Street protests are in. From Bangkok to Caracas, and Madrid to Moscow, these days not a week goes by without news that a massive crowd has amassed in the streets of another of the world’s big cities. The reasons for the protests vary (bad and too-costly public transport or education, the plan to raze a park, police abuse, etc.). Often, the grievance quickly expands to include a repudiation of the government, or its head, or more general denunciations of corruption and economic inequality.
Aerial photos of the anti-government marches routinely show an intimidating sea of people furiously demanding change. And yet, it is surprising how little these crowds achieve. The fervent political energy on the ground is hugely disproportionate to the practical results of these demonstrations.
Notable exceptions of course exist: In Egypt, Tunisia, and Ukraine, street protests actually contributed to the overthrow of the government. But most massive rallies fail to create significant changes in politics or public policies. Occupy Wall Street is a great example. Born in the summer of 2011 (not in Wall Street but in Kuala Lumpur’s Dataran Merdeka), the Occupy movement spread quickly and was soon roaring in the central squares of nearly 2,600 cities around the world.
Read more. [Image: Joshua Lott/Reuters]
First, they came for the bailed-out bankers’ bonuses, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t a banker.
Then they came for the hedge fund managers’ tax loophole, and I did not speak out, because I wasn’t a hedge fund manager.
Then they came for novelist Danielle Steel’s hedges, and finally I did speak out, because I know her, and I’m a knight—a literal knight of the Kingdom of Norway—so I thought I’d get on my high horse and charge forth in her defense.
This is the Ballad of Tom Joad Perkins, Silicon Valley’s legendary venture capitalist. He had to speak out after he saw the appalling way the San Francisco Chronicle disparaged his ex-wife Ms. Steel’s plots, prose, and shrubbery.
He showed that, for now at least, the pen is still mightier than even a knight’s sword. He wrote a letter in the Wall Street Journal explaining that progressive attacks on today’s so-called “1 percent”—the “rich”—are just like the Nazis’ attacks on their 1 percent—the Jews. A new Kristallnacht, basically. Oops. That’s insensitive. Perkins apologized on Bloomberg TV for using that word … though he did point out that Occupy protesters broke windows at a Wells Fargo and luxury car dealerships in San Francisco. And that, he reminded us, is how Kristallnacht began.
So don’t kid yourself. Today, they’re coming for Bentleys. Tomorrow, they’ll come for Aston Martins. The time to speak out is now.
Others have. Buyout-king (and actual-billionaire) Steven Schwarzman has said that Obama’s plan to tax the income of venture capitalists, hedge fund and private equity mangers like everybody else’s, and not as capital gains, is like Hitler invading Poland. And hedge funder (another actual billionaire) Leon Cooperman has pointed out that you know who else came to power amidst an economic crisis. And no, he wasn’t talking about Ronald Reagan.
If it all seems historically illiterate and grossly short on perspective, here’s why 1 percenters are sure Obama is the new Hitler.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
In 1999, my friend moved to Seattle, where he was hit with rubber bullets, tear-gassed in the face, and nearly arrested by police. He had joined the famous protests of the WTO Ministerial Conference, widely known as the Seattle Protests. The Occupy Wall Street of their time, they focused on globalization rather than the excesses of finance. And, quite like the Occupy Wall Street of their time, they were often mocked by critics as silly, aimless, and overly hand-wringy about the future.
The organizers were a hodgepodge of groups—unions worried about competition from cheap foreign labor, environmentalists worried about the outsourcing of polluting activities, consumer protection groups worried about unsafe imports, labor rights groups worried about bad working conditions in other countries, and leftists of various stripes simply venting their anger at capitalism.
In the decade that followed, the Seattle protests came to seem as not only silly, but also misguided. After all, what were the excesses of globalization compared to the travesty of the Iraq War, or the disaster of the financial crisis? America seemed to decide that we had much more important things to protest about, and the Seattle protesters have been largely forgotten in our pop media culture.
It is a shame, because the worries of the Seattle protesters have been proven right on nearly every count.
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia Commons]
"It’s petty envy, pure and simple." That’s Elias Isquith’s assessment of what motivates the Tea Party—a simmering rage that someone, somewhere, has more than you do. As John Kramer says, the movement insists, “we must punish success; we must organize envy”—though the movement Kramer is referring to isn’t the Tea Party, but Occupy Wall Street.
It’s not a surprise that left and right are united in sneering at the envy of the other guy. Some vices have a patina of glamour. Hate has an appealing purity; lust the edgy excitement of forbidden pleasure; gluttony at least means you’re eating well. With each of these, to sin is to indulge and to take; you can revel in the strength of your iniquity.
Read more. [Image: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]
The rich are different from you and me. They got a real recovery. Or one at all.
According to the latest figures from economist Emmanuel Saez, the top 1 percent received 95 percent of all real income gains between 2009 and 2012. In 2011, when real real income fell for the bottom 99 percent, the top percentile accounted for 121 percent of the year’s income gains.
In 2012, inflation-adjusted incomes rose for the rest of us, but only barely. Meanwhile, the richest percentile got a 19 percent raise. They now account for 22.5 percent of total U.S. income. That’s the fourth-highest share in at least 100 years (as far back as Saez keeps track). The only years with greater income inequality were the two years before the Great Recession, 2006 and 2007, and the year before the Great Depression, 1928.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Elites shouldn’t be forced to share ill-gotten gains — they should be prevented from ever getting them.
Read more. [Image: Quinn Anya/Flickr]
Occupy Wall Street may well have been the first global protest movement to rally around a statistic cribbed from an economics paper. So to mark its one year anniversary today, I thought I’d break out some of the latest numbers tracking U.S. inequality, courtesy of this month’s Census Bureau recent report on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage.
From 2010 to 2011, the top 5 percent of U.S. households upped their share of the country’s income by 5.3 percent. The top 20 percent got a 1.6 percent bump. And while the country’s poorest saw their piece of the pie grow by a smidgen, the middle classes lost ground.
Read more. [Image: Jordan Weissmann]
On May 1, students and activists are planning to revive the Occupy Wall Street movement with a general strike. One poster making the rounds on Facebook and other social media features a hamster nervously eyeing a treadmill, and above it the famous words, “I WOULD PREFER NOT TO.” The hamster’s wheel of course represents the drudgery of our modern routines; the phrase, many will recall, comes from Herman Melville’s 1853 story “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” Subtitled “A Tale of Wall Street,” this cryptic narrative traces the sad fate of a passive-aggressive writer who refuses to vacate the offices of a corporate lawyer. Bartleby was the first laid-off worker to occupy Wall Street.
It may seem odd to understand Occupy Wall Street through a story written 150 years before the tents went up in Zuccotti Park, when no one had heard of a human microphone and when Trinity Church was the tallest building in New York. But Bartleby literally does occupy Wall Street — specifically the offices of Melville’s narrator, a lawyer for the 19th century one-percenters who does “a snug business among rich men’s bonds and mortgages and title-deeds.” And the way that Melville represents Bartleby’s occupation can help us understand the power of the endlessly intriguing movement that is promising to return with renewed fervor this spring. What’s more, this staple of the English Literature curriculum can speak to the ways that Wall Street itself is coming to occupy the classroom itself.
If you are looking for something to read today, I highly recommend the “Reynoso Task Force Report,” with its accompanying “Kroll Report” appendix. These are the findings of the panel chaired by Cruz Reynoso, a well-known former Justice of the California Supreme Court, charged with looking into the causes and consequences of the pepper-spraying episode at UC Davis last November. […]
Campus police and others come in for their share of criticism, including specifically the police lieutenant who has become notorious from the picture above. Both he and the UC Davis police chief remain on paid administrative leave. But at face value its findings are also very damaging to the still-serving Chancellor of UC Davis, Linda Katehi. For instance, the Kroll report says about a letter asking the demonstrators to disperse:Read more. [Image: Brian Nguyen/The Aggie]
"Chancellor Katehi told Kroll investigators that Student Affairs wrote the letter and that she did not review it before it went out. The record contradicts both of these statements, as detailed below. Katehi did review the letter, provided an editorial change and approved it. Student Affairs did not write the letter…"
The stories of Daniel Murphy and Ben Zucker, two participants in Occupy Wall Street who are still looking to define what the movement is all about:
At 23, Zucker has the organizing gene. He’s a fresh graduate of Tulane University, where he studied public health to get a foot in the door of social justice work, and his family lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, just inside the Beltway. He once spent a semester running a health program in Senegal, and upon his return, he got involved with a protest by dining services workers. Zucker, who was hooked after first swinging by McPherson in early October, represents the liberal side of the movement. He wants universal health care and federal takeovers of big banks, and he thinks Occupy Wall Street is a good way to make it all happen.
That’s a sharp contrast with Murphy, a Long Beach native who earned his high school diploma in 2004 but never graduated. At 17, he was sentenced to more than two years in the California Youth Authority for stabbing three people at a coffee shop after his friend was punched.