Occupy Wall Street

Meanwhile, Republicans Are Giving America Back To Wall Street

Republicans in the House of Representatives passed the Choice Act yesterday, a sweeping deregulation of the financial sector. It passed 233-186, with no Democratic support. One Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina, voted no. This bill rolls back or weakens most of the protections put in place since the 2008 financial crisis through President Barack Obama’s Dodd-Frank Act.

Though it is very unlikely to gain the 60 votes it needs to pass in the Senate, important parts of it could pass through the budget reconciliation process. But even if it goes nowhere, it reveals a Republican Party that is focused on destroying reform based on a false narrative of the crisis, largely to the benefit of the financial sector.

The Choice Act isn’t a matter of conservatives simply preferring less regulation than liberals, or Congress readjusting reform in light of new evidence. What passed today isn’t a result of liberals turning the financial reform dial up to 11 and conservatives want to turn the dial down. Instead, it’s a surgical strike, gutting specific parts of the reforms that have been effective in preventing another crisis.

Take the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the strongest pieces of Dodd-Frank, which has brought transparency to previously opaque financial markets. It has applied enforcement and accountability not just to consumer financial products but also to markets where consumers are the financial product, like mortgage servicing, debt collection and credit scoring.

Before the crisis, consumer protection was fragmented across 10 regulators, and because it was everyone’s job, it was nobody’s job. This meant no agency built the expertise or interest in standing up for consumers and, worse, there would be a race to the bottom in enforcement, with financial firms seeking out the most lax regulators. The C.F.P.B. solved these institutional problems by consolidating enforcement in a dedicated agency.

That feature is exactly what the Choice Act targets. The act would gut the C.F.P.B.’s supervisory authority, sending it back to regulators who missed the crisis and recreating the broken pre-crisis regulatory structure. With this authority, the C.F.P.B. has returned about $12 billion from bad bank behavior to 29 million citizens. The Choice Act would repeal the C.F.P.B.’s ability to stop unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices — an authority that was essential, for example, in going after Wells Fargo’s creation of fake accounts for its clients.

But Choice goes far beyond this. The Dodd-Frank rollback is shaped by a false diagnosis of the financial crisis, by which the crisis posed no problems to the American economy. As the influential conservative Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute noted, the Choice Act is a natural result of believing, as he and most Republicans do, “that the Dodd-Frank Act was completely unnecessary.”

So now we’re back to the way we were before the financial crisis we just spent the last 8 years digging out of.

The Republicans argue that the Choice Act makes Wall Street angry. It’s tough to imagine how, when the vast number of changes amount to an industry wish list of the biggest banks. It repeals the miniature Glass-Steagall reform known as the Volcker Rule, which separates out high-risk proprietary trading from commercial banks. It removes the F.D.I.C.’s role of reviewing banks’ living wills — new procedures that make banks and regulators plan for a potential bank failure, presumably because the F.D.I.C. demands that they be stronger. It takes out language requiring firms that got bailouts to continue to be subject to stronger regulations. It allows industry to choose to ignore a wide range of regulations if they decide to adopt a single, easy-to-manipulate, balance-sheet metric. It eliminates a consumer complaint database the C.F.P.B. maintains.

It isn’t just the largest players who win under this bill. The Choice Act would remove the requirement that private equity firms register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and be subject to reviews. These types of firms were previously opaque, even though they are a major source of investment funds and exert a large amount of influence over the corporate sector. Preliminary examinations by the S.E.C. into private equity’s fees and expenses found abuses, conflicts of interest and fraud in over half of the cases, things that make the capital markets not work for investors or for companies.

Too Big To Fail Banks Being Pressured

Great news:

Federal Reserve officials strongly signaled they will toughen big-bank capital requirements even more than they have since the 2008 crisis, a move that will add to the pressure on the largest U.S. banks to consider shrinking. Fed governors Daniel Tarullo and Jerome Powell, in separate public comments on Thursday, said the Fed would require eight of the largest U.S. banks to maintain more equity to pass the central bank’s annual “stress tests.”

“Effectively, this will be a significant increase in capital,” Mr. Tarullo said on Bloomberg television….Mr. Powell said at a banking conference that the Fed’s move would make big banks “fully internalize the risk” they pose to the economy.

“I have not reached any conclusion that a particular bank needs to be broken up or anything like that,” he said. The point is to “raise capital requirements to the point at which it becomes a question that banks have to ask themselves.”

Emphasis added.

Although there have been some regulatory changes since the bank crash of 2008, big banks still have an unfair advantage in the market: their funding costs are lower because investors figure they’ll be bailed out if they ever implode in the future.

But this news today indicates a recognition of the problem.  Big banks should, as Tarullo said, “fully internalize the risk” they pose to the economy. In other words, if big banks have an automatic advantage simply because taxpayers have little choice but to rescue them in case they fail, they should be required to pay higher insurance premiums against failure. That’s essentially what higher capital requirements do.

This won’t make big headlines, and it’s not sexy and it’s not Trump insulting somebody.  And maybe it still doesn’t go far enough (Bernie Sanders simply wants to break the big banks altogether).  But it is a step in the right direction to fiscal responsibility.

Report: Richest 7% Got Richer During Recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new report says the richest Americans got richer during the first two years of the economic recovery while average net worth declined for the other 93 percent of the nation'shouseholds.

The Pew Research Center report says wealth held by the richest 7 percent of households rose 28 percent from 2009 to 2011, while the net worth of the other 93 percent of households dropped by 4 percent.

It says the main reason for the widening gap is that affluent households have stocks and other financial holdings that increased in value, while the less wealthy have more of their assets in their homes, which haven't fully regained their value since the housing downturn.

Remember this?

 

Stephen King Goes Cujo On The 1 Percenters

Well, he's a pretty rich guy himself.  Still, he has some thoughts on other rich people and taxes and he minces no words.  An excerpt:

I’ve known rich people, and why not, since I’m one of them? The majority would rather douse their dicks with lighter fluid, strike a match, and dance around singing “Disco Inferno” than pay one more cent in taxes to Uncle Sugar. It’s true that some rich folks put at least some of their tax savings into charitable contributions. My wife and I give away roughly $4 million a year to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organizations that underwrite the arts. Warren Buffett does the same; so does Bill Gates; so does Steven Spielberg; so do the Koch brothers; so did the late Steve Jobs. All fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough.

What charitable 1 percenters can’t do is assume responsibility—America’s national responsibilities: the care of its sick and its poor, the education of its young, the repair of its failing infrastructure, the repayment of its staggering war debts. Charity from the rich can’t fix global warming or lower the price of gasoline by one single red penny. That kind of salvation does not come from Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Ballmer saying, “OK, I’ll write a $2 million bonus check to the IRS.” That annoying responsibility stuff comes from three words that are anathema to the Tea Partiers: United American citizenry.

[…]

The Koch brothers are right-wing creepazoids, but they’re giving right-wing creepazoids. Here’s an example: 68 million fine American dollars to Deerfield Academy. Which is great for Deerfield Academy. But it won’t do squat for cleaning up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, where food fish are now showing up with black lesions. It won’t pay for stronger regulations to keep BP (or some other bunch of dipshit oil drillers) from doing it again. It won’t repair the levees surrounding New Orleans. It won’t improve education in Mississippi or Alabama. But what the hell—them li’l crackers ain’t never going to go to Deerfield Academy anyway. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke.

Yikes.

OWS vs Tea Party

Fun infographic (click to enlarge).  I think it oversimplifies both movements, and adds to the notion that they are competing movements (in my view, the two movements overlap in many important respects), but it's still interesting:

OWS_teaparty

Sunday In The Park With Pepper Spray

Making the Internet rounds…

Parkwithgeorge

Of course, the actual pepper spraying was atrocious….

 

And today, we learn something even more horrific: a pregnant protester named Jennifer Fox has miscarried after being pepper sprayed and hit in the stomach by Seattle police officers during a peaceful protest last week.  Here she is:

 

Seattle's The Stranger newspaper is currently waiting for Jennifer's medical records to confirm that she did indeed loose her baby.

Occupy Wall Street “Bat Signal”

Last night, tens of thousands of Occupy Wall Street protesters marched throughout New York City, many making their way on to the Brooklyn Bridge, carrying LED candles and chanting.

As Occupiers took the bridge in a seemingly endless sea of people, words in light appeared projected on the iconic Verizon Building nearby:

"99% / MIC CHECK! / LOOK AROUND / YOU ARE A PART / OF A GLOBAL UPRISING / WE ARE A CRY / FROM THE HEART / OF THE WORLD / WE ARE UNSTOPPABLE / ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE / HAPPY BIRTHDAY / #OCCUPY MOVEMENT / OCCUPY WALL STREET / list of cities, states and countries / OCCUPY EARTH / WE ARE WINNING / IT IS THE BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING / DO NOT BE AFRAID / LOVE."

Pretty cool and innovative.  Here's what it looked like

 

When Right Wing Media Spin Meets Reality

The conservative Daily Caller, yesterday, continuing its ongoing demonization of Occupy Wall Street protesters:

It took a huge media push to convince people the Tea Party was dangerous, but the huge media push to convince them OWS isn’t dangerous has failed. Occupiers are really nice until you get to know them.

And again, the Daily Caller, earlier today:

Here’s a live feed of the filthy, ignorant, violent Occupy Wall Street crybabies in Zuccotti Park, as they do whatever it is they think they’re doing today. Obviously there’s no way to predict what’ll be said or done..

Story filed by Daily Caller reporters moments later:

While covering Occupy Wall Street’s “Day of Action” Thursday morning, Daily Caller reporter Michelle Fields and videographer Direna Cousins were struck by NYPD officers as police tried to clear Wall Street of protesters.

“The police officers were beating the protesters with batons, and were also beating the media,” Fields told TheDC. “They hit Direna and me with batons. They hit other members of the press in order to get them to move out of the street.”

Both were struck, but neither sustained injuries that required hospitalization.

Clear indications that Fields and Cousins were members of the press didn’t stop the NYPD beating.

“Direna had a camera in her hand and I had a microphone, and we were being hit,” she said. “When I fell to the ground I said at one point, ‘I’m just covering this! I’m covering this!’  And the officer just said, ‘Come on, get up, get up,’ before pulling me up by my jacket.’”

The protesters came up to me right away and asked if I needed any medical assistance. They were actually very kind and helpful. It was the police officers who were very aggressive,” Fields added.

Occupy Anniversary

Today marks the second month of the Occupy Wall Street campaign.  Of course, the protesters have been evicted from Zuccotti Park, but hundreds of demonstrators are marching on Wall Street in a "Day of Action", taking over the Financial District with mass protests.

There's a live video feed from the protesters, which I've put in the right hand column.  As I am writing this, the police look like they are moving in.

UPDATE:  Added a second livestream.

UPDATE:  Good sign being flashed at the cops today

Tweet Of The Day

Salmon Rushdie, who knows from book burning and desecration, weighs in:

Salman

Indeed.  Whatever you might think about the rightness or wrongness of the eviction, destroying the "People's Library", which was comprised of 5,500 donated books, was an act of extreme dickish-ness.

Occupy Wall Street Popularity Fading Bigtime

These numbers from Public Policy Polling were taken before the big OWS eviction in New York (and other places):

The Occupy Wall Street movement is not wearing well with voters across the country. Only 33% now say that they are supportive of its goals, compared to 45% who say they oppose them. That represents an 11 point shift in the wrong direction for the movement's support compared to a month ago when 35% of voters said they supported it and 36% were opposed. Most notably independents have gone from supporting Occupy Wall Street's goals 39/34, to opposing them 34/42.

Voters don't care for the Tea Party either, with 42% saying they support its goals to 45% opposed.  But asked whether they have a higher opinion of the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street movement the Tea Party wins out 43-37, representing a flip from last month when Occupy Wall Street won out 40-37 on that question. Again the movement with independents is notable- from preferring Occupy Wall Street 43-34, to siding with the Tea Party 44-40.

It is woth noting that the same poll also showed that Americans are still very concerned with wealth inequality.  So it's the movement itself, rather than the message it already has succeeded in fostering, that is gaining disapproval.

And why?  It's not to hard to figure out.  Digby states the obvious:

All over the country people are hearing that the Occupiers are animals who are masturbating in public and shitting in the streets. The local news is luridly portraying the protests as hotbeds of crime infested with lunatics and drug addicts.

That stuff isn't disseminated just for kicks. It's done to poison the minds of the public before they have a chance to identify with the protesters.

I know that liberals don't want to see this in those culture war terms, but there are a whole lot of others who can't see these things any other way.

So true.  The demonization by the right-wing media is pretty salient.  The reality is that the media still decides what we think, and the far-right media works much, much harder at driving that consensus than the centrist press does. The centrist press keeps the coverage bland, and then the Murdoch/talk radio axis declares its fatwas, and those decide what we think.

The Occupy movement doesn't grasp that it needs to do everything it can to minimize the damage from right-wing-media demonization.  Or, if they do, they haven't found an effective counter.

Zuccotti Park Vacated; Occupy Wall Street Over (Temporarily)

Here's how it went down in the wee hours this morning in lower Manhattan:

 

When it became clear that the police intended to clear out the park, the protesters got on their phones and called friends.  But police had blocked off about 16 sq blocks or so, completely surrounding the park.  People responding to the calls were stopped by barricades on Broadway. So roughly 500-600 people who couldn't make it to Zucotti Park marched straight up the middle of B’Way to Foley Sq., throwing barricades into the street as they went. Eventually that group too was surrounded by police.

The park was raided.  5,000 books, "the people's library" as it was called, were unceremoniously thrown in a dumpster, as well as most tents.  70 people arrested (including journalists).  It wasn't pretty.

And as you look at the photos, remember that Bloomberg's office has repeatedly stated that the park was to be cleared out "amid growing concerns over health and public safety."

For public health and safety.  Mission accomplished, NYPD.  (Not!)

All was not lost though.  At 6:30 a.m. this morning, Justice Lucy Billings issued an order requiring the protesters to be readmitted to Zuccotti Park with their tents.  Order here.

During his 8 a.m. press conference, Mayor Bloomberg seemed to acknowledge he was familiar with the temporary restraining order, but claimed he had not been served and was keeping the park closed. As of this writing, Zuccotti Park remains closed to protesters in direct contradiction of Justice Billing’s order.

Live updates and developments here.  Live Ustream (which may be nothing when you view it) is below

 

UPDATE:  Though I support OWS, I tend to agree with Yglesius — this is a good outcome:

I think this was the best possible endgame for the group. After all, there are only a few possible ways for a protest to end. One is something like this — the cops come in and get rid of people. A second is something like the Powers That Be sit down to negotiate an end to the standoff in a way that involves giving in to some or all of the protestors demands. The third is for the protests to simply fizzle out as people lose interest. One of the distinctive things about Occupy Wall Street was that it organized itself in such a way as to make option two impossible.

So OWS was either going to end with the cops clearing the park, or else it was going to end with the protestors losing interest. It would be totally human and understandable for the protestors to end up fading away as the weather gets colder, but that would be demoralizing to everyone who’s come to look at the various Occupations as a key signal of popular discontent with rampant inequality. Instead, by ordering the protestors to be removed the Bloomberg administration has ensured continued relevance for the issue.

 

Jesus And The OWS Movement

I've read some pretty bone-headed criticisms of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and laughed them off as mostly misinformed.  But nothing — NOTHING — comes close to the recent piece by Bryan Fischer, the Director of Issue Analysis as the American Family Association.  This is a glorious example of meathead-ary.

Writing in Rightly Concerned, Fischer argues that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are disobeying “God’s moral law” and are “driven by a dark, bitter, resentful, angry and acquisitive greed.” “Jesus took a whip to the thieves and the covetous in his day,” Fischer writes. “If he were to come back and do the same thing today, he just might start in Zuccotti Park.”

Let's have some fun, shall we?

A CNN anchor asked earlier this week whether or  not Jesus would occupy Wall Street. 

That question can be answered with a categorical “No.” 

First, Jesus has no truck with rank, blatant hypocrites. The OWS crowd has now fallen to squabbling over who gets a slice of the $500,000 which has been donated to them, and which, by the way, they put in one of the evil, greedy banks they are out to destroy.

And the OWS crowd is thinking about incorporating! In other words, they’re about to become one of the evil corporations they claim to detest, as the Occupy Portland folks have already done. 

Okay, Bryan.  I'm going to stop you right there before you embarrass yourself more.  Get a pencil and paper and write this down:

The Occupy Wall Street movement isn't opposed to banks or corporations per se.  They don't want to do away with them entirely, or even a little bit.  They simply want them act responsibily and morally — you know, not to be thieves themselves.  They want them to be regulated so that they can't engage in the fraudulent excesses that brought this country down.

As for the $500,000 in donations — what should the OWS crowd do?  Carry it around as cash in plastic bags?

Don't be an idiot.

And they’re royally hacked off at the vagrant homeless types trying to cadge free food from them. They’re going to feed them brown rice gruel this weekend instead of spaghetti bolognese to show them the depths of their compassion for the poor and downtrodden. No more soup for you! 

Source?  No, I didn't think so.

Besides, you're contradicting yourself in the space of a couple sentences.  The OWS people have "royally hacked off" the homeless AND they are giving them free food?  Which is it?

So all of sudden that sharing the wealth business has lost its appeal. They’re tired of people freeloading off of them and taking advantage of them. To which we say, welcome to our world.

The world of Jesus, you mean?  Jesus hated freeloaders too, I suppose.  Kind of confuses me about the fish-into-loaves-of-bread thing, but I guess you can make any douchebag point you want if you selectively use the Bible. 

Now you know why we have lost patience with all of liberalism and the entire welfare system. 

So the OWSers want the greedy, evil corporations to share the wealth with them, but they don’t want to share their wealth with anybody, especially with the poor and needy flooding into their squatters’ camps. I’m sure Jesus would be happy to address the OWS crowd, and he’d probably begin his remarks with the scathing use of the word “hypocrites.” 

Wait, wait, wait.  Are we talking about the same Jesus here?  The Jesus that threw over the tables of the greedy moneychangers in the temple and got medieval on their asses?  The Jesus who said that a rich man has about as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel does getting through the eye of a needle? That Jesus?  Are you telling me that Jesus would be on board with the 1%ers?

Secondly, Jesus has no truck with those whose entire agenda is to flagrantly disobey two of the Ten Commandments of God. 

Really.  The entire agenda.  Funny I didn't see any signs about the Ten Commandments at all.

God said, “Thou shalt not steal,” a commandment Jesus affirmed on numerous occasions. Stealing is wrong, and it doesn’t make it right when government does it under color of law.  

Is stealing right when corporations do it and governments look the other way?  Just curious.

But the OWS crowd wants to use the coercive power of government to take resources from some and involuntarily redistribute it to others. Namely, them. When government confiscates wealth by force from some citizens and transfers that wealth to others, that’s not welfare and it’s not compassion. It is nothing less than legalized plunder. 

Oh, Bryan.  You're soooo close.  The problem is… you have your scorecard upside down.

What happened is that the government bailed out banks and financial institutions.  And the CEOs took that money, and gave themselves huge bonuses, after fucking up not only their businesses but the entire economy.  And where did the government bailout come from?  Us! You!  The OWS crowd!  The Tea Party crowd!

In short, the wealth distribution already happened.  It went from hard-working Americans (involuntarily) on "Main Street" to incompetent Wall Street bigwigs.  And you're right about one thing — tt was nothing less than legalized plunder, Bryan.  

Jesus teaches the redistribution of wealth – as long as the transfer is voluntary.

Uh, no he doesn't.  Where in the Bible does he talk about voluntary weath distribution, bro?  (You're making up things again, Arnold…)

But he is adamantly opposed to the involuntary redistribution of wealth, because that violates the moral law of God and is profoundly wrong.

Wait a second.  If you disobey God's commandments, you go to hell, right?  So when I'm commanded by God to "Love thy neighbor", doesn't that require that I redistribute my wealth?  You know, the whole bit about, "If a man asks you for your shirt, give him your coat as well"?  And if I'm doing so under threat of eternal damnation, am I really doing it "voluntarily"?

Do you really think, Bryan, that Jesus would be in the boardrooms of Goldman Sachs, as opposed to with the Occupiers in body and spirit?

His words to take care of the poor are not addressed to government, they are addressed to us. 

This from the guy who wants the government to put bibles in the schools, and who thinks this is a Christian Nation forged by our forefathers to promote the Judeo-Christian ideals.  Yes…. apparently, the government is supposed to further Christian causes, just not ACT like a Christian.  (Bryan, what were you saying earlier about "hypocrites"?)

But I'll set that aside.  Guess what?  We control the government.  And if there is a popular movement broad and deep enough which mandates that we take care of the poor (which we do anyway, like it or not, through various safety nets like Social Security and Medicare and public housing), then it shall be done.  That's called democracy.

Besides, the OWS people aren't demanding redistribution of wealth.  They're not asking that the executives of Goldman Sachs come down from the Wall Street offices and hand out cash.  They are simply asking that financial institutions be regulated so that they can't pick the pocket of the average working man, and essentially commit fraud.  A fair shake.

And the OWS crowd is animated by a thoroughly ugly disregard for the 10th Commandment as well. God says, “Thou shalt not covet…any thing that is thy neighbor’s.” And yet the Occupiers are driven by a dark, bitter, resentful, angry and acquisitive greed for stuff that belongs to other people. 

WTF?

That's simply not true, of course.  Many in the movement are, for example, artists.  They recognize that their profession will not lead to being in the top 1% of all income earners, and they are totally fine with that.  This isn't about coveting the rich and taking the rich's money; it's about the greed OF the rich.

I submit that no political program that is predicated on a violation of twenty percent of God’s moral law can possibly be right, can possibly work, or can possibly be good for America. 

Wow.  Brilliant.

Jesus took a whip to the thieves and the covetous in his day. If he were to come back and do the same thing today, he just might start in Zuccotti Park.

In other words, he might occupy Wall Street after all. 

I see.  So Jesus — the guy who said "blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" — the guy who was whipped and tortured before being nailed to a cross — if he were on Earth today, he would walk through Zuccotti Park with a whip, flailing on the people who seek economic justice?

Dude, your Jesus sucks.

1%

I saw a headline in which Michael Moore admits he is in the 1% (the top 1% of income-earners in this country).  Of course, he's within the 1% in monetary terms only.  He's with us 99 percenters in every other respect.

"Wait", I thought.  "Just how do you know what percent you are?"

Ah, thank you Wall Street Journal.

I'm an 81%er.  Trust me, you wouldn't know it to look at me or my lifestyle.  But I guess that's the point — the gap between the top 1% and those below (including me at the 81% level) is huuuuuuge.

FYI: An annual salary above $506,000 puts you in the top 1%, while you need to make less than $2,500 a year to be in the bottom 1%.

A Good Chart ‘Splains A Lot

Okay, follow me on this.  It's not too difficult.

We all know that there has been overall economic growth in the past two decades.  But the complaint of the OWS movement it that overall economic growth does not raise all boats of the economic stratosphere.  Conservatives, on the other hand, will try to tell you that because of trickle-down economics, when the wealthy benefit, everyone does.

Who's right?  Well, this chart from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities tells us the OWS folks are right.  What is the chart?  It's a chart that compares how much income various groups make today vs. how much they would be making if everyone's incomes, rich and poor alike, had grown at similar rates since 1979.

So, for example, if you are in the bottom 20% of the income scale, you have $5,623 less per year than you would have if all income groups had benefitted equally from the economic boom.  That's the price that the bottom 20% "pay" for the growing plutocracy.  

As you can see, by 2005 the bottom 80% were collectively earning about $743 billion less per year while the top 1% were earning about $673 billion more. It's sort of uncanny how close those numbers are. For all practical purposes, every year about $700 billion in income is being sucked directly out of the hands of the poor and the middle class and shoveled into the hands of the rich.

Some might argue, "Well, it is the wealthiest people who created the economic boom over the past twenty years, so of course their percentage should be higher."  

There are two responses to that.  One from Elizabeth Warren:

The more complete answer though, in my view, comes from Matt Tiabbi and others who note that the economic progress was actually created not from innovation and winning business strategies, but from cheating.

1)  While ordinary people have to borrow their money at market rates, multi-millionaires like Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon get billions of dollars for free, from the Federal Reserve. 

2)  If you or I miss a $7 payment on a Gap card or, heaven forbid, a mortgage payment, you can forget about the great computer in the sky ever overlooking your mistake. But serial financial fuckups like Citigroup and Bank of America overextended themselves by the hundreds of billions and pumped trillions of dollars of deadly leverage into the system — and got rewarded with things like the Temporary Liquidity Guarantee Program, an FDIC plan that allowed irresponsible banks to borrow against the government's credit rating.

3)  When a homeowner screws up and can't pay a mortgage, they get foreclosed on.  But time after time, when big banks screw up and make irresponsible bets that blow up in their faces, they've scored bailouts.

4)  And of course, the tax situation:

Bankers on Wall Street pay lower tax rates than most car mechanics. When Warren Buffet released his tax information, we learned that with taxable income of $39 million, he paid $6.9 million in taxes last year, a tax rate of about 17.4%.

Most of Buffet’s income, it seems, was taxed as either "carried interest" (i.e. hedge-fund income) or long-term capital gains, both of which carry 15% tax rates, half of what many of the Zucotti park protesters will pay.  

As for the banks, as companies, we've all heard the stories. Goldman, Sachs in 2008 – this was the same year the bank reported $2.9 billion in profits, and paid out over $10 billion in compensation —  paid just $14 million in taxes, a 1% tax rate.

Bank of America last year paid not a single dollar in taxes — in fact, it received a "tax credit" of $1 billion. There are a slew of troubled companies that will not be paying taxes for years, including Citigroup and CIT.

When GM bought the finance company AmeriCredit, it was able to marry its long-term losses to AmeriCredit's revenue stream, creating a tax windfall worth as much as $5 billion. So even though AmeriCredit is expected to post earnings of $8-$12 billion in the next decade or so, it likely won't pay any taxes during that time, because its revenue will be offset by GM's losses.

Thank God our government decided to pledge $50 billion of your tax dollars to a rescue of General Motors! You just paid for one of the world's biggest tax breaks.

So when you add all these things together, you learn that the rules are rigged so that the rich can generate wealth for themselves — incredible wealth — not by providing better products and services, but by simply playing a game where the rules that apply to the rest of us don't apply to them.

And if you need a more blatent example, there's this: the raiding of employee pension funds for corporate profit — literally taking money from the little guy and putting into into the big guy's pockets.  Happens all the time, according to Ellen Schultz – an award-winning Wall Street Journal reporter and author of Retirement Heist: How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers.

Corporations have been "exaggerating their retiree burdens" and plundering retirement plans in a variety of ways, including:

  • Siphon billions of dollars from their pension plans to finance downsizings and sell the assets in merger deals.
  • Overstate the burden of rank-and-file retiree obligations to justify benefits cuts, while simultaneously using the savings to inflate executive pay and pensions.
  • Hide growing executive pension liabilities, which at some companies now exceed the liabilities for the regular pension plans.
  • Purchase billions of dollars of life insurance on workers and use the policies as informal executive pension funds. When the insured workers and retirees die, the company collects tax-free death benefits.
  • Exclude millions of low-paid workers from 401(k)'s to make the plans more valuable to the top-paid.

According to Schultz, these and related measures have become commonplace among Fortune 500 companies, including AT&T, Bank of America, JP Morgan, IBM, Cigna, General Motors, GM, Comcast, UPS and the NFL, just to name a few.

And that's what OWS is all about.

On The Other Hand….

My praise of the OWS site still stands, but it's this kind of nonsensical infighting – tension growing between those who want to bang their drum all day (literally) and everybody else — that's going to make OWS a bit of a laughing stock.

Where do I come down on this?  Well, when I visited, the drumming circles weren't playing.  Drumming circles are cool and all (not really, I find them to be annoying and its practitioners very elitist, like jazz musicians), but hardly a necessary component of the movement.  If they drown out actual conversation and dialogue, which (I would think) is one of the main goals of the "occupation", then they are counter-productive.  Or perhaps I should say, as one commenter wrote, "Noise pollution, from drumming to rap to rock to folk to opera, is the province of assholes. Do your thing without space-invading. Contribute without co-opting."

102511occupy3

One hopes that the General Assembly has bigger things to deal with.

I’m Down With OWS (Yeah, You Know Me)

I was in NYC this past weekend, and decided to visit the folks at Occupy Wall Street to see for myself what it was all about.

First of all, although I used to work in that area of Manhatten, it's been almost ten years since I've been in that part of the city.  The last time I went was in late October 2001, when the towers were still smoldering.

Now, of course, the area is being rebuilt, and the Freedom Tower towers over the other skyscrapers in the area.

The 9-11 memorial is accessible with a pass, which are sold out months in advance.  You can't even see it from elsewhere in the area (unless you are in a tall building).

I walked around the Winter Garden which had been restored to its former glory.  That's where this video (0:46) was taken — the 9/11 Memorial itself was in the distance:

 

At the Winter Garden, a retired fireman from Staten Island regaled a crowd of tourists with his very moving account of September 11, 2001.

And tourists were there in huge throngs.  Tourists, construction workers, and police, in equal parts.

But that was not my ultimate destination.  I was going to Zuccotti Park, the site of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

First thing one should know: Zuccotti Park isn't really on, or that near to, Wall Street.  It is actually in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, a good 10-15 walk from the actual New York Stock Exchange.

The park itself is one square city block.  And it was jammed full.

The time of my visit was around 10:00 a.m. on Saturday (October 22).  I couldn't tell you how many protesters were there, as most of them were resting and/or asleep under tarps.

The video below is my walk through the park (1:51).  As you can see, it was mostly tarps (as actual tents were not allowed).

 

The Demographics of OWS: Guess What? A Lot Have Jobs And A Good Income

Turns out, they are not made up of what you think:

Business analyst Harrison Schultz and professor Hector R. Cordero-Guzman from the Baruch College School of Public Affairs, today released a study based on a survey of 1,619 visitors to theoccupywallst.org site on October 5. And about a quarter of them have also attended occupation events. So they aren't all armchair activists.

Some of the results are to be expected. For example about 64% of respondents are younger than 34. But others back up the assertion made in the title of the report “Main Stream Support for a Mainstream Movement: The 99% Movement Comes From and Looks Like the 99%.”

Among the findings:

They aren’t all kids. Xers, Boomers, and older are also in on it: One-third of respondents is older than 35, and one-fifth is 45 or older.

It’s not all students and the educated elite. About 8% have, at best, a high school degree. And just about a quarter (26.7%) are enrolled in school. Only about 10% are full-time students.

“Get a job!” wouldn’t apply to most of them. Half of the respondents are already employed full-time, and an additional 20% work part-time. Just 13.1% are unemployed–not a whole lot more than the national average.

“Tax the rich!” could hit close to home. About 15% earn between $50,000 and $80,000 annually (pretty good anywhere except in Manhattan). Thirteen percent earn over $75,000 annually, and nearly 2% bring in more than $150,000.

It may be a party, but not that kind. The movement is often identified as a liberal, even Democrat-dominated cause. But just 27.3% of respondents call themselves Democrats (and 2.4% are Republican). And the rest, 70% call themselves independents.

Not everyone tweets. The microblogging site played a big role in getting the movement started. But that’s not how most people keep up with it. Twenty-nine percent of respondents are regular Twitter users. But 66% are Facebook regulars. The biggest online community, however, is YouTube, with about 74% being regular users.

 

As Expected…

The rightosphere is full of lots of stories, marginally documented, which aim to paint the entire OWS movement. 

You know what I mean… "There is a guy on Wall Street at the protesters shouting anti-Jewish slogans.  Therefore, the whole movement is anti-Zionist and probably socialist and communist as well."

(Interestingly, another meme from the right is that the whole movement is backed by George Soros.  Soros, a Jew.)

It's happened before.  When the Tea Party was at its apex, liberal bloggers and commenters (myself included) were quick to note extremely racist signs (as well as the lack of ethnic diversity).

But here's the difference.  There's tangible and overwhelming evidence that the supposed anti-semitism is isolated.  ADL National Director Abraham Foxman condemns those incidents, but acknowledges "we believe that these expressions are not representative of the larger views of the OWS movement."

But if you want tangible proof, here's a video. It was shot at the Wall Street demonstration on Yom Kippur Eve and it features not a few anti-Semites but thousands of Jews celebrating the holiest day of the Jewish year, a day dedicated to the same ideals as Occupy Wall Street: repentance for putting our desires before the needs of the poor, the homeless, and the exploited.

 

Perhaps one of the funniest misfires from the right comes from Pajamas Media, noting that many protesters are wearing a “neo-swastika power symbol”.  But as Charles Johnson mockingly points out, it's nothing but a Twitter hashtag symbol (see photo)

By the way, I happen to be going to NYC this weekend.  So I can report on it personally (since there is occupation in Times Square where I'll be).

Looks like I'm going to have some fun…

Watch live streaming video from occupynyc at livestream.com

 

By the way…. best protest sign:

The Chutzpah Of Bank of America

(1)  So let me get this straight.  After being bailed out by the federal governmentwith our tax dollars – following their gross incompetence, Bank of America wants to start charging fees for use of debit cards?  That is, they want to make customers pay for accessing their own money? By the way, Bank of America gets to use customers' money to make incompetent investment decisions in the first place (I mean, it's not like your money just sits in a vault).

(2) This is nuts.  From Stephen Foster at Addicting Info:

Two protesters involved with Occupy Santa Cruz in California walked into Bank of America earlier this week to close their own accounts as part of the national protest against the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street, which has only seen its profits soar since it nearly collapsed the economy back in 2008… Rather than allow their customers to close their accounts, they told them that “you can not be a protester and a customer at the same time.” The bank manager threatened to lock the doors and call the police to have their own customers arrested for the simple act of requesting the closure of their own accounts. The two women left the bank and called the police. The officer went into the bank and after talking to the manager, relayed a message to them. According to the bank manager, “If they came in with the signs and they were part of the protest earlier, then they are protesters and cannot be customers at the same time.”

 I don't have a BofA account, but if I did, I just might close my accounts, too.

The Movement That Can’t Be Ignored

Ap_occupy_wall_street_8_dm_111014_ssh

I have to admit — when I first heard of the Occupy Wall Street protests, I thought it was a two or three day story.

But just the opposite has happened — the story grew and the protests grew.

Although some in the media (Fox, I'm looking at you) still feign ignorance about what the movement is about, everyone else has moved on past that by now.  The message, quite simply, is about the grotesque economic inequities that have slowly crept in over the past twenty to thirty years.  Starting in the 1980's, we have seen huge deregulation of the financial sector, and while Wall Street apologists are quick to point out the huge economic gains this country has made in that time, they are tone deaf to the actual complaints: the beneficiaries of those gains are at the top echelon of the economic scale.  The middle and lower classes not only failed to benefit from the country's financial growth; they are actually worse off.

And so Occupy Wall Street has expanded such that it now plays a role in even smaller metropolises.  Both the daily newspapers in Greensboro and Winston-Salem could not avoid covering, and had front page stories about, the Occupy Greensboro and Occupy Winston-Salem movements respectively.

I happened to come across the Occupy Greensboro encampment yesterday, located next to the Greensboro Cultural Center, and was a bit disappointed at the way it looked.  There were about 15 tents and 40 people there, mostly college age and tattooed and body-pierced, with the exception of a couple of tie-dyed wearing-hippies from the 60's.  They were sitting in groups of six or seven, having conversations about the movement and what to do next.  And there was — oh, God — a drum circle.  How much more of a cliche could this setting be?

Later that day, I spoke to an Occupy Greensboro organizer and friend, Devon Currie.  She sheepishly admitted to me that OG actually paid for a permit to occupy the space.  She was against it; it didn't seem in keeping with the whole "occupy" thing.  But she also understood the reasoning — Occupy Greensboro hoped to be broad-based and attract more segments of the community, and it wouldn't serve that goal if everyone was swept up and arrested for trespassing on Day One.  (Besides, she added, who knows what we will do when the permit runs out?)  Fair enough, I thought.

And she pointed out to me that even though Occupy Greensboro appears to look like a typical protest of hippies and hippie-wannabes, the support the group is getting actually is broad-based.  They have received donations (money, food, etc.) from all segments of society (small business owners, etc.).  And in telling me this, she reminded me of something that I clearly and temporarily overlooked — the "Occupy" movement is so much more than those who actually place their bodies at the protests sites.

So it is important not to allow ones perception of the protesters themselves cloud ones perception of the greater cause.  Surveys show that 65% of all Americans stand behind the Occupy Wall Street movement, and that number probably goes up when you take into account the global response (Occupy Rome, etc).  It's just that most of us — myself included — simply can't be a part of the actual occupations.  So let the hippies and hippie wannabes have their conversation "raps" and drum circles — they have (apparently) the time and inclination (and to be fair, college age students are the hardest hit by this economic crisis).  

(That said — there ARE interesting ways, besides donating, that you can voice your protest)

But the movement and its supporters are much, much broader.  As this weekend's must-read New York Times editorial states (in supporting the protests):

The protests, though, are more than a youth uprising. The protesters’ own problems are only one illustration of the ways in which the economy is not working for most Americans. They are exactly right when they say that the financial sector, with regulators and elected officials in collusion, inflated and profited from a credit bubble that burst, costing millions of Americans their jobs, incomes, savings and home equity. As the bad times have endured, Americans have also lost their belief in redress and recovery.

Sure, there are nay-sayers.  Some Tea Party spokespersons, for example. like to draw a distinction between their protests ("Oh, we would never break any laws") and the OWS protests.  Of course, as Jon Stewart pointed out, the Tea Party movement is named after one of the most historically praised criminal ventures, where patriots actually committed felonies by breaking into merchant vessels and tossing the contents overboard.  By contrast, the trespassing misdemeanors of the OWS protesters is comparatively tame.

The movement is already a success.  It has occupied the headlines of every major news outlet AND local news outlet.  It's put the issue of economic disparity at the forefront.

And it has got the attention of the lords of finance, some of whom privately "dismiss the protesters as gullible and unsophisticated".  Unfortunately, the large Wall Street bankers can't say this publicly, for fear of further lending support to the OWS movement.  

TMW2011-10-19colorKOS

True, some smaller financial institutions recognize that there truly is a problem, i.e., that Wall Street has severely screwed over Main Street, and that something needs to be done.

But even if we have a lot of people saying "Okay.  We get the problem", what comes next? However, 

It is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation. That’s the job of the nation’s leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies. Because they have not, the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself. It is also the first line of defense against a return to the Wall Street ways that plunged the nation into an economic crisis from which it has yet to emerge.

And as long as they keep that pressure on, which they will be able to do with the support of the broader community, we just might get our nation's leaders to finally address and tackle this problem.  Along this line, I leave the last word to Paul Krugman:

And there are real political opportunities here. Not, of course, for today’s Republicans, who instinctively side with those Theodore Roosevelt-dubbed “malefactors of great wealth.” Mitt Romney, for example — who, by the way, probably pays less of his income in taxes than many middle-class Americans — was quick to condemn the protests as “class warfare.”

But Democrats are being given what amounts to a second chance. The Obama administration squandered a lot of potential good will early on by adopting banker-friendly policies that failed to deliver economic recovery even as bankers repaid the favor by turning on the president. Now, however, Mr. Obama’s party has a chance for a do-over. All it has to do is take these protests as seriously as they deserve to be taken.

And if the protests goad some politicians into doing what they should have been doing all along, Occupy Wall Street will have been a smashing success.

And today, sadly, we see a rather meager start.

Occupy Wall Street versus The Tea Party

Favorable Opinion of Tea Party: 27%

Favorable Opinion of Occupy Wall Street:  54%

National Poll by Time magazine

And when you factor in disfavorability, the Occupy Wall Street folks have a huge net positive, compared to the tea party.

OWS-v.-Tea-Party-poll_web_graphic

Oddly, there are reports that Tea Party organizations are trying to distance themselves from the Occupy Wall Street movement:

“The left is trying to create a counter force to the tea party, but it’s almost laughable that anyone is comparing the two, because they’re totally different,” said Sal Russo, chief strategist for the Tea Party Express.

But the two movements are not opposite:

“We’re both populist movements, but this is not an answer to the tea party,” asserted Kevin Zeese, an organizer of an anti-war group that has affiliated itself with the Occupy D.C. protests. “This has nothing to do with the tea party. We welcome them to come participate if they share our anger about economic insecurity.”

Meanwhile, Reuters has a new story that breathlessly concludes that George Soros is behind the entire #OccupyWallStreet venture because – wait for it – some kid saw a poster in a cafe criticizing Wall Street, the poster was made by a small group of arch-liberals in Canada, the arch-liberals in Canada receive a small amount of their funding (less than 5%) from the Tides foundation, and the Tides foundation receives some of their funding from George Soros.

Seriously, read the Reuters article.  The "connection" between Soros and OWS is that tenuous.