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"During the past nine months, gigantic financial bailouts amid collapsing economic life made visible the crippling divide between governing elites and citizens at large. People everywhere learned a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn't. They watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. 'Where's my bailout,' became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces relaunched their campaign for "entitlement reform" -- a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid."
The much younger and more surly Matt Taibbi, who uses language more salty and immediate than Greider, but who is no less a brilliant observer of history and popular anger, also thinks that a coup is under way -- that Wall Street Insiders are using the bailout to stage a revolution. That the global economic crisis isn't about money -- it's about power.
Writes Taibbi in Rolling Stone:
“It's over -- we're officially, royally fucked. No empire can survive being rendered a permanent laughingstock, which is what happened as of a few weeks ago, when the buffoons who have been running things in this country finally went one step too far. It happened when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was forced to admit that he was once again going to have to stuff billions of taxpayer dollars into a dying insurance giant called AIG, itself a profound symbol of our national decline -- a corporation that got rich insuring the concrete and steel of American industry in the country's heyday, only to destroy itself chasing phantom fortunes at the Wall Street card tables, like a dissolute nobleman gambling away the family estate in the waning days of the British empire."
Just about everything is riding on how we navigate this unprecedented, and frightening, moment in history. And and our new president appears to be on the verge of squandering the enormous goodwill that swept him into office. He has a decision to make, and thus far he seems to be siding with the banks and not with his voters. If that is what he continues to do, it could be a very quick demise to a very promising career, as his unpopularity will quickly build.
Frank Rich, in another compelling essay from Sunday calls it, Obama's "Katrina moment":
"A charming visit with Jay Leno won't fix it. A 90 percent tax on bankers' bonuses won't fix it. Firing Timothy Geithner won't fix it. Unless and until Barack Obama addresses the full depth of Americans' anger with his full arsenal of policy smarts and political gifts, his presidency and, worse, our economy will be paralyzed. It would be foolish to dismiss as hyperbole the stark warning delivered by Paulette Altmaier of Cupertino, Calif., in a letter to the editor published by the [New York] Times last week: 'President Obama may not realize it yet, but his Katrina moment has arrived.' "
Rich writes: "Six weeks ago, I wrote ... that the country's surge of populist rage could devour the president's best-laid plans, including the essential Act II of the bank rescue, if he didn't get in front of it ..."
Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet.