Five Best Monday Columns

Twitter protests, crowd financing, and Egypt's elections

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L. Gordon Crovitz on failed Twitter protests Last week, Vancouver-based magazine Adbusters, seeking to "spark demonstrations ... created a Twitter topic with the hashtag #OccupyWallStreet, asking people to come to New York's Financial District to join what they said would be tens of thousands in a 'leaderless resistance movement' objecting to banks, capitalism and other perceived evils," writes L. Gordon Crovitz in The Wall Street Journal. The group cited as precedent the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt. But the demonstrations "were a bust," Crovitz says. A few hundred "over-educated and underemployed" protesters "occupied" Zuccotti Park, a few blocks from Wall Street. (Never mind, Crovitz reminds us, that most big banks have moved to Midtown.) New Yorkers mostly saw the protestors as an inconvenience. Some were arrested for setting up tents or wearing masks. Police blocked off several streets to keep protestors from popular landmarks. "This worked, but it is inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of locals who live and work in the area." The organizers were wrong to compare the movement to Tahrir, Crovitz says. One New York college student with family from Egypt wrote, "It's insulting. And it's disrespectful to the thousands who were brutally murdered and tortured and raped all across the Middle East and North Africa in their actual fights for freedom from their chains." It wasn't the only failed Twitter protest of the month, though. Crovitz recalls "AttackWatch," the Obama campaign's attempt to invite supporters "to report alleged falsehoods about the president." Conservatives merely hijacked the hashtag, making jokes of it instead, and the campaign has apparently since abandoned it.

Michael Tomasky on Obama and independents "Well, it's official: Barack Obama isn't trying to change politics anymore," writes Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast. Tomasky cites a Washington Post article that argues Obama wants to revive support from traditional Democratic voting blocs, and he's taking a tougher tone on Republicans. In that sense, the 2012 campaign might look like George W. Bush's 2004 reelection campaign. Bush recognized he wasn't popular with independents, so instead, he focused on turnout among his base. Some wonder though whether this strategy will push independents further away. Democrats often mistakenly abandon independents as "Republicans Lite," Tomasky says. While most independents are mostly Republicans or Democrats who prefer not to identify as such, 10 to 15 percent aren't. These independents take progressive and conservative positions, and they look above all for a functional leader. Obama made the mistake of believing independents wanted him to compromise on the debt ceiling when they probably just wanted him to look strong. Bush in 2004 said to independents "You might not always agree with me, but you know where I stand," whereas Democrats seem to say "You might not know where I stand, but I'm always trying to look like I agree with you!" Obama can appeal to the base and the independents by simply emphasizing issues where they agree, focusing on their similarities, and pursuing their agenda aggressively.

Jackson Diehl on Egypt's elections Many in Washington fear that free elections in Egypt will give victory to Islamic fundamentalists and the 30-year peace with Israel will implode. "The most immediate and urgent threat in Egypt is not a dramatic Islamic coup or a diplomatic rupture with the Jewish state," argues Jackson Diehl in The Washington Post, "but prolongation of the chaotic and directionless regime the country now lives under." Egypt now resembles part military dictatorship and part liberal democracy. Free media and political parties have "flourished" since Mubarak's overthrow, and the despot stands trial. "But thousands have been summarily sentenced to prison by military courts." Specific dates for elections haven't been announced, there isn't a set idea of what Parliament's role will be, how its districts will be divided, when a president will be elected, or what role the military will take in the new government. Meanwhile a decline in tourism is killing the economy. "The generals once promised to turn over power by this month," but it could be 18 months before a new Constitution and president are in place. Meanwhile, elections will probably fix many of the problems. Five of six presidential candidates are "responsible secular centrists." Islamists could win many Parliamentary seats, but not a majority, and even within that movement, many recognize they cannot force their agenda on "the secular middle class." Relations with Israel stand to improve as well. "Every major political party in Cairo has denounced the embassy attack, and while some have called for renegotiating the treaty's security provisions, none wants to cancel it." So the path to stability in Egypt isn't to delay elections, but to urge them to move forward.

Amy Cortese on crowd financing There is bipartisan support today for "a proposal to loosen some of the outdated securities regulations that hamper small businesses in raising capital," writes Amy Cortese in The New York Times. The Obama administration is supporting "crowdfunding, a financing model that relies on collecting small sums of money from many people over the Internet." It is "a more democratic model of finance" that appeals to social media types and free-market libertarians. Sites like Kiva and Kickstarter already arrange microloans for artistic projects and microentrepreneurs. But these web sites are currently promoting "philanthropy."  "That's because if either site were to allow members to earn a return on their money, they would be subject to federal and state laws governing the sale of securities." In Britain, where crowdfunding is less regulated, several sites are vying to become "the Facebook of finance." In the U.S., "the proposed crowdfunding changes would make it easier for entrepreneurs to tap ordinary investors -- often customers or people in their social networks -- for funds, with the promise of a return."  The SEC is rightly concerned with protecting investors, and the Internet provides plenty of opportunity for scamming. But the sites would only allow for small increments of funds to be invested, and the Internet also makes investor information available. It's the kind of investing we should encourage, Cortese writes. "Unlike exotic derivatives and super-fast trading algorithms, crowdfunding generates capital for job-creating small businesses."

Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen on the jobs act and women Obama's jobs bill is "vital for our country's women," write Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, and Tina Tchen, chief of staff to the first lady in The Washington Post. The act would save the jobs of teachers, many of whom are women, put unemployed women to work, and cut the payroll tax of employed women. "Even as we wait for Congress to act, the Obama administration is taking steps to create economic opportunities for women and girls." The National Science Foundation is making it easier for women to pursue careers in science and engineering by allowing them to balance lab responsibilities with starting a family. "For example, if a researcher needs to delay the start of a funded project for a family-related reason, such as taking care of a young child or an aging parent, the NSF will work with her to make that possible without causing her to lose her grant." The NSF will also support research examining how effective these "flexible workplace policies" are. Conventional wisdom says "flexible workplace policies" cost businesses money, but "a study from the White House Council of Economic Advisers found that flexible workplaces often attract the best workers and experience reduced absenteeism, lower turnover and higher productivity." "We understand that these policies are no substitute for congressional action on the economy, they write, "but we also know that government can make a difference."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.