The Weekly Quill — A Star-Spangled Showdown – The 2011 Debt Ceiling Redux

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“Under the current legal system, it could be difficult to convict senior bankers of widespread ‘fraud’ unless law courts retrospectively rewrite the rules. This may be good news for some bankers. But it is bad for long-term social and political stability. After all, rites of passage – as anthropologists often say – are important in every culture, not just in terms of individual lives, but society as a whole. One great benefit of having public trials is that they create a sense of closure and justice. Without any such retribution, there is a risk that anger will continue to fester. Right now, that is precisely what is happening, poisoning the wider political landscape.”

Gillian Tett, The Financial Times, March 11, 2011

It was a scorcher of a summer in every way. The deadly heat wave devastating the United States was the worst in 75 years. Texas was the hottest on records back to 1895 and together with its neighbor to the north, Oklahoma, buried records set during the infamous “Dust Bowl” era of the 1930s. The No. 1 song was Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” an angry rebuke, composed in a single afternoon following a breakup with her boyfriend that left her feeling, “that I was a weak person if I didn’t stay in the relationship. I was very insulted and wrote that as sort of a ‘f*ck you.’” The sweltering heat and palpable anger on the airwaves permeated the mood. Two years after the Great Recession had ended in June 2009, four million U.S. households had lost their homes to foreclosure; six million would follow.

And yet, there had been not a single perp walk tied to the clever financiers who’d amassed untold riches that unleashed unprecedented damages among the masses, many of whom were innocent, some less so. That July, Adbusters, an anti-consumerism activist magazine based in Vancouver, British Columbia proposed a September 17th “occupation” of Wall Street. Radical internet-based groups were electrified, and word spread fast. On the appointed day, commemorating my birth and the signing of the U.S. Constitution, protestors set up camp at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan and promptly renamed it “Liberty Park,” which was fitting beyond the metaphor given it was within a block of the New York Fed, address 140 Liberty Street.

The crux of the movement: Call out the ultra-wealthy 1% on behalf of the remaining 99% of Americans who had been left behind by systematic political corruption based on greed and power. Had I been a framer, I would have added to the cause, “…and facilitated by the Federal Reserve.” Alas, I was an employee of the Fed at the time, an institution that would be quickly thrown in with the targeted cabal of depraved. As a result, I had the pleasure of listening to the sign-wielding Dallas-based offshoot of Occupy Wall Street right underneath my window on Pearl Street. What was I doing? That would be penning briefings imploring policymakers to pull the plug on Quantitative Easing (QE) lest it further widen the inequality divide sowing the seeds of less than peaceful protests.

The backdrop inside the Beltway started the prior November with the bruising Midterm elections. The Republicans had picked up 63 seats in the House of Representatives, flipping control to the GOP in their best showing since 1938. Control of the Senate remained in the hands of the Democrats as they did not lose the 10 seats needed to cede control; still the six that did change parties set the stage in D.C. for what was to come.

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