Friday, October 7, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

In case you haven't heard, and with the trickle of news coverage, it would be no surprise if you haven't, there's a movement that began in New York and has since spread to many other US cities called Occupy Wall Street (or Occupy L.A., Occupy Albany, etc.).  It is a reaction against corporate government, taxpayer subsidy of companies and vast and growing income disparity.

UPDATE 10-8-11 12:04AM: This was Wall Street the day this was posted.
What does this have to do with the Pedestrian Perspective?  Quite a lot, actually.  These same corporations are the ones that destroyed main street shopping, leading to depopulated cities and towns in favor of rapid suburban expansion, all on the taxpayer's dollar.

The thing that people fail to understand is that suburban development and our current (and doomed) building style is not simply a matter of consumer choice.  Yes, people choose this.  Yes, people like this.  But it's all built on government policy.  Government policy is what gives them the choice, and also what influences it.  Most people will choose the shiny new suburb over the urban decay that it created.  And they do so because the shiny new suburb has freshly built infrastructure (taxpayer-funded), nice shopping centers (with tax breaks that are taxpayer-funded), connectivity through highways (taxpayer-funded), all made out of and dependent on a reliable supply of cheap petroleum and natural gas, subsidized by taxpayers.

Make no mistake, petroleum and natural gas consumption is subsidized by ALL taxpayers, not just the ones that use it and pay taxes directly through its purchase.  The environmental cost and devastation is one aspect that we are all going to have to suffer the consequences of some day, and in the meantime, spend money on in hopes of cleaning it up.  Drivers pay roughly 30% of the full cost of driving.  The rest comes from the general fund, paid into by all of us, whether we drive or not.  The cost of subsidized parking alone (when you park at WalMart, the store gets to write that space off on their taxes) is estimated to be between $350-400 billion each year.  [Book recommendation: The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald C. Shoup].  On the other hand, transit gets a very small share of the total subsidy, and fares usually make up a higher proportion than driving taxes and fees do (about 40-60%).  Yet, transit is expected to be self-sustaining, while drivers almost never have to pay to use the roads.

At the same time, when these brand new suburban places are built, they destroy any hope of a local economy.  The economy of most places in the United States right now is multinational.  There is virtually no place where you can rely entirely on local businesses to meet all of your needs.  Worse, there are many places where local businesses cannot be patronized at all, because they don't exist.  Local businesses and small businesses pay their workers more than large corporations; this is well-known.  Thus, you can see where the problems begin.  At some point, we'll talk about the growth of the suburban "town" of Malta, between Albany and Saratoga Springs.  It's a sordid tale of creating a town plan, re-creating a town plan for easier parking, the effects of big business on small towns, and the end result of billions in taxpayer subsidy given to a company that is all but expected to abandon the area as soon as that subsidy ends (in twenty years).

What all of these places have in common is their inaccessibility.  They are inaccessible to anyone who does not or can not buy into the system by purchasing an automobile and all of the extras that go along with it.  They create poverty through the service industry that supports residents with the means to commute elsewhere to work in somewhat better-paying jobs.  Often, workers of the corporations at the service level are bussed in from inner cities, which would be fine, except that the transit system in these "towns" is good for little more than this.  The companies that open up in these places through tax breaks are the worst offenders in regard to income disparity.  This phenomenon represents the logical extremes of the divide between rich and poor, and the middle class that can also be found in these places is disappearing.  You can see why the discussion is being framed as the 1% vs. the 99%.  The way things are going, nothing in the middle will be left.  Is it really any surprise that people are taking to the streets?  Even if not every single one of them can articulate exactly what they are enduring, it doesn't take very long for rational people to see what's going on.

This picture is something I downloaded from Facebook.  I've seen it quite a bit lately.  It is irrelevant and defeatist.
More thoughts on the picture above:  Unfortunately, everyone in this country is part of the modern world, like it or not. I buy products from corporations (as little as possible, but because I was born in 1981, I have to), but fully support Occupy Wall Street. I also hate cars, but I'll be renting one next month, filling it with gas that I feel is too cheap and driving to another state to see my cousin in a play. In the process, I've still reduced my fuel dependence at least 90% by not owning a car, but every now and then, I still have to drive, because it's 2011 and I live in America. There's always a trade-off, but to say that the Occupy Wall Street crowd is hypocritical by virtue of being born after 1900 is absurd. When you can make all these products in the basement and walk to Manhattan, then statements like this will be appropriate.

The photo above even mentioned the fact that some people got there in cars built by corporations.  Guess what?  Those are highly subsidized industries and the protesters have every right and reason to protest that.  I don't like subsidizing the auto industry even though I sometimes drive and ride in cars.  I don't like subsidizing big banks even though I'm paid through one.  I don't like to then bail those banks out after they've gambled away all of our money (which, by the way, is not the purpose of a bank).  I don't like subsidizing the trucking industry even if the products I buy travel thousands of miles on them.  I don't like subsidizing the destruction of our traditional cities and towns in favor of an unsustainable and much more costly style of living.  I don't like subsidizing corn products that make people obese and unhealthy and I don't like subsidizing their health care once that happens.  I don't like subsidizing environmental devastation any more than I like subsidizing the cost of cleaning it all up.  I don't like subsidizing oil companies and their customers (if oil companies stop getting those tax breaks, do you really believe they won't pass it on to the people buying their products?). 

I do like subsidizing transit.  I like subsidizing organic, local agriculture and the few technological solutions that might let us keep the lights on through fossil fuel depletion.  I would love to subsidize hemp.  I like subsidizing health care access for all Americans, but I want Americans to hold up their end of the bargain and live healthier.  I wouldn't mind subsidizing rail and marine shipping over the trucking and airline industries.  I love subsidizing redevelopment of our cities at the building lot level, but not the super block level.  I want to subsidize renewable energy and innovative ideas about how to live better.  I don't mind paying for Social Security and Medicare, because let's face it, my parents, whom I love and adore dearly, aren't moving in with me.

That puts me at odds with most Americans, especially those who are blissfully uninformed.  People like the friends of mine who posted the above picture on Facebook only want to subsidize what they can directly benefit from, apparently not understanding the definition of taxation in the first place.  I want everyone to pay their fair share.  This includes corporations, religions that want to influence politics and everyday people like drivers.

Elizabeth Warren, a U.S. Senate candidate in Massachusetts, running for Scott Brown's seat.

There have been a lot of responses from right-wing nuts to the video by Elizabeth Warren above.  The response is always the same: "But rich people pay a ton in taxes!!!"  The problem is, they don't.  It's very easy to find the list of large corporations that pay nothing into the system, even getting refunds for making billions in profits.  Part of the underlying social contract is that you pay it forward, that you pay back in, that you pay your fair share.  Many complain that there are people paying no income tax at all.  Of course there are people paying no income tax!  When everyday Americans are constantly seeing their real incomes shrinking, where does the money to pay income tax come from? What should give exactly?  Food?  People are already eating cheap, unhealthy food to compensate.  Health care?  People are already going without health care.  Transportation?  People are already struggling with that, too.  Education?  People already can't afford it.  

And why are some of those people paying no income tax in the top 1% of earners?

This article talks about workers from the New York Metropolitan Area's MTA (Metropolitan Transit Association) joining the Occupy Wall Street protests.  The Pedestrian Perspective has always included news and concerns about transit.  Indeed, when I describe what I blog about, I always say: pedestrian and transit issues.  The two go hand-in-hand. In the nation's most transit-oriented city, budgets are being increasingly squeezed to the point of danger.  But we spend our time and money widening highways instead, only to benefit the big corporations that make cars and produce gasoline and oil.

This article talks about a group of Albany protesters meeting in Townsend Park (which we will visit when I FINALLY finish my series on the Albany Highway System) before going to Manhattan to join.

This is the Occupy Albany website:

There are other sources for news about Occupy Wall Street, now that the media blackout is finally beginning to end.  People were, at first, shocked and dismayed at the use of force against these protesters.  Then, they were blaming the protesters themselves, in typical American fashion.  If this was the Tea Party, what reaction would there be to pepper spraying oblivious old people? Think about it.

Many of us supported the protests in Egypt earlier this year.  The income disparity that caused those uprisings was much smaller than the income disparity here in the United States.  It is incredibly refreshing to finally see people stand up against this, and at some point, I may try to go down for a day and join in.  I'll take pictures, as I always do, on my iPhone.  I'll travel there on the MegaBus and Amtrak.  Wearing clothes made by underpaid workers elsewhere.  Because there is little choice, thanks to those same corporations I'll be protesting.  The 1%.

We are the 99%.

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