The Occupy Wall Street movement is the logical answer to the Tea Party, which singles out individual responsibility over social responsibility, and points the finger at government as the core of our economic woes, mistakenly missing the tight bonds that government and business have forged over the decades at the expense of what our fore-fathers and framers of our Constitution called a 'common good'.
Locally, several actions in Bay City and Saginaw at Bank of America and at Borchard Park have popped up locally in recent weeks and contributed to the consciousness raising, with mixed results. At these early stages the Movement needs to build numbers and stay in the fight.
But the way to expedite growth of the OWS movement - and the important thing that this movement needs to do - is develop a set of concrete principles and solutions to the problems posed by Wall Street's insulated and well-oiled hydra of a machine.
The Movement needs to step up its game and do more than flash placards and engage police into pulling out their cans of mace. After more than a decade of thievery and corruption, with an unprecedented 14 percent of Americans relying upon the Federal food stamp program and millions more losing their homes thanks to artificially inflated commodity prices and corruption in the mortgage markets, things have come down to stark black & white issues - why should Congress balk at spending $71 billion for supplemental food assistance programs when it gave 10 times that amount to the very financial institutions that created the situation?
Investigative journalist and best-selling author Matt Tabbi writes about the Wall Street bailouts in the current issue of Rolling Stone, and correctly notes, “It's extremely difficult to explain the crimes of the modern financial elite in a simple visual. The essence of this particular type of oligarchic power is its complexity and day-to-day invisibility: it's worse crimes, from bribery and insider trading and market manipulation, to backroom dominance of government and usurping the regulatory structure from within, simply can't be seen readily by the public of put on TV into a simple sound bite.
As Michael Douglas puts it in Oliver Stone's Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, “The next generation of young Americans can be called the NINJA Generation - no income, no jobs, no assets. And people are pissed because with all the chicanery that Wall Street and Congress has allowed, suddenly we have 62 million Americans with zero or negative net worth, scratching their heads and wondering where the hell all their money went and why their votes seem to count less and less every year.
Tabbi suggests five excellent position points which I highly encourage citizens in this upcoming presidential election year to use as a litmus test for any and all candidates running for public office.
Break Up Monopolies. We need to polish off the dust from the Sherman Anti-trust Act. The so-called 'Too Big to Fail' financial companies, or more accurately, 'Systemically Dangerous Institutions' - are a direct threat to our national security. They are above law and market consequence, making them more dangerous than the Mafia. There are about 20 such firms in America and they need to be dismantled. A good place to start is by repealing the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act and mandate the separation of insurance companies, investment banks, and commercial banks. Lobby your legislator to modify and enforce anti-trust legislation.
Return Taxpayer Money & Make AIG, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and Citicorp Pay For Their Own Bailouts. A tax of .01 percent on all trades of stocks and bonds and a 0.01 percent tax on all trades of derivatives would generate enough revenue to pay us back on the bailouts and still have plenty left over to fight the deficits that banks claim to be so worried about. It would also deter the endless chase for instant profits through computerized insider trading schemes like High Frequency Trading and force Wall Street to go back to the job it's supposed to be doing: making sober investments in job-creating businesses and watching them grow.
No Public Money for Private Lobbying. A company that receives a public bailout should not be allowed to use the taxpayer's own money to lobby against him. Either suck on the public teat or influence seats that are up for election, but you can't do both.
Tax Hedge Fund Gamblers. We need an immediate repeal of the preposterous carried-interest tax break, which allows hedge fund titans like Steve Cohen and John Paulson to pay taxes on only 15 percent of their billions in gambling income, while ordinary Americans pay twice that amount for teaching kids or engaging in simple jobs to make everyday ends meet.
Change the Way Bankers Get Paid. We need new laws preventing Wall Street executives from getting bonuses upfront on deals that might blow up in all of our faces later. It should be structured so that if you make a deal today, you get company stock you can redeem two or three years down the road, which forces everyone to be invested in his own company's long term health - no more Joe Cassanos pocketing multimillion-dollar bonuses for destroying the AIG's of the world.
George Lakoff has written a 'framing document' for the Occupy Wall Street movement that has been circulated to hundreds of local satellite entities across the country. It contains some fairly sound assessments for those wishing to carry this movement further.
Basically, he argues there exist Two Moral Framing Systems in American politics. Conservatives have figured out their moral basis, which you see on Wall Street: It includes the primacy of self-interest, individual responsibility but not social responsibility; hierarchical authority based on wealth or other forms of power; and a moral hierarchy of who is 'deserving' defined by success.
The alternative view of democracy is progressive: Democracy starts with citizens caring about one another and acting responsibly on that sense of care, taking responsibility for both oneself and one's family, community, country, people in general, and the planet. The role of government is to protect and empower all citizens equally via infrastructure, laws and enforcement, health, education, research, protection of public lands, trade policies, etc.
A disproportionate distribution of wealth robs most citizens of access to the resources controlled by the wealthy, so in this sense, immense wealth is a thief, Lakoff argues. “It takes resources from the rest of the population - the best places to live, the best educations, the best health facilities, access to the best in nature and culture, the best professionals, and so on. Resources are limited and great wealth limits access to resources for most people.
In his Occupy Wall Street position paper, Lakoff makes a counter argument to Tabbi's call for specific policy demands. “If it did make specific demands, the movement would become about those demands. If the demands were not met, the movement would be seen as having failed.”
“It seems to me that the OWS movement is moral in nature,” he continues. “Occupiers want the country to change its moral focus. If the movement is to frame itself it should be on the basis of its moral focus, not a particular agenda or list of policy demands. If the moral focus of America changes, new people will be elected and the policies will follow. Without a change of moral focus, the worldview that has brought us to the present disastrous and dangerous place we are at in our history will continue to prevail.”
If nothing else, Occupy Wall Street is the latest in a long line of Populist Movements that begin with people seeing they are all in the same boat and being ready to come together to fix the leaks.
One protestor in Borchard Park last Friday was carrying a placard that said 'We are the 99%' and I thought, what a sad statement.
Democracy should be about the 99 percent, but today, money directs our politics. That must end. Middle-class wages have not gone up significantly in 30 years and there is conservative pressure to lower them even more, which is folly.
When people get more money they spend it and spur the economy, making the economy and the country stronger. This truth needs to be central to the Occupy Wall Street discourse.