Saturday, September 3, 2011

An American Oligarch Watches the Arab Spring

When American Idealism Becomes Too Complicated
and Too Expensive

Recently, even the otherwise corporately saturated PBS NewsHour has dared to comment on the extreme state of domestic wealth inequality.  A few others in the commercial media have also, apparently, received authorization to mention the story, even if only in passing. 

"Received authorization?"  Yes.  There is very little reason to presume that the well paid "news" industry would have wandered into such an incendiary topic solely on their own initiative.  The oligarchs in charge have understood that the story will be most manageable if delicately "touched on" before the "reporting focus" moves back to more soporific "news" and relentless propaganda.

In America, things like this happen when the "elephant in the living room" misses the "cat box."

One early victim of the nearly completed, domestic wealth redistribution is seen in the American justice system.  It's not surprising that oligarchs regard the subversion and domination of the traditional "rule of law" idea to be foundational for the remainder of their scheme.  For this posting, MeanMesa wants to consider this not with any sort of lamentation comparing it to the "good old days" here so much as one comparing it to what is happening abroad, in this case, the Arab Spring.

Once "boiled down to the bones," domestic wealth redistribution to the top percentiles enjoys -- at least in the corporate media -- a uniquely different "label" than its Arab Spring counterpart.  Importantly, that difference seems to be primarily one of sophistication.  Domestic wealth redistribution, hosted by the now dysfunctional justice system, can be masqueraded as not only legal, but reassuringly consistent with very poorly defined, unexamined economic and political ideals.

In the countries of the Arab Spring, the meat handed "redistribution" of vast wealth to the old crony driven oligarchies had been blatantly corrupt.  The powerful became rich while everyone else simply endured it.  Only a few fleeting, superficial efforts were made to imply that the process was, somehow, consistent with minor complications such as local, "theoretical" Constitutions or traditional, national, cultural ideals.

Before the Arab Spring in these Arab states, a casual interview with a man on the streets would have produced a quiet, yet firmly stoic depiction of state of the local system as "just one of those things that we have to live with" or else.  Few of the locals would have bothered to consider them "legal" or "not legal" because such judgements would have meant very little.  On the other hand, the "or else" part could be quite violent, immediate and compelling.

Economic systems prior to the uprisings were, simply put, corrupt, and everyone knew it.  In lucid moments of honesty, neither the "captive population" nor the prospering oligarchs would have disputed this conclusion.  Further, the same "captive population" would have wasted not a single minute imagining that the "local justice system," for obvious reasons, was ever going to do anything whatsoever to ever rectify the situation, that is, level the playing field.

Prior to the Arab Spring, "national justice systems" were primarily charged with maintaining the both the incessant wealth extraction and the passivity and suppression of the "extractees" for the benefit of the "extractors."  Here in the US, although the outcome was direly similar, the process was more complex because it had to be more or less "legal" all along the way.

"Breaking the Camel's Back" - It Can't Happen Here

Set conveniently -- although also suspiciously -- aside from the "main list" of causes which are reported to have initiated the Arab Spring, raw, savage, economic corruption played an inescapably large part in triggering the uprising.  Americans found the alternative explanations of ideology, politics and culture more palatable than sheer corruption, but MeanMesa has to conclude that "hungry bellies" were the factor which finally tipped the scale from calm to change.

The decades of wealth extraction had simply left the populations so stressed that while these other, more intellectual forms of torment offered equally intellectual explanations, the "trigger finger" sat firmly on what could appear on the dinner table.  There seemed to be plenty to go around, but it was clearly not "going around."  It was. specifically, not going around to the people on the streets.

Domestically, along with the decrepit Arab oligarchic thugs, our US oligarchs were also drawing a few troubled breaths of their own -- apparently enough to authorize a re-framed domestic news reporting in an unquestionably, yet understandably, suspicious way.  Their own historical extraction schemes had created a domestic wealth inequality far too comparable to the ones which had instigated the Arab Spring so they authorized the media to report on the matter, but, just a little.

The US "Land of Opportunity" - Think of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Syria (chart source)

One important point is that the outrages represented in the chart above could have only been made possible with a sufficient "cover" from the US justice system.  Of course, all sorts of "looting schemes" and political machinations were directly involved, but all through the course of the scheme's execution, judicial challenges had to be subverted for its success.

At this point, the "Bottom 90%" noted in the chart of US population and the corresponding "Bottom 90%" in the countries of the Arab Spring are sharing the same "life jacket."  Somewhat reassuringly, the respective "Top 1%" and "Next Richest 9%" of both the US and the countries of the Arab Spring are also sharing the "same life jacket," even though for both of them, these traditional "life jackets""not particularly buoyant" gold, and jewels.

Both parties -- that is, both those at the top and at the bottom -- of the US "condition" have seen the violent, bloody remedy unfolding in the Arab countries, and, no matter how hard one tries to avoid it, sooner or later the similarities begin to map themselves into the domestic frame.

What has previously been "unthinkable" has begun to be "thinkable."

The wealth of the thuggish dictators who have fallen in the Arab Spring enjoyed -- even so recently as a week before they were dragged from their palaces -- a passive image of acceptability and legitimacy for their purloined riches.  In the domestic case we find a strikingly similar situation.

There may be a few carefully orchestrated lamentations about the rapacious wealth redistribution in the United States, but underlying such stories is the lingering presumption that either "nothing can be done" or that "these oligarchs deserve to keep what they have."  That is, although the situation is deplorable, it must be corrected by precisely the same deplorable system which made it possible in the first place.

This idea has at least as much merit as Syrian dictator Assad's most recent promises for "reform."

The Syrian case is a good example.  So far, while relaxing on his journey to oblivion, Assad has not been caught in a moment of sincere terror which led him to rip out the gold plated faucets in his private coach and hurl them to the starving masses trying to stop his train.  His intransigent oligarchic counterparts in the US have taken an equally self-destructive decision.

Oh, What An Unexpected Difference
a Week Can Make

The weeks just keep on coming -- both in sunny pre-Arab Spring spots such as Syria and in the United States as well.  The troubling questions now sprout like dandelions in the pumpkin patch.

Can the wealth of the United States be, once again, redistributed -- this time downward -- in time to avoid our own Arab Spring?  Is there a point where the parties simply quit negotiating in favor of far more direct action?

Right away we're back to the "unthinkable" versus "thinkable" solution sets.

MeanMesa intends to continue postings on this subject until "all the bases are covered."  History clearly has no intention of simply stopping before new text books must be written.