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Valuable insight from Barbara and John Ehrenreich about the OWS movement, class and popular misconceptions propagated by the Right.
The “other men” (and of course women) in the current American class alignment are those in the top 1 per cent of the wealth distribution – the bankers, hedge-fund managers and CEOs targeted by the Occupy Wall Street movement. They have been around for a long time in one form or another, but they only began to emerge as a distinct and visible group, informally called the “super-rich”, in recent years.
Extravagant levels of consumption helped draw attention to them: private jets, multiple 50,000 square-foot mansions, $25,000 chocolate desserts embellished with gold dust. But as long as the middle class could still muster the credit for college tuition and occasional home improvements, it seemed churlish to complain. Then came the financial crash of 2007-2008, followed by the Great Recession, and the 1 per cent to whom we had entrusted our pensions, our economy, and our political system stood revealed as a band of feckless, greedy narcissists and possibly sociopaths.
Still, until a few months ago, the 99 per cent was hardly a group capable of (as Thompson says) articulating “the identity of their interests”. It contained, and still contains, most “ordinary” rich people, along with middle-class professionals, factory workers, truck drivers, and miners, as well as the much poorer people who clean the houses, manicure the fingernails and maintain the lawns of the affluent.
It was divided not only by these class differences, but most visibly by race and ethnicity – a division that has actually deepened since 2008. African-Americans and Latinos of all income levels disproportionately lost their homes to foreclosure in 2007 and 2008, and then disproportionately lost their jobs in the wave of layoffs that followed. On the eve of the Occupy movement, the black middle class had been devastated. In fact, the only political movements to have come out of the 99 per cent before Occupy emerged were the Tea Party movement and, on the other side of the political spectrum, the resistance to restrictions on collective bargaining in Wisconsin.
|In-depth coverage of the global movement|
But Occupy could not have happened if large swaths of the 99 per cent had not begun to discover some common interests, or at least to put aside some of the divisions among themselves. For decades, the most stridently promoted division within the 99 per cent was the one between what the right calls the “liberal elite” – composed of academics, journalists, media figures, etc. – and pretty much everyone else.
As Harper’s columnist Thomas Frank has brilliantly explained, the right earned its spurious claim to populism by targeting that “liberal elite”, which supposedly favours reckless government spending that requires oppressive levels of taxes, supports “redistributive” social policies and programmes that reduce opportunity for the white middle class, creates ever more regulations (to, for instance, protect the environment) that reduce jobs for the working class, and promotes kinky countercultural innovations like gay marriage. The liberal elite, insisted conservative intellectuals, looked down on “ordinary” middle- and working-class Americans, finding them tasteless and politically incorrect. The “elite” was the enemy, while the super-rich were just like everyone else, only more “focussed” and perhaps a bit better connected.
Of course, the “liberal elite” never made any sociological sense. Not all academics or media figures are liberal (Newt Gingrich, George Will, Rupert Murdoch). Many well-educated middle managers and highly-trained engineers may favour latte over Red Bull, but they were never targets of the right. And how could trial lawyers be members of the nefarious elite, while their spouses in corporate law firms were not?
A greased chute, not a safety net
Liberal Viewer is taking a fine tooth comb to the action of the police during the OWS protests. More importantly he is speaking directly to what the character of the US is about. It the US a constitutional democracy or is it a autocratic oligarchy that will defend the interests of the rich before the rights of the poor (yes, yes I know false dichotomy but we are being dramatic here). The protests and coverage are writing a new chapter in the rights that people are allowed to express in the US. You can sit on the sidelines and critique OWS on any number of areas, and justifiably so, what and how they are doing is far from perfect. However, what also needs to be examined is what by extension they are doing for those of us who are not participating.
The protesters are documenting and recording how the state treats dissident views. What you are seeing is how well your rights as a citizen stand up to the power of the state and its coercive apparatus. The OWS protests are a litmus test as to exactly how much freedom and liberties are accorded in society. So before you cast aspersions and uncritical invective at OWS, perhaps consider what it would be like if you were demonstrating and vocalizing an idea that meant enough to put your freedom and safety on the line.
This is all repost folks. The article from alter.net is long, but clearly written and provides a great deal of context as to what OWS is and what it needs to do to continue its success. Do you want to actually understand some of what OWS? is about? Make the time and read this article. Take it away Dr.Chomsky.
It’s a little hard to give a Howard Zinn Memorial Lecture at an Occupy meeting. There are mixed feelings that go along with it. First of all, regret that Howard is not here to take part and invigorate it in his particular way, something that would have been the dream of his life, and secondly, excitement that the dream is actually being fulfilled. It’s a dream for which he laid a lot of the groundwork. It would have been the fulfillment of a dream for him to be here with you.
The Occupy movement really is an exciting development. In fact, it’s spectacular. It’s unprecedented; there’s never been anything like it that I can think of. If the bonds and associations that are being established at these remarkable events can be sustained through a long, hard period ahead — because victories don’t come quickly– this could turn out to be a very significant moment in American history.
The fact that the demonstrations are unprecedented is quite appropriate. It is an unprecedented era — not just this moment — but actually since the 1970s. The 1970s began a major turning point in American history. For centuries, since the country began, it had been a developing society with ups and downs. But the general progress was toward wealth and industrialization and development — even in dark and hope — there was a pretty constant expectation that it’s going to go on like this. That was true even in very dark times.
I’m just old enough to remember the Great Depression. After the first few years, by the mid-1930s, although the situation was objectively much harsher than it is today, the spirit was quite different. There was a sense that we’re going to get out of it, even among unemployed people. It’ll get better. There was a militant labor movement organizing, CIO was organizing. It was getting to the point of sit-down strikes, which are very frightening to the business world. You could see it in the business press at the time. A sit-down strike was just a step before taking over the factory and running it yourself. Also, the New Deal legislations were beginning to come under popular pressure. There was just a sense that somehow we’re going to get out of it.
It’s quite different now. Now there’s kind of a pervasive sense of hopeless, or, I think, despair. I think it’s quite new in American history and it has an objective basis. In the 1930s unemployed “working people” could anticipate realistically that the jobs are going to come back. If you’re a worker in manufacturing today — and the unemployment level in manufacturing today is approximately like the Depression — if current tendencies persist, then those jobs aren’t going to come back. The change took place in the ’70s. There are a lot of reasons for it. One of the underlying reasons, discussed mainly by economic historian Robert Bernard, who has done a lot of work on it, is a falling rate of profit. That, with other factors, led to major changes in the economy — a reversal of the 700 years of progress towards industrialization and development. We turned to a process of deindustrialization and de-development. Of course, manufacturing production continued, but overseas (it’s very profitable, but no good for the workforce). Along with that came a significant shift of the economy from productive enterprise, producing things people need, to financial manipulation. Financialization of the economy really took off at that time.
Before the ’70s, banks were banks. They did what banks are supposed to do in a capitalist economy: take unused funds, like, say, your bank account, and transfer them to some potentially useful purpose, like buying a home or sending your kid to college. There were no financial crises. It was a period of enormous growth; the largest period of growth in American history, or maybe in economic history. It was sustained growth in the ’50s and ’60s and it was egalitarian. So the lowest percentile did as well as the highest percentile. A lot of people moved into reasonable lifestyles — what’s called here “middle class” (working class is what it’s called in other countries).
It was real. The ’60s accelerated it. The activism of the ’60s, after a pretty dismal decade, really civilized the country in lots of ways that are permanent. They’re not changing. The ’70s came along and suddenly there’s sharp change to industrialization and the offshoring of production. The shifting to financial institutions, which grew enormously. Also in the ’50s and ’60s there was the development of what became several decades later the high-tech economy. Computers, Internet, the IT revolution was mostly developed in the ’50 and the ’60s, and substantially in the state sector. It took a couple of decades before it took off, but it was developed then.
The 1970s set off a kind of a vicious cycle that led to a concentration of wealth increasingly in the hands of the financial sector, which doesn’t benefit the economy. Concentration of wealth yields concentration of political power, which, in turn, arrives to legislation that increases and accelerates the cycle. The physical policies such as tax changes, rules of corporate governance, deregulation were essentially bipartisan. Alongside of this began a very sharp rise in the costs of elections, which drives the political parties even deeper than before into the pockets of the corporate sector.
A couple years later started a different process. The parties dissolved, essentially. It used to be if you were a person in Congress and hoped for a position of committee chair or a position of responsibility, you got it mainly through seniority and service. Within a couple of years, you started to have to put money into the party coffers in order to get ahead. That just drove the whole system even deeper into the pockets of the corporate sector and increasingly the financial sector–a tremendous concentration of wealth, mainly in the literally top 1/10th of 1 percent of the population.
Meanwhile, for the general population it began an open period of pretty much stagnation, or decline for the majority. People got by through pretty artificial means — like borrowing, so a lot of debt. Longer working hours for many. There was a period of stagnation and a higher concentration of wealth. The political system began to dissolve. There’s always been a gap between public policy and the public will, but it just grew kind of astronomically. You can see it right now, in fact.
Take a look at what’s happening right now. The big topic in Washington that everyone concentrates on is the deficit. For the public, correctly, the deficit is not much of an issue. The issue is joblessness, not a deficit. Now there’s a deficit commission but no joblessness commission. As far as the deficit is concerned, if you want to pay attention to it, the public has opinions. Take a look at the polls and the public overwhelmingly supports higher taxes on the wealthy, which have declined sharply during this stagnation period, this period of decline. The public wants higher taxes on the wealthy and to preserve the limited social benefits. The outcome of the deficit commission is probably going to be the opposite. Either they’ll reach an agreement, which will be the opposite of what the public wants, or else it will go into kind of an automatic procedure which is going to have those effects. Actually that’s something that’s going to happen very quickly. The deficit commission is going to come up with its decision in a couple of weeks. The Occupy movements could provide a mass base for trying to avert what amounts to a dagger in the heart of the country, and having negative effects.
Without going on with details, what’s being played out for the last 30 years is actually a kind of a nightmare that was anticipated by the classical economists. If you take an Adam Smith, and bother to read Wealth of Nations, you see that he considered the possibility that the merchants and manufacturers in England might decide to do their business abroad, invest abroad and import from abroad. He said they would profit but England would be harmed. He went on to say that the merchants and manufacturers would prefer to operate in their own country, what’s sometimes called a “home bias.” So, as if by an invisible hand, England would be saved the ravage of what’s called “neoliberal globalization.”
That’s a pretty hard passage to miss. In his classic Wealth of Nations, that’s the only occurrence of the phrase “invisible hand.” Maybe England would be saved from neoliberal globalization by an invisible hand. The other great classical economist David Ricardo recognized the same thing and hoped it wouldn’t happen. Kind of a sentimental hope. It didn’t happen for a long time, but it’s happening now. Over the last 30 years that’s exactly what’s underway. For the general population — the 99 percent in the imagery of the Occupy movement –it’s really harsh and it could get worse. This could be a period of irreversible decline. For the 1 percent, or furthermore 1/10th of 1 percent, it’s just fine. They’re at the top, richer and more powerful than ever in controlling the political system and disregarding the public, and if it can continue, then sure why not? This is just what Smith and Ricardo warned about.
The long winter in Canada and the United States is going to challenge the OWS movement. Living in a tent sucks at the best of times, but add snow and cold temperatures to the mix and the proposition becomes quite untenable (at least to my delicate tastes). I hope that the organizers of the OWS have planned for the elements, perhaps moving the focus south during the winter and then coming back in force in the north during the spring. Whatever their plans may be, I hope no one is injured due to exposure to the elements.
The weather aside, another feature playing prominently into the future of the OWS movement is its apparent resilience to the corrosive effects of the right wing media. Quite simply, it would seem the OWS seem to have resisted so for being tarred and feathered by its main ideological opponents.
“Hardline conservatives struggle to find a candidate to go up against Barack Obama in 2012. Sarah Palin gets booed in public. Tea Party numbers are dwindling and now the group is ranking amongst the least popular groups in the country. Meanwhile, Occupy Wall Street has surged forward both in public consciousness and in popularity. The right-wing response to Occupy Wall St. has been limp and incoherent, mainly centered around spreading urban legends about dirty hippies and avoiding any substantive engagement.
How did the right-wing lose hold of the narrative? Here are four reasons it has been unsuccessful (so far) in steering and reframing the discourse surrounding OWS and the movement’s focus on the injustice of the 1%’s dominance of our economy and politics.”
The focus away from the mostly incoherent babble from the Tea Party is a good thing. The sheer amount of stupidity amalgamated into one movement was dangerous for the political discourse of the US, polarizing even further the divide between people.
1. Its “woe is me” pose may have lost luster in an ongoing economic crisis.
“The stock and trade of the American right is to play the victim. Right-wing propaganda in the form of Fox News, talk radio and direct mail is full of whining about how conservatives are just so oppressed because they can’t impose their agenda on others by fiat. The Tea Party’s motto was one of victimization: “I want my country back!” At first, many perceived the Tea Party as a populist uprising against unpopular initiatives like the bank bailout. As time has worn on, however, it’s become clear that the Tea Party has no real interest in holding corporations accountable, and that its leadership generally seemed interested in exploiting the bank bailout as part of a larger anti-government ideology coupled with a heartfelt devotion to the typical culture warrior nonsense.”
The persecution experience of the majority plays out on many levels. Encountering this juxtaposition while arguing with people is most distressing as it shows the extreme inversion of values that has taken place that have mostly swept reasonable debate away.
2. The obsession with sex.
“The Republicans swept many state elections and the U.S. House by convincing the voters that they intended to do something about the economic crisis and lower the unemployment rate. Instead, they devoted most of their attention to the supposed crisis of people having unauthorized orgasms. The House can’t pass a jobs bill to save their lives, but they can pass one bill after another attacking abortion rights or defunding family planning spending. The first big showdown between Obama and the House Republicans, in fact, was over condoms and the pill; House Republicans threatened to shut down the federal government in order to prevent American women from getting subsidized birth control pills from Planned Parenthood. On the state level, voters saw the newly elected Republicans do the same thing. One state after another is falling into disrepair and seeing unemployment numbers stay high, but their state legislatures are more interested in defunding contraception and restricting abortion than in paying attention to people’s economic concerns.”
I though “the plan” for Republicans was to promise social conservative reform to get elected, and then once elected deliver right of centre economic policy while ignoring their social promises. It would seem rather than following the plan they’ve actually dug their heels in and decided to make the social agenda a sticking point. Apparently no one has told them that the items they are supporting are regressive anti-woman measures that seemed designed to take the US back to the Dark Ages.
3. The looniness.
“Between the Tea Party and the electoral sweeps, the right seemed to decide that it was popular enough that it could let it all hang out without getting any blowback. The American right has always been loony and paranoid, but 2011 was when the looniness really came out and became unavoidable. There were Glenn Beck’s paranoid rantings. So many right wingers became loudly fixated on President Obama’s birth story that he was eventually forced to release his birth certificate. Republican presidential candidates find they must pay tribute to all sorts of irrational nonsense, from denying global warming to creationism, in order just to get their foot in the door. Average Americans have come to expect that we’ll be hearing about communist mind control chemicals in the drinking water soon. It’s hard to see the Tea Party as rational actors who can make solid economic decisions when they spend so much time emailing each other with lists of reasons they think President Obama was born in Kenya.”
Not much to add here, other than to highlight the sad commitment to delusional nonsense.
4. The out-of-sync ideological preoccupations.
“Beyond the obviously loony right-wing nonsense is the inability to set aside unpopular preoccupations. The right assumed the electoral sweeps meant the country was ready to hear ideas the far right has been nursing for a long time in the underground. Right-wingers talked bank bailouts until they got into power and then switched to talking about permanently eliminating major taxes on the super-wealthy, ending Social Security and privatizing popular government services–all ideas that don’t sit well with the public at large. On the contrary, in economic hard times, Americans hang on harder to social welfare programs like Social Security, and they stop thinking it’s so great that rich people have more money than they know what to do with while people are starving in the streets.
Because of these ideological preoccupations and wealth-worshipping, the American right was wholly unequipped to deal with the rise of liberal protests in the form of Occupy Wall Street and We Are the 99 Percent. The protesters have addressed record unemployment, the foreclosure crisis and growing inequalities between the wealthy and the rest of us; hence the reference to the 1 percent of Americans who control 40 percent of our nation’s wealth. The right couldn’t even grasp the actual complaints of the protesters and instead responded with We Are the 53 Percent, a reference to the 53 percent of Americans who pay federal income tax. The problem with that is no one was talking about most federal income tax payers; the liberal protesters are defending the vast majority of Americans, a group that includes people currently paying federal income tax, and those who can’t because they’re poor or students or retired.
The whole point of Occupy Wall Street is that a middle-class person who struggles to get by has more in common with an unemployed person than with the rich; in fact, a middle-class person could easily become a poor person in this economy. That is untrue of the 1 percent. The utter inability to grasp that basic argument has exposed the American right for what it is: a group of intellectually bereft people whose reliance on empty ideological platitudes prevents them from engaging with a changing world.”
I’ve highlighted the author’s assertion because it seems many discussions get sidetracked when it comes to discussing what the OWS protests are about. More importantly though, what I find most disturbing about debating with many people who self identify as holding right wing opinion is the lack of commitment to grounding there presuppositions in fact. Consider the response garnered from my last attempt at discussing educational issues with a religious conservative blogger. After thoroughly dissecting and refuting his arguments the responses offered in return were sadly bereft of any substantive counter arguments.
No content, no assertions, just assorted whinging about tone and how angry atheists are and how not having a skydaddy is bad for me. Admittedly, the format chosen by me was very critical (what else can you be when confronted with nuclear grade stupidity?) but not insulting to the person in question, just their argumentation. How do you grow as a person if you cannot interact reasonably with ideas that conflict with your own? The alter.net article struck a chord with me as it seemed to mirror my experiences while debating a ‘conservative’ from the US.
Liberal viewer does his usual exemplary job of describing the media. Faux News never fails to deliver when it comes to making sure that the interests of the people are marginalized and put forth in the worst possible light. The OWS movement has brought new life into the economic debate in the US opening new avenues of debate and discussion that were previously off-limits.
Keeping with the light blogging schedule, this is a repost from Alter.net about why the people of OWS are so ticked off and why they are protesting. Consider it a primer to help in understanding their positions.
1. Wall Street caused the crash: Unless you are suffering from financial amnesia, you should remember that it was Wall Street’s reckless gambling that did us in. It was Wall Street banks and hedge funds, not home buyers, who created the enormous demand for high-risk mortgages to pool, to securitize, and to turn into Ponzi-like gambling structures with names like CDOs, CDO squared and synthetic CDOs. It was the money-grubbing rating agencies that blessed these pieces of garbage with AAA ratings. As a result, trillions of dollars of worthless toxic assets polluted our financial system. When the bubble they induced burst, our system crashed, causing 8 million working people to lose their jobs in a matter of months due to no fault of their own. Anyone who still blames low-income home buyers, or regulations or Greece — or anyone other than Wall Street — should be checked for dementia.
2. The Wall Street crash directly caused the gravest unemployment crisis since the Great Depression: We’re three years into the worst jobs crisis since 1937. Upwards of 29 million people are out of work or have been forced into part-time jobs. The number of people who have been jobless for more than 26 weeks is at post-WWII record levels. And there’s no end in sight to this misery. Meanwhile, Wall Street’s representatives in Washington want us to focus on cutting public employment and public services to address the debt that Wall Street itself precipitated. WE wouldn’t have a debt crisis were it not for the bailouts, the crash, the lost jobs and the soaring cost of jobless benefits that can be laid at Wall Street’s door. (The debt was also caused by tax cuts for the rich, and the bankers certainly don’t want to talk about that.) For those diversionary debt tactics alone, Wall Street should be occupied until it pays to replace the jobs it destroyed.
3. Wall Street profited from the bailouts and remains unaccountable: Taxpayers provided trillions of dollars in cash and asset guarantees to the wealthiest bankers and hedge fund managers in the world. But nothing was extracted from them in return. Here’s one egregious example: Goldman Sachs paid $550 million in SEC fines for selling mortgage-related securities that were designed to fail so that a large hedge fund could bet against them. The securities failed as planned and the hedge fund pocketed $1 billion in profits. But after we bailed out AIG, Goldman Sachs picked up nearly $12 billion for similar bets that AIG had insured. Goldman Sachs collected 100 cents on the dollar and those dollars were ours.
4. The super-rich are getting richer: When the economy was crashing during 2008, high frequency traders in hedge funds and banks made upwards of $20 billion from the turmoil. This trading scam provided no redeeming value to our economy. Rather, it was a hidden tax on our sorrows — a transfer of funds from the many to the few. In 2010 the top hedge fund managers “earned” over $2 million an HOUR! The top 25 hedge fund managers took in as much as 650,000 teachers. Young people have the right to question these lopsided values. All of us have the duty to do something about it.
5. The super-rich are paying lower and lower taxes: While the government pleads poverty when asked to create a massive jobs program, our financial elites use every loophole available to avoid taxes. In 1995, the 400 wealthiest families paid about 30 percent of their income in taxes (after all deductions). Today their effective rate is less than 16 percent. And for what? What did society gain from their retained wealth? Not jobs, not debt reduction, only more Wall Street gambling.