Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Denver: the 1%'s betrayal of playing by the rules and the American dream

Saturday, a large Occupy Denver protest marched through downtown. Certainly the depravity of Governor Hickenlooper, using the riot squad to clear out the nonviolent demonstrators and their encampment in front of the State House was part of it. As with Mayor Wall Street Bloomberg in New York (sometimes as about the Islamic Center on on keeping more black and latin teenagers in school and off the prison/probation pipeline, Bloomberg gets it; on this central issue, however, he is a caricature), the right of each person to freedom of speech and assembly, to petition peacefully for the redress of grievance (the First Amendment), nonviolent, willing to clean the park space, was nothing; the will of a petty tyrant everything. My friend Craig Svonkin saw the police cars parked up on the lawn Thursday night, doing a good bit of damage, while busting demonstrators for ostensibly “dirtying the lawn.”

There was an amazing spirit to Saturday’s march, as if many, many people had abruptly woken up. Many, who had hated what is going on in America but thought they were alone, now saw everyone else…

The older or younger who could not come because of work during the week and the young, black, latin and white, were there, each with their own, handmade and often very cogent signs ("$ do not equal speech," for example, or "the people are too big to fail"). The signs were endlessly fascinating, a flourishing of democracy, and a stark contrast to occasional efforts by some leaders in the anti-Iraq war movement (those who had worked on Democratic campaigns) to control democracy by preprinting signs.

There was as much sentiment for revolution – that capitalism really is no good, and that some other, more humane system needs to replace it – as that the problem is banker greed (and that through the resurrection of Glass-Steagall, barring banks from speculative investing – credit default swaps, collateral debt obligations and the like – small business could become resurgent). The march took over the 16th street mall and filled Broadway: we marched down the middle of the street.

Eventually, nearly 1,000 people sat and held a meeting for several hours on Broadway between Colfax and 14th, an act of civil disobedience. And another equally large meeting formed up in the nearby park to discuss the issues for those who did not want to be arrested.

Several hours later, the police arrested about 20 (the police are cautious or more attentive to the law in part because of the experience of law suits after the wanton brutality at the Democratic Convention in 2008, partly because the support for this movement is massive, international and growing by the hour).

A 26 year old unemployed woman crystallized much of the force of these marches. She had played the game, sought American opportunity. She had gone to college, acquired a vast debt, briefly held a job and is unemployed. On Facebook, I put up a picture from Occupy Wall Street of a man holding a sign “Ph.D., three post-docs, no job, will work for food.” His sign leaves out the debt and the ticking debt-slavery…

Many of the young people (and many of the rest of us) worked for Obama. That, too, has been a betrayal (a fierce movement from below, including lots of civil disobedience, might get that vision of a green economy, public works jobs and a decent life for many Americans going again…). Like the young and educated in Tunisia and Egypt, this group has joined other workers in the fight (I spent time with several fellow AFT members from Metro, as well as a student who is a union organizer; many workers, including unionists from the SEIU, the construction trades and so forth were there. One of the shining moments, two public workers, one chicano, one black, fixing the streets, were standing on Broadway giving high fives to every demonstrator who passed by). But this new group combines high education with debt slavery. The woman above is analogous to the indebted farmers of the 1930s who helped create a mass farmer-worker radicalism.

In that respect, the protest in America differs from the allied or internationalist Occupy Protests in London, Holland, Berlin, Sydney. In these places, particularly Germany, the public provides money for students to go to school or as workers to be retrained for available jobs, and take on no debt. Even in England, the Tories have slashed education, provoking huge protests this spring, but still, there is no comparable debt-slavery.

Wall Street has let a genie out of the bottle here. I have two wonderful and deeply engaged students working at the forefront of the Palestianian issue – one in Dahisha refugee camp - who told me in a single afternoon three years that they each are in $100,000 of debt for a Master’s Program in International Studies at the University of Denver. One is working for the State Department (not what she would rather be doing; just as a way to pay back debt); the other is a waiter at Le Central Restaurant in Denver. Eventually, the anger at such abuse (the privatization of debt makes usury look tame) is producing a sustained and, very likely, transformative protest.

The article below sent to me by Mike Schwartz on public opinion reveals the startling statistic that 71% of Americans think that "executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 should be prosecuted." 81% observe rightly that the country is run by a few big interests." The division in the country as David Sirota has been saying on the radio, learning from the Occupy movement, is not the false “blue v. red state” division but the 99% versus the 1%. Occupy Wall Street has masterfully named this division – the 'we are the 99%' logo and slogan has become world wide, against the bizarre inequality stemming from the new phases of “globalization.”

Andrew Sullivan had a figure Saturday that the inequality between the top 1% and everyone else was at 1920s levels in the 1990s and is now 10 times as much...

Here are a few interesting figures about how an ever growing number of people feel. With the intensity of these demonstrations, more and more will be moved to action…

“* 86 percent think that ‘Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington’

* 79 percent think that ‘the gap between rich and poor in the United States has grown too large’

* 71 percent think that ‘executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008
should be prosecuted’

* 68 percent think that ‘the rich should pay more taxes,’ and 73 percent of all respondents favor raising taxes on
millionaires."

"The poll also found an extremely high level of cynicism regarding US politics: 60 percent say ‘that the political debate in Washington and the media do not represent’ their communities' concerns, while only 4 percent are ‘feeling positive about the state of the country today.’ Respondents have a strong dislike for both major parties, and hate the Democrats only marginally less than they hate the Republicans. This despair was one factor that enabled the Tea Party to garner significant public sympathy in 2009-10. But in the past year or so there seems to have been a rather precipitous decline in sympathy and support for the Tea Party as people have come to see through its populist, "outsider" façade. While an August 2010 poll here found that 52 percent "feel sympathy" for the Tea Party, the recent TIME poll found that only 27 percent have a ‘favorable’ view of it, and only 6 percent consider themselves ‘member[s] or follower[s].’”

"These latest findings are consistent with previous polls, which place the public far to the left of all Congressional Republicans and most Democrats on most major issues. The public is fiercely distrustful of corporate power here and thinks that workers should have far more income here, workplace protections here and political influence here than they do. Strong majorities believe that the government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to food, education, and health care here . On tax and spending issues, polls here have repeatedly confirmed that majorities favor large cuts to the military budget, higher taxes on the wealthy, and government stimulus spending to create jobs; this trend holds true for polls from the last two months here. Yet public disgust with the unrepresentative nature of US politics and what Edward Herman and David Peterson call ‘the unelected dictatorship of money’ is sky-high. One 2010 poll from the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that an astounding 81 percent of the US public thinks that their country ‘is pretty much run by a few big interests.’ See here."

The Occupy Denver march surrounded the Fed as well as the private banks. A vocal Ron Paul contingent was there, shouting "End the Fed." There is a possibility, through this movement of a real discussion between the anti-war left and right. As I have noted, Paul is excellent on the harms of militarism (see here). His libertarianism is unfortunately twisted by racism (many of the tea party hate urban life, in which they fear blacks and chicanos as the “other”; one of my tea-party readers who has temporarily lost himself, wants the police to break the heads of the “lazy” Occupy Denver people – and this in response to nonviolence; does he want the Ron Paul supporters’ heads smashed, too?). Paul wants only small business and local power and sees the federal government alone as the enemy (Democrats who have been sucked into supporting the mad belligerence of the U.S. even under Obama should think twice before they see this as merely an error).

The Fed is a monopoly, huge and undemocratic (ruled by one leader with a tiny board of advisors). But the Fed did deter a depression, for instance by its secretive loans to banks – as large as the original bail out - which helped to end the freeze on circulation of money between banks.

The private banks, however, are truly disgusting, for instance, Citi, who had demonstrators arrested in New York Saturday for trying to move their money out into credit unions and who charge fees on everything except breathing while in a bank (wait, wait …). Vikram Pandit, the CEO, knew how to talk to the New York Times business page Saturday, but the actions, even forcing a woman back into the bank so she could be arrested, speak loudly.

Nelson D. Schwartz and Eric Dash, two New York Times business reporters, in “In Private, Wall St. Bankers Dismiss Protestors as Unsophisticated,” dragged some marvelous quotes out of Wall Street denizens:

“Some on Wall Street viewed the protestors 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 protests who have been in Zuccotti Park for weeks are just bitter about their own economic fate [destroying the world economy, stealing all the money from the people in the “bailout” and hiring politicians who will require of them no taxes to pay for public works or prevent foreclosures might be something to notice) and looking for an easy target. If anything, they say, people should some gratitude.

‘Who do you think pays the taxes?’ said one longtime money manager. ‘Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let’s embrace it. If you want to keep having jobs outsourced, keep attacking financial services. This is just disgruntled people.’

He added that he was disappointed that members of Congress from New York, especially Senator Charles E. Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, had not come out swinging for an industry that donates heavily to their campaigns. ‘They need to understand who their constituency is,’ he said. (Saturday, October 15, p. B1)"

Nakedly, the top 1% buys these Senators and expects them to bark on command…

But everyone is looking. Last Friday, Occupy Wall Street marched on the mansion of John Paulson, the man who bet, with Goldman Sachs, on the failure of collateral debt obligations that Goldman Sachs had urged other clients to purchase, and made billions...Somebody at Goldman Sachs needs to be prosecuted…

Paul Krugman yesterday had a fine response on this club of self-rewarding billionaires – the "kvetchocracy" - below.

The 1% have incarnated and run a few original variations on Mr. Potter in “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

In contrast, there is a good basis in this movement from below for democratic discussions – it’s direct democracy format, learned from Greece and Spain - see here and here - and developed, with some anarchist influence, in many new ways in the Occupy protests (the "mike check" where people echo each few words of a speaker is one example).

The betrayal of the young who worked hard, lived by the rules, and have insurmountable debt, no jobs, no future – this is coming home to roost.


Mike Schwartz sent an article by Kevin Young describing the very favorable public opinion for Occupy Wall Street. He says "Young makes a number of nice points about it, including

* People have heard about it. Period. Over 80%.

* Most people are at least leaning positive and many consider themselves very positive.

* The support seems to flow from a dislike of Wall Street and the wealthy, so it is rooted in class politics, not partisan politics.

* It is at least close to being as popular as the Tea Party was in its halcyon days, and that is despite the huge media blast supporting the Tea Party, with the media much more measured and often dismissive of OWS.

* He points out that the popular support for underlying issues places the public to the left of the left wing of the democratic Party leadership.

* And there are some interesting arguments about how this is becoming a real organizing opportunity for progressives."

ZNet

167 Million People Support Occupy Wall Street: The Time Is Ripe for a Mass Movement

October 15, 2011

By Kevin Young

Recent US public opinion polls on the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests suggest a very high level of public sympathy for
the movement. Despite all the press depictions here of the protesters as a bunch of grungy white kids who are "clamoring for nothing in particular," the general public in this country is broadly sympathetic to the OWS movement. Given the atmosphere of public opinion, movement organizers have a tremendous opportunity to mobilize vast numbers of people in the coming months.

OWS and Public Opinion

Four polls that touched on OWS, from Ipsos here, Pew
here , NBC/Wall Street Journal here, and TIME magazine
here, were all conducted between October 6th and October 10th. The first significant finding is that the OWS movement has caught public attention. Barely three weeks into the protests, according to Ipsos, 82 percent of the country had "at least heard of" the movement, and 50 percent
considered themselves "very" or "somewhat" familiar with it. The Pew poll found that 42 percent are following the movement "very closely" or "fairly closely."

How large a portion of the US public supports the Occupy Wall Street movement? In the TIME poll, 54 percent of respondents had a "very favorable" (25 percent) or "somewhat favorable" (29 percent) view of the movement. Only 23 percent had an "unfavorable" view of the movement, while another 23 percent said they "don't know enough" yet. These results mean that roughly 167 million people in this country view the OWS movement favorably. If even 1 or 2 percent of these people were to become active participants, it would make for a movement bigger than anything seen in this country since the 1960s, and probably since the 1930s.

The Ipsos and NBC/WSJ polls also offer hopeful indications of public support for Occupy Wall Street. According to the Ipsos results, 38 percent have a "favorable" view of OWS, while 35 percent are still "undecided"; only 24 percent have an "unfavorable" view. The NBC/WSJ poll found that 37 percent "tend to support" the protests, while only 18 percent "tend to oppose" them. Though significantly lower than the 54 percent in the TIME poll, 37-38 percent of the population still translates to at least 114 million people. The Pew poll sought only to measure public interest and did not ask for respondents' evaluation of the movement.

As all public opinion analysts emphasize, the phrasing of poll questions is crucial. The Ipsos and NBC/WSJ polls are
arguably less reliable measures of public sentiment than the TIME poll, for two reasons. First, the Ipsos question about
OWS did not provide respondents with any sense of the movement's purpose, thus arguably reinforcing the corporate media
mantra here that OWS has no purpose. In contrast, the TIME poll question actually presented respondents with basic information about OWS's message, noting that the protesters were against "policies which they say favor the rich, the government's bank bailout, and the influence of money in our political
system." The wording of the TIME question was reasonably honest, though not overly generous to the protesters since it cast the notion of pro-rich policies as a claim of the movement rather than an objective reality. The NBC/WSJ poll question gave a shorter description of the protests' message. But there the results may have been influenced by the pool of respondents, which was disproportionately white (77 percent of respondents, versus 72 percent here in the US population).

It's worth noting that the limited media coverage of these polls, as well as the pollsters' summaries of the results, have been quite misleading. The summary of the Pew poll was entitled "Wall Street Protests Receive Limited Attention," and the authors emphasized that only 17 percent of respondents said they were following OWS "very closely." One has to go to page 11 of the report to find that an additional 25 percent said they were following the movement "fairly closely"-meaning that a large chunk (42 percent) of the public is already paying attention. A Washington Post blog here post seized upon the Ipsos and Pew results to argue that Occupy Wall Street is "overblown," pointing out that public interest in OWS seems lower than interest in the Tea Party at a comparable stage in its development in 2009. But the story likewise failed to report both the higher figure of 42 percent or to contextualize the results in any meaningful way. One important bit of context is the barrage of negative press coverage the protests have received, in stark contrast to the flood of favorable coverage of the Tea Party here; considered in this light, all four polls indicate a surprisingly high level of public support for OWS, and are a testament to average people's ability to think independently. In the hands of media pundits and elite-friendly pollsters, poll results indicating broad-based sympathy for the OWS movement are somehow transformed into evidence of public apathy and/or antipathy toward it. But a closer look at the actual poll results and the phrasing of the questions gives a much different impression.


The Broader Picture

Dozens of polls, including the most recent ones, make it very clear that there is widespread popular anger at Wall Street, corporations, and the lack of political democracy in this country (and over other things, but these issues draw particular outrage). The TIME poll cited above provides the most recent data available. Of those respondents who considered themselves familiar with the OWS protests,

* 86 percent think that "Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington"

* 79 percent think that "the gap between rich and poor in the United States has grown too large"

* 71 percent think that "executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008
should be prosecuted"

* 68 percent think that "the rich should pay more taxes," and 73 percent of all respondents favor raising taxes on
millionaires

The poll also found an extremely high level of cynicism regarding US politics: 60 percent say "that the political debate in Washington and the media do not represent" their communities' concerns, while only 4 percent are "feeling positive about the state of the country today." Respondents have a strong dislike for both major parties, and hate the Democrats only marginally less than they hate the Republicans. This despair was one factor that enabled the Tea Party to garner significant public sympathy in 2009-10. But in the past year or so there seems to have been a rather precipitous decline in sympathy and support for the Tea Party as people have come to see through its populist, "outsider" façade. While an August 2010 poll here found that 52 percent "feel sympathy" for the Tea Party, the recent TIME poll found that only 27 percent have a "favorable" view of it, and only 6 percent consider themselves "member[s] or follower[s]."

These latest findings are consistent with previous polls, which place the public far to the left of all Congressional Republicans and most Democrats on most major issues. The public is fiercely distrustful of corporate power here and thinks that workers should have far more income here, workplace protections here, and political influence here than they do. Strong majorities believe that the government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to food, education, and health care here . On tax and spending issues, polls here have repeatedly confirmed that majorities favor large cuts to the military budget, higher taxes on the wealthy, and government stimulus spending to create jobs; this trend holds true for polls here from the last two months. Yet public disgust with the unrepresentative nature of US politics and what Edward Herman and David Peterson call "the unelected dictatorship of money" is sky-high. One 2010 poll here from the Program on International Policy Attitudes found that an astounding 81 percent of the US public thinks that their country "is pretty much run by a few big interests."

Possibilities

The OWS movement bursts upon the scene at a time of widespread anti-elite and anti-authoritarian sentiment, coupled with
overwhelming despair at the state of the US political system and the endless false promises of politicians. Given this atmosphere, the movement has tremendous potential, particularly in two key areas: it can further educate the public about the various injustices of which Wall Street is symbolic-from capitalism to war, racism, and patriarchy-and it can inspire average people to believe that real alternatives are possible, not by voting but through a mass-based and independent progressive movement.

One of the central tasks of social movements is education, of both their members and the general public. Grassroots organizations are largely what sociologist Michael Schwartz calls "ignorance-reducing devices." At their best, they can illuminate causes and effects in society and promote the kind of critical inquiry necessary for people to develop a more robust and coherent understanding of oppression and how to confront it. They can also help shift public opinion by dramatically exposing the nature of injustice and forcing the general public to psychologically confront oppressive realities. They can change the minds of people who are not directly affected by a given form of oppression, as in the case of white attitudes about black civil rights. As Benjamin Page and Robert Shapiro note in their 1992 book The Rational Public, the Civil Rights movement contributed to a monumental change in public opinion over time: "Changes in attitudes of whites about school segregation are particularly striking. The mere 31% that favored black and white children going to the same schools in 1942 grew to 50% in 1956, 66% in 1963, 71% in 1965, 76% in 1970, an overwhelming 88% in 1980, and 93% in 1985." In recent years there has been a somewhat comparable shift in the public's views on gay rights, both in the United States here and around the world here. If the OWS movement can continue to build momentum and get its message out, it may have a similar effect on the large portion of the "undecided" onlookers among the public, who may start to come around as a result.

But perhaps more important in the case of OWS is the power of social movements to convince people that something different is truly possible, and that their actions can contribute to social change. For the tens of millions of people who are already painfully aware of the injustice and oppression for which Wall Street stands, the most powerful effect of the OWS movement could be to inspire them to believe in their own ability to contribute toward the construction of alternatives. Given the widespread despair and cynicism of recent decades, the OWS is certainly fighting an uphill battle in this regard: even if the public views the movement favorably, 56 percent still think that it will "have little impact on American politics," according to the TIME poll. On the other hand, 30 percent already say it will have a "positive impact," and many people who have never engaged in political activism before have already been inspired to join the movement. It's not unrealistic to expect that hundreds of thousands or millions more could follow. The hope and inspiration that are seizing so many people are all the more meaningful in that there is such strong resistance to being coopted by the Democratic Party; relative to 2008, fewer and fewer people are now willing to place their fate in the hands of progressive-sounding politicians, which is a very healthy development indeed.

There are numerous challenges ahead for the OWS movement, as there are for any movement representing the oppressed and
disenfranchised. For one, people's belief that alternatives are possible will only last if the movement is able to visibly alter the political landscape and win small reforms along the way. But the poll results described above suggest that the occupiers have a crucial potential ally in the general public. The time is ripe for a mass movement.

OP-ED COLUMNIST
Wall Street Loses Its Immunity

By PAUL KRUGMAN
Published: October 17, 2011

As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to grow, the response from the movement's targets has gradually changed: contemptuous dismissal has been replaced by whining. (A reader of my blog suggests that we start calling our ruling class the "kvetchocracy.") The modern lords of finance look at the protesters and ask, Don't they understand what we've done for the U.S. economy?

The answer is: yes, many of the protesters do understand what Wall Street and more generally the nation's economic elite have done for us. And that's why they're protesting.

On Saturday The Times reported what people in the financial industry are saying privately about the protests. My favorite quote came from an unnamed money manager who declared, "Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let's embrace it."

This is deeply unfair to American workers, who are good at lots of things, and could be even better if we made adequate investments in education and infrastructure. But to the extent that America has lagged in everything except financial services, shouldn't the question be why, and whether it's a trend we want to continue?

For the financialization of America wasn't dictated by the invisible hand of the market. What caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting around 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, in particular a process of deregulation that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 crisis.

Not coincidentally, the era of an ever-growing financial industry was also an era of ever-growing inequality of income and wealth. Wall Street made a large direct contribution to economic polarization, because soaring incomes in finance accounted for a significant fraction of the rising share of the top 1 percent (and the top 0.1 percent, which accounts for most of the top 1 percent's gains) in the nation's income. More broadly, the same political forces that promoted financial deregulation fostered overall inequality in a variety of ways, undermining organized labor, doing away with the "outrage constraint" that used to limit executive paychecks, and more.

Oh, and taxes on the wealthy were, of course, sharply reduced.

All of this was supposed to be justified by results: the paychecks of the wizards of Wall Street were appropriate, we were told, because of the wonderful things they did. Somehow, however, that wonderfulness failed to trickle down to the rest of the nation - and that was true even before the crisis. Median family income, adjusted for inflation, grew only about a fifth as much between 1980 and 2007 as it did in the generation following World War II, even though the postwar economy was marked both by strict financial regulation and by much higher tax rates on the wealthy than anything currently under political discussion.

Then came the crisis, which proved that all those claims about how modern finance had reduced risk and made the system more stable were utter nonsense. Government bailouts were all that saved us from a financial meltdown as bad as or worse than the one that caused the Great Depression.

And what about the current situation? Wall Street pay has rebounded even as ordinary workers continue to suffer from high unemployment and falling real wages. Yet it's harder than ever to see what, if anything, financiers are doing to earn that money.

Why, then, does Wall Street expect anyone to take its whining seriously? That money manager claiming that finance is the only thing America does well also complained that New York's two Democratic senators aren't on his side, declaring that "They need to understand who their constituency is." Actually, they surely know very well who their constituency is - and even in New York, 16 out of 17 workers are employed by nonfinancial industries.

But he wasn't really talking about voters, of course. He was talking about the one thing Wall Street still has plenty of thanks to those bailouts, despite its total loss of credibility: money.

Money talks in American politics, and what the financial industry's money has been saying lately is that it will punish any politician who dares to criticize that industry's behavior, no matter how gently - as evidenced by the way Wall Street money has now abandoned President Obama in favor of Mitt Romney. And this explains the industry's shock over recent events.

You see, until a few weeks ago it seemed as if Wall Street had effectively bribed and bullied our political system into forgetting about that whole drawing lavish paychecks while destroying the world economy thing. Then, all of a sudden, some people insisted on bringing the subject up again.

And their outrage has found resonance with millions of Americans. No wonder Wall Street is whining.

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