Thursday, August 04, 2011

Little Noticed In This "Arab Spring"


While the world has been focused on the anti-government movements that sprang up during the Arab Spring, the largest protests in Israeli history have been sweeping the country for the past two months, threatening to destabilize the government with calls for extensive change.

The protests began with a Facebook petition over the cost of cottage cheese. They now include a litany of demands, including a return to the days when the government took a more active role in subsidizing costs. Protesters also want changes in the tax system, more subsidized government housing and more spending on health and education.

Last weekend, more than 150,000 people participated in a nationwide march to protest high housing costs. The organizers are calling for another march this weekend and promising an even larger turnout.

Israeli officials admit surprise at the strength and staying power of the protesters, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded this week by canceling a scheduled increase in the price of gasoline that was to have gone into effect Tuesday.

That's not popcorn popping, that's the sound of the heads of neo-conservatives and right wing Zionist bloggers like Pam Atlass exploding.

In a time of austerity measures in America and much of Europe, tiny Israel is deciding, yes, we the people need more.

In fairness, Israel is a nation built on socialist values. As a small island of Judaism in a larger hostile environment, people who are crammed together learn the importance of looking out for one another.

Here in America, we could have adopted the same basic moral values, but chose instead to live with the romantic illusion of "rugged individualism."

Bollocks, as the British would say. "No man is an island," as John Donne put it. Opportunity in America is defined as the culmination of the tribe fostering the one. No one gets rich in this nation on his own, and our tax codes and social constructs ought to recognize this. For behind every rich person in this nation lies an entire community and network of people who work to support his or her opportunities. 

And since greed drives the acquisition of wealth, you can guaran-damn-tee he or she ain't rewarding those folks adequately.

America stopped being about "fairness" a long time ago. It stopped being about opportunity more recently, but still, the barriers to entry in any market are in direct violation of the basic principles of laissez faire economics put down by Adam Smith (who believed in soaking the rich, by the way.)

That kind of rugged individualism, where a person through the sweat of his own brow and the dirt under his fingernails, could carve out a modest life for himself that allowed him to be free of working as an indentured servant on someone else's farm, that kind of rugged individualism one can admire. But it's not the rugged individualism people think of today.

It's not the rugged individualism of free enterprise and competition. Now, markets close to competition. Companies will patent everything in sight, including your own DNA, to claim rights to them. Try "going Galt" when you leave your DNA everywhere.

Today, if you don't wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, you're a rugged individualist. An idiot, but an RI nonetheless. Note that you're middle class enough to *afford* the motorcycle in the first place. You were not someone's slave who suddenly freed himself through dint of hard work and savings.

Americans have a very hard lesson to learn. We are not individuals. We pretend we can be. And in some small ways, we can be, but not in ways that matter.
A friend of mine said to me recently, "You can be a slave to the corporatocracy under Republicans or a slave to government under the Democrats." There's at least some truth to the latter, and a lot of truth to the former-- altho I challenged him to show me how he could be a slave under Democrats. I got a lot of talk about Spain. Not sure it was relevant.
We are slaves. Nearly all of us earn a living making someone else wealthy.
A few of us earn part of our living making someone else wealthy, and part of our living siphoning wealth off other people: in other words, with an economy that is effectively a zero-sum game, you are either being sucked dry or sucking someone else dry. Neither is a particularly pleasant moral position to take.
That the corporatocracy has dug it's siphons so deeply into our society was an inevitable outgrowth of Republican policies (and sadly, many Democratic ones, too.)
For my part, I'd rather be a slave to a government that at least once in a while has to get my authorization to enslave me, and that every so often, gets overruled. It sure beats an autocracy of boards of directors and CEOs with no fealty to shareholders, much less other stakeholders like employees or vendors.
Americans could learn a lesson from the Israeli people. When the notion of fairness goes out the window, the best strategy is not to be more antisocial, but less.