Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Arab spring ... American fall?

In the news there are parallels being drawn about the Arab spring and the Occupy Wall St. protest that developed weeks ago. My first reaction was an eye-rolling 'come on'. The differences are numerous and vast. In America, with a true, albeit flawed, democracy, the protest is against the rich, where in the Arab world, the protest is against the entire Government system of tyrrany and corruption that has given rise to fundamentalism, terrorism, and the stifling of any secular economy. Any parallel to me seemed cartoonish at best, and this is the very perception that Wall Street and the bankers and money-men themselves have. So I thought I'd look farther into it.

What exactly is the same between the two regions?

Well, for one, fundamentalism. The Arab world is tired of their tax dollars (oil dollars, same thing) going into government systems that support terror and violence when it is so blatantly not condoned in their religion. Fundamentalism is just as much a threat to the US as it is in the Arab world. The difference is that the ignorance and violence take root and grow in the Arab world because of their vast poverty. While the profits of their corporations are used for the top percentage of  people to stay on top and be international 'players', the lower ninety percent live in relative poverty, in fear of police and military crackdowns.

In the US fundamentalism is kept in check by the differences between political parties. There are police crackdown, profits increasing at the same time as poverty, and the same somewhat corrupt elite, but in the US, there is a liberal left to counter the 'corporatism' that is developing.

Yes, I said 'corporatism'. It comes from a quote by Benito Mussolini "Fascism should rightfully be called corporatism, because it is the merging of state and corporate interest."

In the Arab world, and in most dictatorships, they took the short road to corporatism after the second world war. When the European powers withdrew in the decades following, the Arab states enveloped corporations that were necessary to national security, and, following the model set out by Hitler, used them for nefarious purposes, including but not limited to the domination of natural resources, and the control of population.

It is always about control.

In the US, it is developing the other way around. The corporations, in pushing for fifty years for less regulation under the guise of competition, have enveloped government, using the very democratic institutions they purport to love. They chip away, using filibusters, appointments to high positions, arguments ad nauseum, and other more or less legal legislative processes, to support their goal of control. Every argument they have is simply a technique that in reduction becomes this: The wealthy create jobs that pay for all other stuff, so let the wealthy pursue their wealth unrestricted, and the money will 'trickle down' and take care of the rest of us.

Except it doesn't.

The narrow segment of society controlling the wealth, are also steadily narrowing. Even though they are, themselves, the party of the rich, they have to be careful when they defend the interests of 1% of the American population who hold most of the wealth.Yet they still need the support of the other 45% of the population who identify as republicans but don't hold their core ideas to be true. These are the salt-of-the-earth types, and the Republican party needs to sell them on ideas that seem crazy to people outside the US; the UN is creating a new world order; immigrants are ruining their system, the war on drugs, war on terror. They would have to reject the Republican ideal that public health care would fail them (as if their public system doesn't...) that everyone is out to disarm them and take away their 'freedom'.

It is a mutual parasitic relationship.

To understand the party is simple. They need the votes to keep them in power, and cater to their vast and varied voter base. They taylor the issue to the electorate they want to win. It is amazing that outlets like Fox News can even cull together any kind of coherent vision from all the different lines of reason in the party. Those votes are bought by more religion in the schools, little gun control, and other hot button anger issues. Once in power, they have the mandate to push military interventionism, oil-colonialism, privatization of public institutions, and union busting.

Understanding the voter is more difficult. In supporting unrestrained capitalism with their votes, Republican voters are ensuring their perpetual poverty. Why would they do this? They feel the Republicans are the only ones listening.

A good example is Alabama's recent crackdown on illegal immigrants, that has thousands of kids pulled from the public schools. They are ripping into their presidential hopeful for even hinting that these immigrant children have rights as Americans. Republicans took this stand because racism and xenophobia are rampant in Alabama, even as un-American as it is because believe you me, it will get them votes. I guess they didn't read the plaque on the Statue of Liberty, or they needed to add a few of their own lines.

"Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

...and then slam it in your hispanic face.

At heart, Republican voters are angry about real world problems. Their middle class is disappearing, and they have real fears about the future. There is no social safety net, and they fear that they will have to work until they die without the backing of pensions.

They are afraid to ask for a real solutions though, as it would mean they would have to learn that crime is created by poverty, and can't be fixed by more guns on the streets. Their fear is one whipped up by right wing press. They would rather live in a corporate slave-state than give up their handguns, and that fits right into the Republican corporate agenda.

In reality, all of these ills could be solved with a 3% increase in taxes, and a re-investment into health, education, industry, retraining, and the developing of a middle class. Except they won't do that. Republicans now holding a majority in the house, and in the senate, have been filibustering and thwarting every Democratic effort to fix the rich poor gap. It is going to blow up on them.

A more important question though, is: Have Americans used up their goodwill? Is their empathy broken? What happened to the 'New Deal', forged out of an idea that the States should be  capable of lifting every other country up to its own level? The inherent flaws in this fallacy are that the US has its own radicals, mostly on the right, who want them to return to a sort of corporate run fast-burning industrial powerhouse. Call it a "nostalgic ideal".

Now don't get me wrong, industry is a fantastic force for change in the world, and its products create the world we live in, from iPads to suits to concrete to milk-protein dresses. Industry, done right, is not a problem. It's the right wing "nostalgic ideal" that is the problem. The only time that the nation had ever 'achieved' this was after the civil war. With thousands upon thousands of unemployed soldiers, and an economy newly rebounding and producing technology the rest of the world, and the country itself now found indispensible, the situation was ripe. Labour was undervalued to the point that it created its own form of slavery, culminating in children working in mines, and everyone marching into the industrial yoke, all in the name of corporate profit. Fast forward to today, when the same is happening albeit in slow motion, and we see that the "nostalgic ideal" only works for the few. Yet they are able to sell it to the many by promising, through media and mythology, that everyone can acheive this lifestyle of capital success. Never has that been farther from the truth. The more people buy into the myth, the less it ever becomes possible for them. It is the addiction to envisioning themselves rich that ensures they will always be poor.

Corporations do not feel evil. They look at numbers, and any social problems arising from their choices are not their problem. They see it as a consequence, not an erosion of anything. This is why they are so surprized by the protests. Making money for them is not inherently evil. The system rewards them by allowing them to pay less in taxes. An entire class of society believes in what they are doing because they are now untouchable. Like those who create huge Ponzi schemes, they don't care when they set up something that is doomed to fail, because the only calculation they worry about is the one that puts its collapse after their death. In a way, the whole American system is a complex Ponzi scheme, and the 1% hope to ride it as long as they can. If that means selling a lifestyle paid for by people extending their credit beyond any hope of payback, then so be it. They will already have the money.

How dire is it? We have the same divide between rich and poor that we had in the great depression. Plain and simple. If that's not dire, I don't know what is.

In looking back to the great depression, we have to see that in the postwar period, the system recovered. It took a world war, which was an immense stimulus spending (and the inspiration for our stimulus of last year that is getting so much flak) The difference is that again we trusted big business to trickle down the money into jobs, which in WW2 was inevitable. in 1939 the money went into goods and industries that had to employ people in order to meet the contracts. Today, it went into bankers pockets, and the people still suffered.

Government spending fixed the economy in 1939, but it won't work this time. This time, policy will have to fix it.

In the 1940's, Labour Unions and Democrats fought and won major policy shifts that put the money back in the hands of the working people. Never was it as good as it was in 1979, when the profitability of corporations peaked  at the same time as the workers increased their share of the pie. Even the bottom quarter of Americans were getting wage increases above the cost of living. The American dream was working for everyone. What happened in 1979?


1980 gave us a shift in American politics that reversed all the trends of the sharing of wealth in the American system that has put the bottom 99% on a slippery slope of spending more while earning less. Today, the bottom quarter sees their share of income actually DE-creasing, at a time when prices increase. This can only end in disaster.

The problem is that the rest of the world is not on this standard, and even though it is catching up, since the 1960's, with the surge of globalization, there has been a steady erosion of jobs from the middle class while the industrialists and corporations exported them overseas to capitalize on the cheap labour and lack of regulations.

What is most insidious is their demonizing of the left, as if human rights, Unions collective bargaining, children having nutritious food, women being safe from domestic violence, immigration, and a host of other issues are "bad", while the free, unrestrained pursuit of wealth, status, power, and influence are "good". They see the lack of control of growing co-ops, people self-sufficient for food, green energy, and all under the umbrella of liberalism, to be a threat to their control of both resources and people.

To understand Occupy Wall St. in the same context of the Arab Spring, one has to see the latter as a revolt, while the former is more like a pushback. The right would be wise to take heed. It could get worse. Of course the people of the great nation to our south are going to protest. It is the same downward slide that successive socialist-leaning governments in Canada have been fighting since Trudeau. And we've been winning, for the most part. Conservatives don't see it, because they believe in the free market. Believe me, if we truly deregulated our market we would be having our own occupy Bay St. protests right now. (at the time of this posting, these protests are beginning in Vancouver and Toronto...)

We have to ask ourselves, though. How long before millions of unemployed people, with the backing and inclusion of every stripe of American society, cross the line between pushback and revolt?

 My wife, Jennifer's, blog can be found here:
Cleverly Disguised as Cake

And my first novel, squeakyclean, here:
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