Recently this morning, Chris Hayes reported on a memo to the American Bankers Association, a lobbying group which aims to influence law-makers to make laws that favor, well, the banks. Read a copy of it for yourself. (A scanned PDF courtesy Chris Hayes, a searchable plain-text version.) This thing sounds like something straight out of a conspiracy theory story, but the ABA confirm they’ve received it. So, sadly, I guess this is the real deal.
The memo summarizes in very plain language how big-time propaganda systems work. You pay us a lot of money to cook up dirt, spin our cause until it’s palatable for the majority, and then mobilize the masses against their own interests to support ours, stamping out grassroots campaigns and bullying politicians who might stand in the way as we go.
The point of this memo is clear: the Occupy Wall Street movement reminds people who were hurt by the financial crisis that the banks and their lobbying for massive deregulation are very responsible for the economy’s sorry state—a fact attested by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Report; consequently the banks need to protect their political interests and get ready to for the upcoming elections.
There were a few things that stood out to me. First, the entire tone of the memo pitches a clear the-banks-and-our supporters-versus-everyone-else mentality. The memo explicitly names who the “and our supporters” are. According to this memo, bankers could, for some indefinite period of time, count on members of the Republican party to defend the interests of Wall Street companies. They’re worried that political pressure from groups like Occupy might change the tide. Here’s the full paragraph that reads all too transparently. (The emphasis is my own.)
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Democratic party or even President Obama’s re-election team would campaign against Wall Street in this cycle. However the bigger concern should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies—and might start running against them too.
As it’s stated, you might think that it’s common knowledge that the Republicans have been defending the banks. The danger is that they might stop. That is, unless you pay us to manipulate the American people. What’s worse, though, is how entirely remorseless these guys are. They even go out of their way to point out that many Americans who were hit hard by the recklessness of the banks are going to have a lean holiday season. Why is this bad? It might alter their vote.
This combination [of frustration on the political left and right] has the potential to be explosive later in the year when media reports cover the next round of bonuses and contrast it with stories of millions of Americans making do with less this holiday season.
Yikes. Which is more important, banker bonuses or the millions of Americans who are suffering because of a economic collapse created by large financial institutions aided by intense governmental deregulation? The authors say which side they’re on and they presume the reader feels the same way.
The second thing that’s really interesting to me in this memo is actually somewhat prophetic, and not just because they dated the memo by about a week in the future. The quotes I gave above already hinted at this point: right, left, it doesn’t matter, everyone is upset with the banks. And everyone is a lot of people. That’s Occupy’s mantra, right? We are the 99%. And in case you forgot, that’s a big number.
Well-known Wall Street companies stand at the nexus of where OWS protestors and the Tea Party overlap on angered populism. Both the radical left and the radical right are channeling broader frustration about the state of the economy and share a mutual anger over TARP and other perceived bailouts.
So this recent op-ed by Sarah Palin in the Wall Street Journal must have been terrifying. (I suggest you read it, it’s surprisingly sane even if it is essentially a plug for one of her staffer’s books.) Palin basically decries lobbying, or at least wants to make the process more transparent, and suggests specific solutions— make Congress subject to the Freedom of Information Act, for example. I can’t tell if she actually believes what she’s written, but many of her ideas have good potential.
By the end of the editorial, Palin starts to show her “maverick” roots and this time in a somewhat profound way. She reaches out to the Occupy movement to say, look, we’re not so different. Wall Street is bad. Their deep pockets can buy votes. Their predatory lobbyists are good at their jobs. They fight for big corporate interests that aren’t aligned with American people. Turn your attention on the politicians who receive these gifts. You have the power to act. I wish she had gone a little further and actually said, “Vote.” In Palin’s own words:
This call for real reform must transcend political parties. The grass-roots movements of the right and the left should embrace this. The tea party’s mission has always been opposition to waste and crony capitalism, and the Occupy protesters must realize that Washington politicians have been “Occupying Wall Street” long before anyone pitched a tent in Zuccotti Park.
And that’s exactly the sort of message this CLG&C memo warns against: political action from all sides for financial reform and regulation. It seems the Occupiers have caught on, too. They’re running commercials on ESPN and, wait for it, the O’Reilly Factor. I wonder whether these two groups will coalesce. Until then, watch the commercial here.
The third thing that jumped out at me is that the banks shouldn’t just be afraid of the ideas of Occupy, but of Occupy itself.
It may be easy to dismiss OWS as a ragtag group of protestors but they have demonstrated that they should be treated more like an organized competitor who is very nimble and capable of working the media, coordinating third party support and engaging office holders to do their bidding. To counter that, we have to do the same.
Clark, Lytle, Geduldig & Cranford promise to dig up dirt on Occupy leaders and undermine them, and therefore the movement they stand for, with a smear campaign. This might be trickier than they let on. The Occupy movement doesn’t, at least to me, appear to have a central leadership that outsiders like me can point to. Every time I see or read an interview I get a new face. It’s easier to discredit a handful of well-known, well-associated leaders. It’s next to impossible to pull records on an amorphous collection of anonymous demonstrators. Isn’t what that V movie was all about, after all? I hope the folks at Occupy resist the urge centralize their PR. Their relative anonymity is one of their strongest assets. That and the fact that the general tenets against corporate and political corruption are right.
So this memo suggests conventional print, radio and TV ads to combat negative bank press, as well as monitoring and leverage of social media sites. Sure. That’s usual, but they had one more idea that was a little shocking to me. It goes by the name of coalition planning. Since no one will trust the banks, these guys will hire and plant community leaders to plan and organize public support for the banks, but secretly. No one should know that they’ll be taking orders from the banks and doling them out to their unsuspecting supporters. It’s like making prisoners dig their own grave and smile about it! Here’s what ABA would get if they signed up with these guys:
Individual companies under threat by OWS and its adoption by Democrats likely will not be the best spokespeople for their own cause. A big challenge is to demonstrate that these companies still have political strength and that making them a political target will carry a severe political cost.
We will produce a report identifying traditional and non-traditional allies, intellectual support and politically important economic footprints that could ultimately form the basis of a broad coalition (rather than the narrow D.C. definition of a coalition) who can help carry our messages and organize supporters.
Notice how threatening their language is. These guys are not fooling around.
A strong placement [of paid advertisement that “combat OWS messages and provide cover for political figures who defend the industry”] early in a transition to adopt the OWS movement will send a powerful political signal about the risks of carrying that through.
We need to show politicians that if they stand for the American people and against corporate greed, we will stand for them during elections. Write to your senators and congresspeople to tell them what is important to you and why you will vote.