The Arab Street — a slangy term for popular opinion and activism in that part of the world — is brimming with energy and resolve, it is, as they say, kicking ass and taking names in this amazing Arab spring. The American Street is empty, and it is still winter there.
These thoughts are occasioned by last night’s story on CBS’s 60 Minutes detailing the enormous sweat shops created to forge signatures on bogus documents for the country’s largest banks. In their zeal to rake in money quickly from the securitized, sub-prime mortgage frenzy that destroyed much of the financial world, the banks paid little attention to the legalities of dealing in real estate. Years later, after the bubble that they had blown up had burst, and the recession they had caused had decimated the middle class, those who got caught holding the mortgages when the music stopped found they had a problem. They couldn’t foreclose on a property they couldn’t prove they owned because they had been too cavalier to do the paperwork. So they simply started manufacturing bogus paperwork. Hundreds of thousands of Americans, all of whom have no doubt been sorely penalized by banks for missing a payment by a day or overdrawing an account by a dollar, have been put out of their homes by companies that had no evidence that they owned the mortgages.
Where is the outrage? Where are the street demonstrations, the burnings in effigy? Where are the platoons of bankers being perp-walked to prison? The street is empty.
And even this example, however enraging, is rather trivial by comparison to the other issues not being addressed by the American Street.
- The Know-Nothing Party now ascendant in the US House of Representatives has passed legislation extending tax cuts for billionaires, enormous subsidies for Big Oil and Big Agriculture, all the while professing its resolve to cut the federal deficit by de-funding Head Start and National Public Radio. The streets outside their offices? Empty.
- The American Empire continues to squander its wealth on military subjugation, not only in prosecuting pointless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but in occupying such dangerous countries as Germany and Japan. The so-called Defense Department should reclaim its original name — the War Department — with the addition of the appropriate adjective: Permanent. The streets outside the Pentagon? Empty.
- The effects of global climate change, which are accumulating faster than the worst-case scenarios of the past several decades had forecast, pose a real and present danger not only to the welfare but to the security of the United States. (This, by the way, is the oft-stated opinion of the aforementioned Department of Defense.) Leaders who have the capacity to mitigate, reverse, or defend against this rising peril, and who do not, betray their country and their fellow citizens. But they are besieged by no one, their streets, too, are empty.
- The inability of the world’s oil producers to meet the world’s demand for oil, which is imminent, will unless well prepared-for inflict catastrophic damage on every developed country in the world. It was the easiest crisis in the world to foresee: you have x gallons left, you’re using x gallons a day, do the math. In order to be effective, the preparations would have to have begun at least 20 years ago. Today they are still not on anyone’s agenda. To the streets, anyone? Anyone?
There’s much more that no one seems to care about. The progressing failure of industrial agriculture, the progressive poisoning of air, water, soil and food by companies too big to care, the advanced decay of our roads, bridges, water lines and power lines: all threaten our future, our very existence, yet none motivate a government, a political party, a civic club, or a person to take to the American Street?
All we can see on this boulevard of broken dreams is the Tea Party, this faux-populist creature of the Koch Brothers designed and funded to declaw government in all ways in which it tries to protect the people against the socio-pathic ferocity of industry. The only banners flying in the American wind demand no taxation for the rich, no health care for the poor, no laws for corporations. The only loud protests of injustice or error have to do with ball games or reality TV or celebrity meltdowns.
The real American Street, the one Thomas Jefferson or Tom Paine might recognize, is empty, and it is winter there.
[UPDATE: Okay, not completely empty, but you would not know it from the Industrial Media. See “2,000 Protesters March on Koch Industries” as reported on Climate Progress.]