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Power of the 1 percent

October 29, 2011
Jim Anderson , The Daily News

And good day to you, 99 percenter.

(This is the newspaper with bingo. We know our demographic.)

What's less certain is whether, as a 99 percenter, you see Occupy Wall Street as fraudulent, heroic or something in between.

I'd guess most say "in between."

The top 1 percent of Americans hold 40 percent of the nation's net worth, the protesters tell us. Still, economic inequality is nothing new, even if the gains of recent decades have funneled to the top. (Since 1980, inflation-adjusted incomes for the top 1 percent have about tripled, while incomes for the bottom 90 percent have dropped, according to IRS data.)

That aside, a key to whether Occupy Wall Street carries on - or fizzles - is whether the power of the 1 percent is considered legitimate.

Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer, author, and columnist at, says the American mentality has changed. Whereas the ultra-rich were once admired, wealth is now viewed through a lens of corruption.

"Today it is glaringly obvious to a wide range of Americans that the wealth of the top 1 percent is the byproduct not of risk-taking entrepreneurship, but of corrupted control of our legal and political systems," Greenwald wrote recently.

Wall Street has engaged in massive, systematic fraud without experiencing the slightest legal repercussions, he asserts. The Obama administration - in lead-from-behind timidity - has helped shield the racket. Republicans want even less intrusion.

Some might accept Greenwald's narrative whole cloth. Others will shrug it off as leftist dogma.

This much should be indisputable. The financial crisis that gave us the Great Recession involved serious ethical breaches on Wall Street.

Financial firms packaged up mortgage obligations known to be bad, sold them under misleading pretenses, and profited by betting that the very deals they'd sold would go south. The crisis had many other components, but that's what some financial "leaders" were doing as market ruin loomed - lapping up what they could.

And who at the top at Wall Street has been held accountable? Who among, say, the 1 percenters, even felt the pain?

Recently, The Daily News published a column from Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly labeling the Wall Street protesters as anti-capitalists.

"Generally speaking, the Occupy Wall Street crew is comprised of bored morons who want handouts," O'Reilly wrote. "Every American has a legitimate beef about something, but most of us don't want to burn the system down. The protesters do."

John Stossel, Fox's champion for individualism, is more generous. He says the protesters are correct in one sense - bailouts are bad. Stossel's premise, however, is that the free market itself is valid - only bailouts are intolerable.

Let's bring it closer to home.

When the 2008 financial crisis crippled the auto industry, Chrysler went bankrupt, owing millions to Grede Foundries. Grede (and its Kingsford plant) also went bankrupt. The company was later sold and reorganized and today maintains production and vital employment in Kingsford.

The foundry's creditors, meanwhile, took it in the teeth - local suppliers, contractors and the city itself among them. In effect, Main Street got much of the hurt.

Was that Wall Street's fault? Well, Wall Street is more to blame than the victims of the bankruptcies, that's for sure.

We can pretend that Occupy Wall Street is simply about handouts and toppling "the system."

Fact is, it's also about justice.

If the pulse of Occupy Wall Street is anti-capitalist, it will die. If its cause is justice, it will be hard to kill.

The nitty-gritty of today's Wall Street - or even today's global economy - is beyond the grasp of most of us. And probably beyond many of the protesters, too.

I'll offer this.

You can take a hit from a bankruptcy, or be left jobless when a mill closes, or find yourself penniless from a health issue and still respect (or even love) capitalism.

But you don't have to bless corruption.

Jim Anderson's e-mail address is



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