Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

I went to Occupy DC today. Actually, today it was more like Occupy DC/Statehood for DC/Stop the Machine/Out of Afghanistan/Martin Luther King Jr. Dedication/Troy Davis was framed/Marxism, yay! The local DC political leadership decided to plan a march to call for DC statehood the day before the official dedication of the MLK Jr. monument. Of course, Occupy DC and all the other usual suspects had to join in.

It was fun.


"So, Joel, what do you think of the Occupy Wall Street movement?"

Why thanks for asking!

Occupy Wall Street is a grassroots, spontaneous outpouring of anger at the situation our country is in, and an acknowledgement that the democratic political process in the United States has failed. It has failed about as completely as it could without sparking an actual armed revolution.

The correct way to address grievances, we are told, is to lobby, write letters, and above all, vote. And vote we have. In 2008, after seven years of horrifically bloody war and the biggest economic disaster in eighty years, we replaced a WASP conservative president with our first minority president ever: a liberal, half-term senator of Muslim ancestry. If that wasn't a sign that the electorate was fed up with politics as usual, I don't know what could be.

That president has continued the last one's war policy almost unaltered - except for the new methods he has devised to flout the Constitution - and has done very little to help the millions of Americans facing unemployment or foreclosure, or hold accountable the financial sector that got us into this mess. So we voted the opposition party into power in Congress. In the past year and half, the opposition party has nearly shut down the federal government twice, nearly sent us into national debt default once, and has challenged the president on abortion, gay rights, healthcare, foreign policy, increased taxes on the rich - just about everything but help for the middle class and meaningful economic reform. Last week, after killing the president's plan to create more jobs, the Loyal Opposition unveiled its own job creation plan: repeal universal healthcare, add a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, expand offshore drilling, and cut corporate taxes (in a year when GE paid NO TAXES WHATSOVER). Thanks, GOP! Glad you're taking our Third World unemployment rate so seriously.

9.1% of Americans are unemployed.

17.8% are underemployed

25% of American children are in poverty.

Average wages for middle class and poor Americans have declined by 7% and 12% respectively in the past decade.

800,000 homes will be foreclosed on this year. 1 million were last year.

All this, in the richest country on earth. That's insanity.

Mass unemployment and poverty is only the biggest crisis our country is facing. If we ever get it sorted out, we will have to proceed to tackle the debt crisis, the entitlements crisis, the immigration crisis, the environmental crisis, the education crisis, and so on. And once the crises are dealt with, we must address the host of fundamental, unspoken unjustices of the American system: regressive taxation, massive corporate subsidies that distort the free market and undermine developing economies around the world, a military budget that exceeds the combined military budgets of every other country on earth, military aid to dictators overseas, the war in Afghanistan/with Pakistan.

Do YOU think, based on the last three years, our political system is up to the challenge?

The normal political channels are not working. The media cycle, the campaign finance system, and the two-party power structure all conspire to ensure that no one who might actually fix things will win an election. The odds that the 2012 elections will bring in leadership who would enact true change are similar to the odds that the 2005 Egyptian elections would have.

And so, our dispossessed have opted for an Egyptian solution. Go outside the political process. Occupy a public space. Interrupt business as usual. Focus the attention of the media and the political class on real issues facing us, as opposed to fake ones. ("Will Sarah Palin run? Will Amanda Knox be released? Do conservatives think Obama is the Antichrist?")

Thus far, they have manifestly succeeded. And for that, they deserve our gratitude.


"What do the protestors want?" the media and conservative politicians ask over and over again. It's a fair question. I asked it myself when the protests were first starting. At that point, I didn't think they would come to anything. The fact that they have become a global phenomenon WITHOUT a clear set of demands or objectives is astonishing, and should tell us just how bad things have become. Grilling the Occupy Wall Street protestors should be the last thing on our minds. In a world in this state, we should be posing questions to our political and economic class, as they are.

But if the protestors refuse to make demands...then how does this end?

Keep in mind that the whole point of these protests is to effect change OUTSIDE the normal political/economic system. I found this statement on a pro-OWS blog: "Making demands is ultimately disempowering because it gives the other side the power to address or ignore them as they see fit."

Those words sound like academic bullhonkey at first blush. But I find them kind of chilling. By not making demands of those power, the protestors are declaring that they don't recognize the power of those in authority. Nothing short of unconditional surrender will do.

Carrying that thinking to its logical conclusion leaves us with nothing less than a dictatorship of the proleriat stepping in to assert the "General Will" of the people. Hey, it happened in Egypt and Libya.

Of course, that won't happen. But assuming these protests spread, it does give the powers that be extra incentive to make concessions, eh?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Mask is Off و نشاهد الوجه الحقيقي

I spent more of my day than I'd like to admit translating a flurry of Facebook postings from my Egyptian Christian and Muslim friends. I learned a lot of new Arabic words - "cowardly," "dogs" [plurals are tricky] and a curse word that's pronounced "mdasesh" and isn't found in any of my dictionaries.

OK - some context.

On February 18, Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president of Egypt after three weeks of massive street protests, transferring power to a military council. The military council pledged to restore order and hold democratic elections after an appropriate transitionary period.

Since then, Egypt's economy has stalled, its violent crime rate has exploded, at least one person has been arrested and hauled before a military court for saying mean things about the army on his blog, and most worryingly, violence against Egypt's Christians (10% of the population) has spiraled out of control. Scores of Christians have been killed in attacks by Muslim extremists on churches, priests, and Christian homes.

Still, there was still a chance that Egypt's new military rulers were serious about steering Egypt towards a genuine, liberal democracy. The Egyptian people trusted them. I did too.

Sunday, that question was settled for us.

On Sunday, 1,000 Egyptians, mostly Christian, but also some Muslims, marched in Cairo to protest the burning of a church in southern Egypt by a Muslim mob on September 30. (There's a book I want these fanatics to read. It imparts insights like this: "لا اكراه في الدين.")
The protestors, quite understandably, demanded better protection for Christians from the government, an end to inflammatory rhetoric against Christians on state TV, and the sacking of a governor who incited the mob.

A few hours into the peaceful march, the protestors were assaulted by plainsclothed thugs. When the protestors tried to resist, the military suddenly appeared with tanks and guns. Troops fired indiscriminately into the crowd, and the tanks starting deliberately running over protestors. When it was all finished, around 25 people were dead.

Egypt's military rulers appear to have found a solution to the embarrasment of Muslim-on-Christian violence: kill the Christians until they shut up about it.

The revolution is betrayed. The Egyptian military, having prospered muchly under three decades of rule by Air Force commander Hosni Mubarak, owns anywhere between 5 and 30 percent of Egypt's economy. That's not a whacked-out conspiracy; that's life in the third world. It seems clear now that the Egyptian military's strategy to survive the revolution is, and has been from the start, to assume the role of the Guardian of Liberty, transfer political power to a democratically-elected government that's seen as legitimate by the people, then slip behind the curtain to enjoy its portion. Equal rights for Egypt's Christians have no place in that strategy. The military isn't about to risk upsetting the majority on their behalf.

After this massacre - judging by the press accounts there appears to be no other word for it - Egyptians of good will, Muslim and Christian, may unite again in Tahrir to demand the end of the military power structure. Or, maybe, the military will succeed in its intimidation strategy, hold elections as scheduled on November 28, and run off into the night, plunder in tow and minorities hung out to dry. They may get away with it.

But know this, ya mushir: there is a God in heaven, and there is a Judgment Day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Weekly Standard explains why we should stick with Hamid Karzai

"In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."

- George Orwell, 1946

"At the center of any effort to build an independent Afghan state is [President] Hamid Karzai, who is much maligned for a realpolitik approach to statecraft, ties to corruption, and a changeable personality. But however correct these critiques may be, it is also true that Karzai is the product of a particular political system, a man with clear interests and largely predictable behavior and, crucially, whose political objects largely align with our own in the region."

- Richard Cleary and Thomas Donnelly on the Weekly Standard blog today

And translating into Old English: "Yes, Hamid Karzai is an election-stealing, drug-running, double-dealing thug, but he's the only political figure in the country who will do our bidding, and really, what can else can you expect from Muslims? Let's continue to send him American money and weapons and young American men and women to die defending his regime."

Ben Ali Mubarak Qaddafi Saddam Suharto Pinochet Arafat Diem Zia Reza Shah Ceaucescu the House of Saud Saleh Bashir Montt Mobutu Karimov Bakiyev Duvalier. Mind you, this is only off the top of my head.

How much longer are we going to do this, kids?

U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama With World Leaders at the Metropolitan Museum in New York
Obama and Michelle pose with this guy.