ELDER MUSIC: Bob Resung
What Happened to My Butt?

Egypt and the United States

category_bug_politics.gif Watching the exuberant celebration on television Friday, who could not weep with joy for Egypt.

I seem to have always been weeping for Egypt. I've never visited, but I spent many days editing video tape of the historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979, along with footage of the extraordinary meeting between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. For many of those hours, I was wiping happy tears from my eyes for both of their countries.

Two years later, I again found myself in an editing room working around the clock for days with the awful pictures, in closeup and still burned in my brain, of Sadat's assassination. I wept then too, in sorrow for a great and courageous man. And his country.

Thirty years later now, I am thrilled – literally to tears - to see this revolution, to see what the people can do – without guns or bombs – to rid themselves of a tyrant.

It is during events like this one that cable news shines and I want to call out the reporting of CNN's Arwa Damon. She has long covered the middle east, is extraordinarily well-informed about the region and it helps immensely that she is an Arabic speaker. Her interviews with the people gathered in Tahrir Square on Friday night after Hosni Mubarak had left, were more insightful than any others I saw.

On Saturday, Ms. Damon broadcast a story with about half a dozen men, old friends, gathered in a Cairo cafe. They spoke with feeling about their happiness and relief at being able to speak openly with one another for the first time in their lives about what they believe.

Hearing them, I wept again. Imagine knowing you could be imprisoned and tortured for saying your leader is an idiot or evil or stupid and suddenly, in the space of little more than two weeks, that ends. Imagine the joy.

One of the men, a studio director for the national television channel, said he was faced with the decision about whether to protest against his employer which broadcast only government propaganda. In the end, he said, he knew he was choosing between right and wrong - and joined the protest. I wish I could be certain I would have such courage because at that point, no one knew the revolution would succeed.

Of course, the hard work comes now. There is no obvious leader yet and no experience with messy democracy. It will take a long time for Egyptians to build a new kind of government and there will be many disputes over how to do it. But a new day, a democratic day, has dawned in a formerly repressive country.

I could not help thinking that as Egypt makes its dramatic move toward freedom, our country - supposedly a beacon of democracy for the world - falls ever more precipitously into a corporate autocracy whose only interest is its own profit even over our dead bodies – perhaps literally (see Arizona Medicaid).

The tea party and other Republicans are hell bent on removing every public service they can get their hands on while creating new and even larger tax breaks for the rich.

With the Citizens United decision a year ago, the Supreme Court lifted all restrictions on corporate campaign spending ensuring that the people's most singular voice will be distorted in favor of business.

The president packs his White House adviser rolls with corporate CEOs like the latest, Jeffrey Immelt of GE, and corporate lobbyists spend billions of dollars a year – on top of their unlimited campaign spending – telling Congress members how to vote, even writing the legislation for a compliant Senate and House.

Is there anyone left now to speak for we the people?

After making some notes for this post, I took a break to read the papers on Saturday and found that Bob Herbert of The New York Times Op-Ed page had some of the same thoughts about this unpleasant comparison between Egypt and the U.S.

“As the throngs celebrated in Cairo,” he wrote, “I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.”

He goes on:

“While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.”

And more:

”The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away.”

Precisely. We were told, during the revolution, that President Mubarak confiscated, one way or another, 50 cents of every Egyptian dollar for his personal use. How is it different in the U.S.?

Trillions of dollars in life savings are stolen from our individually meager investment accounts. Our homes are snatched away based on non-existent legal documents. Our jobs are shipped overseas and those that remain pay peon wages as the middle class sinks further into poverty.

Schools are shut down. Police, fire and other essential public services are cut. Government employees are being fired by the tens of thousands or their salaries are being frozen. The parking meters, for god's sake, in Chicago and other cities are sold to Saudi Arabian shell companies who repeal free parking on Sundays, holidays and for street fairs.

Futile wars are conducted by corporate mercenaries who “lose” billions of tax dollars meant for projects to help the people of wartorn Iraq and Afghanistan. Banks and corporations collect more billions in free loans from the government transferring large portions of the money to executives who then hide their company and personal profits in tax havens while demanding more tax cuts.

Meanwhile, our air and water are poisoned, our roads, bridges and sewer systems crumble, and tent cities and “Hoovervilles” continue to grow in number.

Today, the budget battle begins in Washington as Congress and the president compete to see how many more public services can be cut and how much more blood can be squeezed from the people's turnip without a word from either of them about increased taxes on corporations and high earners. (See here and here.)

Is all this not tyranny? Is it not repression? Are we not as subjugated as the Egyptians were? The takeover of our government by its corporate masters is nearing completion now. Bob Herbert again:

”It’s a perversion of democracy, indeed, when individuals like the Kochs have so much clout while the many millions of ordinary Americans have so little. What the Kochs want is coming to pass. Extend the tax cuts for the rich? No problem. Cut services to the poor, the sick, the young and the disabled? Check. Can we get you anything else, gentlemen?”

Egypt had a single autocrat; ours is a cadre of wealthy elite whose power has corrupted our democracy beyond recognition and we the people are silenced. Bob Herbert:

”I had lunch with the historian Howard Zinn just a few weeks before he died in January 2010. He was chagrined about the state of affairs in the U.S. but not at all daunted. 'If there is going to be change,' he said, 'real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves.'”

The Egyptian people, who should be an inspiration to us, reached their tipping point three weeks ago. When will we reach ours and rise up, as the Egyptians did, against our corporate masters?


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Old Webster: At Home in Black and White


Comments

OK, this is probably none of my business, not being an American myself, but I'll say it anyway. American democracy has been on the ropes for a long time now, and very few Americans have recognized it because compared to the rest of the world you are very affluent and you are fed with a non-stop diet of your great power in the world. One of the big factors in the Egyptian revolution was poverty: widespread, abject, and worsening. They had nothing to lose anymore. America has poverty and powerlessness but apparently not enough, yet. Egypt has a huge youth population faced with grim prospects for the future, America doesn't, yet.

Not that I think my own country is any better, we are following in your footsteps pretty well.

Egypt is inspiring, I am very happy for them but still fearful since they now have a military regime that is unlikely to give up power easily. I heard an analysis that said one of the saving graces of the Egyptian revolution was the involvement of women, an all-male revolution would not have been as peaceful as this one was. And unfortunately Egypt is unusual in the Arab world in that respect.

When will we reach our tipping point? When America's workers are treated as badly, underpaid as poorly, and work as many hours as they did before they formed unions.

I just checked out "labor unions" in Wikipedia - take a look at the timeline.

It is indeed worrisome for our country and the future for Egypt. A lot for them will depend on the next few years as they try to get real parties that represent the will of the majority. One will hope those do not end up being fundamentalist Islam because if they are, their future freedom will disappear fast. We can hope they see that.

In our case, we try to vote for what will change things and it never seems to work out the way it looks. We might not have our military on the side of the revolutionaries if such a thing happened here. If Egypt's army had not been paid for by the US, mostly trained here probably, would that all have been very different? And what would our own military do in the case of an uprising here?

We watched the events in Egypt unfold on Al Jazeera television live and there were many tears over the weeks the ordinary people in Egypt spoke up in a peaceful and orderly manner. I kept asking my husband when will we the ordinary people in this country (US) be put in the same place as the Egyptians where we have to march and hold onto our dignity that is being taken away each day.

Every American should read today's blog and weep ... for themselves and their children.

@Rain: Here, the military is being set up to attack American union members. (Sorry, folks, I just can't believe this story: http://www.wuwm.com/programs/news/view_news.php?articleid=7765

Let's also remember the more than 300 people killed in the Egyptian uprising, and the many who were injured. In the midst of the joy of the multitude, there are those who are mourning.

The price of any push for freedom is...blood. In Egypt, the loss of life could have been disastrous. We are thankful it wasn't, even as we hold those who grieve in our thoughts and prayers.

In answer to your question "When will we reach ours and rise up, as the Egyptians did, against our corporate masters?" I say "Don't hold your breath." Three reasons, just for starters:
1. The majority of the population is totally brainwashed by the pap that's fed to it by the (corporate-owned) TV channels,
2. People tend to go on believing in old myths and stories, even when new evidence contradicts them. And language is twisted to disguise the truth (e.g. San Francisco's streets are lined with beggars but they are called 'panhandlers' because of course only dirty, foreign places like India have 'beggars'). So America is still referred to as a democratic country and 'home of the free' even though it's neither.
3. Corporate power rests solely on having a society of consumers, so everyone who goes on consuming above and beyond basic needs is part of its support structure.
Overthrowing a 'dictator' that 99% of the population supports just isn't going to happen.

@Mary Jamison, that article is very disturbing, Ohio State redux.

After I retired my concern was about outliving my savings after the big hit we took on our IRAs. Now it's about how my kids and grandkids will make it, and I'm scared for them. My oldest son's career tanked with the fall of the newspapers, he is working now, not where he'd like to be and takes online classes trying to restart continuing his job hunt, but it seems uphill all the way. There are countless numbers like him among my friends older offspring. They're college educated, don't think they'll ever have a house, and some have give up on having families too. I do weep.

A few thoughts about why we don't rise up:

1) this is such a spread out country. There are states with 5 percent unemployment -- and states with 15 percent unemployment. What do these folks feel they have in common? (On the other hand, if and when the rising comes, it can probably get by without the tiny number of people in North Dakota and Wyoming... or maybe not.)

2) This society is still "rich", even tho most of us don't feel much direct benefit. US world hegemony is crashing quickly (go Egyptians!) and we'll feel it along the way, though not likely be helped to understand it by our media.

3) Just as Americans have always been, we're divided by race. And that still matters and gets in the way of broad popular movements.

Yes -- it's daunting. We had a young visitor over the other day to discuss a particular campaign. She finally said: "how do you keep doing this -- agitating for changes that you may never see?"

I've got a line on that: "Nothing else to do." Sure, it's tongue in cheek, but I mean it.

And nobody's talking about the squandering of US treasure on the defence budget and so-called 'wars' costing 1 trillion dollars per annum, fattening yet again the pockets of the shareholders in the giant MilInd Complex when 50 million USians are on foodstamps and universal health care would be covered thousands of time over with that kind of budget.
Democracy died a long time ago in the US.
"We the People" is a fantasy.

This uprising would have been a bloody failure if the military had been controlled by Mubarak. Fortunately, they were on the side of the uprising. If the experts on the scene are correct, the Muslim Brotherhood is not powerful and small in numbers (15% according to one report). I do not worry about a regime like Iran's becoming the end result of the uprising. And I do think that because there were so many professionals and well educated involved that they will end up with a leader soon and some form of democracy will come out of it.

Those killed were massacred by the police, who were on Mubarak's side. I think our government quietly played a role in quelling the violence before it increased.

I recently saw a movie about a Hungarian Jewish family during WWII. In one scene three brutal sadistic Russians were torturing the father of an onlooker. There was a huge crowd watching this brutality as the man was tortured and killed. A relative later asked the son why they didn't stop it; there were so many of them and only 3 soldiers. His answer was that the soldiers had the guns.

I thought of that scene when I read Herbert's op-ed piece. There are so many of us and why are we letting two wealthy brother's steal democracy? When will we rise up en mass and make our voices heard? Will we, in fear, just cower and complain when we still have the right of peaceable assembly? We need a leader with a megaphone.

Ronni, Wow! this is quite a manifesto (nearly). I'm at a loss for words. I'll need more time to digest this and the cadre of comments. However, as your resident "Centrist" fan, I know what you are saying, but, golly, we are not Egypt and the analogy is taken with a grain of salt within the context of allowed poetic license. By the way, I am looking for the definition of "rich". It's frequently thrown around this blog and I need to know where I stand? Regardless, Ronni, glad to be here and I love the dialogue. John

Mary, that article said what I didn't want to go into in my earlier comment but I do fear it's widespread. If you have followed much of what has been happening to our military, it's been heavily weighted toward trying to force soldiers into fundamentalist christianism. And I used that word, not Christian, deliberately.

Not to mention on top of that a 30,000 person militia that began as Blackwater and now is Xe. They are used heavily by our government in places around the world but couldn't they be used here as well? What would stop it since it's an apparently legal organization which has worried me and should other Americans. Somehow mercenaries have been okay for us to use. To top it off, we no longer have a military based on the draft which means could be anybody's son. It's often been son after son with a common attitude toward what being military means. I know it doesn't say the whole thing for what the military is but it is worrisome and there are books and many articles out there to warn us about what has been happening.

The military though has always been taught to follow order or be shot themselves which is part of how we got Kent State during the Vietnam War.

Very true, Rain. The Chinese have a curse: "may you live in interesting times" - well, we are.

The Wisconsin Governor has also taken the Conservation Wardens from their job and has assigned them to security - He's exaggerating the need to make his case for his dictatorial actions. Sad.

Today I read this in the NYTimes online:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/14/opinion/14Salmon.html?_r=1&hp

The wealthiest of the elitest have sewn up all the nation's money. The Patriot Act has made it virtually impossible to emigrate elsewhere (European nations won't allow Americans to open bank accounts and even if one renounces one's US citizenship one is on the IRS hook for at least another decade).

The US government is a shadow-puppet play. To feel your hair stand on end, read this, plus the comments:

http://www.salon.com/news/wikileaks/index.html?story=/opinion/greenwald/2011/02/11/campaigns

Sal si puedes, as they say.

The country is so polarized politically at this point I'm afraid we would be at each others' throats instead of petitioning the government if either side were to take to the streets.

I assume you have read about Obama's budget by now. From the NY Times:

"Among the losers are some “things that I care deeply about,” Mr. Obama added, including programs that he had expanded in the past: Home-heating aid to poor families and community-service block grants would be cut in half, and a multistate Great Lakes cleanup project would lose one-quarter of its money, compared with 2010.

Pell grants for needy college students would be eliminated for summer classes, and federal loans to graduate students would start accruing interest immediately, rather than when the students graduate, though they would not have to begin paying them off until graduation. Those changes are intended to help save $100 billion over 10 years to offset the costs of maintaining Pell grants for 9 million students, according to administration officials."* All this while at the same time they are extending tax cuts for the very richest.

*http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/us/politics/15obama.html?hp

We expect this from conservatives - that's what they do - but it is so very disheartening when it's coming from the Democratic Party, the party that used to be the party of the little people. I'm sure cuts to Social Security and Medicare will get thrown in the mix before the inevitable capitulation is finished. I believe that will be the final straw for me.

I read Herbert's piece and I cried. I sent it to my reps in the House and Senate and I wish everyone else would, too. We have to stop shrugging our shoulders and fight back!!!

Know what? There are STILL more of us (the so-called little people) than there are of them (the superrich) and somehow, some way we need to unite in a common cause: survival!

I don't think that middle and working class Americans stand a chance of taking our country back (and this phrase does NOT have the same meaning to me as it does to the tea party) until we take back the electoral process.

Elections that are bought by corporations and the superrich are nothing more than sham elections that make a mockery of real democracy. The right-tilting Supreme Court put the last nail in the coffin of elections of, by and for the people when they decided that a corporation = a person. That's just plain ridiculous! We cannot elect a leader for the rest of us until the superrich and wealthy corporations are not only legally prohibited from buying elections but are actually prevented from doing so. I support a limit of $5,000 and required tax ID numbers on every political contribution, backed by heavy fines for each separate violation. This system could return elections to the people and sanity to campaign finance, which is now totally out of control.

At 74 I may not see the changes I mention above in my lifetime, but I know this: as long as our government is subservient to Big Money, ordinary Americans will continue to lose ground.

I suggest reading Lyrics to Beatles "Revolution". It had a calming influence back when and might be helpful now.

It was interesting to read about your connection to Egyptian historical events from the editing table. What that must be like? I tend to agree with some of your readers that the US will never rise up since, unlike Egypt, the masses are old and getting older, the corporate masters are faceless and nameless, and most of the masses have not lived as educated but poor under repression. That is not to say your government is not corrupt, nor the situation dire for many.

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