Episode 76 - Adventures in Superego

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TheAvengers_publish.jpg 

*Psychoanalysis and Superheroes
*Occupy the SEC
*Osama and the FBI Top Ten
*Amazon Knockoffs
*Heavyweight China
*Forget Spelling

  

thor_jpg_publish.jpgThe Avengers brings together a gallery of superheroes along with their egos, muscles, back-stories and hammers. The movie, marketed within an inch of its lycra-clad life, has been genetically programmed to be a monster hit.

But there's another story going on with these archetypes and it's our own. The psychology of superheroes and what they say about us on Day 6.

occupy_flags_publish.jpgIt's May and May Day saw a resurgence of the activism Occupy Wall Street injected into the public discourse. We talk to a former trader today who left her high paying job to challenge big banks in the regulatory arena.

Also a documentary director tells us how his film about youth boxing in China tells a wider story about the choices facing Chinese youth. And we have a great tale about the small but intriguing problem of counterfeit books on Amazon, decoys for actual bestsellers.

But we start with Occupy and a story about the seeds the wider movement has sown.

wall_st_occupy_publish.jpgThe Occupy movement started in New York City last fall and quickly spread across North America, Europe and beyond, but by the end of the year it appeared to be winding down.

Encampments in cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Oakland and Washington were dwindling or slowly losing ground.  As the visible trappings of dissent - tents, tarps and protestors - were carted away by police, critics moved in to explain what went wrong.
 
Their analysis of the problem with Occupy: It wasn't specific.
 
An editorial in USA Today says "The Occupiers lacked identifiable leaders and clear goals." The Wall Street Journal said "Occupy Wall Street has taken flak for not announcing specific demands."  From Henry Blodget of Business Insider: "The protesters have not done a good job of focusing their complaints."  And from CNN: "The movement, with its fuzzy messages and vague goals, is not going to leave a major mark."

Caitlin Kline says the critics have it wrong.

"It's a little unfair to ask the people to not only demonstrate their dissatisfaction for the way things are, but also come up with policies and solutions to those problems. That's not really our job as the public to do that, our job is to express outrage, to show the people in charge that we think something is wrong."

Kline, 28, had the feeling something was wrong long before Occupy took over Zuccotti Park.  Kline is a veteran of Wall Street, a former derivatives trader who left her job in 2010. I spoke to her this week on Day 6.

"I was one of those people you imagine screaming in a pit and buying and selling all day long, except it wasn't stock, it was this derivative I traded which is one of the things that's been blamed for the financial crisis." 

exchange floor_publsih.jpgStreet of Dreams

Kline wouldn't tell me how much money she made - in fact, if she did, she'd be exposed to legal action. She admits there was enormous wealth in her former profession. 

"As you get into the managing directors - executive positions - it's certainly in the tens of millions."

But the luster of those millions wasn't enough for Klein. "When I first started, for a few years it was really exciting. Once you look around and get your footing, you start to notice things about the people you work with and the environment. There was a lot of incompetence, and certainly nepotism, and things that I was very uncomfortable with, and it wore away at me for a very long time."

wall st board_publish.jpgIt was difficult for Kline to walk away from a position so widely sought and richly rewarded, and the process of leaving took several months. But on August 31, 2010, when she walked out the door of her firm, she knew she was making the right move even though she didn't know what would come next.

"In the time leading up to my departure, I had to battle the urge to dramatically yell "I Quit!" and storm out into a new life. It was always nagging at me, however, that I had worked so hard and learned so much for nothing - that basically the entire experience had been a waste for me."

Freed from her 16-hour days, Kline spent the next year volunteering, traveling, and doing financial consulting for an art organization and tech start up.  But there was something missing. 

"It was always nagging at me that I had worked so hard and learned so much for nothing - that basically the entire experience had been a waste for me," Kline says.

Then in September 2011 the Occupy Wall Street movement gave momentum to the dissatisfaction that Kline still felt about the financial industry.  It was sudden, unexpected and crystal clear.

"It was really hard to predict this kind of a movement.  In 2010 there was no indication there was going to be such a popular uprising.  It's the perfect time and place, and I hope we're able to do a lot of good with it."

Occupy_SEC_publish.jpgChallenging Volcker

If there's a surgical response to the charge that Occupy has failed to be specific, it would be Kline and her group called Occupy the SEC. It's a core group of about seven former insiders- lawyers, ex-bankers, and an author who's also a careful reader which, is useful when taking on the banks in the ultra-specialized field of banking regulation.

They've been contesting the language in one section of Obama's new law governing Wall Street, a part called the Volcker rule, which tries to put a firewall between the high-risk activities of investment banks, and the traditional commercial savings bank.

The law made it through congress and now it's in the regulatory process where the details are hammered out. This is where the banks exert their pressure.

"It gets tricky when it goes to the regulatory agencies and they have to write the actual nitty-gritty of how this thing would look," Kline says. "And when that happens, the banks and their lobbyists swoop in and try to water everything down. They look at every single part and say, 'Oh this is going to strangle the economy if we do this,' or 'This is going to make it impossible for us to give loans.' They make far-fetched arguments, saying why all regulation is bad." 
 
occupy 99_publish.jpgThe banks are spending a lot of money making these arguments. But this time, with Occupy the SEC, the banks' position is vetted by people who understand what loosening those regulations really means, because like Kline, they're former employees.

Kline says when she reads the regulations, she thinks like a trader.

"I read the Volcker rule the first time and thought:  Oh my god. I could get around this so many ways. So what we tried to do was imagine if we were still in the business trying to accomplish the kind of risk-taking they want to do, how would we go about doing it."

It's easy to imagine Kline's former employers hate her now, but she admits Occupy the SEC isn't a huge issue for the banks. With the millions they have to spend on lawyers and lobbying, Occupy the SEC is a non-entity.

I tell her it sounds like the banks think they're winning.

"I think that they always think that they're winning," she says.

occupy_nyc_publish.jpgOccupy May Day 2012

Earlier this week On May 1, Occupy movements in several cities used the worker's holiday to relaunch their campaigns and remind the press they haven't gone away. Not everyone was convinced.

In New York City, where everything started, Occupy was calling for citizens to refrain from going to work, school or using their banks. The New York Post wrote: "Fact is, the vast majority of New Yorkers - the real 99 per cent, in other words - spent their day doing precisely what OWS had promised, and failed, to stop them from doing: They went to work and school."

The New York Times largely ignored the protests, though other sites like Bloomberg.com did give the story priority.

I asked Kline if she thought her group has any hope of changing regulations when faced with the enormous wealth and power of the banking industry.
 
"There's a deep cynic inside of me who says, 'These people are able to get around a lot of this. No matter how smart we are, they're smarter.' But I also really believe that things like lobbying money and election money - none of that is any good if the people are against it. I believe we can get there."

It's clear for Kline this faith has been reinforced by the wider movement now entering its eighth month.

occupy everything_publish.jpgShe says, "What Occupy did was present this gigantic opportunity to put my knowledge to use - the opportunity to take what I had learned on Wall Street and be one of the good guys for a change.  In that sense, Occupy has given me more direction than just about anything else I can think of."

As Occupy enters the eight month of general protests and the recovery stalls or looks weaker, and as student protests continue in Quebec, or Europe heads for more uncertainty, we'll probably see more instances of the blunt force of the wider movement. Many will dismiss or disparage the public face of the movement. But others, like Kline, will bring the dissent to a deeper, more specialized level.

They're the ones planting the seeds of Occupy.

That's our show. Enter out contests and you might win what is fast becoming the must-have fashion accessory of the season, a Day 6 tote. And we'll see you again next week on Day 6.

Brent Bambury @CBCDay6

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