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Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

Sanatorum Dropping Out

In Democracy, Elections, The United States on April 10, 2012 at 6:37 pm

It looks like Santorum is dropping out (finally). He had an interesting, crazy run, but it looks like Republicans finally accepted Romney.

Now I’m wondering what Ron Paul will do, if anything. It will be interesting to watch it unfold.

Gingrich should quit, actually he should have threw in the towel a long time ago. But looks like his long-term friend is ready to accept Romney.

The Republican Implosion

In Democracy, Elections, The United States on April 5, 2012 at 2:01 pm

I’m waiting to see who else gets kicked off the island, paraphrasing President Obama on the Tonight Show, when asked when he would start his campaign.

And that’s true. Everyone who has been involved or even cared to follow the Republican Primary knows it has been a circus. And a circus is putting it mildly.

With all the eccentric personalities, the lead changes, the absolutely crazy assertions that some candidates made, makes quite a few people think that the Republican Party is full of lunatics. Not really. But it does reveal something interesting.

Let’s be clear. The American take all system cannot possibly allow for a third party. Money, resources, and energy are at stake for the race to the top. But it does make you think.

With the big win in Wisconsin, many Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief that perhaps this thing is over. Yes, they probably do not like Mitt Romney, view him as being the best of the worst, but at least this thing is coming to an end. Not quite.

Newt Gingrich has vowed to fight on, and so has Santorum, in a last ditch effort to take as many delegates as possible. Romney is the obvious winner, and now we are in for a power struggle, back room deals deciding who gets what cabinet or position should Romney be elected. This is the danger for many Moderate Republicans who have a distaste for social conservatism; a simple repeat of the 2008 elections where the moderate McCain bowed down to conservative pressure and appointed a neo-conservative female (something that, believed at the time, covered all the bases) as Vice President, which ultimately cost him the election. There is a large debate at the moment, even if it is just a tiny thought in the back of your mind, that the Republican party is finished, or on a long, slow slide toward the dark abyss.

Not necessarily.

For we forgot one individual who is still in the race. Ron Paul. He is the great force of nature that everyone should be scared of. He has been steadily picking up delegates as well, and on top of that, he has a very loyal base. The biggest question everyone should be thinking about, is which way is he going to turn? Will he run as an independent, and if so, is he taking votes from independents who are disenchanted with the previous four years away from President Obama or is he going to appeal to those moderate, fiscally conservative Republicans that make-up Romney’s staying power. There is a large cloud looming over the country, we just do not know where it will rain, or where lightning will strike.

The Republicans are struggling, but it’s a familiar one. Two powerful ideologies, some even argue that are fixated on opposite poles, are always in conflict. Fiscal responsibility and social conservatism. The Republicans are well adapted at handling this beast. They did it during the last primary where Mitt Romney quickly bowed out and allowed John McCain to move forward as he was picking up delegates and becoming more popular with voters. But before has it been like this? Where so many different ideologies have combated each other until the bitter end? One can argue that even at this point, with the flip-flopping and the flag waving of who is the most conservative, the race to the middle, and then the race back to the far right, that this is actually pretty unique. At least in its duration.

And this is where Ron Paul comes in. Though Republican (who used to be a Democrat) he has not been afraid to come out as the black sheep, even being booed at debates, he sticks to his guns and is very stubborn. The Republicans have a choice. Ron Paul will more than likely run as a third candidate, he has the support, the money, and the energy. There are many who state that this is a danger to Obama but I highly disagree. It’s more of a danger to the Republicans. Santorum won a lot of delegates and he has some bargaining power. Plus he plays into the traditional struggle between the moderates and the conservatives. Romney may have no choice but to give Santorum the VP slot and that would be a disaster. If the Republicans want a shot in November they would be wise to give it to Ron Paul. That would do the most damage to Obama and take a powerful third contender out of the race, giving the Independent votes to the Republicans. Plus if Gingrich decides to run as a third candidate, he will probably just be ignored, vying for attention like that kid you knew who wanted to be popular but never had a chance.

But, if you are someone who has followed politics for quite a while, it becomes second nature. The characters may change but the story stays the same. And so does the ending.

Lessons learned from the past

In Democracy, Europe, NATO, Russia on September 14, 2009 at 8:02 am

A friend of mine passed along a link to The Iron Curtain Diaries, a project undertaken by journalists, photographers, and a cartoonist who travelled along the former “iron curtain,” interviewing people about their feelings of the past and their prospects for the future. I’m usually not a big fan of flash sites, but this one is well designed and very informative. Plus it’s very easy to access media content, such as interviews, video and text and it’s all streamlined. It’s definitely worth a look and a showcase in how the internet can create an interactive experience and give museums a run for their money.

But bouncing on that, it seems academia has been in an old “Eastern Europe” kick. It probably has something to do with the fact that the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall is right around the corner, but regardless it’s useful to point out a few articles to spark your interest, in case any of you has or wish to have some knowledge on the subject.

The first is an article straight out of Foreign Policy by Edward Lucas. Edward Lucas is one, if not the lead scholar of the region formerly known as the Soviet Union, which is illustrated by the fact that he’s a regular contributer to the Economist. He has a new book out called The New Cold War, which seems to be getting some good reviews and I did put it on my “to-read” list. The article outlines many of the problems that the Baltic states, (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) are facing in terms of large amount of government debt, corruption, and a tourist industry that is nearly collapsing. The article is very informative, and goes beyond politics and economics and brings to light some interesting cultural tidbits about the countries. First, these states were considered to be the “winners” of the post-Cold War who were able to quickly transform their economies from one driven by a strong, central government to a market economy. This was no easy task, and, as Lucas outlines, some of the Baltic countries were more successful than the others. Unfortunately they were hit very hard by the financial crisis, exposing their high government debt and had to quickly rely on a partial bailout from the European Union. The second point is that with their collapse and fear of them becoming failed states, it would be quite easy for Russia to regain a strong foothold in the region and bully them away from the West. Yes they are in NATO and the European Union, but, here my last point, it surprises me that more attention hasn’t being given to the state of affairs in the Baltic states, as they not only have a high strategic geopolitical importance, but could serve a precedent of a country, or countries, failing in the EU. If they do fall and are gobbled up by an aggressive Russia, what message could this send to other states who view the European Union as a given to ensure their national security? What about new states that are currently entering the mix, like Croatia (Slovenia has finally dropped its stance of blocking any chance of it entering) or the rest of the former Yugoslavia who view the road to the EU as a guarantee for prolonged peace? Second, the thesis of the article seems to be that these countries are disappearing. Not literally of course, but no-one seems to be paying any attention to them or taking into account the seriousness of the situation. Whether it’s NATO who, Lucas argues, never really took to providing the Baltic states a competent military presence in face of a Russian threat or tourists who seem to have abandoned the region (apparently it’s so bad, that employees in the service industry decided not to show up for work), it seems as if the region is in danger of disappearing.

To be sure, the old Eastern bloc has come a very long way since 1989. Many have transitioned to market led economies, are democracies, follow (more or less) the rule of law, and are success stories. However, it is a fickle thing as the financial crisis has demonstrated and it is easier to destroy than to create. The EU has its hands full to be sure. Hungary has proven to be very insolvent and is in deep financial trouble. The Czech Republic and Poland have their troubles, but from the material I’ve read and at least from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem to be as dire as what Lucas portrays in the Baltic region.

What impresses me the most and makes me very hopeful for the current state of the world, is that if one lesson I have learned from these accounts of success and stories form the Iron Curtain Diaries, it is that there exists a possibility to put aside differences and high points of tension that are historic and culturally deep. The Economist singles out the relations between the Ukraine and Poland being very close and productive, despite both of their turbulent histories and the autocracies they have committed against each other. They managed to create a dialogue, acknowledge what happened, and are moving forward together.

This proves that it’s worth being hopeful and something we should think about as the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall approaches. Despite war or societies being cut off by oppressive regimes, there is still hope. Not for it to end, but for the time afterwards, when all is said and done and the smoke has been cleared from the battlefield. It is possible to rebuild and heal any scars.

Et tu Brute?

In Culture, Democracy, Economics, The United States on September 6, 2009 at 8:52 am

Accountability, transparency and change. Such were the promises of Obama during his campaign and during the first few months of his presidency. Change would be transparent, and those who committed past transgressions would be held accountable. The biggest flaw? He relied too much on the general public, and sincerely believed that as they wanted change (hence them electing him into office) they would also agree with pretty much everything he proposed.

I was thrilled that within a few days of his officially taking up office, he denounced Guantanamo and stated that it must be closed and quickly proposed a brand new stimulus package to jump start the economy. He cautioned that decisions must be made quickly and a stimulus package must not be developed within the “politics as usual” mentality. Shortly thereafter, he proposed an examination of U.S. practices regarding the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as water-boarding, and again asserted that it would now be U.S. policy to follow the Geneva conventions. Such times for Obama were grand and he was riding on enormous public support, unprecedented by a newly arrived President almost reaching the 70% approval mark while coasting nicely above 60% in the Gallup Polls. Then the tide began to turn.

It started with photos that Obama decided to release regarding the victims of water-boarding techniques, and peaked with information regarding large bonuses being paid to banks and large financial institutions that received bailout money. Obama was wise in ceasing the release of additional photos, as it would undermine the U.S. intelligence gathering machine, forcing such individuals to constantly analyze an order based upon whether or not it might become illegal in the future. The bonuses, however, are another story. Indeed, he was quick to use very explicit language regarding the giving of such bonuses, but the damage was done and the government was in a bind based upon the legality of being able to actually stop the bonuses form being paid. However, popular support was still rather high for Obama, holding a higher than 60% approval rating. Regardless, much political capital was already paid out and many proposals, such as the stimulus package, were largely uni-partisanly based and it finally caught up with him. Nevertheless, feeling confident and seeing his approval rating still above 60% through the month of July, the Obama administration believed they had the ability to initiate one of the most ambitious changes in the first few months of Obama’s presidency. Health care reform.

Oh how those three little words have proven to dramatically change Obama’s position in the political spectrum. Though it may take a student of brain surgery to actually understand the bill, grouped together with dramatic accusations of what the bill will do to private insurance companies on both sides of the center, the compromise of getting rid of the public option all together threatens to undermine the Obama presidency less than a year he is in office.

If only he would have thrown a little bit of a bone to the Republicans.

Everything that he set out to do along with the energy in which he did it, has climaxed to this point. Though touting the need for bipartisanship and the need to stay away from “politics as usual”, it sadly has turned out to be quite the opposite. The Democrats for once took advantage of a reeling Republican party who did not know its own identity, as well as having a majority in Congress, to state loudly that the tables have turned and refused to give the Republicans any concessions regarding the stimulus package and crammed in any provisions in bills that the Republicans might have blocked in the years before. Unfortunately they picked the wrong time to do it.

True enough, America’s health care is in a dire state. This has been established. What is lacking is an honest dialogue by both parties, as well as a clear, sophisticated debate on the issue. The general public has reared its ugly head and accused Obama of Nazism, a criticism that is highly unintelligent and unwarranted. Nevertheless, the inability to work with the other party, despite it collapsing internally, has finally came around. The public option, which is a critical component of the bill, is in danger, not because of it necessarily being bad or even “evil” as many of its critics will jump at the bit to explain, but because the Obama administration and the Democrats failed to sell it and woo private insurance companies and the Republicans that it is actually a good thing. Instead, reliance upon a majority in Congress as well as a large public support base gave false hopes to the Obama administration that it could get away with seamlessly passing health care reform based solely upon the Democrat’s vision of what it should look like. To put it simply, they became lazy and the rooster has finally come home to roost.

American government was not built to be fast moving, in order to implement any type of reform or law instantaneously, especially when it is a controversial one. Instead, America’s government institutions were built to move slowly, check what the other is doing, and provide a forum of sophisticated debate on proposed legislature. What has been lacking is the latter, and the American population is in the process of doing a 180º turn and populist movements are jumping on the opportunity.

The greatest mistake was that Obama did not take to heart the Shakespearean concept of what a general public is. They may love you in the present, but it does not take much, nor a lot of time, for their mood to change, and the politicians that represent them to obligingly turn around, and reveal their hidden daggers.