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Are they annoying?  Inspiring?  A threat to public safety or a force for the common good?  A movement that demands your attention or a movement that deserves to be dismissed?  Whatever your opinion might be, they’ve certainly started a national conversation.

Beginning to put thoughts together on the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, I realized why it was so hard for the group to come up with a cohesive message.  Once we get into the issue of income equality or disparity, we can very quickly move into some of the fundamental questions of governance and how and why society is built and operates.  That’s pretty big stuff.

What seems to be the clearest cohesive message coming through is “We are the 99%,” which apparently refers to income earnings.  This brings to mind the idea that the vast majority of us are all in this together, not nearly privileged as (and perhaps inordinately burdened by) what the OWS movement seems to see as an wantonly privileged class of people in the top 1% income bracket.  According to Ezra Klein of The Washington Post, “Taken literally, the top 1 percent of American households had a minimum income of $516,633 in 2010.”

The inference is that there is an inherent injustice in a system in which this happens. How is it that some came to be so wealthy?   Is it fair that they have so much money?  Is it fair that they should keep their money?  What is “fair” and how should it be determined?  Does it matter?

Fairness gives an equal amount to each individual, regardless of any other consideration: People deserve equal everything, simply because they are people.  It would be like having a household with a child of 2 weeks-old, a child of 14 years-old and two adults where you gave to each individual 4 diapers to wear a day, served each individual the same serving of exactly the same food with no modifications for age, dosed out an equal amount of the same medicine to every member anytime one member was sick, and anytime someone wronged another, doled out the same discipline to each member, regardless of guilt.  That is what would be equal treatment and therefore fair for each member of that family.  In my opinion, this is a ridiculous system. (I know at least one person out there is going to tell me my opinion is wrong on this, but I’m willing to extrapolate further if that person wants to assert themselves.  Please do in conversation below or in a blog response!)

While it may seem like an exercise in semantics, I think it’s important to point out that there is a difference between fairness and justice, though we often use them interchangeably.  But in this case, I hope it clarifies some of the confusion regarding OWS if we make a distinction.  After reading some commentary on and by this group, while a few OWS protestors may be, in fact, asking for a “fair” system, I believe a majority identifying with the movement are actually seeking justice in our socio-economic system instead.

Justice is a different beast altogether.  It’s a bit more difficult one to wrangle, though, in terms of exactly what it means for each individual and for the group.  This is probably why the message is so hard to communicate and solutions are so difficult to reach within the OWS movement.  Is justice achieved when we get what we deserve through our socio-economic system?  Or when we get what we need?  Or both?  I believe that the justice-related questions that the OWS movement is asking are questions like do we live in a society in which people receive appropriate (not necessarily equal) compensation for their time, talents and contributions? And conversely, do they share an appropriate (not necessarily equal) burden of the cost of maintaining things and the consequences when there are consequences.    One in which, as articulated by Ketchup in this Colbert Report segment, “…my own happiness and comfort are not born out of the suffering of others and the destruction of the environment.”

At least some people are asking, is this even an issue?  Why all this concern now?  Hasn’t every culture throughout all history had some income inequality?  Is it true that the rich are getting richer? A recent report by the widely-respected and non-partisan Congressional Budget Office states in the first sentences of its online summary: “After-tax income for the highest-income households grew more than it did for any other group. (After-tax income is income after federal taxes have been deducted and government transfers—which are payments to people through such programs as Social Security and Unemployment Insurance—have been added.)

CBO finds that, between 1979 and 2007, income grew by:

275 percent for the top 1 percent of households,
65 percent for the next 19 percent,
Just under 40 percent for the next 60 percent, and
18 percent for the bottom 20 percent.”

So, it would seem that the numbers are telling us that, at least recently, the rich are getting richer.  Now, according to CBO, the poor are also getting richer, but not at the same pace or to the same degree.   It’s hard to deny some sort of disparity, at least in income growth patterns.  And it appears that both sides of the aisle in Congress agree to some degree or another that this is an issue.  Read Huffington Post for story on Dems here and see Politico discuss the GOP here.

The question then arises, is this ok?  Why or why not?  Is this the marker of a healthy society or an unhealthy society?  How do the rights and/or responsibilities of the individual play into this?  Why do some people get richer and some people stay poorer and whose fault is it?  Are problems that result the responsibility of government or the private sector or non-governmentals or individuals to fix?

These are the kinds of questions I’d like to try to discuss in a series of posts around the Occupy Wall Street Movement that I’m working on.

And please, tell me what you think!  I’d also love to see blogged responses to this post and am wondering if you’d be interested in hearing from a guest blogger or two with viewpoints from each side?

As an “appetizer” to this conversation, and in honor of the more Granola-ish among us (or some of you may choose to think of them as the fruity and nutty among us), I’ve decided, for this first post on OWS, to share a recipe I frequently use to make granola bars.

Occupy-My-Mouth Granola Bars

This is modified from a recipe on Allrecipes.com which I liked, but which seemed an awful lot like a cookie or a dessert bar rather than a granola bar.  I like to at least pretend granola bars are a bit healthier, but I also thought that the recipe needed some extra “oomph” in terms of add-ins so that it wasn’t so cake-y. This is really a modification-friendly recipe if you have an allergy or just want to have some fun.  It’s basically just important to get the right approximate liquid to solid ratio and to make sure there’s enough sticky stuff (like eggs or egg substitutes and nut butter) to ensure it binds together.  SO here’s how I make it…..

Ingredients

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ (I’ve also substituted ground flax seed here)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (sometimes I put in ground ginger or nutmeg or you could put in a pinch of cayenne if you added in some coconut and dark chocolate chips and want something decadent and a little more adult.)
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup craisins or other dried fruit or add-in (chopped nuts, coconut, chocolate chips, favorite cereal, etc.)
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds (or other add-in, see recommendations above)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2-1 c. nut butter
  • 1/2 cup honey or molasses or maple syrup or agave nectar
  • 1 egg, beaten (sub 1 T. ground flax seed/ 3 T. water mixture for vegan)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Generously grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the oats, brown sugar, wheat germ, spices, flour, add-ins and salt. Make a well in the center, and pour in the nut butter honey, egg, oil and vanilla. Mix well using your hands. Pat the mixture evenly into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bars begin to turn golden at the edges. Cool for 5 minutes, then cut into bars while still warm. Do not allow the bars to cool completely before cutting, or they will be too hard to cut.
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