A Working Families Party table at the Winston Melon Festival in southern Oregon
In recent years, Oregon state Rep. Mike Schaufler spent some $6,000 from his campaign coffers on more than 90 separate visits to Magoo's Sports Bar in Salem. A five-term Democrat known around the capitol as "Bud Man," Schaufler was tight with Republicans and corporate donors, who helped him raise 60 percent more money than progressive challenger Jeff Reardon in the lead-up to last Tuesday's Democratic primary. So Schaufler must have awoken with an epic hangover on the morning after the election, because he somehow managed to lose his seat.
Reardon, a high school teacher with limited resources and minimal political juice, says he never could have dispatched such a powerful incumbent were it not for the help of a relatively new political force in Oregon: the Working Families Party. Since its founding in New York 14 years ago, the WFP has expanded into four other states and logged a string of high-profile political victories—from reforming New York's drug laws to providing the extra votes needed to clinch the election of Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, a liberal leader in a fairly moderate state. Many progressives believe the WFP could eventually become the left's answer to the tea party.
Back before the housing bubble burst, sending America's economy into a tailspin, hedge fund manager and former CitiGroup banker Bruce Rose was marketing himself as the guy who single-handedly invented subprime mortgage-backed securities. Indeed, Carrington Investment Partners, part of a cluster of related companies founded by Rose, competed with the big investment banks to package and sell mortgage debt to investors. Now Rose and his companies are positioning themselves to feed off the tail end of the meltdown their business practices helped create, joining a foreclosure-to-rental trend that some experts say could hurt homeowners even more.
Earlier this year, Carrington announced a partnership with another hedge fund to buy nearly half a billion dollars worth of foreclosed single-family homes and convert them into rental properties. Carrington is by no means the only one doing this. Silicon Valley-based private equity firm GI Partners is investing more than $1 billion in similar ventures. Other foreclosure-to-rental players, according to Bloomberg, include the $19-billion investment fund Starwood Capital Group,* the billionaire media magnate Sam Zell, and Apollo Investment Management—the New York buyout firm led by the billionaire Leon Black.
Various Artists Occupy This Album
Music for Occupy
Like the '60s-era social movements that inspired the performers at Woodstock, the Occupy movement has proved an irresistible draw to musicians. Dropping in on Zuccotti Park last fall was a who's who of socially conscious music luminaries from Russell Simmons and Kanye West to Rufus Wainwright and Sean Lennon. They came out to inspire the protesters with their music or celebrity, but the inspiration apparently works both ways—judging, at least, from this new box set featuring 99 songs by A-list performers from Willie Nelson to Ladytron to Thievery Corporation.
Though many of the songs were recorded before last fall, others dwell directly on Occupy Wall Street. They don't always succeed, but an Occupy-themed track by Third Eye Blind, "If There Ever Was A Time," is a gem. (Listen below.) Over a typically catchy hook, front man Stephan Jenkins proclaims:
If there ever way a time, it would be now, that's all I'm sayin'
If there ever was a time to get on your feet and take it to the street
Because you're the one that's getting played right now by the game they're playin'
So come on, meet me down at Zuccotti Park
Like Zuccotti Park last fall, with its mashup of sometimes discordant messages, the wide mix of sounds on Occupy This Album can sometimes make your head spin. On Disc 2, for instance you'll hear a punk-rock song by Anti-Flag followed by a reggae jam followed by a ditty by Jill Sobule that wouldn't be out of place on the soundtrack to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
In what might be one of the tea party's greatest unintended victories, treading on the snake depicted on the protest movement's ubiquitous "Don't Tread On Me" flags could soon become illegal.
The iconic yellow flag, originally designed by the American revolutionary Christopher Gadsden circa 1775, features a drawing of the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, which was once plentiful in longleaf pine forests across the Southeast. But while the Gadsden flag has proliferated as a symbol of fierce resistance to "Big Government," the eastern diamondback has gotten clubbed, shot, and bulldozed by the private sector to the point that on Wednesday the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it's considering protecting the snake under the Endangered Species Act.
Tea partiers aren't happy about efforts to save their symbol. "They're up to their kneecaps with rattlesnakes in Texas!" says Alan Caruba, a blogger for Tea Party Nation, who added that it wouldn't really bother him if they weren't. "The bottom line is that species go extinct. They always have and they always will." (Told of the plight of the tea party's snake, a spokesman for the Koch-funded conservative group Americans for Prosperity muffled a laugh, then promised to email a statement but never did).
Though environmental groups haven't exactly started waving Gadsden flags, they do see the the diamondback as a symbol worth appropriating. A press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned the federal government to protect the diamondback, argues that its decline is symptomatic of the unsustainable development of longleaf pine forest throughout the Southeast. The snake now occupies only about 3 percent of its original range.
Of course, those kinds of facts aren't about to win over Tea Party Nation's Caruba, who, like many tea partiers, sees the Endangered Species Act as just another part of the nefarious "Agenda 21," a supposed plot by the United Nations to convert Earth into a giant biosphere reserve. "The very thought that the diamondback rattlesnake is endangered is absurd," he says. "There are a lot of mice and voles, so you know, we are not going to run out of rattlesnakes either."
By most estimates, the Occupy movement's May Day protests were a resounding success, with demonstrations held in more than 100 cities and a march in Manhattan that drew some 30,000 people—more than any Occupy event last fall. But if the movement is going to sustain the kind of momentum that captured the nation's attention six months ago, it must begin to evolve in a different direction. Occupy's much-hyped Phase 2, the "American Spring," suggests an end game that's virtually impossible in today's America: the toppling of a corrupt political system under the sheer weight of its own repression. Unlike in Egypt or Tunisia, the only real revolutions in our comparatively affluent nation have ultimately been won or lost at the ballot box.
For months I've devoted myself to reporting on Occupy Wall Street, but I haven't shared many of my own views of the movement until now. I see myself foremost as a reporter, not a pundit, and I also thought that other observers were too quick to judge. I have the utmost respect for original OWS organizers such as Marissa Holmes, Sandy Nurse, Amin Husain, Nicole Carty, and Jason Ahmadi, to name just a few, who took the art of calling bullshit on the political system way further than the chattering classes thought it could go. Instead of handing over the movement to the Professional Left, they effectively gave the reins to anyone who felt disenfranchised. Their famously nonhierarchical General Assembly and working groups might have been unwieldy, but they're also what lent OWS its legitimacy as a true movement of and for the 99 percent.
In the early days of the General Assembly, Occupy Wall Street seemed poised to grow in any number of directions. There were people who wanted to make concrete political demands or get involved in electoral politics, and people who didn't. Yet the meetings were long and tedious, and those who slogged through them all winter more often than not tended to be the same kind of people who'd first slept in the park, which is to say, radicals, often anarchists, who believed that engaging with the political system would only legitimize it. Still, many of them were happy to collaborate with more mainstream groups, such as labor unions, on protests against common enemies like Wall Street.