2012 September 4
by Turk Studzel

Rat recently spotted outside Pace University in downtown Manhattan

For the past week I’ve been breathlessly reading Charles (“Inside Job”) Ferguson’s Predator Nation, an outraged and detailed overview of the widespread financial sector criminality that led to the 2008 Economic Meltdown. So it was gratifying when, one day during an errand in Lower Manhattan, I encountered my favorite NYC fauna—the fifteen-foot rats one often sees around town, usually standing outside construction sites employing non-union labor: inflatable soldiers in the class struggle. For a long time I’d thought that New York was this species’ only habitat, until I did a little googling and discovered that, in fact, they’re not even native to Gotham but imports from Chicago, and that hundreds of these things are employed in labor disputes in cities across the nation.

The story goes that 22 years ago in 1990, a Chicago bricklayers union commissioned the first inflatable rat from Big Sky Balloon and Searchlights, a Chicago-area company that manufactures specialty inflatables for advertising, like the huge gorillas or dinosaurs you often see at grand openings.  Soon its name was “Scabby the Rat” and his progeny were popping up at union disputes throughout the U.S. , with NYC at one time the home to thirty of the vinyl monsters—thirteen once appeared at a labor rally in Union Square.

Big Sky also makes a number of other giant balloons useful in class warfare—”Greedy Pig,” “Fat Cat,” “Cockroach,” and “Skunk”—and one can only hope that as the One Percent’s war against the working class heats up, the company experiences a boom in production. Perhaps we’ll begin to see these at corporate headquarters across the United States:

At any rate, in the midst of reading Predator Nation, running into the rats was rousing incitement to keep faith that the corporate fat cats and cockroaches will one day soon get their comeuppance.  Here’s the gist of Ferguson’s argument:

Starting around 1980, American society began to undergo a series of deep shifts…. America was turning into a rigged game—a society that denies opportunity to those who are not born into wealthy families, one that resembles a third-world dictatorship more than an advanced democracy.

The “Occupy Wall Street” protests that began in New York in September 2011, and then rapidly spread around America and the world, were initially somewhat unclear in their goals. But the protesters were deeply right about one thing: over the last thirty years, the United States has been taken over by an amoral financial oligarchy, and the American dream of opportunity, education, and upward mobility is now largely confined to the top few percent of the population. Federal policy is increasingly dictated by the wealthy, by the financial sector, and by powerful (though sometimes badly mismanaged) industries such as telecommunications, health care, automobiles, and energy. These policies are implemented and praised by these groups’ willing servants, namely the increasingly bought-and-paid-for leadership of America’s political parties, academia, and lobbying industry.

If allowed to continue, this process will turn the United States into a declining, unfair society with an impoverished, angry, uneducated population under the control of a small, ultrawealthy elite. Such a society would be not only immoral but also eventually unstable, dangerously ripe for religious and political extremism.

Thus far, both political parties have been remarkably clever and effective in concealing  this new reality. In fact, the two parties have formed an innovative kind of cartel—an arrangement I have termed America’s political duopoly… Both parties lie about the fact that they have each sold out to the financial sector and the wealthy. So far both have largely gotten away with the lie, helped in part by the enormous amount of money now spend on deceptive, manipulative political advertising. But that can’t last indefinitely; Americans are getting angry, and even when they’re misguided or poorly informed, people have a deep, visceral sense that they’re being screwed…

Rat caught in sudden downpour.

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