Occupy This

16 10 2011

To steal from Network, Americans are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

The #Occupy movement, which began as #OccupyWallStreet, a protest against bankers, bailouts and corporate greed.

In my tiny mind, Americans have every right to be angry. They might be angry enough to consign Barack Obama to a one-term presidency – unthinkable a few years ago. The left is angry, the right is angry and the Tea Party is the small government, small tax version of the pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Christian base for this decade

A few fast facts on why I think Americans are mad:

The economy: No wonder President Obama is playing golf with President Clinton. The baseline in American politics is the economy, stupid. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ latest release (7 October), seasonally adjusted unemployment in September 2011 was 9.1 per cent. That’s a 0.5 per cent improvement on September 2010. Breaking that down:

  • 14 million Americans are registered unemployed
  • Of that number, the long-term unemployed (people out of work for more than 27 weeks) make up more than 44 per cent, or 6.2 million)
  • 24 per cent of teenagers (16-19 year olds) are unemployed
  • 16 per cent of blacks are unemployed (c.f. with 8 per cent unemployment among whites; 11.3 per cent for Hispanics and 7.8 per cent for Asians)
  • The annual 2010 unemployment rate of ‘Gulf War II’ veterans (i.e. military personnel who have served post September 2001) is 11.5 per cent
Delving slightly deeper, while the labor force and employment figures lifted, the civilian labor force participation rate (64.2 per cent) and employment:population ratio (58.3 per cent) remain fairly static. Disturbingly, 9.3 million Americans are classed as involuntary part-time workers (i.e. their hours have been cut or they’re unable to find full-time work). In August 2011, the number was 8.8 million – an additional 444,000 people in one month. Those ‘marginally attached to the workforce’ – some 2.5 million Americans who have sought work in the last year, but not in the last four weeks, are not counted as unemployed. There are 1 million ‘discouraged’ American workers. These are the defeated and demoralised. They believe they cannot get a job, so they’ve given up. Average hourly earnings? $23.12. Average weekly earnings? $793.02.
‘Failed’ stimulus: President Obama signed The Recovery Act on 7 February 2009. The total package of $787 billion was increased to $840 billion in 2011. I bracketed ‘failed’ because it’s open to interpretation. There is certainly a perception that while some of the leading indicators have resulted in an improvement in certain sectors of the economy and regions, in my view, this is counterbalanced by one of the saddest statistics I think I’ve ever come across: $8 billion additional spend on food stamps to feed 38 million hungry Americans. (Reuters)
Dysfunctional government: the White House is caught in a pincer movement. President Obama has come out swinging at Congress recently, most notably on his jobs bill. He’s moving to Candidate Obama, criss-crossing the country selling a Bill which has no chance of passing. These people who were willing to play brinkmanship with the country’s credit card. It is pathetic.
The cost of foreign policy: President Obama got Osama bin Laden. Terrific. It doesn’t change the economic and human costs of the country’s operations in Pakistan and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the key findings of a recent report from the Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies:
  • The U.S. wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan will cost between $3.2 and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans. This figure does not include substantial probable future interest on war-related debt.
  • More than 31,000 people in uniform and military contractors have died, including the Iraqi and Afghan security forces and other military forces allied with the United States.
  • By a very conservative estimate, 137,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan by all parties to these conflicts.
  • The wars have created more than 7.8 million refugees among Iraqis, Afghans, and Pakistanis.
  • Pentagon bills account for half of the budgetary costs incurred and are a fraction of the full economic cost of the wars.
  • Because the war has been financed almost entirely by borrowing, $185 billion in interest has already been paid on war spending, and another $1 trillion could accrue in interest alone through 2020.
  • Federal obligations to care for past and future veterans of these wars will likely total between $600-$950 billion. This number is not included in most analyses of the costs of war and will not peak until mid-century.
That’s just war. Don’t start me on the President’s broken promise to close Guantánamo Bay; conduct of extra-judicial killings and the disconnect between endorsement of the Arab Spring where it’s easy (Libya, for example) and wilful disregard for others (such as the Shi`a of  Bahrain).
The 99 per cent: Campaign finance reform; the disparity between tax breaks for the super-wealthy and the middle-class; corporate bailouts; out-of-control student debt it’s the beginning of a national conversation Americans haven’t engaged in for a long time.
So … it was with a general sense of irritation that I heard about the #OccupyPickAnAustralianCity protests that took place yesterday, for one reason: the great Australian propensity for whingeing. If whingeing was an Olympic sport, it would be, ‘GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!’ for Australia. I whinge, I hear others whinge and I read about people whingeing on a daily basis. It’s healthy to vent, to verbalise frustrations, irritations and feelings that systems, services and other people are failing us; but when you conflate whingeing into the #Occupy movement, you cheapen it. Yes, I am fully aware that Australia was only one of 78 countries to hold protests yesterday. I would also contend that people in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece have legitimate fears and grievances against prevailing economic conditions and systemic corruption. Australia? Not so much. While many on the ‘left’ view Tony Abbott as the Nabob of No, the Occupiers of Australia are playing his game of fear and loathing:
The economy: 5.2 per cent unemployment in September 2011. As the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Measures of Australia’s Progress 2011 report shows, pretty much everything (barring productivity) has improved since 2000. Including unemployment. The bad news? That increase applies to threatened animal species due to climate change. The average weekly income per full-time employed adult is $1,305. The average hourly income is between $29.70 and$33.10 (the disparity? Female wages c.f. men) (Source: ABS)
‘Failed’ stimulus: I’m leaving this one to George Megalogenis
Dysfunctional government: I am not a cheerleader for the current Government, but I am thankful that there are some quality people in our Parliament. Not naming names, but as close to the bone it has come on major issues – especially in the last few weeks – it is functional. I may not like the politics, the policies, the poor communication and quality of political discourse, but it continues to roll on.
The cost of foreign policy: Defence estimates an approximate $6 billion spend in Afghanistan to 2014. Iraq Mk II, approximately $2.3 billion. To me, the irreparable damage is in civilian deaths, leaving Australian citizens in Gitmo, irregular migration flows (UN-speak for refugees), international reputation and pathetic policy reactions to the problems we helped cause. That said, I don’t think we’ve been breaking arms embargoes, killing people willy-nilly or uneven in our condemnation for despots the world over.
The 99 per cent: according to a new release into household wealth from the ABS, the top 20 per cent of Australian households have seen their average net wealth increase by 15 per cent to $2.2 million since 2005/06, accounting for approximately 60 per cent of total household wealth. The bottom 20 per cent’s average net wealth grew by only 4 per cent. They account for approximately 1 per cent of total household wealth. That leaves almost 30 per cent of Australian households with an average net wealth of $720,000, up 14 per cent since 2005/06 – almost on par with the richest in the land and 10 per cent ahead of the poor. I contend that there is no ’99 per cent’ in Australia. Of course there is disparity in wealth; but the two major assets of Australian households (property – $520-540,000; superannuation – $60-154,000) put ‘average’ Australia within striking distance of the top 20 per cent. This is not the case in the US. It never has been and never will be.
I hope this stirs some pots & kettles. It stirred mine.
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14 responses

23 10 2011
Conflicted thoughts: on Occupy Melbourne « DYLADAD

[…] of the Occupy movement in the Australian context and ask, like several others did, here and here: do we need to express the Occupy ideals in this country at all? (for the purposes of this […]

23 10 2011
the referral

I think your comment was truncated for some reason – going to click on the link & see if it opens.

23 10 2011
730reportland

Nice post Kimbo. I don`t dispute the ABS stats you quote, but I do question the `meaningfulness` of them. An Example, AVERAGE Income. Take two homeless people sleeping rough in the park with an annual income of ZERO. Include say Gerry Harvey who pockets 1.5 Billion$ per annum. Divide by 3. Average Income is half a Billion$ pa. Conclusion, Therefore everybody can afford private health cover. — Most of the statistics, to me seem to be distorted for political purposes. I would really like to know how our economy is going, EXCLUDING Mining Sector, which seems to employ a very small minority of workers. Recently revealed is 17% Aussie owned, but seems to swing the biggest political stick. — I agree with your anti-consumerism comment, but alas, every politician I see quacks about growth. — While the Yanks and EU could Tank, I really don`t think China must bail them out, as China and India have normalised their relationship and built an 8 lane trade highway for bi-lateral trade, and of course, rest of Asia.

23 10 2011
the referral

Thanks for the reply, & for reading – will come back to you at a more normal hour.

21 10 2011
Fee Sees (@agirlcalledfi)

This was an interesting and well researched piece, but I think you don’t address the point that ‘the 99%’ is as much about power as it is monetary wealth. People are becoming aware that we live in a plutocracy, rather than a democracy, and it is the 1% (actually more like 0.01%) of corporate oligarchs who pull the strings of government to make policies that suit *them*, not us (irrespective of which side of the centre that government sits). That the Aus gov hands out mining and fracking permits etc. that effect our water, ecosystems, and climate, to corporations who take profits (and taxes) offshore, clearly shows that the interests of the 99% are not being served. The government doesn’t run Australia, Big Business does. We are privileged here in Aus, but that does not mean we have to be complacent.

21 10 2011
the referral

Hi Fi
Thanks for reading – and for a really good point about missing what money buys. Campaign finance reform is a much broader issue in the US, but special interest groups do exercise – & receive – better access to Ministers etc. Personally, I would prefer to pay for election campaigns (to a capped $ amount) than continue with the current system, but that’s just me.
Having worked in professional politics for the better part of a decade, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say that “corporate oligarchs” pull the strings of Australia’s government. I’ve helped negotiate bills in NSW, such as the Residential Tenancies Act 2010 (which hadn’t been touched in 20 years – it was a joke), that involved many stakeholders, in particular the Tenants’ Union of NSW. The real estate agents hated us for it, but a 110-amendment Bill passed the Legislative Council unanimously. I may have been a cog in the wheel of an unpopular government, & we were shit at a lot of things, but when we had good days, they were genuinely committed in the spirit of public service.
When I speak of interest groups, I mean everything from unions to the NSW Business Chamber; the Nature Conservation Council to the NSW Farmers / Irrigators & Minerals Council. The clubs & local councils. Everyone wants something, & if they don’t get it, they bag you in the press. Not sure how C’wealth or other states operate, but in NSW, the Keneally Government banned donations from tobacco, & profit-driven alcohol & gambling businesses (NB: ALP has refused to accept donations from big tobacco for years). Political donations from individuals were also capped at $5,000 to a party or $2,000 to candidates per financial year.
I am no longer a member of the ALP, by the way; I work for a NFP & by most measures, am one of the 99 per cent – big debts (student loans, dental surgery), no assets & live with a mental illness. My disposable income after rent & loan repayments is approx $600 per fortnight. I’m 40 in a few weeks & most days, I don’t think, “what will I do,” but “why do I live.” Sorry this is now blurring into my more personal posts but when Occupy Brisbane broadcasts that mental illnesses don’t exist, it’s a bit hard to take. With rights come responsibilities; it’s not good enough to say (as has been said to me), ‘wasn’t me’; ‘wasn’t officially sanctioned’; ‘you just have to put up with the fucktards & move on’ – not when it’s on an official website of an #occupy movement. They don’t occupy the entire moral high ground.

19 10 2011
MarlaR

The “we are doing great” does not apply equally to all Australians. Yes we are in better position than US or EU now, but how long should we wait to keep saying ‘all is fine don’t bother’.
Also perception tha occupy is be all and end all protest – its not and we know that – its another aspect and important.
ACOSS figues show 1 in 10 australians live at or below poverty line, so we have a lot that needs to change.
One of the biggest is the level of influence corporations have on legislation and policy making in AU through donations etc.
Anyway, see the http://www.occupysydney.org.au website – and better yet come speak to us, you may be surprised at what you lean about us and what we are doing.

19 10 2011
the referral

Hi Marla – thanks for the comments & links. The ACOSS study is a particularly good source. I’m laid up with a virus at present but if I feel better on Saturday I’d be happy to come down & learn some more from talking to the people who are there, & why they’re there.

19 10 2011
Chris Daley

I thin many people are missing the point here, while we are certainly better off in Oz than the US, we can’t forget that if the US tanks, which it is certainly looking like doing, WE WILL ALL GO DOWN WITH THE SHIP. Sorry, had to shout that one, as people seem to forget how tightly interwoven the globalised economy is these days. The Occupations in Oz are as much in solidarity with those happening in other countries as they are about our own situation.

19 10 2011
the referral

Hi Chris
Thanks for reading & your comment. What is frightening about Australia is the general lack of understanding about global political economics; the worst thing we could all do right now is revert to protectionism. The nature of the Australian economy (esp our financial regulation systems & trading partners) make it less likely that we will ‘all go down with the ship’. America is probably headed for a double-dip recession, however, the country which buffeted Australia against GFC Mk I – China – is too highly invested to let the US ship sink. America needs money, China needs markets. At present, France & Germany can sustain the EU – but countries like Greece & Italy must reform their systemically corrupt systems. The other factor in this slowdown is the disasters in Japan, still one of the world’s largest economies. What is most worrisome about debt in Australia is that it is not public (or good) debt; it’s private debt. I’m not anti-capitalist; I’m anti-consumerism.

16 10 2011
malbrown2

Thanks for the statistics. Makes the situation easier to grasp.
I agree with your Gold for Australia in whingeing. Considering what many European countries are going through not to mention the unemployment of young people in places like Spain, many Australians would be better off to put their collective heads down ,increase productivity and holiday in Australia.
I do feel sorry for the Americans. It will take years to get them out of their mess, if ever.

16 10 2011
Bill

Excellent analysis, Kim!

I could get behind the local occupy movement if it were to express solidarity with those less fortunate overseas, or to oppose the kind of economic anarchy that led to the mess they are in.
…or for that matter, to say to all the others, “Look! THIS is how it’s done! You can make it work.”

Sadly though, the local iteration seems like an expression of the same kind of victim-envy that underpins the teabagger wannabes at the anti carbon tax rallies.

19 10 2011
MarlaR

all Australian occupy movements are in solidarity with those worlwide. http://www.occupysydey.org.au

you should come talk to us, I think your perceptions would shift.

16 10 2011
Michelle Higgins

Great post Kim. Appreciate the way you broke down the stats. I agree that Americans have so many reasons to be enraged and Australians far less. As somebody who will actually vote in the next US election I am left knowing that I will vote for Obama but so disappointed in decisions that have been made, particularly in areas of civil liberties that I am only just getting my head around (shame on me).

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