WASHINGTON -- When the U.S. invaded Iraq, I wondered why so few Americans complained, even as our bombs demolished some of the treasures in the Baghdad Museum. When we moved into Afghanistan, and began bombing raids in Pakistan and parts of Yemen and Somalia, my angry wonder increased even more.
When one Wall Street scandal after another rent the country after 2008, I said and wrote of the new administration, "Obama needs to hang somebody."
Of course, I meant "to hang" figuratively -- or I think I did -- but surely somewhere along the way, somebody would have to pay. Something. Besides us.
Instead, Wall Street's behavior proceeded to insult the citizens of the nation even more. While average Americans were losing their homes, their investments and their faith in their country, bankers and traders were taking bonuses in the millions of dollars without so much as a kind word to anyone.
And now, out of the blue and without a word of warning, comes the rebellion I looked for so long ago. "Occupy Wall Street," it is called, and the last three weeks, that is exactly what a wildly heterogeneous group of young Americans has done.
It's been challenging to figure out who they are, but what does it matter? When the Republicans demonstrate, it looks like one big bridge party. This group on Wall Street seems to be sitting around in costumes from some recent Broadway show, but who cares? It looks like they have started something, and now a number of unions, also feeling "out" these days, were set to join their ranks this week.
Hey, when you've got the Transport Workers Union, with its 38,000 members, on your side, you can't be dismissed too easily.
Wall Street financiers, bankers and big investors know how to make money, but not how to make good for America. This very same week -- can you believe it? -- the banking industry passionately defended new fees on checking accounts by Bank of America and others involved in the mortgage/banking/foreclosure mess.
Petulant Bank of America, still complaining about bad loans and lawsuits from shoddy mortgages, announced it plans to begin charging a $5 monthly fee to customers who use their debit cards to shop! Wells Fargo and Chase, meanwhile, are also testing the idea.
You don't get it? Well, too bad for you. You should have been a banker.
Actually, it's easy to change banks. My own bank, PNC bank here in Washington, for instance, is not partaking of this newest mulcting of the citizens, with a motto that says, "Achievement: paying for your groceries, not your debit card." (Don't you just love it?)
As for Bank of America and the other big guys who are planning to charge customers additional fees, they may be making a big mistake. Because no one was figuratively "hung" when the first news of the bank frauds came to light at the end of the Bush and the beginning of the Obama administrations, bankers and financiers really don't know what is going on in the rest of the country.
They have no idea the degree to which they are hated. They have no conception that the American people think they've been running one big casino where they've fixed the cards, loaded the dice and paid off the cops. They thought the American people were too dumb to care about their bonuses -- maybe someday they'll figure out that those bonuses became the final proof of their depravity.
This week's protests on Wall Street did something wonderful: It showed that a lot of Americans do care. It's been so confusing until now, with all the new terms for jamming mortgages together and then chopping them up and selling the innards to some poor Luxembourger, all the while rewarding themselves with fabulous bonuses (and don't they deserve even more?) while average people are suffering.
But I think we're beginning to get it. One college boy in Occupy Wall Street said on TV: "One percent of the country owns 40 percent of the wealth. It's time they pay their full share to honor the social contract."
Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore was like a cat rolling in catnip over the demonstrations. "This is the result of bankers overplaying their hands. They were already filthy rich."
But the important part will be whether the folks in the Obama administration finally "get" it. Until now, they've accepted the pitiful Wall Street refrain that they can't change anything because America needs them too much. Now, one can feel a change.
President Obama, along with liberal Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, launched his new offensive with a Labor Day speech in Detroit that was reminiscent of Harry S. Truman and his "Give 'Em Hell" approach.
This movement may, of course, just fade away. But labor unions themselves started out with similarly unfocused demonstrations and strikes, and then developed into powerful movements when people saw their real fears defined for action. This is a start.
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- Bank of America