Thursday, November 10, 2011
Salute to the Occupy Raleigh 20 and 8 - Complete and unabridged version
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The blog/flog transcript is printed below.
The Occupy movement that began on Wall Street in August 2011 and spread throughout this nation and across the globe, made a splash in Raleigh, North Carolina on Saturday, October 15, 2011. It culminated after dusk with the arrest of twenty determined and courageous economic freedom fighters.
Held on the south side of the Capitol Building grounds on a pleasant autumn day, the demonstration was a successful and orderly event, with a crowd at its zenith which I estimated to be at around two thousand. In contrast with a few other Occupy rallies elsewhere which were marred by vandalism, violence, and pepper spray, the Raleigh event was remarkably orderly… loud, but not boisterous… emotionally heart-felt, but not fanatical.
Lack of violent confrontations can be attributed to the following: 1) a well mannered, responsible, and respectful group of participants; 2) state and city police officers who comported themselves professionally and with restraint; and 3) the presence of legal observers, trained by the National Lawyers Guild, to document and record circumstances surrounding arrests and activities that might invoke a physical response by the ever-present police.
Unfortunately the success of meaningful movements often requires sacrifices by those who are disenfranchised and who are fighting for their rights and the rights of those similarly disadvantaged by the few in power.
On Saturday evening October 15, 2011, twenty brave individuals stood their ground in a peaceful protest on the state grounds of the Capitol Building. In doing so, they were arrested by police on orders given from those in power... those bent on breaking the backbone and resolve of the movement in order to maintain the skewed and immoral status quo wherein the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer.
The brave Occupy Raleigh 20, who sacrificed for the 99 percent of Raleigh citizens who are being victimized by an economic system that enslaves most of them, are deserving of the gratitude and respect of us all.
The distribution of wealth in the United States of America continues its dramatic shift towards the wealthiest. Over the past decade alone, the top one percent of Americans have seen their percentage of the nation’s wealth increase from 40% to 43%. Over that same time frame, the bottom 80% of Americans have seen their dismal 9% of the nation’s distribution of wealth slip to 7%.
This disparity of wealth can be attributed to greed, with the well heeled and big corporations adopting tactics to improve their bottom line at the cost to consumers. Lobbyists, who are nothing more than professional bribers, are hired by big company CEOs to bribe politicians to pass bills that are profitable to their company’s interests. Many times these bills call for the deregulation of rules that are in place to protect the environment, protect workplace safety, to protect consumers from financial abuse, and to protect health by maintaining clean air and water.
Most Republicans and corporation-friendly Democrats introduce bills that will roll back regulations that will benefit the bottom line of the CEOs and big businesses at the expense of the consumer and public.
Republicans also feed the unethical growth spurt of wealth for the wealthiest by clinging to the Bush-era tax-breaks for the wealthy… which was initially designed to be temporary. The tax rate that the wealthiest Americans pay is now lower than that paid by the bottom 80%.
When faced with the growing deficit, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, and other Republicans draw the line when it comes to ending the tax break for the wealthiest, and instead trumpet cutting spending on domestic programs that help the poor, disenfranchised, and people in need. That the rich should pay their fair share in taxes to help address the deficit is a non-starter for the Republicans… who put profits before people and their country.
The excuse touted by the GOP for lower taxes for the wealthy is their claim that it will create jobs. Even some Democrats such as North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan and Governor Bev Perdue have embraced tax breaks for corporations as a way to stimulate job growth.
Such measures are futile, as the well-heeled and big corporations will only hoard the money gained and not use it to hire workers. Hiring workers does not help a company’s bottom line… it is an expense for the company. Corporate executives try to get by with as few employees as possible, often increasing their workload while their salaries remain stagnant.
The paucity of jobs in America is in large measure due to jobs being outsourced or manufacturing set up overseas where there is an abundance of a cheap workforce. It increases the bottom line for the companies, however it also increases the number of unemployed Americans because these jobs are lost. But that is of no concern to the avaricious company bigwigs.
Another way corporations increase their bottom line at the expense of the number of people employed is through the merger of competing companies. The top executives in these deals usually make out like bandits, while many of the workers whose jobs are now redundant, are let go. In addition to a more streamlined staff with fewer workers, the newly forged company will be on the road towards becoming a monopoly, having one less competitor. This is good for big business, but bad for the consumer. Once a business has obtained the status of being a monopoly, the stage is set for it to exploit the many dependent upon its products and services… no competitive pricing to prevent price gouging.
No doubt you are wondering how Republican candidates hope to remain in power when 80% of the population is markedly under-represented in wealth distribution statistics. They get the poor and disenfranchised to vote for them by using the foundation of magicians’ tricks and illusions… misdirection. They misdirect the public’s attention with other petty issues lacking substance and value. For example, instead of addressing the problems of a lack of jobs, economic disparity, the rise in homelessness, and the increased numbers of families falling into poverty, the Republicans concentrate their efforts on the following: passing a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage; requiring photo IDs for voting; setting up roadblocks to a woman’s right to get an abortion while reducing funding for the valuable services provided to the poor by Planned Parenthood; repealing the state’s Racial Justice Act; and forcing those on public assistance to submit to drug testing.
All bogus issues intended to capture the people’s attention while they, with the endorsement of lobbyists representing the well-heeled and mega-corporations, proceed to shift economic power and wealth from the 80% to the wealthiest.
When it comes to tackling the real issue of joblessness the Republican’s pat answer is to decrease taxes on corporations and the wealthy so that they can create jobs… but that has been shown to be ineffective as they will stockpile the revenue and continue to slash their working staff in order to increase their bottom line.
When banks, having squandered their assets through risky and immoral business practices, received a bailout from the American people, the first thing many of them did was distribute bonuses to the bank’s upper echelon. They did not use the money to make reasonable loans to the people or help with foreclosure relief. And with regulations about to kick in to limit the percent banks can collect for debit card charges, the banks are instituting monthly debit card fees. In other words, the banks are charging people to spend their own money.
What Republicans do not seem to understand or want to accept is that for the nation’s economy to do well, the majority of everyday American’s must do well. It is those in the lower 80% who purchase goods and services, which in turn fuels production, which leads to hiring. Snuffing out the buying power of the majority is a major obstacle in turning the country’s economy in a positive direction.
The positions presented above are echoed in a November 2010 article of the Triangle Free Press, titled, “I’m Rich – Tax Me More.” It supports the futility of job creation by providing tax breaks to the wealthy and large corporations.
Even Warren Buffet, one of the country’s wealthiest individuals, has encouraged legislators to enact reform that would increase the tax on the upper-tiered income earners. As he has repeatedly illustrated, the wealthiest pay considerably less taxes as a percentage of income than the poor and dwindling middle class.
Duke Power is a large corporation providing essential utility services to people and businesses in several states. Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream is also a corporation that makes a product… delicious ice cream. Both companies are comprised of executives, managers, and a workforce.
In June 2010, Progress Energy, a competitor of Duke Energy in North Carolina’s utility arena, announced that it planned to lower rates for its customers beginning in December, with residential customer seeing drop in average of $4 per month.
A month following the lower rates of Progress Energy kicking in, in January 2011, Duke Energy announced that it would be acquiring Progress Energy in a merger. With a straight face, the CEOs of these two companies claimed that the merger would cut their costs and their customers’ bills.
On the first account, they were correct, as the merger allowed the firings of many employees, especially in redundant positions. So overhead in the way of salaries was slashed, thereby increasing the company’s overall bottom line. Layoff notices were sent to 11,000 Progress and 17,000 Duke employees… with an estimated job loss of 2,000.
Not only that, but get this… they want to pay for these layoff by, you guessed it, raising utility rates for its customers. This is what I call a really bad joke.
In addition, Duke Energy wants the lawmakers at the General Assembly to enact laws that will facilitate their ability to hike rates. Send in the lobbyists, as the majority of Republicans and some Democrats can be easily bought.
Another ruse for raising utility rates is to raise capital in order to build more nuclear reactors. I submit that a more fair, ethical, and reasonable way for Duke Energy to raise money would be for them to make cuts in the exorbitant salaries and compensation packages that the higher-ups enjoy. In 2010, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers earned nearly $8.8 million, while his counterpart at Progress Energy, William Johnson earned more than $5.1 million. You can bet that there are others in the high tiers of these companies who also receive excessively and embarrassingly high salaries and benefits.
Now, contrast this company with the pre-1995 model of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream that operated under CEO Ben Cohen, and which currently embraces the Occupy movement. In my opinion, Ben & Jerry’s in pre-1995 was a paragon for a corporate model. At the time, it followed a pay ratio guideline wherein the highest corporate leaders earned no more than seven times that of an entry level employee… its lowest wage earner. Unfortunately, this policy ended with the 1995 resignation of the company’s CEO, Ben Cohen. At that time, the highest paid executive at Ben & Jerry’s, President and COO Chuck Lacey, earned $150,000.
I believe that the seven-times salary ratio applied to executive and entry level wages is more than fair. When compared with Duke Energy, for example, even with the hypothetical entry wage being an annual salary of $50,000, the Duke’s CEO Rogers earned 177 times that of an entry level worker. In reality that figure is probably higher than 200 times.
There is no doubt that greed did not drive the company that was Ben & Jerry’s in ’95. It was evident that its priority was on providing a quality product for its customers. It was evident that it valued its workforce. It was evident that it desired to provide the public with a reasonably priced product.
I have never been a purchaser of ice cream, or an eater of ice cream. Not because I don’t like ice cream… because I do. I just never purchased it. However, due to Ben & Jerry’s support of the Occupy Movement, I am going to financially support Ben & Jerry’s ice cream by purchasing its products.
One soapbox speaker at the October 15th Occupy Raleigh event, Hope Turlington, talked about the short shrift given to Dorothea Dix Hospital by the legislators and politicians. Private businesses, salivating at the prospect of confiscating the prized grounds and the subsequent commercial development of them by the private sector, have sent their army of lobbyist to bribe public officials and politicians to relinquish the mental health facility that has served the mental health needs of the people for one and a half centuries. This, in order to further the aspirations of private developers and to increase their bottom lines.
The closing of the mental health facility at Dorothea Dix makes no sense when there is an acute shortage of beds for the mentally ill who require in-house care. In an August 7, 2010 News & Observer article titled “Mentally ill often turned away,” a study is cited that shows many North Carolinians languish for days in hospital emergency rooms waiting for psychiatric beds… the wait on average being roughly two and a half days.
The problem is exacerbated by a Republican led General Assembly that has made deep cuts into the state’s mental health budget which has resulted in fewer available psychiatric beds. Courting business interests, North Carolina legislators have shifted much of mental health care from state institutions to privatized centers. As a result many of the individuals who require treatment are left out in the cold if they lack insurance coverage.
Instead of directing state money towards renovating and repairing the Dorothea Dix hospital, the General Assembly has allocated money to transfer patients from the Raleigh institute to other facilities, such as the Central Regional Hospital at Butner, just north of Durham. Critics of this move state that isolating these patients in a rural setting deprives them of the cultural stimulus that can be found in museums, concert halls, and other venues in downtown Raleigh. In addition, the support that the in-house patients receive from friends and relative in Raleigh is lost when they are transferred to Butner and elsewhere.
Health care for the poor and disabled has been cut by cold hearted politicians pandering to the well-heeled and corporations… with reductions in the amount of payment that goes to doctors, hospitals, and other healthcare providers. And most despicable of all, those at the General Assembly have sought to address budget woes by closing one of three schools devoted to the deaf and blind.
Since the fateful arrests of October 15, 2011, Occupy Raleigh protesters have maintained a presence on the south side of the Capitol Building grounds. Although moved from the Capitol grounds that night, protesters were assured that their rights to assemble on the public city sidewalk surrounding it would be guaranteed. So the faithful, diehard, and determined protesters occupied the seldom traversed sidewalk 24/7. Day in and day out. In the warmth of the sun and during the harsh inclement weather.
To better enable themselves to have endure a more comfortable existence, the Occupiers set up tables upon which to store supplies, documents, food supplies and blankets… all well out of the way of the few sidewalk pedestrians. Barricades used to prevent Occupiers from trespassing on the Capitol grounds were utilized to support the numerous signs, placards, and banners which espoused the main grievance of economic inequality and corporate greed. The sidewalk occupation was nicely maintained, clean, and posed no threat.
Occupiers had peacefully maintained a vigil on the sidewalk for more than a week and a half without any trouble, and it became evident to those in power that the movement was not going to just go away. Neither time, rain and cold winds, the oppressive dark nights, nor an intimidating show of force by authorities were able to budge the Occupiers from the pavement. So, with the city sidewalks being in use, the state of North Carolina, under Democratic Governor Bev Perdue, stepped in.
Moses Carey Jr., the Secretary of the mysterious North Carolina Department of Administration issued an order to the Occupiers… using the pretense of complying with an ambiguous statute to maintain and care for public property. The true intent was to disrupt and put and end to the occupation.
Given but just a few hours to meet the conditions set forth in the order, the Occupiers complied, and all tables, boxes, supplies, and other items were disassembled and removed from the sidewalk. However, the demonstrators remained and continued their peaceful protest.
One occupier was Margaret Schucker, who was disabled with a bad back, a condition exacerbated by standing for long periods. So she sat peacefully in her own folding chair, clearly not obstructing sidewalk traffic. The ubiquitous police force, however, demanded that she not sit down. She was threatened with arrest if she continued to remain seated. However, like Rosa Parks who refused to relinquish her seat in the bus, Margaret Schucker refused, as well. And, like the Civil Rights heroine, Ms. Schucker, amid the outrage of other protesters was handcuffed like a criminal and placed in the paddy wagon.
Seven other brave and sympathetic protesters, who sat or linked arms in solidarity with Ms. Schucker, were also cuffed and herded like cattle into the paddy wagon by police.
Now the biased media, which gets its orders from the well-heeled avaricious upper echelon executives, as usual skewed the story in favor of the top 1%... which is not surprising since these head honchos with their embarrassingly excessive salaries, are amongst the 1%.
ABC-11 News even went so far as to “blame the victims,” by bringing up the cost to taxpayers for providing overtime for the police. Larry Stogner, ABC-11 anchor stated that their investigative I-Team found out that it cost $22,000 “in taxpayer money” for policing the October 15, 2011 event, and that the police bill for overtime ran $1,500 per day.
First of all, had budget saving measures by Republican politicians not decimated the ranks of the police force, there would be no need to pay overtime. Secondly, it was not the Occupiers who assigned and scheduled the police officers to maintain a round-the-clock show of force at the sidewalk. The demonstrators have always been peaceful and cooperative with the authorities.
Instead of enforcing the law, protecting the public, fighting crime and taking criminals off the streets, Raleigh’s men in blue apparent overriding duty was to arrest a law-abiding disabled woman who was merely sitting in her own folding lawn chair.
Like the twenty before them, the latest eight Occupy Raleigh occupants gave their fullest demonstration measure… and were arrested for this just cause. They too, deserve our utmost respect and gratitude. Now, a tribute to these heroes… the Occupy Raleigh Eight.