The Empty American Street

The Arab Street (this one happens to be in Edinburgh, Scotland) is thriving. The American Street, a right-of-way for righting wrongs and warning of peril? Not so much. (Photo by baaker2009/Flickr)

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.]


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4 Responses to The Empty American Street

  1. Joe Perez says:

    I take issue with your apparent belief that Thomas Jefferson is somehow representative of a better America. Jefferson was a little more than a highly articulate, endlessly propagandized, hypocrite. He did NOT believe in or promote freedom or liberty. He was a slaveowner who sexually abused at least one of his slaves and even enslaved his own children. He was a vocal proponent of genocide against native Americans. Jefferson is just another part of the great American lie.

    Some Americans are finally waking from their long dream and realizing that what this country is has no relationship whatever to the mythical America of the propagandists. America has been all about rapacious plutocrats like Jefferson and Washington from day one.

    What has changed since Jefferson’s day is the staggering increase in the power of the tools of mass mind control and surveillance and the increased killing power available to the plutocrats and their minions.

    If Jefferson were president today, he would be doing exactly what Obama (or is it Obomber?) is doing.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      I made no claim about what Mr. Jefferson represents, or what he might do as president today. I referred to an “American Street” he might recognize, that is, one filled with strenuous argument about the actual issues of the day and the real dangers to the Republic.

      Still, to dismiss everything Jefferson said and stood for because of what look to us, in our time, like personal failings seems to me to be unproductive. Where is there a figure in history who cannot thus be dismissed, and what, exactly, does that get us?

      Jefferson lost one great argument about America’s future; instead of his vision of a decentralized collection of agrarian communities, we got the central banks, powerful federal government and massive industries beloved of his opponents. I can’t help wishing he had won.

  2. Kim du Toit says:

    “The progressing failure of industrial agriculture…”

    The reason “industrial” (i.e. modern) agriculture is failing is not because of its rapaciousness or venality or profit-obsession, but because of the neo-Stalinist agricultural policies of various U.S. administrations and government departments which have distorted the market realities into something more akin to Animal Farm. Now add the imbalance created by the nonsensical push towards ethanol as a viable alternative fuel to gasoline, and you have the reason why our grain production, for starters, is no longer addressing the needs of the U.S., let alone the rest of the world. The problem is not “insufficient” government control, it’s too much government control and misguidance.

    “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.”

    Feel free to provide ANY actual documentary proof that the Koch Brothers had more to do with the formation of the Tea Party than, say, Rick Santelli.

    Otherwise, try another topic. Because come November 2012, the Tea Party is going to explode in the U.S. body politic and propel the socialists out of office. THEN you’ll see the American “street”. We don’t run into the streets and wave our arms and giant puppets; we VOTE. Feel free to talk about this topic again in mid-November 2012, when, like Obama in mid-November 2010, you wonder what the hell happened.

    • Tom Lewis says:

      I don’t entirely disagree with your observations about agriculture in the United States, but industrial agriculture is failing throughout the world, and the US government can’t be responsible for all of it. I have never said, nor do I believe, that the problem is “insufficient government control.” I go with rapaciousness and venality.
      For documentation of the Koch Brothers-Tea Party connection, see the New Yorker Magazine of August 30, 2010: “Covert Operations: The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.”
      See you in November.