Friday, October 28, 2011

OWS: "Screw the Pundits". Good on 'em.

One of the best parts about the "Occupy" movement? The fact that it baffles and enrages television and print pundits. Not all are as incoherent as, say, Canada's Andrew Coyne, who thinks that poor people should shut up because they have microwaves and color televisions(!), but it's pretty universal.

As Dalia Lithwick points out in Slate, that may be part of the point:

I feel it’s time to explain something: Occupy Wall Street may not have laid out all of its demands in a perfectly cogent one-sentence bumper sticker for you, Mr. Pundit, but it knows precisely what it doesn’t want. It doesn’t want you.
What the movement clearly doesn’t want is to have to explain itself through corporate television. To which I answer, Hallelujah. You can’t talk down to a movement that won’t talk back to you...

...Occupy Wall Street is not a movement without a message. It’s a movement that has wisely shunned the one-note, pre-chewed, simple-minded messaging required for cable television as it now exists. It’s a movement that feels no need to explain anything to the powers that be, although it is deftly changing the way we explain ourselves to one another.

Think, for just a moment, about the irony. We are the most media-saturated 24-hour-cable-soaked culture in the world, and yet around the country, on Facebook and at protests, people are holding up cardboard signs, the way protesters in ancient Sumeria might have done when demonstrating against a rise in the price of figs. And why is that? Because they very wisely don’t trust television cameras and microphones to get it right anymore. Because a media constructed around the illusion of false equivalencies, screaming pundits, and manufactured crises fails to capture who we are and what we value.
They don't necessarily trust the Internet, either, though they surely trust it more than they trust the cable networks. Is it really any wonder, though? Television news is basically rich people talking to rich people about rich people's problems. Someone like Andrew Coyne doesn't have the foggiest idea how the 99% live, or what their issues are. It's an academic, abstract issue to him, which is almost certainly why he fell back to "what are they complaining about? Color televisions, people! COLOR!" These people want simple solutions to the problem of poverty because isn't their problem. They just want it to go away and stop bothering them with the minimum amount of hassle. 

People might have been willing to go along with that when the Great and the Good were benefiting their lives. Those days are over. The 99% are now of the opinion that they've been scammed by the pundits and their cronies, and they're PISSED. That's the message. What they're planning on doing about it isn't quite certain yet. But that's the message.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Krugman's Take on OWS: "Panicked Plutocrats"

The Brooks twaddle I just mentioned makes a bit more sense when you read Paul Krugman's piece about "Panicked Plutocrats".

It remains to be seen whether the Occupy Wall Street protests will change America’s direction. Yet the protests have already elicited a remarkably hysterical reaction from Wall Street, the super-rich in general, and politicians and pundits who reliably serve the interests of the wealthiest hundredth of a percent.
Okay, fine, that last link was my addition. Times columnists aren't technically allowed to take shots at each other, though everybody knows that Krugman spends a fair bit of time tearing apart Brooks' arguments, even if he can't actually name the man. Only fair to fill in the gap on his behalf.

The way to understand all of this is to realize that it’s part of a broader syndrome, in which wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is...

...What’s going on here? The answer, surely, is that Wall Street’s Masters of the Universe realize, deep down, how morally indefensible their position is. They’re not John Galt; they’re not even Steve Jobs. They’re people who got rich by peddling complex financial schemes that, far from delivering clear benefits to the American people, helped push us into a crisis whose aftereffects continue to blight the lives of tens of millions of their fellow citizens.

Yet they have paid no price. Their institutions were bailed out by taxpayers, with few strings attached. They continue to benefit from explicit and implicit federal guarantees — basically, they’re still in a game of heads they win, tails taxpayers lose. And they benefit from tax loopholes that in many cases have people with multimillion-dollar incomes paying lower rates than middle-class families.

This special treatment can’t bear close scrutiny — and therefore, as they see it, there must be no close scrutiny. Anyone who points out the obvious, no matter how calmly and moderately, must be demonized and driven from the stage. In fact, the more reasonable and moderate a critic sounds, the more urgently he or she must be demonized, hence the frantic sliming of Elizabeth Warren.

So who’s really being un-American here? Not the protesters, who are simply trying to get their voices heard. No, the real extremists here are America’s oligarchs, who want to suppress any criticism of the sources of their wealth.
And now we've reached the point where people like David Brooks are so terrified on behalf of their tiny sliver of plutocrats that they're already throwing the words "anti-Semitic" around.  The man must be absolutely shitting himself at the thought of what OWS represents.

David Brooks Went From Zero to "OWS are Anti-Semites" in Four Paragraphs

This has to be a new record.

Sure, the piece itself is ridiculous nonsense. He bandies about that raising the income taxes on people making "between 1 and 10 million" would only cut 1% of the national debt, completely ignoring that it's the national deficit that matters, that salaried income aren't their only (or even principal) source of wealth, or that extreme concentration might mean that people making more than ten million might be part of the problem. It certainly doesn't help that he's sourcing some right-wing think tank instead of a reputable source, either, nor that he won't acknowledge just how concentrated wealth is.

There's also a great wealth of bullshit about how dividing up the country is "self-limiting", when the whole point of the OWS movement is that the country is already divided.  But, hey, never mind that,the whole point of his sort is to make the rest of us identify more with this wealthy "sliver" (in his words) than with each other.

But, accusing them of anti-semitism? That's a new low.

Take the Occupy Wall Street movement. This uprising was sparked by the magazine Adbusters, previously best known for the 2004 essay, “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” — an investigative report that identified some of the most influential Jews in America and their nefarious grip on policy.
 Wow. Brooks is actually arguing that the only thing that Adbusters is known for is this seven-year-old article about supposedly "nefarious Jews", and therefore is not only anti-semitic but has rendered OWS anti-semitic as well.  This despite the fact that Adbusters has been around for decades, and is hardly the only or principal reason why OWS started.

Never mind that this is insulting and quite possibly libelous. Is it really a good idea to try to discredit a movement decrying wealth concentration by calling it anti-semitic? Doesn't that sorta internalize the absurd notion that Jewish people are all wealthy bankers and movie moguls and whatnot, instead of just being, well, Americans? The vast, vast majority of Jewish-Americans are part of the 99%, just like anybody else; so why the hell is Brooks trying to build up this notion of a connection between extreme wealth and Judaism? It is poisonous and destructive. Why on earth would he DO that?

Well, okay, we all know why. He wanted to get a cheap shot in, and didn't think of the connotations or the consequences. He didn't realize that this is about to absolutely enrage pretty much every Jewish-American who is tired of these stereotypes, along with any who would resent being so cynically exploited.

(It's also going to do nothing to affect OWS. If anything it'll embolden them: this is such an obvious and pathetic cheap shot that it could hardly do otherwise.)

I'm sure he'll get away with it. Those who truck in stereotypes and myth to defend the interests of that "sliver" get enough cover to get by. But it's a useful lesson for any of you who think that Brooks is some sort of "moderate". He isn't. He may not give a shit about social issues...but when it comes to defending the interests of his precious sliver against the interests of the rest of the world, he will say ANYTHING. No matter how odious.

Edit: The Jewish magazine Tablet has much the same take.  And I missed the lovely bit where Brooks said that OWS has nothing to say about "wage stagnation or polarization". That's pretty comical, considering that's the entire damned point of the exercise.

As Dean Baker reminds us, he's little more than "the bard of the 1%". He's just there to make them feel better about themselves, which is probably why his hateful little scrawling attempts to call OWS "ineffective" and "milquetoast". It's wishful thinking by the bucketload.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

"Occupy Wall Street"

I had thought it would fizzle out. It hasn't. It's getting bigger, it's getting more coherent, and it's finding a winning narrative with this "we are the 99%" line.

Mainstream media ignore it at their peril. This could be bigger than the tea party.

Edit: People keep asking "what do they want?"

Isn't it obvious? They want want Lincoln talked about: they want "government of the people, by the people, for the people".  They know that isn't the case. Not all of them can articulate it, but they all know somewhere that the American government—and, in fact, pretty much all modern governments—act at the behest of corporations. These corporations are given the same rights as actual citizens, and carry outsized weight due to their enormous economic power...and as they are generally owned by a tiny minority of people, they provide an outsized voice to that tiny minority.

That's why there's all this talk about the "99%" and the "1%". The 99% have no real voice. The only voices that are listened to are those of the corps, and the corps are overwhelmingly owned by that tiny minority. Even if members that tiny minority wanted to help the rest, they can't, because the corporations that act on their behalf are (somehow) legally obligated to fight anything and anybody that threatens the income of that minority.

(That's what corporations are for, after all. They make money. That's it.)

People get that this situation cannot continue. They get that this isn't working properly. They aren't yet quite sure why, or how to get out of it, but they KNOW that things are broken. They're looking for someone to fix it. If someone doesn't, they'll do it themselves.

Re-Edit: The truly bizarre part is that even people on Wall Street know that the current system is broken.  They don't like being blamed, true, but they know the problem. The issue is that the people with actual power and influence won't believe it for ideological reasons.