Where is our Ferdinand Pecora? And other unexpected signs of the occupation

"Fight the vampire squid" and other signs from OccupyMN demonstrators
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
“Fight the vampire squid” and other signs from OccupyMN demonstrators.

One of the demonstrators at the OccupyMN protest (protest? happening? event? Sit-in? sleepover?) on Friday carried a small hand-made sign that read “Where is our Ferdinand Pecora?”

Despite being a history nerd myself, I’m embarrassed to confess, Pecora’s name was unfamiliar to me. So I bit, and much to the sign carrier’s delight, I asked him who was Ferdinand Pecora?”

Turns out Pecora  was chief counsel to the Senate Banking Committee in 1933 when the committee held hearings into the role of various big Wall Street institutions as well as some then-prominent multimillionaires in the stock market crash of 1929 and other major events that ushered in the Great Depression. It would never happen nowadays when all publicity generated by Congress must accrue to the benefits of the elected members. But in 1933, Pecora was so relentless in his inquiries that the investigation came to be known as the Pecora commission and Pecora himself was featured on the cover of Time.

“Pecora’s investigation unearthed evidence of irregular practices in the financial markets that benefited the rich at the expense of ordinary investors,” says the Wikipedia article, and the commission’s work help lead to the enactment of the the Glass–Steagall Act, the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

The protesters (demonstrators? educators?) carried a lot of signs, pretty much every one of them hand-made and while not all of them contained a jumping off point to history lessons or insights into the world of high finance, quite a few actually did.

Another thing the signage mostly had in common with itself was that it reeked of anything but Marketing 101.

Another of my favorites read:

“Two-tiered Front-end loaded cash tender offers are duplicitous at Best”

This, the sign-holder told me, referred to a way of trying to hostilely take over a publicly traded company by offering a better price to those who sell early, thus trying to create a stampede of nervous share-sellers who are afraid that that if they don’t take the offer they will be bought out against their will at a lower price. The sign carrier told me he feels that this stratagem is – well — duplicitous at best and, until I hear an argument to the contrary, I’m prepared to go along with him. But the sign is not catchy.

One inscrutable looking young man held a sign that read:

“This is a tribute to the Best sign in the world”

An earth-motherish looking young lady next to him held a sign that read:

“♥ > $”

I asked the young man whether his sign referred to the young woman’s sign next door. He said not really, although he liked her sign fine. I asked him what was the best sign in the world. He said he wasn’t sure, but his sign was a tribute to it. I asked the young lady who prefers love to money whether she was sitting next to the young man in hopes that people might at least think his sign referred to her sign. She said not really, but she wouldn’t mind if anyone happened to think so.

Some signs and what they mean
A lot of much trickier and more tenacious investigative reporters than your humble ink-stained wretch have failed to unearth the concrete secret agenda that is driving the Occupationist Movement, so during my very pleasant couple of hours wandering among the occupationists (what a fall we’re having, eh?), I contented myself with taking down what their signs said and occasionally asking them about what they meant. Here are some of the signs:

“Lower the Maximum Wage”

“The winds of change are blowing”

“This is not a crisis; it’s a slam”

“Capitalism encourages greed”

“Billions of our tax dollars went to bailed out bank bonuses and trickled down to cutting social services”

“Blame Reagan and Bush; Not Obama”

(Or, on the contrary:)

“Bush? Obama? Same policies – Join the Ron Paul Revolution”

“A 4-day 32-hour workweek = more real jobs for Americans”

“Wall St. Econ 101: Privatize the profits; Socialize the losses”

“No slaves; No masters”

“Wake Up America”

“The 99% is too big to fail”

“Eat the Rich”

“Economic Justice means forgive loans, not lawbreaking banks”

“Be Warned: The Nature of your oppression is the aesthetic of our anger”

“Corporate Greed is Killing this country and its future”

“We are still a colony of the British Empire under the jurisdiction of the Magna Charta”

“Health Care is a Right”

“Wall Street Cheats—Stop Naked Shorting”

“Audit the Federal Reserve”

“Corporate America: Join me or face your doom!”

“Money is not Evil; Buying and Selling Congress to protect Wall Street Is”

“I dissent”

“Tax the 1%”

“Can I please get a bailout to pay for college”

“You’ve Got to change the world and use this chance to be heard; your time is now” (This, the sign holder told me, is a lyric from a song called “Butterflies and Hurricanes” by a group called Muse.)

“We ARE the government”

“Jesus: Please rescue the other 99 sheep”

“This is what a global revolution looks like”

“We now have government by the corporations, for the corporations”

“Ministry of Propaganda: Fox News”

“If they are saying ‘Let them eat cake,’ maybe we should say ‘Off with their heads.’”

“’The number is negligible and they are stupid’ Dwight D. Eisenhower”

One more lesson
OK, I’ll just squeeze one more history lesson off that last one.

President Eisenhower received a letter from one of his brothers indicating that many conservatives (I gather including the brother) were complaining that Eisenhower’s policies did not represent much of a change from those of the previous administrations. (And bear in mind that Eisenhower, a moderate Republican, came to office after a combined five consecutive terms — longest Dem streak ever, by far — of Democrats Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman, which terms represented significant expansions in the reach of the federal government and breakthroughs in the growth of the welfare state.)

Eisenhower replied (his brother’s letter and his reply are in the public archives) as follows:

“Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental functions. I oppose this — in some instances the fight is a rather desperate one. But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it.

“The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything — even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon ‘moderation’ in government.

“Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Tony George on 10/10/2011 - 09:51 am.

    Until all politicians in Minnesota renounce the Koch brothers and refuse all campaign contributions from them, Minnesota will be suffering from the corruption of these two disgraced businessmen from Kansas. The Koch brothers stole one and a half billion dollars worth of oil from an Indian reservation in Oklahoma and are using this money to buy influence in statehouses and Congress.

  2. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/10/2011 - 09:59 am.

    It is good to see that educated urban liberals can match their Tea-Party counterparts for angry protests with poorly informed & articulated goals.

  3. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 10/10/2011 - 10:02 am.

    Thanks, Eric.

    If anyone would like to see a video that features the articulate espouser of Ferdinand Pecora – “a great Italian-American” – here’s the link:

    bit.ly/nUjbgP

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/10/2011 - 10:10 am.

    Thanks Eric for taking the time on this one. Progressive demonstrations and movement always present a difficult situation for the media because they’re typically decentralized and multi-message. Usually reporter go down and just grab someone with a sign and ask them to explain what they’re doing, and this gets contrasted with professional spokespeople who are critical of the demonstrators. There are eloquent and thoughtful participants at these things, it just takes time to find them, and they’ll surprise you.

  5. Submitted by William Levin on 10/10/2011 - 11:15 am.

    “It would never happen nowadays when all publicity generated by Congress must accrue to the benefits of the elected members.” Oh. I thought you meant Roosevelt’s appointment of a major fox on Wall Street, Joseph P. Kennedy, to guard the henhouse of the Securities & Exchange Commission. Pecora lasted six months there before resigning.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 10/10/2011 - 11:37 am.

    Thanks from me, too, Eric. Paul (#4) is right on target – usually these kinds of demonstrations are characterized primarily by a near-total lack of organization, while the spinmeister in the expensive suit and tie makes fun of them, or equates what they’re doing with “socialism,” which nowadays means anything not anointed by some scion of the right wing.

    Eisenhower’s is the first presidential campaign I actually remember, and for a long time, I kept an “I like Ike” button that I wore during it, though, at age 7, I don’t remember having any genuine political opinions one way or the other. I’ve encountered that quote from Eisenhower before, and have used it myself. I continue to hope Eisenhower is correct about what will happen to the party that has done its best to abolish all of those named items except farm programs. Sadly, their number is not, at present, negligible, but his characterization of their intellect certainly fits the primary definition in the dictionary when I pull up the word — “lacking intelligence or common sense.”

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/10/2011 - 11:55 am.

    Mr. Schulze: The 99% express the varied ways in which the 1% have hurt them, the foundation for which is the huge, and not accidental, inequity we see in our society.

    I’d say the sign “Capitalism encourages greed” refers not just to capitalism itself but to tax breaks that encourage greed by making it more profitable to export jobs than goods, to rates that taxes investment income at a fraction of earned income. In the mix as well is for government to refrain from regulating those who illegally and immorally gamble with other people’s money, lose it and expect to be bailed out; to create legislation like the Medicare Part D drug plan that helps seniors somewhat and drug and insurance companies a whole lot; and to–as in Minnesota and elsewhere–refuse to tax the wealthy at rates that would prevent the terrible rises in local property taxes and college tuition.

    Our largest corporations, with complicit state legislators who are members of ALEC,* write and pass corporate friendly legislation. Since they are “people” now, they can spend outlandish amounts of money to destroy political candidates they don’t like and to make people believe in the ones they do, thus influencing national as well as state elections. As another appropriate sign reads: “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.”

    *See http://www.alecexposed.org.

  8. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 10/10/2011 - 12:30 pm.

    You missed this one:

    “When governments attempt to control the economy for the good of the people, they end up controlling the people for the good of the economy.”

  9. Submitted by Arvonne Fraser on 10/10/2011 - 12:48 pm.

    Thanks, Eric. Good history lesson. No wonder we won the war in Europe (WWII for those too young to know) with a guy as smart as Eisenhower directing our efforts. As he says, “their number is negligble” and they may be stupid in what they believe, but they certainly are smart in getting media attention. That leads us all to believe their numbers are much greater. And they won elections because too many people couldn’t be bothered to vote. Keep educating us, Eric.

  10. Submitted by John Reinan on 10/10/2011 - 01:00 pm.

    More famously, of course, Eisenhower also coined the term “military-industrial complex” and warned against its growing influence. This from one of America’s most revered military officers.

  11. Submitted by Mary Tambornino Tambornino on 10/10/2011 - 01:55 pm.

    Hooray for Dwight Eisenhower. I have not heard that quote cefore, but it is accurate. Too bad most of the media does not do the kind of historical digging you do. Thanks. I totaly agree with Ray Schoch and Arvonne Fraser (of course, I often do).

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/10/2011 - 02:33 pm.

    It is easy to demand “just solutions”. But this is so far a movement without detailed policies. To bring about real change in a real democracy you also have to do real politics. It just takes work—and enough people who think like you.

  13. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 10/10/2011 - 02:52 pm.

    Thank you, Eric–and Bernice, Arvonne, Ray, and the other articulate commentators. I am always buoyed up by them, and I do almost always agree with them.

  14. Submitted by Carter Anderson on 10/10/2011 - 02:56 pm.

    Bernice: your liberal bias makes your attempt at a point, useless. You cant blame corporations without equally blaming unions. I am guessing this is hard for you to believe but this ugly mess was created by both sides. Your entitlement party is just guilty as the party of the evil rich. Capitalism had nothing to do with it. Greedy people encourage greed. Silly regulations and some really poor deregulating allows greed to occur. Capitalism has nothing to do with it. Capitalism would have seen these “Big Banks” fail because it punishes poorly run companies. Blaming capitalism is ignorant and proves Schulze’s point regarding the signs. The sign “Ministry of Propaganda: Fox News” shows only that the sign holder is clueless and has never watched the equally propagandistic MSNBC. (seeing the recent ratings, I am guessing this to be true.) Raising taxes on those evil rich does nothing more than feed the already very broken machine. Demanding that the rich pay more in taxes is the lazy man’s attempt to cure the issue by passing the blame. That and proof that the liberal fight is more about jealousy than it is about anything else. If you want to spend your time protesting, have at it. If you want to pretend it is for a worthy cause, go for it. However, when someone actually applies logic and common sense describing those actions, you are best to bite your lip.

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/10/2011 - 03:44 pm.

    Financial institutions currently hold several trillion dollars in assets, whose book value exceeds mark-to-market value, freezing up liquidity, and preventing new investment. The financial lobby with help from their allies in Congress applied enough pressure to the Financial Standards and Accounting Board in order to allow more “flexibility” in the valuation of assets (primarily real estate).

    Only once bad debts have worked their way out of the system, can business investment recover, and GDP rise to a level commensurate with (enormous) recent productivity improvements.

    Of course, if the government guarantee could be withdrawn, and account holders were given direct exposure to mark-to-market valuations of bank assets, the world would be a far less depressed place…

  16. Submitted by William Levin on 10/10/2011 - 04:03 pm.

    Re: the Eisnhower quotes. Certainly the term “military-induxtrial complex” was part of his farewell address, and he spoke them and believed them. But the evidence is pretty clear they were written for him by Malcolm Moos (http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2010/12/20/101220ta_talk_newton). The phrasing of his letter to his brother, which I was not aware of until today, is to me more interesting because it’s far more likely that he wrote the letter himself.

  17. Submitted by craig furguson on 10/10/2011 - 04:10 pm.

    My favorite was “Thank you Elizabeth Warren” It would have been better if it said “I’m in love with Elizabeth Warren” : )

  18. Submitted by Joe Musich on 10/10/2011 - 04:50 pm.

    #14

    And your proof lies where in your commentary?

  19. Submitted by John Reinan on 10/10/2011 - 05:12 pm.

    William, re Malcolm Moos: You’re correct, but Ted Sorensen probably wrote “Ask not what your country can do for you…” for JFK, yet it’s JFK who gets the credit. When you’re a speechwriter (and I’ve written a few) you get your satisfaction from turning a good phrase that resonates. But the expectation is that the person who delivers the speech will get the public credit for the words.

  20. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/10/2011 - 05:39 pm.

    Carter A (#14) — You are perhaps unaware of the conditions under which Americans worked until brave union organizers fought and died to bring the 8-hour day, safe working conditions, and salaries that were enough to live on to ALL American workers, not just their members. Unions did nothing to cause our current problem, but the Koch Brothers, WalMart, the National Chamber and others hate them because paying a living wage means their profits go down a little.

    Google “anti-worker movement in America” or “anti-union movement” and fill yourself in on the ugly details.

    Capitalism may not be to blame for all our woes, but capitalism run amok in the absence of true governmental regulation has brought us straight to the trouble we are in today here and around the world.

  21. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 10/10/2011 - 06:41 pm.

    #14: I’m trying to figure out how the all purpose scapegoat for the right, unions, “created this ugly mess”? If you are talking about the near meltdown in 2008 that most experts have attributed to the collapse of the housing bubble and the efforts to deal with the ongoing recession, how would unions have even contributed, mush less bear equal fault? I’m not seeing anything in your post that reflects the common sense and logic you feel is so easily applied here.

    You are also probably right that a purely capitalistic economy, a la pre-New Deal USA would have let the banks fail. Do you agree with Andrew Mellon who famously advised Herbert Hoover: “liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate… ” ? That sure worked out well, didn’t it? Maybe you support a return to those “good ol’ days” when being rich really meant something and the peasantry and the “entitlement party” knew their place.

  22. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 10/10/2011 - 07:47 pm.

    Carter, the one of the tip top priorities of every single totalitarian regime, every one, was to get rid of or diminish unions. We are well on our way with our current anti union sentiment. Organized labor has always been a counter balance to fascism. Germany, China, Iraq, Iran, Soviet Union, all got rid of unions in order to seize power.

    Also, the original Tea Party was an attack against a corporation, the East Indies Company. They were upset at the collaboration of government and corporation against the people. They attacked the corporation. OWS sounds more like the original Tea Party than today’s mockery of the founders.

  23. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 10/10/2011 - 08:09 pm.

    You’re a funny guy Carter. You and your ilk scream personal responsibility yet your entire post whines that everybody does it. Which is not true, of course but its amusing to see, written time and time again. I am curious, whenever the indoctrinated members of your tribe squeak about MSNBC you conveniently fail to mention 4 prime hours of Joe Scarbough. I think that the Republican Representative from Florida would argue with you about his being a Liberal.

  24. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 10/11/2011 - 08:28 am.

    Those corporation bosses

    Never suffer losses…

    They just fire the workers…

    Then call them shirkers?

    Shirkers…because good men cannot live on air?

    Walk a day in the shoes of another

    Even if he’s not your brother

    or your mother.

    footnote; Even the ever growing piles of autumn leaves are gathering on Main Street rustling their dissent,eh?

  25. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/11/2011 - 09:08 am.

    //It is easy to demand “just solutions”. But this is so far a movement without detailed policies.

    Actually there are a lot detailed policies being suggested here. Cuts to military spending, creating a national health care system, raising taxes on the wealthy, pulling out of Afghanistan, mortgage re-negotiations, financial and corporate regulation, etc.

  26. Submitted by Luke Ferguson on 10/11/2011 - 10:00 am.

    Eric,

    I almost died laughing at the part talking to the guy with the “tribute to the best sign in the world” sign.

    I am guessing you probably missed the influential (for 20-somethings, anyway) debut album release of comedian Jack Black’s band Tenacious D in 2001. One of the hits was called “Tribute”, and was not the best song in the world, merely a tribute to it.

    In case you’d like to know what you’re missing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5M04_qkRdY

    Thanks for the great post.

  27. Submitted by Carter Anderson on 10/11/2011 - 11:53 am.

    Henk Tobias

    Touchy touchy touchy. What is funny is your quick assumption that my “ilk” is somehow republican (although, I do shower daily). Reread my post. I am not proclaiming Fox is some fabulous channel. I simply stating that anyone stupid enough to call out ONLY Fox has a very clear agenda and isnt interested in fixing the problem. Some of us can actually see through the BS produced by all the news stations. Some of you obviously lack that ability.

  28. Submitted by Carter Anderson on 10/11/2011 - 12:19 pm.

    Bernice

    I am very aware of how unions came about. Once laws were created to make the actions of the evil corporations illegal, the unions lost their place. Look how effective unions are today in the airline industry. The mechanics from Northwest go on strike. The airline hires other mechanics, striking mechanics lose their job and eventually just fade away. So impressed with the fabulous work provided by the unions the flight attendants vote OUT the union. During the mechanic strike, who DIDNT lose their job? The union leaders, of course. Walmart isnt going to lose profits if they were to unionize. They will lay off workers, and maybe raise prices but they will not lose profits. Do you hate all those jobs going to China? Blame your beloved union. Corporations would love to stay here. Unions screw it up. Polaris wanted to keep their plant open in Wisconsin except the unions made it impossible to do so. They moved it to Mexico. Why is Japan kicking our butts in the auto industry? Unions. Since 1989 unions have given more money to democratic political campaigns than every other interest group combined (opensecrets.org) so blaming a couple idiots like the Koch brothers is a waste of time. Unions didnt create our housing collapse but they can be blamed for the european meltdown and the bankrupting of California, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey…

  29. Submitted by Carter Anderson on 10/11/2011 - 12:32 pm.

    Alec Timmerman

    You can try as you might to compare the Tea Party to this Occupy wallstreet group but until these kids can get themselves elected to congress and make actual change to the government, you are wasting your breath. Since these OWS kids cant go an entire day without even being arrested it seems a pointless analogy.

  30. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 10/15/2011 - 09:36 am.

    Carter,

    I’m afraid you anti-union diatribes are little more than talking points pretending to be history. Unions did not bring about the great recession and do not share the blame with corporations. In fact throughout the recession unions have negotiated contracts that have saved corporations from bankruptcy. As they have always done. The union failures you refer to at Northwest Arline for instance are the product of weak US labor laws and enforcement, not out of control and overly powerful unions. The fact is median wages have stagnated and declined along with the decline in union participation. Folks like you are funny because on one hand you complain about high union wages, while your own wages as at-will employees decline and erode in order to deliver better returns to investors. You end up leading a race to the bottom while decrying the only force in US history that has ever created an affluent middle class.

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