Monday, November 28, 2011

The "1%" and "99%"revisited

I find it rather amusing that I keep getting goaded into defending the occupy (/99%) movement of late. Amusing, because I don’t actually approve of most of their aims, or their methods.

I suppose it is because I am not a fan of bullying, and most of the conversations I have become involved in are of that ilk:

“The lazy bums should get a job” – Over-generalization, while there are certainly many looking for handouts, some are sincerely concerned about real problems.

“Americans expect too much. US poverty level is $30k.” – Misleading. Poverty level depends on family size. It is $15k for a family of 2, $22k for a family of 3. It doesn’t hit $30 until you hit a 6 person family (Alaska and Hawaii are slightly different numbers).

“They are a bunch of rioters and rapists.” – While I don’t wish to downplay the specific incidents, they are just that – specific incidents. It is a gross over-generalization to judge the group by the actions of a few. By that measure, the Catholic church should be abolished, fraternities should be outlawed,… The responsible people should be punished, not the organization they belong to (unless of course the organization as a whole, or majority, shows a true propensity for fostering, supporting, or protecting such behavior. That certainly does not seem to be the case here).

“They are picking on the rich, trying to take their hard earned money unjustly.” – Again, certainly some are, (and the “99%” movement is guilty of over-generalization in targeting the “1%”). However making a brief review of the past decade or so: Enron, Worldcomm, Seimens, Exxon, FannieMae, Firestone, Refco, Waste Management, Qwest, Health South Corp., AOL/Time Warner, Disney, Lucent… There have been plenty of cases where wealth among the wealthy was increased, without being earned.  Perhaps most grievous are those like AIG, who received tax dollars to bail them out of their financial predicament, and as they were receiving tax dollars, the news reported layoffs in the lower ranks, executive retreats at posh resorts, and hundreds of millions in bonuses to the "talent" which likely got the company in this predicament, and are now avoiding responsibility for their risky behavior .

I discussed the tax situation in a previous blog post, and thus far, I have found no hard numbers which invalidate my estimations, or resulting calculations. In fact, I discovered the following graphic (from this article: a worthwhile read...) which makes the point much more clearly. It is worth noting however, that at present, the federal percentages follow a reasonable, moderately progressive curve, and it is taxation at the state level which appears to be the source of the disparity.It is looking as if this may change (for the worse) next year, as lawmakers appear to be prepared to allow a middle class tax-cut to expire.

However in spite of this, and in spite of the fact that I keep standing up for the "99%" when they get bad-mouthed, I support neither their motives, nor their methods.

First their methods: Camping out. What exactly do they hope to accomplish? I appreciate the whole solidarity – holding hands and singing kumbaya and all that. But what a waste of resources. They are warm bodies, taking up space, consuming resources (food, water), creating waste. And for what? A little media attention? 

Surely they can find a more effective, more efficient way to utilize the physical and mental resources at their disposal.

Here’s one idea. Perhaps they could camp out in DC, link arms around the congressional buildings, ensuring that lobbyists don’t get in, and congress critters don’t get out until a balanced budget is passed, and special interest spending is trimmed.

Or they could initiate a door to door information campaign, to get citizens actively involved in the democratic process, restoring the representative democracy that we are supposed to be.

This whole Arab spring look-alike bit is just impractical. While we may have problems, they are nowhere near the scale of the problems which have led those people to do what they are doing.

Now to motives: What are their motives exactly? Do they know? Are they able to identify a practical number of demands which they can all get behind and focus on? They seem to be all over the place. There are all kinds of proposed demands, and multiple lists. (,

One of the above lists has over 20 demands, and includes among its topics, Internet Censorship, and Gender/Marriage legislation. Can you say "Random"?

Certainly, they have some good ideas among their demands, such as better separation between political and corporate interests, implementation of a fair tax code, sanctions against China to reign in currency manipulation, and the institution of a debt reduction plan. I think I could truly get behind those demands, were they the sole, agreed-upon list of demands of a focused, organized, acting effort.

The rest of the list ranges from the impractical (recalling all US military personnel worldwide, open borders migration…), to the irrational (guaranteed income regardless of unemployment , across the board debt forgiveness for all…). 

The US isn't an island, we interact with other cultures and ideals, we will of necessity have to to protect our ideals, that means a military force, and border monitoring. The planet is too small to practice isolationism today.

And get real. Nothing is free. If you want to eat, you've got to hunt/gather/farm. The government role in welfare should be to create jobs, not welfare victims. 

And when it comes to debt... hey, you spent more money than you had on crap you didn't need. An X-box is not a necessity, nor are movies, pro-sports events, 3D-TV's, cable subscriptions, SUV's, Cell Phones...

So, why do I keep sticking up for them? Disinformation, even for a just, is wrong. Certainly I can feel good about combating disinformation campaigns, but why does it always seem to end up with me "taking their side"? Why is it so hard to stay centered in the face of an extreme position?

Reminds me of an incident many decades ago, when as a high school junior, I stepped in to stop two big kids from beating up a little kid (probably 2nd and 3rd graders), No sooner was little kid on his feet, than he started smarting off to big kids. I found myself thinking “Maybe I should have just left it alone.”.


 "Understanding is a three edged sword. Your side, my side and the truth that lies between"
  - Kosh Naranek

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