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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

Category: Occupy Wall Street
September 17, 2012 at 9:11 AM

Occupy Wall Street #fail

It’s been a year since the Occupy Wall Street movement emerged. Not one member of Congress who defends tax cuts for the rich or policies that hurt the middle class is fearful of losing his or her seat. Besides Elizabeth Warren, no serious candidate for office is running on a progressive, populist platform — and she’s neck-in-neck with her opponent (in Massachusetts!). No policies have been enacted to address rising inequality or the jobs crisis or malfeasance on Wall Street.

Far from it. Republicans in the House have blocked even the modest jobs measure by President Obama. His Attorney General, the former corporate lawyer Eric Holder, pursued no criminal prosecution against the major banksters whose risky business and frauds have cost the economy some $12.8 trillion — while they enjoy their millions in compensation. The middle class saw its household income shrink, continuing a 30-plus year trend of decline. Mr. Obama was bullied into accepting a budget deal that could wreck the economy further if the so-called fiscal cliff is allowed to happen. The GOP nominee is a unapologetic financier who engaged in the destructive behavior that destroyed the middle class. His platform promises more of the same, repeated with the monotonous insistence of the Aflac duck: Tax cuts. The big banks are bigger, and more politically potent, than ever.

To be sure, Occupy was never bankrolled by the plutocracy, as was the case with the Tea Party and FreedomWorks and other front groups. The case against corporate welfare lacks money from the Koch brothers and other big energy donors. No big donors are fighting the Military-Industrial Complex or the for-profit health and pharmaceutical industries. There is no super PAC pushing for the reinstatement of Glass-Steagall and outlawing flash trading, derivatives and other gambling.

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June 25, 2012 at 10:00 AM

The Corporate States of America || Jon Talton

The Supreme Court left no doubt today that America will live under a Citizens United government. That decision allowed for unlimited political contributions by corporations and unions (the latter dying and being outspent by 15 to 1 or more). Today’s decision struck down a 1912 Montana law, written in the Progressive era to overturn the corrupting influence of the mining interests on that state. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said independent political expenditures by corporations “do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.”

This is a comical assertion coming so soon after the greatest financial collapse since the Great Depression, which at its heart was caused by deregulation, captured regulators and politicians bought and paid for by large corporate interests. Profits were privatized, losses socialized, none of the kingpins went to jail or even faced serious prosecution. Like Citizens United, the Montana decision goes against a century of precedents. And, to put a fine point on it, five activist justices — it’s difficult to call them conservative — are deciding the political, economic and social future for 311 million Americans.

We are embarking on an entirely new arc for this country. To call it “un-American” is only the beginning. It is without precedent in our history. Some may pine for the 1880s, but the nation is more populous, complex, facing greater challenges, lacking a frontier to exploit — and it will have a large, powerful federal government no matter who is in power. The stakes and consequences of corruption which invariably flows from big money, pace Justice Kennedy, are greater by orders of magnitude.

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May 2, 2012 at 9:46 AM

Reflections on May Day: What is to be done

As far as I can observe, the minority of violent “black bloc” thugs who marred the May Day protest in downtown Seattle were white kids who, based on demographic trends, grew up in suburbia. They chose to vandalize and attempt real bodily harm in our downtown. As I wrote yesterday, downtowns are the physical manifestation of the commons, everything that the Occupy folks claim to support. As I Tweeted yesterday, this violence did more to set back the progressive cause than all the Koch brothers money that supports reaction, inequality and crony capitalism.

Our task now is in the coming days to go downtown and buy from the merchants there.

One reader wrote: “How can anyone get justice? We can’t go thousands of miles to protest. [I had suggested occupying Darien, Conn., where the plutocrats live] They have us where they want us. We can’t afford gas or food…. Do you think we have any chance of stopping this country from becoming the United Corporations of America?”

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May 1, 2012 at 9:50 AM

What is this ‘capitalism’ you’re protesting against?

Today is supposed to see an “anti-capitalist” march in downtown Seattle. There’s just one problem: What we have witnessed in recent years in America is not capitalism.

The American capitalism that built the greatest middle class in the history of the world, as well as the greatest wealth, depended on competition, fair play, widely enjoyed benefits, a ladder up for those who worked hard and played by the rules, a mixed economy including government investment in infrastructure, research and education, and regulation to ensure healthy market forces. It was pluralistic with balanced power, including that of unions, to, among other things, keep greed in check and channel it productively. That’s capitalism. In the end, as Adam Smith observed, it depends on virtue on the part of most of the capitalists.

What we’ve witnessed is cronyism, shredding the rule of law, tax dodging, political control by the moneyed elites and looting the wealth it took us a hundred years to build. The results have been anti-competitive consolidation and control of supply chains — one big casualty has been local business, which is essential to civic health. And repeated bubbles with increasingly destructive busts. And regulators doing the bidding of the regulated. And collapsing middle-class wealth along with the end of widespread good jobs with benefits. And gambling with wealth and making money by moving money around rather than investing in our future. And the banksters, who got away with it. That’s not capitalism. It’s not a free market but a gamed market. It is behavior that will kill capitalism.

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December 12, 2011 at 9:17 AM

Occupy the port, hurt the 99 percent

I’ve been writing about income inequality and the sociopathic behavior of corporate oligarchs for years, but here I am about to do something that will get me condemned as another tool in the mainstream media who Just Doesn’t Get It. The Occupy movement’s plans to attempt to shut down West Coast ports further muddies its stated goals and agenda. No wonder organized labor declined to support today’s planned protest at the Port of Seattle.

Occupy’s agenda for the port shutdown is here and you can read it for yourself. In part, it says:

The 1 percent are confident they can cut our health care, education, food aid, and social services because they think we won’t fight back. They are wrong. If they cut our safety net to pieces, we will cut their profits. The port is a major source of profits for the 1 percent, especially during the holiday season when they ship goods produced by Asian workers under horrible labor conditions to American malls where increasingly broke workers buy holiday presents on credit, worried about whether we will lose our jobs, food stamps, or health care. We are tired of worrying, so now we are fighting back. A port shutdown will hit the 1 percent directly in their wallets. Happy Holidays you scrooges.

It goes on to state, “The ports are Wall Street on the waterfront – without them running, Wall Street makes no profits. If they cut our livelihoods, we will cut their profits.” Well, no. The port is the 99 percent.

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November 16, 2011 at 9:50 AM

Why Occupy’s 15 minutes of fame are running out

At the risk of being seen as another Main Stream Media tool who “doesn’t get it,” I’m getting over Occupy. The leaderlessness and lack of an agenda (because that would imply something done top-down) of the movement is no strength, however mystic it might sound. Instead, it is sending Occupy into increasing irrelevance and alienation of the 99 percent. Yesterday in Seattle, Occupy protesters held up a Metro bus full of cubicle proles trying to do their part to ease climate change by using transit stressed by budget cuts. The plutocrats went about their business as usual. By turning public spaces into increasingly dirty and dangerous campgrounds, occupiers show the same contempt for the commons as the nihilistic Republicans who would defund Amtrak, sell off the National Forests and privatize everything.

It’s not that the grievances expressed are groundless. Far from it. The evidence continues daily that Wall Street, Washington and crony capitalism are failing our society on multiple levels. Yesterday, the New York Times reported how prosecutions for bank fraud were falling ahead of the swindle-caused financial collapse — and have continued to fall. Justice has not been served. The super-rich are richer than ever. Main Street has been scrod, as they say in Boston. Millions are suffering from unemployment, stagnant wages, foreclosures and downward mobility in a system gamed for the wealthy playerz.

And Occupy is doing, what, exactly, about any of this?

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October 14, 2011 at 10:05 AM

Vote: Where do you stand with Occupy?

Time for an unscientific sampling of readers on Occupy Wall Street, Seattle, etc.

About the Occupy movement

If you think George Soros is bankrolling the protests, sorry. He’s not. If you’re unsure of what the movement is protesting after all this time, consider a couple of articles. For the chart-minded, Business Insider offers “Here’s What the Wall Street Protesters are so Angry About.” David Rhode weighs in with a thoughtful piece on Reuters:

As recently as twenty years ago, middle America saw the country’s financial system as its ally. For decades after World War II, a carefully regulated Wall Street – and the American financial industry as a whole – helped create a growing middle class, according to Yale University political scientist Jacob Hacker. A stable financial industry was a vital part of a vast economic boom, reliably providing home, car and college loans to average Americans, as well as capital to the companies that employed them. Not every banker was malevolent; nor was every corporation evil.

The transformation of Wall Street and America over the last thirty has been meticulously documented. The traditional, Jimmy Stewart notion of American banks and business, where companies built products, reputations and payrolls over time, has been eclipsed by a byzantine, non-transparent and insider-dominated financial industry.

Update: Occupy Seattle has posted its platform here.

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October 13, 2011 at 9:40 AM

The problem with Occupy

The mainstream media have discovered Occupy Wall Street and similar protests emerging around the U.S. and Canada, including in Seattle. Comparisons are being made with the Tea Party. My prediction: Occupy goes nowhere.

It’s not that the movement’s grievances aren’t just: the political and business elite’s ignoring the unemployment crisis, the banksters that drove the economy into a ditch escaping justice (I’m talking to you, Kerry Killinger), income inequality not seen since the eve of the Great Depression, downward mobility for the middle class, a new Gilded Age. Banks were bailed out. Homeowners were left to drown. CEO compensation is outrageous, even when the CEO is an abject failure. Most Americans’ wages have stagnated.

But Occupy lacks the big corporate and top 1 percent money that backed the Tea Party, as well as Rupert Murdoch’s media machine. The oligarchs like the Tea Party’s opposition to any taxes and regulation. The Occupy platform is anathema to them. Also, the Tea Party was adopted completely by the Republicans, who are highly disciplined and effective. Most Democrats don’t know what to do with Occupy (the oligarchs fund most Dems elected to national office, too). The Democrats can’t even unite behind their president’s jobs bill. Not for nothing did Will Rogers say he wasn’t a member of an organized political party, he was a Democrat.

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