Saturday, June 27, 2009

You'll Have to Pry Power from My Cold, Dead Hand

"Democracy won't come by the charity of the governing class. Fighting is the only way to gain democracy. . . . People are doomed to be slaves unless they are willing to sacrifice their blood."

message board comment from Suzhou, China about Iranian protests.

Governing classes rarely cede power willingly. If they cede power at all, they do so under duress, compelled by events. When it cedes power, some combination of forces has eroded the governing class’s authority or compelled it to accept a less advantageous position. Sometimes that less advantageous position is death. It is certainly a diminishment of wealth and self-importance. No wonder the governing class resists change.

In Iran a governing class that is itself a legacy of revolution that toppled another governing class, is now challenged both from within and from the street. The coalition of forces challenging Iran’s governing class is a potent one. That’s why the mullahs are fighting so hard against it; they recognize it for the danger it is. The real danger is that the demonstrators are challenging individuals rather than the system. They echo the same commitment to Islamic government and law as do the theocrats.

The brutality and force used against the demonstrators may well keep Ahmadinejad and Khamenei in power for the time being. Repression and violence worked for the Shah—at least until it didn’t work and his governing class was swept away by the Iranian people led by a determined band of Islamic nationalist revolutionaries. That history offers no certain answers for the future but human nature and individual behavior tell me that as long as Iran’s rulers allow a system in which most Iranians can meet their basic physical and emotional needs (which they have managed to do now for 30 years despite a few glitches) the ruling class will hang on.

That hold is tenuous, though. Right now, it looks like many Iranians have little or no faith in the current system and are no longer willing to acquiesce to it, willing to risk life, limb and liberty in their defiance . That lack of faith is the smoldering ember that may yet force a change.

All this makes me wonder why Americans weren’t out in the streets, protesting a stolen election in 2000. Maybe we still had faith in our national institutions. With today’s hindsight, we should have been shutting down the nation rather than allow CheneyBush to claim “victory”. With only foresight at our disposal, we somehow assumed that the stolen election was simply a matter of procedure and that CheneyBush was little different from Al Gore. Instead of taking to the streets, we sat back, chortled at the concept of hanging and pregnant chads and grew weary of the whole affair. The only ones on the streets protesting were paid Republicans protesting anything that would challenge their claim to Florida’s electoral votes. Most of us acted as if everything was normal.

The Iranians have already shown more initiative than Americans did in similar circumstances. I hope they get a better result.

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Health Care Financing Solved

Reading commentary about health care reform in the US, I am staggered by the unwillingness of pretty much everyone who wrings their hands over the high cost of the proposed proposals (up to $1.6 trillion over 10 years) to look at the most obvious source of funds in the federal budget for the needed funds. That $1.6 trillion comes to $160 billion per year. This country spends almost that much on the unnecessary wars, not to mention the endemic waste and redundancy in the so-called "defense" budget that exceeds $1 trillion a year. I have no doubt that a good budget analyst/program evaluator could carve 10 percent out of that budget without endangering military security one iota. Apparently, that option is not only not on the radar, the radar isn't even in place.

Of course, the hawks and military will object mightily and point to all sorts of potential dangers to protect their budgets, but the reality is that America's pathetically unequal health care system is every bit as dangerous to our national well being as any potential enemy.

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