Iran’s Nuclear Program for Domestic Energy or a War of Annihilation?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 28th, 2011

 There was a Vibration…in Iran’s Reactor in Bushehr

Yet another setback for Iran’s nuclear program.  Could be thanks to Stuxnet.  Or simply bad luck.  Whatever the cause, something damaged a cooling pump (see Russians Say Iran’s Reactor Has Damage to Cooling Pump by William Broad posted 2/28/2011 on The New York Times).

In a statement, Russia’s state nuclear energy corporation, Rosatom, which is building the reactor in Bushehr, Iran, said it found damage to one of the reactor’s four main cooling pumps…

The Russian statement on Monday said the trouble arose as pressure mounted in the reactor during tests. The pump vibrated and joints broke, the statement said. As a result, metal shards smaller than three millimeters — or less than a tenth of an inch — could have shot into cooling pipes and lodged in fuel assemblies.

“The joints broke down under conditions of high vibration and pulsing pressure,” the statement said.

Cooling pumps?  Reactor tests?  Vibration?  Pressure?  This all sounds kind of familiar.  Where have I heard this before?

Oh yeah.  That’s where I heard that before.  The movie that killed the American nuclear power industry.  It didn’t help that they released the movie just days before the accident at Three Mile Island.  No.  Nuclear power was dead in the United States in the Seventies.  While pretty much the rest of the world expanded their nuclear power programs. 

And then there was a China-Syndrome-like accident.  But not in America.  The world’s worst nuclear accident happened in the Soviet Union.  The Ukraine, to be precise.  In 1986.  At the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.  Reactor number four.  Radioactive fallout covered much of the western Soviet Union and Europe.  It was pretty bad.  The Americans, on the other hand, had no such accident.  And yet the Soviet Union/Russia continues its nuclear power program.  Even exporting it to Iran.  But we shouldn’t have anything to worry about.  I mean, the China Syndrome, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl were all based on 1970s technology.  This is 2011.  The technology is even better today.  So there is little to worry about with the safety of that new Iranian nuke plant (besides their making an atomic bomb, that is).

The statement said the failed pump dated to the 1970s, when West Germans began building the reactor. The Russians, who took over in 1995, have said for years that integrating the old German equipment posed more challenges than initially anticipated.

Then again, perhaps we should worry.  Just a little.  And there’s that whole atomic bomb thing, too, to worry about.  Let’s not forgot about that.

Iran Threatening to pull out of the Racist 2012 London Olympics

In other Iranian news, they’re threatening to boycott the 2012 London Olympics (see Iran threatens to boycott 2012 London Olympics because of logo by Cindy Boren posted 2/28/2011 on The Washington Post).

According to an Iranian official, the logo, with its blocky, abstract rendering of “2012,” is racist because it appears to spell the word “Zion,” a biblical term for Jerusalem, rather than 2012.

When I look at the logo I don’t see ‘Zion‘.  I barely see ‘2012’.  But knowing that it’s supposed to be ‘2012’, I can see ‘2012’.  But I just don’t see ‘Zion’.

By the way, these same Iranians?  They’re working on a nuclear program.  But there’s nothing to worry about.  Sure, they can use enriched uranium to build an atomic bomb.  But who do they hate enough to use an atomic bomb on?  So what’s to worry?  Incidentally, the reason they’ll boycott the Olympics because the logo looks like ‘Zion’?  Because they absolutely hate the state of Israel and Jews everywhere.  Wait a minute.  That could be worrisome.  And then there’s that other thing.  How they have repeatedly said that they want to wipe Israel off the map of the world.  You know, on second thought, it would appear that there is a lot to worry about a nuclear Iran.  Such as a war of annihilation.

Free Electricity too Costly without Massive Government Subsidies

Iran sits on some of the richest oil reserves in the world.  They have an abundance of energy at their finger tips.  Yet they pursue a nuclear program for their domestic energy needs.  So while Iran pursues a nuclear program with some possible nefarious motives, what does the U.S. do for its domestic energy needs?  Builds windmills.  And solar panels (see D.C. reneges on aid to install solar panels by David Nakamura posted 2/27/2011 on The Washington Post).

Dozens of District residents who installed solar panels on their homes under a government grant program promoting renewable energy have been told they will not be reimbursed thousands of dollars as promised because the funds were diverted to help close a citywide budget gap.

The funds were diverted to close a citywide budget gap?  Probably to fund pension and health care benefits for public sector workers.

That came as a shock to Brian Levy, 35, who received a letter from Tulou on Jan. 25 informing him that the city would be unable to pay him the $12,200 it had promised last September. In October, Levy had hired a contractor, Green Brilliance, to install a $27,500 solar energy system on the roof…

Ivan Frishberg, an environmental advocate and a member of Capitol Hill’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission, installed a $34,000 solar system on his home, only to be told that the city would not be able to reimburse him the $11,000 it had promised.

Well no wonder.  If you have an average electric bill of $200  a month, you can see the abysmal rate of returns on those investments.  Assuming you get all of your electricity free after this investment, it would take over 11 years for Mr. Levy to break even.  And over 14 years for Mr. Frishberg.  Clearly, adding solar panels to your house is not a wise investment.    If it were, the government wouldn’t have to bribe you to do it.  With other people’s tax dollars.  All the while cheaper sources of energy are available.  Such as coal.  And nuke plants.

We Build Solar Panels to Save the Planet while letting Iran build a bomb to Destroy It

I doubt many believe Iran is building nuclear plants for domestic energy needs.  And I think most will agree that they are interested in acquiring an atomic bomb.  And yet there are those who say we can’t interfere with a sovereign state’s nuclear ambition.  We can shut down an industry in the United States.  But a madman in the Middle East with a festering hatred of Israel and America, why, he can have his nukes.  Even though he’s sitting on vast oil reserves.  But in America, not only can we not have nuclear power, we can’t even drill for oil.  Instead, we must build windmills.  And solar panels.

Is it me?  Or does something seem wrong here?

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Hugo Chavez Supports Muammar Gadhafi, neither Provides for their People

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 27th, 2011

 Hollywood is just Gaga for Hugo Chavez

Hollywood loves Hugo Chavez.  At least some of those on the far left.  They like what he’s doing down there in Venezuela.  Some call his socialism real democracy.  And some just find him dead sexy (see Hugo Chavez’s Celebrity Fans by Bridget Johnson posted on About.com World News).

Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez may be reviled in many corners for his socialist policies, crackdowns on press freedom, strident anti-U.S. attitudes, and friendships with rogue regimes such as Iran and North Korea, but he has friends in the left corner of Hollywood. Just who are the celebrities who defend and even laud this highly controversial figure? Here are their pictures — and their praises of Chavez…

[Sean] Penn raised eyebrows even further in March 2010, when he said on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” that media critics who refer to Chavez as a dictator should be jailed: “There should be a bar for which one goes to prison for these kinds of biases,” Penn said. Chavez publicly thanked Penn afterward for defending him from his critics…

[Oliver] Stone added that Chavez was “a great man,” and said “I’m a fan.” Chavez joked that Stone was President George W. Bush’s envoy on the 2007 trip. In January 2009, after completing filming documentary footage in Latin America, Stone said of Chavez, “The pure energy of the man is intoxicating. This is what I like about Chavez: He’s a big man, he thinks big … Bolivar is back…”

Supermodel Naomi Campbell — who has a temper-laced reputation of being no angel herself — came away from her November 2007 meeting with Hugo Chavez calling him a “rebel angel.”… She asked Chavez if he would ever pose shirtless like judo master and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and Chavez said, “Why not? Touch my muscles!”…”I hate Bush,” Campbell told the Brazilian media just before receiving an invitation from Caracas — even though she said she wasn’t there to be political. “I found him to be fearless, but not threatening or unreasonable,” she wrote. “I hope Venezuela’s relations with America will improve in the immediate future…”

“No matter what the greatest tyrant in the world, the greatest terrorist in the world, George W. Bush says, we’re here to tell you: Not hundreds, not thousands, but millions of the American people … support your revolution,” [Harry] Belafonte told Chavez during the broadcast. Belafonte — who also offered a hearty “Viva la Revolucion!” — said media were falsely painting Chavez as a “dictator,” when in fact, he said, Venezuela has democracy and citizens are “optimistic about their future…”

So Chavez is a great man doing great things for his people.  Anyone who criticizes him should be jailed.  And, to protect our women from uncontrollable desires, he should keep his shirt on.  Because the ladies apparently find him dead sexy.  According to these political experts, Venezuela should be a paradise.  A veritable El Dorado.

Venezuela, Socialist Utopia, can’t Build Houses for their People

In El Dorado one would expect to find a plethora of affordable housing.  Why, there must be a house for every man, woman and child.  Because Chavez cares about the people.  Not businesses or their filthy profits.  So how abundant is affordable housing in Venezuela?  Well, not quite so abundant (see Thousands awaiting homes pose challenge for Chavez by Ian James posted 2/27/2011 on The Washington Post).

The floods and mudslides of November and December exacerbated Venezuela’s already severe shortage of affordable housing. Chavez, who is criticized by opponents for failing to address the issue during 12 years in power, is now trying to turn a monumental challenge into a political opportunity – promising to accelerate construction projects and finish 150,000 new homes this year.

His success or failure is likely to affect support for his 2012 re-election bid. His new focus on housing is also allowing Chavez to return to one of his time-tested political strategies: creating expectations among the poor to energize his base, just as problems from 28-percent inflation to violent crime have been taking a toll on his popularity.

You have to wonder what he’s waiting for after 12 years in power.  He’s for the people.  And the people need houses.  So what’s the deal?  Now he’s looking to reelection and promises “that if re-elected, he will build 2 million homes in the next six years.”  That’s over 300,000 per year.  More than twice his 150,000 new homes promised this year.  If he could don’t you think he would have already?  But he hasn’t.  Instead he gives his people runaway inflation.  And violent crime.

The Venezuelan Construction Chamber calculates that the housing deficit – based on a growing population and available housing – has grown from 1.1 million homes to 2 million homes during Chavez’s presidency. According to a tally by the chamber, Chavez’s government built about 284,000 homes between 1999 and 2010 – down sharply from 490,000 homes constructed by governments from 1989-98…

Chavez, meanwhile, has taken to visiting housing construction sites during his hours-long speeches. He has enlisted the help of companies from Russia, China, Belarus, Iran and Portugal to build apartment complexes, and has promised to erect a “great city” of civilian homes inside the Fort Tiuna military base. On hilltops between Caracas and the Caribbean Sea, construction has already begun on the first of 20,000 homes that are to make up a development called Caribia Socialist City.

Oh.  They need 2 million new homes right now.  Not in 6 years.  Considering he’s only built 284,000 new homes in the last decade (at a rate of 28,400 homes per year), he’s probably going to fail to deliver.  Again.  Perhaps Russia, China, Belarus, Iran and Portugal can help.  Or some local builders in any U.S. city.  Who can build in one city what he and the full force of his socialist state did throughout Venezuela.  In fact, they’ve built so many homes that the U.S. has a huge housing surplus.  Unlike in Venezuela.  But socialism’s failures do not trouble them.

“I’m sure we’re going to have our home soon,” said Gregoria Graterol, a 56-year-old hospital elevator operator who is staying with her two daughters and three grandchildren in a room with 16 other families.

She is among more than 3,000 evacuees living in dormitories, warehouses and a technical school at the center. Signs of Chavez’s socialist leanings are visible everywhere, in slogans such as “Against Imperialism” emblazoned on walls, along with images of Chavez, Fidel Castro and Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

What was that Harry Belafonte said?  Oh, yes.  Viva la Revolucion!

In Caracas, officials say they have been improving conditions in shelters by installing petroleum-based plastic partitions to give families more privacy. Soldiers turned away AP reporters from some of those shelters, saying military approval was required.

Just look at how much they care.  They’ve given partitions to families in the shelters for privacy.  Of course, George W. Bush gave trailers to the families made homeless by Hurricane Katrina.  But Chavez is the humanitarian.  Which is why Naomi Campbell calls Chavez an angel.  And hates George W. Bush.

“The hills are collapsing due to super-population,” Chavez said recently, suggesting some housing projects must be built outside the city. “There are too many people in Caracas.”

In the barrios, extended families of 10 people or more live crammed into a few rooms, and rents have been rapidly climbing.

Squatters have increasingly invaded and claimed abandoned buildings in recent years. Marwin Claro, 36, has been living in a once-vacant building owned by a bank in Caracas since she and other squatters broke in at 3 a.m. one morning in 2005, cutting the lock and talking their way past the security guards.

“There are many abandoned buildings,” Claro said. “So when people see those buildings, they have to go inside. I support that.”

Over-crowding in the barrios?  Squatters?  Abandoned buildings?  That doesn’t sound like a humanitarian utopia.  That sounds more like abject failure of a socialist state.  And Chavez’s solution to the overcrowding in Caracas is to get rid of people.  Brilliant.  What’s next?  Forced sterilization?

Chavez’s opponents say such maneuvers are intended to distract from his own failures. Chavez set a goal of providing 150,000 homes during his last re-election year in 2006, but fell far short at about 77,000 – many of which weren’t turned over to people until the following year.

Still, many in the shelters said they are thankful to Chavez and plan to vote for him next year. Looking out over the buckled street that now runs in front of her abandoned home, Maria Franco, 43, said sadly: “It doesn’t look like it was due to rain. It looks like it was an earthquake.”

“We hope they’ll solve our problems,” she said. “We have to have faith.”

Thankful for what?  The destruction of Venezuelan society?  Putting your faith in Chavez for 12 years has increased the housing deficit approximately 80%.  And this while the population grew approximately 14%.  When the housing deficit grows far greater than the population, it may be time to place your faith elsewhere.  If he stays in office much longer ever more Venezuelans may become homeless.  Or, at the least, shirtless.  And the champion of the descamisados just isn’t supposed to do that.

Hugo Chavez Stands behind Muammar al-Gadhafi

If you look past all the talk and see only his actions, Chavez doesn’t really care about his people.  But do you know who he does like? Here’s a hint.  He’s in the news right now (see Venezuela foreign minister urges dialogue in Libya by Christopher Toothaker, the Associated Press, posted 2/27/2011 on The Washington Post).

Chavez and Gadhafi have forged close ties. Last year, Venezuelan and Libyan officials signed numerous accords and Chavez gave Gadhafi a replica of the sword that once belonged to 19th-century independence hero Simon Bolivar.

During a speech to supporters on Sunday, Chavez scoffed at suggestions by his adversaries that protests similar to those sweeping the Middle East could occur in Venezuela. The self-proclaimed revolutionary vowed not to allow violent uprisings aimed at spurring his ouster, prompting applause from a crowd of red-clad supporters.

“We are not going to permit violence to erupt in Venezuela,” he said. “With our unity and work, we will make violence impossible.”

And he will do like his friends.  Cuba’s Fidel Castro.  Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  North Korea’s Kim Jong-il.  And, of course, Libya’s Muammar Gadhafi.  Who beat the snot out of anyone who dare rise up against the state.

Chavez has neither condemned nor defended efforts to quell the popular rebellion against Gadhafi’s rule, but he tacitly threw his support behind the Libyan leader on Saturday.

“I can’t say that I support or am in favor of or applaud all the decisions taken by any friend of mine in any part of the world,” Chavez said during a televised address.

I wonder if the Hollywood Left supports Gadhafi, too.  I mean, what’s a little democide?  Between friends.

Judged by the Company you Keep

Hugo Chavez is another in a long line of socialist despots that come along and charm those on the left.  Even while all those socialist utopias (Cuba, North Korea, the People’s Republic of China, the Soviet Union, etc.) were anything but utopian.  They suffered abject poverty.  Famine.  Political oppression.  But yet the Left has always been enamored with them.  Why?  The attention the despots give them?  A hatred of Western Civilization?  A hatred of laissez-faire capitalism?  Perhaps all of the above. 

People often say you judge someone by the company they keep.  Based on the company Chavez keeps, he’s not a good man.  And if he’s not, then what can we say about those who keep company with him? 

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Political Unrest in the Middle East and North Africa: Democracy in Action or an Extension of the Iranian Revolution?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 26th, 2011

Democracy Movements Sow the Seeds of Shariah Law

The Arab world is ablaze with democracy movements.  Which is creating disorder and chaos.  A most fertile ground for Shariah law to take root and grow (see AP’s Al-Qaida calls for revolt against Arab rulers posted 2/26/2011 on myway).

Al-Qaida’s offshoot in Yemen urged Muslims to revolt against Arab rulers and establish governments based on Islamic law, according to an audio tape posted Saturday on militant websites…

He also said toppling longtime rulers is not enough and that new governments must be established based on Islamic religious law, or Shariah.

“One tyrant goes, only to be replaced another who may fix for the people some of their worldly issues by offering job opportunities and increasing their income, but the greater problem remains,” al-Rubeish said, according to a translation provided by SITE.

This is how the Iranian Revolution ended in a rigid theocracy.  Nothing at all what those female college students wanted when protesting against the Shah.  But this is the danger of revolution.  Disorder and chaos tend to favor the less savory types.  People with ulterior motives.  Who never let a good crisis go to waste.

Big Trouble in Little Bahrain

Bahrain is ripe for chaos.  A majority Shiite population ruled by a Sunni minority.  Home to an American naval fleet.  Supported by Saudi Arabia who is seen as too friendly to the United States.  And now an exile returns home (see Key Shi’ite opposition leader returns to Bahrain by Adam Schreck, Associated Press, posted 2/26/2011 on The Washington Times).

A prominent Bahraini opposition leader returned home from exile Saturday and urged the Gulf kingdom’s rulers to back up promises of political reform with action.

The return of Hassan Mushaima, a senior Shi’ite figure, could mark a new phase for an anti-government movement in the tiny nation which is strategically important for the U.S. because it hosts the U.S. Navy‘s 5th Fleet.

Mr. Mushaima heads a Shi’ite group known as Haq, which is considered more hard-line than the main Shi’ite political bloc that has led two weeks of protests. Mr. Mushaima returned Saturday from several months of voluntary exile in London, with a stop in Lebanon.

A more hard-line Shiite?  Sort of like in Iran?  This reminds me of someone.  I seem to recall another opposition leader in exile who returned to Iran following that democratic revolution.  What was his name?  It’s on the tip of my tongue.  Who was that?  Oh, yes.  Now I remember.  Ayatollah Khomeini.  In exile he wanted but one thing.  For the Shah of Iran and his government to be overthrown.  (And he wanted to impose Shariah law but he didn’t tell the people about that.  He would surprise them with that one later.  After he seized power.)  Surely Mr. Mushaima wasn’t in exile for anything like this.

Mr. Mushaima had been among a group of Shi’ite activists accused of plotting to overthrow Bahrain‘s rulers.

Then again he could have been in exile for exactly the same thing.  But is this any cause for concern?

Bahrain is the first Gulf state to be thrown into turmoil by the Arab world’s wave of change. The unrest is highly significant for Washington because Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy‘s 5th Fleet, which is the Pentagon’s main counterweight against Iran’s widening military ambitions.

Well, as long as we have nothing to fear from Iran, there should be no problem.  And what has Iran been doing lately that should worry us?

Iran Working on the Ingredients to Build an Atomic Bomb

Iran has been trying to build an atomic bomb.  They deny this but they have begun enriching uranium.  And enriched uranium is an ingredient of an atomic bomb.  But we can take Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for his word, can’t we?  Sure, he denies the Holocaust.  And he wants to wipe Israel from the face of the planet.  And he oppresses his people.  Locks up dissidents.  But despite all that, then candidate Barack Obama said he would sit down with this man and talk with him.  So that must mean he’s a reasonable man.

Well, that.  Or Obama is woefully naive and ignorant of Middle East history.  Ahmadinejad is a threat and a loose cannon in the Middle East.  Everyone should be worried about him.  And not trust a single word he says (he supported the democracy movement in Egypt while cracking down on dissidents in Iran).  He’s up to something.  And a bad something, no doubt.  Others know this.  And have taken action to delay his atomic bomb making ability.  Many believe that these people launched the Stuxnet computer virus with the objective of interrupting the Iranian nuclear program.  This malware spun some of their uranium-enrichment centrifuges out of control, damaging them.  It would appear they are unloading the uranium fuel to make repairs, further delaying their ability to make an atomic bomb.

Some will object to this interference into a sovereign nation.  And some have criticized those in the West.  Who are we to say who can and cannot have a nuclear program?  Well, the West has never started a nuclear war.  It would appear that we can’t get the same kind of assurance out of Iran (see Iran nuclear plans: Bushehr fuel to be unloaded posted 2/26/2011 on BBC News Middle East).

The IAEA report – obtained by the BBC and made available online by the Institute for Science and International Security (Isis) – says Iran is “not implementing a number of its obligations.”

These include “clarification of the remaining outstanding issues which give rise to concerns about possible military dimensions to its nuclear programme”.

Six world powers are negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme, and the country is subject to United Nations Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.

Enriched uranium can be used for civilian nuclear purposes, but also to build atomic bombs.

The United States has been a nuclear power since 1945.  Who in the world today is worried about a U.S. nuclear first strike?  No one.  It’s not who we are.  And our history of being a nuclear power proves it.  Now who thinks Iran can be trusted with nuclear weapons like the U.S.?  Only those who see the world through the same prism as Iran.  Those people who want to see Israel and the United States destroyed.  Other, rational people know the world will be a more dangerous place with a nuclear Iran.

Saudi Arabia on the Right Side of Soviet Communism and Iranian Hegemony

And we come back to Bahrain.  Which can be the fuse to the tinderbox growing in the Middle East and North Africa (see Could the next Mideast uprising happen in Saudi Arabia? by Rachel Bronson posted 2/25/2011 on The Washington Post).

The unrest in Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen (to the kingdom’s west, east and south) plays on the Saudis’ greatest fear: encirclement. The Saudis aligned with the United States instead of colonial Britain in the early 20th century in part to defend against creeping British hegemony. During the Cold War the monarchy hunkered down against its Soviet-backed neighbors out of fear of being surrounded by communist regimes. And since the end of the Cold War, the overarching goal of Saudi foreign policy has been countering the spread of Iranian influence in all directions – Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Yemen…

Sunni-ruled Bahrain, less than 20 miles from Saudi Arabia’s oil- and Shiite-rich Eastern Province, has been a longtime recipient of Saudi aid. It has also been a focus of Iranian interests.

The Saudis are “concerned about the events unfolding in Bahrain and throughout the region.”  And they weren’t too happy with President Obama on Egypt.  They were “reportedly furious that the Obama administration ultimately supported regime change in Egypt, because of the precedent it could set.”  And for good reason.  The Saudis have always been on our side.  I mean, they’re not perfect, but it doesn’t get much better in the Muslim Middle East.

The United States has a great deal at stake in Saudi Arabia, though Americans often look at the Saudis with distaste. As one senior Saudi government official once asked me: “What does the United States share with a country where women can’t drive, the Koran is the constitution and beheadings are commonplace?” It’s a tough question, but the answer, quite simply, is geopolitics – and that we know and like Saudi’s U.S.-educated liberal elites.

The Saudis have been helpful to us. They are reasonably peaceful stalwarts. They don’t attack their neighbors, although they do try to influence them, often by funding allies in local competitions for power. They are generally committed to reasonable oil prices. For example, although their oil is not a direct substitute for Libyan sweet crude, the Saudis have offered to increase their supply to offset any reduction in Libyan production due to the violence there. We work closely with them on counterterrorism operations. And the Saudis are a counterbalance to Iran. We disagree on the Israel-Palestinian issue, but we don’t let it get in the way of other key interests.

Saudi Arabia is not in as bad economic conditions as the other nations falling into unrest.  It may not fall.  But if Bahrain falls under hard-line Shiite control, that’s not going to help the Saudis.  The Middle East.  The United States.  Or world peace.  Before that happens, we should consider treating our friends better than our enemies.

Will Democracy Win the Day for Oppressive, Authoritarian Rule?

As volatile regions go, they don’t come much more volatile than the Middle East.  And, like it or not, many of the world’s economies are dependent on their oil.  We know this.  They know it.  And our enemies know it.

As chaos spreads opportunity knocks.  And it’s clear who is knocking.  Iran.  We have kept this oppressive, authoritarian regime’s ambitions in check so far.  It’s rather ironic, then, that it’s greatest enemy may be the key for her success.  Democracy.  In other countries.  That will cause chaos that Iran can exploit.  Much like they did during the Iranian Revolution. 

History does have a funny way of repeating itself, doesn’t it?

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Collective Bargaining in Wisconsin – Greed versus the Taxpayers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 25th, 2011

Democracy in Action and Whiny Democrats in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin Democrats need to take a refresher course in democracy.  Because democracy isn’t oligarchy.  The minority power can’t have its way.  No matter how unhappy they are.  Elections have consequences.  Like Obama said.  The Obama Administration governed without the consent or input of the minority power.  It may not have been nice or what he said he would do during the campaign.  But it was legal.  And democratic.  So Obama governed against his campaign platform.  And the American people.  The people didn’t like that.  And gave the House back to the Republicans in the 2010 mid-term elections.

You see, that’s how democracy works.  You don’t whine and cry when you can’t have your way.  You compete in the arena of ideas.  Win elections.  And govern accordingly.  And when you lose elections you don’t govern any more.  Unless you’re a bunch of whiny cry babies in Wisconsin (see Capitol Chaos: Assembly Passes Budget Repair Bill by Charles Benson, Jay Sorgi and the Associated Press posted 2/25.2011 on todaystmj4.com).

Shortly after 1:00 a.m., after more than 60 hours of debate on this, the Republicans quickly called for the vote, which ended all debate.

Some of the Democrats were so taken aback by what had happened, they didn’t get a chance to vote. 

The vote happened so fast, within seconds, that the bill pass with Republican voting for it, but while they were voting, Democrats kept yelling, “No!  No!  You can’t do this!”…

After it passed, Republicans started walking off the floor, and the Democrats started yelling “Shame!  Shame!  Shame!” as Republicans walked off, one by one, and left the Assembly floor.

Obamacare was hustled through a lot faster with a lot of bribes.  There was no debate.  Nancy Pelosi said we had to pass it to learn what was in it.  The Democrats had no problem with that vote.  The vote in Wisconsin, on the other hand, they do. 

The people of Wisconsin, unhappy with the Democrats, voted in a Republican controlled legislature.  And a Republican governor.  The Republicans had the majority.  The Democrats didn’t.  It’s called democracy.  Which they’re all for.  When they are in power.  But when they’re not in power democracy just isn’t fair.  And they whine.

Of Course they’re Over-Compensated

After the vote layoff notices went out.  The UPI reports teachers are so anxious that they were breaking out in tears.  And for good reason.  They have some pretty nice jobs.  All public sector workers do.  I mean, they wouldn’t be making such a big fuss if those jobs were as bad as they would have us believe.

We the taxpayers pay public sector workers well.  And we’ve been giving them the best of benefits.  Well, yes and no, say the critics.  They’re smart.  Well educated.  And underpaid for their brains.  The critics say people in the private sector with the same education are compensated more.  That’s a little hard to believe.  Because few give up those public sector jobs once they get them (see Everything You Need to Know about Whether State and Local Bureaucrats Are Over-Compensated, in One Chart by Daniel J. Mitchell on 2/25/2011 on CATO@Liberty).

The data on total compensation clearly show a big advantage for state and local bureaucrats, largely because of lavish benefits (which is the problem that Governor Walker in Wisconsin is trying to fix). But the government unions argue that any advantage they receive disappears after the data is adjusted for factors such as education.

This is a fair point, so we need to find some objective measure that neutralizes all the possible differences. Fortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has a Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, and this “JOLTS” data includes a measure of how often workers voluntarily leave job, and we can examine this data for different parts of the workforce…

Not surprisingly, this data shows state and local bureaucrats are living on Easy Street. As the chart illustrates, private sector workers are more than three times as likely to quit their jobs.

The reason someone doesn’t quit a job is simple and straight forward.  They can’t find a better one.  Over in the private sector, they say the way to increase your compensation is to make a few moves to other companies.  Let private employers bid up your salary.  This isn’t how it works in the public sector.  Pay and benefits have nothing to do with ability.  You get in and you stay put.  And let the union shake down the taxpayers for ever more generous pay and benefits.

Greedy Teachers and the Poor Taxpayers they Shake Down

Wisconsin teachers are calling in sick to show up at these protests.  They are using fraudulent doctor’s notes handed out at the protests to excuse their ‘sick’ days.  That’s not very ethical.  And probably not very legal.  Or a good lesson for the children they teach (some of which have joined them in the protest as useful pawns for the children can’t possibly understand what’s really at stake here).  So why would they go to these lengths?  Will the governor force them to choose between food and medicine?  Will they have to eat cat food?  I doubt it.  For it looks like they’re currently enjoying champagne and caviar (see Oh, To Be a Teacher in Wisconsin by Robert Costrell posted 2/25/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

The average Milwaukee public-school teacher salary is $56,500, but with benefits the total package is $100,005, according to the manager of financial planning for Milwaukee public schools.

Wow.  That’s like having one job and getting two paychecks.  And they only work 9 months out of the year.  And get a lot of time off when they do work.  That is some pretty sweet compensation.  I can see why they protest.  They are a privileged elite.  And like elites, they don’t like giving up their elitism.

So how do the benefits add up to $100,005 in total compensation for an average public-school teacher?  Well, thanks to collective bargaining, they get pensions and health care benefits like no one does in the private sector.

•Social Security and Medicare. The employer cost is 7.65% of wages, the same as in the private sector.

•State Pension. Teachers belong to the Wisconsin state pension plan. That plan requires a 6.8% employer contribution and 6.2% from the employee. However, according to the collective-bargaining agreement in place since 1996, the district pays the employees’ share as well, for a total of 13%.

•Teachers’ Supplemental Pension. In addition to the state pension, Milwaukee public-school teachers receive an additional pension under a 1982 collective-bargaining agreement. The district contributes an additional 4.2% of teacher salaries to cover this second pension. Teachers contribute nothing.

•Classified Pension. Most other school employees belong to the city’s pension system instead of the state plan. The city plan is less expensive but here, too, according to the collective-bargaining agreement, the district pays the employees’ 5.5% share.

•Health care for current employees. Under the current collective- bargaining agreements, the school district pays the entire premium for medical and vision benefits, and over half the cost of dental coverage. These plans are extremely expensive.

This is partly because of Wisconsin’s unique arrangement under which the teachers union is the sponsor of the group health-insurance plans. Not surprisingly, benefits are generous. The district’s contributions for health insurance of active employees total 38.8% of wages. For private-sector workers nationwide, the average is 10.7%.

•Health insurance for retirees. This benefit is rarely offered any more in private companies, and it can be quite costly. This is especially the case for teachers in many states, because the eligibility rules of their pension plans often induce them to retire in their 50s, and Medicare does not kick in until age 65. Milwaukee’s plan covers the entire premium in effect at retirement, and retirees cover only the growth in premiums after they retire.

No one in the private sector gets these benefits.  No one.  Unless they make very large contribution towards them.  Whereas the teachers get them totally free.  Is that fair?  People bitch about CEO compensation but at least it’s the shareholders who have last say on that.  In Wisconsin it is doubtful the taxpayers even know what their public-school teachers are making.  Courtesy of their tax dollars.

Overall, the school district’s contributions to health insurance for employees and retirees total about 50.9 cents on top of every dollar paid in wages. Together with pension and Social Security contributions, plus a few small items, one can see how the total cost of fringe benefits reaches 74.2%.

What these numbers ultimately prove is the excessive power of collective bargaining. The teachers’ main pension plan is set by the state legislature, but under the pressure of local bargaining, the employees’ contribution is often pushed onto the taxpayers. In addition, collective bargaining led the Milwaukee public school district to add a supplemental pension plan—again with no employee contribution. Finally, the employees’ contribution (or lack thereof) to the cost of health insurance is also collectively bargained.

As the costs of pensions and insurance escalate, the governor’s proposal to restrict collective bargaining to salaries—not benefits—seems entirely reasonable.

And there you have it.  Why the Left is panicking about what’s going on in Wisconsin.  And it ain’t about the children.  Health care benefits and pensions can’t get any less about the children.  Collective bargaining has given the public sector workers great pay and benefits at the taxpayer’s expense.  All without having the taxpayer to approve these generous compensation packages.  Unlike shareholders in private corporations. 

Collective bargaining for public sector workers enables the transfer of huge sums of money from the private sector (the taxpayers) to the public sector.  Union members pay dues.  And guess who unions support in elections.  Democrats.  If other states follow suit the Democrats stand to lose a lot of campaign cash and foot soldiers.  And this is what it’s really about in Wisconsin.  Greed.  The greed of public sector workers.  And the greed of Democrats.

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LESSONS LEARNED #54: “Every dollar the government spends is a dollar that the consumer can’t spend.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 24th, 2011

Consumer Spending Equals Approximately Two-Thirds of GDP

This will be an oversimplified explanation of macroeconomics.  And not to worry.  There will be no math.  Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the sum total of all spending in the economy.  That spending breaks down into two parts.  Private.  And government (federal, state and local).  The higher the GDP the more spending in the economy.  Which typically means there are more jobs.  People are working.  They’re earning money.  And spending it.  The more they do the more economic activity there is.  And the more economic activity there is the better all our lives are.

Again, we’re keeping it simple.  We’ll use approximate numbers.  Because they’re close enough.  And explain the big picture.  And that big picture is this.  Consumer spending (private) equals approximately two-thirds of GDP.  And government spending equals approximately one-third of GDP.  And that one-third can be broken down as follows.  Defense is approximately 5% of GDP.  Pensions are approximately 6% of GDP.  Health care is approximately 6% of GDP.  Education is approximately 7% of GDP.  These add up to about 24% of GDP.  That other 10% or so of the ‘one-third’ is a bunch of smaller ‘discretionary’ programs.  And some other stuff.

Now, what’s the difference between consumer and government spending?  Well, based on the above, government spending pays for a lot of things we don’t want or enjoy but need.  All the good things in life are included in consumer spending.  Our homes.  Our cars.  Our electronic toys.  Candy.  Lingerie.  Perfume.  Movies.  Dinners out.  Fine wine.  Our cable subscription.  Our Internet access.  These are the things why we work for a paycheck.  And the things we should take care of but don’t (such as retirement and health care)?  Many of us leave it for others to pay (i.e., the government).  Because many of us live in the now.  And don’t plan for the future.

All the Money for GDP Spending comes from the Private Sector

Notice anything else about these numbers?  The ‘two-thirds’ and the ‘one-third’?  If you add them together they equal the total amount of spending.  And why is that?  Why does GDP equal the sum of consumer and government spending?  For a very simple reason.  The government spends our tax dollars.  And those taxes come from consumers.  In other words, government spending would have been consumer spending if the government didn’t transfer that money from the private sector to the public sector.

You know what this means, don’t you?  All the money for GDP spending comes from the private sector.  In other words, the private sector pays for both their spending (consumer spending) as well as the government’s spending.  And every time government spending increases consumer spending decreases.  Because that additional government spending is taking away from the consumers, leaving them less to spend.  Which tells you what about federal stimulus spending?  That’s right, it doesn’t stimulate.  Because it doesn’t add any new money to the economy.  The same money is there.  Just someone else is spending it (the government instead of the consumer).

But what about deficit spending?  When the government borrows money or prints money (i.e., quantitative easing), that doesn’t take money away from the consumers.  That’s adding new money to the economy, isn’t it?  Well, yes and no.  If you borrow a little you pay a little interest.  If you borrow a lot you pay a lot of interest.  And guess who pays the interest?  We do.  That’s another thing they use our taxes for.  Our federal debt is in the neighborhood of $14 trillion.  That’s a lot of debt.  The interest on that debt totals about $200 billion dollars.  And we have to pay this every year with our taxes (not to mention that we have to pay down at least some of this principal).  The interest on our federal debt is close to $200 billion dollars.  And we have to pay this every year with our taxes.  Or we have to borrow more money to pay the interest on what we’ve previously borrowed.  Which increased our total debt.  And our total interest.  So borrowing to ‘stimulate’ just transfers more money from the private sector to the public sector.  Which, of course, decreases economic activity.

Printing money is a completely different story.  It’s far more destructive.  Printing money causes inflation.  Adding dollars into circulation just makes the dollars we have worth less.  Because our money is worth less, it takes more of it to buy the same stuff we used to buy.  Interest rates go up.  Our credit card interest rate goes up.  And the more they print the more living costs.  It was so bad in the Seventies that businesses added Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) to our pay checks to account for the high inflation.  If they didn’t, prices would rise faster than our wages.  Without it some people wouldn’t have been able to afford to buy their groceries because inflation was that bad in the Seventies.

Government Spending is often for Political Reasons

And if this wasn’t bad enough (and don’t you think it should be?), government spending disrupts the free market.  In so many ways.  First of all, consumers have less to spend.  So businesses sell less.  And create fewer jobs.  And it disrupts the allocation of resources.  The government may purchase the ingredients in the things you buy (to make things no one wants to buy).  Because there are fewer of these ingredients left in the free market, prices go up.  Which means you now pay more at the store.  They could use our tax money to fund a regulatory body that increases the cost of doing business (say adding a carbon tax to the sale price of something).  We pay more for the bureaucracy AND the new tax makes the things we buy more costly.  Etc.

And what makes this even worse is that government spending is often for political reasons.  Not for the consumer’s best interest.  Ever wonder why we use corn syrup for a sweetener?  The rest of the world uses sugar.  We use corn syrup.  Why?  The powerful corn lobby gives boatloads of money to politicians who in turn legislate tariffs on sugar.  That’s a special tax on sugar imported to this country.  It makes it more expensive.  More than using the domestically produced corn syrup.  So we use corn syrup.  In the mean time, everyone buying sugar in the store pays a lot more than people do in the rest of the world.

And then there are electric cars.  No one wants them.  How do we know this?  Because the only way they sell them are with big government subsidies.  This is a disruption of the free market.  As of now, the electric car has very limited uses.  Because it has a very limited range.  (Imagine yourself stuck in rush hour traffic during a blizzard with the heater and your lights on.  How long do you think you will last sitting at a standstill in traffic?)  But government gives businesses subsidies (our tax dollars) to produce these cars.  And government gives consumers subsidies (our tax dollars) to buy these cars.  And the allocation of resources are not per consumer demand but by this government interference into the free market.

Another good car example is the use of flex fuel (E85).  Instead of exporting our corn to impoverished and hungry nations, we’re using food to make ethanol to blend with gasoline to put into our cars.  Because we’re using food for energy instead of food, food prices go up.  Making impoverished and hungry people more impoverished and hungry.

Government Spending is Consumer Spending done Poorly

The private sector begets the public sector.  It gives it life by creating economic activity.  And when the private sector does well the public sector does well.  But the public sector is like a parasite.  It can only survive by sucking life out of its host.  The private sector.  And like parasites, the more they feed the sicker the host gets.

Government spending is often necessary.  But it does nothing to stimulate the private sector.  In fact, it hinders the private sector.  So government should minimize its spending.  Including stimulus spending.  Because it doesn’t stimulate anything but politics.  At the expense of the consumer.

Government spending is consumer spending done poorly.  It rarely is efficient.  It rarely meets its intended goal.  It ends up costing far more than anyone in government ever imagined.  It kills jobs.  And it makes consumers make decisions based not on what they want but what government thinks is best for them. 

Because government does poorly what others do well, the government that governs best is the government that intervenes the least.  If this were not true, we would not be suffering through the greatest recession since the Great Depression.  The Soviet Union would have won the Cold War.  And Greece would not have burned in riots in 2009.  The proof is in the history.  And we ignore it at our own peril.

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Wisconsin, FDR, Public Sector Workers and Stimulus

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 23rd, 2011

FDR Opposed Collective Bargaining Rights for Public Sector Workers

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote a letter to Luther Steward, the president of the National Federation of Public Employees.  The subject was collective bargaining rights for public sector workers.  He was opposed to the idea (see FDR vs. Wisconsin Teachers by Quin Hillyer posted 2/18/2011 on The Washington Times).

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service…

Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of government employees… a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable.

FDR, the patron saint of Big Government liberalism, was against the notion of public sector unions.  Funny.  You’d think a guy like FDR would have been in favor of public unions.  He supported other unions.  But not public sector unions.  I wonder why.

Taxpayers don’t make good Bad Guys

Well, FDR was a master of class warfare.  His enemy were the royalists.  That’s what he called the rich fat cats in those days.  Those barons of industry that exploited the working class.  And it was an effective strategy.  Especially during the Great Depression.  People standing in breadlines while the rich were living well as if there was no Great Depression?  That’s polarizing.  So attacking them worked.  Everyone got on board, eager to attack anyone who was living better than they were. 

And here is why FDR was against public sector unions.  The bad guy in the equation.  You see, public sector unions wouldn’t be fighting rich fat cats of industry.  They’d be fighting the taxpayer (see F.D.R. Warned Us by James Sherk posted 2/19/2011 on Heritage’s The Foundry).

The founders of the labor movement viewed unions as a vehicle to get workers more of the profits they help create. Government workers, however, don’t generate profits. They merely negotiate for more tax money. When government unions strike, they strike against taxpayers. FDR considered this “unthinkable and intolerable.”

You see, it’s hard to get sympathy when you attack John Q. Public as being greedy.  Especially when those public sector union members are living better lives than those paying them.

Then there is the whole philosophy thing.  Shareholders meet union leaders to collective bargain.  The shareholders have a say in the use of their money.  In the public sector this is not the case.  It’s the taxpayer’s money that the government and unions meet to divvy up.  Without the consent of the taxpayer.  That’s a lot like taxation without representation.  Something that I’m pretty sure this country was against at one time.

Government collective bargaining means voters do not have the final say on public policy. Instead their elected representatives must negotiate spending and policy decisions with unions. That is not exactly democratic – a fact that unions once recognized.

So FDR opposed collective bargaining rights for public sector workers.  And the public sector workers didn’t have these rights for a long time.

Up through the 1950s, unions widely agreed that collective bargaining had no place in government. But starting with Wisconsin in 1959, states began to allow collective bargaining in government. The influx of dues and members quickly changed the union movement’s tune, and collective bargaining in government is now widespread. As a result unions can now insist on laws that serve their interests – at the expense of the common good.

And that’s how things changed.  Money.  Big money.  By creating an aristocracy (public sector workers), the ruling elite has a steadfast constituency.  And the bigger the unions get the more dues they collect.  That dues money than can be used to support political candidates that support this aristocracy.  In exchange for this support the government protects this aristocracy.  Much like unions claim Republicans do with Big Business.  Only worse.  Because Big Business at least creates jobs.  Public sector workers don’t produce anything but deficits.

The Public Sector Exploits the Taxpayer

There’s a good piece in the Wall Street Journal that quotes some Big Government liberals. Two of them, Paul Krugman and Kevin Drum, support the unions in Wisconsin as if they are on the last line of defense.  Before Big Business tramples all of our rights (see The Means of Coercion by James Taranto posted 2/22/2011 The Wall Street Journal).

In any case, it seems to have escaped Krugman’s and Drum’s notice that the Wisconsin dispute has nothing to do with corporations. The unions’ antagonist is the state government. “Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership,” writes Time’s Joe Klein, a liberal who understands the crucial distinction. “Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed . . . of the public?”

The “labor movement” in America has increasingly come to consist of people who work for government, not private companies. As the BLS notes, the union-participation rate for public-sector workers in 2010 was 36.2%, vs. just 6.9% for private-sector workers.

That’s quite a differential between the public and private sector.  And do you know why?  Because that’s all the private sector can support.  Because there is competition in the private sector.  Just look at the automotive industry.  The cost of union labor sent a lot of new auto plants to the right-to-work states in the south.  It ain’t the Seventies anymore in the automotive world.  There’s choice.  But in the public sector it’s still the seventies.  There is no choice.  No competition.  Pay and benefits come from tax dollars.  And they just keep raising our taxes.  By exploiting the taxpayer.

Here is the contradiction of progressivism. Progressives tell us they want the government to do more. But they can’t win elections without public-sector unions. Because they are beholden to those unions, their main priority when in power is to increase the cost, not the scope, of government. Because resources are finite, the result is the worst of both worlds: a government that taxes more without doing more. This is unsustainable economically. Fortunately, as Wisconsin voters showed last November, it’s unsustainable politically as well.

So taxes go up and what do we get?  Only higher paid public sector workers.

Obama’s Stimulus for Public Sector Workers

Let’s go back in time.  To the big stimulus bill to keep unemployment under 8%.  For all of those shovel-ready infrastructure jobs.  Well, the money went out.  And here we are a couple of years later and the economic news is actually worse.  So what happened to that money (see State public-sector jobs benefit most from stimulus by Dave Umhoefer and Patrick Marley posted on 10/13/2009 on Journal Sentinel)?

Three-fourths of 8,284 stimulus-related jobs accounted for so far were public-sector posts protected by the federal infusion into state and local government coffers, Gov. Jim Doyle’s office reported.

That included teachers, police officers and other government workers.

Shovel-ready jobs my Aunt Fanny.  That money went to take care of the aristocracy.  For it was, after all, their union dues and activism that got Obama elected.  So the stimulus was nothing more than back scratching.  As in you scratch mine and I’ll scratch yours.

The main effect of the stimulus money that went to state and local governments was to prop up health care and education spending so the state could balance its budget without huge tax increases, [John] Koskinen [of the state Department of Revenue] said.

Health care and education.  Translation?  Generous health care benefits for public sector workers.  And generous pay and benefits for public school teachers.

The state used $632 million of the federal funds to help fill a giant budget hole. Supporters said that helped the overall economy by keeping people employed and saving essential government services; critics said it allowed the state to avoid making tough spending decisions.

States and cities everywhere are facing huge financial shortfalls.  Their budgets are breaking them.  Specifically, their public sector contracts are breaking them.  Generous health care benefits.  And generous pensions.  So it’s no surprise that the so called stimulus wasn’t stimulus.  It simply subsidized highly paid public sector workers during bad economic times.  

The public would not have supported a bill to reward the generosity of public sector workers for their help in the 2008 election.  So they called it a stimulus bill.  And lied to John Q. Public. 

The Greed of the Public Sector

The crisis in Wisconsin threatens the aristocracy.  There a privileged elite wants to continue to live better than those who pay their salary and benefits.  It’s not about evil corporations.  Or the kids.  It’s about the greed of the public sector.  And a government who needs them (and our tax dollars that are laundered through them) to win elections. 

If they lose their right to collective bargain what happens?  Do they become oppressed workers exploited by the taxpayer?  Or do they become what FDR said they should be?  Good public servants.  Who work for the people.  And not the other way around. 

Let’s hope it turns out the way FDR would have wanted it to in Wisconsin.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #54: “Every dollar the government spends is a dollar that the consumer can’t spend.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 22nd, 2011

An Increase in Economic Activity Creates Jobs

Economic activity in a free market is win-win.  A buyer and seller come together.  They each have something the other wants.  One has a product or service.  The other has money.  Each values more what the other has.  So they trade.  And each feels they are better off after the trade.

Millions of such trades make up the economy as a whole.  And this goes on all by itself.  No one manages it.  No one steps into each trade to make sure it’s fair.  There’s no need.  If it’s not a fair trade one of the parties simply won’t trade.  They’ll go elsewhere to find a better deal.

As more people come together to make trades economic activity increases.  This activity creates more jobs (to meet growing demand).  Giving people more money.  So they can go out and make more trades.  Further increasing economic activity.

High Taxes and Government Spending Fell the Roman Empire

Many things made the Roman Empire a great empire.  Among these was the aqueduct.  And the Roman legions.  Fresh water allowed cities to grow.  And the army protected the cities from its enemies in other civilizations.   And the raiding barbarians beyond civilization.  But water and the army were costly, though.  It took a lot of money.  A lot of which came from the spoils of war.  And when the empire was expanding and there were always new lands to conquer there were always spoils to send back to Rome. 

But eventually the Romans saw their borders fixed.  And there was peace.  The Pax Romana (Roman Peace).  The problem with peace, though, is that you’re not waging war.  And when you’re not waging war you’re not sending home any spoils of war.  But the empire still had bills to pay.  Aqueducts to build.  And soldiers to pay.  So the Romans had to turn to other funding sources.  The citizens.  Taxes replaced spoils.

And the taxing and spending began.  The state grew.  The army grew.  And the government grew.  All required more and more taxes.  Then they debased the coinage (i.e., inflated the money supply by using less precious metal in each coin so they could make more coins out of the same amount of precious metal).  Silver coins contained more and more lead.  And were worth less and less.  Eventually Rome wouldn’t accept tax payments in silver coin.  You had to pay with gold.  Or taxes in kind (a wheat farmer gave a portion of his wheat to satisfy his tax obligation).  This got so bad that farmers quit being farmers because they couldn’t make any money with so much of their crops going to Rome to pay their taxes.  Then Rome passed laws preventing farmers from quitting farming.  The Roman citizen became an unhappy citizen.  Few wanted to serve in the Roman legions.  So Rome had to hire soldiers.  Which cost more money.  And on and on it went until tax and spend became tax and spent.  The empire spent itself into collapse.

The Key to Economic Activity is Private Sector Jobs

Every time taxes went up the Roman citizen had to pay more of his silver coins in taxes which left him with less to spend on his family.  When Rome debased their silver coins the Roman citizen’s money was worth less and bought less.  When more of a farmer’s crops went to Rome to satisfy their tax obligation they had less to sell at market.  Every time the government spent more the private sector spent less.  Because Rome transferred more of the private sector wealth to the public sector.

When the government takes more money out of the private sector, the private sector has less money to spend.  That means people are spending less when they go to the store.  Which means the store is selling less.  And when a store sells less they buy less.  And when they buy less manufacturers produce less.  So manufacturers cut back on production.  Lay people off.  Which means these people have less money to spend in stores.  So sales at stores decline further.  So stores buy less.  And manufacturers produce less.  Cut back on production.  Lay off people.  Who have less to spend.  And round and round it goes until the economy crashes into a recession.

The key to economic activity, then, is jobs.  We need jobs to get the money we need to make trades with other people.  If we don’t have a job we have no money.  And can’t trade for anything.  So we need jobs.  And who creates jobs?  Businesses.  And how do they do that?  By selling something.  The more they sell the more jobs they create.  The less they sell the fewer jobs they create.  And what helps them sell more?  Lower taxes.  What prevents them from selling more?  Higher taxes.  For the more money in the private sector the more money the private sector can spend.  And the more people can trade with each other.  Which increases economic activity.  Which creates more jobs.  Giving more people money to trade with other people.  And round and round it goes.  Until we all live happily ever after. 

An Economy Works Best when Government Intervenes Least

John Maynard Keynes was an economist that said that government could stimulate the economy by spending money during a recession.  Governments love this man.  Because it’s like a license to spend.  Never mind that it never worked.

Here’s why.  The government doesn’t earn any money.  They have to take it from someone else before they can spend it.  That’s like me giving you $20 out of my wallet so you can stimulate the economy.  And how much will you stimulate the economy by spending my $20?  Will it be more than if I spent that $20 myself?  No.  Because, in the end, someone is spending only $20.  Either you.  Or me.  The net spending doesn’t change.  Only who’s spending it.

This is the fundamental flaw in Keynesian economics.  Tax money comes from taxpayers.  Who work.  Stimulus spending only transfers the money to someone else to spend.  Leaving the taxpayer with less to spend.  Either now through higher taxes.  Or later through higher taxes to pay for past deficit spending.  Which is a very common feature of Keynesian economics.  Deficit spending.  And huge debts created by all that deficit spending.

Contrary to Keynes, an economy works best when government intervenes least.  This keeps the money in the private sector where it belongs.  Where it does what it does best.  Create jobs.

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Libya Burns, Saudi Arabia Worries, Prosperous China Maintains Power and Prosperous Turkey offers way for Egypt

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 21st, 2011

Turkey Provides a Democratic Model for Egypt

Can democracy work in the Middle East?  Well, it’s working in a nation with a predominately Muslim population.  That nation on the BosporusTurkey (see A Muslim democracy in action posted 2/17/2011 on The Economist).

In his eight years in power, Mr Erdogan has done more than any of his secular predecessors to move Turkey closer to its coveted goal of full membership of the European Union. Reforms that he rammed through during AK’s first term in office persuaded the EU to open membership negotiations with Turkey in 2005…

Turkey’s economy has survived the global financial crisis relatively unscathed. It is expected to grow by 5% this year, putting it only just behind China and India. Unemployment is down and the budget has begun the year with a surplus…

On the Arab street, Mr Erdogan’s salvoes against Israel over the Palestinians have made him a hero. Turkey’s high-profile diplomacy, its successful economy and its drive for new markets have made it the envy of many Arab leaders. It is little wonder that so many pundits have taken to talking up a “Turkish model” as a way forward for Egypt. It is also no surprise that Mr Erdogan is brimming with confidence.

Of course, Turkey isn’t a ‘Muslim democracy’ as the Economist wrote in its title.  It’s a secular democracy where nearly all of the people are Muslim.  People practice their religion in their private lives.  But not in government.  For in Turkey there is a wall between church and state.  Or mosque and state, as it were.

Turkey is doing well.  And it can serve as a model for countries where nearly all of their people are Muslim.  If they separate religion and government.  And herein lies the concern.  If the Muslim Brotherhood rises to prominence in Egypt, Islam will play a role in government.  And in nations where this happens there are concerted efforts to move away from Western influences.  Including Western business practices.  And prosperity.  The more extreme cases of this can be seen in Afghanistan.  And Iran.  But Turkey is looking to the West.  And economic prosperity by joining the European Union.  Still there are the critics.

Yet critics claim that Mr Erdogan’s confidence has curdled into the sort of authoritarianism that, if left unchecked, might transform Turkey into another Russia. Such claims are surely overwrought: Turkish elections are free and fair, and the press is largely unfettered. Yet there is also no question that Mr Erdogan is getting bossier and less tolerant by the day.

With a healthy economy, a budget surplus and jobs for the people, there is little reason for the people to rise up.  The political opposition may.  But not the people.  That’s why the democratic movements have been confined to countries with poor economies and high unemployment.  For working people have better things to do.  Such as enjoying life.

Discontent is Easier to Manage when you have a Booming Economy

The collapse of the Soviet Union was not pretty.  In the Soviet Union.  Or the Russian state following.  Crime.  Corruption.  Lawlessness.  And, worse, high unemployment.  People were unable to buy the bare necessities.  These were dark and dangerous times.  And had many pining for the good old days of Soviet Communism.  You may have been poor, oppressed and wanting for the basic necessities of life.  But you could walk the streets at night.  You just had to worry about the state busting down your door at night and taking you away to some Siberian gulag.  But other than that, life was at a leisurely pace.  And had routine.  And routine begets political stability.

China saw this trouble.  And they learned some valuable lessons from their northern neighbor.  Change too fast can be bad change.  Hence their crackdown at Tiananmen Square.  And now (see Discontent, but no revolt in China — yet by Charles Hutzler, Associated Press, posted 2/21/2011 on Salon).

“The current regime structure is very fragile. It’s not right for revolution at the moment, but that doesn’t mean mass political upheaval can’t take place in the future,” said Minxin Pei, a China politics expert at Claremont McKenna College in California.

In the latest test, China’s authoritarian government seems to have dispatched the threat of public protests with great efficiency. In response to an Internet appeal of unknown origin for simultaneous protests in 13 cities Sunday, police detained known activists, disconnected some cell-phone text messaging services and blocked online searches for the phrase “Jasmine Revolution” — the name of both the protest call and the wave of Middle East democracy protests that started in Tunisia.

And the protests for now seem to have petered out.  Why?  Economics.

China is the world’s fastest-growing major economy, with economists predicting another year of better than 9 percent growth for 2011. While unemployment is surely higher than the nearly 5 percent urban joblessness rate, factory wages and conditions are improving for many. University graduates — a crucial group in Egypt’s uprising — are finding jobs in China, though they are poorly paid.

Life isn’t that bad when you have a job.  The protests in the Middle East and Northern Africa started over high unemployment.  The protesters were poor, oppressed and unemployed.  And when you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.  The Chinese have something.  It may not be much.  But it is a lot more than they used to have.  And things aren’t bad enough yet to lose this new life of plenty.

The Asian Economy so Strong they’re Building Bigger Ships for Exports

And things are looking up for the Asian economy.  While the U.S. continues to struggle in the worst recession since the Great Depression, Maersk just received an order to build the world’s biggest container ship.  And guess who’s building those ships.  And what they’re going to carry (see Deal for biggest ever cargo ships sets sail by Tom Clarke posted 2/21/2011 on channel4.com).

A major shipping contract is a good barometer for the global economy – the industry at least seems to think trade between Asia and Europe will remain strong. However the European economy won’t benefit as much as Asia from the deal. All the jobs to build the new ships are in Korea and the vast majority of high value goods the ships will carry will be made in Asia to be sold here.

And sold in other parts of the world.  Including the United States.  So Asia is doing all right.  China, too.  The fact that they were able to shut down those protests so quickly indicates that the larger population is content.  For now.  Of course, that may change in the future.  The Chinese workers may demand more pay and better benefits.  Perhaps try to unionize.  If they do China may have to meet their demands.  Or risk further unrest.  Either way the economy will more than likely lose steam.  Either through higher labor costs.  Or political unrest.  And that could prod them more towards a Libyan fate.

Libyan Violence Escalates, Oil Supply Interrupted

And how are things going in Libya?  By all measure it appears to be going from bad to worse (see Oil soars on Libya violence, WTI shorts cover posted 2/21/2011 on Reuters).

In Libya, scores were killed in anti-government protests as one of the region’s bloodiest revolts hit Tripoli for the first time, while army units defected to the opposition and Gaddafi’s son vowed to fight to the last man standing.

And it gets worse.  Economically.

The focus was on deadly clashes in Libya, where one oil firm was shutting down some 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) of production and others evacuated staff. The leader of the Al-Zuwayya tribe threatened oil exports to the West would be cut off unless authorities stopped violence.

“The market is on edge about the potential for Middle East and North Africa supply disruptions,” said Mike Wittner, head of commodities research, Americas, at Societe Generale.

When oil prices go up economies go down.  Because oil is the engine of the modern economy.  We’ll probably first notice this supply interruption in higher prices at the gas pump.  Then in a slow but steady price inflation on everything we buy.  Those nations trying to get themselves out of bad recessions will then have to deal with this inflation problem.  And inflations are typically solved by recessions.  Economically, this is not a good outlook.  For if Europe and the United States fall back into deeper recessions, where will all those exports go from China and Turkey?  Nowhere.  And then these prosperous nations will see a rise in their unemployment numbers.  Giving strength to their opposition forces.  And perhaps extending the political unrest from the Middle East and North Africa to China and Turkey.  And beyond.

Things look like they may get worse before they get better.  Especially with what is happening in Bahrain.

A wave of popular unrest in North Africa and the Middle East has already toppled long-time leaders in Tunisia and Egypt, and traders are watching events carefully in other members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for signs of escalating tension.

While protests continued in Bahrain and Yemen, the greater fear was that discontent among majority Shi’ites in Bahrain who are protesting against the Sunni government might spread to Saudi Arabia’s own Shi’ite minority — who mostly live in the eastern province, the source of the kingdom’s oil wealth.

And this is the greatest danger.  That all of this political unrest may transform these revolutions from democratic struggles into theocratic ones.  Many of the countries rife in political unrest are Sunni countries.  Some have oppressed Shiite populations.  Or underrepresented Shiite populations.  And these populations have an organizing force.  The Muslim Brotherhood.  And inserting itself at the top of this Shiite power swell is the region’s largest Shiite population.  Iran.  The mortal enemy of Saudi Arabia.

It’s a Small World after All

Peace in the Middle East is not easy.  It’s mostly Islamic.  And in Islam, the Sunni hates the Shiite and the Shiite hates the Sunni.  Any government trying to rule over these disparate people rules on a powder keg.  They can maintain the peace most times if the people have jobs and can buy what they need.  During bad economic times, though, it’s quite a different story.  The rich kingdoms (often Sunni) will be attacked for being too Western.  And then economic issues become religious issues.

What will happen in Egypt?  Will it follow the Turkish model?  Or will it succumb to the radical elements like what happened in Iran following their 1979 revolution?  And what about Saudi Arabia?  Are they next?  If OPEC oil fails to flow at market prices, economies may crash throughout the world.  Including Turkey.  And China.  Because oil is the engine of a modern economy. 

It’s a small world after all.  What happens in the Middle East matters.  Everywhere.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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Democracy or Theocracy Movements in the Middle East and Africa?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 20th, 2011

A Domino Theory in the Middle East and Africa

You may not know where Bahrain is.  But you’ve probably heard of it.  Long before the protests there.  It’s home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.  We support our operations for Afghanistan and Iraq from Bahrain.  So it’s pretty important to U.S. security.

It’s an island nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia.  Not too far from Kuwait (the nation Saddam Hussein invaded back in 1990).  Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are still friendly to the U.S.  And these Sunni states provide a strategic counter to Shiite Iranian power in the Persian Gulf area.

Protests following the democratic uprising in Tunisia and Egypt got pretty bloody in Bahrain.  But is Bahrain going through a democratic uprising?  Or is it a civil war between Sunni and Shiite (see Saudi Arabia says it’s ready to help Bahrain’s rulers by Janine Zacharia and Michael Birnbaum posted 2/20/2011 on The Washington Post)?

Saudi Arabia on Sunday said it stands ready “with all its capabilities” to shore up Bahrain’s ruling royal family if a standoff with the Shiite-led opposition is not resolved soon, underscoring the kingdom’s deep concern about its neighbor’s ongoing political crisis.

Sunni-led Saudi Arabia props up Bahrain’s al-Khalifa family with cash and has long sought to prevent the tiny Persian Gulf state – with its majority Shiite population – from falling into Iran’s orbit. With dwindling oil resources, Bahrain relies heavily on Saudi Arabia for money and security.

This is what makes any ‘democratic’ uprising in the Middle East complicated.  You see, the Sunnis and Shiites don’t exactly get along.  The 8-year war between Iraq and Iran was a war between Sunni (Iraq) and Shiite (Iran).  They hate each other.  And the only way they appear to live in peaceful coexistence is when one is oppressing the other.

But the more stabilizing force tends to be the Sunnis.  The Sunni nations are typically the more modern nations.  The ones with women’s rights.  The Shiites are more old school.  They want to turn the hands of the clock back when there were no comforts in life but prayer.  And women were little more than chattel.  They’re a bit more radical.  Then again, the Sunnis have their own radicalism.  Let us not forget that Osama bin Laden is a Wahhabi Sunni.  As is Al Qaeda.  But the big destabilizing force in the Middle East is Iran.  And they’re Shiite.  They’re big, powerful and trying to acquire nuclear weapons.  So her neighbors are understandably worried.

Kuwait’s emir, Sheik Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah, also called the Bahraini king on Sunday and stressed that “the security of Bahrain is the security of the region,” reflecting the growing anxiety among gulf monarchies that Bahrain’s troubles could have a spillover effect. In Kuwait, protesters have already taken to the streets demanding more rights.

Talk about a domino theory.  We still don’t know what will rise from the ashes in Tunisia and Egypt.  They could very well go Muslim Brotherhood.  This would be a huge boost to Iranian interests in the area.  Adding Bahrain and Kuwait could very well seal the deal and give Iran the hegemony it so desperately wants in the region.

We need to be careful in urging democracy to break out in the Middle East and Africa.  Because sometimes stability is better than instability.  For there is a good chance that democracy will lose these revolutions in time.  Opening the door to the more radical elements (such as the Muslim Brotherhood).  Who may impose an oppressive theocracy instead.  Like they said they’ve always wanted to in Egypt.  And if they get what they want, say hello to $4/gallon gasoline.  Or more.  Because they will turn back the hands of time.  And cut off our oil.  Shutting down our economies.  And then, if they get their nuclear weapon, they’ll take it up a notch.

It is important to understand something.  They don’t want our land.  They don’t want our industry.  They just want to get rid of us.  The only thing that prevented the Soviets from destroying us was that they needed our food.  And our technology.  Iran wants technology to make their bomb.  But once they use it they’ll be content to go back to living in abject poverty.

Iran Likes Democracy as long as it is in Egypt

These protests are getting contagious.  Libya, Morocco and China.  And, yes, even Iran.  Now if there was ever a democratic movement for the U.S. to stick its nose into it would be in Iran.  This isn’t complicated. The Iranian people have been suffering under the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regime.  Ahmadinejad is the greatest threat to peace in the region.  He’s working on a nuclear bomb.  And he wants to incinerate Israel.  It doesn’t get simpler than this.  He’s the big bad now.  Osama bin Laden is holed up in a cave.  Kim Jong-il desperately needs western food and energy.  China may be flexing her muscle but she owns so much of our debt that she needs us to prosper if she is to prosper.  Iran, though, has no use for us.  And would be quite happy to see us in the past tense.

And how are the Iranians handling their protesters?  Sounds like they’re not quite as nice as the Egyptians were (see Iran Squelches Protest Attempt in Capital by Liz Robbins posted 2/20/2011 on The New York Times).

Despite a steady rain, large crowds of protesters gathered throughout Tehran, the capital, from the main thoroughfare to city squares, according to opposition Web sites and witnesses. Those sites and witnesses reported that ambulances were being driven into crowds and officers were making arrests. Security forces, some on motorcycles, deployed tear gas to disperse crowds near Valiasr Square. A hazy cloud of tear gas hung over Vanak Square.

Plainclothes officers randomly stopped and frisked people on the streets and removed people from vehicles, witnesses said. There were reports of police officers firing on the crowds, although that could not be immediately verified because foreign journalists were largely not allowed to report in Iran.

And this from the government that praised the people of Egypt of going after what they deserved.  Democracy.  It’s funny how they can praise democracy that can destabilize a nation friendly with the West but attack it within its own borders.  It almost makes one think that Iran has other motives in the region.

It was unclear how many people joined the demonstrations in Tehran on Sunday. Witnesses estimated that more than 20,000 people attended demonstrations on Feb. 14, making them the largest opposition protests since the aftermath of the 2009 disputed election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, president Obama said he would speak with Ahmadinejad.  To address our differences.  And find common ground.  He thought he could reason with him. Then came the Apology Tour.  And the Cairo speech.  He called for more democracy in the Muslim world.  Then came the Iranian election.  There appeared to be massive fraud.  And then the uprising.  Iranians trying to get some of that democracy that Obama spoke of.  And what did Obama do?  Acted timidly.  He didn’t attack Ahmadinejad.  He treated him with far more respect than he gave Hosni Mubarak.  And Mubarak was our ally.  And now the people of Iran are rising up again.  And the Iranian regime is fighting back against the forces of democracy.

The government, however, appeared to limit the electronic voice of the protesters on Sunday. Witnesses in Iran reported that the Internet was working very slowly, cell phone service was shut down in areas where people were demonstrating and satellite television, including Persian BBC, was jammed.

Out on the streets, the police in Tehran appeared to be recruiting teenagers to quell the protests on Sunday. Witnesses observed packs of young boys armed with batons, and wearing helmets and army fatigues.

A witness told the International Campaign for Human Rights that security forces on Mirdamad Street in Tehran had used live ammunition against protesters, and one person is believed to have been killed there, but that could not be verified.

There’s a difference between Ahmadinejad and Mubarak.  Ahmadinejad oppresses his people, supports terrorism, wants to incinerate Israel and seeks to disrupt peace throughout the Middle East.  Mubarak only oppressed his people.  Other than that Egypt was a stabilizing force in the region.  And yet look who’s still in power.

Time for a New Strategy

Instability in every nation other than Iran in the Middle East and Africa is cause for concern.  The one country where it can’t get any worse is Iran.  If their regime collapses anything that replaces it will be closer to democracy.  And if we support all of those democratic uprisings everywhere else, we should support the hell out of it in Iran.  Why, then, has our response there been so lukewarm?

I guess it goes back to the Cairo speech.  And the apology tour.  It would appear that our national security strategy is to get people who have a deep-seated hatred for us to like us. To believe that rolling over and showing our soft underbelly can get our enemies to forget tradition, custom and religion.  But after two years look what it has gotten us.  An emboldened enemy.  And fallen and threatened allies.

I think it’s time for a new strategy.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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Can Feminism Survive in the Islamic Middle East?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 19th, 2011

The Iranian Revolution and Feminism

The Shah of Iran modernized Iran.  And advanced women’s rights.  Did away with child marriage.  And outlawed having multiple wives.  Women may not have been fully equal but they were more equal than they had ever been before.  Or since.  And they had access to education.  In fact, they were so well educated that when they came out of college some could find no jobs.  At least none that called for such a higher education.  So there was a lot of unemployment during the 1970s.  A lot of highly educated people without jobs.  Both men and women.  And they protested.  Both men and women.  They overthrew the Shah.  Both men and women.  And how did that go?  Well, better for the men than it did for the women.

The Iranian Revolution in 1979 kind of came out of nowhere.  Stunned most of the world.  But many quickly welcomed this ‘democratic’ revolution.  Some people even welcomed that kindly, moderate, old man returning from exile.  Ayatollah Khomeini.  Even The New York Times said at last we will see a humane government in a third world country.  Of course, that didn’t happen.  The ‘democratic’ revolution soon became a theocratic revolution.  Khomeini ushered in Sharia law.  And a rather oppressive interpretation at that.  Everything the women gained under the Shah was gone.  Women were property again.  Second class citizens.  Not the kind of hope and change they were protesting about.  In fact, a lot of their daughters say today, “Thanks, Mom.”  And, “What were you thinking about!?!”  Under their breath, of course.

The Iranian Revolution started out as a democratic movement upset about rampant unemployment and abject poverty.  And they were angry at the Shah’s oppressive regime that exercised dictatorial power.  That shut down all opposition voices.  A lot like in Egypt.  But underneath this there was another element lurking in the background.  An Islamic element.  Angry at the Shah’s Westernization of Iran.  And eager to restore the old, Islamic ways.  And while the first revolutionaries talked about democratic reform, these other revolutionaries planned their theocracy.  Then they installed it.  And the rest is history.  A sad one for those women who had achieved so much under the Shah’s rule.

As in Iran, Men and Women Stood side by side during the Egyptian Revolution.  Will they after the Revolution?

So another revolution comes and goes in the Arab world.  It took only 18 days.  Things were pretty good in Egypt for women before the revolution.  But what will life be like after the revolution (see Egypt women stand for equality in the square by Kathy Lally posted 2/18/2011 on The Washington Post)?

Women are far better off in Egypt than some parts of the Arab world. There are no religious police enforcing dress codes as in Iran, or prohibitions against driving as in Saudi Arabia. But Egyptian women are greatly underrepresented in public life and inferior to men before the law. They hold cabinet posts, but no judgeships. They are members of parliament, but have few seats. They occupy many professions, but not all.

Divorces are difficult to obtain and favor men, as do property rights. Women are encouraged to marry and have children early: The legal age of marriage was only recently raised from 16 to 18.

And, every day as they walk down the street, they are reminded of their low status – until Tahrir Square. Egyptian women are sexually harassed to an astonishing degree, groped, ogled, followed by catcalls, behavior that no law forbids. In a 2008 survey, the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights in Cairo found that 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women had been harassed at some point.

And this in a ‘far better off’ country in the Arab world.  Makes one wonder what happened in the not so better off countries.  The question is, will this be the high water mark for feminism in Egypt?  Will they now retreat on the advancements made in women’s rights?

“We were equal partners in this revolution,” she said, “and we are respected as such. Now we have to use the moment effectively, to make sure women participate in daily political life, to make sure they are involved in the development of political parties and labor movements.”

That’s kind of what the women said in Iran.  Of course, once that theocracy took hold, all hopes for women being involved in political parties and movements were over.  Will this be Egypt’s fate?  Or the Middle East’s?  A common enemy can unite a people.  Even the sexes.  But what about tradition and culture?  And religion?  How heavily will they weigh on the new governments borne of revolution?

Tunisia and Egypt – Oppressors of the People but Defenders of Feminism

What do Tunisia and Egypt have in common?  They both just disposed hated dictators.  And they were both bastions of women’s rights (see Are the Mideast revolutions bad for women’s rights? by Isobel Coleman posted 2/20/2011 on The Washington Post).

Tunisia, in particular, has been a bastion of women’s rights in a region known for the opposite. Shortly after independence in 1956, President Habib Bourguiba, the country’s secular authoritarian leader, pushed through a Personal Status Code which was remarkably liberal for its time. It granted women equal divorce rights to men, abolished polygamy, set minimum marriage ages, allowed access to birth control and even some access to abortion. Bourguiba modeled himself on Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey’s founder who force-marched his country into the modern age through a painful process of secularization – “for the people, despite the people,” as he once quipped.

The result is that Tunisian women today enjoy relatively high literacy and have achieved broad gains in law, medicine, business, academia and media.

But things got bad.  And the Tunisians protested about the same things the Iranians and the Egyptians did.  And the big question is this.  Now that there is a power vacuum, who will fill it?  A modern, democratic power?  Or an old school, theocratic power?  Like, say, the Muslim Brotherhood?

In Egypt, democracy will also create important openings for Islamist groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. In a 2007 Gallup survey, 64 percent of Egyptians polled said that sharia should be the only source of law in the country; an additional 24 percent said it should be a source of legislation. (There was little variation by gender.)

Still, Egyptians’ desire for sharia is balanced by a strong demand for modernization and a distaste for theocracy. Women’s rights will be a litmus test for the new government – a sign of where the country is headed. The Muslim Brotherhood unleashed a sea of controversy in 2007 when it released its party platform excluding women (and non-Muslims) from the presidency, and calling for a group of Islamic scholars to review and veto legislation that does not conform to religious rules. These conservative positions confirmed critics’ worst fears of the Brotherhood, and led to some soul-searching within the organization itself, especially among younger members who disagreed with the hard-line positions of their elders.

Those younger members should read a page from the Iranian Revolution history.  The young in Iran today are not all happy with their parent’s revolution.  Especially the women.  And the girls.

The rise of Salafism, a particularly conservative form of the faith propagated by Saudi Arabia, should worry Egyptian women’s groups. In recent years, tensions between secularists and Salafis have been rising, with Salafis calling for full veiling of women and gender segregation in universities. The Salafis’ following is evident in the rising number of Egyptian women wearing the niqab, the face-covering veil, long black abayas and even gloves on their hands to avoid physical contact with men.

Wearing the veil has become popular in Tunisia and Egypt for a variety of reasons, including as an expression of religious identity, conforming to social pressures and as a statement against the secular authoritarianism of the government. (The irony is that Egypt is the birthplace of Arab feminism, which in the first half of the 20th century put much energy into unveiling women.)

With Hosni Mubarak gone, activists will now have to contend with hard-core politics in a way that has been missing from Egypt’s Potemkin parliament. Controversial legislation, like the equal right to divorce that was passed in 2000, will come under pressure from Islamist lawmakers who fiercely opposed the bill. (Tunisia is the only other Arab country that grants women the right.) Women’s groups can no longer fall back upon a sympathetic Mubarak regime, which often sided with their cause.

Ah, yes, the hated Hosni Mubarak.  Champion of feminism.  Who they ran out of the country.  Much like the Shah of Iran.  One can only hope that the women of Egypt don’t end up like the women of Iran.

Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan – Still not Bastions of Women’s Rights

Of course, being a woman in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan was no picnic.  Under their law, the sentence for many offences was death.  Even for not wearing the proper traditional garb.  But that was then.  We toppled the Taliban from power in Afghanistan.  And the Saudi’s are a stalwart ally.  So how are things there now (see Why American troops in Afghanistan shouldn’t have to wear headscarves by Martha McSally posted 2/18/2011 in The Washington Post)?

In 2001, I was an Air Force lieutenant colonel and A-10 fighter pilot stationed in Saudi Arabia, in charge of rescue operations for no-fly enforcement in Iraq and then in Afghanistan. Every time I went off base, I had to follow orders and put on a black Muslim abaya and head scarf. Military officials said this would show “cultural sensitivity” toward conservative Saudi leaders and guarantee “force protection” – this in a nation where women couldn’t drive, vote or dress as they pleased…

In Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, the world saw the hallmark of Taliban oppression – women who failed to cover up risked death. Now, nine years after the fall of the Taliban government, Afghan women are still required to cover themselves and have hardly moved toward the equal rights and liberties we envisioned. In conjunction, U.S. military women are simply submitting to Muslim practices that symbolize the plight of Afghan women when they put on the scarf themselves.

American servicewomen will continue to be viewed as second-class warriors if leaders push them to take up the customs of countries where women are second-class citizens.

It’s pretty bad when they make your liberators adopt the custom of the previously oppressed women.  There’s a mixed message here.  Rise up and enjoy your freedom.  But be obedient.  They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.  And as tradition, culture and religion go, they don’t come much older.  Talk about democratic movements all you want.  But there is a heavy undertow of Islamic Fundamentalism in the Middle East.  And it’s going to take an extraordinary effort to resist it.  

Will the women make it to shore and enjoy democracy?  Or will they be dragged back and disappear beneath the surface of theocracy?  Like in that democratic revolution in Iran?  Let’s pray that feminism wins the day.  For if theocracy does, it won’t be only the women in the Middle East that suffer.  We all will.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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