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?

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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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.

www.PITHOCRATES.com

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