Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Jack Riepe Comments

Jack Riepe and I were talking on the phone about the meaning of the Occupy protests popping up cross the country. Jack toed the opponents' line arguing there is a lack of coherence in their protests, while I said peaceful protest is not only legitimate and constitutionally sanctioned, but is also a pressure release valve that keeps illegal and anarchic violent protest at bay. Besides I don't know how a protest that is a truly spontaneous uprising and response to fraud could be anything other that disorganized. When I read that a Tea Party spokesman is concerned about preserving the reputation of the "Tea Party Brand" I know that they are nothing if not corporate puppets. The Occupy "brand" has not yet been marketed... To me that is a strength to others it is a sign of inherent decrepitude. In the end though, as he says people need and want jobs and I see none on the horizon. That and the lack of forthright honesty from our economic and political leadership has me more worried than the direction of the Occupy USA protesters.

On The True Significance Of The “Occupy Wall Street” Protests Sweeping The US, and The Indictment of “Corporate America...”

I was distressed to read that the comments section of Key West Diary had been disabled Conchscooter in response to extremely negative statements, that, in his opinion, fell far short of the mark in assessing the true significance of the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations that have been sprouting up across the country.

CS, a passionate humanist and a great champion of the underdog, reacted strongly and swiftly to those he believes belittled the rights of others to speak out, and to utilize the most basic forum of protest that constitutes the foundation of political expression in the United States. His natural reflex was to disparage these “Occupy Anything” antagonists by denying them the forum that they would have so willingly denied the hundreds of thousands of protesters currently camped out in parks and thoroughfares across the country.

I have advised him to take a different approach.

Rather than dismissing these opinions as short-sighted, defensive, one-sided, myopic, vapid, self-righteous, and largely conservative Republican crap, I suggested that he might take the higher, middle ground, by defining the unusual nature of these protests, and their significance on the threshold of an election year. Conchscooter invited me to do this in an essay that he would run as a the effort of a guest author. This is that essay.

The “Occupy Wall Street”- type demonstrations currently sweeping the United States are socially significant for a number of reasons that should cause current elected and corporate leaders to take note. Chief among these are:

Participants largely constitute white, middle-class protesters (of various ages, though predominantly in their 20’s), who normally don’t get off their collective asses for anything other than the release of the newest iPhone or the latest release of a Harry Potter movie.

While some will march to save the whales, and others will sign a petition to safeguard their rights to terminate a pregnancy, these folks are the vanguard of the FaceBook and social network generation, who have come to let their fingers do the talking in a 144-character forum that has challenged newspapers and broadcast media. The fact that they are turning out for something in person speaks volumes.

The protests are growing spontaneously, fueled by a sense of middle class discontent that would have been unthinkable and unrecognizable five years ago. And the greatest source of this discontent is the lingering doubt that there is any kind of a future for the middle class in America. It is hard to go through the motions of making progress day-to-day, when you are confronted with the possibility that you will be on the street with less than five minutes notice.

The level of discontent spans a myriad of issues. Right now, a disturbing number of protesters see the focus of these demonstrations as the framework of their individual challenges. One demonstrator allegedly hefted a sign that read, “$96,000 in student loans for a Masters Degree in Hispanic Gay and Lesbian Studies, and No Job!” Another — the cause célébre for the conservative opposition — was alleged to have majored in “underwater basket-weaving,” and was lamenting the lack of employment opportunities. Still a third was televised for criticizing a successful businessman for making $150 million (USD) in a year, when he could have made $50 million, and used the rest to create new jobs. (The businessmen argued that he employed 150 people and added new jobs as demand increased.) And it cannot be denied that there is a new, unsettling, unreasonable focus against the 1% of the nation’s wealthiest citizens, as the epicenter of corporate greed, which is being interpreted as “Give me my share.”

It is very difficult for rational Americans, who are fighting for every last nickel at jobs that are underpaid, undervalued, and fearfully held, to credit the “Give me my share” school of thought. Yet this is the least significant aspect of these protests.

While hundreds of US universities and colleges have created degrees in courses with questionable futures, they are also graduating millions of students with degrees in communications, journalism, public relations, English, fine arts, foreign languages, and teaching — who stand no chance in finding a job in these fields anytime soon. In fact, if they wanted to go to work on an assembly line manufacturing light bulbs that meet US energy standards for 2013, they’d have to move to China, and accept a salary of $320 (USD) a month, working in a factory under a US corporate logo — run by a CEO who has a revolving door to the White House.

If this sounds like a great promise of the future to you, I’d say you are either this CEO or an elected official getting a substantial campaign donation from this corporation.

The “Occupy Anywhere” protests have grown so swiftly that they have outpaced the typical planning process that normally precedes a national movement. There are no spokespersons, no programs, no agendas, and no organized approach to systematically generate these prior to the gathering of protesters. This shortcoming works against the movement when the media attempts to interview the average person on the street, and gets someone who can only see the really small picture. But this will change...

A substantial number of these demonstrators are former supporters of the failed Obama Administration. As an election year looms, these people are really screwed in their search for a candidate. It has become sadly apparent that both political parties are hoping the cyclic nature of past economic tragedies will take over and turn things around before the next votes are cast. The solution of the Obama Administration is to turn the US government into the largest employer in the world, and send the bill to China, guaranteeing that several future generations of Americans will have lawns to mow in Beijing. Yet it is the solution of the Republicans — carpetbaggers with leather luggage — to allow “Corporate America” free reign in screwing everyone with the promise of jobs they routinely send overseas.

Water finds its own level all the time... There are a lot of smart, unemployed, middle class people of all ethnic backgrounds caught up in these “Occupy Wall Street Protests.” These are people who have lost their retirement savings, their stock investments, the value of their homes, and their faith in the future as a result of CEOs making stupid and short-sighted decisions. These are the same CEOs who get $6,000,000 (or more) in golden parachutes for running corporate stock values to their lowest rates in history. Banks are laying off thousands of employees, while a handful of executives will get bonuses up to $1 million (USD) for creating highly ambiguous marketing schemes and hidden fees that do not pass the smell test. These are the issues that are driving normal middle-class US families crazy.

The greatest lie ever told by the devil or a corporate public relations rat is that “Industry is best equipped to police itself.” This is pure horse shit straight from the tap. It is based on the fairy tale notion that industry is profit-driven, and as such, is committed to provide the US consumer with the finest quality availability at the most competitive price. The truth is that Corporate America would sell rat’s assholes to blind people if it would boost a brief but reportable return to grateful stockholders, who would show their appreciation to the CEO and board of directors by allowing them to move the entire operation to the Third World, paying local help in moldy grain, while increasing political action committee budgets by 300 percent.

History does not support the notion that corporations act from the highest level of motivation.

In the past ten years, there was movement by a number of airlines to get their aircraft serviced offshore, by non-English speaking mechanics, who had to rely on service manuals written only in English, to save money. The starting salary for pilots of commuter aircraft is so low that many second officers cannot afford to live in the communities, or states, where the carrier is based. (The reason is to keep fares competitive.) The pilots union repeatedly argues against dwindling rest periods for pilots, and the time spent sitting in the cockpit or the airport that is regarded as “rest.”

Some of the largest meat recalls in US history have occurred in the last 5 years, as the result of problems in huge meat processing plants. Many of these plants inspect themselves and report to the appropriate federal agency. The central processing of meat is alleged to cut costs on the supermarket/retail level.

The banking and investment community of Wall Street prides itself on generating vast market returns in 2006 and 2007. They claim that no one complained then. Yet these returns were based on artificially inflated housing markets, and highly suspect securities resale practices that brought banks and investment houses around the world to their knees. These same entities are arguing against tighter regulations and against more invasive regulators to prevent this sort of behavior in the first place.
• One of the best known companies in the United States routinely dumped toxic PCBs straight into the Hudson River as late as 1970. Did they stop because they finally realized that this poison would kill everything in the water for the next 200 years, or because they got caught?

These are but four examples of why a nation needs strong checks and balances, including government, business, labor unions, and investors who aren’t afraid to be vocal and loud about it. (If I were an investor who had a substantial portion of my earnings tied up in a company with disappointing results, and whose board ousted the CEO with a $6,000,000 bonus, I would conclude the board of directors and the entire company incapable of making a lucid decision, and put what cash I had left elsewhere.)

This country was founded on protest, and it ignores it at its peril.

Finally, no one reads history anymore. During the US Revolution, only about a third of the population was committed to independence. Another third was loyal to Britain. And the great remaining 33% only wanted to make a buck and be left alone. Not all who fought under the “Don’t Tread On Me” flag had the highest motives. The squeaky wheel got the grease, and everybody got independence, whether they all wanted it or not. And it started by people yelling in the street. The British shot a few and started arresting the rest. How do you think that turned out?

The fastest way to end the “Occupy Wall Street” protests is to put people to work. The fastest way to put people to work is to correct the problems that hamstring the economy. The fastest way to unhamstring the economy is to see whose hands are in somebody else’s pockets... And to bring them out into the light of day.

Jack Riepe


Chuck and the Pheebs said...

Well written.

Onte one thing people seem to forget as they disparage the unemployed college grads on the front steps of public places throughout this land is that the decision to assume college debt was made, on average, 6-8 years ago amidst a the real estate boom. I had a hard time finding graduates willing to work for $60K then; a grad who lived frugally after securing his first real job could eliminate his debt in less than five years.

And - and - their parents endorsed this decision, as that "piece of paper" was the entrance ticket to A Better Life. What made sense in 2003 is useless in 2011, yet we've a tendency to forget the combination of a hot economy and the American Dream made the decision to matriculate a rational one.

I haven't done an NPV analysis on the issue yet, but I'm fairly certain if college grads can't find a job - then high school grads are completely fucked. No - they don't have any debt, but it may be a long time before they get a job, and then they're pretty much guaranteed minimum wage jobs in the service industry with no hope for advancement.

I'd like to see the following:

1) The size of government reduced to a sustainable level. Interestingly, The Grand Bargain proposed by the Obama Administration was a GREAT starting point. If you've not read it - I've a copy I can fwd on to interested parties.

2) I'd like to see the wealthy citizend of the US pay their fair share. I don't buy trickle down economics anymore, as it's been around since President Reagan; interestingly, this is about the same time the disparity between average Joes and CEO's really picked up steam. Let's repeal the tax cuts for the wealthy (initiated about 11 years ago, if I recall right) as a start.

3) Finally, I'd ask for legislation which matches, word for word, policies the Chinese have for importation of goods and operation of foreign-owned businesses on US soil. If we're playing in a global economy, lets make the playing field level - if it was, there would be less of an incentive to move factories and jobs offshore. Will stuff cost more? Yes, but as Henry Ford proved in 1913, a well-paid guy can afford to buy a car. As it stands, the few college grads who have found work can barely afford to feed themselves.

Geoff James said...

The protest movement may have validity in the USA but it's probably a bit different in other countries that have jumped on the bandwagon.

In NZ, the protests have been lead by comfortably-off left wingers who seem to be professional protesters, no matter what the cause. They certainly weren't representing those who genuinely suffered. As a consequence and the ensuing ridicule, it was basically a non-starter down this way.

Brady said...

Jack's got some points.

The question I ask myself is do the 1% deserve the extra money that they find themselves with? My current belief is no. It's generally agreed that the top 1% made their money by being stronger, smarter, more motivated and generally 'fitter' than the rest of the world. Are they so fit that they deserve 475 times what an average worker earns? Are they worth 475 times that one worker? Or were they one of many intelligent, talented, motivated people who happened to be also extremely lucky. Or, did they gain their position by a lack of scruples, and use of tactics that we as a society are only now protesting.

I for one would be very happy to live my whole life in the middle class, but as the bulk of the wealth continues to funnel to the top, and much of what's left is shipped overseas, I worry that opportunity to live the small and fulfilling life I would choose is being bled from me. Thus I have solidarity with the frustrated citizens in the streets - particularly, as Jack says, as my generation cannot typically be bothered to get off its ass for anything other than a Black Friday shitshow.

Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

Chunk Norris said...

The man has a talent for getting right down to the point. I'm 61, grew up in the upper Mid-West of conservative Democratic stock. We didn't know we were progressive but we were. I also grew up with the notion that the job of the government job was to keep the playing field level, so those of us with ambition and a Nordic work ethic could succeed without a boot on our necks, and that the whole purpose of ANY tax was redistribution of wealth (public education, policy, military, public roads and the like all fit here). While Reagans trickle down theory was a serious disaster in public policy, I think the real source of the problem was the decision by a bought Supreme Court that money = speach. This must change or nothing else will. And I support OWS. Just my 2 centavos.

Anonymous said...

I hope you've sent Jeffrey a private note.