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Response to Rachel Marsden's op-ed on Occupy Wall Street claiming protesters are welfare junkies

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In her op-ed, Rachel Marsden says she wants Occupy Wall Street protesters to "ignore Wall Street, the government and wealthy people, and live your own life". There's a great idea! Let's stick our heads in the sand until we're pulled out by our slave masters, dragged back to work seven days a week alongside 8 year-olds, in conditions straight out of The Jungle, earning $7 per hour, with no paid vacation or health insurance! She claims that we live "in [an] age in which socialism now pervades nearly every aspect of our lives." It's time Marsden wake up and smell the rotting rose.

Instead of whining about how she had to struggle to rise from rags to riches, whereas, the Occupy Wall Street protesters supposedly are lazy bums with their hands out, Marsden would be well served to listen to the speeches at the Occupy Wall Street protest to understand why so many people are so dedicated to this movement. On October 6th, author Naomi Klein spoke at Liberty Plaza: "today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well. We are overfishing our oceans, polluting our water with fracking and deepwater drilling, turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands. And the atmosphere cannot absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial disasters: economic and ecological."

  The thousands of protesters are far more unified in their goals than the "Tea Party", with its fiscal conservative wing, its social conservative wing, and its libertarian wing. The Occupy Wall Street protests are aimed at taking down the plutocracy and restoring democracy.   As Business Insider explains it, in "Plutocracy Reborn," the Gilded Age is upon us once again. "The awesomely affluent haven't just returned. Today they cast an even greater shadow." One of the main reasons for the return of the Gilded Age, the age of robber barons, are the tax policies that have allowed the corporate executives and business owners to keep so much more money for themselves while throwing fewer and fewer peanuts to the workers who create the wealth for them.

Business Insider shows a graph of "Our Incredible Shrinking Top Marginal (Tax) Rate" on their website. "High taxes on the rich, in the mid-20th century helped keep income from concentrating at America's economic summit. Throughout most of these years, income in the United States over $400,000 a year faced a tax rate just over 90 percent. The current top statutory rate sits at 35 percent," they explain.

What's wrong with letting owners and executives amass billions? With money, comes power -- the power to influence legislation to further increase one's wealth and power at the expense of society and the environment. One great example of all that can befall a society that allows this concentration of wealth is Koch Industries. Owners Charles and David Koch have spread their tentacles over our entire planet, fighting against regulations that protect us from cancer-causing, toxic industrial chemicals and funding "think tanks" whose goal is to confuse people about global climate change. They have also hosted strategy retreats on fighting regulations and duping the public about climate change for office holders, including Governors and Congressmen and even Supreme Court Justices. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, after attending a Koch retreat, did the bidding of the Koch brothers by ruling in favor of the corporate-money-equals-free-speech "Citizens United' case. Lately, they have lobbied for and misinformed the public on the proposed Keystone tar sands pipeline that would bring Canada's environmentally-destructive tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast for export to Europe and Latin America.

  Another very clear example of the dangers of allowing individuals to amass so much wealth comes from Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi leveraged his friendship with the secretary-general of the Italian Socialist party to build his vast media empire and then used his control over the media to promote and misinform the public about himself in order to become Prime Minister. He then used his position to benefit himself, by, for example, reducing the statute of limitations on tax fraud to avoid this charge himself.

This brings up the question of how much of the billions that the super-rich amass are earned in legal and ethical ways. As reported by Bloomberg news (on bloomberg.com), Koch Industries has   committed bribery to win contracts in Africa, India, and the Middle East; has violated U.S. trade laws by selling equipment to Iran; has rigged prices with competitors; has lied to regulators and emitted illegal amounts of dangerous chemicals like benzene; has committed negligence that led to the rupture of a butane pipeline, which killed two teenagers; and has stolen almost 2 million barrels of oil from federal land.

Another example of the "filthy rich' against whom Occupy Wall Street activists are protesting, is John Paulson, the man who, with Goldman Sachs, created hedge funds based on toxic mortgage-backed securities, and, knowing how risky they were, quietly bet against them, becoming a billionaire in the process. He and other hedge fund managers pay capital gains tax rates of 15%...when they pay taxes. Their taxes are deferred until they cash in, so they can pay zero tax for years,"which is how much Frank and Jamie McCourt paid since at least 2004.

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Although the McCourts, owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers, spent $45 million in one year, they avoided paying any taxes by borrowing against Dodger ticket revenue and other assets, as revealed by journalist David Cay Johnston in Willamette Week (wweek.com).

So what are the solutions? What can we do to even the playing field, ensure that workers are fairly compensated for their toil, protect our democracy, invigorate our electorate, protect our environment, and provide a future of opportunity for the next generation? The first step is reforming our tax code. Let's make it look more like it did before Reagan; let's raise the highest income bracket again so that there is precious little incentive to pay executives (even those who drive their companies into the ground) $4000 an hour while the workers who build the widgets make $10 an hour.

Let's reform the tax code so that investors and hedge fund managers pay the same tax rate as people who build wind turbines for a living. Better yet, let's ban the craziest hedge funds and "derivatives', which are nothing more than giant casino games and are multiplying like rabbits. The concept began with farmers who wanted to ensure that grain and other agricultural commodity prices wouldn't fluctuate too much. Now, there are derivatives that allow investors to bet on when pensioners will die. If they die sooner than actuaries predicted, investors win. Derivatives were at the root of the mortgage melt down and the spikes in gas prices. If they aren't controlled and largely eliminated, they will continue to wreak havoc on our economy.

It's also time to make criminals pay. Those who took down our economy should be in jail. Those who violate our laws for material gain, including the Koch brothers, should be sent up the river. As long as financial crime pays, society will continue to pay the price of a faltering economy.

What about our huge deficit and national debt? Our national debt is about $15 trillion, an incomprehensible sum to most. With huge budget deficits each year over the past decade, the situation has been growing worse. According to the New York Times ("America's Sea of Red Ink was Years in the Making," June 9, 2009), the deterioration of our budget situation has been caused by recessions or the business cycle (37%), George W. Bush's policies (e.g., starting two wars of choice) (33%), the continuation of Bush's policies by Obama (20%), and new Obama policies (10%).

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As we know, the recession was caused largely by Bush's mortgage crisis. But we continue to spend trillions on Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Occupy Wall Street protesters are calling for an end to these outrageous expenses. Not only are they driving our economy into the ground, they are also creating yet another group of disabled veterans (both physically and psychologically); and they are damaging our reputation abroad. If Obama wants to leave behind a stable Afghanistan, he could accomplish more with much less by providing humanitarian aid instead of dropping bombs on villages.

To bring about real change, we need to elect real progressives, that is, people who want to make life better for ordinary citizens. Progressives ended the abuses of child labor, gave women the vote, and created National Parks. Progressives support the protection of workers from abuses like being forced to work with dangerous chemicals without proper protections or in mines that are not properly maintained. Progressives support the protection of the environment not only for the sake of public health but also for the sake of the wildlife we share this planet with.

It's up to us, not just the Occupy Wall Street protesters, to put America back on the right track. And that track tends toward the progressive left.

 

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Diana Marmorstein, Ph.D. is a chemical engineer with an interest in politics. She is also an environmentalist and animal activist who spends a lot of time volunteering.

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