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Cultural Decay v. Cultural Decay


In an epic battle that illuminates how far things have gone, two groups are battling for "ownership" of a Sacramento public park. 

On the one side are our new friends, the Occupy X movement (X being anywhere without the backbone to expel them, which evidently means everywhere).  I can't tell  who exactly is in this movement, but I gather it's an amalgam of so-called students who applied for a boatload of loans and now demand the right to welsh on them; dopers; small time criminals (small time so far, anyway); and  people who think police cars and local homeowners' doorsteps are Porta-Potties.

The surprise is the group now speaking out in opposition.  Although the Occupy X movement got its start opposing "corporate greed" and speaking up for the little guy, the opposition turns out to be.....the little guy. 

Specifically, the group in opposition are a bunch of vagrants (in modern lingo, the "homeless") who had previously had the park to themselves.  Here's the story.

P.S.  Hey Kent, good luck getting to work.

P.P.S.  Our friends at Powerline are doing a fantastic job covering the Occupy X movement around the country.  See their descriptions, e.g., here, here and here.


Not a problem. Our office is nowhere near this park. The park is across from city hall, so along with the homeless, the occupiers are inconveniencing the city council, most of whom deserve it. So maybe they are not utterly without redeeming social value.

The part about the occupier who wants a restraining order against the homeless woman is priceless. You take over a place you have no right to take over, and then you want the law to come in and protect you?

I would also make the observation that in general (at least where I live), the homeless people who habitually occupy a particular city park tend to be folks who just want to live and let live. I can understand how disruptive it must be to have their usual hangout suddenly overtaken by a bunch of noisy protesters.

Nothing says compassion like chortling about the untermenschen, eh Bill? The whole tone of this piece--from the headline to the commentary to the sympathy for poor Kent and his proximity to the Sacramento Civic Center--reminded me of Molly Ivin's quip about Pat Buchanan's culture war speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention: "Many people did not care for Pat Buchanan's speech; it probably sounded better in the original German."


What prompts your sarcasm over Bill Otis's "compassion"?
Was it due to his use of the terms "vagrants" and "homeless"? I have had limited experience with charitable outreach to the homeless, such as when I lived in Atlanta.

I am confident that no homeless guy--nearly all were males--would have taken offense had I described him as vagrant. Politically correct speech is not necessarily more compassionate, just prescripted and oft-less precise, right?

Wouln't you prefer an authentic yell of "FIRE!" to a vieled description of "The Phenomenon of Combustion Manifefested in Light, Flame, and Heat!"?

Decencyevolves --

My first reaction was to tell you that, if you think I'm a Nazi (which is what you imply), you should just say so directly.

I then thought the better of it, for this reason: This blog is about issues, including OWS. It is not about persons, and still less is it about name calling or just sticking your tongue out. You can do better, and you have done better. When you discuss issues, your comments are welcome. When you just want to take cracks, they aren't. On the comments section of another criminal law board, I was just recently called a child molester and a necrophiliac. You are not going to start this comments section in the same direction. If you do, your days commenting here are numbered, and the number is low. Do you understand?

Individuals in the Occupy movement are just a bunch "of so-called students who applied for a boatload of loans and now demand the right to welsh on them; dopers; small time criminals (small time so far, anyway); and people who think police cars and local homeowners' doorsteps are Porta-Potties."
The homeless are little more than "vagrants"
Both are little more than "Cultural Decay v. Cultural Decay." And Kent deserves our sympathy for having to work anywhere near such low lifes.

You are right, Bill. Name calling isn't pretty. My apologies.

1. Your apology certainly seems to be insincere. But I'll ask rather than guess. Is it?

2. "Individuals in the Occupy movement are just a bunch 'of so-called students who applied for a boatload of loans and now demand the right to welsh on them...'"

It is in fact the case that "students" in the OWS movement are demanding that the loans they voluntarily applied for be dumped overboard rather than they live up to their word to repay them. Do you deny it?


And there are people in the group smoking dope. Do you deny it?

"...small time criminals (small time so far, anyway);"

In fact, there have been numerous assaults, vandalism, menacing, drug distribution and at least one attempted rape that I know about. Do you deny it?

"...and people who think police cars and local homeowners' doorsteps are Porta-Potties."

You missed the extremely well publicized picture of the OWS "gentleman" taking a dump on a police cuiser? And the almost as well publicized neighbor complaints of using their property for a toilet? You missed that?

"The homeless are little more than 'vagrants'."

They are vagrants, you bet. Do I need to buy you a dictionary?

It's a characterisic liberal McCarthyite dodge to imply that a conservative is a Nazi (which you did), then claim that it's the OTHER GUY who's doing the name calling. "Name calling" is, in other words, the liberal McCarthyite label for what a conservative is doing when the conservative is telling a truth the liberal McCarthyite can't handle.

It's just classic that the people liberals hate are the productive and successful ones, while the ones they gush over ("You uncompassionat conservatives are so, well, so NASTY to these folk heroes!") are using the streets, not to mention private property, as their toilet.

You aren't a Nazi, Bill, in any way shape or form. But I think your post contains lazy and unfair generalizations about a large movement and labels the people in it moral degenerates based on the misbehavior of a few. I think you are both smarter than that and better than that. And I hope you are right to point out that I am better than that as well. My post was to make a point. Name calling isn't very pretty, regardless of whether the individuals who do it, or who are victimized by it, are ideological allied with you or not.

First, I apologize for the typos in my previous response. I'm in a location where the computer I'm using does not allow me to go back to correct them.

A few points: Since we now know that I'm not a Nazi, I don't get the point of implying that I am by using the Molly Ivins comment on Pat Buchanan.

Second, I think it's telling that, after criticizing me for characterizing the OWS people as I did, you don't take issue with the factual accuracy of a single one of the characterizations. It has to be obvious that not every one of the OWS people wears every one of the characteristics I mentioned. But enough of them do that it's absolutely fair to bring them up. For example, to the extent there can be said to be an "agenda" for these guys, the "right" to walk away from re-paying the money they voluntarily (indeed eagerly) borrowed is right near the top.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me that, when you borrow money, you pay it back. It was not even a subject for discussion. With this bunch, however, the option of walking away from what you owe seems to be viewed as a "human right." It is no such thing. It's dishonesty, and aggressive dishonesty at that. I am not required by "compassion" to ignore this or use a euphemism to describe it. I am, to the contrary, required by truthfulness to affirm it.

Third and relatedly, I still don't get the point of referring to that practice as "name calling." To say that Joseph Goebbels was a Nazi is not name calling, because it's true. To say that a mere conservative is a Nazi is indeed name calling, because it's false. In other words, the same characterization can be name calling, or not, depending on its truthfulness.

Homeless people ARE vagrants, what can I tell you? The culture has developed a bad habit of muzzing over the truth by "creative" language. For example, people like me are not "seniors," though that's what we're routinely called. We're OLD. A "senior" is what you are in your last year in high school or college.

Because euphemisms obscure the truth -- and are often employed tacitly to demand unearned sympathy or victim status -- I don't use them, and won't be using them in the future either.

As on so many of these issues, our views are never going to square up. I will admit that ther has been violence at some of the many leaderless Occupy protests around the country, most notably Oakland, where a small group of black shirted anarchists assaulted protesters, destroyed property and battled with police, but I think it is fundamentally unfair to say that this sort of misbehavior, or the others you mention is what the Occupy movement is about.

What the protesters are upset about is what much of the American public is upset about--corporate criminals getting bailed out while the federal government seems unable to do anything but protect the interests of the wealthy and ridiculously high rates of income inequality that have occurred largely due to changes in our corporate and political culture since 1980. They have managed to change the political conversation in this country from deficits to jobs and income inequality and for that, they should be applauded. As for college students burdened with enormous loans and no jobs during the greatest recession since the great depression, perhaps you have no sympathy for their plight, but I feel differently. As for "vagrants", well, I am glad that the Supreme Court struck down vagrancy laws misused for venturies to punish the vaguely undesirable back in 1972 in Papachristou v. City of Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156 (1972), but then we probably disagree on that too.

Molly Ivins wasn't saying Pat Buchanan was Nazi, she was mocking his intolerance with intolerant language herself. I don't think you are a Nazi, Bill, but when you categorize groups of people you disagree with as "moral decay" and frankly moral degenerates, I find it intolerant.

What has happened to college tuition is extraordinarily troubling. When I graduated from a UC Law School way back in 1986, my annual tuition was $1,000; it is now $20,000. Undergraduate tuition at the UCs is rising out of sight for many families:


and the job prospects facing too many graduates are simply not what they should be:


Back in the 1930s, a group of undemployed veterans descended on Washington, DC seeking government funds. They called themselves the Bonus Expeditionary Force. Some viewed them as moral degenerates. President Hoover insisted they were "5,000 mixed hoodlums, ex-convicts, Communists, and a minority of veterans" and General Douglas MacArthur used violence to break up their encampments. History has been unkind to Hoover and MacArthur regarding this issue, and justifiably so.

Everyone knows when he borrows money that he has to pay it back. This is not real hard; you learn it in elementary school.

Everyone also knows that college is really expensive and that there is no guarantee that they'll get a job, or the job they want, upon graduation.

That is how life works. I am not aware of any even vaguely moral theory under which I get to say to a creditor: "Oh, yeah, I asked you for $50,000 on the promise that I'd repay it, and I did this while I was an adult, and I know what a promise is, but I'm encountering difficulties, so I'm going to break my promise and see to it that my difficulties are shifted to you to bear, and if you don't like it you can go to a warm place and by the way the problem isn't that I'm a thief it's that you don't have enough compassion you pig."

Like that speech?

As to wealth inequality: It is no business of mine what others make, nor should national policy be set by paying attention to, much less bearing seething envy toward, one percent of the population. That is turning envy from a mere vice into a social policy. But envy is a ferociously destructive emotion.

Liberals are always saying (lecturing, actually) about how we should all get along together and bear good faith toward one another. They say this constantly, and they say it especially about criminals, in the name of compassion and forgiveness and whatever else can be enlisted to deep six accountability.

The one place where liberals don't say it, and indeed are livid with hate, is toward the famous one percent, even though the huge majority of the people in that one percent have committed no crime whatever and are, to the exact contrary, the people who carry a hugely disproportionate share of the governmental load for every one else.

Wouldn't it be a healthier attitude to work hard, be grateful for what you have, and not begrudge others who happen to do better? Liberals are always minding other people's business and nuturing every resentment, including those they have to manufacture. Give it a rest.

Soreheadedness is not really the best way to go through life. Gratitude for living in a country with so much freedom and prosperity is.

I can't do as good a job responding to this as Matt Taibbi did, in his recent article, "Wall Street Isn't Winning, It's Cheating"


"Think about it: There have always been rich and poor people in America, so if this is jealousy, why the protests now? The idea that masses of people suddenly discovered a deep-seated animus/envy toward the rich – after keeping it strategically hidden for decades – is crazy.

Where was all that class hatred in the Reagan years, when openly dumping on the poor became fashionable? Where was it in the last two decades, when unions disappeared and CEO pay relative to median incomes started to triple and quadruple?

The answer is, it was never there . . . . We hate the rich? Come on. Success is the national religion, and almost everyone is a believer. Americans love winners. But that's just the problem. These guys on Wall Street are not winning – they're cheating. And as much as we love the self-made success story, we hate the cheater that much more.

In this country, we cheer for people who hit their own home runs – not shortcut-chasing juicers like Bonds and McGwire, Blankfein and Dimon.

That's why it's so obnoxious when people say the protesters are just sore losers who are jealous of these smart guys in suits who beat them at the game of life. This isn't disappointment at having lost. It's anger because those other guys didn't really win. And people now want the score overturned."

1. The people who want to welsh on their loans are not one whit better because there are other people in the world who cheat.

2. I have absolutely no doubt that some of the people in these investment houses belong in jail, and if I were back in DOJ, that's where they'd be headed. But you omit four important points.

First, the majority of bankers are not cheaters and played by the rules. In tarring them with so broad a brush, you make exactly the error you say I made in criticizing the OWS crowd. Weren't you just telling me about overgeneralization?

Second, you can't possibly be listening to the OWS crowd and not hear the envy and resentment. Deny it all you want, it is in fact the main ingredient. The Occupiers hate the rich with the same passion that the hippies hated the troops during the Vietnam War.

Third, surely you must realize how much easier it is for a person to protest and (literally) bang the drums and blame bankers and "the system" for his own failures than to get off his backside and work to achieve some prosperity for himself. Just as they want to cheat those who loaned them money, they want the rest of the world to provide for them and resent the hell out of it if it won't.

Fourth, who exactly do you suppose will bring the cheating bankers to book? Is that going to be done by the cop-car-as-toilet crowd? Not hardly. It's going to be done by prosecutors -- the same prosecutors your side routinely accuses of being fascists who hide evidence, frame the innocent, etc., et al. At the same time, it's going to be your heroes in the defense bar who concoct one phony excuse after another for their criminal greed and deceit, starting with, "Oh, it was just bad business judgment."

Who will you be standing with when the trial begins?

You might be surprised. Whatever his failings as a person and a Governor, Elliott Spitzer had alot to recommend him as a state Attorney General.

Before I became a capital habeas attorney, I applied for a position with the anti-trust division of the California AGs office, and interviewed there twice. While they ultimately selected another candidate, I think I would have very much enjoyed the work if they had selected me. When I thought of applying for this job, the most enthusiastic proponent of my taking the job was my former district court co-clerk, a lifetime federal prosecutor who specialized in prosecuting computer and white collar crime. He is also an ardent liberal and very catholic, with exceptionally strong views against the death penalty.

On occasion, I complain to my colleagues that we have chosen to represent the wrong class of criminals--the Supreme Court showed plenty of love to Jeff Skilling. The conservatives on the Court also were more than happy to immunize Janus Investment Fund from liability for prospectus fraud perpetrated by its spinoff Janus Capital Management LLC and to prevent consumers from seeking remedies in court under state law for frauds and other misconduct perpetrated by individuals with whom they contract in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. And if you are interested in rolling back the weak-kneed regaultions in Dodd-Frank, for instance, you can always pore anaonymous cash into Crossroads GPS and Karl Rove is happy to direct it to candidates and campaign ads that will serve your interests. Thanks go to the Supreme Court for Citizens United as well. In short, it's a good time to be in the corporate malfeasance business, or to be a lawyer representing people who are.

I am troubled by the following developments over the last three decades:

Successive waves of financial deregulation that have been accompanied by destructive bubble after destructive bubble, from the S and L debacle to the sub-prime crisis, with the profits privatized and the losses socialized.

Decades of increased productivity accompanied by stagnant income and wealth growth for everyone other than the top 1% of wage-earners, and explosive growth of wealth and income for the top 1% of wage-earners.

Congressman and Senators who spend so much of their time raising money for increasingly expensive campaigns from well-heeled donors who expect and receive access for their money.

Financial regulators and government officials who shuffle back and forth between investment banks, where they make millions, and the agencies that allegedly regulate these firms.

Corporate executives who sit on the compensation committees of other executives, designing increasingly enormous compensation and golden parachute packages for each other, at the expense of shareholders.

To me this is more worrisome than a few protestors across from my office. I don't think my concerns mean I am jealous, I think they mean I am sensible. As for the protestors, I'm happy someone is drawing attention to some of the inequities in our society at a time when we are in real crisis.

To clarify, the most enthusiastic proponent of my becoming a capital habeas attorney was my co-clerk, who was then, and is now, a federal prosecutor.

I'm saying too much I know, but this subject has me steamed. Lawrence Lessig said it today far better than anything I can say:

"[I]n 1980, 98 percent of financial assets traded in our economy were traded subject to the normal rules of transparency, anti-fraud requirements, basic exchange-based rules of the New Deal. By 2008, 90 percent of the assets traded were traded invisibly because they were not subject to any of these basic requirements of transparency and anti-fraud exchange-based obligations.

But the really astonishing thing is that after 2008, after we suffered the biggest collapse since the Depression, after every independent analyst had said there was a link between the structure of deregulation and the collapse, after the dean of deregulation—Alan Greenspan—confessed he made a mistake in assuming that the self-interest of the banks would lead them to behave virtuously rather than behave in a way that would drive to their maximum profit, after all of that, even then, Wall Street was able to blackmail the Democrats and the Republicans into handing them essentially a “Get Out of Jail Free” card and effect no fundamental change in the architecture of our financial system. That is, frankly, terrifying.

The Occupy movement is a wonderful counterforce. But the challenge is for the movement to frame itself in a way that makes it clear that what they’re talking about is not wealth, but wealth procured through this corruption. The protest has a salience on Wall Street not because Americans hate the rich, but because Americans look at that wealth and say, “What the hell? How did you get to profit from the dumbest form of socialism ever invented by man, where we socialize the risk and privatize the benefit? You got to gamble; you got the upside; we got the downside. That’s outrageous.”

And so I think that if the Occupy movement could understand itself to be an expression of this deep frustration with the way our government has been corrupted, if it can say, whether or not you believe in capitalism, nobody believes in crony capitalism, and crony capitalism is what we’ve got, it would stand a greater chance of success. And unless we can find a way to unite across left and right to embrace the fight against crony capitalism, I don’t think we’re going to see any chance to fight against this extraordinary power that can block reform even after the worst financial crisis in 80 years."


decencyevolves --

Ten random questions.

1. Is it OK to borrow money by giving your word you'll repay it and then refuse to do so, thus effectively stealing it from the creditor?

2. As long as my neighbor makes his money legally, what business is it of mine whether he makes more or less than I do?

3. Is gratitude a healthier attitude than resentment?

4. If and when these Wall Street crooks you bemoan get indicted, will you have any problems when their defense lawyers try to bamboozle the jury with a boatload of deceit designed to persuade them that it was all just bad business judgment? More broadly, are you happy with the amount of deceit, evasion and manufactured diversion that goes on in criminal defense?

5. Who will actually do something effective to bring big-time swindlers to account? Some shaggy-haired doper in the OWS crowd, or some "Puritanical" AUSA in a business suit?

6. Do you disagree with the idea that the huge majority of the hated 1% got their wealth by working for it, rather than by inheritance, winning the lottery, or cheating?

7. Do you approve of the rampant lying that went on by "disadvantaged" mortage applicants that led to the housing crisis?

8. If not, why not? Weren't subprime loans secured by applicant lying merely a way to get the "marginalized" into homes, whether they could pay for them or not?

9. Which do you think will produce healthier individuals and a healthier society: The attitude that the government is responsible for you, or the attitude that you are responsible for yourself?

10. And finally, a directly criminal law question: What percentage of your clients are/were factually innocent? By factually innocent, I mean did not participate in committing the murder(s)?

I have some random responses and may have more later.

5. In response to percieved social and political injustice and inequity, resentment, and acting on resentment, is a far more natural and healthy response than gratitude. King George no doubt thought that the colonists were quite ungrateful for the costs, in blood and in money, that the British bore on behalf of the colonists during the Seven Years War; their unwillingness to bear those costs through tea and stamp taxes struck him as ingratitude. The colonists were resentful at the perceived injustice of taxation without representation. It's hard to think of any substantial political change that has occurred without resentments at perceived inequities and injustices. Can you think of any? Is it just that you are a defender of the status quo?

1. It's not ok to borrow money with no intention to pay it back, or without caring whether or not to pay it back, or not making best efforts to pay it back. Its not ok to lend money to individuals you know are going to default and then, presto, sell them to another company, who then splits them up and packages them into Collateralized Debt Obligations and sells this junk as if it is was a meaningful investment. Its not ok to label this dreck as AAA grade investments and its not ok to sell them as such. Nor is it ok to market Credit Default Swaps that effectively insure such CDOs, as AIG did, without collateral to back up when these instruments if the CDOs go south. It's not at all ok for the Congress to pass laws that allow this kind of nonsense and for regulators to turn a blind eye to it. No, none of its ok. Don't you agree?

2. I care about more than just my neighbor neighborhood, because this country is much more than just a neighborhood. I'm concerned about the stagnation of income and wealth for most Americans, at a time when productivity is rising so much. When our income inequality places us alongside China and Mexico, that is a bad thing in my view, not simply socially, but economically. We need consumption and consumers, and if the great mass of people don't have money to but with, we will never get out of this whole. And Warren Buffett isn't wrong when he says that he should be at least paying the same tax rate on his income as his secretary does. Don't you agree?

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