Channeling the Populist Anger by Roger Bybee at Dec. 31, 2008

Populist anger is obvious,


but what of effective action?


by Roger Bybee


Obama is indeed trapped in a vise between the advice of his advisors and donors and the outrage of the people who voted for him, as William Greider

( http://www.commondreams.org/view/2009/03/22 )articulated so well.

But an effective social movement to counter the Wall Street restoration will not emerge by itself. Several elements of the current picture stand out:
1) Unchanneled anger
Anti-corporate anger is seemingly everywhere in lunch-counter conversations and the Web, yet has barely emerged out into the streets. The takeover of Republic Doors and Windows in Chicago by UE members, when Bank of America refused to extend credit to their employer, was a heartening sign.

But apart from scattered anti-eviction efforts by ACORN, one gains little sense of grass-roots anger being translated into grass-roots activity. We need to seriously analyze the strange absence of spontaneous protest. In part, people may be refraining from taking action by the hope that Obama himself will cure the economic crisis.

But Obama is not only constrained by the circle of ex-Wall Streeters who advise him and who provide him with a narrow set of pro-corporate options, but also conservative Democrats in both the House (the "Blue Dogs") and Senate (eg., Max Baucus) who want to gut Obama’s surprisngly liberal budget plan.

Perhaps the best way to pressure Obama is to call for the firing of Lawrence Summers (who protected the AIG retention bonuses in the name of contracts’ sanctity; you’ll recall that Summers didn’t similarly defend the UAW’s contracts with GM and Chrysler) and to exert local heat on the sell-out Dems by unemployed, seniors, environmentalists, and union members picketing and staging sit-ins in their local offices.

2. Where’s our bailout?
This refrain, voice millions of times by ordinary Americans, is not only a complaint about injustice but also a potential seed for a new social contract in America. If the economy cannot function without bailing out floundering banks brought down by their own greed, what is the government’s obligation to working families who worked hard for stagnating or falling wages, only to see their jobs going to China or Mexico, their homes up for foreclosure, and their pensions up in smoke?

Progressive need to take the "Where’s our bailout?" sentiment and help to shape it into something akin to the Economic Bill of Rights outlined by FDR and Martin Luther King. We need to firmly establish a new logic, a new "common sense" understanding that the



government must recognize the economic and social rights of all its citizens, not just those with seven mansions.

3. A practical program

While developing a full-blown alternative program must be the product of widespread democratic discussion, we need to start pointing a clear direction for Obama and Congress, and hold them accountable to it.
Among the components of this program:

a) An end to outsourcing . Corporations taking jobs out of the US at a time when they are desperately needed here must pay hefty taxes to cover the social costs of unemployment, the ecological costs of needless transoceanic shipping, and the exploitation of workers in high-repression, low-wage nations like Mexico and China.

But the NY Times reported  March 7 that many corporations are taking advantage of the current crisis to shift more jobs overseas.

This not negates much of the impact of OBama’s stimulus efforts, but will permanently transfer even more of our real economy outside the US.
b) An end to ‘too big to fail’
We can no longer allow Wall Street investment banks to use deregulatory steroids to grow to such massive proportions that they can effectively blackmail taxpayers into keeping them afloat–especially on their conditions (eg., bonuses, plush executive suites, and expensive corporate retreats).

T he point to any bailout–such as GM and Chrysler–must be to preserve and EXPAND US employment, not simply maintain a familiar corporate logo. This means demanding that these corporations bring out-sourced jobs home; shut down subsidiaries in tax havens like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands; and develop programs for producing fuel-efficient cars and mass transit.

If the auto bailout means 22% unemployment in Detroit and 15% or so in towns like Janesville, Wis. where GM just shut down a plant, why are we giving billions to GM and Chrysler?

c. A single-payer health program covering all Americans . The presence of for-profit insurers hugely inflates the cost of healthcare (we pay double what any other advanced nation does), lowers the quality of care (The US ranks 37th overall in health outcomes) because insurers intervene to distort and limit treatments, and only add confusing and expensive red tape to the system.

The current moment is one where our nation’s fate is poised on the tip of a knife. It could either roll back toward the re-consolidation of a society shaped by Wall Street financialization and the resulting deindustrialization and decay of countless communities, or we can move it toward a rebirth of American democracy and the extension of democratic principles into the economy to assure a voice and a decent life for all. 


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