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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Occupy Freeloaders

Somehow the critics of the Occupy protests have gotten the idea that what protestors want is a handout. A recent editorial in the Youngstown State student newspaper excoriated Occupy Youngstown for criticizing corporate greed, and went on to accuse unions for causing our economic woes, since their demands force corporations to send our jobs overseas. A few of my colleagues are critical of those who went to private school and now want help with their debt. They are proud of the fact that they chose a state school, and now work hard and live within their means.
And so they should be. They do work hard, and their being at Youngstown State makes it a better place. But I haven't seen any signs from Occupyers that say THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD SEND ME A CHECK SO I CAN GO HOME AND WATCH TV. They do tell a myriad of stories of also working very hard, and still being crushed by student debt, or losing homes, jobs, pensions, or not getting medical care.
Let's take the editorial first. Say this young journalist has his way, and the small bit of union power we have left is hamstrung. Let's say we are successful at competing with overseas workers, and we keep our jobs at the wages currently being paid to Mexican and Chinese workers. It seems to me we'll still have the problems many of the Occupyers are pointing out.
It costs a billion dollars to run for president, hundreds of millions to run for Congress. If the last competition to corporate money, unions, no longer exists, then corporations will have the only voice in the process. GE and Halliburton profit immensely from our military actions. Should they help decide what military actions we pursue? Should BP, Massey and other energy corporations shape our environmental and energy policy? Should private prison corporations shape our immigration policy? Big pharma and insurance companies medical policy? Walmart labor policy? JP Morgan Chase et al finance policy? Cargill and Monsanto agricultural policy? That's all happening now - and by shape, I mean spending untold money lobbying and financing campaigns, and being in on the legislation.
This is what throws me about the young journalist. I feel rotten for the country we are handing off to the young. The climate crisis, dead zone in the Gulf, mountaintops blown off, 30,000 domestic gun deaths a year, seemingly endless war and militarization, crumbling infrastructure, gutted education, lack of access to good medical care and a host of other problems are causing real suffering for millions of Americans. I've read that for every five Chinese families who rise up into the middle class, two American families drop from the middle class into poverty.
I would add that a decreasingly informed and analytical public has been an important driver. I'm not implying I have the answers - the questions are complicated, and I'm learning as fast as I can.
But it seems to me that Americans sometimes talk like we've been hit by an asteroid - we all have to pull together, tighten our belts, be responsible, live within our means, get through these hard times. But the crisis we're in is man made. It's not an act of nature that we are not investing in what would make us a better country - education, infrastructure, low-carbon energy, higher wages. And it's not like we have a smaller government - our increasing surveillance and massive military costs us plenty. And making the rich as rich as they are has taken a few decades of sacrifice for the rest of us, but we got there.
I don't think that only rich kids should be able to go to good private colleges. Smart and hard working middle class and poor kids should be there too. As wealth has accumulated at the top, it's taken access to opportunity along. And even for those of us living unheroic lives, I think if we work hard we should have our basic needs met, including consistent, affordable medical care, good schools for our kids, clean air and water, parks, adequate public transportation, libraries, a chance at homeownership. I think that's the definition of the American dream. We still have the largest economy on earth. But now we are the fifth most unequal nation on earth. Do we really want to be number one?

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