As I mentioned in my last post, rising levels of inequality in the US are feeding a growing sense of discontent. Bloomberg.com had a couple of items on the front page mirroring what I'm talking about.
The first discusses the hatred for billionaire Stephen Feinberg, founder of Cerberus Capital-- the company that's in the news lately for trying to give away their share of Chrysler for free. (So far, there are no takers).
As CEO of a $26 billion company, Feinberg has a net worth of about $1 billion, according to Forbes Magazine’s 2008 list. Brukardt made $24 an hour, or about $80,000 last year including overtime. Brukardt said he owes $160,000 on the mortgage for his five-bedroom duplex on College Avenue in Appleton, Wisconsin, and he doesn’t know how long he can keep making payments.
Sound's like a classic example of the type of inequality we're discussing.
“There’s a pent-up anger wherever I travel,” said Leo Gerard, president of the Pittsburgh-based United Steelworkers, which represents 1.2 million members, including the Kimberly mill workers. “People feel very much like they’re being screwed. I really think you’ll see tens of thousands of people if not hundreds of thousands taking to the streets and protesting across the country.”The second article focuses on Iceland, where the banking collapse is stirring unrest:
As unemployment grows, displaced workers are starting to protest. In Chicago, employees of Republic Windows & Doors occupied a factory earlier this month after Bank of America Corp. of Charlotte, North Carolina, forced the company out of business by cutting its credit line. Bank of America and New York-based JPMorgan Chase & Co., a part-owner of Republic Windows, agreed Dec. 10 to a $1.75 million loan to cover the severance pay of 240 employees.
“With nothing left to lose, militancy gave them their one hope,” said Harley Shaikin, a labor relations professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “We’ll see more rather than less of this.”
The fallout in Iceland may presage civil disruptions elsewhere, as job losses multiply and credit bills come due. Few nations can count themselves safe, says Ian Bremmer, president of the New York-based Eurasia Group, which analyzes political risk for businesses.
“As people have their expectations changed radically, you can have protests come out of nowhere,” even in developed countries, Bremmer said.
Riots in Greece this month, sparked by the police shooting of a teenager, became tinged with economic dissension. A group of Kuwaiti equity traders marched on the emir’s office in October to demand the closing of the stock exchange to stem losses. Even in U.S. cities, civil disorder is “conceivable” if unemployment rises above 10 percent from November’s 6.7 percent, Bremmer says.
Hauksdottir, the owner of a Reykjavik witchcraft shop, says over a cup of thyme and juniper tea that only civil disobedience can force banks to stop collecting debts that people can’t pay.
“We’ll use our voices, and then if we have to we’ll use our hands, and maybe axes,” Hauksdottir says....
The protests may escalate as bills come due and severance pay runs out for those who lost jobs at the three biggest lenders, including Landsbanki, the second-largest, says Stefan Palsson, a historian. He once led the Campaign Against Militarism, opposing NATO bases in the 1960s.
He said he’s surprised ordinary people are backing activists once considered “hooligans.” There was public outrage three years ago when environmentalists poured yogurt over aluminum representatives to protest a new plant.
“Now you have protesters kicking down doors at police stations, and respectable elderly people saying ‘Well, they’re young and full of enthusiasm, and anyway, they’re right!’” he said.