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The Mainstream Spin on OWS: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

Posted: 12/15/11 04:16 PM ET

Criticism of Occupy Wall Street protests is so anecdotal and insubstantial that you have to wonder if Ronald Reagan is speaking from the grave. This is a brief guide to the realities behind the mainstream spin.

LIES

Many of the "so-called protesters" are actually attending ritzy universities.
So what? A Harvard degree doesn't come anywhere near guaranteeing a $400,000/year income, the approximate amount needed to join the one percenters. Most of these students are future 99 percenters. So they're right where they belong -- at the protests.

As for the "dressing down," all college students -- as well as the fully employed people who come to the protests after work -- tell me the same thing, "Of course I wear my old clothes. I should wear my best clothes to sleep in a tent and maybe get tear-gassed?"

Not showering, and using public restrooms to wash.
As complaints go, this comes under the heading of "Pick one." You can hardly complain because people are washing and not washing.

If it's not washing -- then cross the street, or hold your nose and walk on by. And if the complaint is washing in public restrooms, note the word "public." That's who the restrooms are there for: the public. I've seen signs in parking lots warning "No skateboarding," but I've yet to see one in a restroom that says "No washing."

DAMN LIES

The protestors don't know what they want.
Deluded observers can cure their ignorance by looking at the placards seen in photographs in mainstream media:

  • Restore the Glass-Steagall Act [and then some]

  • Major new controls on lobbying.

  • Executive compensation caps [including bonuses]

  • Stronger consumer protections.

  • A return to controls on credit card and other loan interest rates (credit card interest was capped at 9 percent in all states until 1978).

Notice only the last demand is reactionary; on other issues the protestors want advances. (And a few honest government financial appointees like Elizabeth Warren wouldn't offend them, either.)

Two things most protestors are not demanding: single-payer health care and jobs. They're perfectly aware that universal health care is years away, and they don't expect the government to create jobs.

The homeless are joining the protests for free food.
Some are. Yet as I was photographing an Occupy San Francisco camp, a tourist from Ohio commented to me, "That's kind of an indictment in itself, that Americans should have to come to a protest to eat."

And Then There Are STATISTICS

OWS has cost cities $13 million dollars in expenses.
Are we impressed by this? Impressed when that sum is compared to the 4th of July, where fireworks alone cost several hundred million for a one-day celebration of a mightily important event, but one that occurred over two centuries ago.

In this context $13 million is chump change. In the 1960s U.S. Senator Everett Dirksen commented that "A million here, and a million there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money." I haven't heard that phrase in over 15 years without it being changed to "... a billion here, and a billion there... "

If police had been less confrontational, the entire cost of OWS protests to date might have been a quarter of that.

Cleaning up "200 pounds of excrement."
As I recall from the summer I spent on a farm, a 200 pound pile of cow manure is about 30 minutes' shoveling for a 7-year-old boy. I'm guessing the weight, based on the pile being a lot bigger than I was. (Unlike the anti-OWS scatology fans, I felt no urge to shovel it onto a scale and weigh it. Or were city sanitation workers ordered to take it somewhere and weigh it?)

Which raises the question of why the cities did not provide portable toilets, as they do for most any civic event -- as they supply tens of thousands of toilets across America on the 4th of July? A few hundred toilets does not seem too much to ask, when Americans are assembling to demand a redress of their grievances under their First Amendment rights.

(The reactionary answer to the lack of toilets is "because they didn't have a permit!" A few government health departments will simply order a city to put toilets in place, but most health departments lack that authority, so politicians are free to deny permits and deny toilets.)

A decreasing percentage of Americans support OWS.
Pollsters have been on a roll with this statistic, but the fact is that these are micro-snapshots. People's opinions are based on how much mainstream media coverage there has been in a given week, and whether protestors or police have been more outrageous that week. Pollsters are dancing around the issue of whether Americans feel the economy is deeply corrupt and flawed.

Clearly, protesters won support the day Lt. John Pike pepper-sprayed sit-in students at the University of California Davis. But next week the protesters may feed homeless people again, further annoying the mainstream, or at least annoying the fringe right wing. So we will see who botches public relations the most. From personal observation, I'd guess it will be the police.

Either way, escalation from either side means mainstream media will be forced to cover OWS, especially if there are good photo-opportunities. Now that protesters are starting to occupy foreclosed buildings, there should be plenty more photo-ops. And then the public will make up their minds.

In varying forms, "There are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics." was attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli by Mark Twain. Which, of course, led people to attribute it to Twain himself. The "who really said it" debate is covered at wikipedia.org/wiki/Lies,_Damn_Lies,_and_Statistics

Appreciation to James Heintze for his pointers to July 4th statistics and costs at
www1.american.edu/heintze/fourth.htm

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