Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Balk, Talk and Walk Like an Egyptian

"Tunis is the force that pushed Egypt, but what Egypt did will be the force that will push the world"
- Walid Rachid, member of the Egyptian April 6 Youth Movement
Reading the headlines and commentary from the mainstream media one would think the revolutions in Tunis and Egypt have succeeded. The corrupt, authoritarian regimes have been toppled and a future of freedom guaranteed with the only question being who will be next, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain or Iran. However, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, the people's uprising in Egypt and Mubarak's forced departure constitute the end of the beginning of their revolution. Mubarak's second choice to succeed, Omar Suleiman, AKA Snidely Whiplash is still calling the shots in a country where the army is in charge, the constitution has been suspended and the parliament dissolved. Worse, nothing has happened that will change the fact that 40% of Egyptians will now return to living on less than $2 a day in an economy set up by Hosni's first choice, his son Gamel, for the exclusive benefit of the oligarchs. However, I'm going to don my Panglossian cap and imagine that we are in fact living in the best of all possible worlds and imagine how the chaotic scenes in Cairo and Tunis could be an inspiration to spur action against repression around the world. Perhaps we've been given a wake up call and a template on how to break free of the bonds holding us hostage on an accelerating crash course for disaster woven by all of the threads that make up the tapestry of global control which we're watching fray in front of our eyes.

While the 24 hour news cycle will have us wondering if the Muslim Brotherhood will hijack the Egyptian revolution like the theocracy did in Iran over 30 years ago, I'm hopeful it will stir us to focus on what we can do to break the corpocracy which has taken a stranglehold on our democracy. Nobody wants to be told that their life is based on a lie. From the cuckolded husband (or cuckqueaned wife) to the fundamentalist fanatic the job of the propagandist is facilitated by the fact that it's much easier to continue to accept the deception than to question one's very beliefs. After sleepwalking through the aftermath of the financial crisis many people are now waking up to the reality of its consequences - draconian austerity measures are being taken by governments around the world to combat ballooning deficits fueled largely by bailouts given to large corporations combined with falling tax revenues that were the result of the greed and hubris of those very same institutions. We're told there is no other way, that we must pay. In a time of permanent war, exploding poverty, threats to civil liberties and ecological devastation, humanity faces the challenge and opportunity to choose powerful and creative nonviolent alternatives. We can continue to opt for the devastating spiral of violence and injustice, or we can build civil societies where the dignity of all is respected and the needs of all are met.



We knew the cuts would be brutal and of course regressive in the UK with the incoming Tory government last year. Yet there were hopes by some (including me, sorry guys) that their junior coalition partners, Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats could moderate some of the cuts and would ensure that the rich would pay as well as the poor for the devastation caused by the banking collapse. Instead, Clegg, Prime Minister Cameron and his Eton cohort George Osborne cut a deal with Vodafone to forgive £4.8 billion in unpaid taxes while tripling tuition fees and making social cuts so deep there won't be enough libraries, housing or services to provide jobs or any hope for the future, let alone support Cameron's creepily Orwellian sounding Big Society. Seems the river Styx has been crossed and like Cerebrus this three-headed monster will ensure there's no escape from Hades once every public service is thrown open to outside providers, be they private companies, charities or voluntary organizations.



In a rerun of 1981, it's hoped that the public will be pacified by the pomp and circumstance of another royal wedding while the fabric of society is cut to pieces to knit a jumper for those who caused the crisis. If you live in the UK, where the economy shrunk again last quarter, and are afraid of the future being imposed on you, take a look at UK Uncut. They are calling for a Bail-In to replace the Bail-Outs of the banks to be funded by tax evaders, both corporate and personal, such as Sir Philip Green who gets to advise the government on cuts while avoiding paying taxes. They are focusing their efforts on raising awareness of how big business manages to escape corporate taxes and receive government largesse while the majority of the population is forced to pay for their losses. It is an open platform for self-organizing direct action, in other words, it's a revolution engine. Anyone anywhere can list an action anytime. Last weekend featured day cares and libraries in many Barclay's branches while next weekend will focus on RBS. Sign up to take part in one of their events near you, the biggest coming Saturday March 26th in London.



While the UK is ConDem'd by a coalition trying to channel Margaret Thatcher, across the pond there's a Democratic president doing his best Ronald Reagan imitation to please an opposition guided more by biblical scripture than scientific or economic principles. The task of waking the public from its slumber won't be easy where much of the population was so easily duped by a pair of billionaires into creating a movement that blamed the government for the economic meltdown. Conspiracy theorists no longer need rumors of the proceeding of the likes of the Bilderbergers when we've got the real life Koch brothers manipulating public policy in the open. Helped in part by last year's Supreme Court Citizens United decision, they managed to put Tea Partiers into Congress to work directly for corporations. New levels of absurdity were reached in a political process already too subservient to lobbyists by deciding that election spending is speech and that since corporations are people (really), that spending on elections by corporations can't be restricted as neither can people's speech. If you don't think it's right you can join Common Cause who are leading the fight to bring to light the conflict of interest the Supreme Court justices, particularly Clarence Thomas, who made the ruling have managed to keep hidden until now.

You may also have noticed the $1.1 trillion in cuts over 10 years announced by Obama the other day didn't take enough heating oil from the poor to placate the Republicans while bankers' bonuses have returned to eight-figure levels and corporations made record profits last quarter. Yeah, you guessed it, the cuts will ensure the poor and middle class pay for the banks and corporations screwing up the economy. You hear a lot of wingnuts complaining about the onerous 35% corporate income tax rate yet it's rarely mentioned that 115 of the S&P 500 companies actually pay less than 20% while 39 of them paid less than 10%. Oh, and that doesn't include the 37 companies like Citigroup and AIG that received more in tax credits than they paid. There's also Exxon who made $37.3 billion in profits but didn't pay a penny to Uncle Sam and most egregious of all Bank of America who made $4.4 billion pre-tax in 2009 and received $1.9 billion tax benefit and GE whose $10.3 billion in pretax income was supplemented by a tax benefit of $1.1 billion. Hoping to highlight this injustice, thanks to the 10-step guide provided by the Nation, a fledgling US Uncut movement was born. Sign up and join in the fun of the February 26th Day of Action.



On the heels of extending the Bush tax cuts which cost the government $2.48 trillion over the last 10 years (PDF comparing that to health care costs), Obama's budget cuts need to cut off grandma's heating oil. Only religious fundamentalism can explain cutting off funding for a program that saves $4 for every dollar spent (PDF) as that's exactly what the House just did by passing a resolution to end funding for Planned Parenthood. Oh, and increase military spending by $22 billion while the media repeats the duckspeak lie of cutting $78 billion. Strange, if they really wanted to cut $100 billion out of the budget, all they needed to do was end the killing of brown people in a far away land that no one seems to care about anymore. If you care, why don't you check out Russ Feingold's new movement Progressives United. You might remember him as the only good senator besides Bernie Sanders until the Tea Party money came along to unseat him; now he's got some time on his hands and a corpocracy to expose and depose. Speaking of Feingold, you might have heard there's been some action in his home state of Wisconsin.

Madison, Wisconsin has become the epicenter of the fight against the Shock Doctrine and turned it once again into what Teddy Roosevelt called America's "laboratory of democracy". The state capital might not be Tahrir Square but Feingold's home state has become the site of the most important fight in America today. New Governor Hosni Mubarek, er Colonel Gaddafi (it was Republican Representative Paul Ryan who said "It’s like Cairo has moved to Madison") no, Scott Walker has decided not to let a crisis go to waste by taking a complex problem, making it worse and using it to push through his ideological agenda. Yep, a crisis caused by rampant inequality which led to a financial crash is being paid for by public employees instead of those who got rich by fleecing the system. Should we be surprised that the Koch Industries PAC was Walker's second biggest campaign contributor?

Class warfare anyone? How is it that people making $50,000 a year are the ones who caused the crisis when John Paulson can make $5 billion and pay only 15% taxes? Ever get paid overtime? You like having weekends off? Safe workplace, health care? Remember the middle class? All courtesy of unions, a dying institution in America; coincidentally(?) the middle class is going extinct as well. Hate child-labor laws and prefer kids working in sweatshops to going to school? Well, get ready, that's what they're trying to bring back in Missouri (seriously, look). Walker wants Wisconsin wants to join Virginia, Texas, Georgia and North and South Carolina in banning collective bargaining for its teachers; those states rank 44th, 47th, 48th, 49th and 50th respectively in ACT/SAT scores nationwide while Wisconsin is currently 2nd. The oligarchs are still in control of the message, stirring up a culture war in which we blame everyone else except those who actually blew up the economy. Wake up and smell the irony, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

It can be argued that many unions are in desperate need of reform but they represent the only protection we have against corporations and government. Wisconsin, considered a cradle of US labor rights and progressive social policies, was the first state to give its public workers the right to bargain collectively, a right that Scott Walker is now proposing to take away. Yep, one could understand asking workers to take pay cuts as well as contribute more to their health and pension plans but this animus goes too far and that's why people are fighting back. It's great to see Democrats finally show some spine and the people finally snap out the their trance; legislators on the lam (thank them here) and protesters on the streets. Want more crazy? Walker channeled his inner Gaddafi and ordered the National Guard to get ready to respond to a strike or any resistance to his plan. I suppose he doesn't know the last time Wisconsin called in the National Guard was way back in 1886, when they shot on a rally of Milwaukee workers advocating an eight-hour work day - five unarmed workers were killed in the massacre. We shouldn't be surprised, it was such freedom loving patriots as Limbaugh, Beck and Santorum who denounced the uprising in Egypt and insist that President Obama should have helped the Mubarak regime suppress it.



Even crazier? You betcha! The deficit that needs to be addressed by the cuts was manufactured by Walker and his cohorts. January 31st, the state had a $121.4 million surplus which was wiped out when Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups. Crazier? No, can't be. Yep, the proposed bill would allow for the selling of state-owned heating/cooling/power plants without bids and without concern for the legally-defined public interest. Best yet, Walker is only proposing to strip the bargaining power of the unions who didn't support his election campaign. Coincidentally, it is the firefighters and police officers whose unions were spared that will be his last line of defense if the protests turn violent. Maybe you oughta send MiniMubarek an email to govgeneral@wisconsin.gov to let him know what you think. It might be an exaggeration to compare Cairo to Madison but what we're seeing shock resistance to the exploitation of a manufactured crisis by constricting the democratic space through the reduction of the ability of the workers to participate in the formation of their economic future. Contrary to what Faux News et al will tell you, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications (PDF). This isn't about being fiscally responsible so much as it is about power - taking it away from the people and handing it to the oligarchs. Who better than Naomi Klein herself to explain the importance of shock resistance and then why not join the Wisconsin Wave?



Exploding inequality and grinding poverty were the match that sparked the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions when struck by new and old media technologies provided by Twitter, Facebook and Al-Jazeera. Taking a more practical path and serving as a reminder that inequality in the US is greater than in Egypt Tunisia or Yemeni is the Progressive Strategy Handbook(PDF) from Cognitive Policy Works. Their proposal is set out in four parts from setting the landscape to the strategic need to set the agenda as well as the psychological nuances involved in preparing to engage the public along with the technological power of social media for driving cultural and political change and finally and perhaps most importantly, the need to be an innovator in the ultimate goal of changing how politics is done.

Perhaps you're not stirred to action watching $4 billion being given away to oil companies while cutting $1.6 billion from the EPA. There's a chance you don't care that in Arizona, cuts to the Medicare system have already killed two people and 98 more are waiting to die as the state won't pay for transplants but can give tax cuts to corporations which will cost the state $538 million by 2018. But maybe you've caught the doublespeak coming out of your telescreens and are starting to wonder why no one else has noticed the hypocrisy. How does Hillary's head not explode from the cognitive dissonance as she urges countries to embrace internet freedoms while the US is moving in the opposite direction. The House just voted to extend three controversial domestic spy provisions of the Patriot Act, customs officials seized 18 more internet domains without giving the pirate website owners a chance to challenge the forfeiture and the administration is trying to expand the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act, which already requires telecoms and internet access providers to have wiretapping capabilities. The FBI wants Congress to demand that same requirement for encrypted e-mail services like Blackberry and also wants it for social networks and peer-to-peer messaging networks like Skype. Oh, and the Justice Department is in federal court trying to get Twitter to cough up records related to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and others, including an Icelandic parliamentarian.

Fancy a little vigilante justice? Think you know your way around the intertubes? Then you might want to think about joining the gang over at Anonymous. Love 'em or hate 'em, in addition to adding another computer word to the lexicon, their brand of hacktivism has gotten the attention of the powers that be. All you need is to get the Low Orbit Ion Canon (LOIC), log onto Twitter, find the latest Anonoymous tweets (if an op is in progress) and join in the revolution, but remember, you'll be up against powerful enemies with friends in high places. The first target of their information warfare was the Church of Scientology in 2007 followed by the Australian government for introducing internet censorship laws. By far their most publicized attacks however have come in defense of Wikileaks and its supporters. Operation Payback saw them take on/out Mastercard, Amazon and Paypal for behaving like the US government's lapdogs. While Assange's persecution has been well-documented, the forgotten hero may be Private Bradley Manning who may have supplied Wikileaks with the bulk of their stash of illicit trash. Based on the testimony of one extremely untrustworthy source Manning has been locked up in solitary confinement in a military brig for nine months and the torture is having the desired effect. Did we mention he's a UK citizen? No trial, indefinite detention, torture, sound familiar? Guess this is what happens to a society once they condone torture. We should all Stand With Brad, or help all soldiers who have the Courage to Resist when their conscience tells them.

Anonymous' most recent actions have revealed the most sinister face of corporatism. One moment HBGary, a private cyber-security firm, thought they had unmasked Anonymous, the next the self-styled, new-age Robin Hoods had implicated the corpocracy in a smear campaign. Among 50,000 hacked emails was a report the firm had prepared with several other online security firms on how to destroy Wikilieaks for Bank of America in their defense against yet to be released cables expected to reveal corruption and fraud at the bank. It's too complicated for my little brain, so here's the story in the words of one of the targets, Glenn Greenwald:



The Chamber of Commerce, that once upstanding organization that used to help small business, has become a corporate tool to hammer home the conservative agenda. While Citizens United allows unlimited election contributions, not many corporations want their names attached to the spending and therefore funnel most of the money through groups such as the Chamber, hiding their influence and actions from the public and shareholders alike. Ironically, they sued the Yes Men a couple years ago for deceiving the press and public yet engage in that very same behavior when it comes to sullying the reputations of those who would oppose them. Not to mention their disinformation campaign in opposing healthcare reform, employee free choice and other labor legislation, veterans' rights, banking regulations and, of course, transparency. An honest person in the media is dangerous, just knock off a couple of the honest journalists and activists who are left, then there's nobody left to defend the truth. Bring on the Lindsey Lohan stories!

The Yes Men have been trying to fight irrationality with the ludicrous for over 15 years, managing to pull off some audacious stunts whose ridiculousness is only matched by the inanity of those being mocked. They've recently launched their Yes Men Lab in an effort to help grow their movement by sharing their experiences of the past decade and a half. Networking with social justice organizations to spread their ideas for activism. Though their victims such as the Chamber of Commerce seldom seem to get it, their brand of consciousness awareness can be hilarious as well as contagious, so join the fun!



It's hard not to see the election of Ronald Reagan as the last inflection point, one of his first acts as President was to break the air traffic controllers union. It was the beginning of the class war waged by America's corporate oligarchy to transfer wealth from the working and middle classes to the rich and to deregulate the economy in order to increase the wealth and power of the corporate and financial elite. Since then, the share of wealth held by the top 0.1% (the richest one in a thousand households) has grown from 2.7% to 12.3%, a fourfold increase. The same time frame has seen an identical growth in incarceration rates and costs thanks to a war on the poor cleverly disguised as the war on drugs; 1 in 100 American adults are now behind bars. We've managed to trade in a cold war for a warmer war on terror as an excuse to ship off just enough of our youth to keep the official unemployment rate under 10%. California came close but we still need to organize if we want to legalize and end the war at home so sign up with NORML.

The women's liberation movement helped the other half of the population into the workforce just in time for middle class families to keep their head above water for awhile and when that wasn't enough, we worked more hours but still couldn't offset stagnating wages. Finally, the promise of never falling real estate prices meant people could use their homes as cash machines which worked great until the curtain was lifted on the wizards of Wall Street. Now, everyone is being decimated by a mortgage system that became so complex no one knew who owed or owned what leading to foreclosures on families who have never missed a payment and people who have never even had a mortgage. Whether you're facing foreclosure, have an underwater mortgage, or are just a concerned homeowner, it’s important that you contact your bank and demand to see the original note on your mortgage. Better yet, turn the system to your advantage and foreclose on the bank.

The right screaming about government taking over the private sector and the left about the reverse has distracted us from the reality of landing somewhere in the middle where a government by and for corporations control one another. Just look at any industry and corresponding government department, financial, military, agriculture, energy it doesn't matter which, the pattern is the same. A revolving door of an elite class with occasional holidays in the world of academia. Yesterday's institutions were built to narcotize us into sleep and while we dozed, they purloined our future, looted our societies, trampled nature, eviscerated our communities, ransacked our values, and body-slammed our very sense of self-worth. There are many positive signs that people are waking up to the nihilism of the present system where industry provides the regulators to write the rules so they can later be rewarded with executive positions in the board rooms of the very firms they once regulated. Perhaps this new 'Nile-ism' is a sign that enough people see what's happening around them and realize the system is broken, desperately in need of being torn down and built again. We're told we have a choice, after all, this is democracy, when in fact we can choose between a wolf and a wolf in sheep's clothing. It's a false choice, just like the austerity packages being introduced from Madison to London which tell us that we need to pay for the excesses of the past by punishing the poor and middle class.



The stock market has completely disconnected from the economy and is little more than a place for speculators and algorithms to compete over who can trade his way to the most money. The casino's high rollers room is roped off to the masses while the VIPs engage in flash trading and front running stocks in a computer power arms race rendering the idea of stocks representing value obsolete. Any attempt at regulation will be stymied by Tim Geithner, the Treasury Secretary who believes what we need is a financial deepening. Crisis is good for his buddies, as the more Americans there are on food stamps, the more money JP Morgan Chase makes; thanks to food speculation opened up by deregulation, business is sure to be good. It's not surprising in a country where the government spends more on military bands than it does on public broadcasters. Oh, yeah, forgot the old saw: Funding NASCAR is freedom while funding NPR is tyranny.

The unnatural coalition of wealthy corporate capitalists and poor social conservatives who drive right wing ideology is exemplified by a couple of US congressmen. Chairman Darrell Issa of the House Oversight Committee is at the service of his corporate overlords. Add in a little John Shimkus who will chair the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy and there's no end to the destruction they can wreak. Some may think it's not a good idea to put a guy who quotes biblical scripture to explain why climate change isn't occurring in charge of anything to do with the environment but god still sells in the bible belt. For those who don't think Yahweh will save us from ourselves or don't think it's fair that mining companies are allowed to blow the tops off mountains to extract the minerals, you can arrange a sleepover in your governor's offices. That's what they did in Kentucky where they decided to push back against a corrupt government which has joined in a lawsuit against the EPA for trying to block some of the more harmful aspects of the practice. Never mind that these companies get the profits while the commons of the people are destroyed, the very earth, rivers, streams and air.

Don't let them convince you that the small stuff doesn't add up. Get out of your car, buy locally produced produce, turn off your TV - it all counts. Join 350.org, take part in Earth Hour March 26th at 8:30 pm, hell, plant a tree. If you're in Italy you can join the call for Silvio Berlusconi to resign for any of a myriad of offenses (he's defending himself in four separate trials). Bunga-Bunga is the most titillating and you probably think it's not right your prime minister pays for sex with an underage girl and later uses his influence to have her released from prison by claiming she was a relative of, you guessed it, Hosni Mubarak. Move your money out of the big banks, buy silver to help crash JP Morgan, join the Common Good Bank or flamenco dancers in Spanish banks. In Greece, why not turn transparency detective to expose the rich who camouflage their swimming pools from satellite pictures in an effort to evade taxes. French? Maybe you should question who sold the fighters being used to bomb civilians in Libya. Irish? Probably a good time to vote for a government who won't sell your future to the banks. If you think funding for the future is a better idea than buying bombs when 50% of the schools in Detroit have been ordered to close, sign a petition here or rally for education in Texas here. With media consolidation picking up speed, there's no wonder so many don't even realize there's still a war going on, but you can help bring an end to the longest war in American history (now in it's 10th year!) by helping Rethink Afghanistan. Tell Congress to protect the open internet. End the next war, the one on women, before they win too many battles. If you still believe in the American Dream, heed the MoveOn.org call to action this weekend. Finally, don't forget to join US Uncut or UK Uncut for their next big action February 26th, find a creative way to highlight why we need a bail in as they make us pay for the bail out.



It's now or never, something needs to be done soon as those in control of the economic and political levers are the same ones making the rules of their use. The plutocrats know the limits of growth have been reached economically and environmentally and have doubled down to get as much out as quickly as they can before the game's up. The North and South Poles are melting, Brazilian rain forests and the Russian tundra are burning, the Australian outback and Indus river basin are drowning. Crying orange men who used to hand out tobacco company bribes on the floor of the House are dictating a penny-wise and pound-foolish policy guaranteed to destroy his nation. Turn Facebook into a weapon to spread knowledge and form alliances instead of a tool to dull the senses. Question why Google exhorts us to do no evil while doing just that by dodging taxes through income shifting schemes known as the "Double Irish" and the "Dutch Sandwich". I'd call reducing their overseas tax rate to 2.4% a Dutch oven for the rest of us. Join a movement, spread the word, read an article longer than this post to learn about a subject instead of simply feeding off the informational tit of the corporate controlled mainstream media. They have an interest in propagating the system as their ownership is that system and in places like Canada now have a license to lie.
The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group.
- Franklin D. Roosevelt

Friday, February 11, 2011

Memory Holes and Pyramid Schemes

As soon as Winston had dealt with each of the messages, he clipped his speakwritten corrections to the appropriate copy of ‘The Times’ and pushed them into the pneumatic tube. Then, with a movement which was as nearly as possible unconscious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.
- 1984 George Orwell

As the tubes used in Orwell's 1984 protagonist Winston Smith's Ingsoc employers' gleaming white offices at the Ministry of Truth to purge our collective memory become increasingly clogged, it seems to be happening to me more and more frequently of late. That blank look of incomprehension staring at me around the classroom or across the table at the pub after delivering what I'd thought just a moment earlier to be a thought provoking observation. Events such as those happening over the past fortnight in Egypt, home to Gizan Pyramids and a KFC for the deaf, provide enough fodder to stoke the furnace of forgetfulness. The conflicts that have been sown in and around, by and for, the likes of Tutenkahmen, Cleopatra and Nasser from the Pharaonic high point of ancient civilization to the Tahrir Square occupation keep Big Brother digging the memory hole ever deeper. How can it be a 1979 moment or even '89 or simply '09, when there's no Ayatollah Khomeini coming home, Solidarity of Lech Walesa or even a Mir Hosein Mousavi? In our reality an American president can become a torturer who gets to go to the Super Bowl but not Geneva for fear of arrest while Obama has to help Egyptian torturers become presidents to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood becoming the Revolutionary Guard.

Watching the bumbling US government response to Egypt along with the rope-a-dope technique #3 from the authoritarian leader handbook (the others being violent crackdown or exile to mountainside villa) being played by Hosni Mubarak while the media whips up fear of Islamic extremism can be depressingly predictable. Regardless of whether the spark of revolution was the social media connectivity of Facebook and Twitter, the reporting of Al Jazeera and Wikileaks or grinding poverty combined with the skyrocketing price of bread, the fact is thirty years of political repression has left a void bigger than what a former UN Atomic Energy chief or Google executive could fill and so would give Islamists a voice in any democratically elected government. It was a crafty move by Mubarak to unconstitutionally name Omar Suleiman vice-president, buying time with America as he was their main rendition connection in the region and a trusted friend of Israel. The Winston Smiths of today have cut and pasted his name to Soliman in the cables provided by Wikileaks where he calls Iranians 'devils', turns the Muslim Brotherhood into the bogeyman and promises to pressure Hamas. Omar Suleiman may be better known as Sheik al-Torture but you can't convince me Mubarak's consigliere's not Snidely Whiplash with his look and fetishes; I wonder who we could get to play Dudley Do-Right?



As Minister without Portfolio and Director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate (EGID) since 1993, Omar Suleiman oversaw the security apparatus and torture program that produced the likes of Mohamed Atta and Ayman Al-Zawahiri. These graduates from his CIA designed torture chambers went on to pilot American Airlines flight 11 into the north Twin Tower on 9/11 and become Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant, the real brains behind Al Qaeda respectively. Of the19 hijackers that day, there weren't any from Iraq, a problem for Dubya's plan to finish off Saddam Husein for his dad - 15 were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Egypt and Lebanon. As point man for the CIA's rendition program, Suleiman received many of the suspects that America snatched around the world for torture. The most notorious case was an Al Queda suspect known as Ibn Sheikh al-Libi who was bound and blindfolded at Bagram Airforce Base in Afghanistan and flown to Cairo. Suleiman convinced Libi to confirm a personal link between Saddam and Osama and that the former was providing the latter with chemical weapons by locking him in a little box for eighty hours. Though Libi later recanted, his torture induced assertions were used by Colin Powell in his testimony to the UN in building the case for war in Iraq. For nearly 20 years, Suleiman has played Saraman for Mordor, the USA.

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."
-Inner Party member O'Brien in 1984

When America was given custodianship of the world's economic system from the British Empire after World War II they also inherited the disastrous legacy of colonial duties from all the previous world powers from Chile to Vietnam, Angola to Afghanistan. America chose to spread freedom and democracy while ignoring convenient client state dictators and installing others who played for their side. Saudi Arabia and their extreme Wahabi version of Islam became fine but Iran's theocratic regime certainly isn't. Arming and supporting the Mujahiddin in Afghanistan in their struggle against Ruskies only to fight them twenty years later as the Taliban. The fear factory slipped seamlessly from fear of the Russian commies to the Islamic fundies in Iran. After screwing up Persia the US had to give Saddam weapons to fight the Ayatollah in a war that cost a million and a half lives only to have to turn its sites on Baghdad not once but twice. CNN and the 24-hour cable news cycle was born as George the elder's, Norman Schwarzkopf Jr. led (fun triva fact: his dad, Sr., was the man sent to bring the Shah back to Iran in '53 from self-imposed exile in Italy and went on to train the Shah's security forces, SAVAK) Desert Storm kicked Saddam out of Kuwait. Americans were taught to believe in smart missiles that only killed the bad guys but weren't shown the mass executions of those America incited to rebel and then deserted to die. Faux News was legitamized in the eyes of hillbillies as the embedded journalist came courtesy Dubya's shock and awe in Gulf War II as reporters rode the army's tanks into Baghdad. With their impartiality already compromised, they had no problems beaming staged celebrations back home to be played on an endless loop. Perhaps Egypt's protests will bring about cable news' next revolution and help propel Al-Jazeera into more living rooms to provide an alternative to the background noise designed to dull or senses.

Keeping in mind the arbitrariness of choosing a point in time when the story of empires keeps building on foundations heavy with history, we should look at Iran and Egypt in the early 1950s especially since the Bill O'Reillys and Glenn Becks of the world want us to fear the rise of a Muslim Caliphate from Cairo to Tehran (and yes, onto Islamabad and Kabul) if we dare encourage democracy. Since they get to ignore the differences across the region - Sunni from Shiite, petro-wealthy from poverty-stricken, Arab from Persian - and present a false choice faced in Egypt as one between Jihadist and friendly dictators, so can we. To combat the Manichean view of perpetual Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, who said, "there's a real possibility in a few weeks...that Egypt will join Iran, and join Lebanon, and join Gaza, and join the things that are happening that are extraordinarily dangerous to us" we could study the past to learn from our mistakes. More than 50 years ago Egypt and Iran both had back to back major revolutions, the second Shah was installed in Iran while a military coup in Egypt eventually saw Gamal Abdel Nasser take control. By constantly rewriting history, Oceania's perpetual war alternated between Eurasia or Eastasia; the doublethink in our world had the US conspire with the USSR to push the British out of Egypt while McCarthy whipped up anti-commie rage to convince America to work with the Brits in Iran.

Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq nationalized Iran's oil industry and earned Time Magazine's Man of the Year in 1951 while US President Truman stood by. It seems quaint today but when first presented with a British plan to overthrow Mosaddeq, Truman said, "We don’t overthrow governments; the United States has never done this before, and we’re not going to start now". By 1953 General Eisenhower was president and the US along with Britain had successfully completed Operation Ajax, overthrowing Mosaddeq and installing the Shah (fun tria fact #2: the CIA plan was hatched by Kermit Roosevelt Jr., grandson of Teddy Roosevelt), thus earning the lasting hatred of large sectors of the Iranian public, uniting communists, nationalists and Shia clericalists behind enmity of foreign meddling. The world got BP in exchange for Anglo-Iranian Oil and America got a client state to supply cheap oil for 26 years.



The Shah's supporters point to successes such as the 1963 program known as the White Revolution, which included land reform, the extension of voting rights to women, and the elimination of illiteracy. His detractors however remind us these very achievements served to alienate the clergy and avoid real democratic reforms. He flouted the constitution which placed limits on royal power and provided for a representative government, going so far as crowning himself "Shah en Shah", King of Kings in 1967. His increasing subservience to the US played poorly as he threw an extravagant celebration of 2,500 years of Persian monarchy and in 1976 he replaced the Islamic calendar with an "imperial" calendar, which began with the foundation of the Persian empire around 500 BC. These actions were clearly aimed at sidelining the Islamic religion, and excited the opposition of Muslim groups, which rallied around the then-exiled Ayatollah Khomeini.

The second Egyptian Revolution broke out in Egypt the year before resulting in Nasser's military coup on July 23rd 1952. This time the world got pan-Arab nationalism and three more Israeli wars in '56, '67 and '73 to add to the Arab loss of 1948. It wasn't until his successor Anwar Saddat that the lure of American dollars could convince them to at least play nice with Israel. In exchange for honoring the Camp David Accords signed by Sadat in 1978 and keeping the border to Gaza sealed for the most part, Hosni Mubarak and his cohorts have been made rich; Sadat paid with his life, Mubarak has paid with his soul. Corruption in Egypt has been taken to a whole new level; in America the corporations control government policy through lobbies, election funding and regulators, in Egypt the businessmen simply are the government and vice-versa. As the public grew poorer and prospects grew ever dimmer for the university graduates who managed to avoid being beaten by the secret police, five of Mubarak's cronies became billionaires. Former interior minister Habib Ibrahim El-Adly and party insider Ahmed Ezz amassed $1.2 and $3 billion respectively. A few other billionaire former Cabinet ministers trying to flee the country as protests broke out but were stopped. Ashraf Marwan, the son-in-law of the late President Gamel Abdel Nasser spied for Mossat and was killed in England; another billionaire former Parliamentarian, Talaat Moustafa paid a hit man $2 million to kill a Lebanese pop star who jilted him.

Much was deservedly made of the fact that over the billions in military support that made Egypt the second largest recipient of US military aid after Israel so they could buy the same American built F-16s, tear gas, and Abrams tanks buzzing, blinding and encircling the crowds in and around Tahrir Square. No wonder Egyptians are now referring to Obama as the Black Bush as he, his administration and other western leaders try to maintain the status quo that is looking more and more like a Madoff Ponzi scheme ready to collapse. Frank Wisner, the US envoy sent to speak with Mubarak after protests broke out,  works for a law firm which works for the dictator's own Egyptian government. Usurprising then that he would say, "President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical: it's his opportunity to write his own legacy." Vice-president Biden stated that because Mubarak had been a responsible ally he "would not refer to him as a dictator." Tony Blair, probably hoping this will somehow make it more likely we'll attack Iran, said Mubarak is "immensely courageous and a force for good". Silvio Berlusconi, perhaps to distract attention from the myriad of scandals that tend to follow septuagenarian prime ministers who sleep with underage hookers, said of the dictator "in the West, above all in the United States, [Mubarak] is considered the wisest of men". Yep, apparently wise enough to have siphoned off enough of his people's wealth to build his family a $70 billion fortune.

When the US lost Iran to the 1979 Revolution, American interests, or more precisely, Israeli and oil flow security, were buttressed by Anwar el-Sadat's decision to make peace with Israel. Mubarak has more than held up their end of the bargain in other areas as well from his positions during the wars against Iraq, his stand against nuclear Iran and it's involvement in Lebanon but the Israeli free pass has been key. In making peace with Israel the 26th of March 1979, Egypt essentially permitted Israel to tighten their grip over the West Bank and Gaza, and concentrate their military ambitions elsewhere such as Lebanon or Gaza, and perhaps sometime in the future, Iran. In the words of a 2009 American embassy cable, part of the Wikileaks document dump, "The tangible benefits to our mil-mil relationship are clear: Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the US military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace."

Yet, instead of using this breathing space as an opportunity to make peace, Israel has seemingly done all it can to alienate everyone around them. It seems to me that the last couple of years have brought an increased arrogance to the aggressive actions taken by Israel, meaning the Palestinians could be the biggest beneficiaries of an Egyptian power shift that could threaten the border with Gaza. Settlement expansion along with that in East Jerusalem, a crazy wall and the creation of a ghetto in Gaza. Just as a peace deal with Syria brokered by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed to be about to become reality, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead against the people of Gaza. Further frosting the Israeli-Turkish relationship came with the attack on the Freedom Flotilla trying to break the siege and deliver supplies to Gaza. a people slowly being starved and limited to an ever changing list of 81 items allowed entry into their sliver of a territory, more concentration camp. In international waters, the IDF killed nine activists, eight Turkish nationals and a Turkish-American. As the world argued over who started it and what label should be attached to the parties we forgot about the real victims in Gaza. Israel spin is better than any pneumatic tube system.

Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable
- John F. Kennedy 

Yeah, it could be that the Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war that Kennedy wanted to avoid could quickly become a Pox Americana for her client states in the region. Israel along with  it's friendemies in Jordan, the UAE and of course Saudi Arabia are piling the pressure on Obama not the cut Mubarak loose. At least King Abdullah II’s recent dismissal of his cabinet in Jordan (the only other Arab country that has signed a peace treaty with Israel) shows he's aware of the change, Saudi's King Abdullah (yeah, same name) still thinks his oil means he calls the shots. Wikileaks is there to help reporters again in a timely way as just released cables reveal fears that the sea of oil in the Kingdom is about 40% smaller than previously thought, bringing Peak Oil ever closer. These nations real and legitimate fear is the 240 F-16 fighters in play along with the other advanced weaponry the Americans have sold Mubarak over the years in an attempt to create a balance with the Iranians. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, it's a belief that keeping the oil flowing at all cost can continue forever and not seeing that America is the biggest obstacle to peace and democracy in the Middle East.

By supporting the status quo, siding against the protesters, America will force the military to eventually back Mubarak/Suleiman to keep the money flowing into their coffers with or without bullets. This money ensures rigged elections come September and once the international cameras go home Suleiman's torture chambers await any pesky dissenting voices, their thoughtcrimes earning them the Mubarak treatment that turns them into unpersons. The cycle intensifies as anti-Americanism grows for supporting torturers in the Arab world while the western media (with ever-concentrating ownership) points out the only support for the opposition parties comes from Iran and Hamas. This allows the US government to defend Suleiman when he keeps emergency powers in place (motto: in place since 1981 so why not forever?) and ratchets up repression. Such a course of events ensures that if democracy ever comes to Egypt, thousands will have to die and the resulting government will be far less open than whatever would have come from the current demonstrations, had we supported them in the first place. The false choice of stability versus democracy that has been played far too long must be refuted.

The fate of over 80 million people hangs in the balance, the 15th most populous nation just in front of Turkey and Iran, the latter used as a dog whistle of fear to cover the only sustainable path to follow blazed by the former. Our old buddy Newt framed the issue in a perfectly partisan way by offering this advice to Obama, "study Reagan and Carter and do what Reagan did and avoid what Carter did", neo-con code for the old game of continuing to lecture on democracy while supporting dictators. Jimmy Carter didn't lose Iran, it was the decades long support for brutal dictatorships that accomplished that trick. If fears of Islamic extremism cause us to falter in our support of the pro-democracy movement, "What is certain is that siding with a repressive regime against the Egyptian people, especially against young Egyptians, will turn these fears of extremism into a reality." Damn memory holes, we always seem to forget that blowback is a bitch.


Update #1: You may have noticed the celebrations in the streets of Egypt being beamed around the globe. Unfortunately, not much is being said of Omar Suleiman the man who announced the resignation of Hosni Mubarak last night, February 11th. All the commentary seems to agree the best outcome possible has occurred, but all that's happened is the US supported army is in charge. The only certainty they seem to be expressing is that all existing treaties will be honored by Egypt. They're celebrating across the Arab world, whispers of Algeria or Morocco being next, and everyone seems to be appeased, but the only reassurance has been directed at Israel.