Thursday, February 10, 2011

A few lessons from Egypt, for us

First, an excellent analysis of the Egyptian situation, although from a socialist perspective which I respect but don't altogether share:

One point he makes that I had missed is that the Mubarak regime has been pushing Islamist moralism and other themes to divide and rule by provoking animosity among the population, for instance against the Christian minority. That seems to explain the general disgust in the present movement with religious bigotry, so that when the Muslim Brotherhood people started shouting their slogans the rest of the crowd shouted them down. Since the protests, no Christian churches have bee attacked, as was happening before. Instead, they're often guarded by young Muslim men.

Another thing worth looking at it is how the rich have all the money, how everything has been privatized so that cronies can get over, and nobody else has anything. The parallel in this respect to what is happening to the United States is quite striking.

Another point is that Egyptian society is not militarized so much as the military is commercialized. The army in Egypt is in business in a big way - real estate, shopping centers, all sorts of businesses. It's not that way here in the same flagrant way, but we get to much the same place. Generals have no trouble retiring into the private war contracting business. That's been so at least since Walter Dornberger, who worked thousands of concentration camp inmates to death at the Nordhausen rocket works in World War 2, came to the States to work in the space program, and became a senior vice president of Bell Aircraft.

This condition has certainly distorted the Egyptian economy, causing all the wealth to concentrate in a few well-greased hands. And Egypt really doesn't need fancy real estate developments in the desert, while farmland is parched. Much the same has happened in the United States, where the same kind of robber class under the Bush-Obama administration has gotten completely out of control. It's so that now it's called economic recovery that corporations are making more money and the stock market is rising because they're doing such a great job of getting rid of American workers and hiring people overseas to work cheap in their place.

Let's look at that slowly. You throw your workers on the street, so that presently they're out of their homes, and you hire someone cheap in China or Malaysia. The job is gone for good, not like job losses in economic downturns, because it's not companies getting rid of workers to hunker down in bad times. They're getting rid of them at all times to move overseas while still calling themselves American companies, for which they're rewarded in the tax code by the Congress which they have purchased. This way they do make more money, which they hoard or spend on hundred million dollar bonuses for their CEOs. So we're having a wonderful economic recovery because the corporations are making lots of money by abolishing jobs and manufacturing capacity. Time was that corporate profits were being skimmed off a healthy economy, so that those profits correlated to everyone else's success. When people were out of work, the corporations weren't making money either. Now their profits are the result of liquidating that economy, so that they are the result of the disintegration of the US economy. These owners of Congress and the President don't need the American economy anymore. GM can't sell cars here, but they're doing pretty well, because they're selling them in China.

Another parallel with Egypt is that Egypt is coming into a crunch because it will soon no longer be any kind of oil exporter, and it will continue having to import grain. It needs tourism and manufacturing. Whatever else happens, rising petroleum prices when Egypt can no longer export will choke the tourist trade while giving no export revenue.

In the United States, the predicament is less immediate but ultimately more dire. The US is a huge petroleum importer, depending on petroleum for food, transport, and even national unity. When the US can no longer borrow to buy it, the US economy will hit the wall.

What then for the US population? The regime, behind a democratic face, has prepared for the wheels to come off by putting in place all sorts of police state institutions, and in fact Obama has accelerated this process. Everybody that sends email is under surveillance and being spied on unconstitutionally, and becoming accustomed to think it's OK because at the moment nothing more is being done. But torture, imprisonment without due process, murder of even American citizens with no due process at all, and pointless security checks have become officially accepted. It's obvious that checkpoints in airports have nothing to do with security, because there are no real terrorists trying to blow up airplanes, which are a tough target just because the cabin door is locked. If any were interested in the American aviation industry, they would blow up the crowd assembled at the TSA checkpoint - and it's clear that our rulers know that won't happen.

So when the wheels do come off, what will the American people do? Will they come together as in Egypt today or in Argentina in 2001, or will they kick down on the weak as it generally is today, as happened in Germany, Romania, and Poland in the 1920s and 1930s? American history has seen both. Now is the time to prepare to be decent human beings in very bad times. I hope we do as well as the Egyptians are doing this month.


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