Archive for Occupy Wall Street


On what streets do they live?

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David Crosby and Graham Nash play Occupy Wall Street on Nov. 8, 2011,. By David Shankbone (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“Why doesn’t somebody do something?” has become something of a joke question in my house. It’s one of those questions we ask when exasperated over whatever daily outrage comes over the radio, TV, or Web. After hearing the question one too many times, it finally dawned on me that I was somebody. Look at the trouble that’s gotten me into.

A variant of that question is “Why don’t they do something?” That’s an even bigger joke line here, mostly because it evokes that old song from David Crosby. The now-standard rejoinder is, “Who are They? And on what streets do They live?” Maybe we can ask them.

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It’s the inequality, stupid

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Robert Reich looks at the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s “near-death experience” in Congress last week and explains that it is not that unions have gotten stronger or that the president has gotten weaker, but that the public no longer supports these trade deals. By about 2 to 1, as it works out. All the arguments in favor “are less persuasive in this era of staggering inequality.” Faced with the in-your-face unfairness of promised benefits accruing primarily to those in the top one percent, the public feels relatively worse off even if they are better off in some absolute sense. Reich writes:

To illustrate the point, consider a simple game I conduct with my students. I have them split up into pairs and ask them to imagine I’m giving $1,000 to one member of each pair.

I tell them the recipients can keep some of the money only on condition they reach a deal with their partner on how it’s to be divided up. They have to offer their partner a portion of the $1,000, and their partner must either accept or decline. If the partner declines, neither of them gets a penny.

You might think many recipients of the imaginary $1,000 would offer their partner one dollar, which the partner would gladly accept. After all, a dollar is better than nothing. Everyone is better off.

But that’s not what happens. Most partners decline any offer under $250 – even though that means neither of them gets anything.


When a game seems arbitrary, people are often willing to sacrifice gains for themselves in order to prevent others from walking away with far more – a result that strikes them as inherently wrong.

Even a monkey can figure that out. Just not the One Percent.

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What the 1% Don’t Want You to Know

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Billionaire Frat Party

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What need does it fill for these sophomoric billionaires to dress in drag? At New York Magazine, Kevin Roose shares his adventures in 1% Land at the annual gathering of the Kappa Beta Phi, “a secret fraternity, founded at the beginning of the Great Depression, that functioned as a sort of one-percenter’s Friars Club.”

“Good evening, Exalted High Council, former Grand Swipes, Grand Swipes-in-waiting, fellow Wall Street Kappas, Kappas from the Spring Street and Montgomery Street chapters, and worthless neophytes!”

Chris Hayes had the author as a guest last night:

Roose had several observations about this august bunch:

The second thing I realized was that Kappa Beta Phi was, in large part, a fear-based organization. Here were executives who had strong ideas about politics, society, and the work of their colleagues, but who would never have the courage to voice those opinions in a public setting. Their cowardice had reduced them to sniping at their perceived enemies in the form of satirical songs and sketches, among only those people who had been handpicked to share their view of the world. And the idea of a reporter making those views public had caused them to throw a mass temper tantrum.

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Pete Seeger, R.I.P.

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Pete singing one by his sister, Peggy. He was 94, the New York Times reports. We will miss him.

For Mr. Seeger, folk music and a sense of community were inseparable, and where he saw a community, he saw the possibility of political action.

Pete Seeger


Sunday Morning Music

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For some reason last night I was pondering the endless panoply of wingnut night terrors when a song from childhood TV popped into my head. When I looked up the lyrics and video, I was astonished. You will be too.

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Capitalism Gone Awry

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For 50 years, when capitalism is raised, you have two allowable responses: celebration, cheerleading. Okay, that’s very nice. But that means you have freed that system from all criticism, from all real debate. It can indulge its worst tendencies without fear of exposure and attack. Because when you begin to criticize capitalism, you’re either told that you’re ignorant and don’t understand things, or with more dark implications, you’re somehow disloyal.

Economist Richard Wolff explains to Bill Moyers how capitalism has gone awry: “If we don’t change the system, we’re not going to change the behavior of the people in it … And if we don’t change the system, substituting a new crop will not solve our problem.”

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[youtube][/youtube]Susie Madrak points to a plan by Occupy to buy up and “abolish” bad debts and monkey wrench the debt servitude system. The Rolling Jubilee hopes to buy distressed debt for pennies on the dollar. As Salon describes the rolling part, “Ideally, a pay-it-forward attitude would compel individuals who have their debt forgiven to help buy up and cancel more debt.” But there could be a hitch, writes Natasha Lennard:

The New Statesman’s Alex Hern noted that despite the “legal mechanics” of the Jubilee idea working in Occupy’s favor, the effort may face other obstacles. “Debt collectors really can cancel the debt if they want. The problem is that if you try to actually do that, you may find very quickly that people stop selling you debt.” Hern explained a similar plan concocted by a group called American Homeowner Preservation, in which they would buy a foreclosed house in a short sale at the market price, and then lease the home back to the ousted homeowner until the homeowner had the ability to get a mortgage and buy it back at a pre-set price. Felix Salmon wrote about the effort:

The idea might have been elegant, but it didn’t work in practice because the banks wouldn’t play ball: they (and Freddie Mac) simply hated the idea of a homeowner being able to stay in their house after a short sale and often asked for an affidavit from the buyer saying that the former owner would certainly be kicked out.

The banks’ behavior here, as Hern points out, was telling: They have no reason to care what happens to a house once they’ve sold the mortgage, but they did care when it came to the American Homeowner Preservation project. “The best explanation for their stubbornness is that they fear that organizations like American Homeowner Preservation are creating a sort of moral hazard by reducing the penalties for defaulting on mortgages.”

The banks. Are worried. About public morals.

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The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
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At Campaign for America’s Future, Richard Eskow explains how the Romneys of Wall Street, the Adelsons of casinos, and the Kochs of oil can dismiss half the country as losers who pay no taxes, even as half a million people with incomes over $100,000 paid no taxes in 2011, including 7,000 millionaires:

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Occupy Wall Street: One Year Later

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From the New York Times Sunday Review:

Dear Bankers: Thanks for Wrecking Our Lives …

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement’s encampment at Zuccotti Park. Some of the protesters there created a Web site for Americans who couldn’t join them in Lower Manhattan. Called Occupy the Boardroom, the site invited people across the country to write detailed letters to the executives and directors of banks. The site’s developers promised to deliver them as e-mail and in person.

The more than 8,000 letters that resulted (to Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) supply some insight into the way different Americans experienced the financial crisis and recession since 2007.

The literary magazine n+1 collected 200 of the letters in a book, “The Trouble Is the Banks: Letters to Wall Street,” which appears this month. Mike McQuade, an artist, used excerpts from these letters to create this illustration for The New York Times.

American Public Media’s Marketplace tracked down several writers and got them to read their letters on the air.

I was privileged to play a small part in collecting the online archive, spending nights moderating the collection as letters flooded in. It was a joy to finally meet some of the Occupy the Boardroom founders and other online moderators this summer at Netroots Nation in Providence, RI.

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