October 5, 2011

“Occupy Wall Street” Plans to March on DC: What The Protests Mean

As this NY Times article notes, over 700 people were arrested on Saturday on the Brooklyn Bridge as part of the “Occupy Wall Street” protests that began a few weeks ago. 700 arrested – that’s a lot! On Monday, protestors dressed as “corporate zombies” eating Monopoly money – and the mass media is finally devoting attention to this movement after ignoring it initially.

In fact, Occupy Wall Street has now spread to most major US cities, as noted in this article. “Occupy K St” is planning to march on DC tomorrow, according to this Washington Post article. As I blogged when the protests started, it’s been fascinating to follow the protest on Twitter as many thousands from all over the world continuously weigh in as part of a virtual protest (use #occupywallstreet to see).

Some have been critical of Occupy Wall Street because they say the protestors must be lazy if they don’t have decent jobs. This Forbes article is the essence of that misguided view (watch this video and determine if you would characterize the protestors as lazy). As someone who recently stood for a semester before a group of bright young students at a Top 25 law school – a group who knew they had very little chance of getting a job in law anytime soon – I can tell you that view can’t be correct. They simply don’t have any meaningful opportunities because they don’t exist – not because they aren’t trying hard enough.

It’s true that this protest is not as clear cut as opposing a war. But it’s also clear that these protestors are angry about something – and it’s a movement that will continue to grow as the media reports on boards doling out multi-million dollar severance packages to fired CEOs (eg. NY Times article) while laying off and cutting the pensions of the general workforce. Bailed out banks taking actions just to enhance the paychecks of senior management (eg. “article). There certainly are plenty of reasons to protest these days.

Andrew Ross Sorkin penned this piece yesterday, positing this about the protest’s message:

At times it can be hard to discern, but, at least to me, the message was clear: the demonstrators are seeking accountability for Wall Street and corporate America for the financial crisis and the growing economic inequality gap. And that message is a warning shot about the kind of civil unrest that may emerge – as we’ve seen in some European countries – if our economy continues to struggle.

“Ultimately this is about power and greed, unchecked,” said Jodie Evans, the co-founder of Code Pink. She, too, said she wanted to see Wall Street executives go to jail. Consider the protests a delayed reaction to the financial crisis that has now reached a fever pitch as the public’s lust for scalp has gone unfulfilled. In Chicago on Monday, one sign read: “If corporations are people, why can’t we put them in jail?”

Are Institutional Investors Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

A few days ago, the Committee for Economic Development (CED) and the Millstein Center at Yale’s School of Management published this paper – “Are Institutional Investors Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?” – authored by former GE General Counsel Ben Heineman and Stephen Davis. The paper argues that institutional investors have a significant impact on the market but not enough is known about how they are governed – and calls for construction of a database on the governance and practices of institutional investors.

SEC’s OCIE’s Report on Rating Agency Exams: “Apparent Failures”

Last Friday, as noted in this press release, the SEC’s OCIE released this report based on exams of the 10 credit rating agencies – as required by Dodd-Frank – which created a stir because all 10 had “apparent failures” as noted in this Reuters’ article. The SEC has requested remediation plans from each of the agencies within 30 days and is continuing its investigation. The good news is that OCIE reported that the Big 3 rating agencies have devoted sufficient resources to deficiencies identified in a ’08 SEC report.

– Broc Romanek