Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

15 October 2011

Zuccotti Park, or the Power of Numbers

“Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Bloomberg?”――Bob Dylan (with slight emendation)

What’s going on in Zuccotti Park is now crystal clear. As the spent leaves and bitter rains of autumn fall, that heretofore inconsequential place now holds a tiny spark of liberty, all that is left of what was once a great light unto nations. The so-called rag-tag youth are freezing and fighting for all of us.

They are small in number, but they are only the tip of the spear. To see how many millions stand figuratively behind them, you have only to read the on-line comments on any article on the subject, anywhere.

Millions now know the bankers of Wall Street have not done their jobs. Millions see how they have deceived, swindled and bamboozled their peers in finance, real business and the rest of us. Millions laugh when they claim the exalted status of “essential” capitalists, “too big to fail.”

Wall Street has exerted its unholy influence over our elected officials, our political system, and our media. It has won virtually every battle of significance for the last thirty years.

But as the old song goes, “the times they are a-changin’.” Wall Street did not fight fair. It did not fight openly. It acted by stealth and indirection, backed by the greatest propaganda machine in human history. And now, when the tide is just beginning to turn, its minions wail, “class warfare!”

They should have thought of that when they started the war on the middle class thirty years ago. They were vastly outnumbered from the start.

They seem to have forgotten Lincoln’s famous admonition: “you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Now the people are waking up.

For the bankers and their sorry myths of “too big to fail,” “trickle down” and “competitiveness” with foreign bankers, the time is up. We don’t need people who gamble and swindle under the guise of “innovation” and “modernity.” We don’t need people who torpedo the global economic system and, when their victims―the swindled, defrauded, and innocent depositors, homeowners and creditors―come to collect their just bills, point to the government and us taxpayers. We don’t need people who lack even the basic humility to give up their corporate jets while flying to Senate hearings to explain why their mistakes, greed and dishonesty should be rewarded with continuing power and more obscene bonuses.

It’s not just that we want them stripped of the power to do further damage. We do. It’s not just that we want the worst of them behind bars, in real prisons where real criminals do hard time. We do. It’s not just that we want them stripped of their wealth (although we’d be happy if most of them would just retire to their yachts or luxury mansions in Europe and never bother us again). We do.

It’s that we hate their guts for what they have done to our economy, our country and our democracy, for spoiling the most just and equitable society in human history.

And it will be a long, long time―and will take a lot of real contrition and public sacrifice―before we forgive them, if ever. There is no sign yet of the slightest contrition, even a mere acknowledgement of mistakes. So there is no basis for forgiveness or mercy.

These men (they are all men) have no sense of perspective and little imagination. What little imagination they possess bends toward numbers and greed. But the hatred of millions could lead to the same results here as in the French and Russian revolutions. That’s why the private owner of Zuccotti Park, under pressure form politicians who can sense the public tide, called off the police yesterday.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” But in that quote, Jefferson forgot one thing. An enlightened society need not shed blood if people can count. Our democracy started nearly eight centuries ago, on the fields of Runnymede, when King John counted the opposing barons and their armies.

He decided not to fight, but to settle, and our Magna Carta was the result. Isn’t that the whole idea of democracy, ballots not bullets?

They have taken our ballots from us by stealth, guile and corruption. But it doesn’t take a genius to count us now. Even the loopy Tea Partiers want to bring the bankers down and break up their monstrous, thieving empires, as does everyone who can read and think.

We the people have the plutocrats outnumbered at least 100,000 to one. And, if it comes to that, the army is the one force in our society they do not yet control. We just have to make it clear even to these supremely arrogant fools that they are outnumbered, their days are numbered, and their number of days is small. Then they’ll retreat to their gated mansions and let us begin the Herculean job of cleaning up the mess they have made. We can’t even begin with them standing in the way, claiming their disastrous prerogatives.

The notion that the protesters are “disorganized” and lack plans is absurd. They are not protesting to form a government, at least not yet. They are protesting to bring a corrupt and monstrous system down, or at least bring it to heel. Their grievances have been read on cable TV, are crystal clear, and are well and succinctly expressed.

Millions share those grievances, and justly so. Nobody likes the bankers of Wall Street. Nobody who is not on their payroll thinks they are doing a good job. Nobody believes they are necessary to the survival of capitalism, let alone democracy.

We all want them gone. We want their fine leather boots off our necks, so our economy and our liberty can breathe again. If you took a real popular vote today, you could probably summon a majority for nationalizing all the big banks. We the people have paid for them many times over. We should own them.

The protesters have done as much as our Founders, who listed their grievances against King George III in our Declaration, asserted the right of self determination, and left the rest to the future. It took five more years (mostly in war) to form a government under the Articles of Confederation, and fifteen in all to form a lasting government under our Constitution. To ask more of youth whose bulwarks are courage, zeal and outrage (which all of us feel) is not just unfair. It’s ridiculous.

Make no mistake about it. The protesters in Zuccotti Park are no paid front group like the Tea Party. They are the genuine article. They are a spontaneous popular movement drawn from millions of people who have been pushed beyond endurance. And they represent all the millions of us―including me―who are just now deciding how much of our “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” we are willing to put at risk to get our country back. We know that what we do next will seal our own and our childrens’ fate, not to mention our nation’s.

Sparks can catch fire even in the depths of wet autumn. Just ask the Russians about October 1917. The bankers and their shills and lackeys had better start reading some history and readying their exits, for the hour is growing late.

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  • At Sun Oct 16, 02:48:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear Jay,

    I hope and wish you are correct in that the Zuccotti Park movement will accomplish some good/great things. However, to be honest I'm not seeing it to be able to grow into any significant movement or accomplish any good.

    However, I have a very, very, very slight hope it can make things better because I just thought if I described it to my nearly 9 year old son, he would passionately agree with those in Zuccotti Park. Without a doubt! Knowing his ability to turn his passions into reality gives me some hope. No matter how off beat a project or idea he has decided to create or explore, it is always awesome to see him throw his entire being into seeing it out to completion. Maybe it is a good thing as a parent to realistically encourage our children's passions as long as we can before society crushes those passions with its "reality".

    Best, R.H.

    I'm even more depressed over Syria. I'm not sure protesting and beign killed by that goverment is accomplishing anything.

  • At Sun Oct 16, 08:30:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Frances said…


    I'm from Canada, where we have a more regulated banking system than the U.S. but our system is now allowing banks to diversify into insurance and brokerage firms -- something that I belive economic experts warn against.

    I'm wondering about the coverage of OWS and the faceless nature of the Wall Street "bankers". Who are these bankers? You say that they are all men - but WHO are they? I can understand the reluctance to name anyone for fear of litigation, but a faceless enemy seems to me to be more powerful than one against whom evidence can be presented. Or is the call of OWS for auditing of the large banks and their executives? I think that would be a good first step to uncover the practices and the facts/figures behind the mortgage and housing financing debacles. What do you think?

  • At Mon Oct 17, 01:48:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear R.H.,

    You are putting a lot of weight on your son, i.e., on the next generation. In some ways that’s natural, even for people like me who don’t have children.

    I see the next generation as practical, invested in teamwork (including social networking), tolerant of racial, ethnic and religious minorities, and generally skeptical of ideology and simplistic solutions. The latter trait is not surprising, as the next generation will have to bear the brunt of horrendous mistakes (including two unnecessary wars) that simplistic ideology made possible.

    I have mixed feelings about all this. The young are always better prepared to bear the trials of change. They are stronger emotionally (if not mentally), more flexible and more adaptable. But I deeply regret that most of them will not have the same education or opportunities that seemed my birthright as an American when I grew up.

    Which brings me to a final point. It is absolutely clear to me that we need a second American Revolution. It need not be bloody or terribly prolonged, like the first. But it must have nearly as significant an effect. Ultimately, if our Republic is to survive, the changes will involve fundamental constitutional reform. But at first they will be largely economic. They will take a least a decade, probably longer. And when they are done, our nation is likely to be diminished politically, militarily and economically. But it’s also likely to be a much better place for ordinary people to live.

    Every adult has to decide how much to participate in forcing or encouraging these changes, and how much to put at risk. Our Founders put everything at risk: their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.” If the British had won our Revolutionary War, every one of them would have been hanged.

    We don’t have to risk that much today. Unless it delays too long, our second revolution should not be violent. But each of us will have to risk something, even if it’s just making political contributions or standing up publicly and speaking out.

    We all owe our ourselves, our children, and our nation at least that much. That’s among the reasons why I decided to give up my anonymity.

    As for Syria, I wouldn’t get depressed about it. What happens there is really out of our control. The best we can do is support our President, who has shown he understands what’s at stake and knows how to apply strong pressure without further unsupportable military adventures. If you get depressed about anything, it should be the lack of forward motion here at home, and the large number of people who still have enough of an illusion of self-determination and prosperity to stay on the fence.

    That, I think, is where Zuccotti Park and its protesters come in. They may not be the smartest of us and probably aren’t the best. But they are among the most courageous. They are doing what we all, in some way, should be doing: stopping our “business as usual” for a least an hour or two a day and thinking about what we can and should be doing to prevent the awful processes of social stratification and the entrenchment of a new, hereditary aristocracy―processes now well under way―from continuing to their awful conclusion.

    The Zuccotti Park protesters are the vanguard. They are showing us daily the courage and attention that all of us must eventually show if we are to preserve our Republic. Whether they win or lose, or whether they eventually become martyrs (like many Syrians) in a violent cataclysm unworthy of America, depends largely on us, the heretofore silent majority.

    That’s our burden, and there is no escaping it.



  • At Tue Oct 18, 08:22:00 AM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear Frances,

    No doubt you haven’t been paying as much attention to the skulduggery south of the border as Americans.

    The chief culprits are widely known. They are: (1) Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, who is continuing to fly the world unrepentantly arguing for more power for the big banks and less regulation, even in Europe, (2) Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, who is reportedly being investigated for fraud in a key transaction that led to the Crash of 2008 and for perjury before a Senate committee, and (3) Joseph Cassano, who headed the unit of AIG that destroyed that company and reportedly walked away with $315 million before the shit hit the fan. All Americans who have studied the Crash, even as amateurs, know these names. There is little risk of litigation in naming them. They would have to sue the entire country.

    The problem is not knowing who the culprits are. The problem is that there were and are so many. Virtually everyone at the top of the top five or six US banks---the ones bailed out by TARP and the Fed---was at fault to some degree or another. The Crash, in my opinion and the opinion of most neutral observers, was the result of a massive systemic failure of honesty and common sense at the very top of America’s finance sector.

    So far, no one responsible has so much as suffered a significant financial reversal, beyond frozen pay raises during the short period of government ownership, let alone gone to jail. (Bernie Madoff was not involved with the Crash, except insofar as it caused his Ponzi schemes to fall apart and ultimately led to his conviction.)

    I think Canadians should pay more attention to what is happening here. The very first step in tearing down the regulatory walls that kept this sort of thing from happening again (after 1929-37) was allowing commercial banks to get in bed with stock brokers and investment banks. If that’s happening in Canada, it’s as red a flag as red can get.

    The men named above are easy to hate. Shortly after the Crash, for example, Lloyd Blankfein reportedly claimed he had been “doing God’s work.” But they are just the tip of the iceberg. Putting a few in real prison with hardened criminals (which I think they really are) would be exemplary, but it wouldn’t change much.

    We have to do more than make a few examples, not just here, but in Canada and Europe, too. We have to break up these big banks so they never again can grow “too big to fail,” and we have to put in place ironclad rules against commercial or consumer banks gambling with their depositors’ or other people’s money. That’s hard to do when utterly unrepentant top managers still have enormous power and still insist they did nothing wrong and are good capitalists, ignoring the trillions they got from government to survive and keep their exorbitant compensation largely intact.

    If Europe, Canada and Japan unwisely follow our sorry US example, then China, with its intelligently regulated financial sector, will have a clear field to dominate global finance after the next crash. Any you can be sure that, without real reform, there will be a next crash.




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