Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Government You Deserve

I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking, "I told you so". As last year's mid-terms approached and the crop of far Right candidates were looking more and more likely to win big, I saw it coming. Everyone should have, but Americans were, as usual, impatient and fickle. Two years of the Obama administration and Democrats in control (Senate excluded, of course) hadn't magically levitated us out of a deep recession yet, so obviously it was time to reverse the gears again. Well America did switch horses in the middle of the race and what a fine mess it's creating.

Republicans retook control of the House and promised that Jobs were the top priority. So what did they do with their first bills? A symbolic 'repeal' of Health Reform, which had no chance of passing the Senate or being signed by the President. Followed by . . . wait for it, two bills focused on abortion. And not just the usual conservative anti-abortion style legislation. No, they decided that the best way to restrict abortions was to try and redefine what 'rape' actually meant! They actually tried to do it by making a distinction between 'rape' and 'forcible rape'! Let me quote from the New Oxford American Dictionary: Rape (noun)"forcing another person to have sexual intercourse with [them] without their consent and against their will, esp. by the threat or use of violence against them." I'm pretty sure that would be 'forcible rape'. I'm sure if one of these Republicans had a friend or family member who was raped, they would consider that 'forcible'. Welcome to the Republican controlled House, where we redefine the English language to fit our social policies!

Remember those promises newly minted Speaker Boehner and his colleagues made to 'fix' the House when they took over? Such as citing Constitutional precedent in all bills? Promise broken from day one. Promise to cut $100 Billion from the budget in their first year? Reality finally sets in and that number is dropping fast. Promise Broken. A promise to institute an 'Open Rules' process on all legislation so there would be debate and a chance to propose amendments? Promise broken day one. It took them over a month before they finally got around to keeping this promise, but I wouldn't hold my breath on it being repeated after that.

What about State governments? A wave of Republican Governors were voted into office. Well, in Wisconsin we have Governor Scott Walker who has decided to address a budget shortfall by slashing public worker pay and benefits. But that's just the semi-normal part of the legislation. Another part of the proposed bill would strip many unions of their collective bargaining rights. A move that has zero budgetary effect, but certainly a large political effect. Rachel Maddow put it well on a recent show where she noted that Wisconsin is not in tough budgetary straits. Or they weren't until Governor Walker gave away about $140 Million in business tax incentives immediately after taking office. A number that is eerily close, oddly enough, to the current state shortfall. So while Governor Walker is attempting to make this a budgetary crises, what this really is about is politics. Union busting, not to save money, but as a direct attack on organizations who generally support Democratic candidates. Think this is just my misinterpretation? Then why did Gov. Walker exempt local police, firefighters and state troopers from his labor union attacks? Oddly enough, these are the three groups who supported his election campaign. I'm sure that's just a coincidence though, right?

So welcome, America, to your newly elected conservative government! I just hope you weren't actually counting on them to help with the jobs crisis or the economy. After all, why work to address the 9% unemployment rate and quickly widening wage gap when you have the chance to redefine rape and strip unions of their bargaining rights? Welcome America, not to the government you wanted, but rather to the government you deserve!

Update: If you would like a good followup to the Wisconsin story, I suggest this.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Joy of Dictators

The current demonstrations in Egypt, hot on the heels of the ones that brought down Tunisia's government, put a glaring spotlight on America's foreign relations split personality. The US has always talked boldly about the need for more democracy around the world. It's a long running theme in our public persona. But this democratic fervor is at odds with our long history of supporting authoritarian regimes.

Don't get me wrong, compared with some of America's other past and present 'allies', Egypt is tame. After all, they are the only Arab nation to have formally accepted Israel's right to exist, signed a peace treaty with them and have maintained diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Compared to many other regional powers, Egypt is fairly moderate. But the fact remains that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has held power for nearly 30 years behind the fiction of elections that always awarded him victory by absurd margins. You'd think these authoritarian regimes would learn after a while. If they really want to keep the illusion that they are being re-elected repeatedly, at least keep the numbers realistic. Any margin over about 60% is pretty much a guarantee of corruption yet Mubarak 'won' consistently with margins of 80% or more. Might as well drop the pretense and exchange the title 'President' for 'Dictator'. He could at least claim the high ground on honesty.

The root of the problem is that as much as America likes Democracies in theory, we find them rather problematic to deal with in practice. A great example of this was in the build up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The US requested that Turkey let us move a large contingent of troops through their country to enable an advance into Iraq from the north. This tidy plan came apart, however, when Turkey's democratic government voted to deny the request forcing a delay as these troops were diverted to the Gulf. You see, the problem with a democracy is that it's not always predictable. Just look at the US Congress if you doubt that. But a dictatorship! Now that's a government deals are made of! There's nothing more efficient in foreign policy than to be able to sit down in a single office that can encompass the entire ruling government. Only in an authoritarian regime can the word of a few, or even just one, official guarantee the nation's lock-step agreement.

This is why the initial US response to the popular demonstrations in Egypt was so neutral. Ideologically we are strongly attracted to the Egyptian's calls for reform and a representative government. On the other hand we would lose a reasonably friendly partner with which we have a long history. Not to mention that any new government would be a rather chancy roll of the dice. What kind of government would replace Mubarak? Would they be more fundamentalist? Would they be friendly to America or not? We still have vivid memories from the late 70's when the US backed Shah of Iran was overthrown in a popular revolution and it didn't turn out too well for us as a nation or for the Americans held hostage for 444 days.

But this is what happens when we take the easy route and throw our support behind strong-arm regimes while turning a blind eye to their iron handed rule. Another outcome of this convenient arrangement is when a one time ally becomes an enemy. Anyone remember that in the early 80's we were buddies with a gentleman by the name of Saddam Hussein? Another one that didn't turn out so well. Personally I think it's time to stop taking the easy road when it comes to international relations because, just as in most things, easy often carries a rather steep price tag when all is said and done.