Friday, October 7, 2011

The Wheel Turns... Slowly

This is becoming an Age of Protests with people taking to the street in the Arab world and in many unexpected places... like Wall Street. It is amazing how history makes things look inevitable from hind sight. They will write up this era as a natural outcome of factors X,Y,Z that were obvious by the late 1990s and becoming predominant by 2008 when the financial collapse triggered a "new era".

But living through a "new era" doesn't look, feel, or smell like a new era. I've been waiting since 2008 for real change. I was excited by anti-Wall Street protests back in late 2008/early 2009 but those fizzled. I had hopes with Obama but those got crushed. The Arab Spring was exciting but with the results in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen, and the side-tracking in Egypt, it still isn't clear whether this is a false dawn or a real new day for the Middle East.

But here are some positive words from Paul Krugman in his NY Times op-ed article about the Occupy Wall Street movement:
There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear, but we may, at long last, be seeing the rise of a popular movement that, unlike the Tea Party, is angry at the right people.

When the Occupy Wall Street protests began three weeks ago, most news organizations were derisive if they deigned to mention the events at all. For example, nine days into the protests, National Public Radio had provided no coverage whatsoever.

It is, therefore, a testament to the passion of those involved that the protests not only continued but grew, eventually becoming too big to ignore. With unions and a growing number of Democrats now expressing at least qualified support for the protesters, Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even eventually be seen as a turning point.

What can we say about the protests? First things first: The protesters’ indictment of Wall Street as a destructive force, economically and politically, is completely right.

A weary cynicism, a belief that justice will never get served, has taken over much of our political debate — and, yes, I myself have sometimes succumbed. In the process, it has been easy to forget just how outrageous the story of our economic woes really is. So, in case you’ve forgotten, it was a play in three acts.

In the first act, bankers took advantage of deregulation to run wild (and pay themselves princely sums), inflating huge bubbles through reckless lending. In the second act, the bubbles burst — but bankers were bailed out by taxpayers, with remarkably few strings attached, even as ordinary workers continued to suffer the consequences of the bankers’ sins. And, in the third act, bankers showed their gratitude by turning on the people who had saved them, throwing their support — and the wealth they still possessed thanks to the bailouts — behind politicians who promised to keep their taxes low and dismantle the mild regulations erected in the aftermath of the crisis.


But Democrats are being given what amounts to a second chance. The Obama administration squandered a lot of potential good will early on by adopting banker-friendly policies that failed to deliver economic recovery even as bankers repaid the favor by turning on the president. Now, however, Mr. Obama’s party has a chance for a do-over. All it has to do is take these protests as seriously as they deserve to be taken.

And if the protests goad some politicians into doing what they should have been doing all along, Occupy Wall Street will have been a smashing success.
I have no great insight into the current protests, but I do know that America has gone too many years without protest in the streets. The elites have used too many tricks for too many years to monopolize the social conversation. It is time for the world to go topsy-turvy in order to get the cold dead hand of the ultra-rich off the levers of power.

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