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FAIL: Wave Rises on the Web Against Wall St. Bailout

BY Micah L. Sifry | Tuesday, September 23 2008

Building on yesterday's post about the scattered but telling signs of public opposition to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's $700 billion Wall Street bailout proposal, here's an update on what's been bubbling today.

First, and most telling, is the entry of an infamous Internet meme, the FAIL sign, into this morning's nationally televised congressional testimony by Paulson and Fed chair Ben Bernacke. This picture, familiar to any of the millions of readers of the FAIL blog, should go down as an icon of our time, the moment when a user-generated online joke became a political protest slogan.

You can expect to see that one word, FAIL, at lots of street protests this Thursday.

That's the second big thing bubbling up online. Activists are spreading word of a big rally to be staged near Wall Street Thursday at 5pm. One email that was forwarded to me came from a group called "Picture the Homeless":

When poor and homeless people ask the government for help, they're told that low-income housing and living wage jobs are not a government priority because this country is built on "personal responsibility" and people need to "make better decisions."

When giant banking corporations are on the brink of total collapse
because they have made a systematic series of bad business decisions - because they can - the government gives them a trillion dollars. The Administration even wants to include multi-million dollar "golden parachutes" for the corporate executives who MADE those bad decisions.

When a homeless mother and her children seek shelter from the City and are they turned away because "they have other housing resources" but have to sleep in the emergency room at Lincoln Hospital because they really don't, the City and the media paint her as abusing the system and their tough stance is spun as encouraging self-sufficiency.

Where is the "personal responsibility" for the rich? Why is democracy and freedom confused with the free market when we talk about the poor but the rich get State sponsored corporate bail outs and tax breaks?

Why is it that when WE demand health care, education, housing, and
real jobs, the government is too cash-strapped to help out - but
they've got trillions of dollars for unjust wars and corporate

Big Labor is also diving into the fight, working to activate millions of union members. The AFL-CIO sent an email out to its list, as did the SEIU. True Majority, along with several other progressive groups, is organizing companion rallies for Thursday at 5pm, the end of the work day.

People are clearly hungry for information on the proposed bailout, and news stories and commentaries questioning its terms are clearly in demand. The top emailed stories on the New York Times and Washington Post include oped columns titled “Cash for Trash” and “Calling Out the Culprits Who Caused the Crisis,” and a story on retirees panicking as their nest eggs shrink. Today, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders got a huge jump in attention for his proposal to impose a 10% tax surcharge on the rich to pay for the bailout, according to Google Trends, which monitors searching patterns.

Perhaps the surest indicator of public sentiment online against the Paulson plan was the rapid spread of satirical emails and websites poking fun at it. An email purporting to be from Paulson read like one of those Nigerian email scams we all get in our inboxes: “Dear American,” it started, “I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude. I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you….This transactin [sic] is 100% safe.” And, the first insta-site to pop up Monday, was getting more than 10,000 hits an hour by midday.

It remains to be seen whether all this online activity is about to turn into a massive wave of phone calls and faxes to Congressional offices. Those measures of offline protest are still the ones that matter most to Members. But if what’s rumbling online is any indication, there’s a lot of fury building in America at the size and speed of this bailout proposal, and Congress should pay attention, at its peril.