Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Long Wharf

For two Saturdays in a row now, people in Sag Harbor have been standing out on Long Wharf with signs announcing their solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Meanwhile, others say they don’t understand the message. They feel sympathetic to the movement, but are confused by it. I hope to clear this up with the rest of this article. Here are a few things that might help.

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John Paulson and his wife Jenny donated several million dollars to Southampton Hospital for the creation of a beautiful new Emergency Room. Their name is above the door for what they did. It is a great thing they did. Lives will be saved due to their generosity. [expand]

On the other hand, not long ago, members of Occupy Wall Street demonstrated in front of his Manhattan apartment building. They consider him part of the 1% who have accumulated vast sums of money while they have gotten none, and can’t find jobs either, or jobs that pay well enough for them to buy the basic things in life.

Paulson made billions betting against subprime mortgages, as early as 2006. He won that bet. Some say he had a hand in the creation of some bad financial instruments. So it was a sure thing he would win.

Billions of dollars worth of these instruments were sold—and those that bought them lost their money. He won the money. It’s dog eat dog out there. And as Gordon Gekko famously said in the movie Wall Street, “greed is good.”

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In Friday’s New York Times business section, on the front page, was an article headlined DEBT PLAN COULD DENY THOSE WHO BET ON DEFAULT.

People who would have been interested in reading this were the speculators who made financial bets that Greece would go bankrupt. If it did—and there were a second worldwide financial collapse, they would profit by hundreds of millions of dollars. If a plan was approved to prevent this, these traders would lose. The Times’ article explored the meaning of the deal worked out by the European Union that would save Greece. Didn’t seem there was anything these gamblers could do about it except lick their wounds, according to the Times.

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A study published last week showed that from 1980 to 2010, the after-tax incomes of the top 1% in America increased 300%. Meanwhile, the incomes of the least affluent 80% fell to the point where people have become desperate.

Protesters from Occupy Wall Street—largely white, educated and middle class—demonstrated, among other places, both outside and even inside some of the major art auction houses in New York City. In these hallowed halls, paintings go for millions of dollars. It was the 1% selling to the 1%. Protesters had snuck into the bidding rooms and were disrupting the bidding. Others confronted employees, cursing screams at them inches away from their faces and making anti-Semitic and racist comments.

“It’s a very scary situation,” a friend of mine who was there told me, using the present tense since he knew this would continue.

Another friend told me that 1/3 of the protestors were sincere, wanting jobs and decent wages, 1/3 were dangerous, angry zealots, and 1/3 were just out for something to do or were homeless or street people.

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I am on the board of directors of a nonprofit that for 50 years has provided basic educational and recreational services for disadvantaged children in the Hamptons. Last week, we discussed the possibility of government cutbacks drastically disrupting what could be provided.

Is this now a necessity? Is America providing so much for its disadvantaged that it needs to be cut back? The next day, I saw the results of a study conducted by the European Union comparing the quality of life in 31 westernized countries in the world in providing help for the sick, aged and young, and services to deal with poverty, education and health. For those who think the United States is just giving everything away, think again. The United States ranked 27th. In income inequality, America ranked fifth from the bottom, ahead of only Mexico, Chile, Portugal and Turkey.

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At a Republican candidates debate last week, all 10 of those running for president were asked if they would support a plan which would ask that for every $10 cutback in government services for the needy in America, there would be a $1 increase in the taxes on those making over a million a year. None said they would. Republicans say that millionaires already give their fair share. They point out that the top 5% wage earners already provide 60% of the taxes. But this makes no sense. The top 5% percent wage earners have practically all the money. So of course they would provide 60% of the taxes.

Our President keeps coming up with the numbers that say if taxes on the millionaires could be increased by just 5%, he’d be able to balance the budget and create tons of infrastructure projects that would put Americans back to work and bring the country out of recession. The position of the Republicans in Congress, who block this from happening, say doing that will impinge on the country’s rich to provide jobs, and it is the jobs they create that will bring the country out of recession.

But this also makes no sense. Early on in the Great Depression, money was given to the rich and it just stayed with the rich. What ended the Great Depression was the government giving everybody jobs—massive numbers of them—to create armaments for what was feared would be—and was—another world war. Only after that jumpstarted the economy, were these programs ended so the free market system could do its thing going forward into the 1950s.

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Here is an e-mail sent out the Saturday before Halloween requesting that everyone supporting Occupy Wall Street demonstrate in front of Gracie Mansion to protest a dinner being held there the next day.

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Dear NYC Activist, Occupy Wall Street survived Saturday’s storm, and now they need our help. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is hosting an intimate dinner at Gracie Mansion on Sunday night for Senators and corporate executives to urge the Super Committee to “go big” and cut $4 trillion in federal spending.

To eliminate the budget deficit, the Super Committee could simply tax the top 1% through a Millionaires Tax and a Robin Hood Tax on Wall Street speculation.But instead they plan to slash Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and everything else essential to the survival of the 99%. Their joyful champagne toast will be “Let them eat cake!” Naturally, the 99% were not invited to dine with the 1% at Gracie Mansion. So we’ll just have to Occupy Gracie. At 6 p.m. we’ll gather at 88th Street and 1st Ave (outside the Bagel Mill) and march 2 blocks to Gracie at 88th and East End.Come dressed as Marie Antoinette, Louis XVI, or Peasant – and bring the family. We’ll vote for the best costumes and they will serve us all cake!

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The facts are that an alarming number of middle-class Americans no longer have a place to live except in their cars or with relatives, have either no job or one that doesn’t provide enough for the basics in life, and see no future for themselves unless things change. They’ve gone through their savings, now feed their families beans and other low cost foods (25% of American children now live in poverty—a shocking statistic), see their government paralyzed by the lobbying of the rich and that is the story. They are now demonstrating. And they want change. That is who is out there demonstrating—or at least 1/3 of the people demonstrating.

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I have just finished reading an extraordinary book. It is called In The Garden Of Beasts and is the actual account of the activities of the American Ambassador to Germany and his family in Berlin in 1933. An immense amount of research went into this book, all taken from private papers, diaries and letters of those involved, including family, friends, dignitaries, government officials and political activists, both German and American. Everything in quotes in the book was actually said. Everything thought about and presented in the book was written in a diary or a letter.

The new Ambassador, William E. Dodd, a professor at the University of Chicago, leaves his post and comes across the Atlantic by steamship with his family expecting to be there for a year or two. He arrives just after a charming, funny and angry Austrian, a man who has earlier led a group of citizens marching in the streets protesting the rich who have everything while the rest of the country has almost nothing, has come to power. He has just been appointed Chancellor of Germany and he blames everything on the prior governments, on other nations, on the Communists, on the Gypsies and the Jews. Now in power, he  continues to allow his followers to parade every day through the streets.

Soon after his arrival, Dodd has to deal with American citizens in Berlin—a physician, a reporter, a tourist—who have been badly beaten for not properly saluting the parade of the Chancellor’s followers as they march the streets.

These are the Beasts in this story. They beat, often even to death, not only people behaving badly at parades, but also any people who oppose them, including gypsies and Jews. The police do nothing. This is protest gone way out of control.

Are there megalomaniacs who will come to lead Occupy Wall Street? During the 1960s, when the protests were also aimed at the government, there were not. One hopes that in this present situation, where the protests are aimed at those allowing the widening of the gap between rich and poor, there are not.

Interestingly, Ambassador Dodd also had to deal, here in the U.S. in 1933, with two opposing groups of American Jews. One wanted the Anti-Semitism in Germany brought to the attention of the League of Nations. The other group of Jews in America wanted the Ambassador to be quiet. Saying anything might only make things worse.

Since 2008, our government has spent its wealth saving Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. Now, the demonstrators are saying, it’s time for Wall Street to save Main Street.

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