Injustice fuels the mob
CNN’s Erin Burnett recently made a visit to lower Manhatten to assess the Occupy Wall Street protest. Based on accounts of her visit Ms. Burnett seemed a little dismayed that those protesting didn’t understand the financial crisis very well. Rawstory.com reported:
The protester was asked if he knew that taxpayers had “actually made money” on the Wall Street bailout, to which he responded he was “unaware.”
“Yes, the bank bailout made money for the taxpayers, right now to the tune of $10 billion,” Burnett said. “Those are seriously the numbers. This is the big issue? So, we solved it.”
While the protesters could not adequately answer Burnett’s questions, here’s a few things they do know: their friends and family are struggling to find jobs; that one in six Americans are now officially living in poverty; that gas and food prices have gone up; that 1.5 million homes stand empty after being foreclosed upon and that politicians in Washington argue over irrelevant issues.
Like Burnett Reuters’ David Cay Johnston went to lower Manhattan to talk to protestors and came away with a very different view:
Some are articulate, others inchoate. But there is absolute agreement that the super rich, especially the financiers, are sophisticated thieves who steal not with guns, but something called derivatives.
Two secondary themes also emerge in talking to some of the hundreds of people occupying Zuccotti Park. One is that the super rich own the politicians. The other is that the news media, almost across the board, view events through the eyes of the rich.
Brendan Burke, a truck driver and punk rock musician who studied philosophy in college, said since the protests began almost three weeks ago, “I have heard a thousand different things people are concerned about — inadequate teacher pay, no jobs, the rich not paying their fair share of taxes and all of it was about how we working people are not getting a fair shake.”
Burke said he expected the protests to gather strength because “this oppressiveness has been going on for years; its quiet, the way the bankers constructed this mess — and nothing is being done to them.”
The major U.S. banks got bigger after the financial crisis of 2008. This may have served their corporate interests but it also made them bigger targets of a frustrated and angry citizenry. Think Progress sketches out the growth of the biggest banks:
– The four biggest banks issue 50 percent of mortgages and 66 percent of credit cards: Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup issue one out of every two mortgages and nearly two out of every three credit cards in America.
Americans with credit cards from these banks are often paying interest rates of 15 percent plus while their cash deposits are earning nothing. The recent imposition of debit card fees is just another small reminder that they are merely fee fodder for their bank.
But the grossest abuse on the people has been the robo-signing scandal in which banks foreclosed on hundreds of thousands of homes with falsified paperwork. The banks with the largest share of home mortgages are, of course, the headline abusers. The people have heard this criminal tale repeated month after month with no penalties for the banks.
They ask where have the administration and Congress been on this issue? Washington has been playing dead; the banks’ main regulators, the OCC and Federal Reserve, have told 14 banks to establish new foreclosure processes. State attorney generals have been dancing with the banks on the issue for months and will probably not reach a joint agreement.
The people have been abused and no one has protected them. Personally I believe that we are lucky that the protests have been orderly and nonviolent. The Tea Party was the first wave of dissent from the people and the current protests are the second wave. These movements will continue and strengthen until the abuses of our system have been corrected and the power of the big banks and their influence on government has been reduced.
Passions that run wild don’t fix societies but they create the space for large changes. Mobs have gathered many times over the centuries to address oppression and inequality. Let’s remember in addition to the rule of law society needs to feel a sense of fairness and protection from the powerful.