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Archive for October 17th, 2011

While I have yet to completely wrap my brain around the precise intent of Occupy Wall Street, I am impressed as all get out with the rapidity with which the movement has spread.  Having grown up during the days of the Civil Rights and Vietnam movements, I am more used to cohesive actions with a singular message; e.g. “Freedom Now” or “We Don’t Want Your Effin’ War!”.  Instead, OWS is a loose conglomerate of people with axes to grind.  The ties that bind are centered around economic disparities that are rapidly obliterating the middle class.  I am certain that, if questioned, most would wish to reinstitute Glass-Stegal, tax the rich,get money out of politics, repeal Citizens United and reclaim the jobs that so many have had offshored.  Instead, the solitary overarching principle is that we are all in the 99% of America that no longer matter, and that they are tired of this plan.  One of my friends asserts that our lawmakers are well aware of the problems and simply need to quit screwing around and figure out how to fix this mess.  Now, that’s simplicity itself.

Despite being without manifesto, OWL has spread to more than 1000 American cities.  Miami and Ft. Lauderdale have begun to rally and march, and I assure you that we are not on the cutting edge of such activities.  Chicago, Boston, Washington, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have rallied.  College campuses have awakened, as the students all realize that they will soon graduate deeply in debt and possibly unemployed.  Even small towns like Pocatello now have “Occupy Pocatello” movements underway.  Rome is on fire in every sense of the word.

I’ve been thinking about the “Arab Spring” movement.  Initially it was a group of torqued off citizens in the street shouting their general discontent at the top of their lungs.  As the numbers grew, the police response stiffened.  Pictures of horses, camels, and tanks mowing people down in the streets went viral.  All hell broke loose, the movement crossed national borders, and several heads of state went out the door.  Things are still pretty messed up over there, but you can’t say that the protests were ineffective.

Some day, police forces may just figure out that pictures of cops beating up citizens are inflammatory.  In fact, pictures during the Sixties of police dogs attacking civil rights protesters likely melted many a disaffected heart. I know that my mother became tearful when the boys and girls of the Children’s Crusade (Birmingham, 1963) were confined in animal pens at the State Fair Grounds as the police did not want to put them in jail with criminals.  Pictures of riot-garbed police beating anti-war protesters didn’t do much to extinguish that movement, either.  In fact, I would venture a guess that the more a movement is suppressed, the stronger it seems to grow.  It will be interesting to watch this one.

In the meantime, our President is attempting to use OWS for political gain.  He’s not completely wrong, as the heart of the Republican party is not bleeding for America’s downtrodden masses.  They are actually busy ascertaining that there is no Shari’a law, no abortions, and no union activity.  That said, our President still has a Wall Street lackey or two perched in his Cabinet, and that isn’t exactly making things better.  SOT Tim Geithner is the gift that keeps on giving for the GOP.  Geithner is of, by, and for Wall Street.  Therefore, his net contributions suit the Republicans just fine. The President thus has reason to believe that he would play hell getting anyone else confirmed, should he ask TG to step down,,  Therefore, we are stuck with Tim.  Chief of Staff Bill Dailey is also from the business community, as well as from the Chicago insiders group, and will probably not effect anything salient.  Obama has invited such corporate luminaries as Jeff Immelt of “Pay no taxes GE” fame to try to come up with a jobs plan. The mind boggles,

Nicholas Kristof wrote an excellent op-ed for The New York Times entitled “America’s Primal Scream“, in which he addresses the OWS movement.  From the article:

 ’It’s fascinating that many Americans intuitively understood the outrage and frustration that drove Egyptians to protest at Tahrir Square, but don’t comprehend similar resentments that drive disgruntled fellow citizens to “occupy Wall Street.”

How true is that?  Of course, with Glenn Beck shrieking that the protesters will drag you from your bed and kill you, and Eric Cantor’s references to “the mob” {as opposed to the hard-working patriots of the Tea Party who were merely exercising their First Amendment right to free assembly), it’s sort of easy to see how anyone with a rightward inclination could get this wrong.  However, I’m amazed at the paucity of media coverage that OWS has merited until very recently.    Kristof continues:

Yet my interviews with protesters in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park seemed to rhyme with my interviews in Tahrir earlier this year. There’s a parallel sense that the political/economic system is tilted against the 99 percent. Al Gore, who supports the Wall Street protests, described them perfectly as a “primal scream of democracy.”

The frustration in America isn’t so much with inequality in the political and legal worlds, as it was in Arab countries, although those are concerns too. Here the critical issue is economic inequity. According to the C.I.A.’s own ranking of countries by income inequality, the United States is more unequal a society than either Tunisia or Egypt.

Three factoids underscore that inequality:

¶The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

The top one percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

¶In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent

And this:

More broadly, there’s a growing sense that lopsided outcomes are a result of tycoons’ manipulating the system, lobbying for loopholes and getting away with murder. Of the 100 highest-paid chief executives in the United States in 2010, 25 took home more paythan their company paid in federal corporate income taxes, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.

Living under Communism in China made me a fervent enthusiast of capitalism. I believe that over the last couple of centuries banks have enormously raised living standards in the West by allocating capital to more efficient uses. But anyone who believes in markets should be outraged that banks rig the system so that they enjoy profits in good years and bailouts in bad years.

The banks have gotten away with privatizing profits and socializing risks, and that’s just another form of bank robbery.

“We have a catastrophically bad misregulation of the financial system,” said Amar Bhidé, a finance expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “Its consequences led to a taint of the entire system of modern enterprise.”

Economists used to believe that we had to hold our noses and put up with high inequality as the price of robust growth. But more recent research suggests the opposite: inequality not only stinks, but also damages economies.

Perhaps Mr. Kristof might be enlightened regarding the lack of understanding of OWS by reading yet another op-ed from the NYT, this one courtesy of Nelson Schwartz and Eric Dash, who have interviewed some members of the Wall Street community. Check this out:

Most people view it as a ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” said one top hedge fund manager.

“It’s not a middle-class uprising,” adds another veteran bank executive. “It’s fringe groups. It’s people who have the time to do this.”

As the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have grown and spread to other cities, an open question is: Do the bankers get it? Their different worldview speaks volumes about the wide chasms that have opened over who is to blame for the continuing economic malaise and what is best for the country.

Some on Wall Street viewed the protesters with disdain, and a degree of caution, as hundreds marched through the financial district on Friday. Others say they feel their pain, but are befuddled about what they are supposed to do to ease it. A few even feel personally attacked, and say the Occupy Wall Street protesters who have been in Zuccotti Park for weeks are just bitter about their own economic fate and looking for an easy target. If anything, they say, people should show some gratitude.

So, let them eat Twinkies?  Maybe even day-old Twinkies?   And be grateful for something or another?   Maybe sex, drugs, and rock and roll?   Oh, my God.

We know that our health care outcomes rank thirty-fifth in the world, our education system between twelfth and fifteenth, and our income disparity is currently sub-Egyptian.  Is this what “American exceptionalism” now means – that everyone else in the world is making progress, except us?  I have no real idea how to fix this, but I would recommend that some thought be put into a rational solution now.  Hell, I’m not ever certain how to corral OWS into a cohesive group and keep it out of the clutches of OFA.  That said, I don’t know how much longer than the people of America – and the world – plan to put up with this.  I would caution our leadership to do something soon, or the 2012 elections will make a tsunami look like a day at the beach.

This is an open thread.


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