Bastille Day From Tunisia To Zucotti Park. 2011 In Review.

by Daniel Russ on January 1, 2012

The Arab Spring comes to America in occupy Wall Street

Protesters Confront Police In Zuccotti Park.


Algerian protests against a corrupt regime began at the end of 2010 and continue today and they have resulted in massive concessions, heavy pressure but no regime change. Tunisians threw their hands in the air when public stipends were cut and they, like Americans, saw a discernable and immediate abatement of their standard of living. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali is now gone and the shaky remnants of their governments and militaries are trying to cobble together a new government. Lybians revolted against Khadaffi, who came into power as a hero overthrowing cruel kleptocrats and a crony-paramilitary establishment; only to become worse than those he replaced. Bahrain, the desert island kingdom in the Persian Gulf is where the US Fifth Fleet is based. Bolstered by the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, oppressed Shiites decided to protest. These protests were crushed by Saudi troops, who incidentally are armed and backed by the United States. Syria is in the middle bloody paroxysms as citizens have finally decided it is better to die n the streets than live like a serf. Assad is toast when the Arab League itself asked him to step down. Mubarak resigned in February and is out of power after 30 years of robbing the country and filling cookie jar secret accounts in Switzerland. After decades of brutally suppressing opposition voices, today he is currently being prosecuted.


Things seem very bad here and in the world right now, while the financial markets are for all intents and purposes little more than fiat currency, and the banks supporting the global economy are insolvent and in denial about it. In the Mideast, two singular events have taken place. One is that people from the grassroots level are rising up against the corruption so deeply embedded in imperious and cruel regimes. People in Syria are literally dying in the streets, or being captured and horribly tortured because they are tired of it, because they want a chance to live better. Few know if newer dictators will replace older dictators. The Devil you know is no longer the zeitgeist in the Arabian Peninsula. Common people willing to imprecate themselves and their families have started a bloody bobbery with loyalist troops because anything seems like a better deal than what they have; and their courage is duly noted. The other that we rarely talk about is that US combat aircraft have not led the way into Lybian airspace. French Mirages and Rafales and British Tornados are flying effective and lethal combat air patrols and strike missions. We watched as European military power caviled at entrenched combatants driving them from their redoubts into the countryside. The blood in the streets for once is not American; it’s Arab blood and European blood.


Here in America people from all across the spectrum, union workers, veterans, firefighters and executives have taken a page from Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks and joined hands and decided to sit down in public parks and peaceably protest. Like the Tunisians and the Lybians, working people are through with settling for a collop while knavish elites fly in jets and dine in exquisite settings and never do without. Like the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street is a true grass roots movement that has reframed the culture wars in a way that even the useless press here cannot ignore, or control or suppress. Like the Arabs dying in the streets of Tunisia, Americans see a grimmer future than they have seen in years and want a piece of the pie that we have all been promised. The American dream is for most young Americans a platitude void of anything but presidential speech fodder.


We have been treated to a screenplay seemingly written for The Wizard of Oz. The curtain has been pulled aside and we can no longer sit and pretend that the Wizard of Hope can save us, or that we are even a democracy anymore. It costs about a billion dollars to become President. Hundreds of millions to get a Senate seat, and tens of thousands to win a seat in the House of Representatives. Legislators no longer represent us, they represent the lobbying firms and corporation who pervert free market capitalism by stacking the deck against actual competition with bills written in backrooms by lobbyists, rendered into thousand page arcane documents that no one ever reads, and no one can read. Because they are released moment before they are voted for. When Reagan deregulated the Savings and Loans and they cheated everyone, at least 1500 of them went before a judge. Those who created complex financial tools and spray painted them gold and took insurance policies against them knowing they weren’t worth a dime have seen no judges. Those who committed fraud and malfeasance and impoverished whole generations of workers were allowed to keep their bonuses and their homes and secretly took money from taxpayers to line their pockets.


In the face of this perfidy, a feckless president, with more executive power than any previous president, ushered into office on the wings of hope, simply refuses to deliver. The American people have little to choose from in the next election. A group of corrupt, pretentious evangelicals and sociopathic career politicians, or Obama. They cage fight. He plays by the Marquee De Queensbury rules.


We all watched as a fat cavalier campus police officer spray capsaicin into the faces of students who are doing nothing. He is put on administrative relief, but to this day, has a paying job. During a presidential rally, a man hands a note that asks for help. Obama delivers another speech, a series of hollow blandishments and promises and essentially does nothing.


You get the feeling that Obama is not just detached. You get the sense that he is actually powerless against forces literally beyond his control, and no president would competently lead this country anymore. I once felt that W was a nice man with good intentions who was misled by the Cheneyites. Perhaps there are forces in Washington far more powerful than the President. Of course, electing Gingrich or Romney or Santorum would just hasten the end of the country as a democracy. Bachman knows no history, no geography, and no facts about the state of the world. She is a gaffe machine that picked up after Sarah Palin told us that Paul Revere set out to warn the British not to take our guns. Yet despite the fact that most of these stooges are uneducated, ill informed, extreme in their political views, and couldn’t find Iraq or Afghanistan on a map with two hands a flashlight, about half of the country would still vote for them. John Huntsman is the only Republican in the field who isn’t certifiably insane, which means in this environment, he hasn’t a chance.


Our streets are filled with gangs. Our infrastructure is crumbling. One in nine Americans is on food stamps. Our students cannot compete against students in most of the industrialized countries of the world. We detain people, torture them and hold them without any hope indefinitely. There is a saying that when you’re up to your ass in alligators it’s hard to remember you were there to drain the swamp in the first place. Americans with no health insurance and no mortgages and no clear way out are not likely to get politically involved. Instead, they satisfy their desire to forget with cheeseburgers and Kim Kardashian’s ass.


It doesn’t help that our news media is largely impotent. There are still small golden treasures in reporting: McClatchy, Texas Tribune, a few internet sites. But the large audience media makes drivel and dresses it up like news and tired overwhelmed, and I hate to say this, poorly educated Americans are not being served.


Is there hope?


Yes. The young people who have never not known a time when there wasn’t an internet, that are standing up to paramilitary police, talking pepper spray and having their heads cracked open give me hope. Their courage lights me up. Companies like Ford who take no bailout money and still build a better car encourage me. The tremendous advances in digital technology encourages me. Amazon which has increased reading by double digits encourage me. Soldiers who go and do their job even when it is obviously futile encourage me. Digital entrepreneurs who create apps and companies faster than corporations can keep up with give me hope. The fact that I have a phone in my pocket with access to encyclopedic volumes of information gives me hope.


Hope. It springs eternal. That, and there is always tomorrow.




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