Riot watch

Greece, December 2008. Latvia, January 2009. Mexico, at a date to be determined. And the United States?

It’s interesting watching how the global financial meltdown is manifesting itself in the form of rioting. Greece was up first late last year. The triggering event was when cops shot and killed a teenager, but that was enough to bring forth a more generalized rage against a corrupt government and collapsing economy.

Today comes word of riots in Latvia, the country where last year an econ professor was hauled in for two days of questioning because he made some disparaging remarks about the country’s banking system and currency.

Hundreds of demonstrators have clashed with riot police in Latvia’s capital, Riga, after an anti-government protest.

Police used mace and truncheons to disperse rioters who smashed shop windows and overturned a police van after failing to storm parliament.

The violence followed a peaceful rally in which some 10,000 people accused the government of economic mismanagement and demanded new elections.

Latvia’s economy is expected to contract by at least 5% this year.

Until last year, it was one of the fastest growing economies in Europe.

Many Latvians frustrated by rising unemployment and tax hikes blame the centre-right governing coalition of Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis for their country’s economic woes.

Now I get suspicious every time I read about “a peaceful protest that later turned violent.” It smacks of government agents provocateurs trying to discredit the peaceful protesters. And given the conduct of the authorities in Latvia to date, I think that’s actually pretty likely. But if it happens a few more times in the next few days, that seems like a more organic and Greece-like phenomenon.

Meanwhile, rioting — and worse — could soon be coming to a country near you. “Mexico is one of two countries that ‘bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse,’ according to a report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command on worldwide security threats,” reports the El Paso Times, whose readership has a rather direct interest in such things.

The other country is Pakistan, by the way.

“The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and press by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.”

Don’t get the wrong idea from my little laundry list here. I don’t think the United States is anywhere near this state of affairs, and no, I don’t think the protests in Oakland after the transit cop shot that guy in the back really qualify.

I mean, just look at what inspires spitting outrage at the nomination of Timothy Geithner for Treasury Secretary. The fact he was right there with Hank Paulson at every disastrous turn during the meltdown of 2008? No big deal. Failing to report self-employment income to the IRS (about as innocent a mistake as they come)? That’s “serious, and whether or not it’s disqualifying is to be determined,” according to Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Finance Committee (who voted for the Geithner/Paulson/Bernanke bailout, natch). For the moment, we remain a country consumed by trivialities.

So as long as blood’s not running in the streets, it’s probably best to keep on feathering your financial nest. Here’s one method to consider.