? Or will most of their energy go into the Obama/Democratic Party re-election campaigns as if nothing much has happened? (They should listen to protestors, who agree that corporations and the wealthy are destroying our democracy by buying candidates of both parties.)
Already you can hear the chattering classes mumble about the lack of focus, the lack of consensus and the lack of a coherent agenda in this nascent movement. But they have this coherent call: We are the 99 percent, and we demand our fair share. The irrefutable fact is that 99 percent of us really are being screwed by the 1 percent who are looting our country (actually itĂ˘€™s more like the top 1/10 of one percent). So if you still harbor any doubts that Wall Street is the right target, here are 10 reasons to consider:
1. Wall Street caused the crash: Unless you are suffering from financial amnesia, you should remember that it was Wall Street's reckless gambling that did us in. It was Wall Street banks and hedge funds, not home buyers, who created the enormous demand for high-risk mortgages to pool, to securitize, and to turn into Ponzi-like gambling structures with names like CDOs, CDO squared and synthetic CDOs. It was the money-grubbing rating agencies that blessed these pieces of garbage with AAA ratings. As a result, trillions of dollars of worthless toxic assets polluted our financial system. When the bubble they induced burst, our system crashed, causing 8 million working people to lose their jobs in a matter of months due to no fault of their own. Anyone who still blames low-income home buyers, or regulations or Greece -- or anyone other than Wall Street -- should be checked for dementia.
2. The Wall Street crash directly caused the gravest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression: WeĂ˘€™re three years into the worst jobs crisis since 1937. Upwards of 29 million people are out of work or have been forced into part-time jobs. The number of people who have been jobless for more than 26 weeks is at post-WWII record levels. And thereĂ˘€™s no end in sight to this misery. Meanwhile, Wall Street's representatives in Washington want us to focus on cutting public employment and public services to address the debt that Wall Street itself precipitated. WE wouldnĂ˘€™t have a debt crisis were it not for the bailouts, the crash, the lost jobs and the soaring cost of jobless benefits that can be laid at Wall Street's door. (The debt was also caused by tax cuts for the rich, and the bankers certainly donĂ˘€™t want to talk about that.) For those diversionary debt tactics alone, Wall Street should be occupied until it pays to replace the jobs it destroyed.
3. Wall Street profited from the bailouts and remains unaccountable: Taxpayers provided trillions of dollars in cash and asset guarantees to the wealthiest bankers and hedge fund managers in the world. But nothing was extracted from them in return. Here's one egregious example: Goldman Sachs paid $550 million in SEC fines for selling mortgage-related securities that were designed to fail so that a large hedge fund could bet against them. The securities failed as planned and the hedge fund pocketed $1 billion in profits. But after we bailed out AIG, Goldman Sachs picked up nearly $12 billion for similar bets that AIG had insured. Goldman Sachs collected 100 cents on the dollar and those dollars were ours.
4. The super-rich are getting richer: When the economy was crashing during 2008, high frequency traders in hedge funds and banks made upwards of $20 billion from the turmoil. This trading scam provided no redeeming value to our economy. Rather, it was a hidden tax on our sorrows -- a transfer of funds from the many to the few. In 2010 the top hedge fund managers Ă˘€śearnedĂ˘€ť over $2 million an HOUR! The top 25 hedge fund managers took in as much as 650,000 teachers. Young people have the right to question these lopsided values. All of us have the duty to do something about it.
5. The super-rich are paying lower and lower taxes: While the government pleads poverty when asked to create a massive jobs program, our financial elites use every loophole available to avoid taxes. In 1995, the 400 wealthiest families paid about 30 percent of their income in taxes (after all deductions). Today their effective rate is less than 16 percent. And for what? What did society gain from their retained wealth? Not jobs, not debt reduction, only more Wall Street gambling.
For the rest of the article--the other five things you should know about Wall Street's rapacious attack on America, go here.
Les Leopold is the executive director of the Labor Institute and Public Health Institute in New York, and author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and ProsperityĂ˘€”and What We Can Do About It (Chelsea Green, 2009).