How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Mission Possible: How You Can Start and Operate a Soup Kitchen

Occupy Wall Street put inequality at top of national agenda

New Jersey Newsroom, December 28, 2011
By Irwin Stoolmacher

I’m a fan of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement which has been able to shine some needed sunshine on the increased concentration of the benefits of economic growth in fewer and fewer hands. The OWS movement has sparked considerable debate as it speaks about the need for economic justice and true shared sacrifice.

Princeton Professor Cornel West recently said, “Everyone is talking about corporate greed and the income inequality, and that wouldn’t have been imaginable even a year ago.”

I don’t think anyone can argue that the OWS movement has dramatically increased the use of the phrase “income inequality” in the media and our political conversations.

I find much of the criticism of the OWS demonstrations as disingenuous. For example, Republican columnist David Brook wrote that “they have no realistic proposals to reduce the debt or sustain the welfare state … [and] the 99-versus-1 frame is also extremely self-limiting.” A movement is not a think tank whose goal is to develop a position paper that sets forth a mix of military and entitlement cuts and specific levels of tax increases to deal with the nation’s growing deficit. The role of protests is not as Paul Clolery recently wrote in The Non-Profit Times, “to tell the power what you want, and often how to get there.”

Instead of criticizing OWS, David Brooks should be criticizing the eight Republican candidates for president who indicated that they would reject outright a long-term deficit reduction package that contained $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue increases and the Republican members of Congress who were unwilling to consider any tax increases as a part of a plan to attack the $12.7 trillion deficit because of fear of alienating super lobbyist Grover Norquist.

Some of the criticism of OWS has been mean. I’ve seen the protestors referred to as “selfish” and as “lazy.” Many of those participating in the OWS movement are hardworking Americans who lost their jobs, others are college students strapped with inordinate debt and little prospect of a job and still others are homeowners struggling to keep their homes because of no fault of their own. To suggest they are selfish is unfair and not consistent with America’s values. To see many of those who are protesting as lazy is just as bad as seeing all those who are wealthy as having become wealthy by nefarious means. Neither is correct.

What is correct is that over the past three decades there has been a series of changes affecting the labor/business relationship (privatization) , banking and investment regulations (deregulation), tax laws (slashing of the top marginal tax rate) and the safety net (reducing aid to families with children and other programs) coupled with dramatic increases in corporate government lobbying/influence peddling that have caused a major re-distribution of wealth from middle and lower class to the wealthy classes.

The latest example of how convoluted the system has become is the revelation that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich received $1.6 million in consulting fees from the federal charter mortgage giant Freddie Mac for advising the company “as a historian” not to make loans to people without a credit history. For anyone who believes that I have a bridge I want to sell them and not the bridge that Gingrich was attempting to build between Republicans in Congress and Freddie Mac at a time when conservatives were calling for dismantling or privatizing the agency.

Gingrich wasn’t the only ex-elected official that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae bought to diffuse calls for further regulation of the agencies. The Washington Post reported that “the one thing to remember is that during that period just about every lobbyist/consultant (R and D) was on payroll for Fannie and Freddie. Their strategy then was to pay everyone so that no one would be lobbying against them.” The strategy worked well until the housing bubble burst and they had to be bailed out with our money.

The New York Times got it right when they wrote that Gingrich “has become quite prosperous trading on his influence in Washington while simultaneously pretending he despises the city’s essential nature.” Gingrich is not alone; former elected officials of both parties are feeding at the trough of big business and promoting their interests at the expense of the rest of us.

Former President Clinton was on the mark when he said the “Occupy Wall Street crowd basically is saying, “I’m unemployed and the people that caused this have their jobs again and their incomes are high again. There’s something wrong with this country. This is not working for me.” Demanding a modicum of equality is not, as some are suggesting, “class warfare.” It is a call for basic fairness.

Recently Cornel West made the point very succinctly when he said “The oligarchs get away with everything. The hypocrisy is just too much to take. The shift towards truth and justice is what the [OWS] movement is all about.”