Archive for November 4th, 2011
Written by Danny Schechter. Originally published at Al Jeezer.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg is talking tough again, darkly hinting that he may have to take action to shut down Occupy Wall Street. He now claims that the community in Lower Manhattan is upset by the occupation of Zuccotti Park and he must heed their wishes.
The problems: there have been cases of urination and defecation. The drumming is too loud. There is a seeming fear of violence from the street people and homeless the park seems to be attracting.
So it appears that his honour has found a new pretext to send the police in to clear the park. He has already sent his cops to arrest alleged law breakers in the encampment, accompanied by headlines urging “get tough”.
In the eyes of much of the press, the endgame is in sight because the protesters just don’t know how to act, how to be responsible. The New York Times reports in a Friday page one report: “Demonstrators Test Mayor, a Backer of Wall Street and Free Speech.” Even some Democrats have joined in calls for a crackdown in the name of keeping the upper class neighbours safe and sound.
As in many stories, however, what’s not said is often what’s most important.
First, after the last merry-go-round with a top city official who claims to support free speech – but perhaps in some other city – Occupy Wall Street met with community groups. They cleaned the park thoroughly. They cut back the hours of drumming to two. They set up a liaison to respond to complaints and enunciated a “Good Neighbour Policy”.
As for the expulsion of bodily waste, the Occupation has offered to rent “porta-potties”, those mobile toilets that are used in all public events. The City and the real estate company that owns the park has said no. Don’t you think they know what happens when people have nowhere to go, as the weather gets colder? Maybe they feel the need to encourage more waste and chaos?
The Occupation also suggested that the City Sanitation Department move some dumpsters into place in the park. Again, the answer was no.
So two of the most cited problems have solutions that officials reject.
As for homeless people, Occupy Wall Street security has reported that city correctional officials and some welfare officers have actively encouraged homeless people to go to a park where they will be fed and can sleep.
Occupy Wall Street has strict rules against drug use and alcohol use. But they can’t always enforce them against people who have been encouraged to go to the park to, among other things, cause trouble.
In other words, city officials, who are expressing so much agitation are actually exacerbating the problems, and then pointing to them as a reason the occupation must be forced to end. The cops also have spies in the park and are monitoring developments closely. They had repeatedly refused to protect the park from the presence of predators – who they now blame on the protest.
Unfortunately, many media outlets are not interested in probing for the causes of problems and just focus on the effects.
Fox News is hostile to the protests, and so can be counted on to throw out every negative they can find. Earlier efforts to stigmatise the protests as anti-Semitic failed. Now they are stoking fears of more chaos.
Politics is what is driving the increasingly hard-line opposition, not pride in civic improvement.
Forced to take drastic ‘action’
A day before the mayor indicated that he may just have to “take action”, he criticised the protesters for focusing on Wall Street. Congress is to blame, he insisted, politicians not financiers. Few media outlets noted that Bloomberg made his fortune on Wall Street and his news company serves its customers. This conflict of interest is blatant, but rarely noted.
That the one per cent which protesters are denouncing are sticking together is not surprising. The mayor is demonstrably on their side.
An earlier mayor, Ed Koch, who has turned more conservative in his later years than even the Republican Bloomberg, is not quite so willing to let Wall Street off the hook.
The NY Daily News reported him saying: “I do believe in punishment.” Koch then went on to blast the SEC for only fining Wall Street titans such as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup for their financial misconduct. “What the hell do they care? That’s the cost of doing business,” Koch said of the banks. “I want to see somebody – some CEO, some CFO – punished criminally.”
The reason Bloomberg doesn’t like Occupy Wall Street is because he likes Wall Street (especially while his police are occupying the place).
He believes in punishment too – punishing protesters.
“I want to see somebody – some CEO, some CFO – punished criminally.”
- Ed Koch, former Mayor of New York City
Fox News carried a complaint about the excessive (and expensive) police uber-presence there because a restaurant owner says it is keeping business away and forcing him to close. Fox went on, of course, to blame the occupiers for the restaurant’s decision to lay off workers.
After all, you couldn’t have so many cops, if there weren’t so many protesters.
And around and around we go
Many New Yorkers seem obsessed with the protests. As the comedy channels satirise it, a New York Times business editor noted that an article the newspaper carried on the latest financial fraud drew ten comments from readers before anyone tried to blame the problem on Occupy Wall Street – the latest whipping boy in the financial crisis.
In other cities, there have been violent attacks on the Occupy Movement. Activists in Oakland, California, called for a general strike to defend their right to peacefully and non-violently protest.
Musician Boots Riley who is part of the organising effort said: “We’re ushering in a new phase in organising. It’s a one-day general strike. It’s a warning shot. It’s beyond saying that ‘we are the 99 per cent’. This is showing that the 99 per cent can be organised, that we won’t be limited to the rules and regulations that unions have confined themselves to in the last 60 years.”
The general strike, as a tactic, has not been that successful in the United States – because it requires a major organising effort, far more than appeals on the internet or in press releases. Noam Chomsky was sympathetic but cautioned protesters “to build and educate first, strike later”.
Many in the Occupy movement are criticising violent incidents in Oakland that counteract their policies of non-violence.
If the Occupy movement had not been as successful as it has been in broadening the national conversation to include the issues of economic equality, it would not be drawing as much hostile flack from the press or politicians.
Many Democrats fear an activist movement can hurt their re-election prospects by focusing on unsolved problems. Others see it as a direct challenge to months of debate on the need to cut deficits and impose austerity.
To date, this movement has survived snowstorms and police attacks. Its tougher challenges may have just begun.
So what do you do when financial analysts are warning that housing prices are headed for a “triple dip”, the second largest Swiss Bank (Credit Suisse) announces it’s piling 1,500 additional job cuts – many from the US – on top of its previously announced 2,000 (after a 12 per cent increase in profits this past quarter) and the federal government just sued one of the nation’s largest privately held mortgage brokers (Allied Home Mortgage) for a decade of “fraudulent lending practices that forced thousands of Americans to lose their homes”.
Seriously, could the economic Big Brains who think it’s a good idea to take money out of people’s pockets via spending cuts, while rejecting increased spending on our nation’s crashing infrastructure, try punching “Japan” and “lost decade” into the Google machine? Or perhaps just admit their relationship to understood economics is like Kim Kardashian’s marriage – shallow, somewhat entertaining, but ultimately embarrassing.
These right-wing members of Congress and inhabitants of the “pro-market”, think-tank-welfare world, with their flip reaction the ongoing economic crisis, have begun to remind me of an exchange between John Travolta (trying to steal and sell nuclear weapons) and Christian Slater (trying to stop him) in the movie Broken Arrow. Slater’s character says to Travolta’s: “You’re out of your mind,” to which Travolta replies – while wearing a spooky Herman Cain-esque, I-just-gave-a-massage-to-my-secretary smile – “Yeah, ain’t it cool.”
Apparently, the only stimulant conservatives favour is whatever Rick Perry was mainlining during his speech in New Hampshire the other night.
Infrastructure work creates jobs
What’s so maddening, however, is that the answer is quite clear to sane people and non-shills-long-term infrastructure projects that, in the near term, provide jobs, and further out will provide … jobs. And increased productivity. Ever hear of those train things or the internet? Yeah, well, people are more productive when they’re faster and stuff.
Part of what’s so frustrating is that not only was President Obama’s stimulus bill too small by half, which top economists predicted before it passed (but yay, Susan Collins liked it!). But the administration didn’t even defend it, which took something the Congressional Budget Office says saved up to 3.6 million jobs – and allowed it to be demonised by politically expedient grifters playing games.
These very same economists who were right about the stimulus are now clamouring for more infrastructure spending. Paul Krugman, who has been banging this drum for a while, pointed out in a recent piece how the very same crowd that flips out over any government spending on, for lack of a better phrase, people who can’t afford his and hers dancing water fountains from Neiman Marcus as a stocking-stuffer, continually push for spending for defence contractors without a worry in the world about the budget. Why? Because these hypocritical dunderheads say “such cuts would destroy jobs”.
So obviously the deficit hysteria is simply that, a pretend crisis to hide an ideology gunning for its greatest achievement to be reintroducing the elderly to the joys of the appetising and eminently satisfying Purina dinner.
In addition to economists, some in the business world who care about being good citizens and wellbeing beyond their four walls, understand the importance of infrastructure spending for our economy and people. Stan Litow, the head of IBM’s corporate citizen program, with whom I work on some of these projects, answered a question I asked him concerning the role of government in infrastructure development and improvements by affirming that “states and the US government can be major players”. Last week Litow and IBM launched their third Smarter Cities Challenge, inviting urban centres across the globe to apply for a grant, technological assistance and consulting services to complete a variety of projects that improve cities while creating jobs. In the past, this has included creating a smart grid in Boulder, Colorado, and improving transportation planning and delivery of services in Austin, Texas.
If only the federal government would build upon efforts such as these, to fix our decaying streets while creating jobs for the so-desperately unemployed who inhabit them.
This past week, a study was released [PDF] by the Organization for Co-operation and Economic Development (OECD), and, as with so many measures of our country’s health, the conservative vice-grip on our culture has taken us straight into the toilet in our rankings on social justice. At 27th, the US is far behind countries such as Hungary (17th) and Poland (20th), and quickly approaching Mexico (30th). Which perhaps is the conservative plan – to make the US so uninhabitable that nobody wants to immigrate here anymore – legally or illegally.
Charles Blow of the Times summed up the study perfectly, as “America’s Exploding Pipe Dream.” If only our infrastructure were instead a pipe bomb, as Krugman pointed out, we’d rush to fund it without end.
Cliff Schecter is the President of Libertas, LLC, a progressive public relations firm, the author of the 2008 bestseller The Real McCain, and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post.
Inequality is back in the news, largely thanks to Occupy Wall Street, but with an assist from the Congressional Budget Office. And you know what that means: It’s time to roll out the obfuscators! Anyone who has tracked this issue over time knows what I mean. Whenever growing income disparities threaten to come into focus, a reliable set of defenders tries to bring back the blur. Think tanks put out reports claiming that inequality isn’t really rising, or that it doesn’t matter. Pundits try to put a more benign face on the phenomenon, claiming that it’s not really the wealthy few versus the rest, it’s the educated versus the less educated. So what you need to know is that all of these claims are basically attempts to obscure the stark reality: We have a society in which money is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few people, and in which that concentration of income and wealth threatens to make us a democracy in name only. The budget office laid out some of that stark reality in a recent report, which documented a sharp decline in the share of total income going to lower- and middle-income Americans. We still like to think of ourselves as a middle-class country. But with the bottom 80 percent of households now receiving less than half of total income, that’s a vision increasingly at odds with reality. In response, the usual suspects have rolled out some familiar arguments: the data are flawed (they aren’t); the rich are an ever-changing group (not so); and so on. The most popular argument right now seems, however, to be the claim that we may not be a middle-class society, but we’re still an upper-middle-class society, in which a broad class of highly educated workers, who have the skills to compete in the modern world, is doing very well. It’s a nice story, and a lot less disturbing than the picture of a nation in which a much smaller group of rich people is becoming increasingly dominant. But it’s not true. Workers with college degrees have indeed, on average, done better than workers without, and the gap has generally widened over time. But highly educated Americans have by no means been immune to income stagnation and growing economic insecurity. Wage gains for most college-educated workers have been unimpressive (and nonexistent since 2000), while even the well-educated can no longer count on getting jobs with good benefits. In particular, these days workers with a college degree but no further degrees are less likely to get workplace health coverage than workers with only a high school degree were in 1979. So who is getting the big gains? A very small, wealthy minority. The budget office report tells us that essentially all of the upward redistribution of income away from the bottom 80 percent has gone to the highest-income 1 percent of Americans. That is, the protesters who portray themselves as representing the interests of the 99 percent have it basically right, and the pundits solemnly assuring them that it’s really about education, not the gains of a small elite, have it completely wrong. If anything, the protesters are setting the cutoff too low. The recent budget office report doesn’t look inside the top 1 percent, but an earlier report, which only went up to 2005, found that almost two-thirds of the rising share of the top percentile in income actually went to the top 0.1 percent — the richest thousandth of Americans, who saw their real incomes rise more than 400 percent over the period from 1979 to 2005. Who’s in that top 0.1 percent? Are they heroic entrepreneurs creating jobs? No, for the most part, they’re corporate executives. Recent research shows that around 60 percent of the top 0.1 percent either are executives in nonfinancial companies or make their money in finance, i.e., Wall Street broadly defined. Add in lawyers and people in real estate, and we’re talking about more than 70 percent of the lucky one-thousandth. But why does this growing concentration of income and wealth in a few hands matter? Part of the answer is that rising inequality has meant a nation in which most families don’t share fully in economic growth. Another part of the answer is that once you realize just how much richer the rich have become, the argument that higher taxes on high incomes should be part of any long-run budget deal becomes a lot more compelling. The larger answer, however, is that extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy. Can anyone seriously deny that our political system is being warped by the influence of big money, and that the warping is getting worse as the wealth of a few grows ever larger? Some pundits are still trying to dismiss concerns about rising inequality as somehow foolish. But the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake.
The biggest question in America these days is how to revive the economy.
The biggest question among activists now occupying Wall Street and dozens of other cities is how to strike back against the nation’s almost unprecedented concentration of income, wealth, and political power in the top 1 percent.
The two questions are related. With so much income and wealth concentrated at the top, the vast middle class no longer has the purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing. (People could pretend otherwise as long as they could treat their homes as ATMs, but those days are now gone.) The result is prolonged stagnation and high unemployment as far as the eye can see.
Until we reverse the trend toward inequality, the economy can’t be revived.
But the biggest question in our nation’s capital right now has nothing to do with any of this. It’s whether Congress’s so-called “Supercommittee” — six Democrats and six Republicans charged with coming up with $1.2 trillion in budget savings — will reach agreement in time for the Congressional Budget Office to score its proposal, which must then be approved by Congress before Christmas recess in order to avoid an automatic $1.5 trillion in budget savings requiring major across-the-board cuts starting in 2013.
Have your eyes already glazed over?
Diffident Democrats on the Supercommittee have already signaled a willingness to cut Medicare, Social Security, and much else that Americans depend on. The deal is being held up by Regressive Republicans who won’t raise taxes on the rich — not even a tiny bit.
President Obama, meanwhile, is out on the stump trying to sell his “jobs bill” – which would, by the White House’s own estimate, create fewer than 2 million jobs. Yet 14 million people are out of work, and another 10 million are working part-time who’d rather have full-time jobs.
Republicans have already voted down his jobs bill anyway.
The disconnect between Washington and the rest of the nation hasn’t been this wide since the late 1960s.
The two worlds are on a collision course: Americans who are losing their jobs or their pay and can’t pay their bills are growing increasingly desperate. Washington insiders, deficit hawks, regressive Republicans, diffident Democrats, well-coiffed lobbyists, and the lobbyists’ wealthy patrons on Wall Street and in corporate suites haven’t a clue or couldn’t care less.
I can’t tell you when the collision will occur but I’d guess 2012.
Look elsewhere around the world and you see a similar collision unfolding. The details differ but the larger forces are similar. You see it in Spain, Greece, and Italy, whose citizens are being squeezed by bankers insisting on austerity. You see it in Chile and Israel, whose young people are in revolt. In the Middle East, whose “Arab spring” is becoming a complex Arab fall and winter. Even in China, whose young and hourly workers are demanding more – and whose surge toward inequality in recent years has been as breathtaking as is its surge toward modern capitalism.
Will 2012 go down in history like other years that shook the foundations of the world’s political economy — 1968 and 1989?
I spent part of yesterday in Oakland, California. The Occupier movement is still in its infancy in the United States, but it cannot be stopped. Here, as elsewhere, people are outraged at what feels like a rigged game — an economy that won’t respond, a democracy that won’t listen, and a financial sector that holds all the cards.
Here, as elsewhere, the people are rising.
Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at RobertReich.org.