Archive for October, 2011

Look, I don’t really care if anyone with an opinion wants to share it. I really don’t even have a problem with people who don’t bother to have informed opinions wanting to share their opinions when it comes to issues like entertainment and what they like or dislike in their horror. Hey, as they often say, everyone has opinions. People see various things and, for whatever intangible reasons, they decide they like or dislike things based on their own whims of taste. If you ask them to articulate the why behind their tastes, they’ll come up with a lot of reasons they present as in-depth analysis and (almost) as facts.
Not really a problem there. Hell, I do it. That’s half the fun of discussing things with fellow geeks no matter what your personal favorite genre is. Debating the finer points of who has the worst tastes in your social circle is a time-honored tradition among geeks. But, and herein lies the problem, whenever something gets a big, pop-culture boom moment… That’s when the “experts” come out in droves.


First, a short(ish) observation about the Occupy Wall Street Movement before I get into the more serious observation.

– I love the insane mental gymnastics that I’m seeing by some on the Right when it comes to the logic, and I use that word very, very sarcastically, that they’re using to declare that OWS is not a grassroots movement VS their comments some time back about the Tea Party. Once the Tea Party started going, we saw sponsorship, and there’s really no other word for it, by Fox News, we saw Fox News host and promote Tea Party events, we saw identical signs printed out at different Tea Party events, we saw large events held simultaneously in multiple cities where people were bused in on large rental buses decorated with identical giant Tea Party promo artwork, we saw identical talking points from event to event, we saw major Republican activists declaring themselves as Tea Party members and pumping money into the movement and the events and we saw anonymous “grass roots” donations made to the Tea Party and its events through organizations run by long time Republican activists where single donations were made in the high six figures. All of this was looked at by the Right and declared as nothing more than typical, Mom & Pop, regular people around the neighborhood activities and nothing but 100% pure grassroots activity.

Now we have the OWS movement. It spent months building with little or no notice by most of the press. It has consisted primarily of low income individuals who have gotten to the events on their own and are sleeping in the streets at the protest locations. You rarely see consistent (or in some cases coherent) talking points from group to group at the same location. There are no giant organizations funding the OWS events. The closest you might have to anything like that is the labor unions finally getting into the act and making an uneasy alliance with this movement based on shared anger over certain stupidities by “Wall Street.” You also have not seen a news organization promoting, sponsoring and hosting these events as did Fox News with the Tea Party. All of this is looked at by the Right and declared to be an organized Astroturf movement created by the major money players on the Left to help Obama.

You’ve just gotta love the professional Right some times.

Okay, now on with the next bit…

I know several people who have joined in with the OWS group in Richmond, VA. I know one person who has gone to the actual Wall Street protest that started this. I know a few people in other states who have joined their state’s group to protest there. I’ve talked to these people face to face or via email about this thing. I’ve come away from those chats with two fairly solid observations about the OWS movement as a whole.

– The first observation is that the form of protest that they’re using is fairly ineffective. It’s ineffective for a multitude of reasons, but I’ll focus on just a few.

The protest, despite the comments of the Professional Right, is about as well organized as a trailer park right after a major tornado. There is no unified message beyond being angry at Wall Street and what some of the big businesses out there have done and no real solutions being presented by the movement as a whole. There are no organized talking points and organized bullet points to tell the media when they’re at an event. There also really seems to be little planning for the thing beyond showing up and hanging out at the locations designated as protest areas. It’s basically a mess in more ways than one.

And some of this lack of organization hurts them in ways that they should have realized it would quite some time ago. They don’t have a focused message. They don’t have any real leadership or any real spokesman to speak of. In the absence of those two things, there is no real “official” message to stand out amongst the more idiotic remarks made by the more fringe-like protestors being interviewed by the press at these events. Not only does it make the movement come off as incoherent, but it makes it extraordinarily easy for those who dislike both the OWS movement and what they might in fact stand for to twist and shape their image into a parody of what it might otherwise be.

You can’t win a debate if you can’t focus your argument. You can’t change minds if you can’t present a persuasive point of view that at least seems like it makes sense. You can’t win the right people to your side if your side’s centerpiece stance is just anger at essentially a generic entity. And you certainly can’t win people over if your lack of focus allows your image to be shaped into the worst possible image by your detractors.

This protest looks like amateur hour at the complainer’s society. But there’s more to it than that (at least with some of the people in it) and they’re ability to make a good point is getting drowned out by the disorganized nature of the thing and the general stupidity of their fringe.

– They’re also made almost useless by the simple fact that the people that they’re protesting don’t care about the protest and the people that could bring about the change that might be needed in our system won’t do it. Wall Street doesn’t care about this. They can make money in so many ways that it’s not funny. Hell, Wall Street makes money off of sending businesses down in flames.

I’m serious about that. I’ve been around big business types and investment speculators who were discussing the fact that they love seeing a business crater and love helping it crater by their actions and the actions of their friends and partners. Why? Because it’s fast cash for them get for themselves.

If a company starts to freefall, they start a cycle of buying and selling stock. Stock for the company gets sold at the opening of the day. There’s then a late day “rally” in the stock when a number of shares are purchased right before the closing of the trading day. That’s in some cases the same set of people buying back the stock they sold that morning. Of course, they sold the stock at (as an example price) $250.00 a share that morning. When they buy the shares back that night, the shares are only worth $200.00. If they buy the same number of shares that they sold that morning, they end the day with the same number of shares that they started with, but they’ve made $50.00 per share off of the deal that day. The next day, they do this again. There’s a mass dumping of stock first thing in the morning followed by an artificial rally at the end of the day. The stocks start the day at the $200.00 per share price and end the day at $150.00 a share. And they do this day after day.

Now, you’re thinking that $50.00 isn’t much of a big deal. Except it’s actually a pretty big deal when you’re talking about hundreds of shares being sold, bought and sold over and over again by the same person. You do that with just 100 shares of stock and you can make $5,000.00 a day on this scheme for as long as the stock continues to fall. There are a lot of people out there who have made this into an art form. They know that there’s money to be made in this game and they know that the system has been, deliberately or not, set up to allow this kind of thing.

They also know that, in some cases, they can make money by crashing a company they own. Unfortunately, in this day and age, we still live with a system where businesses can profit from a controlled write-off. This is a system that allows the rich to get richer by the occasional use of crashing companies or causing massive layoffs and cutbacks amongst their employees.

And a part of this “They” that are involved in this system to greater or lesser degrees are the vast majority of politicians out there. And don’t read that as “politicians” somehow equaling “Republicans” here. There are a lot of politicians in DC on both sides of the isle that are plugged into the corporate money system. In some cases they literally are a part of the giant business that’s playing these games. In some cases they’re just beneficiaries of the money teat.

These are the people that they’re protesting against, but these are the people who control most of the power and money in this country. In a way, we’re in a runaway airplane together. The pilot is doing his own thing and none of us like it one bit. The problem is that the only other person that knows how to fly the plane will do the same thing that the guy flying the plane now is doing and they’ve locked the cockpit door anyhow.

– The second thing that I’ve found in these discussions is that, at least with the people I know and the general description they’ve given of the points of view belonging to the people they go to these things with, I agree with them to greater or lesser degrees about what they say.

They think that the system has gone crazy and been broken and that it needs to be fixed. That doesn’t mean that they want to do away with capitalism and replace it with socialism. They’ve just come to realize that Capitalism has the same basic problem as Socialism and Communism. All three systems are perfect. All three systems are the absolute best system for the people. At least, that’s what they all are on paper.

The sad reality is that once people get involved with any system, that system will ultimately find itself being corrupted and perverted if enough people want it corrupted and enough people let it happen. Capitalism is not an altruistic system. Capitalism is not a moral system. Capitalism is just a system and like every system out there it can be gamed and rigged and corrupted.

A lot of them feel that our system of capitalism has been corrupted and perverted. And I agree with them to varying degrees on a number of points and examples.

They look at our system, at our country and at the businesses that sit atop our system. They look and they see profitability turning into greed turning into a quest to not just make a profit, but to make more and more profit by any means available to them.

Hell, look at Apple. They’re making money hand over fist.  Apple is a company with a net worth of over $300 billion. That’s not a misprint. Apple is, as of late 2011, worth over $300 billion. This is a company making huge amounts of profit. This is a company where the people at the top of the food chain are making more money than most people could spend in 10 lifetimes. This is a company that still puts factories in third world countries to create the parts that go into their products despite the fact that they would have still been profitable if those plants were in America.

You see, there’s a buzzword in big business that a lot of companies start using when they get large enough. They like to “maximize” their profit. One easy way they maximize their profit is by paying the least amount of overhead that they can.

Now, at some level, that’s a sound business practice. Your average Mom & Pop business has to figure out how to do that to become profitable and grow. You do need to balance out your overhead VS your profit so that your total costs of doing business are less than your profit. And, if you’re either really good, really lucky or really lucky and good, you get that balance right to the degree that your profits begin to outstrip your costs by a large margin and you’re set and secure. That after all is the dream, right?

And a lot of people did that. A lot of people in this country’s history have made themselves millionaires doing just that. But then the game started to more and more become all about making the most amount of money possible no matter the means. And people are seeing this.

People have seen companies in the last few decades that were making a healthy profit cut and/or close production facilities and factories in America and move them overseas because they could stick a factory in a third world country, pay almost starvation wages even by the local standards, work employees 60, 70 or 80 hours a week with no overtime, give no benefits and “maximize profits” for the company. It wasn’t enough to make hundreds of millions of dollars in profits at the end of every year. Now the new goal was to make billions.

And then people see the people running some of these companies say one thing while doing something that totally flies in the face of what they’ve said to “the common people.” People see companies claim that they’re in such bad shape that they have to cut back (i.e. fire) a thousand employees to get by in a given year. These middle class income earners are just breaking the company and times are tough. They just can’t keep those people on the payroll anymore. Of course, they then turn around at the end of the year and give themselves multi-million dollar bonuses on top of their multi-million dollar salaries.

Times are tough, so the company has to fire employees making $35,000 to $50,000. Times aren’t so tough though that they can’t give themselves in bonuses the money that would have easily allowed them to retain a huge number of the employees that they fired that year. And that’s on top of the salaries that they already get that are in the millions.

People see larger companies gobble up smaller companies left and right until our free market system has, in some cases, at best the illusion of competition. You have companies out there that are now these giant things with hundreds of faces and hundreds of names all under one ultimate parent company. People see banks and other financial institutions doing the same thing. And because of that, they see the games that are played. And they see more and more the system changing so that almost all the money flows up and less and less flows down.

People see spokesmen for these giant companies, and sometimes politicians who are seeming spokesman for these companies, crying about how horrible our tax system is for them and crying that if only they were taxed less then things would be better. But then everyone can turn around and see that 1) the tax rate on upper incomes and business is at an almost historic low in this country and 2) that most of the companies complaining about these taxes not only end up paying an effective rate of zero come tax time, but that some of them actually have so many loopholes, subsidies and tax breaks to take advantage of that they actually make more money after taxes than before taxes. But we somehow have to change the system to make companies paying next to nothing or actually nothing pay even less while shifting the tax burden down the ladder towards the middle class and lower income earners a little more.

People see companies bring in new CEOs who get paid millions to “fix” a company by slashing the workforce and downsizing overall. This often ends with the company not doing as well as the new CEO said he would make it. It sometimes even ends with the company doing a lot worse. What are the results? More and more often we see the results being even more middle class income earners out of work by the end of the year and a short term CEO leaving for greener pastures along with his going out the door bonus of millions on top of the millions he’s already earned.

People see all these things and see a system where the game is rigged so that, cliché as it reads, the rich get richer and the rest of the people struggle. And people also see the difference in the attitudes of local business owners VS big business heads.

There’s a big difference in the way people view both the business that they themselves built and the community that they built it in VS the way some of the mega-corporation heads view the commodities that they’ve acquired. You still get your share of buttheads at the local level, but most local, small, mom & pop business owners have a sense of pride in what they’ve built. They care about the business that they built and they take an interest in the local community’s welfare because they know that the local community has to be healthy and strong for them to have a customer base for their business.

That’s not there with most corporate heads these days. They didn’t build the businesses they now own. They bought the businesses they now own or they were brought in to run the company after business has bought business has bought business has bought business has eaten up company after company and become a giant machine. And a lot of them don’t view what they now control the way that the people who actually built a business view them. They view them as commodities. They view them as pieces in a game to be moved and shuffled. They view them as ways to make themselves more money in the short-term while not really caring about the vast majority of the workforce they hurt in the pursuit of that short-term profit.

That’s what our system is becoming; a smaller and smaller number of people controlling more and more of the money, the businesses and the politicians. American Capitalism is a system that’s becoming by design a system that funnels money up and creates a greater and greater divide between the wealthy and the lower income earners.

And the people that the protesters are asking to fix the system don’t really care about them either. The list of politicians who have left their life of “public service” behind to go and work for a business or an industry that their years of “public service” benefitted is long and growing longer and contains names from both sides of the isle. They serve the money and the money serves them. They’re not going to fix a system that benefits them and the system can’t be fixed by anyone not in the system to pass the laws, make regulations and enforce these restrictions.

And these people see this and it makes them angry. It also makes them feel a little powerless. So they’ve hit a boiling point and they’re screaming in incoherent anger at giants who really don’t care about the screaming.

Now, while I agree with them to a large degree on some matters, I don’t agree with them that it’s gotten as bad as they say it has just yet. But it’s heading that way fast and the really shitty part of the scenario is that it will not turn away from that path. The horrible truth is that we’ve become a global economy. That’s a great thing for heads of industry. It’s not really a great thing for workers in already industrialized countries.

Businesses are going to continue to seek to maximize their profits. In order to do that, they will continue to seek out the cheapest labor and the places that allow them to cut the most corners. That means finding labor and homes for factories in developing countries where they can spend a fraction of what they would spend in developed countries. So, the system itself makes this protest noteworthy, but it ultimately makes it pointless as well.

And, while I hate to break this to my friends, the thing that more than anything else makes the OWS protest useless is most of the OWS protests and protestors. As I pointed out above, it’s a mess, it’s disorganized and it’s creating a mess almost everywhere it goes. And, as I mentioned way above, the message, the most important part of the whole damned thing, is unfocused and vague.

A movement of this size, even when it has the popular support that it has in general terms with a majority of Americans, cannot succeed when it is as messed up as OWS is. A movement that’s as disorganized, unfocused and messed up as OWS and that is also facing the kind of uphill battle that it’s facing is doubly doomed to failure. And worse than simply failing, this movement is fast giving itself and what few focused individuals in it a massive black eye that will ultimately be used against it if it ever gets its act together as well as being used against any group like it that might actually be a worthwhile movement.


OWS – B+ for intent, C- for effort, but a big fat F as a successful movement.