Newsflash: Public Anger Gets Results.

by matttbastard

Earlier this week, Der Spiegel published a sobering article about how the global economic crisis is battering the Friedmanite petri dish that is post-Soviet Eastern Europe:

After joining the EU, the Baltic countries in particular made enormous progress in catching up with their Western neighbors, sometimes growing at double-digit rates. Romania, a latecomer to the EU, recorded the largest number of new registrations of Porsche Cayennes worldwide in 2008. In downtown Warsaw, the Stalin-era Palace of Culture and Science, once the city’s only skyscraper, disappeared behind new steel-and-glass office towers within the space of a few years. The Czech Republic still enjoyed almost full employment in 2008.

Now the once-booming Eastern European economy has ground to an abrupt halt. The worldwide economic crisis, which began with the bursting of the real estate bubble in the United States, is now making itself felt in the former communist countries. And it is hitting them with more force and more quickly than the newcomers to capitalism, spoiled by success, had expected.

The Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians, who for years could enjoy growth rates of between 7 and 10 percent, must resign themselves to the fact that their economies are shrinking. Hungary has already tapped the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the EU for €20 billion ($27 billion), and Romania will need just as much. In the fourth quarter of last year alone, the Poles produced 5 percent less than in the same period in 2007. In the Czech Republic, unemployment has risen to 12 percent.

[…]

The fact that the crisis in the West is now pulling down the East is largely attributable to a single mistake. For years, Eastern Europeans took out loans denominated in euros, Swiss francs and Scandinavian kroner. The loans stimulated domestic consumption and allowed the economies to grow. Many new member states imported more goods than they exported. Now the mountains of debt are high, and the current account deficits of countries like Lithuania and Bulgaria are a massive 15 percent of GDP.

Capital flight and declining demand from the West have pushed down exchange rates. The currencies that are not pegged to the euro have experienced particularly drastic slumps in value. In the last six months, the Romanian leu lost more than 16 percent of its value and the Hungarian forint close to 20 percent. Private citizens and even governments can no longer service their foreign-currency loans.

Massive bankruptcies in the East are now affecting the reckless lenders in the West, which also happen to control about 70 percent of all banks in Eastern Europe. Austrian banks alone have outstanding loans in Eastern Europe worth €293 billion ($396 billion). Thomas Mirow, the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London, expects that up to €76 billion ($103 billion) in Western loans will come due this year in EU members in Eastern Europe and Ukraine. Concerns about the creditworthiness of Eastern businesses could deter cash-strapped Western banks from issuing loans for investments. According to Mirow, a vicious circle is developing as Eastern European economies run out of steam and the crisis gains momentum.

At any rate, it will not be possible to fulfill the promise of the revolution of 1989 — freedom and prosperity for all Europeans — as quickly as promised. Instead, citizens in the new EU member states can expect to see their wages stagnate at lower levels compared with those in the West, assuming they have not already been cut drastically. In addition to mass layoffs, ailing Eastern European business owners have resorted to wage cuts of up to 30 percent in recent months. And someone who is out of work in the east quickly finds him- or herself in a very tight spot. Governments are out of money, and social services were cut back in many places during the boom years.

Scary shit.  But the following passage, buried in the middle of the doom and gloom, caught my attention:

Now trouble is beginning to brew in these young democracies. In Bulgaria, Latvia and Lithuania, angry citizens have taken to pelting government buildings with eggs, rocks and — weather permitting — snowballs. In the Latvian capital, the government of Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis was even forced to step down. Meanwhile in Hungary, Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany announced Saturday he was resigning, saying he was an “obstacle” to the reforms needed to help his country overcome the financial crisis.

Chris Bowers at OpenLeft points out something that should be common fucking sense–“When people aren’t angry, politicians aren’t responsive”:

To me, as a political activist, the lesson is that we should be generating as much anger as possible, all the time, because it is about the only thing that appears to make politicians in D.C. responsible to our concerns.

Democracy doesn’t begin and end at the ballot box. Sometimes we have to remind our leaders of this–make the powerful FEAR the people. Because, quite frankly, there are more of us than them. Strength in numbers. Is why divide and conquer is a key part of their strategy. We see that in the anti-EFCA effort, with the business lobby trying to stir up the resentment of non-unionized workers towards those who are organized.

Reading about how the global economic crisis is hitting Europe is both depressing and, perversely, inspiring. Their anger isn’t impotent, expressed not in water-cooler griping, but rather abductions, rock-throwing, mass labour mobilization. Public outrage–visceral, undiluted rage–gets shit done.  Governments have stepped down after being held accountable by the will of the people; corporations have been forced to renegotiate severance packages for laid-off workers.

Anger. Gets. A. Response.

Somewhere, Emma Goldman is smiling.

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F*ck Me with a Freshly Sharpened Pitchfork.

by matttbastard

Update 03/23: Make sure to check out Sarah’s post on Spitzer, populism, and The Experts.

On today’s episode of Fareed Zakaria GPS, an ‘expert panel’ was convened to discuss ‘populist’ outrage in the wake of AIG and other recent scandals related to the global economic crisis. Via email, I bet Sarah a dinner at IHOP (because we be keepin’ it real like that in this economy) that the ‘expert panel’ would be tilted towards the Washington media elite–y’know, Broder,  Friedman, maybe some latte-sipping ‘even the’ liberal from TNR.  Sarah very astutely declined to take me up on that bet.

Good thing, too–I knew it was going to be bad, but this so-called ‘expert panel’ went beyond even the previously charted borders of EPIC ESTABLISHMENT FAIL .

I mean, was that ‘expert panel’ on ‘populist rage’ a joke?  Let’s see: a glibertarian blogger, a former Goldman Sachs greed peddler, and a tainted ex-Merril Lynch exec.

Seriously?

How about next time try featuring some actual, y’know, populists–labour reps, or writers like Barbara Ehrenreich or Bill Fletcher, Jr–people who aren’t stuck in the bubble of establishment Washington, who don’t purse their lips at such vulgar concepts as ‘populism’,  ‘nationalization’ or even (gasp!) ‘socialism.’   Or, as Sarah suggested, someone like our homie Erik Loomis, a Gilded Age historian whose focus is labor history and has studied in depth populist movements in the US. In other words, REAL experts on the matter of ‘populist rage’, not smug apologists for the very system that has PROVOKED the white-hot ire of the general public.

At the end of the segment, Zakaria guilelessly requested that viewers write in if they felt the panel didn’t contain enough populist outrage “and we’ll see what we can do to correct that”. Dude, there was NO populist outrage–period.  Jesus fucking wept — talk about a glib cocktail party sneer from the woefully-out-of-touch establishment.

Pitchforks. Pikes. Tumbrils.

Take action: Contact Fareed Zakaria GPS and (politely but firmly) let them know that you want to see REAL experts on populism represented in any purportedly ‘expert’ panel.

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Shoving a Jeroboam Straight Up David Brooks’ Backside

by matttbastard

Jim Hightower has never let his pitchfork grow dull, as he shows in this merciless skewering of the latest idiotic bleat from token NY Times conservative columnist Bobo Brooks:

There is a fury in the countryside toward these plutocratic purse-snatchers who are being allowed to keep their exalted executive positions, draw fat paychecks and get trillions of dollars in bailout money from common taxpayers. People don’t merely resent them, they yearn for the legalization of tar-and-feathering!

Yet, Brooks and his political brethren are now bemoaning the plight of the plutocrats, assailing the “redistributionists” who talk of spreading America’s wealth. In his column, Brooks cried out for a conservative vision of “a nation in which we’re all in it together – in which burdens are shared broadly, rather than simply inflicted on a small minority.”

Do we look like we have suckerwrappers around our heads? Where were these tender-hearted champions of sharing throughout the last 30 years, when that same “small minority” was absolutely giddy with redistributionist fervor – redistributing upward, that is?

With the full support of their political hirelings from both parties, this minority created tax dodges, trade scams, corporate subsidies, deregulation fantasies, financial hustles, de-unionization schemes, bankruptcy loopholes and other mechanisms that turned government into a redistributionist bulldozer, shoving wealth from the workaday majority into their own pockets.

Brooks might have missed this 30-year class war, but most folks have been right in the thick of it and are not the least bit squeamish about supporting a national effort to right those wrongs. After all, even a dog knows the difference between being stumbled over – and being kicked.

If only Hightower’s fellow populist Texican rabble-rouser Molly Ivins was still among the living; we need her brilliantly pointed insight now more than ever to help puncture bloated elite windbags like Bobo.

Related:  Ok, I can kinda sorta grok fiddling as Rome goes up in flames. But dancing on tables at brunch while sipping on $2,500 ($2,500!) jeroboams of champagne–in the middle of the afternoon? Un-fucking-believable.

h/t Erik Loomis

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