Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Will #OWS ever make progress towards reform?

After watching neoliberalism destroy societies (and now finally itself) over the past 35 years, I guess it should not be so surprising that #OWS has made precious little progress against such an evil juggernaut in just a little over seven weeks.  After all, neoliberalism has withstood riots opposed to their agenda as a matter of course and has corrupted such figures as Boris Yeltsin, Vaclav Havel, and Nelson Mandela.  It has caused guys like Bill Clinton and Barry Obama to utterly sell out the voters that got them the Presidency.

Yes, bankster capitalism has a lot going for it—money, power, influence.  Yet sometimes I wonder if their real power doesn't really reside in the idea that they run a casino where anyone can play and everyone has at least a theoretical shot at winning.  But it is also teetering on the edge of collapse.  Every day I wake up wondering if the Greeks (or the Finns, or Icelanders, or the Italians, etc.) have done something that finally brings down the crooks who have come to run our financial institutions.

So while I get frustrated at times, I still must commend #OWS for getting at least ONE thing right—they are targeting the guilty parties.
People Are Raging Against Banks Because Everybody Knows The Financial Sector Calls The Shots
Kash Mansori | Nov. 6, 2011
It's remarkable the degree to which so many people from vastly different countries, backgrounds, and political inclinations all share a bitter and seething rage against the world's big financial institutions.
Everyone hates big banks, and today's Bank Dumping Day is only one of many signs of that deep loathing. 
Given this near-universal hatred of banks and bankers, the idea of providing them with taxpayer support is pretty much intolerable to most people. 
The widespread disgust felt about the US's TARP bailout of banks in 2008 provided fuel for both the Tea Party movement's popularity in 2010 and the Occupy Wall Street movement of this fall. 
In the eurozone, banks are reviled in the troubled periphery countries, where austerity measures are seen in part as a mechanism devised to shift the pain of the eurozone debt crisis from banks to the people. 
And in the core eurozone countries like Germany, the public is understandably angry at the idea of having to provide funds to restore European banks to financial health thanks to the crisis. 
There are plenty of reasons for these intensely negative feelings about financial institutions. One of the most important may be the extraordinary concentration of wealth and power that has accumulated among the world's financiers over the past couple of decades. 
Income inequality in the US, for example, is almost entirely a story about the richest 1% pulling away from everyone else — and a substantial portion of that richest 1% have the financial industry to thank for it. more
#OWS has one very powerful thing going for it.  They are angry about real problems.
The Second Gilded Age
Has America Become an Oligarchy?
By Thomas Schulz   10/28/2011

The Occupy Wall Street movement is just one example of the sudden outbreak of tension between America's super-rich and the "other 99 percent." Experts now say the US has entered a second Gilded Age, but one in which hedge fund managers have replaced oil barons -- and are killing the American dream.

At first, the outraged members of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York were mainly met with ridicule. They didn't seem to stand a chance and were judged incapable of going up against their adversaries, Wall Street's bankers and financial managers, either intellectually or in terms of economic knowledge.

"We are the 99 percent," is the continuing chant of the protestors, who are now in their seventh week of marching through the streets of Manhattan. And, surprisingly, they have hit upon the crux of America's problems with precisely this sentence. Indeed, they have given shape to a development in the country that has been growing more acute for decades, one that numerous academics and experts have tried to analyze elsewhere in lengthy books and essays. It's a development so profound and revolutionary that it has shaken the world's most powerful nation to its core.

Inequality in America is greater than it has been in almost a century. Those fortunate enough to belong to the 1 percent, made up of the super-rich, stand on one side of the divide; the remaining 99 percent on the other. Even for a country that has always accepted opposite extremes as part of its identity, the chasm has simply grown too vast.
Those who succeed in the US are congratulated rather than berated. Resenting other people's wealth is viewed as supporting class struggle, which is something very frowned upon. 
Still, statistics indicate that the growing disparity is genuinely overwhelming. In fact, the 400 wealthiest Americans now own more than the "lower" 150 million Americans put together. 
Nearly two-thirds of net private assets are concentrated in the hands of 5 percent of Americans. In comparison, the upper 5 percent of Germany hold less than half of net assets. In 2009 alone, at the same time as the US was being convulsed by mass layoffs, the number of millionaires in the country skyrocketed. 
Indeed, if you look at the reports it compiles on every country in the world, even the CIA has concluded that wealth disparity is greater in the US than in Tunisia or Egypt. more
Here we see a banker who is at least trying to find out why the world is so angry with him and what he could possibly do about it.  Not that he will ever agree to lower his living standards to accommodate their concerns—but at least he's talking which by itself is still extremely rare.
The Banker and the Protesters
A Meeting of Minds on Germany's 'Occupy' Movement 
The "Occupy" movement has garnered support from all parts of the world, including Germany, where protestors have set up camp in front of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. In an interview, SPIEGEL talks to Axel Fialka and Alexander Sack from the movement, and to Commerzbank CEO Martin Blessing.

The "Occupy" movement began in earnest in New York, where a group of activists formed under the name " Occupy Wall Street" in mid-September to protest against the sheer power of the financial markets. Since then it has grown to become a global movement, with tens of thousands of participants gathering each week for protests, including several thousand in Frankfurt, the center of "Occupy Germany" activities. Occupy supporters in the German financial center have taken over a small park located directly in front of the European Central Bank (ECB).

Around 100 tents have been pitched in front of the banking city's glass-and-steel skyscrapers. "You occupy the money, we occupy the world," one protest sign reads. During the daytime, working groups discuss capitalism, education and culture. During the afternoons and evenings, an "Asamblea" takes place, a gathering held in an outdoor public space during which speaking time is granted to anyone who wants it and democratic decision-making is made at the grass-roots level. The movement is organized via Facebook and Twitter, and an Occupy website provides information for its supporters. So far, those supporters have been overwhelmingly male, and female visitors to the protest camps are relatively scarce. But few could complain about a lack of support. The media is reporting on Occupy, politicians including Chancellor Angela Merkel have expressed their sympathies, and new people interested in what is happening drop by the ECB campsite each day, with some simultaneously raising their own tents.

Each evening, local bakeries deliver leftover rolls and cakes to the camp's mess tent, where warm meals are cooked and served twice each day. The Occupy protesters have made a point of welcoming their neighbors, including homeless people known to drop by. If you're seeking to create a more just society, they argue, you've got to start at home. 
Despite all the media and political attention, it still remains unclear precisely what the movement, which is determining its goals through grass-roots democracy, actually stands for. Alexander Sack, a 22-year-old who is training to be an IT systems engineer and recently spent his vacation at the camp, Axel Fialka, a 31-year-old student of cultural anthropology and ethnology and trained retail salesman, and Martin Blessing, the 48-year-old CEO of Commerzbank, a major German bank, sat down with SPIEGEL to debate the aims of the Occupy movement. 
SPIEGEL: Mr. Fialka and Mr. Sacks, why did you join the Occupy movement? What motivates you?

Fialka: When I read about the movement on the Internet, it immediately struck a chord with me because I've never been happy with the conditions and the unjust distribution of wealth around the world. I've always asked myself, "How can the world be organized so that as many people as possible are doing well?" 
Sack: I've long been interested in what is happening with the financial markets, and I simply don't agree with what's going on. 
SPIEGEL: Mr. Blessing, as a banker, how do you view the movement?
Blessing: Of course, I became aware of it through the media when people first started taking to the streets in New York. In Frankfurt, I can look onto the tent city from the Commerzbank tower. A week ago Sunday, I went there myself to see what was going on. 
SPIEGEL: What did you see? 
Blessing: I saw that there is a great deal of emotional dissatisfaction. But I'm not sure I really understood what the common theme was. I get the impression that the protesters have many different goals. 
SPIEGEL: Mr. Fialka and Mr. Sack, who are you protesting against? 
Blessing: Or what for? You don't always have to be against everything. You can also be for something. 
SPIEGEL: Are you against bankers like Mr. Blessing, against politicians, or against the system, capitalism? 
Fialka: It's difficult to answer questions about objectives and demands. There's no point in plucking a fish out of a school and asking where it's swimming. But the entire school agrees that it wants to evade the predator fish and live in a more friendly environment. Many people are extremely dissatisfied with banks that get huge cash injections so they can keep on doing what they've always done, only this time with taxpayers' money, and with our politicians, who aren't prepared to change anything, and with Mr. Ackermann ... 
SPIEGEL: ... the chairman of Deutsche Bank ... 
Fialka: ... and other advisers from the banking sector, which basically drafts legislation itself. 
Sack: Many of us say that the system can't remain the way it is. I believe there is a good chance that far-reaching reforms can achieve the necessary changes without us having to throw the entire system out the window. But it is very hard to formulate such demands for the entire movement. more
But in case you are wondering why the Masters of the Universe are still not very afraid of the protesters, watch these two explain how they think that running their protests according to the rules of a Montessori School might topple the rule of the banksters.  It is at once both terribly sweet and hopelessly lame.
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