The pro-democracy protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement overcame unfavorable weather and the absence of their former camps Wednesday to target the corporate oligarchy in 70 cities.
Occupy Portland put more than 1,000 marchers on Oregon streets to advance their nationwide effort to “Shut Down the Corporation,” despite a chill rain. More than 200 protesters showed up in New York City, a former hotbed of populist angst where winter marches continue to be damped by biting winds and rain, near-freezing temperatures, and a ruthless mayor who is the wealthiest elected official in U.S. history.
Occupiers sustained at least 42 arrests on behalf of the 99% on Feb. 29. Seven arrests were reported in Portland, eight in Connecticut, 12 in Washington, D.C., two in California, and 13 in Manhattan.
organized the national day of protest to draw attention to a secretive conservative organization called the American Legislative Exchange Council. The nonprofit group serves as a dating site for predatory corporations and industries seeking to boost their profits by subverting the democratic process. It pairs them with political hookers looking to sell their votes in exchange for legal payoffs in the pay-to-play system of government that is supplanting democracy at the state and federal level.
ALEC’s members include the billionaire Koch Brothers, who have used the advent of legalized bribes to reduce the political influence of the American middle class and shape legislation favorable to their private energy empire.
“The public is never informed that a group representing the most privileged people in America (is) drafting the legislation that disempowers the most vulnerable,” David Osborn of Occupy Portland said of ALEC. “Decisions affecting our communities should be made democratically, not through a corrupt system that hides the influence of the very corporations that benefit at our expense.”
In many ways, ALEC is the private face of the rising American corporate oligarchy, just as people like Donald Trump, Paris Hilton, the Koch Brothers and the passengers of the Republican presidential primary clown car have become the public face of the ignorance, avarice, fear and intolerance of sheltered elites.
Salon’s Alex Pareene described ALEC last year as a “Match.com” for state lawmakers and the nation’s worst industry lobbies. Businessweek called the secretive group a “bill laundry” in December.
ALEC “offers companies substantial benefits that seem to have little to do with ideology,” Businessweek wrote in December. “Corporations drop bills off at one end, and they come out the other, stamped with the imprimatur of a nonprofit, ‘nonpartisan’ group of state legislators.” And yet it continues to flourish, even as the political machines that work for it lambast the benevolent, non-violent protesters of Occupy Wall Street.
ALEC has not acknowledged the Feb. 29 protest on its website and spokeswoman Kaitlyn Buss did not respond to a request for comment from The Cynical Times.
The lengthy list of ALEC members targeted Wednesday included Bank of America, Pfizer, Monsanto, Wells Fargo, Johnson & Johnson, Nevada Energy, and a private for-profit prison company called G4s.
Protesters held a banner called “Health Care For The 99 Percent” outside Pfizer headquarters in Manhattan. The multinational company is the world’s largest pharmaceutical maker, with annual revenue of $67.4 billion in 2011.
Pfizer is part of a list of new monopolistic trusts which have arisen in the absence of proper leadership by U.S. elected officials at the state and federal level, where politics has devolved into a race to sell votes and influence to the highest bidder. Dominant companies, like Pfizer, use their advantages of size and scale to gobble up competitors in this toothless regulatory environment, resulting in a generation of robber barons and legalized price-fixing not seen in this nation since the early 1900s.
Multinational energy interests are now poised to suffocate the nascent global recovery with rising oil and gasoloine prices.
Pfizer acquired rival Wyeth in 2009 in a $68 billion merger as government antitrust regulators sat on their hands in Washington, D.C. It agreed to buy King Pharmaceuticals for $3.6 billion in 2010.
Pfizer pleaded guilty in 2009 to the largest health care fraud in U.S. history. It received the largest criminal penalty ever levied for such knowing misconduct – $2.3 billion – in its fourth settlement in 10 years with the U.S. Department of Justice.
“For more than 150 years, Pfizer has been committed to being a good corporate citizen and our track record proves it,” Pfizer spokeswoman Lauren Starr said in an email statement. Obviously, she’s got a window seat on the corporate gravy train.
Pfizer is a natural target for the rest of us due to its iconic status in a U.S. health care industry which has morphed into an investment vehicle for immoral investors willing to wring blood money from the medically needy.
For Pfizer, that means hiking the prices for crucial drugs like its Lipitor anti-cholesterol medication and gaming government regulatory processes like those which set reimbursement rates for senior citizens receiving Medicare assistance. Higher rates generate profit growth for Pfizer, but price out many younger Americans who have to pay for their own medical needs. They also create a financial hardship for older Americans who must pay for a portion of their prescription needs.
“I have to go to Canada to buy Pfizer drugs for half the price that I pay for them here,” protester Michael Miller, 68, told the Associated Press.
It’s the best health care system in the world for the 1% – not so much for the rest of us.
“I am not against corporations as an idea necessarily, (but) I am against corporate power and influence in Washington and this sort of undue balance of power,” One New York City protester told the International Business Times in the video at right. “Corporations have way too much power and influence. (They) have completely corrupted the system and it needs to end.”
Eight Occupiers were arrested in Groton, Conn., (left) after their group blocked the main gate of the Pfizer facility there Wednesday.
Pfizer acknowledged engaging in political lobbying in a statement to Reuters News Service, but claimed that it does so to advance the greater good. Under the current U.S. legal code, which requires executives at for-profit companies to zealously advance shareholder interests, such a benevolent corporate stance could be grounds for a securities lawsuit – if it were true.
More than 50 protesters protested outside a Monsanto site in Washington, D.C., and at least 12 were arrested, according to the Washington Examiner.
DC Occupier Brian Eister told the Examiner that Monsanto “is doing more to make a sustainable world impossible than almost any corporation on the planet.”
Monsanto Director of Corporate Affairs Tom Helscher responded by issuing a statement expressing the franken-food company’s respect for freedom of speech.
Occupy Las Vegas targeted NV Energy (right).
Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone Magazine’s star business journalist, supported the national protest by holding a teach-in about predatory banking tactics in New York City’s Bryant Park.
Taibbi (below right) helped breathe life into the movement against the energing corporate oligarchy with an amazing 2010 story called “The Great American Bubble Machine.” Its lede paragraphs include his famous description of Goldman Sachs investment bank as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”
More than 50 Tucson activists targeted the local transportation headquarters of G4s, a private prison security firm that belongs to ALEC and is trying to get rich by locking up illegal immigrants, according to Truthout. Lawmakers with ALEC links have successfully pushed for prison privatization.
Decent people blockaded the entrance of the G4s facility to prevent its buses from transferring migrants from detention facilities and deporting them across the border. G4s workers were forced to cut down their own fence to get buses around the blockade.
There were no reports of acts of violence by the nonviolent protesters of the Occupy movement, which continued to be shadowed by large police contingents.
U.S. police unions remained a notable no-show in the battle to reclaim true representative democracy in the U.S. Presumably, they will remain on the sidelines under their present leadership until their jobs are outsourced, too.