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WHAT DO WE WANT? STUFF LIKE THIS.
November 30, 2011 8:01 AM   Subscribe

Critics of the Occupy Wall Street movement have complained that the protestors have no clear goals, so WE DON'T MAKE DEMANDS composed a list of 12 concrete, specific suggestions focusing on economic reform, stronger regulation, and closing loopholes.
posted by The Whelk (193 comments total) 79 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yes. These are good suggestions.

For a very compelling essay on why OWS shouldn't cave to the pressure to issue demands, get thee to J.A. Myerson:
The ultimate weakness of demands is their temporal limitation. A demand is essentially a statement of the conditions on which one will relent, and implying that relenting is possible casts the protest as temporary. In fact, Wall Street will permanently exert pressure on the government with ever-changing demands and campaigns and projects, and that is what Occupy Wall Street will have to do. The steadfast determination, the permanence implied in that word, Occupy, is not only the movement’s only hope for change – making people power a permanent countervailing force to wealth power – but also its good light. People like that this isn’t a weekend of protest and panels, that it operates, as it likes to chant, “All day, all week.” Demands would turn that chant into “All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street, until you do the following things,” which is an unattractive rallying cry, not to mention its scansion deficiency.
posted by davidjmcgee at 8:09 AM on November 30, 2011 [20 favorites]


Site is crushed?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:16 AM on November 30, 2011




Or is Virginia China now?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:16 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is great. I love the idea of taking the wind out of demand-demanders by turning the question around into "Here are some reasonable things. Doing them would be a good idea."
posted by odinsdream at 8:16 AM on November 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


Excellent. Thank you very much for posting about this.
posted by kalessin at 8:22 AM on November 30, 2011


I don't find that article very compelling. If the organization is really a direct democracy movement, they should have proposals that can be enacted. Principles are good too, but if there's no concrete proposals at all, there's nothing for democracy to do but generate proposals themselves. Meyerson says that the "generating proposals themselves" part is working out OK, but I don't think that the reversal of the $5 debit card fee was really due to Occupy Wall Street. If you follow his argument, everything good that happens to non-rich people is a victory for Occupy Wall Street.

I agree with the goals on the posters, but I can't agree with QR codes or their decision to put words in a different color with tenuous semantic links.
posted by demiurge at 8:25 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


You can't really "repeal" Citizens United, as it isn't a law. Over-turn, yes. Amend the Constitution to make it explicitly not Constitutional, yes.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:27 AM on November 30, 2011 [16 favorites]


The "revoke corporate personhood" one would fix a lot of the others by finally making it possible to regulate (i.e. eliminate) corporate campaign donations.
posted by DU at 8:28 AM on November 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


Yep.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:30 AM on November 30, 2011


hey should have proposals that can be enacted.

The movement is leaderless and big tent and three months old. Let's not demand that a movement like this instantly produce the sort of thing that self-interested public affairs groups spend years and millions of dollars planning.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:32 AM on November 30, 2011 [18 favorites]


I like it. It answers a question I had in another thread that ticked some people off. (Others answered my question with some of these suggestions.)
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:33 AM on November 30, 2011


I still don't understand what OWS wants, but then again, I don't really 'understand' ideas. It's just too complicated! I had such a good time shopping on Black Friday!
posted by fuq at 8:34 AM on November 30, 2011 [57 favorites]


This is a very good thing. Better for the movement (and our country) to be focused on concrete policies than a fight over meaningless plots of literal concrete.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:34 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'd be for corporate personhood if there was capital punishment for them as well. BP oil spill and explosion that killed a bunch of people through mismanagement and gross negligence, not to mention the damage to the economy and environment? Death penalty. Sell off all it's assets and disband the company. Seems fair to me. NewsCorp violating people rights and exploiting personal tragedy? Company is sold and disbanded and the money goes to the victims.
posted by cjorgensen at 8:34 AM on November 30, 2011 [38 favorites]


Excellent.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:35 AM on November 30, 2011


I'd be for corporate personhood if there was capital punishment for them as well. BP oil spill and explosion that killed a bunch of people through mismanagement and gross negligence, not to mention the damage to the economy and environment? Death penalty. Sell off all it's assets and disband the company. Seems fair to me. NewsCorp violating people rights and exploiting personal tragedy? Company is sold and disbanded and the money goes to the victims.

And thousands of low-ranking workers, who had nothing to do with the crimes, are suddenly unemployed.
posted by acb at 8:39 AM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'd be for corporate personhood if there was capital punishment for them as well. BP oil spill and explosion that killed a bunch of people through mismanagement and gross negligence, not to mention the damage to the economy and environment? Death penalty.

Just like all those times rich, but actually human, people committed crimes and were treated just like commoners!

Corporate personhood needs to end. We might also add a capital punishment for them.
posted by DU at 8:45 AM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm a finance guy, so there is a bias, but 1/2 of these are just silly. End the keystone pipeline? really? no mark-to-market? I get the feeling that most of these are thought up by financially illiterate people who are sure that the high-frequency bogeyman is the reason why they are out of work.

I see:

- market-to-market is a very important accounting measure, which helps investors get better transparency into otherwise opaque financial companies portfolios. They are asking for less transparency from financial companies?

- the keystone pipeline is a direct response to the tapping of an incredible amount of onshore, domestic oil that has been tapped recently. You need pipelines to get the oil to refining facilities. When BP was going off, everyone shouted about the need for onshore oil. Without a good pipeline infrastructure it becomes much more expensive to develop these projects. Access to domestic oil is not compromising our "clean energy future".

- high frequency trading is not nearly as evil as people think it is. The profits generated by the industry are much less then industry reports.

- the volker rule is a piece of shit. It was never the prop desks that got any of the banks into trouble, it was their mortgage businesses which are totally separate business streams at most banks.


I think the "get money out of politics" ideas are sounds, but I don't know how to implement them, and I don't think these guys do either. I agree glass-steagall should be reimplemented.
posted by H. Roark at 8:47 AM on November 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


Company is sold and disbanded and the money goes to the victims.

So lots of grandparents' retirement account are wiped out, even though they never did anything more wrong than be part of their employers pension plan, and who exactly would be in a position to buy the company whole, or want to buy the individual assets?
posted by nomisxid at 8:47 AM on November 30, 2011


And thousands of low-ranking workers, who had nothing to do with the crimes, are suddenly unemployed.

As opposed to now when it is unheard of for thousands of people to suddenly become unemployed through no fault of their own.

Capitalism!
posted by gauche at 8:48 AM on November 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


I don't think some people actually understand what corporate personhood actually means and what a PITA it would be if we got rid of it.
posted by gyc at 8:48 AM on November 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


Access to domestic oil is not compromising our "clean energy future".

*raised eyebrows*
posted by DU at 8:49 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


high frequency trading is not nearly as evil as people think it is. The profits generated by the industry are much less then industry reports.

Something about these sentences should tell you you're making the wrong point.
posted by gauche at 8:49 AM on November 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


what corporate personhood actually means and what a PITA it would be if we got rid of it.

Yes, how could we dream of leaving the paradise we are currently in?
posted by DU at 8:50 AM on November 30, 2011 [23 favorites]


There is imho exactly one mistake on that list that gives politicians a useless gesture to shut people up, namely regulating high frequency trading.

I'd agree that high frequency trading creates inequality amongst traders because those who can afford to build a data center next to the exchange gain an advantage. I doubt this creates any more inequality relative to existing exchange rules though, ala market makers.

In any case, an instrument can only be traded that quickly if it's already listed on an electronic exchange, making it de facto highly regulated. All the systemic risk comes from the over-the-counter weirdo instruments like CDSs, which cannot be traded nearly so quickly, but instead merely get traded faster than people can read the contracts.

I suspect more useful suggestions might be regulate risk due to over-the-counter instruments better, i.e. limit exposure, limit hedge accounting options, etc. You might shorten this to "regulate systemic risk" (instrument weirdness) vs. the already listed "tax systemic risk" (too big to fail).

We should also discuss whether the SEC can meaningfully prosecute financial malfeasance, not sure how one fixes that.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:50 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


And thousands of low-ranking workers, who had nothing to do with the crimes, are suddenly unemployed.

The same could be said of the banks/financial crisis but perhaps a corporate death penalty would keep companies more honest and it would be used very often and it could prevent wider economic collapses.
posted by VTX at 8:50 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Naomi Wolfe interviewed some Occupy Wall Street protesters, and also came up with a list of three very specific suggestions.

1. Get money out of politics.
2. Separate investment banks from commercial banks.
3. Eliminate a loophole which lets Congressmen pass laws about companies they've invested in.
posted by destinyland at 8:55 AM on November 30, 2011 [15 favorites]


People who say things like "Repeal Citizens United" [sic] should read the decision itself and learn what is actually permitted and forbidden.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:56 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


NewsCorp violating people rights and exploiting personal tragedy? Company Rupert Murdoch is sold and disbanded and the money goes to the victims.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:58 AM on November 30, 2011


The same could be said of the banks/financial crisis but perhaps a corporate death penalty would keep companies more honest and it would be used very often and it could prevent wider economic collapses.

If one is to propose a "corporate death penalty" of some sort, wouldn't it make more sense to not liquidate the entire company, but merely to decapitate it, i.e., sack management and disband the board, and probably also confiscate the holdings of culpable shareholders. Then a neutral administrator would be appointed, much as if the company were insolvent.

Of course, the devil in the details is who runs the administrator, and who might stand to profit from such a spill.
posted by acb at 8:58 AM on November 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


"Corporate personhood," is like the left's equivalent of "death panels" -- the second I hear someone say the phrase, I'm usually sure they have no idea what they're talking about.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:59 AM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


And thousands of low-ranking workers, who had nothing to do with the crimes, are suddenly unemployed.


The market wouldn't lose demand because a company was dissolved. Those workers would only be temporarily unemployed.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 9:00 AM on November 30, 2011


I'd be for corporate personhood if there was capital punishment for them as well.

Umm... there is. A corporation that engages in sufficiently illegal behavior can have its charter revoked or, more commonly, its liability shield disregarded, subjecting its owners and employees to personal liability, which amounts to the same thing.

Thing is, "sufficiently illegal behavior" generally means things like "violating substantive provisions of the statute under which the corporation is chartered" or "disregarding its own bylaws" or "being a front for fraud or other illegal activity." It doesn't mean "acting in ways that progressives don't like," which is what pretty much everyone who doesn't like corporate personhood actually means when they talk about this stuff.

More than that though, the ultimate "corporate death penalty" is called "letting insolvent corporations collapse." As long as we keep bailing out institutions that have made terrible business decisions, there's really no incentive to avoid making terrible business decisions. The market is entirely capable of ruthlessly dismantling those companies that can't pay their debts.

But really, all the people who complain about corporate personhood really just mean "There are people out there doing stuff I don't like! There oughtta be a law!" But there are plenty of corporate entities doing things that progressives like which somehow don't seem to attract the same kind of ire. Don't like corporate personhood? Kiss union organizing goodbye. It's only because unions have corporate personality that collective bargaining is even possible. Otherwise you'd have a contract between the employer and all of its employees on an individual basis, which is nuts.

I'm not actually convinced that you can have corporate entities at all without personhood applying to them at least in some way. It's the whole point. It's why corporations were created in the first place, i.e. to permit a group of people to engage in business ventures that can own property, enter into binding contracts, and sue and be sued.

All of which fits into a broader critique of the project in general. You can't "repeal" Citizens United. It's a Supreme Court holding interpreting the First Amendment to the Constitution. You want to change that, you need to pass a constitutional amendment and, well, good luck with that. And anyway, appellate decisions are "overturned," not "repealed." Statutes are "repealed." "Strike down" Arizona's immigration law? Well at least they got the verb right, but look, that's in the courts. The judges will presumably make a decision based on the law, not on what you think the law ought to be, and the extent to which the states can enforce federal immigration law is an issue of first impression. You're basically asking the courts to say that the states cannot pass laws which act in concert with federal statutes. This is, to put it mildly, something of a tough sell. "Tax systemic risk"? You have any idea how complicated it is to tax even something concrete like imports or exports? How you gonna put a tax on something as abstract as "systemic risk"? Have you actually read even a small portion of the tax code? We've already got thousands and thousands of pages just covering what we've already got. And when does risk go from being merely big, to actually "systemic"? How are we supposed to identify that kind of thing ahead of time? Unless you've got a working definition of "systemic" which is functional in foresight, not just hindsight, you're just blowing smoke.

I mean, I'm all for auditing bailed-out banks--let's audit GM while we're at it, folks--but most of this stuff isn't actually a concrete list of suggestions as much as it is a list of progressive bogeymen.
posted by valkyryn at 9:02 AM on November 30, 2011 [27 favorites]


"Corporate personhood," is like the left's equivalent of "death panels" -- the second I hear someone say the phrase, I'm usually sure they have no idea what they're talking about.

When I say "corporate personhood" I'm usually sure I'm talking about corporate personhood.
posted by DU at 9:03 AM on November 30, 2011 [14 favorites]


- market-to-market is a very important accounting measure, which helps investors get better transparency into otherwise opaque financial companies portfolios. They are asking for less transparency from financial companies?

I think you, and sadly the authors of the suggestions in question, are looking at these individually without considering how they interact. Mark-to-market results in more transparency - but it has a cost, and that cost appears to be accuracy when there's high market volatility. And while I agree that the high-frequency trading is a bit of a boogeyman, it certainly creates higher volatility than we've seen in the past. The two things work together to make the system worse.

When BP was going off, everyone shouted about the need for onshore oil.

Huh? I saw a lot of people saying that we should do less off-shore drilling because of its inherent safety issues, but not many people going so far as to say they wanted more on-shore drilling. What I did see after several disasters (major and minor) was the need for more refineries to counter the volatility caused by temporary shutdowns, not necessarily the need for more on-shore drilling.
posted by atbash at 9:03 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I say "corporate personhood" I'm usually sure I'm talking about corporate personhood.

Just because you can use the words doesn't mean that you have a fig's idea what you're actually talking about.
posted by valkyryn at 9:06 AM on November 30, 2011


GET PEOPLE WHO ARE MOTIVATED BY MONEY TO STOP BEING MOTIVATED BY MONEY WHILE OTHER PEOPLE WITH SCADS OF MONEY OFFER IT TO THEM TO REMAIN MOTIVATED BY MONEY (QR code)
posted by Legomancer at 9:09 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Corporate personhood," is like the left's equivalent of "death panels"

Yeah, no, I don't think so. "End Corporate Personhood" is shorthand for "some of the constitutional protections afforded to citizens which are also afforded to corporations are good but many of them are bad e.g. corporations should not be able to spend unlimited money for electioneering or claim 5th Amendment privileges and it would be best if all this were very clearly clarified, perhaps by Constitutional Amendment." Which, for all intents and purposes, would actually be ending corporate personhood as we know it.

Shorthand, yes, but it's a far cry from OBAMA WANTS TO KILL YOUR GRANDMA.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2011 [30 favorites]


"Corporate personhood," is like the left's equivalent of "death panels".

Gorillas are like zoologists equivalent of Yetis.
posted by Winnemac at 9:11 AM on November 30, 2011 [45 favorites]


Good! Now critics of OWS can move on to the next stage, which is parsing the suggestions to death (e.g., "Principles are good too, but if there's no concrete proposals at all, there's nothing for democracy to do but generate proposals themselves.")

Next on the agenda, OWS generates a long list of carefully-researched concrete proposals, and the critics can start complaining how the movement is "averse to compromise" and "inflexible."
posted by La Cieca at 9:15 AM on November 30, 2011 [17 favorites]


Valkyryn wrote without personhood applying to them at least in some way

The "way" the system is set up at the moment is leading us, as a species, off a cliff, as there is:

no pressure to internalize externalisable costs,
no pressure to do anything except bribe people to re-write the rules in their flavor and
no pressure to do anything except make profits as large a possible


Corporate personhood gives corporations and their agents the rights to pursue the above action, with little or no consenquence.
By changing or abolishing-and-replacing corporate personhood, we can begin to address these problems.
posted by lalochezia at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think some people actually understand what corporate personhood actually means and what a PITA it would be if we got rid of it.

gyc, given that the vast majority of nations, developed or otherwise, do just fine without it, I'd charitably say you're completely wrong.

And by "it", I mean corporate personhood. Yes, I do know what it is.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]




There is imho exactly one mistake on that list that gives politicians a useless gesture to shut people up, namely regulating high frequency trading. the fact that it's way too reasonable; the whole list can be addressed without overturning the existing system, so fuck that shit.
posted by daniel_charms at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2011


Shorthand, yes, but it's a far cry from OBAMA WANTS TO KILL YOUR GRANDMA.

Only kind of. It has the effect of making something which is pretty much an immutable fact of our legal system sound as if it were as simple as tweaking an administrative agency or passing a different version of a bill. So I don't think it's "shorthand" as much as it is a disingenuous rhetorical device, particularly as it's only ever used to criticize corporate activity on one end of the political spectrum. In that sense, it isn't that different from the "death panels" line, in that both are rhetorical "shorthands" for very complicated legal and political situations which aren't actually the way the users of said rhetorical devices make them out to be.
posted by valkyryn at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


flavor favor!
posted by lalochezia at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2011


The loophole around corporations directly donating to campaigns is where the edict comes out of management that everyone is going to max their individual donation to a particular candidate. Then everyone who plays well gets bonuses, raises, and gets to keep their job. Eliminating "corporate personhood" will not stop this kind of behavior. Public financing of campaigns will.
posted by pashdown at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


By changing or abolishing-and-replacing corporate personhood, we can begin to address these problems.

I have yet to see any indication that this is even remotely true. There's nothing about "corporate personhood" which has much of anything to do with the things you list there. I also have yet to see a single suggestion for modifying corporate personality which would not cause far more serious and concrete problems than the problems said modification is intended to solve.

If you want to permit any private funding of political activity, there's really no way of keeping corporate interests from spending money there, regardless of your implementation of corporate personality.
posted by valkyryn at 9:21 AM on November 30, 2011


I'd agree they need both "Get money out of politics" beyond simply "Repeal Citizens United" and eliminating congressional insider trading and related malfeasance.

There are imho two meanings to "end corporate personhood" here : First, we should insist that their "speech" gets traced back to the individuals running the company. Second, we should eliminate the scenarios where the "just following orders" vs. " just giving (vague) orders" disconnect results in nobody either doing hard time for illegal activities or being held personally financially liable. There are various steps towards this, like : Financial regulations imposing a "fiduciary duty" upon many participants. Almost automatically disregarding the corporate liability shield when companies violate regulations for handling extremely toxic waste and nuclear materials. etc.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's a movement calling for a fundamental shift in the way that we relate to the government and the economy, with power moving back into the hands of the people. That's not going to be satisfied by lobbying or passing a few bills.

A list of demands would be relatively pointless in that context, there are going to be a plethora of demands, and not all of them friendly to the government in power. More importantly, "you guys don't have any demands" is a pointless rebuttal. The people are demanding to make some of the decisions about how their government and economy function, not writing letters to their ombudsman.
posted by Stagger Lee at 9:23 AM on November 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ending corporate personhood, taken literally, would mean that corporations couldn't enter into contracts. Or be sued. That's what corporate personhood is. Probably not something that any of us want.

I suspect valkyryn's right that it's being used as shorthand for something like 'let's eliminate the egregious powers and undue influence that corporations have' [or, on preview, what jeffburdges says]. The US could also follow other countries that have limits on campaign finance (I hesitate to tell you guys what to do with your country, but it seems like campaign finance is a much hotter issue there than in the UK or New Zealand).
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:25 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Almost automatically disregarding the corporate liability shield when companies violate regulations for handling extremely toxic waste and nuclear materials. etc.

What corporate liability shield do you want to disregard here? Do you want the shareholders of a company that mishandles toxic waste to be liable for that? That doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:28 AM on November 30, 2011


The US could also follow other countries that have limits on campaign finance (I hesitate to tell you guys what to do with your country, but it seems like campaign finance is a much hotter issue there than in the UK or New Zealand).

Many other countries also don't have that pesky thing called the first amendment to worry about.
posted by gyc at 9:30 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


You know what poisons ALL the wells? Treating Advertising as Free Speech. It's PAID Speech, and should have a lot LESS freedom than any other form of communication. When campaigns can't tell lies in million-dollar ad campaigns, you get most of the money out of politics.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:30 AM on November 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


The people are demanding to make some of the decisions about how their government and economy function

Then they should formulate a series of demands relating to the political structure (proportional representation? Elimination of the Senate? Elimination of the Electoral College? etc.). Otherwise they will remain as irrelevant to the question of "how their government and economy function" as they are irrelevant to any particular policy discussions currently happening in DC.
posted by yoink at 9:31 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If turning MONEY into SPEECH is what that pesky first amendment does, nuke it from orbit.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:31 AM on November 30, 2011


If turning MONEY into SPEECH is what that pesky first amendment does, nuke it from orbit.

That seems a tad extreme to me.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:33 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Treating Advertising as Free Speech. It's PAID Speech, and should have a lot LESS freedom than any other form of communication.

It does. The courts have long recognized that commercial speech can be subject to limitations that cannot be imposed on other forms of speech. I think anybody should agree, though, that the issue is complex when it comes to paid political speech.
posted by yoink at 9:33 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


So lots of grandparents' retirement account are wiped out, even though they never did anything more wrong than be part of their employers pension plan, and who exactly would be in a position to buy the company whole, or want to buy the individual assets?

So you're saying we should leave BP alone, and not seek compensation for the Gulf fishermen whose assets are wiped out, because doing so might wipe out the assets of BP workers?

Why are the BP grandpas more important than the Gulf fishermen's grandpas?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:34 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


If turning MONEY into SPEECH is what that pesky first amendment does, nuke it from orbit.

Come on, the First Amendment is totally clear on this. Money is speech. Tents are MOST DEFINITELY NOT speech. And no, you can not get around this by making tents out of money.

Also, that whole "free" thing is mutable depending on how the mayor feels that day.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:35 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


And thousands of low-ranking workers, who had nothing to do with the crimes, are suddenly unemployed.

Just like the family of a murderer suffers when the murderer is sent to prison. The problem is the action of the criminal, not the fact that they were punished.

Anyway, if you or I killed 11 people in a car (to say nothing of somehow causing widespread environmental and economic damage), we would at the very least be sent to prison for a few years. The person named BP got an apology.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:37 AM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Umm... there is. A corporation that engages in sufficiently illegal behavior can have its charter revoked or, more commonly, its liability shield disregarded, subjecting its owners and employees to personal liability, which amounts to the same thing.

Oh, please do share with the rest of the class the last time this happened. I'd love to know.
posted by odinsdream at 9:38 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


So you're saying we should leave BP alone, and not seek compensation for the Gulf fishermen whose assets are wiped out, because doing so might wipe out the assets of BP workers?

http://www.thebpclaimsfund.com/
On June 16th 2010, The Obama Administration and BP announced the creation of the $20 billion dollar "Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund" to provide a faster and more fair way to pay damage claims for individuals and businesses harmed by the Gulf Oil Spill. BP has agreed to contribute $5 Billion per year to the fund until the $20 billion dollars is depleted, including $5 billion in 2010.
posted by BobbyVan at 9:39 AM on November 30, 2011


Also, that whole "free" thing is mutable depending on how the mayor feels that day.

Free speech means the right to camp wherever you want for however long you want? That's a rather, um, novel interpretation of the constitution.

I wonder what your view of this issue would be if this had been an encampment of abortion protestors or the KKK. I think there'd be a little less "hey, it's the public's land so they have every right to use it as they wish" and a little more "hey, it's the public's land, so no one has the right to deprive the rest of the public of their access to it" on sites like Metafilter. The opposite, of course, on sites like Freerepublic.
posted by yoink at 9:41 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


So lots of grandparents' retirement account are wiped out, even though they never did anything more wrong than be part of their employers pension plan, and who exactly would be in a position to buy the company whole, or want to buy the individual assets?

If it's clear to the pension plan manager that he will be up against the wall personally when the fund is wiped out because of a corporate death penalty, perhaps he'll reconsider his shareholder priorities from "short term profit" to "long term stability" a bit more than it is right now.
posted by DreamerFi at 9:44 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


IAmABroom: gyc, given that the vast majority of nations, developed or otherwise, do just fine without [corporate personhood], I'd charitably say you're completely wrong.

Can you expand on this? I'm pretty sure you're wrong, but I don't claim to be an expert on corporate law. But if we look at the WP entry on "legal personality" we see that "The European Convention on Human Rights extends fundamental human rights also to legal persons" (e.g. corporate persons) - so that covers 47 states.
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:47 AM on November 30, 2011


Why should high frequency trading even exist? What value does it bring to the overall economy? Where are the profits coming from? Who is on the losing side of all these transactions? If, as H. Roark stated, the profits are not high, then is it all worth the very real risk of catastrophic market failure, like the Flash Crash of 2010?

Personally, I'm not in favor regulating HFT per se, but I do very strongly believe there should be a transaction tax on this sort of thing.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 9:47 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


gyc: Many other countries also don't have that pesky thing called the first amendment to worry about.

Indeed, which is one reason I hesitated to make that comment :).
posted by Infinite Jest at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2011


Free speech means the right to camp wherever you want for however long you want?

No. But peaceabl[e] assembl[y] does. Or, fine, "might" (although it doesn't say "the right of the people peaceably to assemble provided they bounce by midnight or whenever's most convenient for the government"). It's an interesting question. We should talk about it. Without riot cops, preferably, if that's not being too picky.
posted by davidjmcgee at 9:53 AM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


When our local finance guys start telling us we're stupid and don't understand complicated ideas like corporate personhood or high frequency trading, remember that we weren't *supposed* to understand these things. Keep asking questions.
posted by spitbull at 9:54 AM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


> A corporation that engages in sufficiently illegal behavior can have its charter revoked or, more commonly, its liability shield disregarded, subjecting its owners and employees to personal liability, which amounts to the same thing.

Oh, please do share with the rest of the class the last time this happened. I'd love to know.


Uh, last week? Clearly you haven't spent much time in state court. Happens all the time, but usually only when owners or employees of the corporation actively disregard the corporate entity by either mingling corporate and personal funds or otherwise disregarding the corporate entity, including massively undercapitalizing their entity when taking on debt obligations. It's something I have to think about in almost every case I defend which involves a small business client. Small business owners--and we're now talking about corporations with revenues of up to several million dollars--are notoriously bad at this sort of thing, and co-mingling of corporate funds and personal guarantees for corporate obligations happen way, way too often. Courts don't like piercing the corporate veil, but they absolutely will do it.

This usually only happens to small businesses though. Major corporations are pretty scrupulous about following those laws anyway.
posted by valkyryn at 9:57 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]




All of those suggestions sound great.

Unfortunately, it is much easier for the Oligarchs that run America to simple arrest everyone in OWS camps, supress free speech, and continue with business as usual.
posted by Flood at 9:58 AM on November 30, 2011


It's only because unions have corporate personality that collective bargaining is even possible.

and

Ending corporate personhood, taken literally, would mean that corporations couldn't enter into contracts. Or be sued. That's what corporate personhood is. Probably not something that any of us want.

I think you guys are interpreting "end corporate personhood" in an extreme way that no one really advocates, and your interpretation sends these discussions down an unhelpful path. The point is not to end the ability for groups of people to collectively contract, own property, and do business (or even to limit liability, separate ownership and control, etc). For anyone who likes anything like modern civilization, that's obviously a useful thing to have in some form.

The point instead is that the legal simplification of treating entities created by states, such as Microsoft or Goldman Sachs, as "persons" for constitutional purposes, and therefore as entitled to precisely the same constitutional protections as individuals, is not a helpful limitation on states' abilities to regulate their creations. The bounds on corporations and the bounds on individuals maybe need to be constitutionally regulated differently.

So in particular, if the First Amendment represents the idea that democracy only works if my attempts to influence elections cannot be limited without an extraordinarily good reason, that is not necessarily a judgment that democracy only works if Microsoft's or Goldman Sachs' attempts to influence elections cannot be limited without an extraordinarily good reason. In fact, it seems likely that the aggregation of unheard-of wealth in the hands of corporate directors who see themselves as having a legal duty to manipulate the political process in favor of their shareholders, combined with a Supreme Court that insists this behavior is constitutionally sacrosanct, is, on balance, fucking our shit right up.

So I would like states to at least have the ability to try to strike the balance I think valkyryn implied, later in this thread, is impossible -- to try to root out the excessive influence profit-motivated corporate actors transparently have on our political process, without unduly limiting individuals' ability to band together and amplify their common political opinions.

Valkyryn -- can you get on board with that as a worthy goal, even a pressing need? Build a bridge with me on this one. And, since you've thought a lot about it, can you outline some things we might be able to try under the current view of corporations and the First Amendment? Or, can you outline a constitutional change short of "corporations are not 'persons' for constitutional purposes" that might get the job done?
posted by Honorable John at 9:59 AM on November 30, 2011 [27 favorites]


Thing that always pisses me off is how we don't talk enough about that obligation of personhood in a state, which is to say, citizenship. Fine with me if corporations want to be persons. Then give them the same responsibilities to the polity as citizens have and embrace. In my view, multinational corporations embrace all the benefits of US citizenship (especially in having the American taxpayer and military volunteer underwrite the defense of the world's oil supply) while enjoying the freedom to move their capital all over the world with few barriers or tariffs, wiping out industries, communities, and jobs with little to no cost in reputation or money.
posted by spitbull at 10:03 AM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


I shouldn't even have said "in favor of their shareholders," since many of the end-environmental-regulation, end-financial-regulation, no-effective-health-care-regulation type changes that corporations achieve are a net loss for most of their shareholders. I should have said, "in favor of short-term corporate profits."
posted by Honorable John at 10:04 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I were going to make a demand, it would be that we recognize massive corporations as the alien invaders they are and start treating them accordingly.
posted by overglow at 10:07 AM on November 30, 2011


I'm a finance guy ... high frequency trading is not nearly as evil as people think it is...

These other finance guys disagree with you:

blog.themistrading.com
posted by de void at 10:11 AM on November 30, 2011


it is much easier for the Oligarchs that run America to simple arrest everyone in OWS camps, supress free speech, and continue with business as usual.

Or, you know, offer them 10,000 sq feet of office space, farmland and housing for the homeless if they'd just move to a different location. It's the exact same thing as Tienanmen Square!
posted by yoink at 10:12 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


The more I think about it, the more I think that the whole "end corporate personhood" schtick is less like the "death panels" thing and more like Justice Thomas' consistent and predictable dissents/concurrences where he argues that the entire line of cases, starting with Wickard v. Filburn, that have created the modern federal administrative state, should be overturned. We get the point, Clarance! No one agrees with you! Can we stop with the tilting and windmills already?

Even if we admit that Thomas has a point--and I happen to think that he's right that Wickard was wrongly decided*--there's just no way that now, coming up on 75 years after the decision was first handed down, that the Supreme Court is going to declare almost the entire federal government to be unconstitutional with the stroke of a pen. You overturn Wickard, and just about every single federal agency disappears overnight, not to mention Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, federal unemployment, school lunches, and pretty much every other federally-funded aspect of the social safety net. In 1942, the Supreme Court needed to make a decision about the future of our constitutional regime, and they made a choice. We have to live with that choice, and arguing that they made the wrong one just is fighting a battle that's already over. It's settled law.

Similarly, the Supreme Court has more-or-less explicitly recognized that constitutional protections extend to corporate entities since at least the late nineteenth century. It's become a fundamental part of our jurisprudence and is essential to the way our economy functions on almost every level. Even if you think this was a bad idea, you can't just overturn something like that without causing an absolutely immense amount of disruption to modern society. It's settled law. For good or ill, the Constitution provides an incredibly expansive set of civil liberties, and arbitrarily curtailing them for people that decide to act in concert flies in the face of the way the thing is written and the way jurisprudence around those issues has been developing for more than two centuries. Not liking the results of those liberties is really no reason to curtail them, legally speaking.

*At the Constitutional Convention, Alexander Hamilton proposed a strong, centralized federal government very much like the one we've got today. The rest of the Convention basically ignored it and adopted a much more limited version of federal authority. I happen to think Hamilton was right, but that isn't the way the Constitution is written, and Wickard basically resuscitates his suggestion 150 years after it was rejected without actually amending the Constitution in any way. So I think Wickard was wrongly decided, but kind of like the results.
posted by valkyryn at 10:16 AM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


blog.themistrading.com

Initially, I was hesitant to trust the opinions of someone called "Them Is Trading," but I'm glad I clicked the link.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:16 AM on November 30, 2011


Not to be snarky or mean spirited, but what has become of OWS? The qeustion at one time 3as if they could outlast the winter. But the snows have not yet come and most of OWS seem gone, with of course, help from the cops
posted by Postroad at 10:17 AM on November 30, 2011


Can we add demiliraizing police departments to the list? Maybe regulating when law enforcement officers are and are not allowed to use force, like not on unarmed people who are seated and pose no threat because they are engaging in peaceful protests?
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:22 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


demiliraizing = demilitarizing
posted by I am the Walrus at 10:23 AM on November 30, 2011


overeducated_alligator: ""Corporate personhood," is like the left's equivalent of "death panels" -- the second I hear someone say the phrase, I'm usually sure they have no idea what they're talking about."

We don't?

I would argue that as much as I'm against the whole jingoistic anti-immigration right-wing bullshit that I think the "repeal AZ SB 1070" is counterproductive to make a suggestion for in this movement.

I also think the Keystone XL thing is a bogus thing in the movement. The movement needs to have fucking focus, and, again - as much as I'd love to see renewable energies and all the wonderful things of my green utopian future, this sort of creates a division in the movement that claims to speak for 99%.

The focus needs to be on the financial reform. Period. Primarily, on Wall Street (hence the symbolism of OWS) and "Crony Capitalism" -- we need to continue to use the phrase "Crony Capitalism" because people like Palin use it and it gets the ear of the right-wing who may have sympathies on these issues. Bachmann continues to use "socialism" which is blatantly wrong, obviously, and a term we'd never use. We use their term which gives us "capitalism" which puts the blame on the primary culprit (Capital), but still at least granting them that yes - "this isn't free market capitalism" and get them to join on the things we agree on.

So - then the next question is "regulation" and how far do we support regulation if we are to get them on board, because we know they will howl like werewolves at a full moon if you propose regulation. But if they want money out of politics, they need to start supporting such moves. They whine about taxes, but you could probably get most people that aren't Tea Partiers to support something like Robin Hood Tax (Promoted by Jeffrey Sachs - here's the FAQ). That would be much more feasible than trying to outright regulate HFT, I think.

Corporate Personhood is a complex issue, assuredly, and those who say we don't know what we're talking about may have a point in that most people aren't thinking of the complexities involved of figuring out how to do it right. But just because it's difficult and messy to abolish doesn't mean it's something that shouldn't be done. It was messy to fight a war against slavery. But it was done. Certain ramifications need to be considered in order to protect the *good* things that the concept of personhood does (i.e. the legal protections and need for a system of social grouping and giving rights to said group -- oh wait, now I'm confused, are we all just individuals or do we grant "group rights" -- what do the right-wingers want?)... So anyways --- there's a reason Corporate Personhood exists, and some of that reasoning is at the very least quasi-legitimate. The other consequences need to be dealt with. A way to "execute" said companies (I mean, we're talking a sort of ideology that goes back over 300 years) while minimizing the damage done is important to consider.

So it's an important issue to consider, maybe you don't like using the term "Abolish Corporate Personhood" because you think of the things that it does allow, and maybe not everyone fully groks that, but those of us who do understand that there are reasons for it still think it's an important phrase to use - it gets the idea into people's heads.

And those who castigate those who call for such abolition as "ignorant" and "stupid" how about instead of insulting us, you enlighten us with your esteemed wisdom and generate an actual discussion of the issue and find where we can agree on and where we disagree and see if we can find some sort of resolution that we might agree on.
posted by symbioid at 10:28 AM on November 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


you can't just overturn something like that without causing an absolutely immense amount of disruption to modern society.

I'm guessing this is where we'll fundamentally disagree, but GOOD. Modern society should be immensely disrupted. We've seen the emergence of a two-tiered justice system. Politicians have institutionalized torture, opened secret "black sites", started wars of aggression, assassinated US citizens without due process... nobody's been charged for anything, let alone convicted or imprisoned. Financial "elites" brought down the world economy and were given trillions of free dollars without so much as a slap on the wrist. The people in power fear no reprisal. Why should they? We've shown that you can literally get away with anything. We must -- must -- disrupt modern society if there's any chance at all of there being a future society worth having.
posted by davidjmcgee at 10:31 AM on November 30, 2011 [16 favorites]


(much of that of course doesn't relate to corporate personhood; I'm talking about objecting generally to disruption)
posted by davidjmcgee at 10:33 AM on November 30, 2011


you can't just overturn something like that without causing an absolutely immense amount of disruption to modern society.

Yeah, this sounds like the "it would be too much work" defense.
posted by Big_B at 10:33 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


Modern society should be immensely disrupted.

It's this kind of philosophy that also justifies the egg cracking for the omelets.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:34 AM on November 30, 2011


It's this kind of philosophy that also justifies the egg cracking for the omelets.

I can't figure what this means. Would you mind clarifying? If it means that you think I'm advocating violence really really really no I'm not.
posted by davidjmcgee at 10:42 AM on November 30, 2011


It's this kind of philosophy that also justifies the egg cracking for the omelets.

Did you read that comment? You know the people who have been tortured, all the non-combatants in Iraq and Afghanistan who were killed in the wars? All the people who have lost their jobs, lost their houses, lost their life savings in the financial debacles? All the people dying because they don't have health care? All the children who aren't sure where their next meal is coming from? The homeless people who freeze to death? Do they not count as eggs who deserve not to be broken?

Let's not pretend that defending the status quo is about making sure that no one gets hurt. Because the way our society is currently running, eggs are being smashed underfoot every day.
posted by overglow at 10:43 AM on November 30, 2011 [24 favorites]


Similarly, the Supreme Court has more-or-less explicitly recognized that constitutional protections extend to corporate entities since at least the late nineteenth century.

But only sort-of, right? There are clear differences in law. Corporations can live forever, but can't vote or bear arms. They can, in fact, have to be owned. I'm not aware that's it's legal in the US to own an actually breathing person.

So it's not that it's a difference in kind between corporal humans and corporations; that's an already established difference in law. There's a selective granting of right to corps that's legislated and mediated by the courts.

It's not clear to me why a corporation should have an a priori right to free speech, for example. The owners and employees, sure, but why should the corporate entity itself?
posted by bonehead at 10:44 AM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Valkyryn -- can you get on board with that as a worthy goal, even a pressing need? Build a bridge with me on this one. And, since you've thought a lot about it, can you outline some things we might be able to try under the current view of corporations and the First Amendment? Or, can you outline a constitutional change short of "corporations are not 'persons' for constitutional purposes" that might get the job done?

Maybe, but messing with corporate personality isn't the way to do it. The way to do this is probably to go after the incentives which make corporations want to spend money in this way the first place.

One way to do this is, unpopular as it may be with the people who want to restrict corporate power, restricting the authority of federal agencies. Which is what libertarians and conservatives have been harping on for a long time. The problem is not so much that corporations have power--they have money, which amounts to the same thing, politics or no politics--but that they have a tendency to conspire with powerful government actors, and it's that combination which is the problem. Put strong governmental agencies together with weak industry or strong industry with weak agencies and the corruption issues largely go away, because there's no real way for the two of them to work together.

This is why there are almost no charges of corruption connected to, say, county recorders' offices: the recorder does basically one thing, which amounts to glorified recordkeeping, and does it the same way for everyone. Even if you could co-opt the Recorder, what would be the point? Even if I can think up some hypotheticals which might make having the recorder in your pocket useful in particular cases, the office simply doesn't have the kind of plenary authority to make it worth the trouble on more than a case-by-case basis. Besides, doing that would wind up violating a whole bunch of statutes against things like forgery, counterfeiting, etc., which have nothing to do with the function of the office. I'm not really talking about the size of agencies as such either. Social Security is the single biggest federal agency by expenditure,* but has almost zero discretion over anything industry is likely to care about. Corruption at the SSA is pretty much unheard of, because really, what's there for them to be corrupt about? Like recorders' offices, corruption at the SSA doesn't need any special laws against it, because the only way to effect something like that is to violate a whole bunch of other laws not targeted at corruption.

But even at the local level, any political office with any amount of discretion can become a desirable target. Take a look at the Chicago aldermen and see what I mean. And once we get to agencies like the FDA, USPTO, EPA, and SEC, which wield incredible discretion over trillions of dollars of industry, there's very good reason to believe that it's actually impossible to restrict industry from trying to and having a fair amount of success at co-opting those agencies. The amounts of money are simply too great to avoid it. And here's the thing: unless we're actually going to require that agencies be run by people with absolutely no experience in the industries said agencies regulate, there's really no way to avoid having bankers run the SEC, pharma-types running the FDA, etc. Messing with corporate personality does absolutely nothing to affect the moral hazard of the fact that corporate executives are natural candidates for agency heads and agency heads are natural candidates for corporate executive positions. That, right there, is responsible for stuff like this, and all the problems that the agency/industry revolving door causes.

So, say libertarian and conservative types everywhere, perhaps the most obvious way to minimize corporate corruption is to eliminate the possibility of corruption by drastically scaling back the authority of regulatory agencies. In a sense, calls for more regulation are really just creating more opportunities for corruption, as unless you just want to ban corporations from possessing more than a certain amount of assets or doing more than a certain amount of revenue--something which is probably constitutionally impossible in addition to being a ludicrously bad idea--there's no functional way of minimizing the potential influence of corporations, even if you eliminated all constitutional protections for corporations.

None of this would affect corporations' First Amendment rights (or the lack thereof) entirely, but I bet you'd see a lot less corporate political speech, simply because corporations wouldn't have as much to say. Corporate boards of directors may be okay with executives spending corporate monies in an attempt to affect the regulatory environment, but I doubt shareholders would be all that happy with executives who just spend corporate funds to promote their personal political agendas. And you really don't see a lot of that, all things considered, even under the current regime.

*About $100 billion larger than the Pentagon, IIRC.
posted by valkyryn at 10:45 AM on November 30, 2011 [6 favorites]


We can save corporate citizenship and the precedent in Citizens United if we're willing to publicly finance elections. I think Lessig is right: the only way to strike at the root of money in politics is to make sure that it's the people's money that talks loudest.

If you look at the history of campaign finance reform, basically no ban or limits actually work. So we need to get creative, rather than re-litigating a case that was, frankly, pretty dumb from the start. OF COURSE documentaries about politicians are, and ought to be, protected speech.
posted by anotherpanacea at 10:46 AM on November 30, 2011


Two thoughts:

One is about the very word "demands". I don't like it. You know who has "demands"? Terrorists have demands. Kidnappers, hijackers make demands. OWS is not these things. OWS is a bunch of citizens who believe their country should head in a different direction, who have ideas about how they want the country to be, and are united (and passionate) about those ideas. That's not a terrorist group, that's a voting bloc. Nobody asks "what are the Christian Right's demands?", "what are the Tea Party's demands?", "what are Hispanic voters' demands?" - for all of those groups the media has no difficulty talking about the group's issues, instead: These issues drive these people. The Christian Right cares about the following issues: X, Y, and Z. The Tea Party's upset about X, Y, Z. Where X, Y, Z are issues, not demands. But if you want to simultaneously discredit and "other" OWS, just saying "What are OWS's issues?" is no good, because the answer is obvious: economic inequality is the issue. The very question "what are OWS's demands?" is a question designed to make them seem more radical, further from the mainstream; the question itself is designed for no other reason than to damage the movement.

To counter that, WE DON'T MAKE DEMANDS is doing *exactly* the right thing, it's perfect and I wish I'd thought of it. Absolutely brilliant and wonderful.

Second: As for corporate personhood, I'm all for ending it - but not just ending it. "Corporate personhood" is, fundamentally, a jury-rigged solution. It's a patch, a hack, a workaround, and not a very good one. Corporations needed rules, to govern them, and rather than writing a set of rules for corporations, corporate personhood is nothing more and nothing less than an attempt to shoe-horn something that is very much unlike a person into the same rules we use for people. It doesn't work well. They don't fit. Monetary penalties that would crush a person and keep their descendants in debt until the second coming are a slap on the wrist to a corporation, and many real monetary penalties can be foisted off on their customers. They can't be jailed, because jails were designed with the idea that one lawbreaker would have one physical body. Rules and laws regarding civil suits, designed for a one-on-one matchup of one person vs. another person, are as hopelessly lopsided when it's person vs. corporation as a cage match between you and King Kong.

The answer isn't "keep Corporate personhood, because it's better than nothing", nor is the answer "abolish corporate personhood, let corporations be nebulous and not-governed-by-law entities" - the answer is to write some rules that are specific to corporations, to give corporations specific rights, responsibilities, punishments and so forth that are designed for them. Rules that don't treat a corporation vs. a person as being two opponents in the same weight class. Punishments that can't be "passed down to the consumers" but that really are effective as deterrents to bad behavior. Rights that don't allow corporations to be vastly more powerful and influential than people. Responsibilities so that corporations feel some obligation to do something besides grow and profit at any cost. End corporate personhood and replace it with something better.
posted by mstokes650 at 10:48 AM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


It's this kind of philosophy that also justifies the egg cracking for the omelets.

WHAT HAVE YOU GOT AGAINST OMLETES?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:48 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't figure what this means. Would you mind clarifying? If it means that you think I'm advocating violence really really really no I'm not.

I don't think you're advocating violence per se. But when you call for an "immense disruption of modern society," you can't say that violence is an unforeseeable effect of such a disruption. We can talk about reforming our institutions, and taking reasonable steps to put our financial system on a sounder footing... but when you say that the whole society is unjust and needs to be "immensely disrupted," you're calling for something more radical, and the unleashing of forces that you won't be able to control.
posted by BobbyVan at 10:49 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


since you've thought a lot about it, can you outline some things we might be able to try under the current view of corporations and the First Amendment?
The demand for influence in politics comes from the power we give to politicians. The demand for money in politics comes from voters who are easily influenced by expensive media.

So you have to get rid of the demand. At best, "campaign finance reform" which just fiddles with the supply side ends up being a "Rupert Murdoch and GE Incumbency Protection Act". And since the current cause celebre for campaign finance reform is a decision where the government was literally trying to claim the authority to ban books, I think there's a lot of room for a reversal to turn out even worse.

So how do you get rid of the demand?

You could try making individual politicians less powerful, by radically increasing the size of legislative bodies; this wouldn't get money out of issue advertising, but it would reduce the incentives for expensive advertising for individual politicians and it would increase the incentives for voters to cast more informed votes.

You could make it harder for politicians to consolidate their power, by replacing gerrymandering with more objective districting rules and by replacing plurality voting with an approval or ranked system that doesn't shut out third parties.

You could try making politicians as a group less powerful, by limiting large governments to a small list of enumerated powers and leaving the rest to smaller governments with solely local control.

You could try making voters more educated. This is still incredibly hard (the incentives are all messed up) but it's probably the place where grassroots action can make the most immediate difference, since no constitutional amendments or supreme court improvements would be required. The biggest problem may be figuring out how to do it without completely blaming and alienating your target audience. "Corporations are buying congressmen" is a more effective rallying cry when you don't have to follow it with "misleading ads that you keep falling for!"
posted by roystgnr at 10:51 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are already facilities for holding individuals like doctors or civil engineers liable for their mistakes, valkyryn. I suggested extending such legal frameworks to consumer facing financial services and environmental regulation, as well as the executives overseeing said activities. I'd support requiring that every executives in any company operating nuclear facilities be a certified/licensed nuclear engineer, for example.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:52 AM on November 30, 2011


strong industry with weak agencies .....no corruption.


Please: the whole 3rd world, environmental degradation, murder--for-hire-at-the-behest-of-druglords/powerful people, just to name 3 trite examples is a living counterexample to your point there. This comes off as glibertarian wankery, which is not your modus.
posted by lalochezia at 10:56 AM on November 30, 2011 [12 favorites]


There are clear differences in law. Corporations can live forever, but can't vote or bear arms.

You're conflating two distinctions between natural and legal persons there. There's an obvious reason we don't let legal persons vote: because they can be created basically at-will, this would lead to ballot stuffing in a hot minute. On the other hand, in one sense, corporations can't "bear arms" simply because they aren't physical entities. They can only act through their agents. But corporations do have Second Amendment rights in the sense that the government can't ban corporate employees from carrying firearms simply because they're corporate employees.

It's not clear to me why a corporation should have an a priori right to free speech, for example.

Again, corporations can only act through their agents and owners, so restricting the speech rights "of the corporation" is essentially restricting the speech rights of its agents and owners. Saying that corporations have free speech rights is less saying that the corporate person, as such, is protected by the First Amendment than saying that the First Amendment rights of individuals do not disappear simply because they are speaking through a corporate entity. Otherwise you'd have the situation where any entity involved in politics would need to be a natural person, even if the involvement in an activity which would always use a business association of some form.

For example, say I want to sell t-shirts with my preferred candidate's message on them. Apparel manufacturing is, all things considered, a pretty well-understood business activity, and there are obvious advantages to incorporation for apparel merchants, especially limited personal liability for me, the owner, should my delivery driver run a red light and take out a school bus. But saying that corporations can't engage in political speech would mean that I wouldn't be able to enjoy those protections, but would need to expose myself to all the risks that go along with running a business. In short, by using a corporation I, as a private individual, would have less First Amendment protections than I would otherwise. Now you need to come up with a justification for why you're restricting my First Amendment rights. The courts have looked at this, recognized that restricting corporate speech amounts to restricting individual speech, and have almost always ruled in favor of an expansive interpretation of the First Amendment.
posted by valkyryn at 10:58 AM on November 30, 2011


Please: the whole 3rd world,environmental degradation, murder--for-hire-at-the-behest-of-druglords/powerful people etc.

That's not really "strong industry"--most of those countries don't really have much of a business sector to speak of--or "weak agencies" as much as it is "the absence of a functional legal system or central government." I don't see that I've advocated for that anywhere. I'm a lawyer. I like strong judicial systems.
posted by valkyryn at 11:00 AM on November 30, 2011


We can save corporate citizenship and the precedent in Citizens United if we're willing to publicly finance elections.

I'm pretty much okay with that, for what it's worth. It'd also probably mean we'd see less annoying attack ads on TV, which is no bad thing.
posted by valkyryn at 11:00 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


but when you say that the whole society is unjust and needs to be "immensely disrupted," you're calling for something more radical, and the unleashing of forces that you won't be able to control.

Huh. I hear where you're coming from, but I disagree. I don't think it's very radical. I'm calling for mass peaceful demonstration ("peaceful" is an essential part of that), and, yes, mass civil disobedience. I'm talking about an immense disruption to society in the way the Civil Rights Movement was an immense disruption to society, or the way the Velvet Revolution was. There are pretty good templates to follow here that don't involve taking up arms.
posted by davidjmcgee at 11:02 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, say libertarian and conservative types everywhere, perhaps the most obvious way to minimize corporate corruption is to eliminate the possibility of corruption by drastically scaling back the authority of regulatory agencies. In a sense, calls for more regulation are really just creating more opportunities for corruption...

This argument would be stronger if there were not a lot of evidence that government agencies become, over time, exactly as powerful as industry wants them.
posted by gauche at 11:02 AM on November 30, 2011


Ending corporate personhood, taken literally, would mean that corporations couldn't enter into contracts. Or be sued.

I don't think this is necessarily the case. You're asserting that "taken literally" means "abolish corporate personhood in a measure that makes no concessions for legitimate uses of corporations as a tool", which nobody has really said and clearly nobody means. But just because it's literal doesn't mean it's completely spelled out or has exact precision. I think it can still be taken literally if phrased as: "constitutionally eliminate the de facto situation wherein rights granted to the people, whether enumerated specifically or not, are automatically bestowed on corporations as well, and enumerate in statute specific rights which corporations have." I think this also tracks with the implications intended by many of us quite closely.

I'll get working on the ECR to provide language to modify the documents in question.
posted by atbash at 11:02 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a finance guy...

Me too but I'm one of the good ones.

- market-to-market is a very important accounting measure, which helps investors get better transparency into otherwise opaque financial companies portfolios. They are asking for less transparency from financial companies?

Mark-to-market rules as they exist today are the opposite of transparency. I don't think throwing the entire set of accounting rules out the window is the answer but it clearly needs to be majorly overhauled.

- high frequency trading is not nearly as evil as people think it is. The profits generated by the industry are much less then industry reports.

I think HFT is evil. It's a way for short-term participants to rob long-term investors. And it's part of the culture that forces companies to focus on quarterly results, which in turn gives companies reason to slash headcounts as a way to meet near-term earnings expectations.

- the volker rule is a piece of shit. It was never the prop desks that got any of the banks into trouble, it was their mortgage businesses which are totally separate business streams at most banks.

The Volker rule doesn't just go after prop desks--it goes after proprietary trading in general. Those mortgage desks you mention were effectively acting like prop desks. The Volker rule and Glass-Steagal Act are both far from perfect but at least they are an attempt to address the core problem; i.e., that institutions that rely on government subsidies (FDIC deposits, access to the discount window) should not be able to risk their capital trading for their own book.
posted by mullacc at 11:03 AM on November 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


There are a few demands that would resonate across parties, such as auditing the bailed-out banks and ending revolving door politics. But the Keystone Pipeline and SB 1070 are strange hills to try to plant a flag on, because I can imagine quite vividly that the pipeline and immigration concerns will take center stage to the other issues, when to OWS the other issues seem to be the meat.

A diluted message has hindered more than one politician/movement/grassroot. Everybody knows Cain's 9/9/9 but does anybody know Romney's 56 financial points?

Clarity of message is crucial, and OWS still doesn't have it, even with these 12 suggestions..... I would suggest sticking to financial concerns, and maybe having 4 issues at max.
posted by lstanley at 11:06 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


>In a sense, calls for more regulation are really just creating more opportunities for corruption...

This argument would be stronger if there were not a lot of evidence that government agencies become, over time, exactly as powerful as industry wants them.


Which is one of the reasons I think Wickard was wrongly decided and am still a bit conflicted about that...
posted by valkyryn at 11:07 AM on November 30, 2011


There are a few demands that would resonate across parties, such as auditing the bailed-out banks and ending revolving door politics. But the Keystone Pipeline and SB 1070 are strange hills to try to plant a flag on, because I can imagine quite vividly that the pipeline and immigration concerns will take center stage to the other issues, when to OWS the other issues seem to be the meat.

so choose one of the other signs to print out and tack up, instead. That's the great thing about a decentralized movement -- you can choose to focus on the issues that you think are most important.
posted by KathrynT at 11:09 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING
posted by daniel_charms at 11:12 AM on November 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


Boil it down to one. Just pass legislation that keeps private money out of local, state, and national politics, and that requires free media time for qualified candidates. Get that done! Start there, because all the problems that the other demands imply are generated from private, monied, influence.
posted by Vibrissae at 11:15 AM on November 30, 2011


Free speech means the right to camp wherever you want for however long you want? That's a rather, um, novel interpretation of the constitution.

This is a pretty serious strawman. The situation is this:
  1. there's an area that, though privately owned, is required by statute and/or contract to be public space, i.e. a park.
  2. a protest, at least in some component against extreme wage inequality, is happening in the park
  3. people are coming far and wide to this protest
  4. those people can't afford lodging (see item #2)
In this situation, the protest cannot be effective without people staying in the park. For this to be done with appropriate consideration for public health, which includes the well-being of the protesters, tents are required.

It's perfectly clear that the reason "camping" and "tents" have become the target is that authorities know that without the tents, the protest cannot be effective. As a matter of tactics they've chosen to go after the tents instead of attacking the protests directly, since they're not allowed to do the latter. When they go after it as "camping", they establish a suspension of disbelief regarding their quashing of the protests. And you're falling for it.
posted by atbash at 11:19 AM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


So, say libertarian and conservative types everywhere, perhaps the most obvious way to minimize corporate corruption is to eliminate the possibility of corruption by drastically scaling back the authority of regulatory agencies.

There was a time before agencies like the FDA, EPA, and SEC existed. Back then sweatshop and child labor was the norm, rivers were flammable, and people literally sold snake oil. All of these things were legal, so I suppose you're right that the lack of government oversight minimized "corruption."
posted by dirigibleman at 11:19 AM on November 30, 2011 [10 favorites]


Huh. I hear where you're coming from, but I disagree. I don't think it's very radical. I'm calling for mass peaceful demonstration ("peaceful" is an essential part of that), and, yes, mass civil disobedience. I'm talking about an immense disruption to society in the way the Civil Rights Movement was an immense disruption to society, or the way the Velvet Revolution was. There are pretty good templates to follow here that don't involve taking up arms.

Except both the Civil Rights Movement and the Velvet Revolution were about giving people the power to exercise their basic political rights. On the other hand, OWS is now (apparently) about stopping an oil pipeline, taking sides on immigration policy, and, if your rant is to be accepted, withdrawing US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. Leaving aside the growing absurdity that this agenda claims to speak for the "99%," I'd suggest that calling for "massive social disruption" to achieve some fairly pedestrian political goals seems a bit thuggish to me.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:22 AM on November 30, 2011


I don't think it's very radical. I'm calling for mass peaceful demonstration ("peaceful" is an essential part of that), and, yes, mass civil disobedience. I'm talking about an immense disruption to society in the way the Civil Rights Movement was an immense disruption to society, or the way the Velvet Revolution was. There are pretty good templates to follow here that don't involve taking up arms.

The problem isn't with the methods of protest you're advocating, it's the tabula rasa model of social change you hold out as the goal of that protest. The Civil Rights movement was asking for some very clearly defined legal and political changes--in fact, rather minor ones, however wide-reaching their social ramifications. They weren't saying "we, in general, don't like anything very much about the way the current political / economic system operates and we want to tear it all down and start again; we don't really know what we want to put in its place, but we're pretty sure it will be lots better."

It's this romantic fantasy of wiping the slate clean and starting all over again from scratch that is, in practice, politically disenabling (your pie is stuck so very, very firmly in the sky) and in theory rather terrifying ("wiping the slate clean" has not usually gone very well in the past).
posted by yoink at 11:24 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Except both the Civil Rights Movement and the Velvet Revolution were about giving people the power to exercise their basic political rights.

That's exactly what ending corporate personhood and more generally removing the money from politics is about. It's about one person having the same access to political process that any other person has.

Yes, there are other things being protested as well, but that doesn't make every point wrong.
posted by atbash at 11:26 AM on November 30, 2011


That's exactly what ending corporate personhood and more generally removing the money from politics is about. It's about one person having the same access to political process that any other person has.

So now we're equating Citizens United with Plessy vs. Ferguson?
posted by BobbyVan at 11:32 AM on November 30, 2011


Well, they were both gross miscarriages of justice, so there's one comparison right there.
posted by absalom at 11:33 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Back then sweatshop and child labor was the norm, rivers were flammable, and people literally sold snake oil. All of these things were legal, so I suppose you're right that the lack of government oversight minimized "corruption."

This is just a strawman. We didn't need post-New Deal federal administrative agencies with broad political discretion to end any of those things.
posted by valkyryn at 11:33 AM on November 30, 2011


Note : To Compare != to Equate

Contrarians and trolls will never care to understand the distinction.
posted by absalom at 11:34 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


In this situation, the protest cannot be effective without people staying in the park. For this to be done with appropriate consideration for public health, which includes the well-being of the protesters, tents are required.

You seem to have missed the part (I linked to an LA Times story about it above) where the Mayor of Los Angeles (craven lackey of his corporate masters as he is) has offered the 'movement' 10,000 square feet of office space for free for a year as well as offering beds in homeless shelters for the homeless protestors. Oh, and he's also offering them farmland should they wish to use it for whatever reason.

It's perfectly clear that the reason "camping" and "tents" have become the target is that authorities know that without the tents, the protest cannot be effective.

This is nonsense. It has never, ever been legal for people to just randomly set up camps on downtown parks. The Occupy protest in LA has only the sympathy those in power have for their message to thank for the fact that the tents weren't cleared away far earlier (any tent normally would have been struck as soon as it was erected; camping on that piece of public land is against the law according to the laws that the public has enacted).

This bizarre romance of victimization is one of the reasons I find it really hard to feel much empathy for the OWS movement, despite being broadly in agreement with many of their complaints about the US economy. When you have a mayor like Villagairosa who comes out every day to talk about how deeply he sympathizes with the movement and who bends over backwards to accommodate the protestors and makes the police treat them with kid gloves at every step and all you hear from the protestors is how the corporate fascists are grinding their jackboots into their faces it doesn't give you a great impression of their grasp of politics or history or reality in general.
posted by yoink at 11:35 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


We didn't need post-New Deal federal administrative agencies with broad political discretion to end any of those things.

I'm curious to understand what your plan for food, drug or environmental regulation would look like without agencies capable of independent review and their own basic research. Those are the essential core functions of both the FDA and the EPA.
posted by bonehead at 11:37 AM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


We didn't need post-New Deal federal administrative agencies with broad political discretion to end any of those things.

Uh, there's a pretty direct correlation between the formation of the EPA and addressing the "flammable river" problem.
posted by yoink at 11:37 AM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is just a strawman. We didn't need post-New Deal federal administrative agencies with broad political discretion to end any of those things.

The Cayuga River last caught fire in 1969.
posted by gauche at 11:40 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Cuyahoga river, that is.
posted by gauche at 11:40 AM on November 30, 2011


.. And the EPA was passed into law in 1970! Ta-da! No more burning rivers!
posted by absalom at 11:42 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Note : To Compare != to Equate

If Citizens United is such an injustice as to give cause for people to "put their bodies upon the gears" as was done in the Civil Rights Movement and the Velvet Revolution, I think we've entered "equating" territory.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:44 AM on November 30, 2011


(and the ability to regulate based on that review and research of course)
posted by bonehead at 11:44 AM on November 30, 2011


Honorable John, atbash, I think our views are probably pretty similar, we're just starting from different points [see the rest of what I posted after the bit that you quoted]. I suspect that, being outside the US, I'm probably missing some naunce in the phrase, something that would be more obvious if I was in the US, hence I'm taking it more literally than intended.
posted by Infinite Jest at 11:45 AM on November 30, 2011


your pie is stuck so very, very firmly in the sky

This is without a doubt true. I absolutely believe (really, despite most available evidence) that we can do better.

"wiping the slate clean" has not usually gone very well in the past
it's the tabula rasa model of social change you hold out as the goal of that protest

I'm doing a very poor job explaining myself if you still think I'm hoping to "wipe the slate clean"; sorry about that.
posted by davidjmcgee at 11:51 AM on November 30, 2011


valkyrin: For example, say I want to sell t-shirts with my preferred candidate's message on them. Apparel manufacturing is, all things considered, a pretty well-understood business activity, and there are obvious advantages to incorporation for apparel merchants, especially limited personal liability for me, the owner, should my delivery driver run a red light and take out a school bus.

With you so far...

But saying that corporations can't engage in political speech would mean that I wouldn't be able to enjoy those protections, but would need to expose myself to all the risks that go along with running a business.

And this is where it's off the rails. Just because you can't engage in political speech doesn't mean you can't do this particular activity. Shirts aren't newspapers. There's debate to be had as to which of wearing of the shirt, production of it, advertising of it, and sale of it, or any set of those, is the speech. But even if producing and selling them would be political speech, as in the scenario where you're doing it as a person instead of a corporation, saying that corporations can't engage in political speech doesn't have to result in a statutory structure that yields that result. It could be set up to mean that doing this as a corporation excludes the action from the protected class, for example. There's not necessarily a difference in terms of the words used for the rhetoric while advocating it, but there is a difference in the outcome based on what actual legislation would look like.

Another scenario would be where, without corporations being recognized as people, we grant some types of corporations the right to engage in limited political speech under constraints like, oh, I dunno, being subject to financial reporting for funding and limits on capital spent to advocate a particular candidate.

So I guess I'm saying that you're making a pretty big assumption here, and I don't think it has to hold true for the goals to be accomplished.
posted by atbash at 11:54 AM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's a weird obscure list that nobody could get excited about.

The piece of social justice that America needs the most is a free national health service that covers everybody, like the one in the UK or many other countries. It is the most needed change by orders of magnitude. Obama's proposed changes in health care don't even come close to promising this, unfortunately.
posted by w0mbat at 12:11 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Are people really going to get behind goals like "end corporate personhood" or "tax systemic risk"?
posted by smackfu at 12:14 PM on November 30, 2011


I appreciate your thoughtful answers to my question! I'm not so sold on making government less powerful as a strategy to limit corporate influence over the political process though. The thing is that my optimal society includes relatively powerful government. As a few examples:

On the regulatory side ...

- I like regulation of pharmaceuticals. I don't like the level of control pharma has over that regulation.
- I like regulation of pollution. I don't like the level of control polluters have over that regulation.
- I like enforceable standards for sustainable agriculture. I don't like the level of control large agricultural companies have over those standards.
- I like regulation of financial instruments, financial disclosures, financial transactions with unsophisticated parties, etc. I don't like the level of control large banks have over that regulation.

On the legislative side ...

- I like having a government that tries to smooth boom bust cycles in crop production to prevent Depression-style starvation. I don't like having a government that subsidizes unhealthy and wasted food to pay off agribusiness.
- I like having a government that can enforce an intellectual property regime. I don't like having an intellectual property regime drafted by major content owners.
- I like having a government that can provide cost-effective health care. I don't like having a government that does whatever it is we just did instead.
- I like having a government that can punish crime. I don't like having a government whose sentencing structure is influenced by companies that build prisons.

I could go on and on, because these are central themes of modern politics. The governments that seem to provide the best lives for their citizens are the ones that exercise relatively robust powers within a democratic and capitalist system -- powers which inevitably affect corporate profits. And in American government, the exercise of those powers is heavily and disproportionately influenced by the short-term financial interests of those corporations.

So personally, I'm not ready to throw up my hands at this dilemma and retreat from the government I want -- from a government that can foster the kind of world I want to live in. I think instead, it's worth trying some laws that directly target the channels of corporate money to politicians and seeing if, in some incremental, imperfect way, they help the problem. I think it's possible for laws to help because there are lots of laws that affect seemingly intractable, human-nature-type problems -- laws that reduce drunk driving, laws that protect the independence of judges, laws that reduce performance-enhancing drug use in pro sports, even laws that protected the financial industry from itself after the Depression. Imperfect isn't the same as ineffectual. Money will always mean power, but if you compare the US to Russia or Sweden, it's clear we have a lot of control over how much.

So if "end corporate personhood" is shorthand for "remove the statutory or constitutional limits that stop us from trying to directly reduce the influence of the corporate profit motive in politics," then I'm for it, even at a higher price than anyone's named so far. I see it as an important strategy (among many) for creating the kind of society I want.

(On preview -- atbash has done a better job than I have of trying to picture particular compromises that would permit collective speech without permitting the kind of corrosive profit-motivated political spending I'm talking about. I grant that it's a hard problem. The key point is that there may be acceptable compromises somewhere beyond the inflexible rule that the First Amendment protects all corporate speech.

And on another note, I definitely agree that public financing of elections is a great potential solution to avoid some of the First Amendment pitfalls,* with two caveats: first, I vaguely recall (from a Lessig speech) that the profits generated by regulatory capture dwarf our current political spending, so there will be some incentive to outspend whatever public financing is available, which may or may not negate its effects. Second, the recent Arizona campaign finance case is at least tending toward a Supreme Court view that any law designed to limit the effect of money in politics, including public funding, violates the First Amendment.

* As an entertaining but unhelpful analogy, this is kind of like Vernor Vinge's idea to preserve online privacy by generating new false information about everyone rather than taking down the true information. Drown out the signal if you can't stop it ...)
posted by Honorable John at 12:20 PM on November 30, 2011 [8 favorites]


me: In this situation, the protest cannot be effective without people staying in the park. For this to be done with appropriate consideration for public health, which includes the well-being of the protesters, tents are required.

yoink: You seem to have missed the part (I linked to an LA Times story about it above) where the Mayor of Los Angeles (craven lackey of his corporate masters as he is) has offered the 'movement' 10,000 square feet of office space for free for a year as well as offering beds in homeless shelters for the homeless protestors. Oh, and he's also offering them farmland should they wish to use it for whatever reason.

It's a fair criticism that my remark above more clearly describes the situation in New York than in LA. That's not what you're saying though, I don't think. What you're describing is efforts to move the protests in LA to some place where they also won't be effective.

This is nonsense. It has never, ever been legal for people to just randomly set up camps on downtown parks.

Camping in Central Park
Camping on the Boston Harbor Islands
Camp grounds in Victoria, BC
Camping in DC Metro area parks

While it's true that in many situations specific city parks require permits for camping, many do in fact allow camping with or without a permit. And at the same time, denying a permit because you're against campers engaging in their freedom of political speech is pretty clearly wrong.

But I still disagree that this is camping in any way. It's a protest, and the tents are necessary for the protest to be viable. I really don't think the police care about illegal camping enough to use pepper spray on peaceful people.

BobbyVan: If Citizens United is such an injustice as to give cause for people to "put their bodies upon the gears" as was done in the Civil Rights Movement and the Velvet Revolution, I think we've entered "equating" territory."

I'm not saying they're equal, I'm saying they're vying for the same category of thing - the right to fair political process. At the same time, people are sitting with arms linked while being hit in the face with tear gas while trying to engage in civil protest. It's not for nothing.
posted by atbash at 12:31 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm curious to understand what your plan for food, drug or environmental regulation would look like without agencies capable of independent review and their own basic research. Those are the essential core functions of both the FDA and the EPA.

It probably involves Congress actually passing some damn laws instead of handing things off to the Executive to do so on its own authority. Rather than basically empowering the Executive to regulate things at its discretion, Congress is entirely capable under the Constitution of passing regulations as such. Really, the idea that the Executive can pass regulations at all was something of a thorny problem that the Supreme Court didn't always permit under a theory of impermissible delegation of legislative authority. It's settled law not, but you do occasionally see Congress (or the Executive) go too far one way or the other. This is what the recent kerfluffle about the FCC's attempt to regulate broadband was about, believe it or not.*

As to the argument that congresscritters are bought and sold, well maybe they are, maybe they aren't, but they aren't really subject to regulatory capture, almost by definition. You don't see the same kind of revolving door with industry that you do with the administrative agencies, simply because congresscritters actually have to get elected, on a fixed time schedule, rather than being hired and fired at the whims of the executive. Getting elected to Congress is an enormous pain in the ass. By comparison, getting hired into an executive agency is a piece of cake.

One of the main logistical objections to this is that Congress simply doesn't have the resources to engage in this kind of plenary regulation. To that I say 1) maybe we'd end up with fewer but more powerful regulations, which would be no bad thing, and 2) I'm okay with a larger, more powerful legislature. Heck, tripling the number of Representatives and Senators would not only give Congress the manpower to take on more detailed legislation but would also reduce inequities involved in persons-per-representative that we've got going now.

Of course, that too involves a constitutional amendment, so it's basically a non-starter. But the basic idea is that Congress is entirely capable of regulating things via statute. That has the added bonus of being subject to an actual political process as opposed to the unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats that run things now.

*The FCC had classified broadband in a category that Congress hadn't authorized the FCC to regulate, and then tried to regulate it without reclassifying it. Which it could have done, but would 1) have been a pain, and 2) have involved more regulation than the FCC actually wanted to do. The courts said that the FCC couldn't have its cake and eat it too and required it to follow its congressional mandate.
posted by valkyryn at 12:32 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


So if "end corporate personhood" is shorthand for "remove the statutory or constitutional limits that stop us from trying to directly reduce the influence of the corporate profit motive in politics," then I'm for it, even at a higher price than anyone's named so far. I see it as an important strategy (among many) for creating the kind of society I want.

Which what I said right out of the gate. "End corporate personhood" is really just shorthand for "This gets in the way of the kind of society I want."

Two things.

First, a lot of people probably don't want the kind of society you want, which is really what a lot of partisanship is about these days: failure of consensus about what constitutes the common good. Alasdair MacIntyre suggests, and I'm inclined to agree, that in the absence of such consensus, what you have is not politics, in the classical sense of "of or relating to citizens devoted to the common good," but a series of second-order responses to the fact that politics no longer exists.

Second, the real disagreement here is less about corporate law (though I'm still unconvinced that most critics of corporate personally adequately understand what modifications of the doctrine would mean) and far more about a disagreement as to what constitutes the common good. That's the conversation we should be having.

Which sort of brings this thread to a close, as far as I'm concerned, as I've gone full circle. I concluded my first post with "most of this stuff isn't actually a concrete list of suggestions as much as it is a list of progressive bogeymen," by which I meant "this isn't intended to be a substantive critique of actual laws nearly as much as it is a list of complaints premised upon the progressive concept of the common good disguised as such a critique."
posted by valkyryn at 12:39 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Which sort of brings this thread to a close, as far as I'm concerned, as I've gone full circle.

[I'm just gonna close this up guys, since valkyryn is finished here.]
posted by odinsdream at 12:50 PM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Hey everyone~

I'm the designer of the posters– I'm pretty thrilled about their response. People sure are passionate! I really appreciate all the feedback people are willing to provide both online and also in person.

I was never really intending for these twelve posters to be a particularly complete list, or for any one person to agree with all of them. I asked my social group what they thought were some reasonable suggestions worth at least talking about, and acted on the ones that had good wikipedia pages about them, and fit neatly into the poster design. This means some really important things with very long words were left out. Oops!

I'm torn on keeping up the Keystone XL & AB1070 posters. I don't print them out myself, as they're astonishingly divisive, and when I hand out posters, I prefer the ones that more people generally support. I'm considering pulling those two down today, and putting up one about public funding of elections instead.

I've also gone and changed REPEAL to OVERTURN. Thanks for pointing that out!

In any case, I'm open to suggestions. I apologize if the posters aren't for everyone.
posted by nicoles at 12:53 PM on November 30, 2011 [23 favorites]


Me: This is nonsense. It has never, ever been legal for people to just randomly set up camps on downtown parks.

atbash: provides list of very specific times and occasions when it is permitted under certain strict conditions to set up camp in certain city parks.

Wow, do I ever have egg all over my face!

I really don't think the police care about illegal camping enough to use pepper spray on peaceful people.

Care to point to an instance of the use of pepper spray on the LA Occupy encampment?

And the police roust peaceful people out of public parks every single night in any city you care to name. Once again, the "Occupy" protests got special privileges in being allowed to stay as long as they did. The notion that the response to the protests is somehow politically motivated is just ridiculously self-deluded. You try setting up an encampment with no particular political message--or even a pro-establishment political message--in the middle of any downtown park in LA or NY or any other city and see how long it is before the police are moving you along. Hint--you won't get through a single night.

And for good reason, frankly. The parks are for the general public to use in an appropriate manner. They are public property--which means that if they become a tent city the public has been denied access to their own property. Just because the people doing the camping claim to speak for the public doesn't, in fact, give them the right to dispose of public land as they see fit (not to mention the fact that Zucotti park is actually privately owned, but that's another issue). The LA Occupy encampment has pretty much destroyed the land it occupied. If the city chooses to try to restore it that effort will cost hundreds of thousands of the public's dollars to restore a public amenity.

And the claim that there's no other way for the movement to be "visible" is just ridiculous. There's nothing to prevent the same people from gathering every single day for a protest march, for example. There's nothing to prevent them lining the city sidewalks with placards. There's nothing to prevent them gathering each day in a different city park. The reason for camping out was not to be "visible" but to be provocative: it was to put the city in the position of eventually having to send in the cops--because that's a situation that gains media attention. It seems ridiculously disingenuous to cry about the fascist police state thuggery when they're doing exactly what you have deliberately forced them to do.

(None of which, of course, is to excuse the genuine examples of police brutality and other moronic behavior such as we saw at UC Davis or San Diego or from Tony Bologna in NYC--but to pretend that these represent some sort of systematic political "oppression" of the Occupy protestors is just delusional self-glorification.)
posted by yoink at 12:58 PM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


One of the main logistical objections to this is that Congress simply doesn't have the resources to engage in this kind of plenary regulation.

I think you truly don't understand the scale of what you are asking for here. There are literally tens of thousands of people in federal service doing food, drug and environmental regulation. To even approach the current level of consultations alone would tie up congressional sub-committees from now until the end of time, even leaving aside the need for people who have the specialist knowledge to make informed decisions necessary for regulation. Electing 10,000+ regulators, or even making each congress members staff a mini-EPA, FDA and SEC to advise the congresscritter is as unrealistic as the "corporate death penalty" arguments.

There have to be delegated regulatory authorities whether they descend from legislature or executive. An EPA formed under congressional authority would still need approximately the same rule-making and enforcement powers it has now. Congress, even 100 parallel congresses, would not have the time or resources to micro-manage at the level necessary to remove the rule-making bureaucracy.
posted by bonehead at 1:05 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


> It probably involves Congress actually passing some damn laws instead of handing things off to the Executive to do so on its own authority. Rather than basically empowering the Executive to regulate things at its discretion

How could this work?

I was with you on the size of the regulatory agencies + size of corporations + revolving door (due to common competencies) = big opportunities for influence peddling. I don't see how the broad outlines you're suggesting could deal with something like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision which is like a planning and zoning commission for pipelines and power plants. The agencies are created by Acts of Congress and while commissioners are nominated by the Executive, they are approved by the Senate. FERC does too much piddly shit (29 Orders just today) for Congress to be involved with every decision.

Fewer, more powerful regulations doesn't seem feasible. My city's zoning laws are short, but there's all kinds of work (subject to corruption) in hearing requests for variances. That small-scale work needs to take into account the specific details of projects and neighbors' concerns.
posted by morganw at 1:08 PM on November 30, 2011


Care to point to an instance of the use of pepper spray on the LA Occupy encampment?

No, and I haven't accused them of doing so. Though to be perfectly honest I am having trouble keeping track of exactly what responses have happened at which protests. There are simply too many of them for me to keep them straight without an excess of effort being applied. So I'm sorry if I've somehow misled you into thinking I was referring to one protest in particular, or if I've confused two protests in error. Notwithstanding, people *have* been pepper sprayed protesting.

The notion that the response to the protests is somehow politically motivated is just ridiculously self-deluded.

I... I don't even. This isn't even wrong. I'm not saying that protests are being broken up because Mayors all over the country disagree with the protester's ideas of the common good. I think they're breaking them up because they think their re-election chances are being damaged - ironically by budget crises that have the same root causes the protesters are against to begin with. But people are being denied their rights to political speech and peaceably assemble. The fact that the protests in part focus on a different denial of access to political process is merely an additional, unfortunate irony.
posted by atbash at 1:09 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, OWS wants to change the way that Wall Street operates, and Wall Streeters in here say that's all well and good as long as nothing about how they operate is changed because obviously you can't do that.

I'm shocked.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:25 PM on November 30, 2011 [11 favorites]


There have to be delegated regulatory authorities whether they descend from legislature or executive.

To an extent, I suppose, but I'm pretty skeptical of the whole technocrat idea generally, so radically diminishing the size of the federal bureaucracy strikes me as a feature, not a bug. If the government can't do something except in a way that generates massive conflicts of interest... maybe the government shouldn't do said thing.
posted by valkyryn at 1:34 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The piece of social justice that America needs the most is a free national health service that covers everybody, like the one in the UK or many other countries.

You're right in a sense, but the reality is that there will never be a free national health service in the US until some fundamental changes are made to American culture and governance. It ain't as easy as it looks to bring some common sense to the table here, on that topic.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:37 PM on November 30, 2011


If the government can't do something except in a way that generates massive conflicts of interest... maybe the government shouldn't do said thing.

... a river caught fire, you know. An actual river, actually caught on fire.
posted by gauche at 1:38 PM on November 30, 2011


Too many of these demands are just minor tweeks to the way wallstreet works, tweaks that banks will just find ways around or ignore.

*Audit Bailed out Banks -- That willl tell you what happened in the past, but nothing going forward

*Regulate High Frequency Trading -- Trading at this speed is basically zero-sum, regulating HFT would help rich, low-frequency traders but not the 'average joe' very much. I guess you could argue that HFT traders slowly 'soak up' money that should be going to people's 401(k). I'm not sure

*Stop Keystone XL -- relatively minor

*End false profits/mark to market -- This will have an impact on bank balance sheets, but so what? It won't help unemployment, it won't help economic recovery. It's a more honest form of accounting but still a really, really minor step

*End corporate personhood -- symbolic but won't change anything right away

*End Arazona SB1070 -- Good, but minor for the rest of the country

*Tax systemic risk -- Okay? I guess more tax revenue would be nice.

*Enforce the Volker Rule -- probably good, but again a minor tweak.


---------


Where are the major items like:

*Raise taxes on people making over a million dollars.
*End the war on drugs.
*End the war on terror.
*Vastly reduce military spending (which mostly just goes to military contractors to build weapons we'll never actually use)

The last think OWS needs is to

---
So lots of grandparents' retirement account are wiped out, even though they never did anything more wrong than be part of their employers pension plan, and who exactly would be in a position to buy the company whole, or want to buy the individual assets?
Oh spare me this bullshit. People absolutely are responsible for the behavior of companies they invest in, up to their equity. If you invest in a company that does the world harm and gets in trouble because of it you absolutely deserve to lose your money. When you invest your money, you're trusting the people you give it too. Asking for a bailout because they got caught breaking the law (which you would have profited from had they not fucked up) is ridiculous.
posted by delmoi at 1:44 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Replacing regulatory agencies with new congresscritters is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and then replacing the baby with a facehugger.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:44 PM on November 30, 2011


You're right in a sense, but the reality is that there will never be a free national health service in the US until some fundamental changes are made to American culture and governance. It ain't as easy as it looks to bring some common sense to the table here, on that topic.
Isn't that the point of OWS though?
posted by delmoi at 1:45 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Isn't that the point of OWS though?

Yes, which is why free national health care isn't the first and foremost demand.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:48 PM on November 30, 2011


I'm pretty skeptical of the whole technocrat idea generally

Are you living in the woods? Do you have electricity and running water? Because if you do, it may come as a shock to you to learn that some "technocrats" somewhere had a lot to do with all that once upon a time.

I always find it remarkable that people believe that a government that's competent to engage in something as important as national defense isn't actually competent to do anything else.
posted by octobersurprise at 1:52 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


I love the idea of taking the wind out of demand-demanders by turning the question around into "Here are some reasonable things. Doing them would be a good idea."

I'm really late to the party on this one, but "taking the wind out of demand-demanders?"

I don't really like the implication I sometimes pick up in these OWS threads that anyone who doesn't flock to the OWS camp site is somehow part of the problem. Reading over this list, I can tell you that some of us have been asking for a number of these things for decades already. Even going out and protesting--yes, people did this before OWS. There have been many books and articles written arguing in favor of a number of these things for years, some of us studied them and believe in them strongly. OWS issuing a coherent set of demands is frankly long overdue, and I'm saying that as someone who has been active at protests in the last decade and believe in a lot of what is outlined here. I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that demonstrators and protestors make clear their demands, but I do think it is unreasonable to tell people they aren't trying hard enough and they "just don't get it" for seeing a bunch of people camped in parks with a laundry list of causes in slogan form written on placards--many of which aren't reflected by this list, I might add--and not understanding or immediately throwing their support behind it.

Additionally, not all of us are American. These demands make a lot of sense in an American context, but we Canadians also have also had Occupy movements here. Some of the things in this list would not really apply here, and I feel comfortable saying that we have at least one viable political party we can vote for in elections that takes up some of these issues as part of their platform. Trouble is people are voting for the Conservatives instead. This poses a problem, and I think it's more important to communicate coherently what it is you're trying to accomplish in a context like this where you're going to be dismissed by a large portion of the population out of hand. You need to get the people who dismiss you to understand what you're arguing for is in their interests too.

Also, pick your targets, people. I was not wild about the Occupy folks in Vancouver taking shots at people going to work on West Georgia. That's shitty, I used to work there 2 years ago and made $32,000Cdn. A large proportion of workers on West Georgia (and presumably in any financial district) are support staff, admin, clerks, etc. A lot of these people hate these jobs and get shit in terms of compensation. The people walking from the bus to the office in worn out slacks and cheap ties are probably not the ones you need to be making shitty comments to. Same goes for running into the neighborhood bank branch and jumping up and down and unplugging things. Go to head office if you want to cause shit, you're just making life harder for people who might support you.
posted by Hoopo at 1:58 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


- market-to-market is a very important accounting measure, which helps investors get better transparency into otherwise opaque financial companies portfolios. They are asking for less transparency from financial companies?

I think you, and sadly the authors of the suggestions in question, are looking at these individually without considering how they interact. Mark-to-market results in more transparency - but it has a cost, and that cost appears to be accuracy when there's high market volatility. And while I agree that the high-frequency trading is a bit of a boogeyman, it certainly creates higher volatility than we've seen in the past. The two things work together to make the system worse.
Huh, bizarre. I actually assumed that they were arguing for mark to market. Right after the financial crash the government allowed big banks to switch to mark to model instead of mark to market. Most people said it was a scam to allow banks to hide losses, because the market had crashed. Instead they could use whatever numbers they wanted (as long as they could think up a model to justify it) which let the banks appear solvent when they weren't.

If these guys are opposing mark to market then they are really stupid.
Except both the Civil Rights Movement and the Velvet Revolution were about giving people the power to exercise their basic political rights. On the other hand, OWS is now (apparently) about stopping an oil pipeline, taking sides on immigration policy
I absolutely think it's reasonable to take sides on immigration policy. Our immigration policy is the result of compromise between people who are racist and those who aren't. Our (and most countries) policies only make sense in a framework where xenophobia is reasonable. But SB1070 specifically is small potatoes for anyone not living in AZ.
Are you living in the woods? Do you have electricity and running water? Because if you do, it may come as a shock to you to learn that some "technocrats" somewhere had a lot to do with all that once upon a time.
The problem with 'technocrats' is that they're not all that technocratic.

---

Some other suggestions of what I think should be goals of OWS

* Single payer healthcare, plus directly government funded drug and medical research targeted to lowering costs

* Free higher education, plus some kind of relief for people who've already graduated and have ridiculous student loans.

* Get money out of politics: public funding for campaigns with a free and democratic way to allocate funding based on public support

* Massive government stimulus to reduce the unemployment rate: Cash to citizens,
public works, and an expanded science and space program for high-skilled workers.

* Limit the size of corporations. If they get too large and powerful, they need to get broken up.

* Corporate democracy: Mandate that people's who's 401(k) and pension funds are invested in corporations actually participate in governance. Right now a corporation who's major investors are pension funds for school teachers might lobby for laws that fuck over school teachers in order to save CEOs of finance companies money in taxes. Why? Because the CEOs and boards are the ones who actually decide what lobbyists should lobby for, not the people who actually own the company.


I think OWS should demand big things, rather then 'technocratic' tweaks.
posted by delmoi at 2:15 PM on November 30, 2011


I apologize if the posters aren't for everyone.

Don't. As you can see in this thread, and as I've seen on several other forums, OWS and things like these posters are starting honest and frank discussions between the "sides" (left/right/demo/repub). We need more of this kind of thing! It pushes peoples minds to actually start thinking about stuff instead of resorting to "stupid libtard!" and "neocon warmonger!"

For one thing this thread has definitely taught me a whole lot about corporate personhood that I didn't know.
posted by Big_B at 2:23 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


...radically diminishing the size of the federal bureaucracy strikes me as a feature, not a bug.

Much of what that regulatory bureaucracy does is "consultations", putting proposed regulation out for comment. We could really cut down on process, cost and the number of people involved by doing everything by pure technocratic fiat. It's the process of seeking public and industry input and consensus-seeking in regulatory rulemaking that requires such a huge amount of process.
posted by bonehead at 2:23 PM on November 30, 2011


... a river caught fire, you know. An actual river, actually caught on fire.

You know as well as I do that the existence of extreme cases does not justify the entire gamut of possible federal activity. Besides, the EPA is less at issue here than agencies which only regulate a single industry.
posted by valkyryn at 2:47 PM on November 30, 2011


Which is what I said right out of the gate. "End corporate personhood" is really just shorthand for "This gets in the way of the kind of society I want."

Well, sure. All the governmental things I want to change are things that I think would be better for society if they were changed. Unless I'm a sociopath or a troll, doesn't that go without saying?

But you've reduced my argument to tautology. A more helpful paraphrase would be, "end corporate personhood" is shorthand for, "limiting corporate speech rights is one important strategy for preserving our government's ability to promote the common good, rather than the financial interests of corporate directors."

It does sound like we have some disagreement about what the common good looks like -- I would probably support a more robust government, based either on greater faith in the abilities of government or less faith in free markets or greater emphasis on needs like food and housing and health care over certain kinds of freedom. A democratic republic is a good tool for mediating those disagreements. (Rather than being the death of politics, I think negotiating effective policy in spite of this unbridgeable disagreement is basically what good politics is. Although I very much agree we're not doing that so well these days as a nation.)

But so, when I say I want to limit corporate influence over politics, it's not some lazy, covert, poorly-thought-out attempt to silence your side of that debate. It's a claim that corporate political influence corrodes our system's very ability to mediate between views of the common good, because it is not interested in the common good, but rather in short-term profits. Unlike you or me -- and whatever they might do in theory -- in practice large corporations' influence over the political system is at best indifferent to the common good, and often sociopathic. That's how their incentive structures work. As a random example, whether I won our underlying values debate or you won, whether an informed majority favored a weak but honest government or a strong but honest government, we wouldn't end up with corn ethanol subsidies. That's a plain old captured government.

Now maybe we both look at a government whose programs are hobbled by corporate influence, and I want to remove the hobbles and you want to remove the programs. That's a legitimate difference of opinion, and one I can basically respect. (Throw out the car or replace the transmission?) But my strategy is coherent, civic-minded and defensible, not some trivially-dismissed red herring or subterfuge. What's more, I bet most of the OWS crowd basically gets the coherent, civic-minded, defensible position that their government doesn't function as well as it could, in part because of corporate influence, and that it would be worth the effort to directly limit that influence -- even if they don't understand all of the fine points or dangers of that strategy.
posted by Honorable John at 2:50 PM on November 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


For mine and others; edification, I'd love a layman's explanation of the Volkner Rule and why some people think it's not a good thing.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:51 PM on November 30, 2011


"The Volcker Rule is a proposed law first proposed by Economist Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Chairman, and endorsed by President Barack Obama. It limits the ability for commercial banks to engage in speculative trading. The Volcker Rule would end all "Investment Banks," making banks choose between servicing retail customers or investing in the market. Banks would still be able to invest on behalf of clients, but they would be restricted from owning or investing in hedge funds, private equity funds or exposing themselves to other types of liabilities."

source
posted by djeo at 2:57 PM on November 30, 2011


I dunno is that's layman enough. I'm assuming it is because I think I get it...
posted by djeo at 2:57 PM on November 30, 2011


OWS is now (apparently) about stopping an oil pipeline, taking sides on immigration policy, and, if your rant is to be accepted, withdrawing US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

That's sort of like saying the Civil Rights Movement was about ensuring better customer service in the Alabama transportation industry. I don't know if very many people will agree with all of the suggestions on the posters - I know I don't - but they are a great starting point for talking about changes that need to be made to the US. This country has been out to lunch for decades with regard to economic justice, and getting back on track will mean tidying up a variety of seemingly disparate threads.

I get the sense that whenever OWS makes a very big demand, it gets criticized as being too vague and unrealistic, but whenever OWS makes a more fine-grained demand, it gets criticized as being merely a technocratic tweak.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:03 PM on November 30, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay, one last take on it before I break for dinner and other non-internety stuff:

The problem isn't corporate speech nearly as much as it is business or industry speech. The two are not the same thing.

Laymen probably hear the terms "corporation" and "business" as being largely synonymous, but they aren't. When a lawyer hears the term "corporation" he hears "a legal entity created under state statute for a legal purpose, with legal personality, that shields shareholders from personal liability." That's all. Exactly what the corporation is created to do is almost irrelevant, and the entity may or may not have anything to do with business as most people think about it. Many if not most churches and almost all denominations are corporate entities of some sort. So are private schools, from day care centers on up to universities.* Families have been known to create corporations to help them manage their vacation homes, particularly between generations. I helped a homeschool co-op create a business entity for their girl's high school volleyball team, because it helped them get tax-exempt status (which is another thing entirely) and made coordinating dues and expenses a lot easier. There are literally millions of business entities registered with various state Secretaries of State, a huge number of which don't actually have anything to do with what most people think of as "the corporate sector," and the vast majority of which are incapable of exerting any influence on anyone. Not to speak of, anyway.

And we really, really want most of those business entities to have constitutional rights! Should a church lose its First Amendment religious freedoms just because it incorporates? No! Should the government be able to seize a family vacation home just because it's technically owned by a shell company? No! Should your house be subject to warrantless searches just because you happen to run a business entity out of your spare bedroom? No! Well neither should a major corporate headquarters. If EA didn't have First Amendment protection, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Assoc. would have turned out very, very differently.

But if you start mucking about with the way corporate personality operates under the Constitution, you potentially make all of those possibilities, and I don't think anyone wants that. This isn't a slippery slope argument either. The way the law works is that unless you can come up with a workable rule which distinguishes between case A and case B without violating the Fourteenth Amendment, you can't distinguish between case A and case B. So if either case isn't permissible, you can't allow the other. If you want to minimize Big Pharma's impact on politics, fine, but fundamentally changing corporate law is not the way to do it, because you affect every single corporation out there, not just the ones you actually want to regulate. "They're doing stuff I don't like and they aren't" isn't going to cut it. There needs to be some objective quality on which the rule turns, or you wind up with rule by fiat, not rule of law.

So the problem here isn't really one of corporate law per se, because corporations, as such, are by and large completely innocuous if not downright salutory features of modern society. The problem is, generally speaking, the influence of money on politics, which is a problem no matter the source of the money. Changing corporate law as such to mitigate the influence of money on politics is like using a jackhammer to drive in a nail. Not only is it far, far too powerful for the scale of force required, it isn't even the right kind of tool.

Why? Because this sort of thing wouldn't even really work. Restricting business spending just creates an incentive for businesses to funnel their profits through other means. For example, when the IRS decided that businesses were abusing expense accounts to give executives compensation not subject to income tax, they tightened those rules, but businesses just shifted those perks to other avenues like increased vacation time, company cars, stock options, etc. Unless you outlaw a particular activity entirely--and I'm all for public funding of political campaigns--there's literally no way of preventing businesses from spending money on it.

Alright, that's all I got.

*Public schools are a sort of weird hybrid, as they're both "public corporations" in may states but also governments. But that just underlines the fact that corporations, as such, don't necessarily have anything to do with business.
posted by valkyryn at 3:21 PM on November 30, 2011 [7 favorites]


Who do they think runs PayPal, which they seem to like using?
posted by punkfloyd at 4:16 PM on November 30, 2011


You know as well as I do that the existence of extreme cases does not justify the entire gamut of possible federal activity. Besides, the EPA is less at issue here than agencies which only regulate a single industry.

You take the hatchet, above, to the entire bureaucratic, technocratic state, which you indicate you think an impermissible delegation of Congressional authority, and which you propose replacing with what I'm choosing to call a "SuperCongress".

Did I miss the part where you explained how you would keep the EPA?
posted by gauche at 4:42 PM on November 30, 2011


I think they're breaking them up because they think their re-election chances are being damaged

Villaraigosa is not up for re-election due to term limits. And, again, if he were worried about appearing to sympathize with the protestors, why is he making speech after speech after speech about how completely he supports their cause?

It is just factually incorrect to claim that the OWS people have been singled out for some kind of special repressive treatment because of their message. The opposite is far closer to the truth.
posted by yoink at 4:42 PM on November 30, 2011


I'm awed by the conceptual somersault presented by valkyryn, where he has stated that the way to "to root out the excessive influence profit-motivated corporate actors transparently have on our political process"* is by "restricting the authority of federal agencies."

I understood that argument to state that we should weaken government and regulatory agencies until corporations are no longer interested in spending money on political influence. How can anyone seriously suggest this? We know that large, powerful companies will pollute, plunder resource, act uncompetitively, lie in advertising, ignore people's safety and exploit their staff if they are allowed to do so. The only thing that can stop that is strong legislation. Making the government so toothless that corporations are not interested in influencing it is equivalent to granting them carte blanche.

I identify strongly with many progressive and liberal positions. However, I agree that "end corporate personhood" isn't a good rallying cry. It's vague, and open to interpretation and it sounds like it contradicts the legal understanding of the term. For me, the critical slogan should be GET BIG MONEY OUT OF POLITICS. This is the primary mover that can allow all other reform to begin. Financial system reform becomes possible. Health care reform becomes possible. The government can begin to act in the public interest. Common Cause's page on Fair Elections discusses the current state of play on this issue.

* This quoted statement was proposed as a common goal by Honorable John in this comment
posted by yoz420 at 5:32 PM on November 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Re: the argument that Occupy protests using public parks makes the parks unavailable for the public. The Occupy participants are the public. As are people who are opposed to the Occupy movement, of course. One could argue about balancing conflicting uses of public property among different constituents. However, the blanket claim that an Occupy protest makes a park unavailable for all of the public is blatantly false.
posted by eviemath at 6:39 PM on November 30, 2011


> I'm awed by the conceptual somersault presented by valkyryn

Valkryn makes some great points here about the roots of corruption. His idea of shrinking/simplying the regulators to fix that seems nuts, but I haven't heard other ideas other than publicly financed campaigns that preserve a system that lets people in the Midwest heat their homes & drive gas-burning cars to work.

> This is why there are almost no charges of corruption connected to, say, county recorders' offices

Almost none, but here's an amazing one from This American Life.
posted by morganw at 6:47 PM on November 30, 2011


So, say libertarian and conservative types everywhere, perhaps the most obvious way to minimize corporate corruption is to eliminate the possibility of corruption by drastically scaling back the authority of regulatory agencies.

so how would you regulate something technologically and logistically complex like deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico? not that the US does regulate this.

The regulatory agencies ARE weak and DO have limited authority. Witness, the coast guard recently declaring the Gulf Coast "clean" of BP's oil! only two years later!

Your proposal is already reality.
posted by eustatic at 6:49 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The regulatory agencies ARE weak and DO have limited authority.

Actually... no. They don't. They've actually got pretty broad-ranging congressional mandates, and if they hadn't been completely co-opted by industry have the legal authority to impose pretty draconian regulations. The problem with the regulation of the oil industry isn't that we lack an agency with the proper authority, it's that the agency in question really wasn't doing anything with the authority it has.

By "weak" I don't mean "ineffectual," I mean "lacking a wide-ranging portfolio". In this sense, it's entirely logical to say that an agency can still be "strong" despite giving industry a completely free hand, as long as the choice to do so resides in the agency and not some other institution.
posted by valkyryn at 6:55 PM on November 30, 2011


I'm awed by the conceptual somersault presented by valkyryn,

Wasn't my idea in the slightest. It's a pretty standard Hayakian critique.
posted by valkyryn at 6:56 PM on November 30, 2011


It's basically moronic though. "Government Corruption" is not the problem -- bad acts by corporations are the problem. Reducing the scope of the government in order to get rid of corruption does not reduce the number of bad acts by corporations.

It doesn't solve the problem. Having the government wield the power it does have in a non-corrupt way would mitigate he problem. Removing the governments power so that it can't be corrupted would not mitigate the problem.

Let's take a concrete example. Lets take, for example a paper factory dumping waste in a river. The people who own the factory (The Koch brothers) are politically connected and are able to stave off regulation that would prevent them from doing the dumping.

Now lets say we remove the governments ability to regulate river dumping. Now, the corruption is gone.

But, the factory is still dumping in the river. in this case, the original problem isn't solved
posted by delmoi at 8:59 PM on November 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


The very fact that there are no specific demands is one of the strongest points of OWS. It operates very much on emotion, emotions felt by a large portion of the population and emotions can be more powerful politically than intellect. The lack of specific demands also robs the other side of easy targets for criticism and talking points. Emotion is much harder to fight. (Just try telling your SO that their anger is illogical and see how far that gets you.) Let OWS keep the emotion machine cranked to 11 and let others come up with solutions to appease them.
posted by caddis at 9:53 PM on November 30, 2011


valkyryn: Wasn't my idea in the slightest. It's a pretty standard Hayakian critique.

It doesn't make any sense as a means to reduce corporate interference in politics.
posted by yoz420 at 10:30 PM on November 30, 2011


It operates very much on emotion, emotions felt by a large portion of the population and emotions can be more powerful politically than intellect.

For me the monotonous insistence on rejecting the adoption of demands, and the resulting lack of debate with the broader society on specific issues has indeed cultivated a deep emotion of boredom.

The lack of specific demands also robs the other side of easy targets for criticism and talking points.

This is so wrong. A debate on Glass-Steagall or Citizens United is a debate they would lose and I wouldn't raise an eyebrow if it was discovered they've been sacrificing truckloads of virgins in the hope of that the silence would persist.
posted by Anything at 10:45 PM on November 30, 2011


Long and interesting thread. Thanks everyone and thank you OWS. With no Occupy movement to bean plate, we might all be in a thread discussing the latest Republican wing nuttery or why drone attacks in Pakistan are actually a great way to advance progressive values instead. Sure, OWS is vague and has its own share of uninformed wing nuttery but, IMO anyway, it's refreshingly on point compared to most of what passes for political discourse in the United States.

As for the demand for demands, my big question is who exactly are the occupiers supposed to present their demands to?

If the political system were more responsive to the needs of (for lack of a better term because I've gotta get outta here) the 99%, there wouldn't be an OWS movement.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 5:11 AM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


As for the demand for demands, my big question is who exactly are the occupiers supposed to present their demands to?

One thing I think people only fail to recognize because they've gotten heavily invested in the anti-demand message is that one fundamental purpose of demands is not just as a signal to those in power but also to potential supporters: 'If you agree with X then that's something we can work together on and thus have a better chance of it getting done'. That, instead of people sitting at home because they are wary and unsure about what the movement is trying to achieve.

Does that sound like such a bad idea?
posted by Anything at 5:48 AM on December 1, 2011


And to be clear, in my view the campaign in the OP is pretty much exactly what's called for and I'm glad there seems to be some enthusiasm.
posted by Anything at 6:34 AM on December 1, 2011


Yoink: Villaraigosa is not up for re-election due to term limits. And, again, if he were worried about appearing to sympathize with the protestors, why is he making speech after speech after speech about how completely he supports their cause?

It is just factually incorrect to claim that the OWS people have been singled out for some kind of special repressive treatment because of their message. The opposite is far closer to the truth.


You've missed my point by a wide margin. I don't think that they're being singled out because of their message at all. I don't think they're being singled out at all. I think mayors don't like protests, and even once the chances of re-election are gone due to external factors, as in the case you seem to be hyper-focused on, they're still stuck in the same mindset.
posted by atbash at 6:43 AM on December 1, 2011


re: potential supporters

Are the general issues that the Occupy movement is concerned with really so obscure at this point?

It's a genuine question because I don't really think they are.

Widespread unemployment and underemployment. Massive student debt. Underwater mortgages and people who have already lost their homes. It's about economic inequality and the continuing fallout from the financial crisis. Above all, it's about a political system that seems unable and/or unwilling to do anything positive about any of these problems.

Maybe I'm just wrong, but I think there's already plenty of information out there for people to decide if they're sympathetic to the movement or not and at this point, yes, I actually do think specific demands would be counterproductive. Once you start making specific demands, the movement fragments and splinters. I mean, look at the chaos the demand 'End Corporate Personhood' caused in this thread.

All that being said, I'll cop to having no f'ing idea how things move from protest to concrete action. My hunch is, at this point, to just push, push, push and not go away. See what happens and take things as they come.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 7:15 AM on December 1, 2011


I'm a big fan of this thread. Thanks for the discussion.

Valkyryn, I want to concede part of your point (in this comment) as I now understand it: "end corporate personhood" as a slogan fails to articulate a workable distinction between the parts of corporate power that (I claim) are corrosive to good government and the parts of corporate power that are beneficial to society.

For example: I think government should have little or no interest in how long a for-profit prison (the corporate entity) thinks prison sentences should be. But if people including prison guards organize and fund an advocacy group (also a corporate entity) to promote their shared view that prison sentences should be longer, I would want that activity to be protected. Or: I think government should have little or no interest in whether a private health insurer (corporate entity) favors single-payer healthcare. But if nurses and doctors were hypothetically concerned that single-payer healthcare would lead to worse care, I would want them to be able to form a corporate entity to articulate that message.

So if I want to advocate the strategy of limiting the first kind of speech without limiting the second, the burden's on me to explain how to do that, which I haven't yet.

Um. Now here's why it's worth trying. yoz420 wrote: For me, the critical slogan should be GET BIG MONEY OUT OF POLITICS. This is the primary mover that can allow all other reform to begin. While I agree that's the core point, corporate speech rights are heavily bound up in that effort. Because:

(1) Corporations have a wide variety of ways to spend money to influence politics. And while anyone with money has the same opportunities ...

(2) Corporations have more money and more incentive to influence politics than anyone else. This part's important: First, managers and directors of large corporations direct more discretionary spending than anyone else, by far. Second, corporations are fighting over their share of a $15 trillion economy. The amount spent by *everyone*, candidate or not, in a presidential election is roughly .01% of that. Apple Computer or Pfizer or Goldman Sachs alone could outspend every non-Fortune-500-corporation actor in every election, combined, every year, and it would be a rational investment. (And if it's a rational investment, then many directors will view it as their duty.) As one example, Pfizer spent $25 million in 2010 directly lobbying Congress about the health reform bill, an expenditure authorized by a few people using a tiny fraction of their yearly profit, and an investment that will likely bring in billions of dollars per year in additional revenue. This is protected speech.

(3) The Supreme Court says that we can't limit or even seek to counter-balance the ways people spend money to influence politics, addressing point 1, because money is speech. And we can't limit the ways a corporation might spend money to influence politics, addressing point 2, because corporations are people.

So we're left trying to build a system that is invulnerable to pressure by directors of large corporations, without the ability to limit that pressure directly. And we can try to do that with public financing, disclosure laws, voter education and small-donor fundraising, etc, etc, and I think we should do all those things. But bear in mind that money is speech, and laws that discourage spending to influence politics will be struck down by the Supreme Court.

Which brings me to: I am pessimistic about the ability of any government, strong or weak, to make good decisions so long as (1), (2), and (3) are true. I think this is the core political dilemma of our time, and it's a tough one.

Answering valkyryn's challenge and describing a way to distinguish corporate-profit-driven political spending from other spending would be one strategy to help fix that, and that strategy goes under the (overinclusive) banner of "end corporate personhood." Directly regulating flows of money to candidates and politicians would be another way to help, which goes under yoz's "big money out of politics" banner.

The terrible bind here is that both of those strategies require differentiating good speech/money from bad speech/money, which for good reasons we've basically agreed as a society is impossible. So we don't have any awesome options to get out of this dilemma, just odious compromises.

Personally, I think a constitutional amendment like this, which tries both strategies, would probably not be the end of the world. Courts would dig into it, try to figure out what we meant, and find a way to make it all work and navigate the problems it causes without limiting speech too much or destroying corporations' ability to do business. The upshot would be that both big money and corporate money would lose some of their power, and that would justify the hassle. This is basically my faith in judges' ability to breath life into the Constitution, and puts me on the far side of another sort of legal-philosophy argument from valkyryn, who will predict doom. It's a respectable position.
posted by Honorable John at 7:36 AM on December 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


OK there are a lot of comments and I haven't read all of them (yet) but @H.Roark:

(1) its not 'no mark to market' its 'mark to market'

(2) maybe you can explain to me why the Volcker rule is shit but Glass-Steagall should be reimplemented? To me these are essentially the same - Glass-Steagall says bank holding companies can't own investment banks, Volcker rule says banks can't invest deposits for their own profit. And it was never prop desks that got banks into trouble? What about Jon Corzine and MF Global?
posted by Gregamell at 8:24 AM on December 1, 2011


Are the general issues that the Occupy movement is concerned with really so obscure at this point?

The way I see it, in short, to an important enough extent, yes. Unprosecuted abuses by the financial industry and the insufficient rules for keeping them in check are one thing I imagine everyone agrees upon but issues such as student debt and economic inequality (in itself) will inevitably raise big questions about to what degree should they be leveled and by what means, and I've seen many summaries of protest motives that don't raise those particular issues.

And even assuming agreement on general goals, the process and the guiding principles for achieving them are similarly important. I've seen some people explicitly declaring that it's not the movement's business and it's the responsibility of experts and officials to come up with the solutions, which I profoundly disagree with. I've seen lot of people instead leaving the question completely open and for their part I'm not sure of how urgently they are concerned about it.

I actually do think specific demands would be counterproductive. Once you start making specific demands, the movement fragments and splinters. I mean, look at the chaos the demand 'End Corporate Personhood' caused in this thread.

I don't see that as such a threat -- disagreements like that can be worked out, and I believe there will be a particularly strong motive for working them out when there exists an otherwise strong agreement about most of the rest of the demands or suggestions. Also keep in mind that any argument about risk of fragmenting applies to those as well who would oppose an absence of specific demands and later those who might shift their effort to a demands-focused movement once/if such a thing gets off the ground.
posted by Anything at 10:01 AM on December 1, 2011


And once again you can read 'demands' as 'suggestions' if you think connotations are more appropriate.
posted by Anything at 10:04 AM on December 1, 2011


The danger of disagreement isn't so much the disagreement within the movement which represents a very small slice of the voting public, but rather within the OWS sympathizers which represent a very much larger portion of the voting public. Many of the sympathizers are not exactly ardent supporters but they see the unfairness in the current way of doing business which has bailed out the bankers, left the homeowners to the wolves, and is run by a government deaf to such inequities.
posted by caddis at 1:53 PM on December 1, 2011


Occupy Wall Street's anarchist roots. (from here.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:33 AM on December 2, 2011


Hmm, pity about anotherpanacea's thread. I think think that this exchange would be rather important to discuss (vis-a-vis violence versus coercion, and that anarchism is about non-coercive interactions between people, which may permit property damage or not, depending on context), but it would seem to be a derail in the current thread. (Maybe a post on anarchism more generally, with links to OWS as a side feature?)
posted by eviemath at 12:19 PM on December 3, 2011


At present, any anarchy stuff that doesn't warrant creating a new thread makes the most sense in the horizontal democracy or time for outrage threads.. or maybe the primitivism thread.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:31 PM on December 3, 2011


Ah, thanks!
posted by eviemath at 5:05 PM on December 3, 2011




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