It’s time to revive the NBC Letterman RW370 category with a nice clip of the great cartoonist Lynda J. Barry (Ernie Pook’s Comeek). Marvel as she lets slip the early inspiration for her visual style (spoiler alert: Peter Max socks), announces her surprising heritage, and explores the ramifications of smoking backwards. Nice decision at the end to not go along with the TV-smarm talk show patter rhythm as Dave moves to wrap it up.
Archive for October, 2011
Of all of the huff-puffing attempts by political groups to catch up to and co-opt Occupy Wall Street, none are so awkward and laughable as that of the economic libertarians. At least when establishment Democratic supporters MoveOn or SEIU et al. fire up their mailing lists to say “us too!” weeks after the major cities have been occupied, they can truthfully claim to have been in some way part of the general struggle against the core problem of big business’s capture of our democracy.
But when the libertarian Cato Institute does the same thing, it’s comical, tantamount to an arsonist showing up to his own handiwork wearing a homemade fireman’s hat holding a dixie cup full of water.
Look at this Venn diagram published by Cato this week . It’s nothing short of a masterpiece of self-satire.
In it, we are told that the Tea Party and OWS are appreciably similar things. Yes, the Tea Party, that designed, funded, guided expression of the will of big business, astroturfed by corporate uber-lobbyist Dick Armey. Cato expects us to believe that the Tea Party movement (characterized by civics illiteracy, mau-mau images, guns and anger at taxation) and OWS, (characterized by civil disobedience, class consciousness, smart phones and anger at corrupted institutions) share a core premise.
The premise? It’s written in the Venn overlap region in the center: that “large corporations lobby for the government to have more power”.
Wait. What? More power? In what world is that true, and what color is the sky there?
Because in this world, what big business does is the precise opposite.
1) The fact is, big business feverishly lobbies for government to impose deregulation. That’s deregulation, meaning removing government power to regulate big business and markets. Big business wants government to have zero say in financial markets, and gets what it wants want at a frightening clip. For example, in 1999 when Glass-Steagall was repealed. GS had, since the 1930s, imposed market safety regulation, but its removal greenlit the multitrillion monster market in mortgage-backed securities that caused the meltdown of 2008.
The leader of the effort to wipe out GS was Republican Senator Phil Gramm of Texas. And who waved the pom-pons for this disaster while Phil took the ball across the goal line?
A chorus of anti-regulation libertarian think tanks, of course. Such as Cato’s ideological twin the Mercatus Center. Enjoy browsing the work of Senator Phil Gramm’s wife Wendy, Mercatus’s senior scholar. Take in the deregulation-paean video “The Cost Of Workplace Regulations”. Keep a tissue handy as Mrs. Gramm shows us the pain of oil companies in her article “EPA Speeds Ahead With Ill-Conceived Vehicle And Gasoline Standards”.
Yes, people such as this not only carry water for big business and lead the charge to beat back regulation and taxes, they produce Venn diagrams claiming big business wants the government to have more power.
Less is more. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.
2) The next of Cato’s Orwellian perversions: big business lobbies against campaign finance reform. Campaign financing as it stands is the mechanism of normalized corruption of electoral politics and representative government. It is the implementation of the free market for political results – the only free market libertarians are uncomfortable acknowledging. Without its corruption of our representative democracy, big business has to face paying its taxes, reducing its pollution, economically developing instead of savaging the United States. As such, campaign finance reform is the last thing big business wants touched. Which is why Cato and libertarians are 110% against campaign finance reform.
3) Big business lobbies to obtain tax cuts and loopholes that reduce their obligation to fund the society they inhabit. To be fair, in this area, libertarian economics does not provide the majority of cover to big business, conservative think tanks such as Heritage do. But this is only because Cato never found a tax it found necessary. The power of the government to tax is anathema to Cato – and it’s no coincidence that the plummeting effective corporate tax rates in the US (in the case of General Electric in 2010, 0%) is an idea that Cato, to say the least, endorses. That is to say, again, less power for the government and more for big business.
So we’re supposed to believe, as we take to the streets to take back our democracy from big business, that Cato and the Tea Party are our pals?
Hey chief, there’s something funny about that firefighter over there. He smells like gasoline and there’s matches falling out of his pockets.
I can’t put my life on hold today to work more on Occupy Wall Street stuff, but I can pass this along quickly.
We hear a repeated call on the part of big business and its chorus of free-market think tank shills for a “one time” tax holiday on profits US corporations have stashed overseas. The line is the usual one: you can’t tax us, otherwise we can’t create any jobs such as those we didn’t create over the past ten years even though you cut our taxes exactly like we demanded.
To the surprise of nobody, this notion is completely disproved by a 2004 study showing the effects of the last “tax holiday” granted to big business. They took the tax break, then fired tens of thousands of people immediately following.
I love the #OccupyWallStreet protests.
As we enter the third week of the movement opposing big business’s overwhelming civic power, we find that the protest’s messaging — that incredibly important appeal to those tens of millions of Wall Street’s victims on the protest sidelines, victims who are desperately needed to join the activists — is still a serious mess.
Yesterday saw the release of an official OWS statement that was so long, so diffuse, so riddled with eye-glaze moments that only a committee could have written it. Indeed, that is how the OWS communications are being built.
I respectfully submit that this process is completely inadequate and displays a basic misunderstanding about the role of public communications in OWS. I again submit my draft declaration of 9/26 for use as a standard to improve upon without exceeding its word budget.
I’ve been in discussions with numerous activists over the past four days. Below are what I think are the four key takeaways and flaws in the current process.
1) THE NUMBER ONE GOAL OF OWS COMMUNICATIONS IS TO GET MORE PEOPLE TO JOIN OWS
The ultimate standard of success for OWS public communications is found in the count of how many people on the sidelines – non-activst, middle class people – are reached and compelled to show up at the doorstep of the parties responsible for the economic devastation they face. No communication that drifts from that goal is worth releasing. As with every previous social movement from women’s suffrage to civil rights to the labor movement, OWS absolutely depends on growth for success.
2) OWS HAS SPECIAL MESSAGING NEEDS
Speaking purely in terms of messaging, OWS faces extremely difficult challenges that previous progressive movements did not face. The civil rights movement, for example, engaged evidently violent racists in great numbers and in places all over the country. But our target is comparatively far less visible. Economic crime and political corruption bought by big business, having been normalized, is very difficult to see. Our bad guys are not spraying water cannons at us or wearing klan hoods. Instead they are lobbying for pro-business changes to the tax code, spreading pain around the middle class, and pumping billions of private dollars into the electoral process to promote low-tax policies instead of using that capital for domestic economic development.
Because what we oppose is systematic and not self-evident, we can’t publish messages that depend upon a consensus view of the problem. We can’t expect everybody to see what we see. We have to instead explain – very briefly and concretely – why we are standing in front of Wall Street. While I hate to sound like a skipping CD, the draft declaration I wrote on 9/26 does the best job I have so far seen in combining the appeals, drawing the lines of responsibility and providing concrete, digestible and achievable demands to change the priorities of the society.
3) OWS IS NOT A CATCH-ALL
OWS’s overwhelming messaging goal is to attract more allies. It is specifically not to enunciate a list of desired policies, nor to be comprehensive in listing grievances. This is not an opportunity to get everything off of your chest.
After two generations’ history of more or less free reign over our society and democracy by big business interests, it is natural that we have a very a wide range of policies upon which all left activists can agree.
But that is not a reason to shove them all together in OWS messaging. Unfortunately, that is what continues to happen as OWS enters its third week. Grievances about defense spending. About morality deficits. Term limits. The electoral college. Educational policy. I have seen in “official” OWS communications references to all of these and much, much more. Hundreds and hundreds of words.
None of them belong.
Just to pull one example at random out of the pile, let’s look at defense spending as a grievance. I want to show why talking about it in this context not only gains nothing, it harms OWS.
It is a fact that Wall Street’s political and economic power is closely related to the terrible problem of chronically excessive defense spending. It is a fact that opening overseas markets for Wall Street / big business has historically been one role of the US military. Wall Street’s political and economic power expresses itself in many ways, including through the defense establishment. But it does so indirectly and institutionally. The critical fact is that to most of the tens of millions of people on the sidelines of this protest, it does so invisibly.
When we are anxious to get a kick into the military-industrial complex, we should notice that OWS is not standing outside the Pentagon. It is standing on Wall Street (and financial districts around the country). This means OWS should be talking more or less exclusively about banking and big business. Why? Because a huge problem with complaining about defense spending when you are standing in front of a bank is that nearly nobody on the sidelines will understand why you have chosen to stand where you are standing.
A thought experiment at a smaller scale shows us that if we gather in front of a restaurant, but the object of our protest is a gas station, we should expect that to be confusing to people. Even if both the gas station and the restaurant have the same owner.
And if we confuse people, we can’t expect them to join us. So much for converting non-activists into activists.
(Beyond this potential for spreading confusion, there is the potential for spreading disdain. Tens of millions of people look at the military as their protector. Talking smack about their protector will turn them off. And people who are turned off will not join you – meaning doing so is self-defeating.)
4) OWS IS NOT ABOUT OWS, IT IS ABOUT THE VANISHING MIDDLE CLASS
The audience for OWS communications is the people on the sidelines, not for its own activists. Like so many of us, people on the sidelines are out of a job, they’ve been kicked out of their house, their pensions have been looted, their wages are at 1973 levels. Wall Street and big business did that to them – and did so in a very visible way. Probably the most visible of all the ways we have been abused by the intrusions into our civics of concentrated money. Key upon that because, unlike most other aspects of the culture of normalized economic crime, these realities are much easier for the victims to see.
Point these people exclusively, specifically to Wall Street and OWS will get lots of new friends.
Or, talk about oil and wars and watch their eyes glaze over.
UPDATE: I have been working with some good folks on a Google Doc that now contains my draft declaration at
I invite any and all to join in.