Friday, October 28, 2011

We are the 98%?

In today's column, Eugene Robinson is writing about the income gap between the top 1% and everyone else:

Three decades of trickle-down economic theory, see-no-evil deregulation and tax-cutting fervor have led to massive redistribution. Another word for what's been happening might be theft.

Pretty strong words. The thing is, entry into the top 1% is fairly low. $400,000 qualifies you. I don't know how much Mr. Robinson makes but you would think that a nationally syndicated columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner would pull down at least that much.

So, Mr. Robinson, what made you decide to start stealing from the 99%?

Then there is Michael Moore who insists that he is not one of the 1%. He seems to be saying that the studios do not allow him to make any money. Moore's last movie (Capitalism) grossed $34 million. The one before that (Sicko) grossed $69 million and only cost $9 million to make. His top-grossing movie, Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed $222 million on a budget of $6 million. In addition to that, he has written some best-sellers. Moore lives in a multi-million dollar condo on Central Park. His kids attend an exclusive private school. According to IMDB, he travels by chauffered limo. In what world is he not part of the rich?

I won't even go into the Hollywood stars who express support for the Occupy movement. Or the multimillionaires at Apple who sell OWS their expensive toys.

It is possible that these people really don't see themselves as being rich. More likely, they distinguish between deserved and undeserved wealth. Or they distinguish by attitude. Wealth is ok as long as you support redistribution. The big question is if they support having their own money redistributed? Since Michael Moore insists that he is not in the 1% and talks about how little money he gets, I am betting that he does not want to see the government take most of it away.

Let us not forget the bottom 1%. The cooks at OWS got tired of preparing food for the homeless - the people who have no money - and decided to have a few days of brown rice. Presumably the protestors will go buy their meals at the restaurants while using the rest rooms there. How's this for a new slogan for OWS: "99% of the population controls 100% of the money. Screw the homeless. I am the 99%."

So we have the 98% who want the top 1%'s money but don't want to share with the bottom 1%. Plus people who are in the top 1% but still seem envious of the top 0.1%.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Global Warming Settled?

Global Warming is finally settled science. At least that's what Eugene Robinson says.

For the clueless or cynical diehards who deny global warming, it's getting awfully cold out there.

The latest icy blast of reality comes from an eminent scientist whom the climate-change skeptics once lauded as one of their own. Richard Muller, a respected physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, used to dismiss alarmist climate research as being "polluted by political and activist frenzy." Frustrated at what he considered shoddy science, Muller launched his own comprehensive study to set the record straight. Instead, the record set him straight.

[...] The Berkeley group's research even confirms the infamous "hockey stick" graph — showing a sharp recent temperature rise — that Muller once snarkily called "the poster child of the global warming community." Muller's new graph isn't just similar, it's identical.

What Muller and the Berkeley Group did was to examine the data from as many weather stations as possible. They found that 2/3s of them show significant warming while only 1/3 show cooling. They parsed the data different ways, limiting themselves to weather stations classified as good, ones classified as bad, ones in rural areas, ones in urban areas. Their results consistently showed warming (except on those 33% that showed cooling).

So, is the argument over? It is for Robinson who wants to use this study to bash Republicans. For the rest of us, there are still many issues.

While it is represented as matching the IPCC's data, the Berkeley data does not. It shows two degrees of warming where the IPCC only found .5 degree. Muller dismisses this as inconsequential. His team did not study ocean temperatures and he is sure that is where the

The study seems to be presented in such a way as to emphasize the warming. It talks about warming since the 1950s but their own chart shows nearly a full degree difference between the 1930s and the 1950s. By starting at a low point, the amount of warming shown is exaggerated.

Robinson is wrong when he says that this confirms the Hockey stick. Again, Berkeley's charts show highs were within historic levels through 1980. Berkeley's charts begin at 1800 (with the invention of the thermometer) while the Hockey Stick was an attempt to chart historic temperatures going back 1,000 years. That extra 800 years is important since it contains a historic warm period. Without knowing how warm it was without the effects of carbon dioxide we have no way of evaluating current temperatures.

Muller does not mention the Hockey Stick in his column nor does the Berkeley web site mention it. Robinson got that reference from a Green blogger at the New York Times. If you look at Berkeley's chart and the Hockey Stick from 1800 on, you find that the two do not match very well.

The biggest issue is that the Berkeley study was limited to examining temperature readings. It did not assess theories about its cause or the limits to warming. Even the IPCC admitted that some of the warming was caused by the sun and other natural sources. That is why estimates of early temperatures are so important and so contentious. Physics say that there is a limit on the amount of hat that CO2 can trap. Global warming theory says that by the time we reach that limit, enough additional water vapor will be in the atmosphere to cause additional warming. Since this part is entirely theoretical, it is also contentious.

The Berkeley data also confirms that warming has slowed or stopped over the last few years. This is too small a period to make projections from, but so is 60 years.

The well-informed skeptic does not deny that warming has happened over the last two centuries. Prior to the Greenhouse theory orthodox climatology said that there was a Medieval warm period followed by a cold period known as the Little Ice Age which ended in the 19th century. The skeptic says that the warming since then is mainly the start of a natural warm period. Muller and his team have published nothing that confirms or disproves this.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Occupiers and the Loss of Neutral Space

What happened to the idea of neutral space - places that we all occupy that are free of politics?

Over the weekend I went to a comic book and media convention. During a Q&A session with an actor, someone asked him what sign he would hold at an Occupy event. Another person identified himself as a member of the Green Party and asked what the actor thought about Republican cuts to PBS? Several other people were wearing anti- SB5 buttons (SB5 is the Ohio bill that strips union of some of their power).

Naturally, no one asked any conservative or libertarian questions or identified themselves as such. This is ironic at a comic book convention since superheroes have a very libertarian view of government. Regardless, this seems out of place.

I feel the same way when politics enter comic books themselves. A couple of years ago a black comic book character made a disparaging remark about a Tea Party rally.

Part of our social contract should include a clause that regular people can go about their regular lives without being involved in politics. There has always been some bending of this since yard signs are a traditional campaign tactic. But public spaces, places owned by the people should not be used to reflect the views of a subset. This is also true for public spaces that the public needs to use but are privately owned.

But, the purpose of the Occupy movement is to occupy public spaces. Granted the park they are occupying in New York is private but their drums carry beyond the park limits. In other cities the Occupiers have set up camp on public space.

This didn't start with the Occupiers in September. Union protestors in Madison Wisconsin spent weeks camped in the state house.

The point is to bombard people with the Occupiers' message 24 hours a day. This gives the impression that the Occupy movement is larger than it really is.

This is not totally one-sided. Two years ago the Tea Party took their protests to town hall meetings. The difference is that town hall meetings are meant to be political.

A return to civility would be nice but I don't expect it. With a failing economy and the need for long-term changes to entitlements, I expect things to keep getting worse.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Occupy and Obama - Where's the Outrage?

The Occupy movement and it's related 99% movement insist that the government is working for the interests of Wall Street and the top 1% at the expense of the rest of us. So, why aren't they protesting against President Obama and the Democrats? Obama is a captive of big money and special interests. Consider:

In 2008 he became the first candidate since federal matching funds were introduced to forgo them. The reason was the he could raise (and spend) more money than the limits mandated by matching funds. He has already announced that he will do this again in 2012 and plans to raise an unheard-of $1 billion. A significant portion of that comes from Wall Street. In 2008, Obama took more money from Wall Street than any candidate ever before. For the 2012 campaign, he has received more Wall Street money than all of the Republicans combined. In 2008 Obama claimed that most of his money came from small donors but fact-checkers ruled this false. Most of his money came from a few big sources.

Obama's effort to manage the economy amount to a modern form of "trickle-down". Although the TARP was passed under Bush, Obama was deeply involved and half of the money was spent during his administration. Other programs such as the Quantitative Easing and QE2 were designed to push interest rates to historic lows in the hope that the big banks would increase lending. There has been little demand for this low-interest money outside of Wall Street so the banks and investment houses have used the money to enrich themselves. That is why corporate profits and especially Wall Street profits have been at record highs while the rest of the country is in recession.

The administration's answer to restoring confidence in the banks was to "stress test" them. The requirements for the stress test were lowered several times and were more concerned with giving banks a seal of approval rather than actually certifying their soundness.

Unions are a form of big business and major contributors to the Democrats in general and Obama in specific. At the same time, they represent a small (and shrinking) portion of the population. Despite this, more than half of the stimulus was targeted at unions, especially public service unions.

Obama's signature accomplishment was Obamacare. This started out as health care reform but ended up being health insurance reform. Obama but deals with pharmaceuticals, doctors, and hospitals to leave them alone if they supported his bill. Insurance got its own deal with mandatory coverage. This will allow insurance companies to cover such things as pre-existing conditions while increasing profitability. Insurance companies stayed quiet during the debate because they knew they would come out ahead if it passed.

Obama's second attempt at a signature accomplishment was increased control of previously unregulated markets. This passed Congress with bipartisan support but was gutted in committee by Barney Frank. Frank also has an ethically-challenged relationship with Fanni Mae and Freddie Mac.

So where are the anti-Obama signs?

Obama's rhetoric may have something to do with this. He talks about "fat cats" and taxing millionaires and billionaires but his actions are at odds with his speeches. People may be judging him based on his teleprompter rather than his actions.

Or it may be that the Occupy movement is heavily astroturfed and that Obama supporters are suppressing anti-Obama sentiment.

On the other hand, the fact that these people are gathering and protesting shows dissatisfaction with the current government and the Democrats control the White House and a branch of Congress. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

OWS and It's Cheerleaders

The Occupy Movement continues to resist making any real demands. This is in contrast with their vow that they will keep protesting "as long as it takes". How will they know when they have accomplished their goals if they don't have any? Actually, there are some strong indications of what they want. They have settled on the "99%" message, that the system only benefits the 1% richest. The implication is that the government should confiscate the 1%'s ill-gotten gains and distribute them to the other 99% in the form of government jobs and forgiveness of student loans.

To sum it up, they see the problem as corrupt government and the solution as more government. Obviously that will not work and the organizers know it. So what they really want goes deeper.

Katrina vanden Heuvel, publisher of The Nation, explains their problem this way:

The protesters in the nascent movement have been criticized for being too decentralized and lacking a clear list of demands. But they are bearing witness to the corruption of our politics; if they made demands to those in power, it would suggest those in power could do something about it. This contradicts what is, perhaps, their most compelling point: that our institutions and politicians serve the top 1 percent, not the other 99.

Pretty strong words - there is no point in making demands because the system is too corrupt to be reformed. Others have been saying similar things. A few pundits have suggested that OWS is the progressive answer to the Tea Party but more have compared it to the Arab Spring. Keep in mind that the Arab Spring is not a reform movement, it is a revolutionary one. Thomas Friedman is sure that some sort of major world-wide shift is happening, he just isn't sure if it is threat-based or opportunity-based. Either way, he sees the current system as broken.

OWS has always had a revolutionary element. Its organizers include organizations devoted to socialism or communism and it has always been a movement against capitalism. Before its numbers swelled, it was hard to photograph them without getting a "socialism now" or "kill the rich" sign in the picture. More recently, some affiliated protests have begun calling for violent revolution.

So, OWS is calling for revolution and many pundits are cheering it on.

What these cheerleaders don't seem to understand is that they are part of the 1%. Membership starts somewhere around $400,000/year which includes all of the news anchors and every actor you have heard of. Michael Moore is supposed to be worth $50 million. Keith Olbermann signed a multi-million dollar contract with Al Gore's Current TV. Nancy Pelosi has endorsed the movement which is doubly strange since she is independently wealthy and a leader in the corrupt system that they want fixed.

I don't for a moment believe that OWS will be able to foment an actual revolution and before they contemplate it they should remember that our armed forces now have ten years experience in suppressing an insurgency.

OWS may turn into a movement like the 1960s and early 1970s. The hippies didn't bring about world peace but the civil rights protestors did make some real progress.

The Democrats shouldn't be too excited about a push for financial reform. In 2008 they got more Wall Street money than the Republicans got. The Obama strategy for reviving the economy has consisted mainly of pushing money at Wall Street in the hopes that it would trickle down to the rest of us. They don't call it that but that's what the TARP, the quantitative easings, and the other programs were set up to do. This cheap money isn't effective. It allows bankers to take loans at 1% and use the money to buy treasury bonds which pay 3%.

Even modest reform will hurt one of the Democrats' bases and will be a repudiation of the Obama administration's financial policies.

So, why is the left cheering this movement on?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Occupy Atlanta

Watch the clip from Occupy Atlanta here. There is no explanation but I think that the speakers keep pausing every few words while the crowd repeats was was said as a form of PA system. Still, it reminds me of this clip from Life of Brian.

Much of it seems like a bad parody of a leftist group. The organizer cautions people that applause is bad because it might drown someone out so they have to use jazz hands and they take a "temperature check" (not a vote) on statements that have been made. Then there is the statement that the whole point is that no one should be worth more than anyone else. I wonder if they ever watched this Monty Python Sketch? Regardless, they managed to tell a sympathetic congressman that he isn't important enough to be given any of their time (although the amount of time they spent debating it was probably longer than Congressman Lewis would have spoken). They even cheered the fact that they had proven that a Congressman is no better than any of them.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Obama and Occupy Wall Street

Democrats are hoping that they can join with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) people and turn them into a left-wing Tea Party. This will be tough.

One big problem is that the Democrats in general and President Obama in particular have been co-opted by Wall Street. Democrats receive slightly more campaign contribution from Wall Street than Republicans do. Obama go a lot more than McCain. Obama also had several Wall Street insiders in the White House. According to Confidence Men, most of Obama's economic efforts were focused on keeping up confidence in Wall Street. That is why his finance reform ended up being toothless and promoting "too big to fail" instead of ending it.

OWS is calling for redistribution of wealth. While Obama talks the talk on this, the most that he has actually proposed is restoring the Clinton tax rates on a select part of the population. This will not cause the redistribution that OWS is demanding. I doubt that his December, 2010 deal that extends the Bush tax cuts won Obama any points with this crowd.

The biggest problem for the Democrats is that OWS has a lot of scary people. 9/11 Truther Van Jones is an organizer and International ANSWER has a strong presence. They are a subsidiary of the American Communist Party.

This is why OWS refuses to allow an official list of demands. They will lose America as soon as people find out how radical this crowd is. Many people have released unofficial demands. These not only demand an end to war and racial discrimination, they also call for forgiveness of all debt. That sounds nice until you realize that it would wreck the world's economy.

I'm sure that the OWS organizers are hoping that they can force Obama to the left. Groups like MoveON and the Daily KOS moved Kerry in 2004 but they have done as much as they can. Obama's own on-line organization made these obsolete in 2008. In order to move the Democrats to the left in 2012, they are taking to the streets.

This puts Obama in a bind. If he moves to the left he will lose independents. If he doesn't then he loses liberals. This worked for the Republicans in 2010 but the Tea Party is moderate compared to OWS. The Tea Party called for fiscal restraint after trillions were spent on bail-outs and stimulus. OWS is calling for unlimited spending.

If the economy was doing better then this would not be an issue but Obama needs every vote that he can get. Forcing him to choose between radicals and moderates will hurt him.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Roe v Wade and the Thomas confirmation

20 years ago the confirmation hearings were being held for Clarence Thomas. His confirmation seemed assured until one of his assistants was called to testify. She told about him using coarse language and making the workplace unfriendly. Thomas was confirmed anyway but suddenly sexual harassment was the hot national topic. Ironically, sexual harassment was not the real issue in the confirmation hearing. Abortion was.

40 years ago abortion was slowly gaining acceptance. New York and Florida had legalized it and a teen-age girl "in trouble" might suddenly visit an aunt in one of those states. Had things been left alone the country probably would have come to terms with abortion or allowed it on a state-by-state basis.

Then, in 1973, the Supreme Court decided the issue nationwide in the case Roe v Wade. In order to justify their decision, they found a previously undiscovered right to privacy between a woman and her doctor. She might go into the office pregnant and come out without carrying a child but whatever happened during her visit was between her and her doctor.

Problem solved. No more national debate.

Except forcing a decision like this on people forced a counter-action. The Right to Life movement was born. They had two lines of attack. One was to amend the Constitution. The other was to pack the Supreme Court and try to have Roe v Wade overturned. The battle lines were drawn.

Changing the Constitution was always a long-shot and the likelihood of that happening have gotten even more remote. That left the Supreme Court as the battleground.

Since the 1980s, every Supreme Court nominee has been scrutinized for how he would vote on Roe v Wade. This peaked with the nomination of Robert Bork. Bork had a brilliant legal mind and was a obvious candidate for the Supreme Court. But, abortion-supporters worried that he was too brilliant. Since his views are fairly conservative, they feared that he would use his brilliance to convince other court members to vote against abortion. So, they did everything possible to discredit him. The irony is that he represented the winning side on Roe v Wade and much of the final opinion was copied from him. He had a vested interest in upholding Roe v Wade. It didn't matter. The campaign against him was so fierce that it led to a new verb - to be "Borked".

Since then conservative presidents have tended to choose blank slate candidates in order to give their detractors less ammunition. Thomas was an example of this. He had spent most of his career as an administrator rather than a judge.

Thomas's biggest asset was his sterling character. So that was where they attacked him.

The judiciary panel had already heard Anita Hill's complaints but they did not find her credible. If Thomas was so abusive then why did she change jobs to follow him?

But the NOW was sure that Thomas would be a vote against Roe v Wade so they wanted him stopped. So Ted Kennedy and Howard Metzenbaum started circulating rumors that something had come up in the private hearings that needed to be heard in public. The Senate broke its own confidentiality rules and had Hill testify. It didn't stop Thomas's confirmation but the following year was the "year of the woman" when a record number of women ran and were elected to office.

Several years later it came out that Bill Clinton had as president had gone far beyond anything that Thomas was alleged to have done. Where was the outrage? There was none. The NOW admitted that the outrage against Thomas had been manufactured. In fact, one NOW leader offered to give oral sex to Clinton for keeping abortion legal.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Boston Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street

Think Progress has a piece showing that Occupy Wall Street is closer to the original Boston Tea Party than today's Tea Party. This is a rather silly statement. I will address their point but first I will go over the background.

After the French and Indian War, England decided to take more active control of the American colonies. It also decided to recover the costs of defending the colonies. This led to a series of unpopular acts. One of them was the Townshend Act. Prior to this, colonial governors were paid by the colonies. The Townshend Act changed this, paying the governors directly by the British government. It also established a duty to pay for these salaries.

The colonists objected to this change, mainly because it was imposed on them by Parliament. The colonists, led by the Whig Party, argued that Parliament only had the authority to tax people who could vote for it. Since the colonists could not vote for Parliament members, taxes levied on the colonies should be passed by the colonial government. Note - the Whig Party lasted until the mid-19th century when it combined with the Abolitionists to form the Republican Party.

While this was going on, the East India Company was having problems. It held a monopoly on tea sold in England but Parliament had raised tea taxes. This caused a drop in demand for tea (and an increase in smuggling). The East India Company was importing tea faster than they could sell it and had warehouses full of it.

In order to help the East India Company out, Parliament gave them a monopoly on selling tea to the Colonies. Because they eliminated the middleman, they could undersell smugglers while still paying the Townshend Duties. The East India Company ,in turn, contracted with agents who wold have local monopolies on tea sales. Tea ships were dispatched to New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston.

Because the tea still had the tax, the ships were turned back everywhere except Boston where the governor's sons were the agents who could sell the tea. Unwilling to see the tea sold with the tax, a band of patriots dressed as indians and threw the tea into the harbor.

For a longer account, see Wikipedia. Now, onto Think Progress's points. Their original post has explanations for these points:

1.) The Original Boston Tea Party Was A Civil Disobedience Action Against A Private Corporation.

2.) The Original Boston Tea Party Feared That Corporate Greed Would Destroy America

3.) The Original Boston Tea Party Believed Government Necessary To Protect Against Corporate Excess.

4.) The Original Boston Tea Party Was Sparked By A Corporate Tax Cut For A British Corporation.

5.) The Original Boston Tea Party Wanted A Stronger Democracy.

My response:

1) The Boston Tea Party was a protest against parliament in general and the Townshend Act in particular. There was also fear that granting a monopoly for tea to the East India Company would lead to other monopolies being granted. This was still a protest against Parliament's expanding powers.

2) The Boston Tea Party was a tax protest. If they had worried about corporate greed then they would have allowed the taxed tea to be sold since it was priced lower than smuggled tea.

3) The Boston Tea Party had nothing to do with corporate excess. It was a protest against Parliament.

4) The Boston Tea Party was sparked by crony capitalism. The whole deal was put together to help the East India Company. The East India Company did not pay taxes on the tea. The taxes were a sales tax paid by the consumer.

5) I'm going to agree with the last point, that the Sons of Liberty were for a stronger democracy, but not in the way that Occupy Wall Street means. The Sons of Liberty felt that they could only be taxed by legislatures that they voted for. Occupy Wall Street organizers have rejected voting as a tool of democracy and now insist that protests are "participatory democracy".

A few other points should be offered. It is ignorant to say that "the Original Boston Tea Party wanted...". The Boston Tea Party was an event, not a party. The participants were the Sons of Liberty. The correct usage would be "The Sons of Liberty wanted...".

The modern corporation had not evolved yet. The East India Company was closer to a partnership than a corporation. There were also government monopolies which simply do not exist today. Modern corporations just do not relate to any 18th century body.

The biggest problem with Think Progress's list how disingenuous it is. Every one of their points misstates history. It says a lot about the (lack of) quality of how American history is taught that they can get away with such an egregious misrepresentation of history. It says even more that employees of the New York Times were passing this along.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Occupy Wall Street vs the Tea Party

Yesterday I pointed out the things that the OWS (Occupy Wall Street) and Tea Party have in common - they both hate the cronyism between Wall Street and the government. Their differences are illuminating.

The Tea Party formed pretty spontaneously. It got its start when a commentator on CNBC suggested that people throw a new tea party in response to the government's most recent bail-outs. In retrospect, the spark that started the Tea Party didn't amount to anything. President Obama had announced a new program to help mortgage-holders who were having trouble making their payments. The outrage came from people who resisted getting so deeply into debt and felt that their tax money (plus debt accumulated) was going to subsidize bad judgement. The irony is that the mortgage-bailout program was a total flop.

The left assumed that the Tea Party was somehow an example of AstroTurfing (creating a centrally-managed campaign disguised as a grass-roots movement). They were wrong. The Tea Party was a real, wide-spread movement as shown by its success in the 2008 elections.

One of the hallmarks of the Tea Party is how orderly it has been. It has been a matter of pride for organizers that protests do not break any laws and that the protestors pick up after themselves. Politically it is a form of populist libertarianism, strongly influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand.

OWS has very different roots. It was planned weeks in advance by a group created for this purpose - October 2011 (O-2011 for short). O-2011 is affiliated with numerous other groups including Intentional ANSWER and Code Pink. Politically it represents the hard left and many of its affiliates are outright socialists. During the first couple of weeks of the protest signs saying "socialism now" or similar were common.

Where the Tea Party prides itself on following the law, the OWS had 700 arrests over the weekend. Police have been forced to use pepper spray (with video showing that they were provoked).

The OWS movement is part of a series of long-term protests set up by activists who have rejected democracy. It started in Wisconsin and Ohio in protest of union-busting legislation. Not surprisingly, several labor unions have expressed support for the OWS. All of this is influenced by the Arab Spring protests.

O-2011 is trying to be a throwback to the glory days of the 1960s and early 1970s when mass protests were common. Of course, those were mainly for racial equality or against the Viet Nam war (or both). One giveaway is the symbol used by O-2011 - a black fist with the Earth superimposed on it. This fist was a frequent symbol of resistance during 1960s protests and continues to be used by socialists. In fact, the black fist has its own Wikipedia entry.

One common thread I heard during the protests of the Winter and Spring was that they represented "democracy" and that lawmakers who acted contrary to the protestors were somehow anti-democratic. O-2011's web site explains this:

Democracy is a simple idea. It means "the people rule." The promise of the United States is democracy. The reality is that corporate elites rule. The contradiction between the promise and reality of America has produced a movement to make the promise the new reality.

We believe it our birthright to directly participate in power. Elections were always a poor substitute for participatory democracy. And elections delegate power from the people to a tiny elite easily browbeaten or bought off by major corporations. Most Americans intuitively know this.

So, to this movement, elections and elected representatives no longer matter. All that matters is who can put people in the street.

The OWS protestors have pledged to remain as long as it takes. This looks like it will be a long wait since the movement purposely kept its goals vague.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Tea party and Occupy Wall Street

It's hard to have much sympathy for the Occupy Wall Street movement. They were originally organized by socialists (really) and most of the protesters have no idea what their goals are. Some are for an end to war or to inequality. Many of them are against college debt (theirs). The main thing that they have in common is that they are fed up with Wall Street.

Some of their grievances overlap with the Tea Party. Both groups are upset with the billions in bailouts and the tight relationship between President Obama and Wall Street.

After reading the book Confidence Men, I'm tempted to join in the protest. early on the Obama administration adopted two mantras - "Do no harm" and "Be Sweden, not Japan". The second was inspired by a column by Paul Krugman contrasting the ways that Sweden and Japan responded to fiscal emergencies. Sweden emerged quickly while Japan struggled through what is known as the "lost decade".

Unfortunately, being Sweden meant taking actions that would upset Wall Street and that ran into the primary mantra, "Do no harm." Obama's advisers convinced him that the road to prosperity lay in propping up the banks until things resumed their pre-crash status. The fact that the banks were engaging in risky behavior and are resuming the same practices was given a pass. Trying to do any serious reform would undermine the confidence in Wall Street and it would collapse into a new Great Depression.

The title of the book refers to the belief that confidence in Wall Street is paramount.

So Wall Street got multi-billion dollar bailouts and resumed multi-million dollar bonuses while the rest of the country stagnates.

While many in the Occupy Wall Street movement still support Obama, the movement itself could cause him as much trouble as the Tea Party. It is largely comprised of disappointed progressives. They had been silent for the first couple of years of Obama's administration because they expected that the most liberal president in decades would pursue a more progressive agenda.

The last thing that Obama needs now is a challenge from the Left. Many people blame Ted Kennedy for weakening Carter by entering the 1980s primaries. This overlooks the widespread discontent with Carter that allowed Kennedy to capture around a quarter of the primary votes. Even if Kennedy had not run, that discontent would still have been present.

The Tea Party is still going strong on the right and now Obama is being attacked from the left. It is hard to imagine the Wall Street Occupiers voting for a Republican but it is easy to imagine them staying home or voting for a 3rd party candidate. With both groups tapping into general outrage over the bailouts, this would be a line of attack for a Republican challenger to use to take the White House.