Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street’

John Heilemann on Occupy Wall Street

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

When Barack Obama ran for president four years ago, he was referred to by some as a “blank slate” upon which people of different walks of life were able to project their own hopes and fears. To some on the Right, he was a dangerous radical who “paaaled around with terrorists.” To some on the Left he was secretly more liberal than he let on. To many in the middle he seemed genuinely likely to bridge the differences between the two parties. Similarly, people on the Left and Right have radically different visions for what Occupy Wall Street should be standing for and have predicted significantly different outcomes. For mainstream liberals such as myself, Occupy Wall Street was seen as a sort of Tea Party on the Left that could mobilize support for Democratic causes and put some spine in the backs of Democratic politicians. Meanwhile, some on the Right predicted a 1968 style backlash as the Occupy Movement increased their level of confrontation with local police forces.

A recent John Heilemann article in a New York Magazine gives some new insight into the Occupy Wall Street movement as well as some reasons why both sides might be incorrect in their assumptions. Heilmann notes that one large difference between the Vietnam War Protests and the Occupy Movement is the amount of support for the movement’s general goals.

Where OWS departs from precedent is in the breadth of support from the get-go for its overarching critique in the electorate at large. A November NBC–Wall Street Journal poll found that more than three quarters of voters agree that America’s economic structure unfairly favors the very rich over everyone else, and that the power of banks and corporations should be constrained.“It took three years from the start of the anti–Vietnam War movement to the point when the popularity of the war sank below 50 percent,” observes Columbia professor and social-movement historian Todd Gitlin. “Here, achieving the equivalent took three minutes.”

To be sure, support for goals and support for tactics are two different things, but except for a few slips, Democrats have generally been successful at expressing sympathy with the goals of the movement, while not formally embracing the Occupy Movement. The events of the past few months have made it increasingly clear that this was a wise decision and that they should keep their distance until they have a better sense of how the movement will play out.

Perhaps Heilmann’s greater insight is into the internal debates that are occuring between the leaders of the movement regarding tactics and goals. He draws a distinction between

two broad strains within OWS: the radical reformism of social democrats…who want to see a more humane and egalitarian form of capitalism and a government less corrupted by money, (and) the radical utopianism of the movement’s anarchists and Marxists, who seek to replace our current economic and political arrangements with … who knows what?

Heilmann quotes Max Berger from the “social democratic” wing of OWS:  “My fear is that we become the worst of the New Left,” Berger says. “I don’t want to live in a fucking commune. I don’t want to blow shit up. I want to get stuff done,” He contrasts Berger’s focus with that of Vlad Teichberg, an organizer with a more sweeping and idealistic view of the movement:  “We’re talking about changing our society, so we no longer measure each other in terms of money, but based on fundamental things. What makes us special is not what we are against but what we are for: equality, unity, mutual respect. Those are very important elements of this new human system we want to build.”

More importantly, Heilmann points to this difference of opinion as a main reason that Occupy Wall Street has not presented any “demands”: they can’t agree on what those demands should be and any attempt to force agreement could potentially alienate one side or the other and thus stunt the growth of the movement.

In my opinion, understanding this tension is key to understanding Occupy Wall Street’s actions to date as well as predicting their behavior going forward. People like myself can suggest agenda’s for Occupy Wall Street all day long, but the the movement isn’t ours to command, nor is it likely to be easily co-opted into existing Democratic political structures.

A more likely outcome is that Occupy Wall Street will continue to set its own agenda and will periodically join with more established organizations (such as labor groups) to support certain issues. The 1968 scenario is certainly a possibility, and if occupy protesters disrupt the National Conventions, it’s not hard to imagine whiners like Eric Cantor and demagogues like Rudy Giuliani turning their convention into a forum to blame the protesters behavior on Barack Obama’s call for the top 2% of earners to pay a few more percent of their income to the government.

Whether these tactics will work is still very much an open question, but understanding the internal forces that are driving the debate is key to predicting the outcome.

Occupy Wall Street Phase II

Monday, November 28th, 2011

You cant evict an idea

Last week, when the NYPD kicked the tents out of Zuccotti Park and Occupy protests were staged in 50 states across the country, Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow had some great coverage on the question I had been asking since the beginning: What’s Next?

As I noted before, Occupy Wall Street has already had a significant effect on national politics, by changing the national conversation away from deficits and austerity and back to what has been the American people’s true priority since the economic collapse: the economy and jobs. Still, what started as a protest against the undue power of corporations and income inequality now risks becoming bogged down in a series of conflicts between local authorities and campers in public parks. Melissa Harris-Perry made the point on Rachel Maddow’s show that the focus on the “right” to camp out in public parks had pitted Occupy Wall Street against big city mayors who, after all, often share a goal that that many of the protesters are in favor of: trying to provide social services in the face of dwindling budgets. In effect, these people are the 99% as well, and to get drawn into a protracted series of battles with the local police forces misses the point. 

It’s not about the parks and it’s never been about the parks. It’s about something bigger.

Not only does the focus on the parks tend to distract from the larger message, but the continued presence of the camps has the possibility to turn public opinion against the movement, effectively neutering it and in the process taking down the only people who can enact their agenda, the Democratic party. Greg Sargent has had some of the best analysis of this possibility, pointing out the importance of working class swing voters to the election results in the 2008 and 2010 elections and drawing attention to the most high profile attempt to use Occupy Wall Street as a wedge issue: the Republican attacks against Elizabeth Warren in her Massachusetts Senate race. This is a familiar strategy that Republicans have used successfully since the late 60′s: appealing to working class white voters on the basis of culture. The argument in this case sounds something like this: “those people in the streets might be fighting for your economic interests, but you don’t want to join in with those liberal city folk, do you? Wouldn’t you rather stay with the party of Law and Order, Guns and God?” 

Of course, this is a ridiculous argument, but these cultural arguments have worked wonders for Republicans through the years and recent polling shows that they may be working again. As clashes with the police have become more frequent, Occupy Wall Street’s poll numbers have fallen, with many beginning to turn against the movement, despite the fact that they continued to support many of their goals.

The day before Occupy Wall Street’s tents were evicted from Zuccotti Park, one of the intellectual fathers of the Occupy Movement, suggested a tactical retreat might be in order:

We declare “victory” and throw a party … a festival … a potlatch … a jubilee … a grand gesture to celebrate, commemorate, rejoice in how far we’ve come, the comrades we’ve made, the glorious days ahead. Imagine, on a Saturday yet to be announced, perhaps our movement’s three month anniversary on December 17, in every #OCCUPY in the world, we reclaim the streets for a weekend of triumphant hilarity and joyous revelry.

We dance like we’ve never danced before and invite the world to join us.

Then we clean up, scale back and most of us go indoors while the die-hards hold the camps. We use the winter to brainstorm, network, build momentum so that we may emerge rejuvenated with fresh tactics, philosophies, and a myriad projects ready to rumble next Spring.

Perhaps more important than whether this movement continues to camp in public parks is the question of what it proposes to do about the conditions that it has drawn attention to. It has now been over two months and the movement has come a long way, but if it’s not clear what you want to do, then it’s difficult to get people to join you. To this end, sometimes spokesman for OWS, Jesee LaGreca offers the following on Daily Kos:

It is time to TAX THE RICH

It is time to END THE WARS

It is time to restore Glass-Steagal

It is time to repeal Citizens United

It is time to get the money OUT OF POLITICS

It is time to invest in infrastructure and education

It is time to STOP busting labor unions, whether private or public

It is time to defend Medicare and Social Security tooth and nail from phony reforms or baloney cuts

It is time to STOP the spending cuts and start investing in America, and if we have to raise taxes on the rich and corporations in order to force them to invest in America, then so be it.

It is time to make higher education affordable, to offer students debt relief, and to provide funding for education, and stop blaming honest teachers and educators and for the failures of an underfunded system.

It is time to STOP the racist and discriminatory practice of “Stop and Frisk” and other tactics of racial profiling

It is time for civil rights for ALL, and that means equal rights for LGBT Americans to serve our military and marry whom ever they will

It is time for ACCOUNTABILITY for the men who lied us into war and crashed our economy

It is time for immigration reform that does not punish workers, but provides a clear pathway to citizenship for everyone

It is time for investigations that lead to prosecutions on Wall Street in response to the crimes that have been committed in the last decade.

It is time for a serious discussion about the Federal Reserve and it’s role in this economic disaster

It is time for universal health care that everyone can afford. It is time to talk about Single Payer Health Care.

It is time for alternative green energy instead of Oil and Coal.

It is time to protect our civil liberties and our constitution.

It is time for a discussion about free trade and how it has undermined the working class while enriching only the wealthiest among us.

It is time to end corporate personhood.

There are sooooo many things that need to be fixed, reformed and addressed, and this short list does not do justice to the many grievances that the 99% have, but we must accept the fact that the GOP only serves the rich and the Dem Establishment only serves to cave to the GOP. They are NOT going to help us. We are going to have to do this ourselves.

Not only is the agenda De LaGreca proposes a righteous agenda, it also has the benefit of being in the mainstream of American political ideas, and thus potentially achievable. 

Ultimately, Occupy Wall Street will choose its own agenda and what they do is not for me to decide. What I can say that is that I, and millions of other Americans, will be with them if they adopt an agenda that resembles this, and together we can change America.

Obama and OWS Shift the Debate

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

 occupiers in New York

A few weeks ago, Steve Benen wrote about how that Obama’s push for the Jobs Bill had shifted the terms of debate in this country onto a more favorable playing field for Obama and the Democrats:

For the better part of 2011, the battle lines were drawn in a way that Republicans loved. The only topics of conversation that were permitted dealt with debt reduction, entitlement “reforms,” spending cuts, and austerity. The question wasn’t whether Washington would impose pain on an already-suffering populace, but how much…

The discourse is now a very different place, because the White House had the sense to take a conversational detour. Thanks in part to a concerted p.r. campaign from President Obama, and with some pushes from Occupy Wall Street, the topics that now dominate are about job creation, financial industry responsibility, and tax fairness.

Rachel Maddow provided more evidence of this last week, when she used the simple measurement of how many times the mainstream media brought up the phrase “corporate greed” before Occupy Wall Street and after Occupy Wall Street. The results are dramatic. As Maddow noted, while much of the focus on Occupy Wall Street has been on the lack of answers the movement is providing, Occupy Wall Street has done something more fundamental: it has changed the questions that are being asked.

As I’ve said before, the top issue for the country is the same issue that it’s been for the past 4 years: jobs, jobs, jobs. For the majority of Americans, it was never about ”Obamacare” and it was never about the deficit. These are important issues, but they are not the core issues for most Americans. They were distractions from the jobs crisis that is plauging the entire country, and even more, they were distractions from the issues that predate the jobs crisis: the ongoing erosion of the middle class.

A recent study of income trends by the Congressional Budget Office showed that, in the past 40 years, incomes increased for the top 1% by over 275% on average as compared to a an 18% increase for the bottom 20% and just under 40% for the middle of the income scale. To many Americans, this will just confirm what they already know: the middle class continues to struggle as the rich get richer.

What looks to be a long term presence of the Occupy Wall Street movement guarantees that these issues will continue to be covered in the news. This is good news for Democrats. To be sure, Democrats have been part of the problem when it comes to regulating big business in America. Even with a 60 vote majority in the Senate, they still didn’t have the votes for a Wall Street reform bill with any teeth. But there’s a difference between being a part of the problem and being a wholly owned subsidiary of the large corporations and top 1% of earners.

As Jonathan Alter notes:

a healthy rebalancing of the national conversation is…under way. The Tea Party directed public anger against the federal government in general and President Barack Obama in particular; Occupy Wall Street directs that ire against Wall Street in general and — inevitably — Romney in particular.

This will have no effect on Romney in the Republican primaries, of course, but in a general election it could make him the poster boy of the big banks that many see as the cause of their woes. The specifics of his record running Bain Capital LLC will be subsumed in the image of his rationalizing the actions (resisting any tax increases) of the “1 percenters.”

But an even more important than the highlighting the consequences of Republican laissez-faire economic policies would be for Occupy Wall Street to put some steel in Obama and the Democrats’ spines and convince them that there is broad support for common sense regulations on big business and other policies that shore up the middle class.

Time will tell, but the events of the past few weeks offer some hope.

Iraq War Vet Criticaly Injured at Occupy Oakland Demonstration

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Lance Corporal Scott Olsen made it home after two tours of duty in Iraq, but was critically injured two days ago at the hands of the Oakland Police Department when what looks like a tear gas cannister was fired at his head from close range.

This is shocking enough, what watch what happens when fellow protestors try to come to his aid and officers shoot another cannister into the crowd of people trying to assist the wounded veteran.


Occupy Wall Street National Convention Could Change America

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Occupy Wall Street has plans for a National Convention in 2012(!)

Brilliant idea.

Look out.

The Promise of Occupy Wall Street

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

A protester holds a sign at the Occupy Wall Street protest last weekend

In 2009 when the Republicans looked like they were about to vanish from the political scene in the United States I was debating online with one of my regular Republican sparring partners and I said something about how the Republicans didn’t stand a chance in the next elections.

He said simply: “we’ll see. There is a great stirring out there.”

He turned out to be right, and 2010 followed 2008.

It’s hard to tell what the ultimate effect of the Occupy Wall Street movement will be on American politics, but it’s clear that the protestors are tapping into something significant and that this could have huge implications for our politics. A month into the movement, protests broke out yesterday in 951 cities across 82 countries.

Most of the criticisms of the movement center on a lack of clarity on their agenda, but a few things seem clear: they’re protesting a system where entrenched special interests call the shots and everyone else pays the price.

No matter what side of the political fence you’re on, it should be clear that the U.S. political system has still not dealt with the problems that led to the Great Recession and the underlying economic and political institutions that enabled those problems. Three years after the economic collapse, we have a real unemployment rate that is close to 15%, a huge deficit problem, the highest spending in years, the lowest taxes in a few generations and a Congress that would rather spend their time casting symbolic votes for a Balanced Budget Amendment than actually coming up with a plan that asks for sacrifice on the part of anyone except the most vulnerable in our society. Their solution to deal with the unprecedented deficits is to give even more tax breaks to the wealthy and dismantle the already frayed American social safety net that so many people fought so hard to create.

The ultimate result of the Tea Party elections in 2010 is that the Congress has been taken over by a small minority of zealots who have done nothing to deal with the problem that most Americans are concerned about: the persistently high unemployment rate. Since the March 2009 lows, the stock market has been on a tear as corporate profits have steadily increased, but the unemployment rate has stayed stubbornly high and now close to 1/3 of Americans are underwater on their mortgages. Meanwhile, the banks that hold these mortgages get money at zero interest from the government which they then turn around and gamble in rigged capital markets that almost guarantee profits.

Moderate legislation to control those banks is opposed by that same small band of ideological zealots who protect these powerful interests and their cowardly Democratic friends who live in fear of being called Socialists for breaking up a cartel that lets four institutions control almost 40%  and ten institutions control 60% of the assets in this country.

Three years after the Republicans were defeated soundly in the 2008 elections, the Bush tax cuts still remain in effect even though the numbers of people who would rather see tax increases on the top 2% before they see cuts in government spending ranges from two-thirds to three quarters of American’s. Once again, even attempts to increase those taxes to the levels they were during the greatest economic boom in twenty years is decried as Socialism.

Meanwhile, the trends on income disparity are even more dramatic. From 1952 to 1982, the percentage of wealth made by the top 10% remained fairly steady at around 35%. Beginning in 1982 the percentage of income made by the top 10% began to increase dramatically. By 2007, at the height of the Bush economy, the top 10% earned more than 50% of the wages in America.  During the same years, middle class incomes remained stagnant and poverty actually increased.

Republicans continue to say that the country is “broke,” but they oppose any attempts to cut back on our military presence around the world while our internal infrastructure continues to crumble and (does anyone see a pattern emerging?) any attempts to make investments in America are decried as Socialism.

Enough already.

Anyone but the Fox addled (and that is apparently a significant segment of America) can see that the Tea Party missed the mark: that the problems of this country don’t end with cutting taxes and starving government; that it’s a galling contradiction to vehemently oppose the bailout and then completely punt when given a chance to support regulations that would prevent the need for the next bailout; that the real problem  is a system that is so controlled by special interests that it makes real change almost impossible, no matter who is in control of Congress.

Many of these problems are intractable and systemic, but others can be remedied with some common sense measures. Occupy Wall Street and their supporters should push for a constitutional amendment rolling back the Citizens United case. I’ll leave the drafting to the lawyers, but an amendment should give the government the power to regulate campaign contributions, should stipulate that corporations are not entitled to the same rights as citizens and that giving money to political contributors shall not be considered speech. Constitutional Amendments are extraordinarily difficult to pass, but the prolonged effort needed will help to create a movement and politicians who believe that giving money is the same thing as speech and corporations are people,” will have to answer for that.

Unfortunately, it may be a long time before conditions are right for Congress to revisit financial reform, but that shouldn’t stop Occupy Wall Street and their allies from pushing for it. 

There are a few premises that should be self evident to anyone who thinks about it for a moment or two:

  1. If a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist
  2. Allowing four companies control 40% of the assets in the country isn’t healthy
  3. Banks should not be able to run what are effectively hedge funds out of the back door of their banks.  Make a choice: you are either a hedge fund or a bank. Not both.

Regarding income inequality, when the top 1% control 35% of the wealth in a country and the top 20% control over 85% of the wealth in a country, that is a real problem and it needs to be dealt with. Not only should the rich be paying higher taxes in this country, but the upper middle class should be as well. 

As I said initially, it’s far to early to predict the effect of Occupy Wall Street on American politics. The demonstrator’s demands may not fit within the range of possibilities of our sclerotic political system, un which case they will become an interesting footnote in American history. Still, this movement has potential and I’m cheered by the fact that the Left is finally waking up in this country and that there may finally be a counterweight to the corrosive efforts of the Tea Party.

Photos from Occupy SF

Saturday, October 15th, 2011


The 99% are waking up.

Something’s Happenin’ Here

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

And it looks big.

Whiner of the Month

Thursday, October 13th, 2011


This guy has to be the consensus choice for whiner of the month.

Shocking that some people in Washington might condone “the pitting of Americans against Americans.”

Man these guys have short memories. As soon as Bush got on that helicopter and headed back to Texas they forgot about all of the debt he ran up over the previous 8 years, and now they seem to have forgotten that they spent the last two years vehemently supporting a movement that was all about “pitting Americans against Americans.”

It makes me so mad that I want to go out to a rally and paint a Hitler moustache on my John Boehner sign.