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What should the Occupy Wall Street movement be focusing on? It's easy to get distracted in a thicket of issues. Thoreau said "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." But what's the root? Watch this video for Lawrence Lessig's answer. He could be the intelligent spokesman the movement needs.
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I have had the same thought - that +Lawrence Lessig has been speaking and leading on these issues for several years. He has some proposals for fixing the political problems too - a pledge. This could be implemented this next election cycle.
I think that the tendency to say that the flaws of left and right are much the same but in opposite directions is usually pernicious, but here I think the flaws of OWS and the Tea party really are similar: they are good to the extent that they want to make their political representatives accountable to their public and they build up political awareness and engagement, but I say the same about the Pirate Party here in Germany so that's not saying so much. Instead, they are all about willing ends without willing the means, they draw red lines in the policy sand that make negotiation impossible, and they do not try to get along with people who do not share their skewed worldview. It's not really democratic political deliberation. I prefer Obama to OWS and Romney to the Tea party, even though I agree with Lessig about their faults.
This is what happens when people lose faith that the political system works at all. That said, it did really bother me when I saw that post on the OWS blog that described the movement as "post-political" and insisted "we don't need politicians", as if the authors had closed off even the possibility of becoming something that could exert real power. The Tea Party groups knew better--they eventually started endorsing candidates, and they were able to do a lot of damage through that mechanism!

We really are not going to tear our society down and rebuild it from the kernel of Occupier tent cities, and I do worry that some of these kids think that's the mechanism, in which case they're going to be badly disappointed.

If the political system doesn't work it has to be fixed or remade somehow. I don't believe we can get along without one entirely.

The one thing that gives me a little hope is that I suspect much of the money that gets poured into political campaigns actually isn't being spent in any effective way. Lessig notes in that talk that some of the groups trying to push policy with campaign contributions are actually being cheated by legislators who make the changes temporary so they can extort the campaign money over and over. But I also suspect that a lot of money the campaigns themselves spend is wasted; they buy ads that don't work and pay consultants who have dumb ideas. If this is true, then it's not just necessarily a case of richest guy wins.

I do wonder if this is the root, though. The current economic malaise isn't just American, it's all over the highly developed world. And many of these countries don't have nearly as big-money-clotted a political system as we do, though you probably can't escape it entirely in a world where political campaigns run TV ads.
...and I should say, I saw the OWS blog bit through a comment thread on Talking Points Memo where a bunch of people started piping up and saying, "Yeah, people are finally realizing that voting is useless! All right!" This in an environment where the extreme other side is trying really hard to restrict the right to vote, through tricky ID and registration requirements. They must think it's good for something.

And a bunch of folks said things that implied that they basically thought of voting in terms of voting for President, when that's probably the worst place to start in terms of a novel movement actually affecting things. Trying to run people for school board and city council and state House, that's probably a better place to start. (Note, even there, it'll often be necessary to fight big-money, big-media campaigns.)
+Matt McIrvin 'the extreme other side is trying really hard to restrict the right to vote' - I'd be careful with this way of talking.In the US, it's what we might call the shameless wing of the Republican establishment that does this with gusto, and the right-wing of the establishment differs from the left-wing only in the amount of cynicism and skill it deploys. The radical core of the Tea party despises these people and their undemocratic ways. It's really a two-dimensional fight: left vs. right against high-handed establishment vs. mob populism.
It's possible that with the Republicans, Democrats, Tea Party and OWS we are finally starting to get enough points to deserve plotting them in two dimensions.
Sorry, I know that crack will annoy any supporters of earlier 3rd parties. I just noticed we had enough points for a kind of square or diamond.
Rich and poor may be a more useful classification than left and right, which I think is pretty much useless here. Especially if used in the communication between US-Americans and Europeans (quote: "The Nazis were leftists.").

Even the most prominent slogans of the political parties seem to be more of an obfuscation. "Small government" and the tea party, for example. They are for lower taxes for millionaires (less government?) but e.g. for the criminalization of homosexuals (unless I got something wrong), which would mean a new form of massive intervention by governments into people's lives (less government?).

So I think the first step would be to dump seemingly obvious degrees of freedom used to classify the political landscape, and to try to find new ones which enable optimal cluster identification.
In that connection, I thought this TED talk about things that correlate with income inequality was pretty interesting:

The chart of US states by inequality and trust in other people is fascinating. Note, it doesn't break down by "red state"/"blue state" in any simple way: most of the states we think of as liberal have the highest inequality, probably because the super-rich live there together with urban poor, but the conservative Southern states are pretty close, whereas conservative Western states are very different.
Lessig is certainly correct that the top 1% amplify their influence with campaign contributions. But the fact that Lessig is a great pundit only scratches the surface of the missing leadership problem for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Or the missing focus problem. As long as the movement is ineffectual and nebulous, it has a lot of friends and no mobilized enemies.

In fact, Lessig's claim to fame is an important progressive solution, the Creative Commons license framework, in which he managed to sidestep reactionary forces without defeating them head on. In the present situation, neither he nor anyone else has thought of a path forward of that type.
Politics 50 or 60 years ago really did need to be plotted in two dimensions, in that you needed two variables to explain Congressional representatives' votes. Factor analysis doesn't pin labels on axes, of course, but the most straightforward interpretation is that one variable was left-right and the other was attitudes about race.

Nowadays that's wrong, and a single variable (most straightforwardly interpreted as left-right) suffices to explain most politicians' behavior. I don't see that changing in the near future, and I don't see either Tea Party or OWS as counterexamples. The Tea Party is rightist, and OWS is leftist.

But there's also an important asymmetry: Tea Party fits quite comfortably into today's mainstream Republican Party -- maybe a tiny bit further right than some Republicans, but well within the norm. OWS, however, is noticeably farther left than any Democratic Party faction of any importance.
Ah, but the second axis we're talking about here now is one on which all legislators regardless of party would by definition be at one extreme, because they're legislators and not people camped out in the park. Which is kind of a problem in itself.

The partisan asymmetry is absolutely true, though: the modern Republicans tend to embrace (and perhaps co-opt) the conservative movement's most radical elements, whereas Democrats make a great show of running away from radicals. I figure that even if OWS fizzles out without any great radical changes, it may at least accomplish a little to change that. I think it's interesting that the Republicans are now trying to identify Elizabeth Warren as a scary OWS sympathizer; I wonder how she'll respond.
None of these felonies of collusion between the government and corporations will stop until we enact a constitutional amendment that will cap TERM LIMITS TO 5 YEARS. I propose that once any elected or appointed official in any position, local, state or federal, is finishing with their one and only 5 year term, they would be banned from ever holding another office. Why the hell isn't anyone talking about FIXING The CORE of the problem: TERM LIMITS!!!! Wake up folks, and hats off to the new American PATRIOTS - #OWS & Co.
Are you a Californian, by any chance? If so, can you say a bit about how you think that our state's strict term limits have made the state government work better?
Nope I am not from Cali. Florida. However, obviously permitting corporate proxy/felons who pose as lawmakers to sit in the senate/house/supreme court etc for decades is a confirmed disaster. The despicable corporations who have ripped all of us off and stolen the "American dream" from countless Americans, would positively find it MUCH more challenging to have to constantly RE-CORRUPT an entire new wave of elected/appointed officials every 5 years. We ALL know politicians/judges etc, at virtually ALL levels of government, from city commissioners to senators, are ALL corrupt as hell. So why do we even give these SCUM the option to ever get re-elected? Here is the most compelling and immediate solution: 5 YEARS AND YOU ARE GONE!!!!! If you agree: Please - repost!
Matt - I'm a Californian and I can say something about term limits. They stink. They make moneyed special interests more powerful, not less.

It shows you the difficulty of the road ahead for the OWS movement, or at least for its rational subset. It doesn't take any thought to sign into some loud-mouthed, populist solution that will worsen problems in the name of solving them.
I'm a Californian too. Like you, I came here for grad school and never left. (I left academia and went to Silicon Valley.)

And like you, I think that term limits have been terrible for our state. But perhaps some people have a different opinion; perhaps some people actually think for some reason that term limits have helped. If anyone does think that, it would be interesting to know why.

And if anyone is proposing term limits elsewhere, I recommend taking a look at what they've done in practice in the places where they've been tried.
@Greg, so we should let these felons stay in office until they die, huh? Can you ive specific case examples of your statement to back it up?
perhaps some people actually think for some reason that term limits have helped

Because they want the beatings to continue until morale improves. :-)
If they have to leave office due to term limits, then this just encourages them to get jobs lobbying. (Promises of future jobs are a great way for moneyed interests to get favours from politicians.)

Here in Nebraska, term limits in the legislature have done nothing except get the one decent legislator (representing north Omaha, the poorest urban area of the state, for several decades) out of office. The corporations who run this state (Con-Agra etc) were happy about that!
+Toby Bartels - Lobbying is defined as "paid salespeople who make a killing bribing politicians to take care of their corporate clients. That is why lobbying should be what it is: a FELONY called BRIBERY. It is outrageous that lobbying is even permitted. The current expanding revolution will fix that problem and make lobbying a 1st degree felony and the corrupt as hell career politician problem. Term limits will become the law.
Have the effects of term limits truly been mixed? I thought that they were consistently bad.
In California they mainly seem to have been bad, as described rather dispassionately (even blandly) in the second study I linked to up there.
+Jim Morrison - The definition of ‘lobbying’ is ‘conduct[ing] activities aimed at influencing public officials and especially members of a legislative body on legislation’ (Merriam-Webster). An example of lobbying (which is protected by the First Amendment in the U.S.) is writing a letter to a member of Congress, or engaging in a protest in the streets (at least to the extent that the protest might influence legislation). The problem with lobbying is not that it exists but that the actions of K Street lobbying firms go beyond lobbying into wink-nudge bribery, and that (consequently) politicians listen to their lobbying more than to ours.
I appreciate the passion of the #OWS movement and the people involved; I support them. That said, the movement needs to find focus and a way to act that is constructive and productive. It must become a political movement, with a focus on applying pressure at the ballot box. There is little chance of any significant change railing against wealthy people from public spaces across the country. Meanwhile 3 years after the financial meltdown, MF Global files for bankruptcy protection after raiding customer accounts to make a capital call on a trading position that exceeded their ability to cover. While the Conservatives continue to talk about the arduous Regulations (having succeeded in their pursuit of lower taxes, they have moved on to "Regulation".) This is "only" a $6 Billion hit; will someone PLEASE tell me where the Regulators were on this? How many more MF Global situations are there, and how many are much bigger.
Leave the park, LEAD a voter registration drive, publish and share information among your networks, take real actions that hold politicians accountable. Thank you
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