Friday, October 14, 2011

Not THAT Michael White: Visiting Occupy Wall Street and How I Know The Economy Is Bad (For the 99%)

My first visit to the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Zucotti Park I got to chatting with a reporter from the New York Times. When we concluded, she asked my name and I gave her my card. I cautioned her that if she used my name she would have to put in both my middle initials (D. & D.) between the Michael and the White or nobody would know who I was. There are too many Michael Whites I told her. After all you hardly have to go very far at all to find another one who is also a lawyer and an urban planner. (See: Wednesday, August 13, 2008, Not THAT Michael White.)

In fact, I told her (since we had been speaking a lot about the economy), because there are so many Michael Whites I have my own personal barometer of how bad the economy is now. I am getting a lot of calls. I recognize them right away. Someone on the other end of the line adopts a very firm businesslike tone as they prepare to dun me to pay some other Michael Whites defaulted bills. “Do you have any middle initials for the Michael White you want?” (I always ask the same question.) Sometimes they get feisty and want to know mine first or have me give my Social Security number to them, which I don’t do. These days I get pretty conversational with these guys and give them helpful hints about saving time by not going after the wrong people or getting suckered into pursuing some account that was originally handed off to some other collection agency first. And, I politely convey my hopes that they won’t call back.

I didn’t used to get all these calls. Not when the economy was good. I know from the variety of the middle initials they give me that there sure are a lot of Michael Whites having a tough time these days.

The Times reporter wanted to know if I supported the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. Yes, I pretty much do, I said, although I said I recognized that it was still a relatively inchoate movement working on putting together the messages that they wanted to collectively convey. I made the obvious comparison to the Tea Party but noted that I thought that a key difference was that a lot of money had been poured early on into the Tea Party from above, like from the Koch brothers, to help structure it’s messages. The result was a deflection of popular anger from where it should have gone. I told the reporter that I thought the occupiers of Wall Street are much more on target about who they ought to be angry at.

A few days later Paul Krugman, opening up one of his columns, said exactly what I’d meant and since there is always benefit in quoting a Nobel prize-winning professor of economics when talking about the economy I will use his words:

There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people.
(See: Confronting the Malefactors, by Paul Krugman, October 6, 2011.)

Krugman’s more recent column about Occupy Wall Street is to the effect that the shrill and disproportionate reaction of the super-rich and their defenders to the protests indicates that they realize that they have something to hide:
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.
(See: Panic of the Plutocrats, by Paul Krugman, October 9, 2011.)

I told the reporter that not all that long ago (January 2010) I had been part of luncheon discussion, attended by another Times reporter, with Jonathan Tasini who was then running for the U.S. Senate against Kirsten E. Gillibrand. That discussion was immediately following the specially held Massachusetts Senate election for Ted Kennedy’s former seat that had been unexpectedly won by Tea Party candidate Scott Brown. I explained that we had discussed at that lunch how we understood and appreciated the anger expressed in that race together with our expectation that we would ultimately see anger, having much in common with the Tea Party’s own, that would be expressed on the left and directed where it ought to be directed. (You will remember that the Senate seat now held by Scott Brown is the one that Elizabeth Warren is seeking to reclaim for the Democrats. Brian Lehrer bluntly ventured that Occupy Wall Street is happy with Ms. Warren, and that's a good guess.)

Michael Cooper, the reporter who wrote about the luncheon with candidate Tasini, put in both my middle initials. (See: An Underdog Who Isn’t Daunted by a New Try for the Senate, January 26, 2010, by Michael Cooper, January 19, 2010- BTW: Reporter Michael Cooper has a problem similar to my own: There are a lot of Michael Coopers, including an attorney who was once part of my legal staff.)

I went back and looked at Mr. Cooper’s article when writing this and unfortunately it does not document our prescience as extensively as I might have hoped, although it does refer to Candidate Tasini’s being “persuaded of broad voter furor” and his diagnosis that the loss of the Massachusetts race reflected, “voter contempt for insiders.” The article also noted that Mr. Tasini, “wants a tax on every transaction on Wall Street.” Our antipathy for the infuriating Yankee Stadium boondoggle was also mentioned in the article.

The reporter covering Occupy Wall Street wanted to know if I had demonstrated against anything else recently. I told her I had been there to protest the Prokhorov/Ratner (“Barclays’) basketball arena ground breaking.

Atlantic Yards,” she said without skipping a beat. “And before that?

The truth is that I don’t generally think of myself as much of a street protester. Had I thought about it I should have also mentioned my participation in demonstrations against Columbia’s abuse of eminent domain to gain exclusive control of the swath of West Harlem over by the Hudson (in one demonstration we walked over to the home of Lee Bollinger, the very highly paid president of Columbia, much as the OWS folks just marched to the homes of Wealthy Wall Streeters) and on July 26, 2011 I was also outside Governor Cuomo’s New York City office to protest his apparent intent to open up New York to hydraulic fracturing.
“I remember protesting the Vietnam War and the manufacture of napalm,” I told her, my more recent demonstrating not coming immediately to mind. Perhaps the flavor of the occupancy was prompting me to think back to that era. “I tend to be more of a thinker,” I told her, “putting thoughts together.” I held up a Jane Jacobs book I was carrying with me. (I also had material with me about real estate tax policy respecting not for profits).
“There has been a lot of talk recently about how the banks were helped out and permitted to continue during the fiscal crisis because they were `too big to fail’,” I said. “And people point out quite readily that `too big to fail’ ought to mean `to big to exist.’ What no one is mentioning,” I continued, “is that `too big to fail’ may also mean ‘too big to do a good job.’ Jane Jacobs in `The Economy of Cities’ discussed how in order to promote development, growth and innovation in the economy, it is beneficial for financing institutions to be small and intimately connected with their client businesses. Had the banks not been handed a bailout we might have capital diffused among more effective smaller institutions. Instead, we see huge impersonal institutions sitting on a lot of capital they are NOT lending out.”

“Vietnam!” said my interviewer, impressed, and I admitted, when she asked, that I’ll soon be sixty. A few days later, comparison to Vietnam demonstrations came up in Times articles: “Several New Yorkers said that they had not been to a protest since the Vietnam War” (See: Wall St. Protest Attracts Many New to This Sort of Thing, by Cara Buckley, October 5, 2011) and, because Mayor Bloomberg (a target of many OWS placards) referring to protest of that era commented that, “we treated our vets who came back terribly, just terribly,” (See: For Mayor, ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Evokes Protests From Vietnam Era, by Kate Taylor, October 7, 2011) which assertion by Bloomberg ties in with a commonly perpetuated myth on that topic.
Do I believe the same things that the protesters of Occupy Wall Street believe? I do support many of their positions. To a large extent I find that things I have been writing match up well against the placards I see in Zucotti Park. For instance:
• The economy is poor because with greater income inequality most people’s incomes are going down. See: Friday, May 13, 2011, Inflation That's Causing Deflation: Some Not So Very Good News For the Real Estate Market
• It is not true when we are being told that there are problems with Social Security and that benefits will have to be cut back. Instead, the problem about which we we are not being told is that the wealthier are no longer contributing what they were expected to contribute before. See: Friday, April 29, 2011, Social Security Inequation: This is Rich, Living Longer While Everyone Else Enjoys It Less; Putting Two Together

• Congress is NOT doing it’s job and so-called “job creation” efforts are often rigged games intended to benefit the wealthier instead. See: Sunday, March 27, 2011, Congress Not Doing Its Job? Job Creation Programs That Don’t- The American Jobs Creation Act and the EB-5 Program for Sale of Green Cards

• Women need to be more respected. See: Wednesday, June 29, 2011,Women Are Better Than Men At Nearly Everything- But We Are Eliminating Them! The Absence of Women In A Man-Made World

• The tax system needs to be more favorable to the 99% and less to the 1%. See: Tuesday, October 11, 2011, The First Most Obvious Tax To Eliminate If You Want To Increase Employment: The Payroll Tax

• If we are not going to abolish the Fed, we need to at least consider whether the directors who staff it are serving the 99% or the 1%. See: Wednesday, October 12, 2011, Visiting Occupy Wall Street We Hear “Eliminate the Fed!”: OR Maybe Just Federal Reserve Directors Backing Mega-Monopolies For the Super-Connected?
• Government supported monopolies targeted for those who are privileged and politically connected are unconscionable. See: Friday, September 30, 2011, Could the Atlantic Yards Monopoly Be Even Less Regulated Than It Is? Why A Mega-Monopoly Continuation Isn’t Workable
• Many of the placards in Zucotti park decry the rape of the environment via the fossil fuel industry scam of hydrofracking about which I have written encyclopedically. See: Monday, August 8, 2011, Hydraulic Fracturing’s Deleterious Environmental Effects: Andrew Cuomo’s Plan To End His State’s Ban and the Passage of the NYS Marriage Equality Law
• I have also been alert to how the hydrofracking issue is closely related to the proposed development of the Canadian tar sands together with facilitation of that development by building the XL high pressure pipeline. In this regard I have noted parallels between this and other publicly abusive corporate-government alliances. See: Sunday, October 9, 2011, More Parallels: Atlantic Yards and the Way the Fossil Fuel Industry Is Setting Up An Approval For the Keystone XL Tar Sands High Pressure Oil Pipeline and Wednesday, October 5, 2011, Mayor Michael Bloomberg In the Regalia of Queen Elizabeth I? Noticing New York’s Testimony at the DOT Hearing on Atlantic Yards Bollard Plan
• The oil companies and the rest of the fossil fuel industry, together with their captured politicians, interested only in their own profit, are endangering all of us by absurdly ignoring Global Warming/Weather Weirding. See: Saturday, September 3, 2011, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, Global Warming and Those Texas-based Oil Companies

• Because a captured press is too often not reporting the stories that need to be reported the 1% are able to take advantage of the 99%. See: Sunday, June 26, 2011, “Page One: Inside the New York Times” Reviewed; Plus The “New York Times Effect” on New York’s Biggest Real Estate Development Swindle

• The American public needs to wake up and think rather than be lured into circus side shows. See: Friday, September 16, 2011, Will America Shrink FROM Or INTO Crowds Clamoring For Death? and Friday, July 1, 2011, Cultural Circus? Mr. Ratner’s Attempt to Rechristen His Arena A “Cultural Center”

• Communication in this country is too much in the control of corporate interests. See: Tuesday, September 20, 2011, A Parable: Some Words Concerning the Future of Communication
(Above an interfaith protest arrives Sunday with their version of Wall Street's "bull" being the bible's Golden Calf idol. Below the golden idol gets a wary police escort) • The corporate world has become unethical. See: Friday, April 22, 2011, Applying the Principles of Legal Ethics to New York Development: Lawyers Are Not Supposed to Represent Deceiving Clients

• The miscalculations of the self-interested and greedy will bankrupt us. See: Friday, May 20, 2011, The Miscalculations Encouraged By the Fuzzy Math of Subsidies: Yankee Stadium Bonds on Verge of Default- A Case Study
• Private corporations are too much in control and have taken over the work that government should be doing. See: Thursday, June 16, 2011, Sovereign Immunity, Reconfiguration of Brooklyn’s Traffic And The Peculiar Verisimilitude of Government Functions When Forest City Ratner Takes Over
• There is unprecedented absurdity in making the city’s richest man, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of the city and just because he’s “corporate” and out sources to corporate friends doesn’t mean Bloomberg runs the city well. See: Thursday, October 22, 2009, This Is Rich! Looks Like Bloomberg is Making History and Monday, March 28, 2011, Take TWO (AYR’s) On Times Coverage- Revisiting Light Shed by CityTime Outsourcing Scandal When Reexamining Bloomberg Management Myth
• And perhaps it is worthwhile to extend this list with a mention of one last post. We saw Reverend Billy from the Church of Stop Shopping in the throng at Zucotti Park. His bright white suit makes him stand out, especially as we run into him often at other events important to how New York City is developing including Save Coney Island and Atlantic Yards events. See: Friday, December 19, 2008, A Jolly Good Meet and there is now an OWS Reverend Billy video: Let's call it - Banking!

Some of the above articles from Noticing New York may be more parochial in the concerns they detail than are the articles above from National Notice that focus specifically on national policy issues and debate but the underlying themes are all pretty much in common.
Am I presumptuous to be fairly confident that I have identified above many key concerns that a lot of the Occupy Wall Street protesters share?
Last week on Bill Maher’s Real Time (presumably it is still possible for a number of the 99% to afford HBO which carries the show) there was a discussion about whether the protesters had a coherent message or needed more focus. Journalist P. J. O'Rourke and commentator Nicole Wallace (being snide and juvenile with attempts at potty-humor) provided perfect foils for Democrat Alan Grayson a former one-term Congressman from Florida to address the issue. Said Grayson:
No, listen, Bill I have no problem understanding what they are complaining about. . . .I was an economist for more than three years. . . .

. . . . Now let me tell you what they talking about: They’re complaining that Wall Street wrecked the economy more than three years ago and nobody has been held responsible of that. Not a single person has been indicted or convicted for destroying 20% of our national net worth accumulated over the course of two centuries. They’re upset about the fact that Wall Street has iron control over the economic policies of the country and that one party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street and that the other party caters to them as well. That’s the real truth of the matter as you’ve said before.
O’Rourke jibed that the Occupy Wall Street protesters had “found their spokesperson,” to which Grayson rejoined:
If I am a spokesman for all the people who think we should not have 24 million people in this country who can't find a full-time job; that we should not have 50 million people in this country who can't see a doctor when they're sick; that we shouldn't have 47 million people in this country who need government help in order to feed themselves; and we shouldn't have 15 million families who owe more than their mortgage, then the value of their home.- Okay, I'll be that spokesman.
A video of the exchange is available at Real Clear Politics: Grayson: I'll Be Spokesman For Unemployed, Uninsured.

I don’t know who the Occupy Wall Street protesters will endorse as their spokespersons in the end but Grayson’s endeavor in this regard was credibly eloquent. The one quibble: It is not just that Wall Street wrecked the economy and that no one has been indicted; it is also that much of the wrecking of the economy involved people doing things that were wrong and that they knew were wrong. With or without Grayson’s help one thing is clear: However much sharper the protesters’ message could be in the future it is pretty damn clear already.

A final point. The theory for letting the 1% keep their highly disproportionate share of the nation’s wealth (and keep, as well, all the rules running in their favor that make it that way) is that we can somehow expect that their wealth will ultimately trickle down to the rest of us. In fact it would be truthful to say that New York City is doing better than they rest of the country right now because Wall Street is located here. That makes this city first in line for any trickle down and means the city likely benefits from more "trickle" than anywhere else. Maybe that’s so, but remember all those Michael Whites the bill collectors keep contacting me about? Well, those Michael Whites live around Wall Street too and their creditors are still calling.

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