Saturday, February 5, 2011

What we can learn from Egypt

Egyptians are revolting over rising costs of living, soaring unemployment, economic misery, and an ossified political system that is hardly democratic and which is unresponsive to their needs. They're sick and tired of crony capitalism imposed on them from above.

How different are things right here in the good ol' USA? To be sure, we're better off with Obama than with Hosni Mubarak. But that doesn't obscure the fact that many of the deep problems facing Egyptians are afflicting our society as well, and for similar reasons.

As Bob Herbert makes clear in a recent column on the suffering caused by the crisis in the US:
What’s really happening, of course, is the same thing that’s been happening in this country for the longest time — the folks at the top are doing fabulously well and they are not interested in the least in spreading the wealth around.

The people running the country — the ones with the real clout, whether Democrats or Republicans — are all part of this power elite. Ordinary people may be struggling, but both the Obama administration and the Republican Party leadership are down on their knees slavishly kissing the rings of the financial and corporate kingpins.

I love when the wackos call President Obama a socialist. Wasn’t it his budget director, Peter Orszag, who moved effortlessly from his job in the administration to a hotshot post at Citigroup, beneficiary of tons of government largess? And didn’t the president’s new chief of staff, William Daley, arrive in his powerful new post fresh from the executive suite of JPMorgan Chase? And isn’t the incoming chairman of Mr. Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness very conveniently the chairman and chief executive of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt?

You might ask: Who represents working people? The answer, as Tevye would say with grave emphasis in “Fiddler on the Roof,” is, “I don’t know.”
He's talking about the US, not a the strange "Other-ized" image of Egpyt produced by mass consensus media.

And, as I said in a recent post, the inference to draw from Egpyt isn't that we should pat ourselves on the back and rejoice in how eager the Egyptians are to join us in the world of freedom and prosperity. No, the inference to draw is that the Egyptians are showing us something about how power works and how social change happens. They are standing up to an uncaring political/economic strata of elites who have profited from their immiseration for decades. It's time for Americans to do the same. Real change, the sort of change we can really "believe in", is not going to come from on high by way of the usual suspects in the two major corporate parties. It will not be handed to us after a mass email-campaign to our senators or a funding-drive organized by It will be won in the same way that all progressive changes have been one in this country: through hard-fought struggle.

The sooner that ordinary people in the US begin rising up, demanding that their government assuage their suffering and economic misery, the better. The sooner we begin demanding real health care reform for all, full employment, and a re-investment of war funding in education and infrastructure, the better. Tunisia and Egypt are teaching the world a valuable lesson. The first step to understanding it is to open ourselves to the raw facts of our situation in the US, and those facts are not pretty.

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