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The Whole World Is Rioting as the Economic Crisis Worsens -- Why Aren't We?

Americans are rightfully angry about the economic decline, but with a few small exceptions, quietly so. Why? It depends on whom you ask.

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  • Britain (via the Times of London): "Wildcat strikes flared at more than 19 sites across the country in response to claims that British tradesmen were being barred from construction jobs by contractors using cheaper foreign workers." 
  • Russia (via Al-Jazeera): "Thousands of protesters have rallied across Russia to criticize the government's economic policies and its response to the global financial crisis.

    "Russian police forcefully broke up many of the anti-government protests on Saturday, arresting dozens of demonstrators." 

At least in Western Europe, cries of "burn the shit down!" are being heard in countries with some of the highest standards of living in the world -- states with adequate social safety nets; countries where all citizens have access to decent health care and heavily subsidized educations. Places where minimum wages are also living wages, and a dignified retirement is in large part guaranteed.  

The far ends of the ideological spectrum appear to be gaining currency as the crisis develops, and people grow increasingly hostile toward the politics of the status quo.

The Financial Times quotes Olivier Besancenot, a young leader of "France's extreme left," promising "to reinvent and re-establish the anti-capitalist project." "We want the established powers to be blown apart," Besancenot said. Europe's far right is gaining momentum, too, using the economy and populist outrage over immigration to gain a legitimacy it hasn't enjoyed in some time. 

Notably absent from the list of countries where the economic crunch is rending the social fabric is the good ole US of A, a state with the greatest level of economic inequality in the wealthy world.

Outside of a few scattered and quickly contained protests, the citizens of the U.S. -- a country born of revolution, but with an elite that's been terrified of that legacy since immediately after its founding -- have been calm, despite opinion polls showing that Americans are more dissatisfied with the direction in which the country has been headed since they began measuring such things.  

It's a baffling disconnect, considering that real wages for all but the top 10 percent of the economic pile haven't increased in 35 years.

It's more bizarre still when you consider that while European governments have handled their own bailouts relatively transparently, the U.S. government has doled out close to $10 trillion in bailouts, loan guarantees and fiscal stimulus -- if there were a million-dollar bill, that would be a stack of 10 million of them -- with a stunning lack of oversight or accountability.

Even the congressional commission charged with overseeing key parts of the banking bailout can't get answers to basic questions like "who's getting what?"

Americans are rightfully angry about that state of affairs, but with a few small exceptions, quietly so. Why? It depends on whom you ask. 

In a 2006 interview with Harper's, Barack Obama shared a subtle, but rather fundamental observation about America's political culture: "Since the founding," he said, "the American political tradition has been reformist, not revolutionary."  If there is to be positive change, Obama has argued, it must be gradual; "brick by brick," as he put it in one of his final campaign speeches.

Mark Ames, author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion -- From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond , argues that Americans have been beaten down to a degree that they're now a pacified population, largely willing to accept any economic outrage its elites impose on them.

In a 2005 interview with AlterNet, Ames said the "slave mentality" is stronger in the U.S. than elsewhere, "in part because no other country on earth has so successfully crushed every internal rebellion."  

 
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