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The Daily Need

What’s motivating the 99 percent? Herman Cain says it’s jealousy, others say it’s fear

In perhaps the most recognizable sign that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement taking shape across the country is threatening to upend the political order, Republican politicians and presidential candidates — who unabashedly embraced the Tea Party movement — are rushing to condemn the protests as a distraction from the Obama administration’s economic record.

The denunciations began last week when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, of Virginia, told an audience at the Values Voters Summit that he was “increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country.” Cantor characterized the protests as the “pitting of Americans against Americans,” an assertion that was supported by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who called the protests an example of “class warfare.”

The latest and perhaps most incendiary comments have came from Herman Cain, the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO and presidential candidate who has been building support among Tea Party voters and risen to third in most primary polls. Cain called the protesters “un-American” for, as he put it, lashing out against capitalism itself, and said the hundreds of demonstrators camping out in Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan and elsewhere across the country were driven, in part, by jealousy.

“I don’t have facts to back this up, but I happen to believe that these demonstrations are planned and orchestrated to distract from the failed policies of the Obama administration,” Cain told The Wall Street Journal last week. “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks. If you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

It is, of course, impossible to discern for certain the motivation of the protesters. We can only judge them by their actions and words. And if their words are a reliable indication, the protesters seem to motivated by something other than the “Cadillacs” Cain accused them of coveting: Debt. A textual analysis of posts at the “We are the 99 percent” blog of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement by Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, has found that one of the overriding concerns of the “Occupy” followers is not taxes or the financial industry, but student loans.

Konczal wrote a computer script that analyzed the posts on the blog, isolating and aggregating key “words of interest” that might provide clues to the main concerns of the protesters. Of the top ten most frequently appearing words of interest on the blog, at least seven had something to do with paying student loans or being able to afford college. The demands of the Occupy Wall Street protesters, it turns out, aren’t nearly as radical or far-reaching as the wholesale redistribution of wealth or the common ownership of industry. Konczal sums up what the protesters seem to want this way: “Free us from the bondage of our debts and give us a basic ability to survive.”

To be fair, the use of social media skews younger — Konczal found a median age of posters on the “We are the 99 percent” blog of 26 — and it may indeed be the case that the concerns of the protesters who actually comprise the “Occupy” encampments across the country are broader and more aggressively egalitarian. But Konczal’s empirical analysis supports what others have already reported based on anecdotal evidence: The 99 percent, as Konczal put it, “looks too beaten down to demand anything as grand as ‘fairness’ in their distribution of the economy.”

The apparent glumness of the protesters is, in a way, what distinguishes them from supporters of the Tea Party. “It’s more melancholy than anger,” Saul Gonzalez, a producer with the Los Angeles public broadcaster KCRW, said of the “Occupy LA” protesters in an interview this week. “These are the millennials and the Y Generation folks who have been left out of the economy they thought they were going to step into.”

As many have noted, the concerns of recent college graduates may not be as dire as the middle-aged unemployed, those whose long careers, steadily pursued and assiduously constructed, have come tumbling down in almost an instant as demand in the economy evaporates and as structural fissures in the way our labor market works to begin to show. The unemployment rate for those with bachelors degrees or higher is, after all, a mere 4.3 percent.

But if we’re searching for an emotional motivation for the protests, as Herman Cain seems to be, “jealousy” may not be a complete or satisfying answer. Megan McArdle, the conservative columnist, offers another psychological explanation: fear. “No matter how inflated your expectations may have been, it is no joke to have your confidence that you can support yourself ripped away, and replaced with the horrifying realization that you don’t really understand what the rules are,” McArdle wrote recently. “Yes, even if you have a nose ring.”

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  • Grace Mary Perez

    Instead of analyzing the website, maybe you should go out and talk to us protesters to find out what we really want.  Assuming that you don’t know how to read and therefore can’t read any of the statements of purpose or declarations that have been issued by the Occupy groups of different cities.

    Those of us down there are not just upset about student loans, we’re upset about the whole mess.  We’re upset about people losing their homes, people losing their jobs, people losing their savings.  College kids who can’t get jobs.  High School grads who can’t afford college or get good jobs.  Single moms who have to leave their kids alone while they work two jobs.  Moms and Dads who can’t afford to buy school supplies because they haven’t worked in three years.  We’re upset about the 1% drinking champagne and looking down on us as if they are smarter or better than us.  We are upset about the house of cards that is the US economy which is tumbling down even as we speak.  We are upset about leaders who spend their time rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic instead of changing course to avoid disaster.
    Mostly we are tired of the ‘blame the victim’ mentality of Herman Cain and others like him. The system is rigged to keep working people down and we have finally stood up to denounce it.  THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FAIRNESS IN AMERICA ANYMORE!  That is what we are saying.  What do we want?  We want fairness restored!  It’s as simple as that.  It would be nice if some of you people in the mainstream media could get at least that much right.

    {While I am a protester and supporter of the Occupy movement, I want it clear that I am not a spokesperson for any of them.}

  • Flfriday

    I agree with Grace.  There are many different “causes” that have attached themselves to the OWS groups in NY and across the country.  There are protests in over 850 cities in America.  I think the original complaints against Wall St. and the banks stem from the fact that major corruption, fraud, and outright crimes have been committed by the banksters, traders and CEOs on Wall St. – as well as our FED, SEC, DOJ – and the criminals are being protected by our own government.  I call this collusion and criminal.  Not one person has been charged and convicted of a crime, despite the fact that millions of dollars have been wiped out of our economy and pensions.  Hundreds of thousands of homes across America have been illegally foreclosed on.  People are losing their jobs by the thousands every day, and the banksters and corporations are still rewarding themselves with obscene bonuses every year since the economy tanked.  Law was passed in 2008 that only allows for civil charges – not criminal charges – to be used against the banks, AIG, Goldman, etc. - and even then, DOJ and the FED have told the Attorneys General to back off these guys.  And the crimes are still being committed today!  They didn’t even slow down!  When you are unemployed for long enough – you lose your house.  You use up your savings, drain your 401K and IRAs just to put food on the table for your family.  Then – your family is on the street.  Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to get $10 an hour job flipping burgers at McDonalds.  They hired over 50,000 people last quarter!  That and two other jobs just might get your bills paid.  I think the media is very selective about who they interview when they do get around to showing up at a protest.  I’ve seen the way they tried to kick this under the rug for 3 weeks in NY – pretty amazing. 
    I like Mr. Cain and what he stands for, but I’m amazed that he’s so out-of-touch with the people of this country.  I think it’s pretty sad that he wants to be president – but is totally unaware of the corruption and criminal behavior that has brought this country to it’s knees. Does he really not get what thousands of people across America are so pissed off about?   When the S&L debacle broke out in the ’80′s – over 1000 people went to jail for less than the banksters and traders have done this time.  Where was the SEC when Madoff was stripping the pensions and charities of their money?  Where was the FED when the banks were pushing loans on anyone with a pulse?  Mr. Greenspan thought it was great and saw no problem with the insanity.  Where were our rating agencies – you know, the ones that gave every piece of crap loan that Countrywide could spit out a AAA rating?  And where was Fannie and Freddie looking when they were buying up these loans and selling them to Wall St. – knowing full well they were toxic and destined to default?  In fact, the banks and traders and investors with deep pockets were insuring themselves to the max THAT THEY WOULD FAIL!  Remember AIG?  Credit Default Swaps was their big money maker – until all the loans defaulted and they couldn’t pay everyone.  So, the taxpayers, Mr. Cain, bailed them out.  Just in time for them to reward themselves with millions of dollars in bonuses!  To our shame – the people of Occupy Wall Street are paying the price for their less-than-stellar performances. 
    I think if anyone, Mr. Cain, Perry, Romney or Obama, wants to be President of this once magnificent country – they damn well better do their homework and find out what is really making the protesters tick on Wall St. and across the country.  This country is not that far off from total bankruptcy.
    I think the media and the politicians better listen – and listen carefully – to what these people are saying.  Not pick out a few folks who have nothing to talk about, but talk to the ones who have degrees, have worked for a company over 20 years, got laid off and lost their houses after the banksters lied to them for a year and teased them with a modification on their loan.  They didn’t want to lose their house – but came home to find a notice on the door telling them they need to leave.  I guess the Robo-signer did the job. 
    I could go on for days and pages with the crap I see and hear from people.  My IRA is just about gone – so I guess I’ll be working until I drop.  I, like most of those people in OWS, did what I was supposed to do.  I went to school, got a job when I was 14, saved my money, paid my bills and taxes – now to hear Mr. Cain, Glenn Beck, Dave Ramsey and the media tell me to stop whining?  Seriously?  Again, our politicians better start listening to the “whiners” – there’re thousands of them gathering and building a head of steam against the corruption in our government, the media, and yes, Wall Street.
    It’s interesting – none of those guys have to wonder where their next paycheck is coming from – but they can laugh and ridicule people in America who – through no fault of their own – don’t know where their next meal is coming from. 
    I heard a newscaster ask the other day why nobody was ticked off at Steve Jobs for having so much money and why people didn’t think he should “share his profits”.  But then he mentioned that people would get furious about Exxon and all their profits.  He didn’t get it.  I called the station to tell him that Steve Jobs had never put his hands in my pocket.  He made a good product and if I wanted to buy it, I could.  Exxon, on the other hand, mugged me every time I went to the pump to fill my tank.  WOW!  Only $3.40 a gallon!  Dear old Exxon – what a bunch of good guys!  Steve Jobs was Capitalism at its best.  I love that.  Exxon?  That’s another story entirely.  What amazes me is that the newscaster didn’t figure that out for himself.  Just like Mr. Cain, Obama, Beck and Ramsey.  They probably play golf with Jamie Dimon (CEO of Chase Bank) and Angelo Mozillo (CEO of defunct Countrywide). 
    I do think that anyone who is in office right now needs to be voted out.  If they’re in there – they’re part of the problem, not the solution.  Clean house – all the way from the White House.  Like I said, I do like some of what Mr. Cain has to offer – he’s NOT been in public office yet – so he’s not been bought and tainted.  But he really needs to get down with the people of this country and actually listen to what they are asking for.  Accountability, for one thing, would really be refreshing.  The government doesn’t owe them a job – they just want the opportunity to work and live in their homes.  I know too many people who have been laid off and truly want to get back to work.  Mowing lawns is not an option for a Mom or Dad with a couple of kids to feed.  There’s just not that much grass around….

  • John Ross

    One sure way to eliminate the class war would be to equally share all income and labor, but money is so addictive!

  • Malita Brown

    My main beef is that the super rich do not pay income tax like the rest of us do. They take their pay as stock options which are cashed. Because they have been stock options, the resulting cash is now “capital gains” which is taxed at 15%. Also there is no payroll tax on capital gains. Raising the top tax bracket will not stop the super rich from using this loophole which no one in Congress seems to be interested in closing. The middle class is left to support the country which cannot be done. We are not spending too much on our people. We spend far less than other countries spend. Other developed countries provide national health care to all citizens and higher education including books and a living stipend to their citizens. We do neither and still we cannot afford the modest assistance we do give to citizens. The bottom line is that our country including our states are broke because the rich don’t pay tax, even the present 35% top rate which is very low.

    Consider when FDR inherited the Great Depression, one thing he did was to raise the top tax rate to 94%. The millionaires had all the money and were essentially hoarding it. The tax rate stayed around 91% during the 50s and 60s and the economy was good. Reagan, the president for the rich started the decline of the top bracket as well as corporate welfare and taxpayer assistance to move corporations offshore. The moves did create increased profit for owners and stockholders but were a disaster for workers. Bush merely reduces the top tax rate from 39 to 35%. What’s much more disasterous is the current 15% rate with no payroll tax that is killing our country.

    The feds take in $900 billion from income tax and $800 billion from payroll tax. So payroll tax is very important and everbody pays it (except the rich who have no official taxable income, only capital gains). I make $55 weekly which is too little for federal tax but I still pay payroll tax. In fact 46% of working Americans make too little for federal tax to apply but they still pay payroll tax.  The bottom 90% of working American average $31,244/year which is pretty low. At the top they average $27 million/year but they don’t think they should contribute in a meaningful way toward the support of this country. If the wealthiest 1% paid a fair tax and wealthy corporations paid tax again our financial problems would be over.  Indeed, if one hedge fund manager making $3.5 billion paid at 90% that would cover the whole disaster relief budget, just by taxing one person.

    Corporations are the same story. The very wealthy ones don’t pay. LIke Exxon which has made between $40 and $44 billion/year for the last 7 years, and pays no tax, while  collecting a subsidy (corporate welfare.) None of the oil companies pay and all collect federal subsidies. GE also pays no tax but receives a subsidy from the government. Only small companies pay tax. Corporate tax used to suply 39.8% of federal revenue. Now it is only 6.6% because the large wealthy corporations don’t pay tax.

    Occupy Wall Street is exactly on the right track. We have to show that we know what’s going on and we’ve had enough. I predict it might continue for one or two decades more and then there might be a full scale revolution if nothing has changed.

    Malita Brown
    Wilbraman, MA

  • Jakeandfatty

    That house nigga is sure crazy… He is in the 1%, maybe he grew up poor n hated being black, so much that he decided long ago he would do anything to get as far from that start as humanly possible.  We need a viable 3rd party evolution maybe like Europe?

  • Jakeandfatty

    your right on! 

  • Marshall N Brown

    OWL’s jealous?  NO!  They are angry at a system that is shutting most of them out.  The big cure will be to amend the Constitution for publicly funded elections — local, state, federal — so that the government is BY, OF and FOR the PEOPLE instead of corporations and, if not corps, banks.

  • CG

    I would like to say that what is motivating people go on the streets protesting is DESPERATION! 

    Those who criticize the “99%” should understand that millions of good hard-working people have lost everything; meanwhile, corporate thieves are still making millions of $$$$$. Bankers have received millions of dollars from our generous Government to help homeowners; but in fact, these banks’ directors are filling their own pockets with money by building their own LLC/Corporation and acquiring real estate properties for pennies on a dollar and retailing them few days later at 40-50% gain. 

    Good hard-working people are still losing their jobs, home, business, savings, and provably their own family. So…what would you do Mr. Cain if you would be in our shoes? People are sick of tolerating so much oppression. I AM!GO 99%!