Occupy Wall Street: What points should be people be making?


Occupied minds: In yesterday’s New York Times, the “Sunday Dialogue” section concerned the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Readers responded to a letter from Erin Bohanan, a Ph.D. candidate. For the full exchange, click here.

Bohanan’s letter had first appeared on October 11. For what it’s worth, we think her basic instincts are totally wrong:
BOHANAN (10/11/11): As a student of political science, I find that the Occupy Wall Street protests are missing a political window of opportunity. The absence of clear leaders prevents coordination with people who could actually help bring about political change. Having a large mass of unidentified people discussing their concerns is a great blog or Tumblr technique, but in the practical political arena it just lends itself to confusion and the lack of a clear message.

Occupy Wall Street needs to turn a social and Internet phenomenon into a tangible political movement that would benefit the “99 percent” it says it is representing. The Declaration of the Occupation of New York, issued on Sept. 29, lists many grievances against corporations, including illegal foreclosures, exorbitant bonuses, workplace discrimination, job outsourcing, anti-union tactics and campaign contributions.

The protest needs leaders who will put forth concrete policy solutions to these problems. Their agenda should include these reforms:
Bohanan listed four reforms. Her first proposed reform involves a constitutional amendment!

We don’t necessarily disagree with Bohanan’s proposals. But we think she may be putting the cart a few miles before the horse. In the current political climate, it’s very hard to pass any reforms at all. Presumably, it would be impossible to pass a constitutional amendment.

These Ph.D. candidates today!

Our view? Before the movement advances specific reforms, it should attempt to build wider understandings about the basic nature of our society’s problems. Absent wider agreement about basic situations, reforms are sure to fail.

Most respondents made similar points in the Sunday Dialogue. Though before we were done, an assistant professor had made a rather abstruse observation, and Bohanan was locked in an egghead exchange with him.

The Occupy movement will do its best work if it helps a wide range of people get clearer on the nature of our society’s ongoing disasters. Several observers made such points on a Charlie Rose program last Wednesday. To watch the whole segment, click this.

First, Charlie turned to William Buster, a spokesperson for the Occupy movement. “Tell me the message,” Charlie finally said. Buster was admirably vague:
BUSTER (10/12/11): What I’d like to do as part of Occupy Wall Street is to start representing that we do have a clear message. I think a lot of the American public recognizes what it is. The media doesn’t. We’re asked for sound bites, and “Give me this in one sentence,” you know, for time restraints—

ROSE: This is not a sound bite. This is an opportunity to have a conversation. Tell me what the message is.

BUSTER: Sure, sure, sure. And by the media, I don’t mean you. I love this show and its respectful discourse. I feel that— Occupy Wall Street has been depicted as being anti-business. We’re not. We’re not anti-business, we’re not anti-banks, we’re not anti-government, we’re not anti-anything. We’re anti-corruption. And we’re anti-systemic corruption.

The biggest thing that we feel is that until the political and economic systems are reformed and laws are put in place to make sure that there’s transparency and accountability, until this system is fixed, it’s almost like the election process is merely switching names, switching the players on the field as opposed to switching the field. The field is the problem and it’s not something that can be solved in the democratic process just by voting...
Buster loves Charlie—and he kept the message large. Soon, Paul Krugman made the basic point:
KRUGMAN: What the protests are doing is they’ve changed the conversation already and they’ve changed it onto – We’re actually talking about the right things.

I mean, the story of where we are now as a nation is, we had a monstrous failure of the existing system followed by a monstrous injustice. We had an enormous financial industry that ran wild, crippled the economy which remains crippled to this day, was bailed out and the players who bear some responsibility faced virtually no consequences and more important, there’s been very little real reform. Some, from the Obama Administration’s side but not as much as we’d like, and the other party`s busy trying to tear it down.

And somehow the conversation that we’ve been having about all these issues is basically not about these issues. We spent almost two years now with the parties arguing who’s got the more convincing fiscal austerity and who can do most to remove restrictions on business.


And so all of a sudden we’re now talking about, “Hey, you know, what about Wall Street? What about these people who made such a mess? How are we going to make sure that the general public shares in whatever economic gains we have, that we have rules in effect that prevent the kind of catastrophe that overtook our economy in 2008?” That in itself, even if it ends right there, that’s a huge success.

But I think that the explosion of this movement really suggests that there were an awful lot of people who were just waiting for somebody to say it. And here we are. This is a wonderful thing.
We have lived through thirty years of disinformation. The disinformation was pushed by one side, and was almost completely accepted by ours.

Today, some liberals want to name-call those who have been successfully disinformed. Some Ph.D. candidates want to move directly to constitutional amendments—amendments which are destined to fail, thanks in part to the success of the disinformation campaigns.

Thirty years of disinformation can’t be overcome in a week. Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times is an 800-word teach-in all by itself. If we can stop calling everyone racist—though granted, that’s the joy of our sect!—many people might come to see that they’re the 99 percent too.

This may require talking to some of “those people.” It’s something our tribe hates to do.


  1. Here's a good concise statement of what Occupy Wall Street is about, mostly using graphs and pictures: http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/lexz2/here_is_what_occupy_wall_street_is_about_and_the/
    [The first link includes an album that combines all the images] [also, I have issues with reddit but do find some good things there]

  2. Somerby:

    "We have lived through thirty years of disinformation . . . [that] can’t be overcome in a week. Krugman's column . . . is a teach-in . . . many people might come to see that they’re the 99 percent too. This may require talking to some of “those people.” It’s something our tribe hates to do."

    You lost me at "Krugman" and "our tribe."

    One, I'm not a Democrat and there are lots of left-leaning people that are not in that particular partisan tribe. I'm not in the tribe you describe: I don't have a problem correctly identifying my abusers whether they be Democrats or Republicans; I don't accept right-wing conservative talking points and try to play footsie with them; I don't vote for the supposed "lessor evil" Democrats no matter what; I don't write naive and futile appeals to Obama and the Democrats to act on their false promises.

    Two, Krugman? This article is good. It is very similar to the image essay I link to above--it shows the growing inequality over the last 30 years and how this has been a policy choice. But Krugman is a partisan Democrat and even though he can stifle his partisan leanings in this particular essay, by correctly blaming both parties for the policy choices over the last 30 years (or not blaming the Republicans solely), he will very soon go back to partisan Democrat mode and will join forces with one of the very parties that he admits is run by the plutocrats and jointly responsible for these horrible policies!

    Because one thing I know is that "our tribe" should not be "teaching" the American public about politics via a Democratic tribalist--I don't care how fair he can be in a solitary essay--his whole reason for being is justifying a criminal party that serves the plutocracy.

  3. Walter,

    I, like Bob, have been disgusted by the left's intellectual tribalism and its unwillingness, to educate the great mass of white people who are getting screwed too on how we got here.

    (As an aside, the most recent absurdity has been lefties who have claimed that the reason the Tea Baggers are now rallying around Herman Cain is to hide their "covert racism." The idea that conservatives would even think of making a black man president was, until very recently, totally inconceivable. Instead of accepting this amazing progress for the triumph that it is, my in the liberal/left tribe appear to be scrambling for rationales to deny racism's manifestly weakening hold for the glorious pleasure of wanking away at conservatives.)

    But, I do not see that your criticism of Paul Krugman as being in any way fair. It certainly isn't substantiated. Krugman certainly has a liberal point of view but calling him a "partisan" implies that he is intellectually tribalistic and, therefore, a less than honest commentator. What proof can you offer to show that Krugman--who, after all, is a Nobel laureate--has let his political loyalties trump his integrity?

  4. The demonstrator pictured here essentially agrees with Walter's link regarding what OWS is about, but has an even more concise way of stating it.

  5. Walter Wit Man represents a small but often vocal tribe of his own I have heard many times over the years. It's the ME tribe, and you'll note that's mostly who he has in mind. To stick to a creed of both parties being the same is oddly critical to him, though it produces dubious results, see the election of 2000. Said election was, I admit, the result of a series of horribly freakish events, but those who stood by this odd creed deserve much of the blame, they were listening and agreeing with the MSM The Daily Howler has so effectively called out in that terrible election.
    Anyway, I would amend slightly what the The Daily Howler says about our tribe and race. Yes it is true, calling race is a lazy habit and probably damaging in the long run when done has frivolously as it is done by some (and why does the Daily Howler give Bill Maher a pass on this great sin?) in some situations.
    On the other hand, when Obama took office the likes of John Voight, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and others went right to race baiting in their zest to fight the bad fight. So, what's the solution, just ignore them? Isn't that a form of walking away from evil? Hardly seems consistent with Dr. King...

  6. Mr. Braintree,

    Vast Left and corrente have been good at documenting Krugman's Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde personality (or shallow end swimmer to use Vast Left's preferred analogy). I have come to a similar conclusion from reading Krugman's columns, but this link to Vast Left does a good job of comparing two of Krugman's columns from close to the same time to show the critical flaw in Krugman's reasoning: http://www.correntewire.com/krugman_rationing_his_rationality

    This comment by Hugh mirrors my own analysis:

    "My criticism of Establishment liberals like Krugman is the same as that of elite bloggers. They fail to act on their findings and adjust their views accordingly. So for Krugman it is to call Obama a conservative one day and then dredge up the old memes of weak negotiator, over eager compromiser, and bipartisanist the next. It is how Jane Hamsher can be critical of Democrats in general without actually rejecting the Democratic party or advocating for an alternative to it

    After seeing them do this again and again, I realized that their failure to complete the analysis wasn't a bug but a feature. It allows the Krugmans and Hamshers to remain leaders of the left without actually having to lead. There role is not to be catalysts of change but rather to see that real change never happens. They will never say who is who and what is what, and more importantly what needs to be done. The time we spend waiting for them to lead is time wasted. They either will not act or will wait so long that any action taken is doomed to failure."

  7. Greg,

    Your assumptions about me are false. You have incorrectly guessed my "tribe", and in doing so, revealed your likely tribal affiliation--the Democratic party. I foolishly voted for the Democrats in 2000--I now see that Nader was more correct than I gave him credit for at the time--the two parties are both serving the same masters and have only minor, symbolic differences.

    I frankly don't know much about this site or it's historical "position" on shit, so I can't defer to or even disagree with its past positions, plus, that's not my style. The Democratic party drifting rightward the last 30 years cannot be blamed on one third party run in 2000. Hogwash.

    And I don't care about Limbaugh or Palin or whatever bogeymen the elite concocts . . . if it involves the Democrats and Barack Obama as the "solution" to anything. They are equally guilty as Limbaugh, Bachmann, et al. So I don't care to take sides in this squabble and in fact, I recognize the squabble for the intentional distraction it is.

  8. Walter Wit Man,

    The link you have shows Krugman inconsistent in his judgement as to whether Obama is an outright conservative or merely a weak negotiator. What it doesn't show is that it is the result of any partisan loyalty.

    And frankly, I'm in great sympathy with Krugman's inconsistencies. There are days when I think Obama is either a really deluded Neville Chamberlain-like negotiator and other days when I feel that he is covertly much more conservative than originally advertised.

    When it comes to the big picture, though, Krugman has been light years ahead of the competition. He was the first to call bullshit on President Bush's economic numbers and the course of the great recession has followed his prediction that the stimulus wasn't big enough and that austerity would backfire to the letter.

    So, sorry, I think what we have here is not substantive criticism but just a lot of nit picking.

  9. Au contraire Mr. Braintree. This is important nitpicking! There is a reason this is a trigger like issue for me and others. In fact, it's pretty much a litmus test for me now. It's like a light went off and I no longer have any patience for this type of deceit (both self deceit and outright lying). I no longer have patience for what John Caruso calls "special liberals": http://www.distantocean.com/2011/09/the-obama-they-elected.html (noting an instance when Glenn Greenwald was guilty of this)

    Even though it's a trigger issue for me, I'm sympathetic to your position (and Krugman's position, to some extent). As I noted, Krugman's article that Somerby links to above does a better job than most pundits in explaining our economic and political reality. So I'm sympathetic because we are all convinced by the same logic and are all fighting similar propaganda to get these compelling arguments heard.

    But it's the next step where we part ways. The Democratic party is in my estimation equally the problem. This is a huge glaring fact that many fellow tribal members (if I may use that word), like Krugman or Braintree, miss. It is a fatal flaw. Hoping that Obama or the Democrats will be swayed by rational arguments makes one either naive or complicit. There is no excuse for "hoping" that OWS makes the Democrats do anything. The Democrats have already declared whose side they are on and it's actually counterproductive to collude with them. The Democrats stand with the 1% and they are lying if they claim otherwise (and this includes Krugman).

  10. I spent all day Saturday at the OWS Phoenix rally, and learned some of the propositions put forth. The number one issue was jobs, with bank regulation and investment regulation coming in a close second.
    There were also legalize marijuana groups, and some mixed bag groups that seemed vastly ignorant of science and economics.
    The organizers requested non-partisan speeches, and pretty much got that.
    Since the main theme was jobs, the Republican filibuster of the American Jobs Act was roundly condemned. A few speakers advised others to vote Democratic and a few supported Obama by name.
    Senators Kyl and McCain were warned, but Kyl is retiring, so he won’t change his ways.
    McCain, the flip-flopper on amnesty, won’t change either.
    For those of us that live in solid red states like Arizona, I urge you to vote against all Republican candidates. The state is in a mess, and the Republicans put it there. We have roughly 1/3 Republican, 1/3 Democrat, and 1/3 Independent voters, but the Republicans have gerrymandered an overwhelming majority for all political arenas.
    The only hope is the current redistricting plan, which will allow candidates other than Republicans to take office. As it stands, Independents have no voice in Arizona, and won’t as long as we have closed primaries and a de facto one party system.
    Arizona is one of 9 states whose elections must be pre-cleared by the Department of Justice due to past election abuses, and this redistricting may get us off the list.

  11. Back to OWS. Here are some suggestions presented. Some need to be explained in depth, but the information is available for all who want to research it themselves.

    Return marginal tax rates to the 2000 levels on incomes above $300,000 yearly.
    Tax one-year capital gains at single payer income tax levels, and longer than one year at the older 25%, (50% rate with a 50% exemption.)
    Establish a financial transaction tax on stock, bond, and commodity trades.
    Re-write corporate tax laws to insure a minimum tax.
    Lower taxes on companies the employ workers in the US and its territories, and raise them on companies that move their manufacturing sites outside the US.
    Tax hedge fund profits at capital gains rates and hedge fund manager’s compensation at individual income tax rates.
    Tax bonuses comprised of stocks and stock options at individual income rates as soon as they are paid out. Eliminate the “Carried Interest” loophole.
    Eliminate the wage base on payroll taxes. (Social Security and Medicare.)
    Rewrite trade agreements so that pay and benefits to workers of foreign companies are included in the formula for calculating tariffs.
    Restructure trade agreements so that currency manipulation is included in the formula for calculating tariffs.
    Allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
    Reinstate annual COLA for Social Security payments, retroactively.
    Create a federal single-payer health insurance plan. (The Public Option.)
    Re-establish strict limits on direct candidate campaign contributions and PAC contributions, and require full disclosure of the amounts contributed and the identities of contributors.
    Define corporations as business enterprises, not as human beings.
    Renew the Glass –Steagall Act, adding confiscation, individual fines and prison sentences. Strengthen the SEC.
    Require banks to rewrite home mortgage loans that show any appearance of subprime lending, so the money owed is no more than the actual home value.
    Outlaw Adjustable Rate Mortgages and balloon payments.
    Break up the too big to fail banks.
    Require banks and insurers to have a reserve large enough to survive a temporary market crash.
    Stop the attacks on, and forbid suspensions of, the Davis-Bacon Act.
    Revoke the Taft-Hartley Act, and re-pass the Wagner act to include public-sector unions, and other workers not included in the original Wagner act.
    Pass and enforce the Employee Free Choice Act.

    To be sure, there were other ideas such as forgive all student loans, credit card debt, and signature loans, even all mortgages, but these are not likely to happen.
    Of course there was get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and eliminate all foreign aid.
    Some demanded we get rid of the Federal Reserve System.
    Others wanted to fire all federal politicians and elect new ones.

    At any rate, there was no violence, and about 45 were arrested when the demonstrators refused to vacate city property after closing hours. (10:30 PM)
    As the Rev. Al Sharpton put it, the demonstrators came to protest greed and corruption on Wall Street and Congress, and the demonstrators were handcuffed and jailed.

    The messages are there. The goals are outlined. As far as appointing leadership to the demonstrators, the Bhuddists have a saying, “When the student is ready, the master appears.”

    Integration is the sharing of power, resources, and responsibility.
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

  12. Thanks for the report gravymeister,

    Most of those are good goals. Not to say this is the only angle to look at but since I'm presently on the case . . . I can't help but notice how the Democratic party has already polluted OWS:

    1. Protester's urged Congress to pass Obama's mislabeled "jobs" bill. This has more tax cuts than job promoting measures so it's his tax cutting bill. It's hardly the solution to any of our problems.
    2. Protestor's demand renegotiating trade deals. Well, the Democratic party just did the opposite during OWS, like last week, and that noise you heard was the quiet death of any sort of labor movement in the Democratic party. How many jobs are we going to lose because of this, which is related to the first point? Plus, Obama is a liar. He promised to renegotiate NAFTA during the campaign and then secretly reassured Canada he was lying. Then he passes more bad trade deals? OWS would be fools to trust the Democrats and Obama on this--they've been caught red handed.

    3. Tax hedge funds like the rest of us. Uh, the Democrats don't want to--they had their chance and sided with their base--the top 1%.

    4. Tax the rich. Again, most Americans want to and the Democrats and Obama even promised to do this. Obama didn't even have to do anything--he could have let the Bush tax cuts expire but instead he extended them! No, Obama and his criminal party are attempting to pull off the same scam again, promising Lucy that this time they will really hold the football so she can kick it. But again, they represent the top 1% and have no intention of seriously taxing the elite.

    5. I notice you report some requests to support Medicare but not to promote single payer or socialized health care generally. This is a huge mistake if the OWS movement takes the Democratic party bait and accepts a corporatized private health care system like Obamacare.

    But thanks for the report and here's hoping Al Sharpton, Rachel Maddow, and you Democratic party don't further harm OWS.

  13. Here's my idea of a slogan: Restore the Reagan tax cuts! If a 50% top tax rate was good enough for Ronnie, it's good enough for me.

  14. Walter Wit Man.

    it's in there: Create a federal single-payer health insurance plan. (The Public Option.)

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  18. Bob,
    You want some high end explanations and intelligent discussion on the economic issues facing this country? Look no further than Altenet's interview with Dean Baker from last weekend:


    It seems to me that the ideas that Baker espouses are, to use a stupid rotten cliche, a Game Changer.

    Baker is Krugmanesque. A bit different, but no less brilliant and sharp.

  19. That list was great.

    I agree with Wit Man.

    OWS should disavow the Democrats and even more especially Obama, and fast.

    This is their best chance of growing, and only chance of change.