Fine print - December 2011
I’ve studied the Occupy Raleigh movement on a daily basis since the protest began but not exactly by choice. I can see the protesters from my desk in downtown Raleigh, and it’s not a matter of my having to take the trouble to look out the window. Thanks to the placement of my desk, I have to go to the trouble not to see them. They’re right in front of me all day long. I’ve seen them snooze, sit, stroll, wave, parade, exhort and even be arrested. The one thing I haven’t seen is any reason to support them. And that’s too bad, because I’m available.
That the various occupiers around the country don’t have a focused message isn’t news. In fact, the media have made note of that so often that I’ve recently seen some pushback from writers who describe the lack of focus as a virtue. One writer for my local alternative weekly, The Independent (which isn’t, actually — you’ll never see a paper more constrained by progressive ideology), declared that the absence of a list of grievances is proof of its inclusiveness. The online magazine Slate explained it as “a movement that feels no need to explain anything to the powers that be.” Yeah, that’s how you stick it to The Man: You mumble obscurely.
Still, not all occupiers got the memo. The organizers of the Occupy Chicago movement were reckless enough to release a list of 12 specific things they’d like done. Here’s the list — with comment, of course.
Pass a bill to reinstate Glass-Steagall, a safeguard separating banks’ commercial lending and investment operations. Actually, I think this is worth talking about. As we learned the hard way, a fully functioning banking and credit system is as vital to the country as the power system. Think of the banks as a utility, the stability of which is absolutely necessary to a modern society. Once you do that, Glass-Steagall makes sense.
Repeal Bush-era tax cuts. Unless spending cuts are also on the table, this is a nonstarter.
Prosecute the Wall Street criminals who clearly broke the law and helped cause the 2008 financial crisis, and Overturn a 2010 Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money to campaigns. These two, taken together, suggest the occupiers are a little fuzzy on constitutional procedure. Setting aside the fact that the “Wall Street criminals” were working with the full permission, and even connivance, of the government, you don’t decide guilt first and then go through the pretense of a fair trial. Also, Supreme Court decisions don’t get overturned. Constitutionally, who’s got the power to do that?
Pass the Warren Buffett rule on fair taxation, close corporate tax loopholes, prohibit hiding funds offshore. Again, this is worth talking about. But first, give me a precise definition of the “fair share” of taxes everyone, including the president, keeps talking about. Seriously. What exactly is a fair share?
Give the SEC stricter regulatory power, strengthen the Consumer Protection Bureau and help victims of predatory lending whose home loans have been foreclosed. The SEC can’t figure out how to use the power it already has, so I’m not sure that giving it more will somehow make things better. Also, consumers can best protect themselves by observing two simple precepts — live within your means and pay cash whenever possible. Beyond that, you’re building a bureaucracy devoted to saving people from themselves. Finally, a question regarding help for people in foreclosure: How do you do that without inadvertently encouraging other people to stop paying their mortgages knowing they’ll get bailed out? But put some smart ideas on the table. I can be swayed.
Take steps to limit the influence of lobbyists and eliminate the practice of lobbyists writing legislation. There’s a voice in my head that says this is an unfinished demand: “ ... except union lobbyists, environmental lobbyists, consumer lobbyists and anybody we send to Washington to advocate on behalf of this list.”
Eliminate the right of former government regulators to work for corporations or industries they once regulated. How ’bout we also institute a law that says no member of Congress can leave office and then lobby his former comrades?
Eliminate corporate personhood. I’ve got a better idea: Eliminate fatuous slogans and the beating of straw men.
Insist the Federal Elections Commission ensure that political candidates are given equal time for free at reasonable intervals during campaign season. I fully support this idea, confident in the knowledge that great entertainment awaits us the first time a white supremacist runs for Congress and gets guaranteed airtime. Of course, that assumes this isn’t another one of those unfinished demands: “ ... except anyone whose views we don’t like, which automatically makes them guilty of hate speech and therefore ineligible for free airtime.”
Pass the Fair Elections Now Act. Not sure what this bill says? Go to fairelectionsnow.org, click on “about the bill” and read the quotes of four politicians who sponsor it. Aw, hell, I’ll save you the trouble. Here’s a paraphrase: “If you want us to actually work for the good of the country, give us public money for our re-election campaigns and then we can stop selling our votes to corporate lobbyists.”
Forgive student debt. So much for the moral high ground.