Occupy Boston and the Wall Street/Washington mess

A family medical crisis that keeps you from even reading the newspapers not only interrupts blog writing. It also gives you a distance from breaking events that provides perspective on what’s important and what’s not. For example, the obsession with the Red Sox collapse and the details of Theo’s new contract with the Chicago Cubs matter not a whit. Nor even does whether Mitt Romney invaded Rick Perry’s space by putting his hand on Perry’s shoulder in a face-down in the last GOP debate.

In emerging from the family medical situation, I am struck by the endurance of Occupy Boston. As a veteran of the anti-Vietnam War movement, I find it kind of reassuring that people today care enough to participate in this protest, even though the goals are still quite diffuse. Like its sister movements around the globe, it’s unclear what the ultimate outcome will be. But the cri de coeur is quite understandable when you read that 17.1% of Americans under 25 are out of work. Numbers in Europe are worse – 46.2% in Spain . Without systemic change, their future is likely to be a lot bleaker than that of their parents. As The Economist points out this week, it’s time to “tackle the causes, not the symptoms.”

There has been some talk (including from the highly respected Boston Municipal Research Bureau’s Sam Tyler) that the protesters should help defray the costs of police protection. But why should they do so any more than the Tea Partiers, SEIU, or fans gathering for local sports heroes victory parades ?

Occupy Boston is a demonstration of First Amendment rights and is a testament to the strength of our democracy. As long as a few bad apples, don’t despoil the protest, I find it moving. Wouldn’t it be a public relations coup of the first order if some of the one percent, society’s most privileged, were to contribute voluntarily to the costs? Can you imagine Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan donating $100K out of his own pocket to Boston for the public services incurred responding to those protesting the excesses of some of the financial institutions crushing the other 99 percent? His Boston office is half a block from tent city, at 100 Federal Street. Has he stopped by Occupy Boston? Others could follow. This gesture should be in addition to, not in place of, taking the high road in restructuring expeditiously a significant number bad housing loans in its portfolio and opening the spigot to provide business loans to deserving businesses.

We need a healthy banking system, probably one more like that envisioned by former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker, the one that existed prior to the Clinton Administration’s signing of legislation ending the Glass-Steagall law and effectively deregulating banks. But, if you have any doubt about how Wall Street controls Washington (especially under Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner), check out Ron Suskind’s new book Confidence Men.

Suskind details the early years of the Obama Administration and how the President , who thrilled us as a candidate and may still be preferable to any of his opponents, has been an ineffective leader, even an ineffective manager. In the quiet of the Oval Office, what does the President – in the wake of his squandering earlier opportunities to do systemic financial sector reform – really feel about Occupy Boston, Occupy Wall Street and other protests?

We know Obama’s campaign will try to turn the protests to a campaign advantage. But the solutions to the problems lie in going after both Washington and Wall Street. And fixing things will require more than clever ads and bumper sticker slogans.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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