Thursday, October 27, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street Makes No Concrete Demands

Commentators on the right and the left have criticized the Occupy Wall Street Movement for not presenting concrete demands. My own Republican representative Leonard Lance made the point two days ago in a telephone "town meeting" in answer to my question. Yet John Nichols defends them for this and says they have it exactly right, in the current Nation magazine.

An even more thoroughgoing explanation for this position, however, comes from Thomas Frank's brilliant and disturbing book, The Wrecking Crew (Henry Holt, 2008), where he describes the right's deliberate campaign to dismantle and privatize government, with disastrous results all around, except for the "privateers" (my term).

Here are two illuminating quotes:

“The needs of business stand like a rock; all other else is convenience, opportunism, a bit of bushwah generated by some focus group session and forgotten the instant it is no longer convincing. Fundamentally amoral, capitalism is loyal to no people, no region, no heroes, really, once they have exhausted their usefulness—not even to the
nation whose flag the wingers pretend to worship.
“Hence the eternal frustration of the conservative rank and file with their leaders. Unless you are solely interested in the welfare of business, Washington
conservatives will all turn out to be ‘imposters’ to you, always ready to
compromise on family values or their adherence to the Founders’ ‘original
intent.’ Every ally is an ally of convenience for them, every ironclad
principle subject to revocation without notice, every noble ideal advanced merely to shore up popular support. Although there is no central command barking out the talking points, the movement nevertheless seems almost naturally to behave like an agitprop
bureau.” p. 100

“It is a basic principle of conservatism—an axiom, a cornerstone, an immutable law of human nature, world history and all the planets and stars—that turning over government operations to private businesses is the most efficient way to get things done. In reality, the conservatives’ outsourcing system has been a
ripoff of such massive proportions that it deserves a Grace Commission all its
own. In each of the Bush administrations’s great initiatives—anti-terrorism,
the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, and the administration of Iraq—privatized
government has played a starring role and has proven itself a gold-plated
botch. Again and again, and despite a veritable river of dollars, it has failed
to deliver what it promised. The Department of Defense and Homeland
Security routinely accept contracts so ill-crafted they seem to have been designed more as a way to sluice billions in to the contractors’ pockets than as a device for getting something done. And, being private, the contractors are largely shielded from
oversight and accountability. Indeed, a favorite conservative tactic has been
to shut down offices that supervise the outsourced operations—in 2006, the
General Services Administration actually to contract out the job of supervising
contractors—allowing the market to perform its miracles without any scrutiny
from government at all.” pp. 138-39

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Day 21: The Occupy Wall Street Protests Gain a Foothold in the Public Imagination

On Friday, October 7, WBAI’s Jordan Journal with Howard Jordan, featured New School economics professor Rick Wolff on the Occupy Wall Street movement and protests. Wolff has become the unofficial guide to this historical phenomenon, and he’s the perfect person to do it, with his grasp of history, solid grounding in both mainstream and Marxist economic theory, his personal acquaintaince with many of the players on the economic scene today, including Ben Bernanke and many corporate bank officials, and his talent for explaining complex things simply and clearly. Yesterday he was quoting Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protest was of little significance.

To the contrary, he said. Knowing Bernanke as he does, the Fed Chairman is truly worried, as are the Wall Street (criminal) bankers. They don’t know how this is going to end. They had dismissed the Tea Party movement, which attacks them, as no-nothings, though necessarily tolerated by the Republican establishment, since they have such an extensive following. But they weren’t expecting a challenge from the left to gain traction. After all, the mainstream media had managed to either ignore, dismiss or quarantine them in the form of the large anti-war demonstrations of the past decade—whose truth counted for little or nothing in the media marketplace.

But these young protesters are different. Even though relatively small in number, they’re persisting into their third week of a very prominent occupation. They’ve had run-ins with the police and come out on top, garnering world attention and much public sympathy. They understand the crimes of the banks all too well, much better than the Tea Partyers. And now the mainstream media are coming around, with detailed reports in the Times and warmly sympathetic opinion pieces by commentators like Paul Krugman (in Friday, Oct. 6's Times). Moreover, they’re expressing the feelings of millions of people—the new Silent Majority—who are furious at the banks for bringing down the economy, causing so much pain, and escaping any real punishment. Theirs is the fear of the guilty. Wolff pointed out that the politically less active are waiting to see if the movement will persist before signing on, and now with mainstream media attention and endorsement, it seems to be snowballing into an established challenge from the left—the hitherto moribund left, which the conventional wisdom had been accustomed to dealing with in obituary mode.

But now, even NYC Police Chief Ray Kelly says he won’t bother the protesters as long as they don’t block traffic and stay within police barricades during their marches. He knows he risks another black eye if he tries to harrass them. I suspect Mayor Bloomberg is feeling some Schadenfreude towards his “friends in the (criminal) banking industry that a “rag-tag” group of young (desperate, jobless, victimized) protesters is giving voice to truths that not even the New York Times permitted itself to utter, and that this is resonating across the country and throughout the world. The People are becoming more aware of what really happened, and they’re supporting those who affirm these truths by sleeping on cardboard in the open, under plastic tarps in a public (private) park—the only one in the city, incidentally, where it’s permitted to stay overnight. No responsible spokesperson, from the President on down, can afford to dismiss them any more. They’ve established a beachhead in the public imagination.

Meanwhile, the reactionary media, Fox “noise” (—Keith Olberman’s pun) commentators Bill O’Reilley and Ann Coulter are angrily twisting around with their worn-out clichés in a pathetic attempt to discredit the protesters. For example, O’Reilley called Prof. Frances Fox Piven, who spoke to the OWS encampment this week, a “Communist sympathizer, who was outed by Glenn Beck.” Can anyone take this seriously? What Communists are left to sympathize with, the Albanians? And Beck! He lost his job at Fox after his ratings plummetted 15% in about a week, after he got the Tahrir Square protests exactly wrong, calling them a rabble. Of course, now he’s pimping for Netanyahu. (Remember this is a Mormon, who, like us Jews, are an economically highly successful group who dote on their history of persecution as validating a conveniently permanent victimhood). Coulter has ominously warned her listeners that these dangerous occupiers are similar to those who started the French and Russian Revolutions—those horrendous turns of History that threw out an old order she so dearly loves.

So the relatively simple act of sleeping in the re-dubbed Liberty Square is apparently enough to deflate the Murdoch Empire! Listen to the children! The Emperor has been naked for years, and the 80-year-old Murdoch is no pin-up.

I feel incredibly honored that my photograph of artist Dinorah Delfin from last April, holding Adbusters’ corporate US flag against a background of the scuttled ships along the Arthur Kill waterway in Staten Island, was used as their page-poster in the September-October issue (reprinted in the following issue as well) to exhort us to Occupy Wall Street.