Huffington Post

Occupy Wall Street Isn't Anti-Corporation

[My latest for The Huffington Post.]

I've been listening to right-wing talk radio quite a bit lately. No, I'm not changing sides, and I'm not serving penance for a brutal crime. But I occasionally get caught up in talk radio's Death Star tractor beam and subsequently drawn into its psychotic docking bay of crazy.

Seriously, though, you should try listening for a couple of days. It's almost like eavesdropping on super-secret meetings of the He-Man Obama Haters Club. It provides a real-time peek into the nonsense that's being injected into millions of brains every week. (According to Talkers magazine, around a tenth of the entire American population listens to Rush Limbaugh's show and Sean Hannity's show, together commanding close to 30 million listeners per week. Talk radio is still very relevant and deserves our attention.)

I won't spoil too many details, but if you tap into the hive you'll discover an endlessly entertaining debate about how Mitt Romney is a "liberal," with subsequent waffling between support for Herman Cain and Rick Perry. In fact, I overheard Hugh Hewitt criticize Herman Cain for being a gaffe-prone buffoon, then, oddly enough, effusively pitch Cain's book.

I also heard the formerly funny Dennis Miller remark about how President Obama, arguably one of the smartest presidents in modern history, isn't really very smart because he supports Keynesian economic policies. You'll hear that one a lot, though not always in the form of an insufferable and self-satirical Miller metaphor. More than almost anything else, you'll hear that the Recovery Act didn't stimulate economic growth even though it clearly did. By the way, you definitely won't hear a damn thing about how spending cuts and tax cuts have never in the history of America stimulated economic growth following a crushingly deep recession like the 2008 crash. Never.

Last week, I heard a host named Dennis Prager falsely label the Occupy Wall Street movement as being "anti-corporate" then, using this straw man argument, he pointed out the hypocrisy of various protesters communicating their anti-corporate views using their corporate-manufactured smartphones.

This misleading attack from Prager was followed by a radio edition of Bill O'Reilly's "Talking Points Memo" in which O'Reilly warned his listeners that the Occupy Wall Street protests are becoming violent -- an obvious attempt to project the violent rhetoric of the tea party and other far-right apparatchiks onto the OWS movement. O'Reilly's only example of protester violence was a story about how a participant's dog's tooth became hooked onto the cuff of a police officer's shirt. Stop the presses and hide the children! A slightly ripped cuff! Meanwhile, police officers are attacking and beating protesters within an inch of their lives, and just today a man was critically injured when he was shot in the head with a ballistic projectile by Oakland police. The victim, Scott Olsen, is an Iraq war veteran. He fought to bring freedom to Iraq only to be wounded for exercising his right to assemble here at home.

But regarding this "anti-capitalist" and "anti-corporation" meme, it's one that's heard throughout talk radio and it's easily the centerpiece of the far-right attack against the movement. Everyone from Prager to Glenn Beck to candidate Herman Cain is repeating it.

Of course, it's almost entirely untrue.

The Wall Street Journal conducted a poll recently that asked OWS supporters, "What frustrates you the most about the political process in the United States?" Only three percent said "the democratic/capitalist system." Three percent. The poll also asked supporters what they hope the movement will achieve and only four percent wanted the "dissolution" of the capitalist system.

The movement is opposed to deregulated, free market capitalism. Short of Ron Paul disciples and Ayn Rand cultists, no reasonable American wants a system in which Enron, Goldman Sachs, AIG or BP can commit heinous crimes and not pay the price. According to Gallup, 68 percent of Americans want corporations to have less influence in America. That doesn't mean a supermajority of Americans are anti-corporation, it simply means that a supermajority of Americans agree that corporations have acquired too much power and therefore ought to be reined in. Not banished or banned, just watched more closely.

The OWS movement, like the American people, isn't anti-corporate, it's anti-corporate crime.

The real question here is why isn't Herman Cain against corporate crime?

Why isn't Dennis Prager against it, too?

Members of the Republican Party and the conservative movement are all about law and order, right? It's remarkable, then, that Dennis Prager and Herman Cain aren't supporting accountability against the corporations that poison our water or exacerbate unemployment or trigger a deep recession.

And that's exactly what OWS is seeking: accountability.

Occupy Wall Street protesters aren't necessarily against the corporations that churn out their iPads and coffee products, as the misinformed designer of this photoshopped image insinuates, but, rather, they're against the corporations that corrupt the system, deplete the Treasury and ultimately aren't held accountable for their crimes. The protesters are demanding that the corporate criminals who engaged in the shoddy, Machiavellian investment scams that plunged us into the deepest recession since the Great Depression be held accountable for their actions. To date, not a single instigator of the economic collapse has been prosecuted.

One of the rants I've heard repeatedly on talk radio is how OWS protesters are flagrantly disobeying the law -- how they're not seeking permits and how they're disrespecting authority and law enforcement. Fine, then why shouldn't corporations be held to a similar standard? Why does Hugh Hewitt want protesters locked up for breaking the law, while giving corporate criminals total immunity from investigation, prosecution and regulation? After all, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have all the constitutional rights of people, so let's treat them like any person would be treated if suspected of malfeasance.

At the same time, the Republican presidential candidates are mostly in line with talk radio, and everyone from Michele Bachmann to Mitt Romney is in favor of rolling back regulations against corporations, as if the last decade never occurred.

You might have heard the various GOP hopefuls marching in lockstep criticizing something called "Dodd-Frank" during the televised debates. (Incidentally, Dennis Miller compared the candidates to "crickets in a Hellmann's jar spitting cigar juice on each other." Okay, admittedly that one made me giggle.)

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was the only piece of legislation passed in direct response to the financial sector's disastrous shenanigans. Even though it was watered-down in Congress, Dodd-Frank is an attempt to crack down on the financial sector and its use of derivatives, Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and the like, while also protecting investors and shielding consumers from predatory lenders. The act also reduced the TARP bailout payments by $225 billion. I'm not sure why the Republicans would want to repeal a reduction in TARP payments, but they do.

Mitt Romney also wants to roll back the Sarbanes-Oxley Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act, which was signed by President Bush in response to the Enron collapse and the subsequent financial crisis. Yes, Romney is apparently the "liberal" one even though he's lining up to the right of President Bush. Put another way, Republicans and conservatives want to revert back to the pre-Bush system that allowed Enron to happen, risking more financial collapses in the future. The consequences are almost too horrendous to imagine.

Now, to be fair, I can understand why some of the talk radio people might not support the OWS movement's demand to end corporate monopolies via enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act or other means. Obviously the universe of right-wing syndicated talk radio wouldn't exist if Presidents Reagan and Clinton didn't deregulate the broadcasting industry, allowing media corporations like Clear Channel to buy up multiple stations in individual markets and replace local programming with syndicated franchises. (Between a massive talk radio audience and the dominant ratings of Fox News Channel, along with the rest of the news media's self-conscious fear of appearing too liberal, the idea of any kind of "liberal media bias" is laughable.)

There was a time when I thought it was impossible for anyone to take the side of Wall Street and the financial sector. I thought, who could possibly excuse the corporations that ushered the world to the brink of economic ruin by suggesting that we continue to gift to them unfettered latitude? The Republican candidates for president and most of AM talk radio have stepped up to that challenge and are defending the indefensible. And they're only a few percentage points away from getting exactly what they want.

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  • GrafZeppelin127

    How an alternate reality is created, in 7 easy steps:

    1. Start with a basic, objective, verifiable fact: “According to the IRS, based on tax returns filed, 47% of U.S. households did not owe federal income tax in 2009.”

    2. Drop superfluou­s language indicating where the informatio­n comes from and what it’s based on. “47% of U.S. households did not owe federal income tax in 2009.”

    3. Change the nominal subject: “47% of Americans did not owe federal income tax in 2009.”

    4. Change the verb: “47% of Americans did not pay federal income tax in 2009.”

    5. Change the tense and drop the adverbial modifier: “47% of Americans do not pay federal income tax.”

    6. Drop the adjectival modifier and pluralize the object noun: “47% of Americans do not pay taxes.”

    7. Deliver the altered sentence to an audience motivated by self-congr­atulation and resentment­.

    Congratula­tions! You are now living in an alternate reality.

    • missliberties

      So what is the snappy response to get these guys to shut up already.

      They are now arguing that oil companes deserve to be compensated by tax payers for the privelege of having such a wildly profitable enterprise provide jobs in the US. It’s blackmail. But how do we respond.

      • bphoon

        Call them out…every…fucking…time. Loudly. Clearly.

        Sure, you won’t sway the true believers but they aren’t the ones who decide elections anyway. We’re after the independent swing voters who reside in the ever-shrinking middle. Most of those folks do, in fact, listen to facts. Make sure they have them.

        • missliberties

          Agreed. But I am begging, pleading, imploring, practical progressive to work it, as far as crowd sourcing, to come up with a snappy response that grabs public attention.

          If we are right on this issue then we should be able to formulate a counter argument that works. If we don’t, we lose.

      • Rick Janes

        Tell them to look at the last ten years when corporations and the wealthy have enjoyed the biggest tax breaks in history — if what they’re claiming is true, then where are the jobs?

    • Rick Janes

      Great anaylsis, Graf. And, of course, leave out the info that all working people are saddled with hefty payroll and sales taxes and that the reason so many have fallen below the line where they qualify to pay federal income taxes is due to the lack of decent-paying jobs.

    • Robert

      To not owe federal tax and to not pay federal tax have the same result; no federal tax paid. So I don’t understand your point ? Unless it is your desire to display your skill with semantics ?

      • GrafZeppelin127

        Believe me, I’m not the one playing with semantics.

        The result is not the issue. To say someone “doesn’t pay” federal tax implies an obligation where none exists; it validates resentment.

        If someone doesn’t owe federal tax it’s not his fault, it’s not his decision; the law makes it so he doesn’t have to pay. Saying someone doesn’t pay federal tax implies that it is his fault and it is his decision.

        And again, what you’ve done is drop all of the adverbial and adjectival modifiers and used a different verb tense, in this case the infinitive, to change an event into a condition; something that occurred at one point in time into something that is occurring as an ongoing state of existence, again, for the purpose of validating resentment.

        If I didn’t pay federal income tax in 2009, that doesn’t mean that I don’t pay federal income tax; it only means that I didn’t in 2009. It doesn’t mean I have never paid federal income tax, or that I never will. Bear in mind that a good portion of those who don’t owe federal income tax are the elderly and disabled living off Social Security and/or Medicaid, who can’t work but who paid taxes all their lives, and full-time students, who are getting an education that will enable them to work and pay taxes in the future. The rest are the working poor, whose taxable income is so low that they don’t have any tax liability under the current tax code.

        It seems to me there are two lines of thinking here; the one you’ve adopted, which is to feel put-upon and resentful and think the solution is to punish these people by making them pay even though they can barely afford to eat; and the other, which is to wonder why, in the world’s wealthiest nation, that many people are that poor and living on that little income, and think the solution is to broaden the tax base by paying people better in the first place.

  • dildenusa

    I get enough ignorance thrown at me in my journey on the path of life. So Bob, I’ll let you relay to me what the hypocritical clowns on right wing talk radio spew out to their disciples in the tea party republic.

    I hate to use the phrase “necessary evil” to describe corporations. It’s like saying Hitler was necessary to bring the US out of the economic depression of the 1930s. When the idea of the modern corporation was first conceived by the Dutch in the 17th Century it was a monopolistic, rapacious, and exploitative entity. As a backlash in revolutionary America against the British East India Company, monoplistic corporations were frowned on. Eventually things changed after the Civil war when the federal and state governments realized they needed corporations.

    To me, the love of corporations by the rabid right is nothing but shallow self interest. In fact they are brainwashed disciples of the corporate culture. The corporatists use the financial markets to suck people into their cult by making us believe that if we own shares in the corporation they have our interests and the national interests at heart. Reality is very different. This distortion of reality has been going on for almost one hundred years. It begin in the progressive politics of the the late 19th and early 20th Century when the corporations came under the Sherman Anti-trust Act and they have tried to counter the view ever since that corporatists and the corporate entity are nothing but rapacious and monopolistic scum bags. But that is the reality and has been for over 300 years.

    • bphoon

      Most of the rabid, corporatist right remind me of Milo Minderbinder in Catch 22.

      • Rick Janes

        I don’t know, bphoon; while they share Milo’s morals, even he had more sense than the corporatist right.

  • Brutlyhonest

    Nice article, as usual.

    You don’t have to listen to wingnut radio to hear the false claim that OWS is anti-coprporation/capitalism: I heard those terms used on both CBS and NBC “news” broadcasts over the last week.

    Also, if you want to know what the wingnutosphere is blathering on about, you can just look for the most ridiculous letters to the editor in your local rag.

    • muselet

      I don’t think ABC has used those terms yet, but last night the coverage of OWS included mention of “a new poll” that showed “only 37% of respondents supported Occupy Wall Street.” The “new poll” is at odds with every other recent poll that shows upwards of 50% support.

      And I rely on letters to the editor to keep up with what the loonies are being told to think, too. It’s a bit easier on the brain.


      • Rick Janes

        I wonder if that poll came from rightie Rasmussen or one of Luntz’s front companies?

        • muselet

          Fair’s fair: I misquoted the ABC report. Not surprising, since I was quoting from memory, but still, apologies to all concerned. (Bad alopecia! *slaps own hand*)

          After footage of police breaking up the protest in Oakland, reporter Abbie Boudreau said this:

          A recent poll shows less than half of Americans support the protesters, who largely believe money and wealth should be more evenly distributed.

          accompanied by this on-screen graphic:

          39% support the Occupy Wall Street movement
          Source: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press

          Neither the date of the poll nor the actual language of the question was provided. (I’d also argue her “largely believe” line is largely codswallop.)

          If you want to see for yourself, here’s the link. The story starts at 3:35, the quote and graphic are at 5:00.


    • bphoon

      Yes, we get more than our share in the local letters-to-the-editor here in this deeeeep red state.

  • mzmijewski

    Bob, I think I will let you listen to the Party of Ignorance and Stupidity (PIS). I would rather read about it here.

    • Rick Janes

      True, Bob, you certainly have a much stronger stomach for this BS than I do — 15 minutes of Fox or the Limbaugh boy and I’m ready for an airsickness bag. I also feel sorry for the poor, benighted souls at Media Matters who have to follow El Rushbo or one of the other public liars in order to report on their nonsense. One sliver of light, though, is that even the audience for this tripe is having to face the reality of their daily lives as their jobs go overseas or their homes are foreclosed on; sure, some diehards will go down with the ship screaming it’s all the fault of Obama or liberals or socialists; but others are waking up to the fact that it wasn’t dirty hippie OWS protestors or ACORN or Planned Parenthood or the White House that fired them or is kicking them out of their home — it’s the same big corporations and banks zealously protected by the GOP.

      • bphoon

        I hope you’re right but I’m not quite ready to give the bulk of them credit for being that smart. Uncharitable of me, I know, but all I have to go on is their track record.

    • missliberties

      If you don’t pay attention to what these folks say and have a snappy rebuttal that is effective, than the dems are going to lose.

      It is a headache inducing orderal, but it is important to understand the enemy.