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OccupyWallStreet: We are not cannon fodder for Washington policy wonks

 

My Favorite Sign

Glenn Greenwald gets OccupyWallStreet in a way that many doubters do not.  In his latest post at Salon, Can OWS be turned into a Democratic party movement, he writes:

Given these facts, does the Center for American Progress really believe that the protest movement named OccupyWallStreet was begun — and that people are being arrested and pepper-sprayed and ready to endure harsh winters andmarching to Jamie Dimon’s house — in order to devote themselves to ensuring that these people remain in power? Does CAP and the DCCC really believe that most of the protesters are motivated — or can be motivated — to turn themselves into a get-out-the-vote machine for Obama’s re-election and the empowerment of Chuck Schumer and the Democratic Party? Obviously, if when the GOP nominates some crony capitalist like Rick Perry or eager Wall Street servant like Mitt Romney, few if any of the protesters will or should support them, nor can it be denied that the GOP in its current incarnation is steadfastly devoted to a pro-Wall-Street, corporatist agenda. But it also seems to me quite delusional to think that you’re going to exploit this protest as a way “to mobilize protesters in get-out-the-vote drives for 2012″ on behalf of the Democratic Party that I just documented.

Presumably, people who are out protesting and getting arrested are politically astute enough to be aware of some, probably most, of these facts. A rejuvenated outburst of “populist rhetoric” from Obama — a re-reading of the 2008 Change script — just as election season is heating up and Obama again needs progressive enthusiasm to remain in power seems quite unlikely to make people forget all of this.

As Robert Reich recently pointed out, OWS and the Democratic Party are not exactly natural allies given that “Obama has been extraordinarily solicitous of Wall Street and big business” and that “a big share of both parties’ campaign funds comes from the Street and corporate board rooms.” As Naomi Klein explained after speaking to the protesters, the reason they are out on the street rather than working for the DNC or OFA is precisely because they concluded that electoral politics or working for either party will not address the issues motivating them; part of what they’re protesting is the Democratic Party. For an FDL Book Salon discussion this weekend, I reviewed Lawrence Lessig’s excellent new book on our corrupted political system, Republic: Lost, and he documents exactly why he transformed from an enthusiastic supporter of his long-time friend and colleague Barack Obama in 2008 into a harsh critic of both parties: because the political system itself has been subverted by oligarchical control. As he put it in his book: : “Democracy on this account seems a show or a rule; power rests elsewhere. . . . the charade is a signal: spend your time elsewhere, because this game is not for real.”

So best of luck to CAP and the DCCC in their efforts to exploit these protests into some re-branded Obama 2012 crusade and to convince the protesters to engage in civil disobedience and get arrested all to make themselves the 2012 street version of OFA. I think they’re going to need it.

My spidey sense tells me that the occupiers know that the Democratic party is an enabler of Wall Street behavior.  Where I disagree with Glenn is that *anybody* who takes financial industry money is going to do its bidding.  I don’t believe that.  The crisis of 2008 was so severe that getting away with murder could only be pulled off by making sure the weakest presidential candidate won.  Obama was weak in character as well as experience.  But I digress.

While OWS is still working through the process of what it can do with all of its newly found power, let’s talk about business in America.  What drives me nutz about some activists is the inability to separate the finance industry from corporations in general.  There are some forms of industry that are best carried out by corporations because they provide an economy of scale and physical set up that make working together ideal and logistically possible.  Some industries that come to mind are car and aircraft manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.  Go ahead, try to build a new plane or discover a new drug without a corporation.  It’s bloody hard.  Many unemployed chemists right now are faced with this dilemma.  I have a sneaky suspicion that the clueless MBA class thought cutting a huge number of pharma workers was going to pay off for them because these people would just turn into entrepreneurs and when their  projects got to the development stage, the big pharmas would swoop down and buy them out.  But this is a business school grad’s fantasy.  With very few exceptions, this will never happen.  It’s just too expensive and physically exhausting for a few people to get together and create a whole pharma company out of their garages.  The start up costs alone will bankrupt you before you even get started and there are years, decades even, before a drug hits the marketplace, if it ever does.  The risk is too high for small entrepreneurs who still have to eat.

I hope someone is paying attention to what I just wrote about garage startup pharmas.  Stop hoping for this to happen.  Getting a new drug this way is about as likely as an immaculate conception.  At best, small companies can only do a piece of the puzzle.  The rest has to be farmed out and even when the idea is a good one, what these entrepreneurs really want is for someone with deep pockets to buy them, which most venture capitalists these days are increasingly unlikely to do without a guarantee of a payoff.  Since you can’t get close to guaranteeing a payoff without significant start up funds… well, you can see this is a vicious cycle.  The pharmas would have been better off keeping us and leaving us alone in our labs for about 5 years.

Now that there are a lot of people struggling to make a living by starting their own companies, vulture capitalists can make them offers they can’t refuse.  That will discourage new entrepreneurs from trying it and pretty soon, chemists and biologists will turn in their labcoats and go work for Wall Street where bonuses of only $500,000 will make a spoiled 27 year old Ivy League graduate cry but not your average lab rat.

Anyway, the problem with corporations is that at some point in the last 20 years, their upper management was taken over by people who wanted to play by the finance industry rules.  Many of them, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, have no idea how their businesses work.  They are raised in a business culture that puts making money ahead of everything else.  An executive reading that sentence would laugh derisively and say of course they’re there to make money.  And who would disagree?  That’s what for profit businesses do.  More power to them.  Make gobs of cash.  BUT the way you make that gob of cash *does* matter.  If you do it by reinvesting some of your profit into your business and innovate and grow, your business is going to do pretty well but it might take longer for that gob of cash to grow.  If you do it by slashing your labor and compensation costs, raising prices astronomically and then skim the profits off the top and share the profit, that’s like eating your seed corn and your company will start to show diminishing returns over time.  This is already happening to pharma with many of them going over the “patent cliff” starting this year.

Corporations have decided to go with option number 2 because the finance industry puts pressure on them to deliver more and more money to the shareholder.  And that money gets managed by Wall Street and is used to invest in foreign markets and the people who are left in those corporations are encouraged to put money into their 401Ks and they are compensated with stock options, which are supposed to incentivize you but tend to make you feel like your future is not in your hands whenever the shares plummet.

And then there is the deregulation and non-transparent derivatives, which are also not regulated, and the credit default swaps and the over-leveraged banks and on and on.  The whole system has been changed over the past 30 years to reward speculation by the wealthy.  None of this is news to anyone.

But it just may be occurring to some that the horror stories about what Brookseley Born, Sheila Bair and Elizabeth Warren have come up against in Washington DC is the result not of the bankers but the politicians who have been compromised by the financial industry.  And this problem affects *both* parties.  The Republicans are more up front about it but the Democrats haven’t been much better.  I won’t leave Bill Clinton off the hook here but in his case, there were mitigating factors in addition to Larry Summers and Robert Rubin acting like total assholes.  But we have to remember who rehired Larry Summers after his reputation preceded him.  It was Barack Obama.

We can debate whether Obama was a knowing tool of Wall Street or just aspired to be like the class that reigns there.  But there is no doubt in anyone’s minds by now that under Obama, the finance industry will suffer no shocks to its system at the hands of government regulators.  By the way, Greenwald includes a graph of the politicians that have received the most campaign cash from Wall Street and Chris Dodd’s name was on that list. It should come as no surprise that Dodd was one of the people who obstructed Elizabeth Warren’s appointment to the CFPB.  This article from Vanity Fair gives all of the gruesome details.

So, what does this have to do with OWS?  Well, the naysayers who have never been to an occupation site (hello myiq!) seem to think that the occupiers are or can be co-opted to become another Obama for America organization.  My sense, having actually, you know, *been* there, is that that’s not true.  The occupiers like me who already know that the politicians are standing between the Wall Street and regulation are very suspicious of any activity that pushes them to support Obama.  The other’s are still working through this process.  And the fact that they are working through this process slowly and methodically indicates to me that they will soon reach the same conclusion that we early birds did: if the finance industry plays by its own set of rules, the way to make them behave is to change the rulemakers.  And you can’t re-elect the same rulemakers who answer only to Wall Street and not to you the citizen and taxpayer.  And if the faulty rulemakers are in both parties, then even if some of those more sympathetic rulemakers are on your side, you need to force them to become accountable to you.  And to become more accountable to you, you need to threaten them with electoral losses until they get the picture that the power is at the ballot box and not on Wall Street.

So, will OWS become a tool of the Democratic party?  I don’t know but I doubt it.  That’s because what OWS wants is to make life more fair for the 99% and right now that’s not possible with the current set of rulemakers.  OWS has to apply pressure from the outside of the system.  Becoming a part of that system will never work.  The Democrats will try.  They’ll use fear, uncertainty and dread.  But the power that OWS has is in staying separate from any political party and gathering bodies and momentum behind it.

My best guess as to where OWS is headed is as a voting bloc first and then as a new political party.  What they are doing right now is laying down the foundation for what that party represents and what it values.  I know, I know, they’ll tell you they are still working on what they want and party building is not on their agenda.  But the process they are pursuing has a new party as a very logical endpoint, among other things.  And if the platform focuses on economic issues primarily, it could be extremely appealing to millions of Americans who have had enough of both parties.

The Democrats have more to fear from OWS because so many occupiers have given it a chance, over and over again, to do something to rein in the investment class and have seen nothing come of those efforts.  They know they’ll never make any headway with the Republicans, who are busily invoking images of murderous radical marxists with tattooed faces who poop on cars (well, now we know how to spot the radical marxists).  The occupiers have had it with Democrats but they also have more to gain by taking Democrats on.  They are just now feeling their power.  They’re not about to turn it over to a bunch of Wall Street lackeys

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