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#occupywallstreet –A New Conversation

October 5, 2011

Two of our writers have been discussing the #occupywallstreet protests for the better part of a week now. Below is a transcript of an email conversation regarding the most recent protestor demands, the role of lobbying in Washington, and the future of the movement. Our previous pieces can be found here and here

Akshai: Here are my thoughts regarding the demands posted at occupywallstreet.org

1. W/R/T The repeal of Glass-Steagall: “Most economists believe this repeal directly contributed to the severity of the Financial crisis of 2007–2011 by allowing Wall Street investment banking firms to gamble with their depositors’ money that was held in commercial banks owned or created by the investment firms.” –They were doing that anyway. The idea is much simpler than this: banks were allowed to consolidate to a point of unprecedented political control, or achieve an unprecedented level of regulatory capture. This wall is about the conflict of national interests that are created, more typically understood as banks becoming ‘Too Big to Fail.” There are a host of other measures that we need to address to prevent TBTF…. like the ones I’ve previously listed.

2.Is a waste of time. We need to move forward and not spend our political capital on prosecutions that won’t get anywhere. We barely got Ken Lay, and the Enron folks. These guys have the best defense lawyers money can buy. Watching the courts not move doesn’t really provide any real deterrent for the next crop of ass clowns to rape us with their new ideas. We’d be much better off with provisions like the Progressive Change Campaign Committee has recommended here and here. Also the confirmation of Rich Cordray and the re-election of Sherrod Brown who co-authored the Brown-Kaufmanamendment are top.

3. Corporations can buy elections? No they can’t, that’s the whole point of popular movements. Money doesn’t buy votes. But I do dig the provisions outlined.

4. The Laffer Curve is real… and people should want to be rich. The dope writing that website up on their Mac didn’t get it because Steve Jobs just gave it to him. Steve Jobs is yet another fool who backdated stock options illegally to make a buck. Innovators should have financial incentives, and the rates in the 50s and 60s were too high, plus they totally ignore the fact that these rich people know how to avoid taxation better than Congress knows how to implement it. This stuff shouldn’t be so outrageous that it can’t be enforced. Implementation is more important than the ‘law’. The nominal tax rate for many corporations is in the 30s, while the effective tax rates are in the 0s. It’s clear these folks don’t have the know-how to actually enforce the tax rates they are demanding.

5.All this should read is “higher budget and higher pay for regulatory agencies to better compete with private sector salaries.”

6. Is dumb, and shows no clear indication that they understand how legislation is written. This should read: demand real wages for congressional staffers, and give them normal labor protection laws, and all internships should be paid for. (Congressional staffers almost always come from the upper echelons due to the fact that these are the kind of folks that can actually afford- parental help, etc- to suffer through unpaid internships and low-paying rigamarole of low-level Congressional staffing.)

7. Institute the White House ethics laws on lobbying upon Congress.

8. No. the idea of limited liability is what has gotten so many beneficial, small startups off the ground.

The comment section is foolish. Rather than tagging things or adding positives and negatives, or having some way to actually glean information from followers and get a real sense of what they feel this is absurd with no information being shared whatsoever.

This is not a credible site for a gleaning change.

There is a fundamental lack of anything to do with empowerment for people. How about this: all days in which there is an election for a federal office (including primaries) is a national holiday. if you cite cost, we can trade things off like Columbus Day (sorry Italian Americans, or just rename it to Indigenous People’s Day… and then it certainly won’t be a national holiday).Or how about results-based money for states to provide Boards of Elections to prevent the specter of ‘voter fraud’ that republicans are so worried about and that they are using to scare us into rules that disenfranchise the poor?

I hope the vein I’m following makes sense. “We the people” don’t have capacity–with our debt, with our poor health, and our joblessness–to enforce the kind of lofty demands that we seek. I’m a labor-minded supply-sider. How do you prevent corruption if power corrupts? Spread the power. All of the #occupy aims are short-sighted and ineffectual.

Dan: Thanks for these–I think they are well articulated and make a clear delineation in terms of where you lie with and against the mindset of the website. What I’d like to address, if possible, is not how your propositions could help the economy/the country; I think there’s no doubt that they would help, and furthermore that they are more achievable solutions than many the #occupy website has laid out. My question, though, has to do with the fact that this movement seems less concerned with what is “realistic” or “achievable” and more concerned with spreading a message, no matter how many deaf ears it may fall on.

Case in point is your retaliation to proposition number 6. While it’s true that the wording shows a lack of understanding in terms of how legislation gets written, it is undeniable that corporations and entities with enough money to hire Lobbyists, many of whom are corrupt, have advantages in pushing their agendas that the people of this country don’t have. I understand that your proposed solution would help diversify the congressional staff, but this doesn’t seem to directly address the message that the protest wants to get out–in no way does this address their anger. They see lobbyists as corrupt, and they don’t want to work within that system. It may be unrealistic, but they are not going to compromise that message.

The fundamental question becomes this: is working within a broken system to fix a broken system more realistic and therefore better than rallying against that system in spite of the outcome? On the first hand, you might actually make incremental changes. On the second, your principles are never compromised. Thoughts?

Akshai: Here’s the rub:

‘They see lobbyists as corrupt, and they don’t want to work within that system. It may be unrealistic, but they are not going to compromise that message.’

I aspire to be not only a lobbyist, but a great lobbyist. What do lobbyists do? They push legislation. T4 has lobbyists on staff. Soooo…. what’s the deal?

Officials are democratically elected, based on platforms (i.e. promises to voters). They are supposedly held accountable to those platforms (highly questionable), and seem more likely to be re-elected based on ability to their accountability to their constituents’ respective loci of power. In accordance to whatever they see as their need to be accountable, politicians attempt to stay on a consistent message (e.g. progressivism, but usually more specific like working on creating manufacturing jobs).

Given the multitude of policies pushed on the federal level, they and their staff need information; a great quote from STAND training reads, “If you need to be an expert on everything, you’re usually an expert on nothing”. Politicians need a way to sell that they’re consistent and working for their respective power bases-they want to be re-elected.

You get this.

Lobbyists are just people with influence. Hopefully because they’re smart and convincing (like our policy director talking transportation), rather than because of nepotistic relationships, but the ethics of their message still depend on who’s paying them to say what. (T4 hires you because you’re a good advocate on smart growth, and banks hire you because you’re good at scaring people to thinking that if banks’ profits go down the country will explode.) This is why it matters how much contact (and therefore empathy) staffers have with the poor.

Also, the poor need to vote. Are you or #occupywallstreet going to tell me that these ‘corrupt’ people were:

-Not elected with a majority of votes in their jurisdictions?

-That they used violence to intimidate the vote?

-That if they were voted out of office that there would not be a peaceful transfer of power?

Or are people just pissed about the way that democracy  (albiet in fucked up ways) works? How about we make our processes more democratic, or allow for them to be more democratic (making the process work for the poor)?

That means easy access to early voting and absentee ballots, basic and easy to meet identification laws, and a deadline day for voting that provides all the flexibility of a national holiday.

The system isn’t broken just because you don’t like it. It works just the way that we should expect it to.

Dan: It was definitely misleading to label the lobbyists themselves as being corrupt. Not that corrupt lobbyists don’t exist, but just like everything else in the world, generalizing is dangerous. And more to your point, it is undeniable that “the ethics of their message depend on who is paying them to say what.” Lobbying is just a system to relay information. Neither I nor #occupy is capable of answering ‘yes’ to any of the questions you posed. I myself only have two questions left before I’m behind your post 100%:

-Can you not admit that, within a system that works ‘just the way we should expect it to’ it is far too easy to manipulate outcomes? Take this situation for instance: you have your smart and convincing lobbyist from T4 lobbying the same policy-makers as your nepotistic lobbyists from Exxon or BP. I don’t know the details of what’s actually happening on the hill, but if the interests of these two groups collide, as they are want, how can you not sense the inequality of influence potential? And wouldn’t you be in favor of a measure that would level the playing field between your messages? Let the policy makers decide who is right, not who is rich.

-Lobbying issue aside, let’s zoom out and talk about the macro. What if the importance of this movement lies in the idealist message? The tea party certainly didn’t come to prominence with a list of common-sense demands. They came with a broad set of ethical ideals, which then very much influenced the political sphere. Is #occupy not a good chance to counter that weight? In essence, is the purity of the message more important than what is practically achievable a this point?

Akshai: You maximize the power you have, and mitigate the divisions you can. Outside of that- you can never just win. I’d love to put an appropriate tax on carbon, properly price the use of our public infrastructure, and get rid of the subsidies we provide dirty energy. But that doesn’t happen until we have the power to do so. Until then you keep organizing.

I like that I finally have a left flank. I want it to keep up, I want to be idealistic and push the envelope of progressivism, but I’ll still always strive to be a numbers-empiricism-results guy. At the end of the day I don’t think that claims for 90% marginal tax rates on the top earners is that.

Dan: So your basic angle is that unity/maximization of existing power structures is more important and more of a priority than an unified and idealist message? Even if we are already divided? Even if that idealist and unified message already exists on the right?

Akshai: In your first question: not of, but through.

Dan: I think that is part of my question. For instance, the tea part makes a big noise, but they ended up influencing political change through the system. Why can’t #occupy be used in the same manner?

Akshai: All the tea party did was to get organized and vote.

EDIT:

Dan: I just heard a really good sentiment from a protest organizer in boston on the radio. He was trying to emphasize that it wasn’t about anti-capitalism or even anti-wealth. More so getting that wealth out of the political process in cases where it was infringing on democracy, or favoring some voices over others. This is what I think I still don’t understand about your arguments regarding corporations. Why allow them to use lobbyists to bully politicians with monetary incentives/threats? There’s just too much money involved in the process.
Akshai: 80% of the population of france votes. Our midterms currently stand at about 40% That means that if another 40% of people voted, we’d have enough to overwhelm both democrats and republicans. People neutralize money when they decide that we’re worth one person. One vote.
Dan: Overwhelm democrats and republicans? Who is left? Who would we be voting for?
Akshai: Bernie sanders isn’t a member. He caucuses w/ the ds. What, Vermont can figure it out but everybody else is too fuckered?
Dan: I think what you’re seeing is the difficulty in making your proposal work. France is tiny. America is huge. Sure Vermont can figure it out, but wouldn’t we be helping the rest of us if we got the money out of the equation?
Akshai: I’m not against this whatsoever, but we’re taught to not value people if they don’t have money. The rules are a symptom of culture, and if we have the power to turn it over, then let’s roll back to when we gave equal time to candidates.
Dan: Yeah, I get what you’re saying too. It just seems so much more abstract, I think, than saying “HEY. Let’s make it so that more money doesn’t equal more influence.” It might not be any easier to do than what you’re talking about, but just in terms of a talking point, it’s easier to grasp.
Akshai: Publically funded campaigns? ok. Jungle primaries and publiclaly funded campaigns. I’m down.
More coverage:
Anti-Wall Street Protests Spread To Cities Large And Small
The Occupy Wall Street Library
Another Reason To Support Occupy Wall Street
#occupywallstreet as a catalyst for ending the era of partisan politics?
Occupy Wall Street Gets Union Backing; Approval Rating Tops Congress
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