Monthly Archives: October 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street Might not be Able to Come Home Again

If you are like me, Occupy Wall Street holds out the possibility of building a modern New Deal. Many protestors are so outraged about wealth disparity because we know it was not like that before the corporate takeover of our government. We fully understand that all remnants of FDR’s New Deal are in tatters. We understand that the last 35 years of U.S. history was defined by the triumph of corporate power over the New Deal coalition. Historian Robert Patterson, in his book Grand Expectations, calls the period from roughly the end of World War II until the early 70s “The Biggest Boom Yet”. It was the largest sustained period of economic growth in U.S. history. The results of that growth were much more equitably distributed than they are now. Common sense would dictate that a return to those New Deal programs that brought about the The Biggest Boom Yet is the cure for our ailing economy. But there might be reason to doubt that these measures alone will bring us home again. The reason revolves around the differences in the international scene between then and now.

During The Biggest Boom Yet, the United States existed in a world with one serious rival: the Soviet Union. The threat posed by the leftist Soviet regime continually prodded us to expand democracy here at home to save face around the world. The Civil Rights Act and the Great Society would probably not have happened as fast if the U.S. was not concerned with protecting its image as a free country in the face of Soviet criticism. There was also the threat of the Communist Party USA, which was an arm of the Politburo and acted as the ideological whip for the entire American left. In short, there might not be enough political will in the U.S. to redeem the New Deal. Occupy Wall Street can hopefully garner enough sustained political will to both revive and improve upon the New Deal. This is one of the things we hope for. We hope for it because at one time it seemed impossible.

But even if the will is there, we also must consider the blow to America’s “superpower” status since The Biggest Boom Yet. We had success with the New Deal when most other industrial nations were wracked by the destruction of World War II. Our factories were the only ones humming. It would take decades before the rest of the world could catch up. In the meantime, they would have to buy from the United States, who became bread basket to the world. Perhaps it was easier to have a living wage and health benefits in an age when so much money came into our country via favorable balances of trade. As the 70s approached, the United States encountered serious new competitors to its industrial might. Western Europe was beginning to tie its economy together thanks in part to the efforts of Charles de Gaulle, who feared France would never be able to keep up with the American commercial juggernaut. Middle Eastern countries in OPEC proved they could send the economy into a tail spin by manipulating oil prices. Our loss in Vietnam bespoke a third world that was ready for an awakening. By the 1980s and 90s, the United States operated in a multi-polar world where Europe, the Middle East, China, India, Mexico, Japan and South America all began to take a greater share of political and economic power. Can the United States afford to revive the New Deal in a multi-polar world? Is taking care of our people compatible with losing what used to be our share of the world’s resources?

The extreme version of all of this, which still might turn out to be the right version, is that this nation’s bigwigs have long foreseen the downfall of the United States. It turns out that hollowing out our manufacturing, infrastructure and schooling while going trillions into debt to fight imperialist wars was not the recipe for national strength. The bankers and the corporate plutocracy said “hey, what the hell? We’ll pick the carcass for all its worth” and we are fast approaching the stage where the carcass will be totally stripped. In that case, can OWS lead to a more equitable stripping of the carcass as we all circle the drain? Shouldn’t we all have the right to have blood on our lips when the music stops?

Just a few questions that Occupy Wall Street might end up answering, whether we like it or not.


Occupy the Department of Education (Part I: Fascism as Policy)

It has been a long time by blogging standards since I have added a new post. In many ways, I was undergoing a crisis over the direction this blog should take. I resolved this crisis by deciding to start another serial, this time on the importance of Occupying the Board of Education. It was inspired by Occupy Wall Street’s commandeering of Dennis Walcott’s Panel for Educational Policy meeting this past Tuesday. Like everything else OWS does, it brought home the cruelty and indifference of the people we look to for leadership. As a teacher, I feel I have a duty to lay bare the importance of Occupying the Board of Education. Below is the start of that effort:

Fascism exalts the private over the public. For fascism to take hold, government and corporations must conspire to privatize public services. The United States military, the prison system and huge chunks of our infrastructure have already been privatized. Public schools are next. Public school teachers naturally support Occupy Wall Street, whose one clear demand continues to be to roll back this emerging fascism. Occupying the Department of Education involves exposing the ways in which the New York City school system is already fascistic.

In “The Origins of Totalitarianism” the great Jewish thinker, Hannah Arendt, explained that totalitarian regimes operate by constantly changing the rules. What was policy one day was completely illegal the next. Those that thought of themselves as loyal party players suddenly found themselves outside of the law. The regime constantly weeded out undesirables in this way. People would become mistrustful of each other. The goal was to make collective action on the part of the people impossible. A citizenry atomized into its component parts was easier to control. Atomizing the collective has been a goal of the DOE’s totalitarian ruler, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, from the start. In Year I of the Bloomberg Regime, he replaced the publicly elected Board of Education with a Department of Education whose officers were appointed by, and answerable to, him. The rationale for doing so is familiar enough to students of atomization schemes in other public institutions: the old system was an unresponsive bureaucracy; the new system embodied corporate efficiency. Of course, it is this corporate efficiency that allows the Mayor to constantly manipulate policy in an attempt to destroy any collective action at all, including those two great bastions of collectivism: large high schools and the United Federation of Teachers.

Mayor Bloomberg decreed that all schools get an annual letter grade. Those that consistently receive failing grades are “reorganized”. It is impossible for the schools to know what it takes to receive a passing grade, since the rubrics change every year. Schools that pass one year fail the next, despite no appreciable change in standardized test scores, attendance or violent incidents. It is clear that a school’s grade does not depend on its performance. Instead, the undesirables who are the targets of this ever-changing standard are the large schools. A large school has thousands of students, several dozens to hundreds of teachers and a small cadre of administrators to run it all. The large public school is probably the last rampart of collective community-building anywhere in the country. Large schools can successfully resist mandates for “reform” from outsiders. They can accommodate reform in a way that does not threaten their existence or radically change their culture. But Bloomberg’s DOE is not a reforming force. It is a radical force that seeks complete privatization and atomization of the school system.

“Reorganization” in the DOE means taking the large building in which the large school was housed and requiring 4 or 5 smaller schools to operate in different parts of that building. Chances are that at least one of those schools will be a charter school that has much greater freedom to choose who they will educate. The other schools are still subject to the arbitrary letter grades of the DOE, which largely determines which types of students each school attracts from the surrounding community. The radical “reformers” call this giving parents “choice”. This is the language of consumerism. This is the language of a radical movement to turn the collective action of citizens into the isolated choices of consumers. Instead of the community pooling their resources and sharing space, schools now atomize the members of the community into smaller portions that compete for space and jealously guard the resources they have. What used to be a civics exercise in community-building has become a soulless microcosm of the war of all against all that resembles a “free market”. It is incredible that such a blatant violation of “separate is not equal” has been allowed to develop, causing the NAACP to bring lawsuits against charter schools that exist alongside public schools.

None of these atomizing tactics would have been possible without the evisceration of that other bulwark of collective action: the United Federation of Teachers. If the public school system symbolizes the last great rampart of community-building in America, the teacher’ unions symbolize one of the last great ramparts of worker solidarity. But just because the UFT still exists does not mean it has withstood the same atomizing that is destroying public schools. The Teaching Fellows and Teach for America programs brought in hired mercenary teachers who promised to stay in the system no more than three to five years. Some have stayed on past their bids, most have not. Due to the closed-shop rule (one of the few scraps left to the UFT), all of these new teachers had to join the union. Their arrangements ensured that the union would not be able to count on future generations of dedicated teachers to keep up the fight for better working conditions. Most of the younger members would be off to their real careers on Wall Street, the bar or the theatre well before they could talk of retirement. In this way, the DOE scooped out the heart and soul of the UFT. The union began overly representing retirees and other entrenched interests disproportionately over their members on the front lines. This helps explain why the last contract negotiated under Randi Weingarten was so willing to bargain away working conditions while jealously guarding pensions.

When you place those unprotected teachers in smaller schools, you get the fascism we have now. Chopping down large schools greatly increases the need for principals, “middle management” as Mayor Bloomberg has called them and “commissars” as the Soviets used to call them. Greater principal-to-teacher ratios mean greater supervision of the teachers. Principals are required to have no more than three years of teaching experience, ensuring they will have very little empathy with teachers the longer they remain principals. Instead, their empathy lies with themselves and getting their schools to outdo other schools on the yearly report card. The small size of the schools combined with the most recent UFT contract gives principals greater control over teachers and what teachers should do to get better grades for the schools’ report cards. It is a system where principals are incentivized to abuse their powers. They are not encouraged to think of themselves as leaders accountable to the communities they serve. Instead, they are told they are managers implementing the policies of the hierarchy. The communities must serve them. Teachers must work longer hours and focus on test prep. Those that protest are disappeared by the principals’ powers to drum up fake charges and initiate frivolous hearings to terminate teacher licenses. Students must produce higher test grades. Those that do not produce face being creatively expelled in charter schools or sacrificed to the psychological/pharmaceutical complex by being labeled as “disabled” in public schools. Parents are not meant to play any role at all. Instead, they are directed to lodge their concerns with impotent parent coordinators or the somnambulant Panel for Educational Policy. It is a system designed to make the community irrelevant by privatizing and atomizing it.

All of the fascism in the DOE is tending towards the ultimate goal of privatization. Mayor Bloomberg and corporate reformers like Bill Gates form the fascistic nexus responsible for the destruction of our public schools. Theirs is a privatization more insidious than any that has come before. It is not simply a movement to destroy schools. It is a movement to destroy the classroom. As school buildings and teachers’ unions become more atomized, Bill Gates sees a future where the classroom itself will become atomized as well. 30 kids in a classroom will be replaced by individual students sitting in front of computers. Of course, all the computers will be made by Microsoft, as will all of the programs that “teach”. It will be the final frontier of privatization. It will be the ultimate atomizing of the population into individuals. This is what the Common Core Standards adopted by most states, including New York, represent. On top of being a giant government hand-out to Bill Gates, it will allow Bill Gates to remake the nation in his own image by giving him direct control over the rearing of every young brain in the country.

But that is a matter for the next installment…

Does the 99% Engage in Class Warfare or Holy Warfare?

“God is dead” was Friedrich Nietzsche’s way of describing what modernity had done to Christianity. Capitalism and industry in his time (late 1800s) changed the western way of life. A society that used to be dedicated to serving God turned into one that labored for money. People still believed in God but He did not play the central role in their lives anymore. This is what Nietzsche meant when he said “God is dead”. The modern world pushed God into the shadows where people treated belief in Him as a private, and mostly part-time, matter. Instead of building Cathedrals to the Almighty, society turned its best efforts towards building skyscrapers dedicated to the Dollar. “God is dead and we have killed him…” is how Nietzsche put it in The Gay Science.

For all of the hype atheists create around Nietzsche, it is not at all clear that the man himself saw the death of God as a good thing. What he saw replacing God as the center of civilization was troubling: industrialism, commercialism and, for him the most ominous of all, German nationalism. If we were to interpret the 20th century through Nietzsche’s eyes, we could say that World War II was the gigantic contest between German nationalism (Hitler) and capitalism in the form of the United States. The winner would be able to determine the orientation of the next great epoch of the western world. That winner would turn out to be America and their victory would enthrone the era of capitalism. God’s painful reincarnation into money was birthed by the nation that put “In God We Trust” on its currency. I am sure a conspiracy theorist who sees the Illuminati everywhere could weave a nice little fable out of this idea.

And this explains much about our world today. There is this vast cosmos out there called “the economy”, its exact nature opaque to us laymen. Fortunately, we have these people called economists to explain it all to us. They are trained to divine the mood of this economy by using a bunch of highly specialized equations, graphs and jargon that us serfs are not meant to play with. All we must know is that their findings are correct. The common thread among all of their sermons is the Almighty entity that drives it all: Money. Not only do they tell us that money drives the economy, they tell us that it is natural for it to do so. It is the order of the cosmos. Of course this means that we, the laymen, must also fall into line. It is not like we have a choice. Everything you do must be translated into cash value. The more cash you get out of it, the closer you are to God.

It is only in a society structured like this where we are so quick to make excuses for the wealthy and just as quick to blame the poor. Goldman-Sachs made billions of dollars by selling things they knew were crap? So what? That is the way the economy works. Grow up and face reality. Moneyness is Godliness. Yet, the migrant worker was suckered into taking out an adjustable rate mortgage he will never be able to repay, eventually leaving him homeless and broke? Too bad. Live below your means and stop being stupid. Literally, our attitudes toward the economic crisis has amounted to “shit happens”. It is this type of pious resignation you would normally find in a Medieval Christian king who loses a battle and chalks it up to “God’s Will”. However, in a society where God is dead we are left with our faith in money and our resignation to the fact that money goes where it wills.

This is why “class warfare” is not an accurate term to describe whatever it is Occupy Wall Street is doing. Instead, OWS is seeking to bring about the next reincarnation. The epoch in our history where Money lords over all is coming to an end. We are having a “revaluation of values”, as Nietzsche would say. Instead of blaming college students for going into debt to get “Liberal Arts” degrees from which they cannot make a living, we blame a civilization that does not provide opportunities for Liberal Arts graduates. Instead of blaming teachers because their students’ test scores are not high enough, we blame a civilization that measures the growth of our youth in arbitrary numbers. Instead of blaming working people who are poor for not being productive enough, we blame a civilization that cannot take care of everybody that contributes to it.  We no longer want to live in a civilization that entitles the wealthy and has them honestly believing that the fruits of all of our labors belong to them as their due.

There are too many people who cannot or will not unmoor their view of the world from the bromide of “money makes the world go round.” They see anybody who threatens that belief as dangerous as medieval Christians saw pagans. But the revaluation of values goes on without them. As our nation and conditions continue to decay, people will have no choice but to abandon the most commonly held assumptions of our civilization in favor of something better. Over a hundred years ago, Nietzsche said “God is dead” and now we are at the point where we hope to begin to say “Money is dead”.

Why do so many members of the 99% oppose the 99% movement? (Teacher’s Edition)

Thomas Frank’s 2004 book, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”, explained how conservatives have managed to enlist working Americans to vote against their own economic interests by punching their tickets for the Republican Party. By running on divisive “culture war” issues like abortion, conservatives take the focus off the fact that they are essentially screwing the working class. It has been a winning game plan for the Republican Party for the past 35 years. It is a well-known argument and Frank makes it in a compelling, erudite way. As a history teacher in a New York City public school, I have come across other types of answers to the question of “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” or, more relevantly, “why do so many members of the 99% oppose the 99% movement?” The answer starts with how we explain American history to our children.

American history textbooks are known to be fact-heavy (as much as a textbook can possess such a quality) throughout most of its march through time. It is only when  one gets to the final chapter or so, the one dealing with the period of time roughly from Ford’s inauguration to the present (if you have a recent edition), that the facts become much lighter. Important topics like globalization or the environment are treated as new developments that we do not quite understand or know how to deal with. The sections on these topics tend to be long on jargon and short on specific events or important players. You do not get a chronological presentation of how this guy (or gal) did this thing at this time which led to this other thing later that these people over here got upset about, which is the norm for all the other sections. Instead, you get vaporous descriptions of how the internet brings people closer together or how business operates on a global scale. There might be a glossy picture of a computer chip or a McDonald’s in China, signs of our age. However, what you will not see are how corporations pretty much control our political system, how the media has fallen into the grasp of 4 or 5 large corporations, how globalization is built on union busting and slave labor or how Wall Street has managed to take control of 35% of our total economy. Rather, whatever is happening today is natural. Things just ARE. There is no connection with that computer chip and the speculation it caused on Wall Street or that Chinese McDonald’s and the fall of labor unions in the United States. There is no questioning of how we got here, why we got here and what it all means. Nothing that might raise the slightest moral doubt in a child’s mind is offered, like how Americans work longer hours for less money in this chapter than they did in the previous chapter. On the other hand, textbooks are careful not to extol the virtues of the modern age too fervently either. Pointing to the good qualities of something tend to get skeptical types sniffing around for the catch. This is why our wondrous modern age is portrayed in dry, objective language. It is what it is and it is called “progress”.  It cares not for your admiration or derision. It will march on, indifferent to your desires.

It is not only reflected in what is being taught but how it is taught. Those of us who have been through teacher training programs in college know that we were taught to sit kids in groups. As time has gone on the group factor in education has become more stressed, while teachers now are taught to think of themselves as “facilitators” rather than educators. The ideal model is for the classroom to be self-regulating. The teacher should hypothetically be able to leave the room without changing the tone of the class. Of course, this reflects the very corporate-inspired trend of deskilling the teaching profession, in hopes of lowering their value and their salaries. After all, if a teacher does not even have to be in the classroom, anybody can teach. However, this group work, non-entity-of-a-teacher model is a perfect reflection of a corporate culture. Young teachers are often told that group work is good for kids because decisions are made in groups in corporations, but this is not totally true. Joe Cassano at AIG Financial Services made an individual decision to start selling credit default swaps, and it brought down the United States economy. Most public school students will not go on to work for corporations anyway and those that do have a slim chance at being in any major decision-making role. So why have a generation of public school teachers been trained to educate kids for jobs they will not have?

Group work can be a fine method for some teachers. Even I admit to using it occasionally. If you have ever seen teenagers hanging out, that is pretty much what group work in school is like. One kid, through force of personality and charisma, establishes themselves as the leader. The meekest among them falls into line and, instantly, you have a plurality among the group. That becomes the nucleus around which the others revolve. Before you know it, it has happened: Group Think. This is the real impact of group work. Individuals question too much and too many extraordinary individuals have changed the course of history. Group think puts a stop to all of that. It allows kids to find confirmation with their peer group, just like looking around and seeing everyone wearing the same brands of sneakers or reciting the lyrics to the same songs. Group think is when a kid knows a toy is fun because they see a child actor having fun with it on a television commercial. We are not training the next generation of executives. We are training the next generation of consumers. In the age of the Great Recession, there is no job out there besides consumption. Since the start of the Reagan Era, very few jobs require brains at all. Consumption has been the only job worth being trained for over the past 3 decades.

Our “facilitator” teachers do us no favors either. Teachers are trained to avoid being authority figures, despite the fact they assign grades and help determine a large part of their children’s futures. Teachers are educated, some are extremely proficient in their subject areas, yet they are trained not to share any of that with their students. Adults bring children into a world created by other adults, yet adults are expected to absolve themselves of any responsibility for helping kids understand that world. And all of this is the point. There is no responsibility. Kids are being trained to live in a world where their supposed leaders take no responsibility for them. Corporations have no responsibility to them, only their bottom line. Their future bosses will not have any responsibility for them, since our economy has been based on constantly changing jobs. Their political leaders take no responsibility for them, since nobody votes and corporations pump billions into campaign coffers. But, despite the fact that nobody will take responsibility for them, somebody will always rate them. The invisible teacher is really nothing more than a credit rating agency that tracks your debts, a police radar that measures your speed, a faceless supervisor that estimates your productivity. The invisible teacher reflects the invisible mode of discipline in a corporate world.

Is it any wonder that so many members of the 99% still do not support the 99% movement? Our textbooks train us to think of our corporate age as natural. So when we at Occupy Wall Street call for a reduction of corporate power, it is like calling for the sky to be less blue. Group think instills consumerism. So when young people protest at Occupy Wall Street, it is tough to recognize them outside of Urban Outfitters. Invisible teachers instill corporate discipline. So when Occupy Wall Street looks the corporation in the face and tells it where to get off, people see it as a breach of the natural order. While the media, politicians and Republican sympathizers have all done their part to bamboozle people about what is really going on around Occupy Wall Street, I submit that our education system has also had a part in getting the 99% to oppose its own movement.

“End the Fed” (addendum)

There are a few things about my past “End the Fed” entry that I do regret leaving out. The following will hopefully cast a little more light on the “End the Fed” issue.

The Gold Standard-  Bankers in the 1800s fought tooth and nail to keep the gold standard. They loved it because it kept inflation in check and limited the amount of dollars in circulation. This, in turn, made the value of the dollar more vulnerable to speculators and other international forces that act on the value of gold. Not to mention, a gold standard today  would handcuff the government’s ability to respond to economic crises. At the core, that is what is really at issue here. This is the extreme view of “small government” that Ron Paul fans slip through the back door. More of the same conservative brain washing that gets half-informed people to tout beliefs that move the country further towards “small government”, as if the government is still relevant today.

Inflation– The Fed prints money, this causes inflation. Again, this is a half truth. The Fed does print money. They also pump more money into circulation by offering member banks loans at the discount window. When Alan Greenspan was the Fed chair, he did both of these things in spades. He also kept interest rates low for most of his tenure. In an age of wild financial speculation, all of Greenspan’s actions amounted to pouring gas on the fire. When the “End the Fed” crowd think about a runaway Fed, they are really only thinking of Greenspan.

Modern-day inflation is caused by a host of factors. The rising cost of oil is a major one. Oil prices have risen over the past ten years, which raises the prices of everything else. Ending the Fed will not end inflation and neither will the gold standard. Again, blaming the Fed is more “government is the problem” speak which lets speculators and oil companies off the hook while continuing the “small government” brain washing.

Sources- Chances are, people have heard the “End the Fed” argument in one place first: the internet. Now, if you have only a fuzzy notion of American history or economics and Ron Paul or Alex Jones are ominously telling you to “End the Fed” and it seems like so many people agree, you would probably agree as well. Of course, this counts as “research” in this day and age. What is funny though is how many of the most popular sources for ending the Fed have outright LIED, like the movie Zeitgesit which presents a Woodrow Wilson quote that has been debunked a zillion times as an outright fabrication or books that have been shown to intentionally misquote the Constitution.

If this was a true scholarly community, these sources would be trashed and the people that wrote them would be outcasts. But on the internet it does not matter if your source has propagated known lies, only that it fits your world view and a lot of other people seem to like it.

“End the Fed” lets corporations off the hook. It implies that the government forced all these banks to gamble away money or Wall Street to speculate wildly. If the government was not forcing these poor heroes who are only trying to play in the free market, they would not have run our economy off of a cliff. All “End the Fed” is is free market rhetoric put in a revolutionary syringe to be injected directly into the blood stream so you can act all rebellious while really being under the spell of uber-capitalism like a good automaton.

How Relevant is Left v Right?

The Occupy Wall Street movement is so widespread because disillusionment with our economic and political system is widespread. Occupy Wall Street will continue to grow because the disillusionment will grow. The Huffington Post even ran a piece today saying incomes have gone down despite being in a “recovery”. In this situation, it is only natural that the people who join OWS come from all political stripes: Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, Socialists, Marxists, Anarchists, etc. One of the most common exhortations at Zuccotti Park and on the internet is that we must forget the “old’ politics of left v. right and redefine the political spectrum. While I sympathize with this message I am torn over how I feel about it.

After all, it has been the political left that has been silenced over the past 35 years. The left lost control of the Democratic Party in 1980 when they failed to get the nomination from Jimmy Carter and give it to Ted Kennedy (Chappaquiddick had a lot to with this of course). This paved the way for the conservative populism of Ronald Reagan that the Republicans have since perfected and the Democrats have done back flips to imitate. As a result, we have moved so far to the right that today’s Democrats would have been conservative Republicans 40 years ago and today’s Republicans would have been labeled either fascists or anarchists (depending on whether you are a corporatist or libertarian). This has effectively made what used to be known as the “left” a fringe group on the political spectrum. FDR Democrats are now labeled socialists (“liberal” seems to have lost some of its bite recently) while real socialists and Marxists are left howling somewhere in oblivion. If there is such a thing as Siberia in the United States, you would find the old left there shoveling coal.

This explained why old leftists like me were inspired by Occupy Wall Street. Finally, people were speaking out against the wealth inequality, privatization, deregulation, corporate welfare and imperialist wars that have gotten out of control over the past 35 years. The left seemed to be finally exhaling after 35 years of repression. It made me proud that I had never considered going over to the dark side of the compromise Democrats, despite their continuous game of getting leftist votes out of fear that the Republican alternative always promised to be much worse. We sat by during Reaganomics, Clinton’s welfare reform gambit, the stolen election of 2000, the Patriot Act and the Tea Party. After watching our nation move to the right of Franco, Occupy Wall Street held out the promise that this was our time. We were going to let the country know that the left never left, that we had been right all along about pretty much everything and the nation was going to come around to our point of view.

As a history teacher, I should have known that a sea change like this was too good to be true. The sheer size of OWS meant that people who might have supported the Tea Party before would be marching with us now. The left, once again, is being told to pipe down. We constantly see people who fancy themselves as enlightened consensus-builders tell us that the old “left v right” divisions are irrelevant now. The only problem with this piece of advice is it does not say what IS relevant now. Is it unity? What does that really mean? I do not really know and I doubt anybody else does either.

The fact is, you can call things whatever you like. It does not detract from the point that what is called for from OWS are solutions that are more “leftist” than “right”. Universal healthcare, full investment in public schools, closing the wealth gap, regulation of Wall Street are all ideas that have been touted by the invisible left for the past 3 decades. The Tea Party rank-and-file voted many Congressional candidates in during 2010 who took strong stands AGAINST all of these things. What do we do now? We either continue to push for those same policies and call it something else (how about “up”?) or we compromise with the Tea Party and push for half-assed measures, which means we will actually receive quarter-assed measures after Congress gets through with it. Either way, I am in this movement to push for things the LEFT has traditionally pushed for and I make no apologies for that.

In my mind, Tea Party voters had their chance and they blew it. The Tea Party represented the most extreme form of the rhetoric our leaders have been feeding us over the past 3 decades: “small government”, “free enterprise”, “states’ rights”, etc. They represented the last dying gasp of the Conservative Revolution. So many Tea Party voters are hurting just like everyone else. They are the 99% too. My only hope is that they come around and stop swallowing the tired bromides of the Koch Brothers and come to terms with the fact that THEIR political activism had a major hand in making our situation worse. If you want change, you have to come with something new. OWS promises that. Do not water it down.

Why the “End the Fed” cause is bad for Occupy Wall Street

What has taken place around the country over the past 3 weeks is extraordinary. Americans are waking up to what this country has become over the past few decades. There are many signs, chants and causes one can see and hear at Zuccotti Park. Some of these causes are specific. Some of them are things I have not thought about. But it is heartening to see people of all stripes come out and take a stand for what they believe.  However, there is one particular cause I have been familiar with for years that is downright threatening to OWS:  the crusade to end the Federal Reserve. This does not mean that I am a fan of the Fed or think Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke should wield the type of power they do. The Fed has had a major hand in our financial crisis. But the kids who are out chanting “End the Fed” do not know the Trojan Horse of an idea they are embracing. Hopefully, the following analysis will put the “End the Fed” cause into context.

The internet has been the major media outlet in getting the message of OWS out. But well before OWS, the internet has been a haven of counter-cultural values. All of these values are on display at OWS now, but they have been on the internet for years. This includes a healthy number of websites dedicated to theories of lizard people running the world, the Illuminati, Bush planning 9/11 and the idea that the Federal Reserve (established 1913) is responsible for all the poverty and oppression we have now.  Their talking points can be summarized turgidly as follows: in 1913, President Woodrow Wilson created the Federal Reserve, which puts fiscal policy in the hands of a few bankers. Those bankers are anonymous and private, effectively giving them control of monetary policy in the U.S. They have used this power to print money, which causes inflation. Going off the gold standard in the 1970s  gave more power to the Fed to play games with a free-floating currency. Therefore, we must “End the Fed” because it is a “private” bank and go back on the gold standard so bankers will not be able to control the country’s monetary policy. There are variants of this theory making their rounds on the internet but, basically, that is the argument.

Many “End the Fed” types blame central banking on wild business cycles. However, we had wild business cycles before the Fed. The second largest economic depression in U.S. history was in 1893, when there was NO central bank in the U.S.  The United States went into a “Panic” (what they called depression in the 1800s) under President Van Buren, who was in office after Andrew Jackson had killed the Second Bank of the U.S. These facts alone should show that business cycles are not the work of central banking.

Another favorite talking point is that our currency is “fiat”, meaning it only has value because the government says it does. This is code for “our money is really only worth the paper it is printed on”. We should go back on the gold standard so our currency has some real value.  There are many problems with this argument. First, ALL money is fiat, whether it is backed by gold or not. Saying you want the gold standard back is just saying you want the government to say that gold has value as a currency again. You really have no problem with fiat money. You just want the government to make gold fiat as well as paper. Second, our money is not worthless. It is backed by the productive capacity of the U.S. economy. Essentially, American paper money has value as long as there is enough collective faith that America will continue to produce things when we wake up tomorrow. This would be the same exact state of affairs with a gold standard. If America’s economy falls apart, gold will be worthless as well. What good is your gold if there are no stores or factories in which to use it?

Finally, there is the argument that the Fed is responsible for the high rate of  inflation we have seen recently. The “End the Fed” argument basically says the Fed just prints money which causes inflation. This is only half true.  The Fed has in fact printed more and more money and this has caused inflation. But why have they done this? Listening to “End the Fed” partisans, you would think it is out of sheer malice and a desire to enslave the people. However, the Fed has been printing money to cover our mounting national debt, a debt that has been mostly incurred under two Republican Presidents: Ronald Reagan and George W.  Bush. It is our debt that has caused inflation. The Fed is just trying to keep up with the dizzying pace at which our debt has increased.

The reason for our most recent bouts of inflation have been due to rising oil prices, among other things. This is interesting, since there has been no shortage of oil nor any increased demand for oil. The reason we are all paying more for oil is because of speculation. The commodities market was largely deregulated under Bush 43, allowing firms like Goldman-Sachs to dump tons of money into oil futures. This is the very same argument Matt Taibbi makes in his book Griftopia. Blaming the Fed exclusively for inflation allows Wall Street off the hook and acts as a block to seeing how entire high finance’s grip on the economy is.

The question is, if people with a basic knowledge of American history know this, why doesn’t the “End the Fed” crowd know? Because, instead of reading Gordon Wood, H.W. Brands or other legitimate historians, they listen to Congressman Ron Paul and radio show host Alex Jones. Those guys interpret history for their followers. The gist of the Alex Jones (who used to be an aspiring Rush Limbaugh, right-wing politics and all) zeitgeist is that Jews have always controlled the world and the Fed is “secret” and “private” because Jewish bankers are pulling the strings (like the Rothschild family, a familiar target of the “End the Fed” crowd). Jewish control also explains why American foreign policy has protected Israel. However, if these young people knew just a little history, they would know this is just another incarnation of an old idea that has been used to persecute Jews in the past. The Spanish Inquisition accused Jews of eating babies behind closed doors, Alfred Dreyfus in France was falsely accused of being a traitor to his county in the late 1800s and Hitler blamed the Jews for the Great Depression. Jews are stereotyped as cheats, shysters, money-grubbing, scheming and downright evil. They have been stereotyped as such from the start. Egyptian and Babylonian slavery, The Inquisition, pogroms and the Holocaust should be enough evidence for these people that the Jews in fact have not controlled the world behind closed doors.

The Fed is, in fact, a quasi-government institution. It goes like this: the Constitution gives Congress the power to print and coin money. The Congress has tinkered with various methods of doing this throughout history. In 1913, Congress passed the Federal Reserve Act which established the Federal Reserve, a central bank consisting of many member banks, mostly private. You can think of it as Congress outsourcing their Constitutional power to print money to the Federal Reserve. By lending member banks cash at the discount window, the Fed pumps money into the economy. And, yes, many times it does print money. At the same time, it sets interest rates. Conventionally, the Fed raises interest rates when they want to slow the economy down and lowers them when they want to stimulate it. Alan Greenspan was notorious for keeping interests rates low, giving banks further incentive to speculate. But Greenspan, and every other Fed chairman, is appointed by the President and approved by Congress. And many times, when the Fed has printed money, it has been to keep pace with the soaring national debt. So, the Fed is not totally private.

However, there is an argument to be made for the Fed being more transparent, especially after finding out current Fed chair, Ben Bernanke, gave out $1.2 trillion in secret loans to Wall Street.

But to assert that the Fed is private is really code for “those Jews are pulling the strings”. Jews are part of the 99%, not the 1%. Many Jews are at Zuccotti Park and know the problems we face as a nation. Sooner or later, these “End the Fed” youngsters are going to show their true, anti-Semitic colors and it will put a major black eye on OWS. The media will jump all over it and paint everyone protesting as a Jew hater.

Our problems run much deeper than the Fed. Over the past 35 years, Americans have been working longer hours for less money, CEOs are making 400 times what their employees make, financial services have gone from 5 to 35 percent of our total economy, the media has fallen into the hands of 4 companies, the prison population has quintupled, the public sector has been privatized, unions have been broken and we find ourselves in a “War on Terror” that has destroyed our rights and the lives of people around the world. If you think all of these problems are the work of the Fed, you’re too simple to take seriously. But, the fear is that the media will take them seriously and push every other concern into oblivion again. We have worked so hard to get some attention on the injustice that pervades this nation, do not throw it away on single-minded opinions propagated by REPUBLICANS especially, but ignorant people in general.

Please check the follow-up to this post: “End the Fed” (addendum)