SocraticGadfly: 9/16/12 - 9/23/12

September 20, 2012

The myth of "leaderlessness" of #Occupy, #OWS killed dead

One of my top blog posts ever was called “OWS - young, white, well-educated ...latte-sipping?” It skewered a number of things about the Occupy Wall Street movement. In addition to the fact that it was whiter and better educated than the American average, I pointed out several ways in which the movement’s claim of being “leaderless” was a crock of steaming PR bullshit cooked up by the Adbusters types of the world, perhaps looking to catch up with their quasi-brethren from Anonymous in shameless self-marketing that’s often about as true as what you find in the world of for-profit corporate PR.

Well, speaking of both myths of leaderlessness and for-profit status, the two have an unhappy intersection, it seens.

One of the actual leaders of OWS is Malcolm Harris. And, as it turns out, Harris has been making out like a bandit for being a leader, or at least trying to do so.

Let me quote some other material from Ames, who has a LOT of similar takes to me on OWS, to set things up.

First, on Adbusters:
(F)rom what little I knew about Adbusters, they were rich Canadian grad students who hated people who shop. Or hated shops. Or something like that. I’m pretty sure they were the assholes who came up with “culture jamming” as a form of “revolutionary protest” too. Lotta dumb ideas incubated there. The whole thing sounded like “problems of the idle upper-middle class” stuff to me; I didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
Heck yes, I thought at least some of that more than a decade ago. Pretentious twits. Probably Canadians with helicopter moms.

But, let's go further with Ames:
But yesterday marked Occupy’s one year anniversary, and there’s nothing to show for that brief, and briefly-glorious cultural eruption but a memorable slogan stuck in our heads, like a jingle from a toilet paper ad. There’s nothing to hang on to, hardly even a memory to wrap yourself around. All that remain are what Occupy began with: A clever jingle or two, and the launching of a handful of anarchist “brands.”

One of these vile anarcho-marketing brands is a twenty-something hipster named Malcolm Harris. To me, the Occupy Movement will always be conflated with Malcolm Harris and the brand of marketing-concocted “anarchism” that he represents. And that’s bad, because one look at Malcolm Harris—his anarcho-hipster sneer, his marketing-guy hipster glasses—and you’ll be reaching for the nearest can of pepper spray.
Whoa, that’s a serious last line.

But, there’s more on his background to earn this wrath. First, real Occupyers might call him an “insider,” even if he is also allegedly an anarchist. Ames notes he’s the son of a Silicon Valley corporate lawyer turned State Department diplomat.

Good background for “branding,” eh? And, he started doing it:
He was one of the very first to capitalize on the marketing possibilities of Occupy, and how he might exploit the marketing and messaging to quickly build his own brand. …

By late October, just over a month after the launch of the Occupy movement, Harris had already signed a deal with the Lavin Agency, as Occupy Redlands discovered when they asked Malcolm to come speak to their fledgling occupy encampment. They discovered that if they wanted to hear Malcolm Harris talk about anarchism and the 99%, they’d have to pay him a $5,000 speaking fee. Not including travel and hotel expenses. They also must have been surprised to learn that Malcolm Harris has “earned the reputation of being the Naomi Klein of the 21st Century.”
Not to mention being surprised at a $5K speaking fee.

From there, Ames goes back to Harris’ OWS marketing campaign:
Which pretty much sums up the Occupy Movement that Malcolm Harris led: It was rigged from the beginning to benefit a few brands and a couple of sloganeers. Like all great marketing campaigns, the more people you rope in, the greater the marketing campaign success, the more you can distill that energy and those numbers into branding power. It was the marketing world’s equivalent of a giant pyramid scheme, and the “anarchist” marketing vampires like Malcolm Harris always knew it, and were always well positioned to feed off it.
That, and Ames’ “never trust an anarchist” follow, pretty much sum things up.

But, that’s not all. Harris doesn’t seem to care about actual strikers, at least not if they don’t fit into his anarchist (or should we say pseudo-anarchist) agenda). Head to the link to read about him kicking striking Chicago teachers in the nads.

There’s other issues, of course. There’s the question of whether Harris knew that the alleged anarchist meeting style could be readily be manipulated. There’s the gullibility of many OWS participants wanting to believe that their organization was leaderless, first, and second, that a leaderless style could work. The recently passed Alexander Cockburn, like Ames, this one full of holes, saying that some version of traditional organizing tactics had to be conducted.

Now, one could argue that anarchism is the only appropriate response, a “Rage Against the Machine,” if you will. But, if that’s true, it’s not going to help the college graduates who want any sort of job to get one. It’s not going to help those who have lessening hopes of going to college to reverse that. And, back to my blog post linked at the top, it’s not going to help MBA and JD grads who made up a fair part of OWS to get to work on Wall Street, unless they prostrate themselves even more.

Leadership from the spectrum of anarchism. A deadly potion, indeed.

Now, as Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism notes, some OWSers have done good by releasing a "Debt Resistors Operations Manual." Oh, and it's free. That said, it's too bad things like this weren't developed long ago, rather than the focus on street theater.

And, who knows who besides Malcom Harris, if more on the QT, the Occupy movement has spawned, enriched, wrongly empowered or whatever?

Beyond this, the post by Ames underscores my own stance against anarchism. I haven't favored it since the 1998 WTO protests in Seattle. It's usually counterproductive, and almost certainly not actually productive. Plus, in today's world, per Ames' comment about Adbusters, there's a lot of ego in a lot of anarchists.

The #47percent, taxes and "fees" - and #RickPerrysTexasMiracle

Ezra Klein does a generally good job of breaking down this “47 percent who pay no income taxes” as to what they actually do pay.

Klein, as the first graphic from his blog shows, points out that those “47 percenters” pay plenty of state and local taxes.

Sales taxes at the state/county/local level, especially if food is taxable, are definitely regressive. I mean, we all have to eat, and there’s only so much pricey caviar or paté that Mitt Romney and his ilk can swallow. State income taxes, too, can have more loopholes for the well-off than federal ones.

That said, I don’t know how Klein exactly figures in property taxes. But, even if you’re a renter, you pay them indirectly as part of your monthly rent.

But, Klein doesn’t go far enough, even then.

Don't forget all the state “fees” that we all pay. Rick Perry with his “Texas miracle” ignores that Texas has consistently jacked up “fees” during his governorship -— driver's license, car registration, etc. He also ignores that Texas does things like charging fees on guns and ammunition, theoretically to support state parks and wildlife, but that the amount of those fees that actually goes to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is capped, while the rest goes to the state’s general fund.

I also don’t know how Klein counts excise fees … if they’re considered taxes or not. Let’s not forget that the feds have plenty of excise fees, on things like phone service, as do states and municipalities. (It does seem that Citizens for Tax Justice does, though exactly what it includes, I don't know. That said, I don't doubt that, in the Great Recession, many states hiked a lot of these fees a lot, afraid to raise top income tax rates on rich individuals or corporations.)

Let’s add to this other “fun.” Here in Texas … the Internet is supposed to be convenient, right? So “convenient” that you have to pay a convenience fee to renew your car registration online.

In other words, Tricky Ricky’s claim to have not raised taxes is a big fat lie, beyond semantics.

I’m sure other states have similar issues. And, I’ve probably only scratched the edges in Texas, even as big-biz lobbying groups are trying to scrap the minuscule business and franchise tax we currently have here.

A second graphic has combined the information and shows that total taxation is moderately progressive from the bottom of the income stack to the 80th percentile, only mildly progressive from there to the 99th percentile, and regressive for the top 1 percent. Had Klein broken out that top 1 percent, he probably would have fond it even more regressive.

Finally, Mittens and his like pay much of their taxes at a capital gains rate far below income tax rates. This encourages the rampant short-term churning of stocks. If we taxed capital gains as income while, per the clamor of some financier types, allowing an inflationary depreciation, we’d force investors to be real investors for the long term, while stopping the short-term churning.

Oh, and on Fresh Air with Terri Gross today, Donald Kay Johnston reminds us that corporate taxes, especially at the state level, are about as regressive as sales taxes. Maybe worse.

September 17, 2012

If this is optimism about controlling global warming

I'll pass on what Noah Smith has to offer at the Atlantic.

First,  Smith poo-poos the use of carbon taxes, because India and China won't go along. He ignores the idea, legal under World Trade Organization regs as I understand them, of combining a carbon tax and carbon tariffs.

Second, he says we should just give away a lot of our solar and other green technology. Excuse me? China manufactures plenty already. And, is doing enough research on solar panel efficiency, I'm sure.

Third, he buys all the hype about natural gas when some studies show, that if wellhead and transmission leaks are bad enough, it could be almost as bad a greenhouse fuel as coal.

Fourth, he stereotypes all environmentalists as "panicking" over shale gas fracking rather than working to try to correct its worst problems.
This means working with gas companies, which often are also the same oil companies that have funded denial of global warming. Environmentalists will be understandably wary about partnering with such entities.
Excuse me? Where are the corporate folks like Chesapeake? They're doing bupkis on their end of the stick, by and large.

Which is why Smith's next comment is lame, too:
But remember, the true enemy is not corporations; it's global warming. If Exxon can help fight warming by replacing coal with gas, then they are temporarily on the side of the good guys. (And take heart; the fall in solar costs, if it continues, will eventually render all of this fighting irrelevant.)
Wrong on all counts. Exxon is trying to replace coal with gas because it drills plenty of gas and mines zero coal. Because it makes zero solar panels, it has no interest in that getting a boost.

Finally, there's no mention of doing more conservation. No, that's not a huge part of the long-term answer, but it's not insignificant, either.

The only thing Smith gets right is the need for conservatives to admit solar is real.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, though working for a conservative think tank, is right about how to do that, and more: sell it as a national defense issue.

September 16, 2012

Do the rich want public education to fail?

That's a provocative statement, at least, but it's one that Doug Henwood of the Left Business Observer has no problem making. The linked article is from 2011, but he promises a fuller coverage in the next issue of LBO.

Let's say he's right.

The next questions are ... why, with specifics, do the rich want this? 


First, how is public schooling funded? Property taxes? The rich can shelter their income, or have it as capital gains, or whatever, but a McMansion is a McMansion. Paying teachers less, buying less for classrooms, etc., keeps property taxes lower on the rich while letting them pander to the middle class.

Now, a state like Texas has its "Robin Hood" laws ... but don't you doubt that the rich will fight such things more and more.

Now, the second reason.

If more people have less education, you have another reason to pay them less.

Those two reasons loiok primarily at the K-12 level. The rich also undercut collegiate education for the non-rich, though. 

First, more and more financial aid has shifted from grants to loans, and from government-guaranteed loans to totally private ones with higher interest rates. 

Second, for-profit colleges are abounding, including ripping off military veterans.

Third, public colleges are being run more and more like big businesses. That includes a growing divide between tenure-track and non-tenure-track teachers, even when the latter are full time. Adjunct instructors, of course, are really getting reamed.  (It's as bad as the newspaper biz. Maybe worse.)

Finally, this is just the financial picture.

We haven't talked about whether the standardized testing burdens in K-12 hit the poor and minorities harder in some ways, whether well-intentioned or not. Nor have we discussed the whole issue of academic content, and how conservative/American exceptionalist it may trend. James van Loewen's "Lies Across America" and similar books by him are a good starting point.