Saturday, February 05, 2011

Reflections of Revolution

Like many around the world, I’ve been watching with morbid fascinating (a lot like watching a car wreck in slow motion) the unfolding events in Tunisia and Egypt. Smaller, mostly unreported sympathetic protests have erupted in Jordan and Yemen. Attempts in Syria were unsuccessful to do the omnipresent security forces, including undercover security personnel who photographic and otherwise identify organizers and ringleaders for arrest (which often accompanies beating or worse).

A minority of the protestors in Egypt have supposedly “threaten” or harass mainstream media reporters like ABC’s Brian Hartman and CNN’s Anderson Cooper with physical violence, and even beheading while Fox’s Greg Palkot and his producer, Olaf Wiig were severely beaten and hospitalized. This is a violent and volatile situation and a press badge isn’t a free pass. Revolutions aren’t delicate affairs. But hot heads aside, do the majority of protestor really “hate” Americans and America? Why do they try to desperately to emulate American, or at least Western, pop culture? In my opinion, few Egyptian protestors “hate” America or Americans, but they are offended by both how their movement toward democracy may be portrayed to the world by a media as just another ratings “event” brought to you by some commerical sponsor as well as efforts by the US government to control or otherwise manipulate their democracy movement in order to create a government favorable to US foreign policy (read pro-corporate) and away from a new government favorable to the Egyptian people.

Historically, the US government has assisted in the manipulation and sometimes overthrow of a popularly elected government simply because it didn’t jive with US interests, often at the behest of corporate interests. As any student of history should know, this has occurred in Iran, Iraq, Mexico, Cuba, and through South and Central America, not to mention Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Not that the US is unique in this. Most nations have at one time or another engaged in the destabilization of other counties, most notably for economic gain (take Great Britain and France for example).

At the time of this writing, Obama, as well as other Western leaders, are encouraging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to end his 30 year rule and step down. Mubarak is the latest in a long line of strongmen to rule Egypt, starting with Gamel Nasser and Anwar El Sadat. But step down to what? To surrender power to whom? For the first time in his rule, Mubarak has appointed a “Vice President”, and not just any politician. He’s Omar Suleiman, and is the considered one of the most powerful non-figurehead man in world. He is the head of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate with strong connections to the military and security forces, which of course, includes the police. The other choice is Mohamed El-Baradei, an election reform advocate and Nobel Prize winner, who has been absent from Egypt and more importantly, from the daily affairs of Egyptians. That, of course, leaves the radical Moslem cadre, Islamic Brotherhood who would plunge Egypt backwards to an Iranian style of government, and that’s not good for anyone. Naturally, someone else could appear on the scene.

I can’t help wondering what would have happened during; let’s say, the socially turbulent late 1960’s under the Presidencies of either LBJ or Richard Nixon, had other Western leaders encouraged stepping down and the creation of a new government? It’s just something about how American and other Western leaders think nothing about telling other governments what to do, but would be wholly indigent if they did the same. So, I guess, in a way, I can understand the protestors who are upset at being treated like a “junior” nation and not being respected for the country it is.

I also can’t help wondering how our next American Revolution will play out. I’ve written several times about my opinion of America’s future (which obviously would affect countries on both sides of the coasts given the global interconnectedness of the world’s economies). We watched with amazement the cyber-revolution in both Tunisia and Egyptian organize, mobilize, and dissimulate events in real time through blogs, Twitter, Ipods, cell phones, and a host of other electronic media. Egypt attempted to do the unthinkable by disconnecting from the World Wide Web during the early weeks of the revolution. Media monitors around the world watched in disbelief as Egypt “vanished” from the electronic landscape in a desperate, but failed, attempt to control protestor communications and the world’s access to events. Egypt has numerous internet providers; however, all are ultimately centrally controlled. Therefore it was relatively simple for the government to literally “pull the plug”; something which would be nearly impossible to do in the US and most other developed nations (I suspect that if the pro-democracy movement prevails, we will see Egypt decentralize its Internet grid.

Both revolts were sparked by rising food, fuel, housing, and clothing costs. Although both governments subsidize these products through high taxes, it’s simply wasn’t enough. There’s a huge disconnect between the relatively small segment of wealthy and the tens of millions poor. Both nations faced a declining middle class, and with it, fewer family oriented sustainable jobs. You can’t survive for long on with full time debt brought on by higher costs, higher taxes and part time wages. Other Middle Eastern nations are creaking under the strain, such as Jordan, the Sudan, Algeria, Libya, and Morocco. Now, there are shortages of oil, and medical supplies, which will, naturally, translate to higher prices.

Unfortunately their reality is very similar to ours. We are facing rapidly rising costs for basics, coupled with outrageous (and largely unjustified) gas prices. Our real estate markets, and indeed, financial sector has been shown to be largely a built on a house of cards; debt backed by unsupportable economic IOUs. We have a national debt that alone can have no other outcome but economic collapse. Our single largest debt holder, China, is also our chief economic competitor and philosophical enemy. With not just the addition of Obamacare, but the crippling increase in cost brought on supporting the 13 million or so illegal immigrants and their dependents added on top of the pending massive baby boomer retirements, even the most conservative analyst predicts the ultimate collapse of our health care system and other national safety nets measures such as Social Security, and unemployment. And this is just at the federal level!

Americans are already taxed at, and in many cases, passed the breaking point. They are feed up with the petty bickering and ineptness of both major political parties who are either unwilling or unable to deal with serious issues without their narrow minded ideology getting in the way. We are seeing the rise of third parties such as the Tea Party, which seem to baffle the party oriented mainstream media, as well a record levels of voters registering as independents (which, if classified as a “party”, but be the largest in America). Americans are tired of playing “rich uncle” to world; of propping up corrupt and incompetent governments; of bailing out every despot who comes along (and for the matter, every greedy mismanaged corporation); of being with world’s policeman. It’s time for Americans to look inward and deal with our own problems.

No sooner than the GOP gave the Obama and Democrats a spanking over failed domestic policies, and amid promises of having “learned their lesson” after the failures of Bush II, the Republicans have launched right back into their tired and worn out rhetoric of old. I predict a trip to the national woodshed may be in their near future if they don’t knock it off. “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing” as Bob Dylan once sang. I don’t know how our next revolution will play out, but happen it will if serious and deep changes aren’t made soon. Times are a changing…quickly.

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