Friday, January 28, 2011

Sometimes you see yourself

The Guardian (UK) is also reviewing and publishing some of the WikiLeaks cables that relate to Egypt. They of course show total private US support for the dictatorship.

But, what struck me was this fragment of a cable about police brutality.

"Under Hosni Mubarak's presidency there had been "no serious effort to transform the police from an instrument of regime power into a public service institution", it said. The police's ubiquitous use of force had pervaded Egyptian culture to such an extent that one popular TV soap opera recently featured a police detective hero who beat up suspects to collect evidence"

That of course is standard fare on American TV. Our TV channels are full of 'detective heroes' who 'beat up suspects' to collect evidence. Heck, I wonder if by mistake someone at the embassy was just seeing a re-run of American tv cop shows on Egyptian TV?

So, what does that say about the way the police 'ubiquitous use of force' has pervaded American culture? What was notable about Egyptian TV in an embassy report, is commonplace here.

The old saying about a frog in a pot of boiling water comes to mind.   You know, the one about how it doesn't notice if the heat is increased slowly. What about police violence in the US? Our TV certainly shows signs of a 'ubiquitous use of force'. A scan of any local paper seems to reveal story after story.  In Denver, it appears that the cops practice for American Gladiator by beating up citizens.

The frog doesn't realize he's in a pot of boiling water. Are we similarly incapable of recognizing that we live with a violent police? Just how hot has the water gotten, around us poor American frogs?

Try typing 'police beat' and the name of an American city into Google, and watch the hits fly.  Here's a sample of what you get for Denver.

And, could you tell the one photo of the Egyptian police from the other photos of the Denver police?

How quickly they fall.

Hard to tell what's going on in Egypt, but there are increasing signs that this government might fall. Most telling are the mentions in the Guardian Breaking News blog (see link in post below) that the police and military are siding with their fellow people against the dictator.

2.32pm: Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, gives this detailed account of how protesters overwhelmed police in Alexandria today.

After prayers, the protesters came out of a mosque and started shouting slogans. They were saying "peaceful, peaceful" and raising their hands. They were immediately attacked by police in an armoured car firing teargas. Fierce clashes started then, with exchanges of rock throwing. About 200 police faced about 1,000 protesters. The clashes lasted for nearly two hours. Then a much larger crowd of protesters came from another direction. They were packed in four blocks deep. Police tried to hold them back with teargas and rubber bullets, but they were finally overwhelmed.

Then the police just gave up, at about the time of afternoon prayers. Protesters gave water to police and talked to them. It was was all peaceful. Hundreds of protesters were praying in the street.

Now walking down to downtown Alexandria, the whole road is packed as far as we can see, people shouting slogans against [Hosni] Mubarak and his son Gamal. Asking others to join them. It is a very festive atmosphere. Women in veils, old men, children, I even saw a blind man being led. And there are no police anywhere.

There is one lesson that activists should learn from all of this. A country can look stable, or at least repressed. The discontent bubbles beneath the surface when the state police kick in the doors of any dissidents. But, the discontent is still there. And, when the people sense that there is a real chance for real change, they will pour out into the streets in their millions.

The key is not to make the mistake of thinking that the lack of signs of public protest, which are repressed by raids and arrests by the state police forces, represent the lack of discontent amongst the population. The discontent is just hidden when state censorship and state police raids on dissidents keep it from being public. But it doesn't mean its not there.

The fall of the Soviet Union surprised everyone with the speed with which it progressed. Now we are seeing again how quickly can change as the pro-American dictatorships across the Arab world are starting to collapse as the people realize that change might actually be possible.

The Arab Street

The most important story in the world seems to be the protests in Egypt and other countries. A dictator has already fallen in Tunisia.

For years, people have been wondering when this would happen. The attitudes and policies of governments like the one in Egypt have been so opposed to the beliefs of the people that this has always been like California's big-one. Everyone could always see the tensions that could lead to a break, the only thing everyone didn't know was when it would happen. We could just possibly be seeing that 'big-one' right now.

The Guardian (UK) has a breaking news page with the latest news from Egypt. Today is a key day, with the crowds in the mosques for Friday prayers. See Breaking News at ...

The problem can be seen in the statements from Israel. They praise the Egyptian dictatorship, and say they expect the Egyptian police to bloodily put down the people in the street.

Former envoy Gideon Ben-Ami predicts events in Egypt will not follow the same trajectory as the recent popular uprising in Tunisia, where the longtime dictator was ousted and fled the country. Ben-Ami says the Egyptian security and intelligence services "know how to resolutely take care of things when they feel under an existential threat as they already have begun to do".

Given the tactics of Israeli security, such a statement sends shutters up one's spine.

On the other hand, the Guardian page is reporting the beginnings of Egyptian military units refusing to kill their fellow citizens to prop up a dictatorship. Never a good sign for those who keep their Swiss bank account numbers close at hand in case of a sudden need to flee.

11.14am:CloseLink to this update: @gamelaid, a lawyer and executive director for the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, has tweeted that some army units in Suez are refusing to support the crackdown against the people.
Live blog: Twitter

The orginal tweet was in Arabic, so apologies for the translation if it is not 100% correct:

URGENT Suez: reports that some army units refused to support the police to confront the demonstrators, and the acceptance of other units, and did not intervene until now

All in all, not a good week for pro-American dictators.

BTW, Egypt's dicatorship appears to have cut off the Internet in Egypt. In the great and free USA, Sen. Lieberman and Pres. Obama want the authority to do the same here whenever they declare the need. I guess they are jealous of Mubarak.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The rise and fall of political popularity

After the midterms, and with the beginnings of the new Congress, there are of course many musings about the rise of the Republicans and the fall of Obama. Or, as Obama and the Democrats seem to rebound while anointing themselves with the blood of their fallen Congresswoman from Arizona, there are more musings about these latest shifts. It was Alexander Cockburn over at that got me thinking about this with his recent column.

The Republicans have lost their ’mo, at least for a while. But efforts by their leaders to damp down the bellicosity of newly elected Tea Party types is running into the fact that the Tea Partiers have only the high volume setting on their amplifiers, just like Palin. They're like a couple having a fight at a funeral; politely sotto voce, then suddenly bursting out fortissimo with their plaints and accusations.

Meanwhile Obama is looking more chipper than he has in the whole of the last year, a unifier at last, acting presidential as he triangulates just as Bill did in 95 and the years thereafter. Clinton and Gore “reinvented government” and Obama vows to do away with irksome regulations (like storing long form birth certificates securely) that hold America back.

Yet, all of this misses the bigger picture.

Both of today's political parties run much better in the opposition. There's good reason for this. Both parties serve essentially the same class of society. That being the class that can afford to give the maximum amount to campaigns, or far more to parties or political committees or such. Both political parties run their successful campaigns based on the large amounts of money that they can get from this class of people. The winner of almost any election can be guessed on watching which party or candidate does a better job of getting the money from this class.

This means the party that takes power is committed to the interests of the very small group of people who can afford to give $4,000 or $10,000 or a whole lot more to campaigns. And the unspoken part of this is that when a party takes power, they are committed to working against the interests of most of the rest of America.

Thus, the party that is in power will always be unpopular. The party that is in power is deliberately shafting the majority of Americans to serve the interests of the small class that funds their campaigns. Therefore, the party that is in power is unpopular with the majority of Americans.

The party in power will support wars. The wars make huge amount of money for the suppliers of war material. The wars make huge amounts of money for the bankers who loan the money to fight the wars. Meanwhile, millions of Americans spend their life in military service, and we've managed to kill more Americans in their wars than Osama Bin Laden did on 9-11. With tens of thousands more maimed or psychologically damaged when the do come home.

We just saw the Democrats work on 'health care reform'. The one thing that was clear from day one is that the profits of the big health corporations were certain to be at least protected and more likely enlarged. Single payer, the popular choice of a majority of Americans, was ruled off the table from the beginning. A vague 'public option', almost certain to be underfunded by future Congresses, was tentatively proposed. It was also the first thing pulled out of the bill in a very strange debate where the Democrats constantly changed the bill to suit the big health corporations to get Republican votes that they never got anyways.

And of course, no matter which party is in power, whatever Wall Street asks for, Wall Street gets. Wall Street says they need hundreds of billions of our public money to stay solvent, the Congress races to see who can support the bill soonest. Wall Street just committed the greatest fraud in the history of man, stealing trillions of dollars of real estate equity worth from most Americans one solid investment, their home, and no one goes to jail. A sham reform bill passes, but the bill is such a loophole ridden sham that Wall Street cheered its passage.

No matter which party wins an election, these policies stay unchanged. And all of them are detrimental to the interests of most Americans. Most Americans don't want their children coming back from wars maimed or in body bags. Most Americans didn't want to be the mandated customers of the most hated corporations in America. Most Americans didn't pay their taxes wanting that money to be handed over to Wall Street bankers to make sure the bonus checks never even slowed down.

All of this is to the harm of ordinary Americans. And, ordinary Americans are aware of this. They know their lives seem to get harder every year. They don't like it when the only jobs for their kids are in the military. Which isn't a great surprise since that's the part of the budget that always goes up no matter who's in power. Ordinary Americans know their health insurance costs more and more, and they know how their claims are denied when they try to use it.

So, the party in power is always declining in popularity. Meanwhile, the party out of power basically lies to the people and pretends to be on their side. Thus, the party out of power will always rise in popularity.

Both of our political parties only find political traction when they are in the 'opposition'. This explains the Republicans rapid rebound from their total rejection by the voters in 2008. It also explains why President Obama is quickly acting as if he's now even more powerless than he claimed to be before. The Republicans control the House. The Democrats control the Senate and the White House. The worst that should play out for the Democrats is as grid-lock. But instead, we've seen Obama quickly claim that he's now out of power. Of course, he did this by surrendering to the Republican agenda by making sure that the Bush tax cuts for the rich stay in place, and that the Patriot Act gets extended even further. Of course, neither of those is a real surprise to the people who noticed that the Democrats mostly supported both of those measures with their votes while voice their pretended opposition to Bush.

At some point, you have to ignore the details of which horse is a nose ahead or a nose behind. Instead, you have to notice the course the horses are running. This course runs in a direction that benefits a few. And most of the rest of us pay the cost. We pay higher taxes, but get little or nothing back from the government in return. We pay more and more for 'health care', and have to fight more and more to get the health care we need. And the body bags and maimed young people keep coming home from our wars. The horses run this same course no matter which horse is in the lead.