'Occupiers' didn't start the class warfare

On Occupy, SenBen, Bechtel, dogs, bocce and the Hopkins Zone

October 22, 2011|Dan Rodricks

Nobody asked me, but I'll bet cash money that half the people who complain about Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Baltimore and ridicule the protesters didn't vote in the last election and never took part in a public demonstration of any kind. And those who decry "class warfare" from high atop their millions can't make it go away by doing so. That's what we have after 30 years of generally stagnant wages for the middle class, matched against the largest concentration of wealth in the nation's history, and accompanied by the highest level of poverty since the government started measuring it. As my friend Donna says, "It is what it is," and Americans are finally starting to complain about it.

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Nobody asked me, but why are we still playing this game? The O'Malley administration and Maryland lawmakers Thursday approved a $9.5 million grant to Bechtel Corp., the largest engineering company in the country and a global project manager with billions in annual revenues. Why? Because the company had talked about moving its Bechtel Power division from Frederick to Northern Virginia. The Frederick News-Post said the company agreed to keep a minimum of 1,250 jobs in Frederick through 2018; Bechtel only has to pay the money back if it doesn't keep that promise. The O'Malley administration says the money will be recouped through tax revenues that otherwise would have been lost had the company moved. Local politicians rationalize this kind of stuff — giving taxpayer money to companies that make billions in profits — all the time. House Speaker Michael Busch told the Associated Press that "our number one job is supporting [the] private sector." Of course it is. Who do you think foots the bills for campaigns? And you watch: In the post-Citizens United era, politicians will be even more generous in padding the pockets of corporations with our money. And people scoff at OWS?

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Meanwhile, Sen. Ben Cardin sounded downright OWS in a recent email about Big Oil, taxes and deficit reduction: "Over the last decade, the five largest oil companies received $21 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies, despite the fact that they raked in $1 trillion in profits and are projected to make $144 billion more this year. This is absurd ... It's got to stop." The email provided an Internet link: "Click here to join me in demanding that the Super Committee stop sending billions of taxpayer dollars to the five largest, most-profitable private oil companies in the country." So I clicked, expecting to see a petition form. Instead, it was a link to SenBen's re-election campaign — and a donation form. (Sigh.) Since BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips probably won't be "friending" SenBen, he's got to get it from somewhere else.

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Just when some of us started to think it might be OK to shop at Wal-Mart, the company posts a 5.7 percent profit increase for the second quarter, then starts cutting health benefits to part-time employees and significantly increasing premiums for many full-timers. Plus, there was the whole bleach attack thing ...

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Kevin Fitzgerald, a reader and listener, asked me what I thought of Baltimore County's new arrangement for Robert E. Lee Park: a fenced dog run of nearly 2 acres that people will have to pay $35 per pair of pooches to use. In that there was once so much dog waste in the city-owned-leased-to-the-county park that the city had to declare a big part of it a health hazard, close it down and remove the topsoil; and in that humans who like the unfortunately named park have stayed away in droves because of the poop and unleashed dogs, I think the county has found a reasonable solution. Was the fee established to "keep the riff raff out," as Mr. Fitzgerald says he was told by a park volunteer? If "riff raff" refers to the human owners of aggressive dogs who like to let them run through the park unleashed (and unscooped), I say, "Good dog, here's a treat."

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Speaking of recreation, this just in from Little Italy: The bocce courts are now open to the public. Bocce balls are not provided; players must bring their own.

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Nobody asked me, but you can't fault Johns Hopkins for accepting into the class of 2015 that Howard County lad who was indicted Thursday for conspiring with a Pennsylvania woman known as "Jihad Jane" to provide material support to terrorists. I mean, I can't imagine any rational young man would have listed JJ as a reference and expressed admiration for the mujahid in his Common App essay.

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Speaking of Hopkins — would y'all slow down, remove the earplugs and headphones, and look around when you're crossing the streets near campus? Pedestrians, drivers, bikers — everyone needs to stay alert in the Hopkins Zone of Charles Village. This has been a public service message from this columnist and The Baltimore Sun.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR-FM. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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