Now What?

Winter is fast approaching.

Even if NYC Mayor Bloomberg permits the Occupy Wall Street protesters to camp out until next spring or later, how will this alone accomplish anything? By next spring, if progress isn’t made on more tangible fronts, how many participants will choose to get on with the rest of their lives? And how will OWS compete for media attention once the primary season gets underway?

Michael Kazin, a history prof at Georgetown, has these thoughts:

I think protests like this have to progress from tactic to strategy if they are going to endure…But with no leaders and everything run by consensus, how do you make these decisions?

He goes on to say he thinks it’s likely that OWS end up being “seen as a spark” to spur other people and organizations to address income inequality in more concrete ways.

On the one-month anniversary of OWS, participants seemed OK with the unpredictability of where things were headed (VIDEO), pointing to early civil rights activity as examples of how small actions produced big change. But, as mentioned in the Kazin piece, there’s a distinction between a focused goal (e.g., end segregation) and the broader economic themes of OWS.

It would appear that OWS is, for the moment, content with its leaderless learn-from-one-another way of existing. Heck, meandering can be fun in warm weather. We’ll see if the participants still feel that way if NYC gets socked with one of more major snowstorms in the coming months. Do they want to be merely ‘a spark’ or leaders of change?

Income Gaps and OWS Gets Chilly

Why am I a registered Republican? Because when I registered as a
Republican, I was at the height of my new-found conservatism, having been a liberal in my youth (as so many are). Also, because my disillusionment with liberalism (my own liberalism having been naïve) was so profound, I was taking the full pendulum trip to the other side.

I’m going to remain a registered Republican, although I become less enamored with the sorts of politicians the GOP puts forward (and are currently in office) every day. Income gap polling as an issue? Let’s try to own it!

Speaking of income gaps, Bridgeport, Connecticut is the city in the US with the biggest gap between rich and poor. It’s a blue city in a blue state, if we’re talking political affiliations.

In fact, it’s interesting that the same folks who repeatedly cited how blue states paid more in federal taxes, while red states received more in federal taxes, haven’t been interested in blue state/red state comparisons when it comes to the income gap. Perhaps it’s because states like New York—which is a fairly blue state—rank highest in wealth disparity.

Atlanta, Georgia has the highest income gap between 2005 and 2009. Aha, you say! Georgia is about as red as a state gets! Alas, Atlanta is a decidedly blue pocket in that red, red state.

Washington, DC is also a city with some of the greatest income disparity, according to latest census data.

Interesting, most of the cities with the highest income gaps are blue cities (in terms of both local government and who they tend to vote for in national elections) swimming in seas of red. Atlanta, Dallas, Gainesville, Baton Rouge.

Among the states with the most unequal income, we find California, Connecticut, New York, Louisiana, as well as Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama and D.C., if you want to count them as a state. What does that tell us? That even liberals and Democrats have a very hard time doing anything to effect the income gap, and that even fair progressive policies (such as those employed in California, New York, and Connecticut) don’t necessarily do much in regards to controlling income disparity. Also, that legalized gambling made a lot of people very rich in Mississippi.


I have noted that I expect most protests to have a partying, here-for-the-babes-and-drugs type element. Well, those folks are going to be going home. When the weather starts freezing, the partying is over for the party-people.

Unemployment is higher for veterans. We apparently don’t do much for placement. Clearly, we can and should do better. We spend a great deal on defense, we can’t afford some time spent on placing folks exiting the service?

The gap between rich and poor foods is narrowing. Supposedly. I still think anybody can eat inexpensively with judicious shopping, and perhaps a little gardening. Fast food and restaurant eating (Chipotle? Really) is still, in my experience, a lot more expensive than smart shopping, clipping coupons, and owning a freezer.

Are more taxes and regulation the path to prosperity? Well, Maryland is going to find out, starting (but not stopping) with higher taxes on toilets.

Less regulations under Obama than Bush? But the problem is, Obama’s regulation are more onerous or expensive. Jeeze, you people are never happy.

Can’t Touch This!

M.C. Hammer joins Occupy Wall Street Protestors in Oakland.

Speaking of the Oakland OWS debacle, apparently Oakland police aren’t aware that it’s the 21st century.

If you want to move protestors, clear and area, or even marginalize an amorphous political movement that’s anti-greed and anti-bad-stuff, this is not how you do it.

I have a hard time finding a charitable explanation in regards to this (at the end):
This kind of ham-fisted over-reach and over-reaction is the sort of stuff that protest movements are built on, and thrive on. And that’s been true since The Boston Massacre. At least. It’s not how you get the hippies to settle down and go away.

Apparently M.C. Hammer no longer wears golden parachute pants. Very disappointing. 

By Ashot

NoVa raised this issue and I tracked down an article that quotes some of Oakland’s policies on crowd control and links to the PDs policy manual.
Meanwhile, this article shows some of the various police weapons in action against other crowds.

Thursday Morning Edition

People keep asking what the OWS protesters want. Honestly, I don’t really know. But I do know what some of them are angry about, income inequality, student loan debt, unemployment, crony capitalism, and now that one has been critically injured in Oakland I think the movement, if that’s what they’re calling it, will face a critical test. Can they maintain their commitment to non-violence in the face of law enforcement and city leaders losing patience with their occupations? Also, winter and cold weather are quickly materializing, how will this factor affect their resolve? There is also concern among the protesters themselves that there are anarchists among their ranks which may undermine the peaceful image they’re trying to maintain.

The LA Time has a good rundown of the dilemma facing city officials and police departments across the country. I thought it was a little derelict though that they didn’t mention the Iraqi Vet who was critically injured in Tuesday nights clash with Oakland PD.

Looming large is the cautionary spectacle of Oakland. Police there arrested about 100 protesters before dawn Tuesday, using tear gas and riot gear to break up encampments — only to face a massive evening protest and threats of continued unrest from angry backers of the movement.

Leaders in other cities said they don’t want a repeat of that chaos, but it’s unclear how they will eventually oust protesters who refuse to leave.

Even in Los Angeles, where city leaders have greeted the demonstrators warmly, there are signs of protest fatigue and increasing anxiety about what happens next.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who earlier this month had ponchos distributed to rain-soaked Occupy L.A. protesters, said Wednesday that the encampment next to City Hall “cannot continue indefinitely.”

Villaraigosa has instructed city officials to draft a plan for another location for the demonstration.

Here’s a little more about the wounded protester and highlights of attempts to break up the occupation.

OAKLAND, Calif (Reuters) – More than 1,000 activists protesting economic inequality reclaimed a downtown Oakland plaza late on Wednesday, a day after demonstrators were driven out and an Iraq war veteran was critically hurt in clashes with police.

The severe injury of Scott Olsen, 24, a former U.S. Marine who friends said served two tours of duty in Iraq, became a rallying cry among Occupy Wall Street supporters in Oakland and beyond as organizers urged protesters back into the streets.

Police kept their distance as protesters returned to the scene of Tuesday’s confrontations, while protesters largely avoided provoking them, although one activist defiantly set up a single, small tent in the square after midnight.

The “Occupy Wall Street” protests, which began in New York City last month, take issue with a financial system they say most benefits corporations and the wealthy. They are critical of U.S. government bailouts of big banks, high unemployment and economic inequality.

Loosely organized protest groups have since sprung up across the United States and in countries around the world. Tensions were building in several cities where authorities have been treading a fine line between allowing peaceful protest and addressing concerns about trespassing, noise and safety.

In an early morning raid in Atlanta, police evicted dozens of protesters from a downtown park and arrested 53 who refused to leave. They were allowed to camp in the park for three weeks, but Mayor Kasim Reed said he decided to evict them because of fire code violations and crowd control issues.

Kristof discusses some of the issues he thinks are driving the protests.

That alarmist view of the movement is a credit to the (prurient) imagination of its critics, and voyeurs of Occupy Wall Street will be disappointed. More important, while alarmists seem to think that the movement is a “mob” trying to overthrow capitalism, one can make a case that, on the contrary, it highlights the need to restore basic capitalist principles like accountability.

To put it another way, this is a chance to save capitalism from crony capitalists.

But, in recent years, some financiers have chosen to live in a government-backed featherbed. Their platform seems to be socialism for tycoons and capitalism for the rest of us. They’re not evil at all. But when the system allows you more than your fair share, it’s human to grab. That’s what explains featherbedding by both unions and tycoons, and both are impediments to a well-functioning market economy.

Capitalism is so successful an economic system partly because of an internal discipline that allows for loss and even bankruptcy. It’s the possibility of failure that creates the opportunity for triumph. Yet many of America’s major banks are too big to fail, so they can privatize profits while socializing risk.

The upshot is that financial institutions boost leverage in search of supersize profits and bonuses. Banks pretend that risk is eliminated because it’s securitized. Rating agencies accept money to issue an imprimatur that turns out to be meaningless. The system teeters, and then the taxpayer rushes in to bail bankers out. Where’s the accountability.

Sunday Funnies and Liz Warren

Maybe I’m wrong, it sure wouldn’t be the first time, but I think the middle class has finally woken up to the fact that the deck is stacked against them. I hope we’ve realized we don’t need a savior, we’re on our own, that much is clear. But people are finally expressing their anger and frustration outside of the voting booth so maybe someone will get the hint. I’m a little cynical, they just passed another free trade deal that most Americans didn’t want, so who knows what’s really going on. A Liz Warren in the Senate may be able to level the playing field a little, that’s the hope anyway.

People are frustrated with Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike. Congressional approval hovers below 15% and Obama’s not faring all that well in the polls himself. Whether, as some claim, we believe the so-called liberal media blitz blaming “Wall Street” for our woes or you believe the conservative claim that “government” was largely to blame, it’s tough to deny that we’re having trouble climbing out of this recession. While the economy would undoubtedly have been worse without TARP, “Main Street” isn’t in recovery yet. The Tea Party and the OWS protesters aren’t characters in a children’s book, an Ayn Rand novel or science fiction, they’re real people with real concerns for their future. It’s pretty obvious conservatives are worried about Liz Warren. Scott Brown’s campaign coffers have grown substantially since she announced her Senate run.

She had gained millions of supporters. With her passionate defense of America’s beleaguered middle class, under assault today from seemingly every direction, she had become like a modern-day Mr. Smith, giving voice to regular citizens astonished at the failure of Washington to protect Main Street—and what increasingly appeared to be its abandonment of middle-class America.

If you read this piece in Vanity Fair you’ll discover why she appeals to many of us, and also why she might just be a little different from the usual beltway corporate sponsored politician. I know, I know, corporations are people too, but oddly enough, so are people.

Arrayed against Warren, and today against the very existence of the C.F.P.B., was the full force of what many, most notably Simon Johnson, the M.I.T. professor and former International Monetary Fund chief economist, have called the American financial oligarchy: Wall Street firms and banks supported mainly by Republican members of Congress, but also politicians on the other side of the aisle, along with members of Obama’s own inner circle.

She has enemies in the White House and particularly at Treasury. There’s no love lost between Warren and Geithner, especially after her questions during heated oversight hearings. Chris Dodd wasn’t particularly thrilled having her in charge of setting up the CFPB, he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about bringing transparency or consumer protections to the banking industry in the first place. Does anyone miss Chris Dodd?

Reid asked Warren to head the congressional panel overseeing the $700 billion bailout. The job was vague, with no clear goals, but Warren would turn it into a tough, prosecutorial committee. She did real investigations, grilled government officials, and issued blunt monthly reports demanding more accountability from banks and better returns for the taxpayer. She held public hearings that were televised, asking the questions that many taxpayers wanted asked—and questions that bankers and Treasury officials did not want to answer. Perhaps the most widely watched hearing is the one that took place in September 2009. A video of part of that hearing can still be found on YouTube, under the title “Elizabeth Warren Makes Timmy Geithner Squirm.” It opens with Warren asking the question that was on the minds of many taxpayers: “A.I.G. has received about $70 billion in TARP money, about $100 billion in loans from the Fed. Do you know where the money went?” What followed during the rest of the hearing was the spectacle of the Treasury secretary tripping over his words, his eyes darting around the room as Warren, calm and prosecutorial, kept hammering him with questions.

She wasn’t always a Democrat. Her first big foray into bankruptcy, via a study she conducted to uncover fraud, had a much different result than she expected.

In 1978, Congress had passed a law that made it easier for companies and individuals to declare bankruptcy. Warren decided to investigate the reasons why Americans were ending up in bankruptcy court. “I set out to prove they were all a bunch of cheaters,” she said in a 2007 interview. “I was going to expose these people who were taking advantage of the rest of us.” What she found, after conducting with two colleagues one of the most rigorous bankruptcy studies ever, shook her deeply. The vast majority of those in bankruptcy courts, she discovered, were from hardworking middle-class families, people who lost jobs or had “family breakups” or illnesses that wiped out their savings. “It changed my vision,” she said.

And of course the vigor with which the banking sector and Republicans continue to vilify, demean, and label her will only increase the support and campaign donations she receives in response.

In those speeches, sometimes using slides filled with numbers and graphs, she would, as she did at a speech in Manhattan in early June, outline the impact on middle-class Americans of rising health-care costs, burgeoning debt, and the depletion of not only their savings but also, with the rise in joblessness, their confidence. She spoke of “the Wild West” conditions deregulation had created, where banks could sell virtually any product they wanted, on any terms: mortgages they knew consumers could not pay off, credit cards whose rates they could raise at whim, products that came with a mind-boggling array of penalty fees, many of them not fully disclosed. But it was her final remarks that brought down the standing-room-only house in June. “We cannot run our country without a strong middle class. We cannot run a democracy without a strong middle class,” she said, her voice quavering slightly. “If we hollow out the middle class,” she said, “then the country we know is gone.”

But while audiences applauded her, Warren’s opponents lacerated her. She was called incompetent, power-hungry, ignorant, a media whore, and, in a widely televised moment, a liar, by a Republican congressman during a hearing in May. “It was like she was the Antichrist,” says Roger Beverage, the president of the Oklahoma Bankers Association and one of the few bankers who publicly supported her. She had become the lightning rod for the opposition to the C.F.P.B.

Her critics characterize her as an elitist or a shark in school marms clothing, but while she speaks the language of the middle class, she also knows the secret handshakes and tricks of the trade of the financial elite. It’s no wonder they’ve spent so much money trying to keep her away from the levers of power.

That bluntness was evident in an interview even in late May, when Warren, who learned only in July that she wouldn’t get the job, still believed that Obama might ask her to run the C.F.P.B. “It’s money and power, the only two things we are talking about here,” she said, speaking of the people who were trying to kill the C.F.P.B. “in the back alleys,” as she put it. “There are many who are rich and powerful who say the system works fine as it is,” she continued. “America had been a boom-and-bust economy going into the Great Depression—just over and over and over, fortunes were wiped out, ordinary families were crushed under it. Coming out of the Great Depression we said, We can build a structure that makes us all safer. And notice, it’s from the end of the Great Depression to the 1980s that we built America’s middle class. That’s when we got stronger as a country. That’s when that big, solid, boring, hardworking, play-by-the-rules group in the middle emerged and defined what America was. You still had the ability to become a billionaire, but the center stayed strong and, notice, provided opportunity for growth, opportunity for getting ahead, opportunity that your kids were going to do better than you did. That was what defined America. And then we started, inch by inch, pulling the threads out of that regulatory fabric, starting in the 1980s.”

We’ll see how tough she is, she’ll need it, but I believe she’s got what it takes to both win and make a difference. There will be a lot of eyes on the Senate race in Massachusetts.

Marketing OWS (Sat. Open Thread) unless someone comes up with something better

We could have some fun with this today. Oct. 15th. is the day OWS, or versions of it, goes global so it’s high time we advertise and capitalize it. I love the stock quotes in there.

A few comments from “hedge fund” and “bankster” types:

Citi’s CEO Vikram Pandit said at a breakfast meeting on Wednesday that he’d be happy to meet with protesters, and he added that their sentiments were “completely understandable,” according to reports by Bloomberg and Fortune magazine.

“Trust has been broken between financial institutions and the citizens of the U.S., and that is Wall Street’s job to reach out to Main Street and rebuild that trust,” Pandit said.

What better way to do it than a corporate sponsorship? Doesn’t “Occupy Wall Street By Citigroup” sound more friendly? And wouldn’t America make a faster comeback if corporations would simply pay people to protest against them?

Bill Gross, co-founder of PIMCO, one of the world’s largest investment firms, put his jingle on Twitter on Tuesday: “Class warfare by the 99%? Of course, they’re fighting back after 30 years of being shot at.”

Bank of America /quotes/zigman/190927/quotes/nls/bac BAC -0.48% : “If you like anarchy and chaos, you’ll love the court filings in our foreclosure cases.”

Samuel Adams /quotes/zigman/131652/quotes/nls/sam SAM +2.02% : “Boston beer: Never as harsh as Boston police.”

Netflix /quotes/zigman/87598/quotes/nls/nflx NFLX -0.83% : “We stopped saying ‘Qwikster.’ You stop should stop staying ‘Bankster.’”

United Airlines /quotes/zigman/617037/quotes/nls/ual UAL -0.72% : “We love people with too much baggage.”

General Electric /quotes/zigman/227468/quotes/nls/ge GE +2.34% : “Thanks for paying your taxes so we don’t have to.”

BP /quotes/zigman/247026/quotes/nls/bp BP +2.92% : “Why does there always have to be this Gulf between us?”

Dr. Pepper /quotes/zigman/507521/quotes/nls/dps DPS +0.25% : “Be a Pepper. Don’t be pepper sprayed.”

Blackberry /quotes/zigman/18534/quotes/nls/rimm RIMM +1.52% : “Could you please try texting whatever it is that you’re so mad about, again.”

Sotheby’s /quotes/zigman/241211/quotes/nls/bid BID +0.70% : “Next time you unwashed hippie activists go barging into to one of our fine auctions, buy something.”

Occupy Wall Street

This photo has been making the rounds on Facebook. . . rumor also has it that it has been photoshopped to add people. I don’t know one way or the other, but I loved this comment that I saw posted on it: What they forget, when they scuttle the economy and put alot of people out of work, those people have alot of time on their hands.

Open Thread Friday

Not to beat a dead horse from yesterday and again today, but here are a few pics from the “We are the 99%” OWS “radicals”, not from the protest signs, but the messages they really want heard. I’m enjoying watching people, especially young ones, finally get up and express their fears, anger and solidarity with one another in an attempt to change their future. I’m an old softie, I admit it, so I found some of these messages of personal misfortune very poignant.

I missed this from earlier in the week.

Tens of millions of U.S. citizens remain burdened with mortgages they can no longer afford, in addition to soaring credit card bills and sky high student loans.

Trillions of dollars in outstanding consumer debt is stifling demand for goods and services and that’s one reason economists say cash-rich U.S. companies are reluctant to hire and unemployment remains stubbornly high.

In an August appearance on CNBC, Roach said debt forgiveness would help consumers get through “the pain of deleveraging sooner rather than later.” But it’s not just the liberal economists and doom-and-gloom financial analysts calling for a great haircut.

Even some institutional investors, who might suffer some of the impact of debt reductions on their portfolios, are seeing a need for a creative solution to the mess.

“If there is something constructive that can be done it should be,” said Ash Williams, executive director of the Florida State Board of Administration, which oversees $145 billion in public investments and pension money.

“You don’t want to reward bad behavior and you don’t want to reward people who were irresponsible.

But if there is a way to do well by doing good, then let’s take a look at it.” To be sure, consumer debt levels have been coming down since the crisis began.

Here are a couple of interesting reads from Tom Engelhardt and Andy Kroll over at TomDispatch (just one of those financially esoteric economic blogs I enjoy reading).

Tom on the protesters:

It’s true, as many have pointed out, that they don’t have a list of well thought out demands, but the demand to have such a list is just their elders trying to bring them to heel. The fact is, they don’t have to know just what they’re doing, any more than a writer or filmmaker has to understand the book being written or the film shot. It’s not a necessity. It’s not the price of admission. If there’s one thing that’s obvious and heartening, as my friend, the novelist Beverly Gologorsky, said to me while we oldsters circumnavigated the park, “The overwhelming feeling I have is that no one here is planning to go home any time soon.”

Andy on the Lost Decade:

Food pantries picked over. Incomes drying up. Shelters bursting with the homeless. Job seekers spilling out the doors of employment centers. College grads moving back in with their parents. The angry and disillusioned filling the streets.

Pan your camera from one coast to the other, from city to suburb to farm and back again, and you’ll witness scenes like these. They are the legacy of the Great Recession, the Lesser Depression, or whatever you choose to call it.

In recent months, a blizzard of new data, the hardest of hard numbers, has laid bare the dilapidated condition of the American economy, and particularly of the once-mighty American middle class. Each report sparks a flurry of news stories and pundit chatter, but never much reflection on what it all means now that we have just enough distance to look back on the first decade of the twenty-first century and see how Americans fared in that turbulent period.

And yet the verdict couldn’t be more clear-cut. For the American middle class, long the pride of this country and the envy of the world, the past 10 years were a bust. A washout. A decade from hell.

A note from me:

I’m apologizing in advance for only really caring about health care and the economy. I’m an old political activist who cut her teeth in the 60’s and while I care about and participate in politics, I am very cynical regarding the political landscape and so I tend to keep my posts focused on areas of my greatest concern. I did notice though that Obama seems to be channeling Harry Truman lately.

Also, if you make me laugh you’ll get a big virtual hug. Haaaaaahaaaaaaa

%d bloggers like this: