Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: October 10, 2011

Occupy Wall Street – grass roots or astro-turf?

I’m kind of digging the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests because they’re so … well, I don’t know.  Entertaining?  Provocative?  Clueless?

Are they a genuine protest or just, as Doug Mataconis thinks, a collective temper tantrum?

I’m not sure (a little of both? Percentage of the mix to be determined.), but what I am pretty sure of is “corporations and bankers” didn’t get us into the fiscal mess our government is in, politicians did.  So I’m having difficulty understanding the current focus of the protest.   And the 99% claim (they’re protesting the 1% with all the money and who, coincidentally, also pay most of the freight when it comes to income taxes).

Look I understand the frustration of those who are out of work and who believe that we’ve been shafted.  But the “shaft” didn’t originate on Wall Street.

Of course all the usual suspects on the left, now that OWS has picked up a little steam thanks to the media, are trying to claim the mess as a reflection of their ideology and attempting to co-opt it. 

But I’m still at a loss to understand what it actually is all about and, if it is about what I think it is about, how misguided it is.  While there’s certainly some reason to think Wall Street (to use the apparent OWS “generic” term, it seems, for corporate America and bankers) isn’t blameless in all of this mess, it is absolutely clueless to try to sell the premise that it is they who are solely or mostly responsible for it. 

I do know one thing, while they may claim to represent the 99%, that’s a claim that doesn’t include me, for many reasons, the top picture being one of them.

On the other hand, I certainly understand the frustration that has driven people out into the street.  The average length of unemployment is now at 40.5 weeks, the longest in 60 years.   From June 2009, when the recession officially ended to June 2011, inflation-adjusted median household income has fallen 6.7 % to $49,909.

Lots of reasons to be frustrated, certainly.

But, and here’s the question I see no one answering, why is it to the advantage of corporate America and the banks to have people unemployed and with less money to spend?  How does that “help” them or advance whatever agenda it is that the OWS crowd would like to pin on them?

That makes no sense does it?  And, of course, the one thing corporate American can’t do is make you buy or use their product, so it would seem self-defeating to hurt you financially or alienate you.   Yet if you listen to many of the OWS folks, that’s exactly what they believe those folks want to do.

That said, ideologically and politically, this is perfect for a particular side.  It’s exactly what the Obama administration wants to see happen as it helps underscore their class warfare pivot and it helps legitimize it while also helping, even mindlessly, to shift the blame – something this administration constantly seeks to do.

But according to the Financial Times, the President himself is unofficially backing their cause.

The paper wrote: ‘While not endorsing the protests, Barack Obama and Joe Biden have expressed understanding of the movement that has spread rapidly across the country.

‘Mr Obama said people were angry because Wall Street had not been ‘following the rules’.

‘His vice-president even compared the movement on Thursday to the Tea Party, the conservative movement which has upended national politics in the past two years.’

In fact, Wall Street has been following the rules – those outlined by government in their legislation and policies.   See Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. See housing bubble.  See what government facilitated. While we may find that to be intrusion into a market that distorted it beyond recognition and facilitated the collapse of the housing market and the consequent disruption of all other markets, but you won’t find Obama and the boys talking about that. 

There are no protesters in front of Fannie and Freddy.  Instead we’re led to believe by people who know better that this is all a result of a plot by greedy Wall Streeters to cash in at the expense of the people and to collapse the economy – or something like that.

Nope, this is a handy adjunct to a particular ideological argument.  This is the result of political rhetoric that has targeted a certain group or class as the “bad guys”.  Look through history, folks, this is an argument that at various times has resonated.  I won’t bore you with the examples, but there are plenty.  And for those that succeeded, they essentially diverted attention from the real evil that was either in the process of installing itself or further strengthening its hold.

So my question, and it would actually take someone in the media who had a sense for getting to the bottom of something like this, is how much of this is really grassroots and how much of it is actually astro-turf?

We have a president who is foundering.  We have a political party in desperate trouble, electorally.  We have a class warfare argument begun to attempt to distract the public and shift blame.   And now we have the “popular” uprising to complement it.  And, of course, the compliant lefty pundits to carry the water of class warfare and attempt to use emotional arguments to sell the blame shifting.

Yes, a bit too convenient for me.   But we’ll probably never know because there simply don’t seem to be any real investigative reporter types who have an interest in chasing down possibilities like this (following connect-the-dot relationships, tracking money, etc) at least when it might redound on the current administration.

I remember their reporting about the Tea Party and how, without any proof whatsoever, they claimed much of it was a result of astro-turf.  Now, there really seems to be no curiosity at all about what the roots of this little movement might be.

Should people be frustrated and mad about where we are today?  Sure.  It’s a result of decades of bad decisions, poor policies and attempted social engineering.  It isn’t a result of “Wall Street” per se.  But admitting that or letting that meme establish itself would be fatal to the current administration.  Diversion and blame shifting are necessary.

Thus the rhetoric.  Thus the convenient and properly themed protest.

It is suspiciously like political theater designed to divert and earn re-election because there are few other options.  Nothing more.


Twitter: @McQandO

Drone wars–here’s something to think about

As most know, we’ve been very successful using drones to kill our adversaries in many places to include Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen.  But the way we employ them has thus far pretty much gone unopposed and, more importantly, has mostly been limited to use by us and our allies.

What if we weren’t the only power with drones (in fact that’s already the case):

At the Zhuhai air show in southeastern China last November, Chinese companies startled some Americans by unveiling 25 different models of remotely controlled aircraft and showing video animation of a missile-armed drone taking out an armored vehicle and attacking a United States aircraft carrier.

Farfetched?  Most would say “yes” right now, but in the future – well who knows?  The point is clear.  We’ve started something that perhaps we will regret at some point:

“The problem is that we’re creating an international norm” — asserting the right to strike preemptively against those we suspect of planning attacks, argues Dennis M. Gormley, a senior research fellow at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “Missile Contagion,” who has called for tougher export controls on American drone technology. “The copycatting is what I worry about most.”

In relative terms, drones are cheap and much less dangerous to use for the user.  So if any of the following happen, how do we criticize or condemn?

If China, for instance, sends killer drones into Kazakhstan to hunt minority Uighur Muslims it accuses of plotting terrorism, what will the United States say? What if India uses remotely controlled craft to hit terrorism suspects in Kashmir, or Russia sends drones after militants in the Caucasus? American officials who protest will likely find their own example thrown back at them.

The author has a point. And it’s not just other countries we have to worry about.

However, it would be rather hard to condemn their use given our actions and activities.   While it might be argued that we had at least the tacit approval of the government’s involved, again, we’re making armed incursions into sovereign territory in the name of pursuing our enemies pretty much at will.  And for the most part other countries have been silent about that.

Doesn’t that give them the opportunity to a) ignore any protest we might launch if they do the same thing and b) pretty much dilutes any protest we might have if the same (unlikely) is done to us?

I’m not really commenting here on the efficiency of the tactics involved or the even the morality of the strikes, but more the practical and expected backlash – others will expect to do the same thing we do for the same ostensible reason, and we won’t have a leg to stand on if we protest.

Not that our protests yield much fruit when we do make them, but as Dennis Gormley hints, we’ve opened Pandora’s box here and we’re going to have a heck of a time, if not an impossible time, closing it again. 


Twitter: @McQandO