POSTED ON OCTOBER 19, 2011:
The Occupy chorus commences
Some dismiss inequality and focus instead on overall growth--arguing, in effect, that a rising tide lifts all boats. But assume we have a thousand boats representing all the households in the United States, with boat length proportional to family income. In the late 1970s, the average boat was a 12-foot canoe and the biggest yacht was 250 feet long. Thirty years later, the average boat is a slightly roomier 15-footer, while the biggest yacht, at over 1100 feet, would dwarf the Titanic! When a handful of yachts become ocean liners while the rest remain lowly canoes, something is seriously amiss."
--From Economists Andrew G. Berg and Jonathan D. Ostry, April 8, 2011 in iMFdirect
We live in a strange time: High-energy physics experimenters at CERN, the world's premier particle accelerator, recently clocked faster than light-speed passage by a swarm of subatomic particles: a shocker finding that upends Einstein's conception of our world. If confirmed, the work could spark a revolution in physics and birth unimagined technologies in communications, energy and computing.
The planet is on the cusp of an economic meltdown induced by austerity policy in Japan and Western Europe, by Chinese under-consumption, and blow up contagion in banks in the Mediterranean and in Italy. And on top: devastating American unemployment, monstrous wage stagnation and poverty not seen in the U.S. in decades;
At the moment, bizarrely, both major parties leading presidential prospects are black folks: including our current president and a pizza magnate/motivational speaker -- this is surely an advance for all Americans. Herman Cain's ascent to the top of the Republican presidential polls comes via bozo debate performances by Texas Governor Rick Perry and "kissing your sister" enthusiasm for ex Governor Mitt Romney. Just now Mr. Cain is undergoing a righteous examination by his opponents, economists and media, aimed squarely at his highly regressive "9-9-9" economic plan.
This is the strangest year, in my experience, since 1989, a year marked by the appearance of: "table-top" fusion power -- a development that looked, for a week anyway, like a magical end to our energy challenges; the collapse of the Communist Party as the "leading force" in the former Soviet Union and a tragic combo; the short lived Chinese democracy boom/Tiananmen Square kill fest. These epic events, like the strangeness we are now witnessing, threatened to transform our economic, social and geopolitical worlds.
Although we have lots to celebrate in Tulsa including below average unemployment rates, an amazingly vibrant downtown, our booming bio-med community, and a good entrepreneurial culture, substantial groups of people in T-town are in real economic pain: and they can't imagine much more than grim futures. And there is a much larger group of folk -- fully employed people who have seen almost no income growth in a long, long time.
And then there is the Occupy Movement; a non-violent "drive" that originated weeks ago in New York City. The Movement is spawned by a stark realization: gross inequalities in America have become central to the workings of society, our economy and our politics. If we don't act we'll have a hollowed out democracy, enormous worker alienation and a blinkered, binary country that few American's will recognize.
The new Movement, what some are calling a primal scream, is a return, after two years of artful distraction by the Tea Party and "go back" politicos, to real problems including the traumatic impact of "Frankenstein" financial instruments, a botched housing market, and increasingly blatant big money manipulation of our politics.
Nobel prize winning economist/New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, writing recently in a piece entitled Rabbit Hole Economics, says we have all-too-real challenges: nearly catastrophic dysfunctions in American job creation, still explosive health care costs, the pale state of our manufacturing spine, low research and development outlays, whacky executive compensation practices, dismal public education and laughable worker training/retraining efforts.
In any case, the Movement is spreading rapidly and it also lives in Tulsa. UTW readers may know that there was an Occupy Tulsa march from the BOK arena to downtown's Center of the Universe space near the Jazz Hall of Fame this weekend.
With over a hundred people in attendance, the Tulsa event was Occupy's second public gathering here. The folks who came were a vibrant mix of Tulsans including older people, plenty of young folks, lots of political veterans, a good sampling of black and Hispanic and Native American people, and a surprisingly broad variety of professionals and working folks.
Occupy is, in significant measure, about a striking factoid: according to the Economic Policy Institute, 1 percent of the population controls 20 percent of our nation's wealth with profound consequences for investment flows, worker productivity and federal revenues. Another focus: what was done in 2008-2009 to keep the American economy functioning. The Occupy folks and most Americans find it hard to understand why U.S. banks and other financial players needed billions to forestall an economic collapse when they had a heavy, negligent hand in creating the same. And, why, the Occupy folks and keen observers ask, did the managers of these crashing enterprises, companies that almost destroyed our entire economy, escape punishment (with a single notable exception), for their disastrous helmsman-ship?
Does Occupy Have A Future?
Does Occupy have an ongoing role in real world politics? Protest movements have an honorable and sometimes transformative impact in our history: the Bonus Army of the '30's, M.L. King's epic civil rights campaign and the Vietnam antiwar effort were compelling episodes. How, for example will Occupy secure the re-crafting of "bankster" practices in our financial industry: how do they propose to wrangle money out of politics -- another key aspiration? Where will T-Town Occupy come down on roiling inequality & transparency issues like police oversight, food deserts, balanced growth in Tulsa or the two toxic, profoundly antidemocratic city voter propositions slated for early November? How about helping to rollback the fulsome effort to blindside Tulsa voters with an Orwellian "non partisan" election scheme -- also part of our November city ballot?
Occupy Tulsa -- are you ready for your close-up?
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