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Occupy’s Incompetence

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Who could have guessed that a bunch of Occupy anarchists who don’t trust government or institutions or systems of real accountability would prove a complete disaster with money? Oh right, me. Their Rolling Jubilee operation was supposed to buy off people’s debt. They raised a quick $600,000. What’s happened since?

Initially, Rolling Jubilee was forthcoming. It made two purchases of medical debt, one in November 2012 and a second in January 2013. For each, they provided a summary of the key statistics that was easy to scan and helpful. Those summaries allow you to see that so far, Rolling Jubilee has spent $28,079 buying debt, which provided relief to 1108 people. This is a mere 4.6% of the total funds Rolling Jubilee has raised. So it’s legitimate to wonder what they’ve been doing with the rest of the dough in the meantime.

They also held two board meetings, one in January and the second on February, but the minutes were skimpy, troublingly informal and fell well short of basic requirements (no indication of who submitted them, whether there was a quorum; contrast the Rolling Jubilee record with those from this legal guide for not for profit board minutes).

But the big problem seems to be the lack of a proper governance structure. A board, be it for a profit-making organization or a not-for-profit, is not supposed to be identical to the people running the venture. It is designed to oversee the people doing the work and to serve as a check and control on them (boards will typically have some key people from the organization involved, such as the executive director, but the majority are not in operating roles). However, the titles of the individuals listed as board members are all corporate officer titles: President, Vice President, Secretary, etc. At this remove, it looks as if Rolling Jubilee has an inherently defective governance structure, with the board too involved in the actual work of Rolling Jubilee to provide proper oversight (no one will put on his board member hat and find fault with the work he did while wearing his Rolling Jubilee worker bee ha).

And there red flags even in what little we can see of what Rolling Jubilee has been up to. They’ve publisheda statement of financial and control policies, and some of them are troubling. Individual board members have the power to spend significant amounts of Rolling Jubilee funds and make binding commitments:

– All Board members are authorized to individually sign checks up to $10,000. Checks greater than $10,000 require a signature of a second Board Member.
– All Board members are authorized to enter into contracts for activities that fall within the purview of the organizational mission.

To put it politely, a $10,000 signing authority for a board member is simply unheard of. And in general, there’s no reason in any organization for lots of people to have spending authority — let alone board members who, as we see above, should not have executive authority. It’s preferable to have as few people as possible empowered to disburse funds (the board minutes also show that unnamed tech people are handling PayPal, and funds can be disbursed from PayPal, so it may well be that people in addition to the board members are disbursing funds).

I spoke to someone who sits on the board of a foundation with a $100 million endowment and has also been on the boards of smaller not for profits. When I told him that Rolling Jubilee gave board members signing authority up to $10,000, the first sentence out of his mouth expressed shock. The second had the words “criminal” and “attorney general” in it. An investigative journalist who looked at the financial policies page said by e-mail: “This is shocking. They’re either corrupt or incredibly incompetent, either way this is appalling.”*

I doubt there is real malfeasance going on here, although it’s possible. Much more likely is complete stinking incompetence, which is what you’d expect of an organization with so few governing rules. My guess is that everyone stopped showing up for meetings and no one knows what they are doing and there are like 2 people figuring it all out.

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  • Snarki, child of Loki

    Anarchism would work much better if it were a bit more organized.

    Oh, wait…

    • Aaron B.

      Anarchism isn’t opposed to organization, just coercive organization. A set of functional rules, voluntarily agreed-upon, in an organization that one can leave at any time, is perfectly compatible with anarchism.

      So basically, these people are just idiots.

      • Aaron B.

        I don’t know why I assumed Loomis would be interested in characterizing anarchism fairly.

      • Is this a theory vs. practice thing? Because a lot of the anarchists I’ve met seem to have pretty big objections to functional rules, and certainly that was the case with OWS.

        • Aaron B.

          I think it is, because a lot of the people who are attracted to anarchism in the US are the kind of people who would casually shout “fascist” at a police officer who wrote them a ticket, a teacher, their parents, etc. People who are interested in rebellion more than activism. But in other countries, and in the history of anarchist practice in the US, it’s clear that there’s more to it than that.

          Personally, I believe that socially-agreed-upon coercion is justifiable, but I have had anarchist flirtations in the past, and it becomes pretty obvious when you read about it that the “ANARCHISTS CAN’T BE ORGANIZED HURRDUR” thing is just a bad meme.

      • liberalrob

        So basically, these people are just idiots.

        Kinda harsh.

        “You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the new West. You know… morons.”

      • liberalrob

        Anarchism isn’t opposed to organization, just coercive organization.

        Which is interesting, since any organization is going to be inherently coercive. An organization where there are no rules and no structure and no enforcement mechanism cannot be called an organization. It’s just a bunch of people hanging out together.

        • Aaron B.

          Well, that really depends on how you define “coercion.” Is an organization with formal sanctions and rules, but in which membership is voluntary and there are many alternatives should one choose to leave coercive? In practice, most forms of syndicalism and voluntarism seem to advocate abolishing coercion at the state level and bringing democracy into the workplace and organization level to make “coercion” there less onerous.

    • Would one o’ them anarcho-capitalists be of use here?

      • liberalrob

        As opposed to any other time? LOL

      • LeeEsq

        To show them how to do graff honestly?

        • All you need is a pilcrow.

  • cpinva

    my professional guess would be staggering incompetence, for $500, alex. and the 2 or 3 people actually trying to figure it out, while well meaning, have no clue. from first-hand experience, I can tell you this not at all uncommon for small np’s. the people involved tend (and this is a good thing) to be focused on the work of the organization, not so much the boring business aspects of it. unfortunately, it’s those boring business aspects that will do you in.

    • And when your structure inherently eschews organization and expertise and people can come and go as they please, it makes operating something like this almost impossible.

      • ericblair

        “We’re going to change the way humanity organizes itself! And we’re going to start by ignoring every lesson humanity has ever learned about organizing itself since the dawn of civilization!”

        • Sadly true.

        • DrDick

          Which has always been my critique of anarchism from an anthropologist’s perspective. The fact that there are numerous very small scale societies organized along these lines, but no societies which need to organize groups much over 50 (half of which are children with no say) so organized should give you a clue.

      • Aaron B.

        The former is false, the latter is true. But then, any non-profit or corporate board is based on voluntary organization.

        • Thats only partially true. Of course people can’t be drafted to serve, and they can resign, but during the period during which they are serving they are bound by all kinds of legal rules about fiduciary responsibility and board practices. These rules and customs are not redrafted for every meeting, either, and extend to conduct between meetings.

      • cpinva

        pretty much.

      • Dave

        Keeping arguing with the anarchists in your head, Erik, while living in the most unequal developed society in the world, and making abso-fucking-lutely no difference to that situation.

        And BTW, last time I looked people could “come and go as they please” from most political organisations. It’s called “resigning”. Maybe you don’t believe in people having that much freedom?

        • Keep dodging the point of the competence of anarchist governance. Not that there’s any evidence in the linked post or anything. It’s all in my head.

          • Aaron B.

            Anarchists are terrible at “governance” in the strict sense, because governance requires coercion. But organization is different from governance.

            • Manny Kant

              Are there examples of well-organized anarchists?

            • LeeEsq

              Isn’t coercion necessary to a certain extent? The rich aren’t going to voluntarily give up their wealth and power for the most part. The coercive power of government through income and estate taxes was necessary. Likewise, big issues like global warming are going to require lots of really big sacrifices from nearly everybody. People generally aren’t into these big sacrifices even if they know they are necessarily on an intellectual level.

              The problem isn’t that people are bad, its just that very few people are willing to give things up for the common good.

              • Aaron B.

                I agree. That’s why I’m a liberal, not an anarchist. Collective action problems are the single best argument against anarchism.

    • Aaron B.

      There is no Jeopardy round in which there is a clue worth $500.

      • There used to be, back in ye olden days when Alex had his mustache.

        • Aaron B.

          The value of each clue within categories has changed over time: on the original Jeopardy! series, the Jeopardy! round clue values ranged from $10 to $50 in increments of $10;[7] on The All-New Jeopardy!, they ranged from $25 to $125 in 25-dollar increments; on the daily syndicated version, the Jeopardy! round clue values originally ranged from $100 to $500 in increments of $100,[5] but were doubled on the episode aired November 26, 2001

          9/11 changed everything.

        • Warren Terra

          Alex lost his mustache? ! ? !

      • Aaron B.

        It’s 200-400-600-800-1000 or 400-800-1200-1600-2000.
        And if you had gotten a Daily Double it would be “What is staggering incompetence.”

        • As long as we’re nitpicking, cpivna framed “staggering incompetence” as if it were a category. The clue would be something like “This group had some fried ‘Zuccotti’ but dithered with a whole shit-ton of cash,” to which the response would be, “What is Occupy Wall Street?”

        • NonyNony

          It used to be 100-200-300-400-500 and then 200-400-600-800-1000. See, we’re old around here, and tend to be set in our ways.

          (If we were older we’d be complaining that it should be 10-20-30-40-50, which is how my mom remembered the game being played.)

          • Western Dave

            True, but game shows have stopped being fun since you can no longer buy stuff on Wheel of Fortune.

            • NonyNony

              I always wanted the ceramic Dalmatian :(

              • Mr Rogers

                I’ll take the brass duck doorstop for $40.

        • cpinva

          I should have gone for the “Daily Double”, then I could have gotten the bell too. dammit!

    • Anna in PDX

      Yes, part of my job is auditing small nonprofits who have subrecipient relationships with the entity I work for, and sometimes the audit is pretty scary and involves a lot of education on my part as to what the expectations are. Legally mandated expectations. Setting up a nonprofit to do something really specific is often a very overwhelming thing but what you should do is hire a good person with nonprofit financial expertise, and in this economy they should not be that hard to find.

  • Mudge

    This is like the definition of a Republican…stupid or evil..the answer being both. In this case, incompetance or malfeasance..the answer is also both.

  • Josh G.

    That’s really disappointing. The underlying idea of buying up distressed debt is sound, but I’m concerned that this fiasco (assuming it really is as bad as the article makes it out to be) will discredit it.

    • As for the idea proper, I think it’s, well, OK. It’s a good thing. Does it really change anything structurally? No. Does it help a few people? Yes. So I guess it depends on how you come down on these issues. It’s a drop in the bucket on really affecting debt, no matter how much they could have raised.

      I think what it does discredit is foundations or donors giving money to lefties with big ideas. That’s the tragedy here. It is really a disaster for the left.

      • anthrofred

        “OK” is as far as I can go in support. I would rather see that money be spent on actual organizing than what basically comes off as “Extreme Makeover: Lefty Edition”.

        That said I need to find one of those board members stat to talk to about my student loans…

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        Does it really change anything structurally? No. Does it help a few people? Yes.

        So it’s kind of like voting Democratic.

        • Origami Isopod

          Zing.

        • Yeah, nobody who doesn’t have medical insurance right now will have it in a year.

          And unions in Wisconsin and Michigan, no changes there.

          Home health care workers who will now get labor protections, unimportant.

          All those military units that are still in combat in Iraq, just shows nothing changes.

          No difference, Dems are the same as the Repuzzzzzzzzz…

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            Not what I said, Dana.

            I said that voting Democratic helps some people on the margins but doesn’t change much of anything structurally. The ACA is a partial exception to this, of course.

            But unions today are not better off than they were when Obama was elected in 2008 (though they’d be even worse off had McCain won).

            As for Iraq, Obama’s policies were basically a continuation of the last two years of Bush’s presidency (though, again, electing Obama significantly reduced the likelihood of war with Iran).

            There are absolutely real differences between the two parties and they boil down to real people, on the margins, being better off if Democrats win…which is why I vote for Democrats against Republicans.

            But the ACA is very much the exception that proves the rule. As people rightly say, it’s the most significant piece of social legislation in the last forty years. Nothing else that the last three Democratic Presidents have done comes remotely close. And a lot of their major accomplishments, from deregulation under Carter to NAFTA, welfare reform, and financial deregulation under Clinton, have actually made things worse (though, again, slower than things would have gotten worse under the GOP).

            I vote for the Democrats because, on the margins, they are notably less bad than the GOP. But even when Democrats win, structurally things get worse. Look what’s happened to the distribution of wealth and income over the last forty years, e.g.

            • I think it’s important on almost everything to think not just D and R, but also The South and the rest of the country. You mention the last three Democratic presidents, and sure, no big structural changes happened under Carter. I’d say there were some–not enough–but some while Clinton was president. But don’t go all the way back to Carter, just look at the Southern Democrats Clinton inherited when he took office in 1993. Hell, John Stennis, one of the most rabid segregationists in Congress in the 1960’s, had only been out of the Senate for 4 years. The rabid segregationists by that time were gone or (like Byrd) publicly accepting of integration, but most of them were still really damn conservative. They were unable to get any HCR bill out of any of the House committees.

              But in the first two years of Obama’s administration, there was about 4 months or so where the Dems+Specter+Lieberman came to 60 votes, and during that time they passed the ACA. Before that, with the ARRA, they passed what was obviously not a sufficient stimulus to fully help the economy, but with what was passed they moved massive resources to clean energy and they actually have waged a bit of a war on coal. Those are big, structural changes. And had they not had a Senate that refused to change the filibuster rules–the worst unforced error by any Democrats since LBJ escalated in Vietnam–they would have been able to pass a hell of a lot more stuff with the majority rather than be blocked by the GOP on everything up until Specter switched and everything after Brown won. EFCA and Cap and Trade had majorities in both chambers and iirc about EFCA, both passed the House. Just those changes, even had there been nothing else, would have been stunning structural changes probably greater than anything in the Great Society era or since.

              The reason for the big difference is the Democratic party is now almost completely out of debt to the Dixiecratss. It’s made it harder to win national House majorities than it used to be, but it’s made the Democratic party much more ideologically cohesive and much more progressive.

              So sure, there haven’t been enough big structural changes under Obama, but that’s not because the “Democratic party” doesn’t try to pass/implement big structural changes, it’s because structural problems in our government and ideological changes within the GOP that lead them to exploit those problems.

              • Lee Rudolph

                I like this analysis.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks

                Take a look at Obama’s cabinet appointments. Tim Geithner’s vision of economic policy, Arne Duncan’s vision of education policy, and Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, and Chuck Hagel’s visions of defense policy would not bring needed, positive changes even if today’s Democratic Party had overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress (and, indeed, when the Democrats had a majority in the House as recently as four years ago, the Blue Dogs were a significant presence and a problem for progressive legislation). There’s certainly a progressive wing of the Democratic Party, but it is still pretty effectively marginalized in national politics. It’s telling, for example, that the Senator Majority leader is anti-choice (and abortion is one of those areas where the differences between the two parties are most stark).

                • People who run agencies don’t pass laws. Yes, Obama didn’t pick someone as SoD who wanted to dismantle the MIC. Duncan runs an agency that has little impact on local education. And you’re right, those appointees weren’t able to convince the Senate Republicans to allow votes on bills that had already passed the House.

                  And yeah, the fact that Harry Reid is anti-choice has resulted in no pro-choice nominees to SCOTUS or the appellate courts. Right?

                • Oh, and yes, you’re also right that Gates and Panetta and Hagel haven’t succeeded in getting (not entirely, but mostly) the Republicans to cut weapons programs they wanted cut.

                • DocAmazing

                  Ah, facts. They’re so…uncompromising.

                • DocAmazing

                  People who run agencies don’t pass laws.

                  No, they execute policy.

                  Bad policy.

                • Your “facts” comment is terrific unintended irony. Thanks for that.

                • DocAmazing

                  Careful. The comment might have cans and bottles.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, and Chuck Hagel’s visions of defense policy

                  …included major cuts to the defense budget, including the elimination of the F-22, Future Combat Sytem, Missile Defense…

                  Aw fuck, why do I ever bother? People are going to believe whatever the fuck their gut tells them, and then call their belly-button lint “facts.”

                • Joe, the key is “the exception that proves the rule,” because that’s such sound logic and epistemology.

            • Ed K

              This, about 1000 times.

              With the addition that slowing the pace at which things are getting worse really doesn’t stop them from becoming increasingly unsustainable and intolerable. Nor does it constitute an adequate response to urgent problems.

              Thus, there are a bunch of really real ways in which the Democrats, despite the better option of the two viable parties out there, suck.

            • joe from Lowell

              Obama’s policies were basically a continuation of the last two years of Bush’s presidency

              …which happened to be exactly the period when the Democratic Party took over Congress from the Republican Party, but do go on.

      • I think that’s being a bit over-dramatic; I wouldn’t really call Rolling Jubilee that high profile.

        I do think it’s really ironic contrasting this with the move in Richmond CA to use eminent domain on underwater mortgages – two efforts to organize, both practically and symbolically, against the Wall Street foreclosure system. But one of them involves politics and the use of state power, and it’s actually posing a significant threat to the interests of capital (it’s ironically the one time I’ve actually approved of a Green Party political project).

        The other is entirely voluntaristic and individualistic, and it’s a complete failure.

        Which to me, is a bigger strike against modern anarchism – not only is it organizationally incompetent, but by rejecting the potential use of state power against capital, completely disarms itself of any real potential to do something about the current economic order.

        • Malaclypse

          I suspect the eminent domain thing will make less of a dent than the Greens think.

          • We’ll see, but it’s certainly making Wall Street sweat a lot more than Rolling Jubilee ever did.

            • Warren Terra

              Rolling Jubilee threatened to abolish indebtedness … by buying debt off of the creditors at market rates. Somehow, I suspect that finding someone willing to buy their debt at market prices didn’t scare Wall Street even the teensiest little bit.

              This isn’t an indictment of Rolling Jubilee; their mission was good-hearted and their goals praiseworthy, whatever one might think of the implementation. Still, buying debts at market rates is by definition not remotely a threat to the creditors’ interests.

        • Jon H

          “but by rejecting the potential use of state power against capital, completely disarms itself of any real potential to do something about the current economic order.”

          It wasn’t so much rejected, it simply wasn’t available to them. Richmond is able to take that initiative, but I really don’t think there are many cities out there, ready to take Occupy’s lead on anything like that.

          The appeal of Rolling Jubilee is that it could, in theory, act quickly and nimbly, on its own, simply by raising money, without having to hope for a miraculous act of government.

    • Dave W.

      The idea can work on a small scale, and certainly can attract publicity. But if it ever got to the point where Jubilee was able to buy up a significant fraction of the distressed debt at a given level (say all the consumer debt selling for less than five cents on the dollar), what it would mostly do is push up the price of distressed debt to the point that banks and collection agencies would get most of the benefit, rather than debtors.

      If there’s a portfolio of debt that’s selling for 5 cents on the dollar today, that tends to imply that there’s currently a collection agency that thinks they can squeeze enough out of the few debts that are collectible to average at least 5 cents plus expenses over the portfolio, even if they have to trash most of it as uncollectable. In a world in which Jubilee was buying up all the debt selling for 5 cents or less, that same collection agency should be willing to bid close to 10 cents for that same portfolio, figuring that they can still collect what they used to from the debtors who can pay, while selling the trash to Jubilee for 5 cents on the dollar instead of throwing it away. That’s good news for the bank or collection agency who originally owned the debt, but not so good news for the debtors, who are still facing pretty much the same collection efforts as before. There are some measures Jubilee could take to try and mitigate this, but it’s a pretty big hole in the economic model once they became a major player.

  • njorl

    I doubt there is real malfeasance going on here,

    I wouldn’t put much faith in that. Even if none of the original organizers intended malfeasance, this set-up would attract swindlers like a dead elephant attracts vultures. Not only is there easy money for stealing, there’s a big pile of naive patsies waiting to take the blame.

    • ericblair

      Even if none of the original organizers intended malfeasance, this set-up would attract swindlers like a dead elephant attracts vultures.

      Case in point, the modern Republican party. Although that’s where the real money is, so OWS would probably end up with the B team. Maybe next year, guys.

      • Another Holocene Human

        My union doesn’t have any money and we still have APD/NPD types trying to get a bit of it anyway.

    • Anonymous

      They need to be careful! For a few easy installments of $10,000 I can manage their finances for them. I craft my own proprietary accounting software that will work perfectly.

      Sincerely,
      Benjamin Franklin

    • Agreed. In addition to outright malfeasance, I think we also have to worry about the soft corruption that Geogehan wrote about in regards to the old industrial unions – there’s not a lot of economic security in left-wing activism, so I think the temptation to draw living wage salaries is huge.

      • There are progressive groups who are constantly working and trying to grow their email lists because that’s how they pay their staff salaries. Some of them, it’s clear that’s what you’re doing when you contribute, and those are fine. But there are others that regularly ambulance-chase a hot race, get people to contribute to them so they can do electoral work to support the candidate, but then there’s little oversight and it’s hard to see how they spent the money. One in particular, I’d be shocked if 30% of the contributions actually go in to anything other than staff and admin costs, and it may even be worse than that.

        • And that’s fine – if your purpose as an organization is to hire smart people to do stuff, be it research or organizing or whatever.

          Where it goes wrong is when your purpose as an organization is to through-put money to people in need and you don’t do that.

          • Or when your organization is supposed to through-put money in to TV ads, you collect $100K, and you place $10K worth of ads.

  • mp

    government bureaucracies, of course, are famous for their speed and efficiency.

    • SIS

      They might lack in those characteristics, but they can in fact accomplish things, like say winning wars or putting things/people into space – both highly complex tasks needing the gathering and reallocation of massive resources.

      • Lee Rudolph

        The evidentiary weight of governments’ “winning wars”, towards the truth of the proposition that governments “can fact accomplish things,” is somewhat diminished by the fact that (nearly always) each time some government wins a war, at least one other government has lost it.

        Putting people into space, I’ll give you.

    • Malaclypse

      You know, it has never, not even once, taken me six months to get a drivers license or a car registration. And most mail gets delivered anywhere in just a few days. So unless you just want to regurgitate Reaganite talking points, well, government bureaucracies are, in fact, speedy and efficient.

      • A few weeks ago an ATM ate my debit card. I called my credit union and had them issue me a new one. It came in the mail the next day. The next week my wife received on Friday a thank you card for some volunteer work she did on Thursday. USPS has really upped its game.

        • Anna in PDX

          Yes! I continue to be amazed at how fast and efficient the Post Office is when you consider all the obstacles that weird rightwinger pols have put in its way.

      • Jewish Steel

        My raised-by-Republicans, defense contractor retiree mother was so shaken by the speed, friendliness and efficiency she experienced at her local Social Security office that I think it has made her re-think her political orientation.

      • DrDick

        Indeed, in my experience the government bureaucracies are much faster and more efficient than those of private corporations I have dealt with.

        • njorl

          Sadly, it often depends on the political power of the class they serve. Medicaid and SNAP, from what I’ve heard, can be slow. SSI, is less responsive than Social Security for retirees.

          • DrDick

            Have you ever tried to get a refund from a corporation or get them to solve some other problem?

          • DocAmazing

            Medicaid can be especially cruel. They are perenially underfunded, and will often stall payments and applications because they’re over-budget.

            • Jordan

              Can be, but as with everything, sometimes it works great. My sister had a baby 4 months or so ago: pretty much totally paid for by Medicaid, with no problems. And she lies in Texas.

              • DrDick

                Same with my son, whose younger son has cerebral palsy and was born very premature. He lives in Oklahoma. Without Medicaid, they would have been bankrupt before he was a month old.

          • Ahuitzotl

            OK now go and deal with a complaint to AT&T, and tell me about the inefficiency of government bureaucracies.

        • marijane

          many of them operate with much lower overhead as well.

      • Halloween Jack

        As someone who moonlit briefly in a FedEx sorting hub, it amuses me when glibertarians propose it as an alternative to USPS–and then it frightens and saddens me when I think that, in a few years, I may not have a choice.

        • liberalrob

          Remember that scene in “Gangs of New York” with the fire brigades more interested in arguing over who had the right to fight the fire than in actually fighting the fire?

          That’s your post-USPS scenario right there. I eagerly await the competition between FedEx and DHL and UPS for the right to deliver my daily junk mail to me. Could be a popcorn moment.

    • Sly

      And, yet, dealing with my local DMV or post office makes dealing with my local bank branch or insurance agent feel like I’m invading Russia in the winter. Go figure.

      • Confused

        I recently had to go get a new license, and while it took far too long in terms of waiting in lines, every person at the DMV was incredibly friendly and helpful. And the whole process of taking the tests and getting the license was under $10.

      • Re: post office. When I went in to get my passport a few months ago, the clerk was not only fast, friendly and efficient: he actually said “yeah, you don’t need that option … or that one” and saved me around 100 dollars.

        Corporations downsell you on stuff all the time, right?

    • zombie rotten mcdonald, shambling dog of the imperialists

      We just visited some National Parks in the west, and there are simply no better employees of any sort than National Park Service Rangers.

      Socialism is swell.

  • Decrease Mather

    I really appreciate how Naked Capitalism lays out the case. This is fine journalism.

    • sparks

      Be careful of Yves, she has had an agenda against this program since it was announced, and would be willing to gild the lily some. She has a history here. Note YS no longer talks about Elizabeth Warren, who she also had an agenda against but can no longer find even small material for a negative article. It may be the petty sniping against EW got embarrassing enough that she stopped. I’m willing to give provisional belief about this Occupy fiasco due to my seeing this sort of incompetence and grifting on a smaller local scale, but I want further details and analysis from someone else without an agenda.

      • Everyone has an agenda. Everyone. The question is whether she has the evidence. In this case, it sure seems so. If she’s wrong, I’d like to see evidence against her.

        • Malaclypse

          I tend to be skeptical of someone who thinks lambert strether deserves a wider audience, however.

          • I’ve never heard the name until today.

            • Malaclypse

              He’s a firebagger that used to troll here. Picture Freddie DeBoners, without the subtlety or tact.

            • Anna in PDX

              Isn’t he the Corrente guy that became a sort of PUMA poster child?

              • sparks

                Yes.

            • You’ve heard this name before today.

              So has Farley.

          • djw

            What makes me inclined to be suspicious of her and doubt her as a trustworthy reporter are her firebagger tendencies. Those would seem to not be relevant to this particular case.

            • sparks

              She questioned everything about the program even before it really existed, just as announced. Having seen her go at Elizabeth Warren, questioning EW’s motives and (as said by YS) meager effectiveness as a mere politician, I just had to go with suspicions that there may be more reasons than just good policy involved in her questions here as well.

  • Malaclypse

    These (from your link) are the tells:

    FY12 CPA audit (in process, will be forthcoming ASAP)
    Quarterly financial reports (in process, will be forthcoming ASAP)

    For an organization of their “complexity,” quarterly financials should be easily completed 10 business days after the quarter ends. I’m guessing that I could close their quarter in 8-12 hours of work, max, presuming that they kept even vaguely adequate records. And that’s if I did literally no work on their books during the quarter.

    The CPA thing is even worse. Max, that audit should be 2 months. There shouldn’t be any way something was genuinely “in progress” in February and still not finished.

    • Another Holocene Human

      It means nobody running the place has accounting experience and when they shopped around for a CPA they got quoted some astronomical amounts. If you knew what the union who lends us their hall for meetings gets charged by their CPAs you’d vomit.

      • Malaclypse

        It means nobody running the place has accounting experience

        Which means trusting them with 600K was a Bad Idea.

        If you knew what the union who lends us their hall for meetings gets charged by their CPAs you’d vomit.

        The union almost certainly does fund accounting, plus they probably need a second audit of their ERISA plans, so I’d assume about 100K/year or so or more, depending on size. As described, Occupy doesn’t do fund accounting, or anything involving ERISA, so if they kept vaguely adequate records, it should be 15-25K.

        And keep in mind that they said it was in progress 7 months ago. Unless “in progress” means “Bob’s brother-in-law said we need to get an accountant, but consensus decision-making means we’re divided between PWC, a local company, or telling the capitalists to fuck off,” then what they said 7 months ago is probably not, you know, true.

    • cpinva

      “The CPA thing is even worse. Max, that audit should be 2 months. There shouldn’t be any way something was genuinely “in progress” in February and still not finished.”

      agreed. however, at their level, a compilation & review would make more sense financially. i’m guessing their bylaws require an annual, outside audit. what they might be better off spending the money on is to have that firm come in and get their business organized. purchase and setup quickbooks pro, and teach someone how to use it. surely, there must be someone in the organization that has some bookkeeping experience.

      • Malaclypse

        however, at their level, a compilation & review would make more sense financially

        Agreed. I also suspect that their books are such that nobody is willing to give an opinion. But if the CPAs set up quickbooks, then they can’t even do the review – they are no longer independent.

        My guess is that either no financials ever get published, or someone eventually does a compilation, and refuses to even do Notes.

    • Manny Kant

      Why would you presume they kept even vaguely adequate records?

      • Malaclypse

        Well, someone got them through the 501(c)(3) application. I’d hope that someone was competent enough to say “keep receipts, even if all you have is a shoebox – enough people hate you that you can’t afford to fuck this up.”

  • Sly

    This kind of shit became blatantly obvious when Occupy Atlanta told John Lewis that, despite the fact that there are few people in America who know more about organizing activists than he does, his expertise doesn’t entitle him to address an activist audience “out of turn” any more than a 24 year-old PhD candidate in philosophy.

    • Halloween Jack

      The John Lewis? Holy motherfucking shit, fuck those shitbirds.

    • NewishLawyer

      IIRC this was in the early day’s and he took it in stride. At least to the press.

      • Probably for real, too. A lot of his experience and expertise in organizing activists is in dealing with people who are impatient with the process or who have their own competing ideas.

        • NewishLawyer

          I know I had a lot of issues when dealing people who were impatient with the process/have their own competing ideas at another left-institution.

          The problem with the one I worked for is that they let factionalism split them apart and send them on a destruction course that was 40-50 years in the making. During the 1960s they were very hip and relevant and did sincerely daring things that challenged the established order.

          Now they are two very strong factions fighting for control over an institution that is more or less financially bankrupt. They have not been relevant for decades. But you have aging radicals who feel strongly and want and probably can’t even remember why they split into factions. They know they need to hate the other side though.

          I wonder if we will be reading about this kind of stuff with Occupy years down the road.

          • liberalrob

            But you have aging radicals who feel strongly and want and probably can’t even remember why they split into factions. They know they need to hate the other side though.

            Amazing how frequently that effect crops up.

            • NewishLawyer

              Sadly yes. From my prospective of being 30-45 years younger than most of the in-fighters it seemed rather tragic indeed.

      • Sly

        Not really the point. I will readily concede that a man who forgave the racists who beat him unconscious for trying to board a bus can deal with less serious affronts to his integrity better than I or most people can.

        The point is that when you are trying to build a democratic movement consisting largely of young activists, and the guy who ran SNCC wants to impart some words of wisdom, you stop with the stupid hand gestures and fucking listen. Their cavalier disregard for expertise is absolutely galling.

        • NewishLawyer

          I agree with your assessment but I was never super into-Occupy when they started. I also think that they did not exactly have clear goals and that was part of the point and part of the problem.

          Like the left in general, Occupy was made up of huge-number of disparate souls with different ends. You had a lot of kids who did as they were told: they worked hard, went to school, and then graduated into a financial crash with zero job opportunities. I don’t think these people wanted a radical retooling of society, they just wanted a fair deal. They did their part, no society needed to do its part and provide decent jobs. These Occupiers were probably not innate anti-Capitalists.

          Then you had real anarchists who probably did want a really radical reimaging of civil society.

          And everything inbetween. Occupy tried to be something for all people and that is not a great way to get to goals.

          • liberalrob

            Occupy reminded me of the Dean campaign, which I tried to participate in but quickly lost interest in after a few inconclusive meetings where nothing really got done.

          • LeeEsq

            The fact that Occupy didn’t have any goals beyond a vague desire to fight inequality did not help.

    • Not to mention that it was a white dude who vetoed him speaking by doing the crossed arms thing.

    • marijane

      Here’s Salon’s interview with the guy who blocked him. The situation was more nuanced than the comments here make it seem.
      http://www.salon.com/2011/10/13/the_man_who_blocked_john_lewis_speaks/

  • pseudalicious

    Does David Graeber have any thoughts on this? I thought this was his baby.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      It’s nobody-in-particular’s baby, which is the point of the OP, as I read it.

    • Sockie the Sock Puppet

      I think he’ll sum them up in Accounting: The First 4,999 Years.

  • I remember unsettling a couple of undergrads in a coffeehouse while reading an article on Occupy where they were quote someone in the movement talking about the successes of anarchists during the Spanish Civil War. I couldn’t help say out loud, “But the anarchists LOST the War. They’re dead, dead, DEAD!”

    (I imagine Occupy is going to get a bunch of undue credit when some of those polices are put into place. Occupy tapped into a very important political undercurrent of young people ‘s thoughts. It did not create them nor did it advance them.)

  • NewishLawyer

    I think Occupy usually has their hearts in the right place but are not great with organizing but I am also not an anarchist.

    • DrDick

      That is basically my assessment of anarchists generally.

      • NewishLawyer

        I wrote it in another thread a few months ago about vaccines but I think the far left and far right have more in common than they want to admit. One commonality seems to be a fear or distrust of bigness and big things. The far left and right tend to prefer small communities (though they would be different small communities.) They also tend to be pastoralists

        Anarchism might work in very small and largely homogeneous communes.* It cannot work on any sort of large scale.

        I love cities and big things. Plus I generally come from the Democratic Socialist/Clement Atlee** school that big problems often require big solutions and this requires a lot of logistics, centralization, and organization. Even small things require a lot of organization to run smoothly.

        *Even here I think they will eventually spiral towards chaos and destruction. Kibutzes were probably the most successful experiments in commune living and they are dying because young people don’t want to be tied to the land like that.

        **According to Wikipedia Clement Atlee switched from Liberal to Socialist Labor because he realized private charity and action would not be enough to eradicate inequality, misery, and poverty. I concur with this assessment.

  • joe from Lowell

    Maybe I’m just a sucker, but we’re probably talking about good people who could use a little help from people who know what they’re doing, but who won’t take it for very principled, very stupid reasons.

    • This is more or less my belief as well.

    • Malaclypse

      Yep

    • NewishLawyer

      That sounds about right.

      • good2go

        Thanks NewishLawyer, I think your other posts have hit it on the head. Yeah, Occupy was “disparate souls with different ends” and it was pretty open about that. And a LOT of disparate souls–I live in NYC and was amazed at the people who were participating in marches and events.

        The most interesting was when a group of white males, clearly working class, got on my MTA bus. They stayed toward the front and were talking heatedly with the driver. They were, in fact, other bus drivers and union members ON THEIR WAY to participate in the demonstration. The driver was clearly sympathetic.

        I would never, ever, ever expect to see these people marching in a demonstration. The fact that Occupy was attracting such a hugely diverse bunch of supporters is noteworthy.

        It’s sad although not totally unexpected that the Rolling Jubilee failed. It’s also sad and not totally unexpected that many Occupy people had the ever-lovin’ shit kicked out of them for trying to assemble (as if that were some kind of right) and express their frustrations. Were they “breaking the law” and “trespassing?” Yes…there will always be laws to prevent expression in one way or another. Funny how that works out.

        But it took guts and at least they tried to do something. But they failed, and for that they get beat up again. Except this time the batons have been replaced with snot balls.

        However, I’m sure those bus drivers (nurses, maintenance workers…) would be amused to know that they were “a bunch of Occupy anarchists who don’t trust government or institutions or systems of real accountability.”

        Goodness. OK, what victims can we pounce on next?

        • NewishLawyer

          Occupy in the Bay Area was never good at generating sympathy from the working class residents of the Bay Area. Most of whom commute in from far in the East Bay.

          I was temping on a small job in 2011 while waiting for bar results to come out. There were some loud protests in San Francisco in front of Wells Fargo. There were also attempts to shut down the Port of Oakland. The legal secretaries, admins, paralegals, and other support staff at the law firm did not take kindly on any of the protests.

          • DocAmazing

            Occupy Oakland generated a lot of sympathy by doing what poor people in Oakland have been doing for years, i.e., being beaten shitless by the Oakland cops.

            • Lee Rudolph

              Cultural appropriation!!!

            • Hogan

              I’ve read that after the ’68 Democratic convention, black activists were telling the whites who’d been beaten up, “Now you know what it’s like to be us all the time.”

            • NewishLawyer

              Perhaps. Occupy in the Bay Area tried to do a general strike one May Day and it was a massive failure. All I remember was a guy riding is bike down Market Street shouting General Strike very loudly.

              I do and will support the BART workers if they strike again in October because they are workers fighting for a better life and a strike like that is a tool of last resort. I’m less supportive of groups like Critical Mass.

    • Origami Isopod

      +1

      I guess the question is, will they ask for help, now that it’s obvious they need it?

    • Turkle

      Boy, that’s the truth. I was in Zucotti for the first day, the march, etc. Watching anarchists try, or rather, try not to organize a large gathering of people is one of the most astoundingly frustrating experiences of my life.

    • Manny Kant

      Perhaps originally. But a situation like this is clearly going to attract sociopaths who use it for their own gain. It’s not that it was founded by sociopaths as a scam. It’s that any situation where a bunch of naive people have a bunch of money and no real oversight is perfect pickings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of.

    • The sad thing is that people with good intentions probably can do more damage than people with bad intentions, because the people with bad intentions usually are trying to get away with it.

  • Random

    who don’t trust government or institutions or systems of real accountability would prove a complete disaster with money?

    Describes both OWS and the people that OWS was protesting in the first place.

    • wengler

      Two groups of people with roughly the same amount of power…

  • wengler

    BOOM! Nailed Occupy!

    A socialist with no power attacks an quasi-anarchist organization with no power.

    I now eagerly await the post saying that protests would work if only everyone was wearing their Sunday best.

    • Your lack of defense for the type of organization you espouse is noted.

      • Brien Jackson

        I also liked the implicit accusation that criticizing an organization for mismanaging hundreds of thousands of dollars in donation money is dirty pool. Hippie puncher!!!!

      • wengler

        Oh bullshit. It’s your continuously punching left that I have a problem with.

        Also I have never supported the buying up of debt, let alone ‘espouse’ it. It’s a desperate move that has little but symbolic significance. However, I will defend the ideas behind it.

        Sloppy accounting from one organization born out of Occupy doesn’t mean the movement is wrong, just as a crooked union doesn’t mean unions are horrible.

        • Of course, I can name lots of unions that aren’t corrupt and serve as effective organizations for their members. But you can’t name anarchist organizations that function and administer resources effectively. Unless you go for Mondragon I guess, the one and only rack anarchists have hung their hats on for 20 years now.

          • JL

            Common Ground Relief did a solid job as I understand it.

          • JL

            Also, I can certainly name Occupy or Occupy spin-off projects did or are doing effective work in their communities/on their issues, just as you can name unions that are doing well by their members.

            *Occupy Sandy, to be really obvious. Boulder Flood Relief. Occupy Our Homes Atlanta. Occupy the SEC. My medic collective, I hope. This is not a complete list, just things that came to mind.

        • Also, I don’t think that I, as someone who supports the expropriation of wealth from the rich, am punching left by attacking anarchism. Quit making it sound like anarchism is the only left option, when it is definitely not.

          • DocAmazing

            It just happens to be one that you haven’t bothered to learn anything about.

    • Sly

      Status checking arguments don’t usually work when you begin with the acknowledgement that the target of your argument has no status. You should have started with “A ketchup-hating elitist with tenure attacks…”

      • Tenure?

        I wish.

        • Sly

          Yeah, but we’re still on the “not letting facts get in the way of a stupid argument” phase of this process.

    • Anna in PDX

      Dude. These types of articles don’t give anyone here any joy. We’d love this nonprofit to be working well. So if it is not, constructive criticism is the way to go. That’s not the same thing as hippie punching, not all of these things are the same.

      • Right–to be clear, I’d really really like to be wrong about anarchism.

        But I’m not wrong.

        • wengler

          Your humility will be your downfall.

          • EthanS

            and your faith in your friends is yours…

      • wengler

        Yes, I saw so much of that ‘I wish this wasn’t true’ attitude in this post.

        • Anna in PDX

          Well fine, I guess I did see the post as harsh but I didn’t see it as gloating. Actually Erik did point out that he did not think this group was corrupt, just incompetent, and that probably there were only a couple people there trying to do everything. This sounded sympathetic and “sucks to be those two people” in my mind.

          Of course his overall frustration with anarchists, which goes much deeper than this particular example, and is shared by many who try to do any sort of regular leftist advocacy, was reflected as well, but I still didn’t see anything in the post that approached glee or a circular firing squad sort of thing.

          But no doubt you are a better mind reader than I am so I will just go with Erik’s response right here.

          • Right. I’m not gloating. I am saying that this is very strong evidence that my criticism of anarchism is correct and I want to point it out, not to make me look all smart or whatever but in order to point out that there are people pushing back against the hipness of anarchism among the left.

            • Aaron B.

              There are perfectly fine criticisms of anarchism but yours is a criticism of that subset of disaffected American lefty youths who call themselves anarchists and doesn’t rise above that level.

              • Snarki, child of Loki

                Ah, shall we have a wee nip of “No True Anarchists” brew, then?

                • Aaron B.

                  You’ve misidentified the move I’m making. Erik’s criticism is too narrow and it unfairly takes a subset people to represent the whole.

            • JL

              Do we even know whether the people running the Rolling Jubilee are anarchists, Erik? Because, um, not everyone in Occupy, OWS, or Strike Debt, is an anarchist.

    • joe from Lowell

      I hope that everybody noticed that wengler never claimed Erik was wrong about anything, but wants him to shut up anyway.

      Everything’s perfect, wangler. Occupy is going to take over the world. The best way to support an effort is to insist that everything it does is perfect.

      • Brien Jackson

        Isn’t that standard for all forms of leftier than thou whining?

  • JL

    I am now looking at the Twitter conversations going on about this. @corpounreal, who I do not know but who based on context is one of the Rolling Jubilee people, is talking to someone I actually do know, and is asserting that:

    – The info about a large new debt buy with “transparency reports” will be released on November 15 (their anniversary). They’re (according to @StrikeDebt, not @corpounreal) in the process of preparing media materials.

    – The reason that they have waited so long since they disclosed anything is that they were trying to save up their disclosures to make a bigger splash when they did disclose.

    – They didn’t give much to Yves Smith because they really don’t like her and perceive her as out to get them based on past experience.

    – Rolling Jubilee is actually “pretty centralized” (and this has caused contention in the past).

    – He/she/they understands why people are wary about OWS and money issues.

    Strike Debt (the OWS subgroup responsible for the Rolling Jubilee) has a page up about why debt buys take a long time. According to their Twitter account the most recent debt buy is taking longer because it is very large.

    I am not saying any of this for the purpose of making Strike Debt’s case for them, which is their responsibility (and frankly I think they should have been making public reports a lot more often). I am just adding what they are saying about this issue to the discussion.

    • JL

      An update: @StrikeDebt responded to my own tweet with the same message that they’re preparing media material and planning to release everything on November 15, and that they didn’t release numbers in something like a quarterly report because then the November 15 release would make less of a splash.

      I thanked them for responding, let them know (they have probably noticed this on their own) that a lot of people are unhappy with them because of the Smith article, and that some people assumed that they’d just stopped functioning and the pile of money was sitting around with nobody responsible for doing anything with it. I pointed out that people thinking they are incompetent or committing malfeasance undermines their ability to get their message out just as releasing partial info before they’re ready would (I would, in fact, say it’s a lot worse, but, character limits) and suggested that in the future it might benefit them to at least send out more frequent reports explaining what they are doing, even if the reports don’t have numbers for strategic reasons.

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  • Karla

    http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/11/12/21428308-occupy-wall-street-buys-15-million-of-americans-medical-debt?lite=

    According to the article, they’ve spent $400,000 to buy up debt and have $200,000 left, which would add up to the $600,000 in the September article. Assuming (with no particular reason) that they haven’t raised much in the interim, it appears that they have themselves organized, or always were but poorly communicated it.

    • Karla

      Oops, I missed JL’s post above mine.

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