Tag Archives: Democracy

A Whole New World (of Problems)

The emblem of the National Transitional Council (and a pretty damn cool one at that) of Libya. The NTC claims to represent rebels across the country, but do they have the influence to really unite Libya's opposition? (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As Colonel Moammar Qaddafi’s days become more and more numbered, the question of Libya’s new leadership is coming to the front of international leaders’ minds, and of course is a topic of paramount importance to Libyans themselves.

Little sidenote here – it seems that Moammar Qaddafi’s son and heir-apparent, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, has either escaped rebel custody or was never captured in the first place. Rebels had reported that Saif was captured, and would be handed over to the International Criminal Court, but it seems that won’t be happening until he’s actually, well, captured. Just a little update!

Control of Libya seems to be moving safely into rebel hands; at least, the general momentum of the conflict is in the rebels’ favor for now. The probable outcome is an entirely different story, and one I won’t dive into here, except to say that I’m generally optimistic for the rebels. Let’s be generous to the rebels and the National Transitional Council and assume that they’ll soon take power.

The new leadership will face many challenges and problems as they take over Tripoli. The first, and perhaps most important of these is figuring out who the new leadership actually is. Like so many revolutionary movements, the rebellion in Libya is made up of a complicated fabric of different tribes, factions, and interest groups, a fabric that is difficult to tease apart. While the NTC (National Transitional Council, the de jure leadership of the Libyan rebels) is technically in charge, there are so many different groups represented in the rebellion that it will be a major challenge just to bring everyone under a single banner.

And beyond the already daunting task of uniting the rebel forces is the challenge of holding back the tide of anger, resentment, and vengeance that is likely to be brought to bear against Qaddafi supporters by rebels after the tyrant falls. The last thing post-Qaddafi Libya needs is an Iraq-esqe chaos-state (catchy huh?) where violence is the only law people obey.

On top of all this, there’s the ever-present risk of another dictator rising from the ashes of the Colonel’s regime, an outcome which is not entirely unlikely, and one which would render the entire revolution moot and make the international community that facilitated the change seem rather moronic.

The stakes are high in Tripoli and across Libya. The people of the country certainly don’t lack resolve and bravery, traits which they’ve demonstrated throughout the revolution. But because Libya has been in Moammar Qaddafi’s headlock for the past 42 years, the country has few political institutions, and the young people who are largely responsible for the rebellion don’t have any experience leading large political groups, much less governments. During his lengthy rule, Qaddafi made a point of splitting up tribes, organizations, political groups and movements, and any other form of organization that he could get his hands on. This simple yet effective dictatorial tactic will make it trickier for the Libyan people to form the political groups they need to and to build a stable state.

This state will need to hit the ground running in order to keep up with the constant demands of a divided and conflict-ridden country like Libya. Besides managing infrastructure issues like water supply, electricity, and the many other things Qaddafi promised the rebels would cut off if allowed to come to power, the NTC and other leaders will still need to manage the winding down of a civil war. Even after Qaddafi’s death or capture, the country will remain divided, and it could take quite a long time to bring things back together.

To achieve these and other goals, the new government will not only need to act fast and think faster, but will also, in all likelihood, require a bit more international nudging. The NATO air campaign has helped the rebels enormously, but the majority of Libya’s problems can’t be solved by aerial bombardment. If security is a major issue in the weeks and months after regime change, it may be necessary for peacekeeping forces (who should be from a variety of contributors, not just the US) to step onto the streets of Tripoli until things can be calmed down. Once some democratic institutions have been set up (and this process is already underway in Benghazi and across the country) and the NTC has found its footing, the international community can pull out and declare Libya a job well done.

There are of course many more issues and challenges that I may have overlooked or airbrushed in the course of writing this, but the Libyan rebels seem to be on the right side of history in this conflict. If their determination can bring about democracy and revolution gives way to freedom and security, then the story of the rebels who stood up to Moammar Qaddafi’s violence and repression will be a refreshing revival of the Arab Spring and a powerful reminder to tyrants across the Middle East and the world at large that violence and rage can’t stop a people who will give anything to win back their country.

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Filed under International Focus, Politics & Power, Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

The Washington Circus

With only one short day left before the US would have crashed into its first-ever default, Congress and the White House have finally settled on a deal on the debt ceiling.

But while the “clear and present” danger of imminent default is out of the way (for now at least), the federal government’s antics surrounding the normally simple process of raising the debt ceiling have scarred the political system this country stands on.

Anyone who’s followed the deliberations in the US Capitol over the debt ceiling has probably not been overly impressed with their elected officials in the past few weeks. As members of Congress, the president, the Tea Party, and leaders from both sides have gone at one another tooth and nail over the debt ceiling issue facing America.

And finally, a deal has emerged between John Boehner and Harry Reid, the de facto leaders of the GOP and Democrats in Congress (respectively), a deal that the president is willing to sign. But this deal is still far from law. An ongoing debate in Washington still threatens to derail it, as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle have objections. The deal has unsavory aspects to both conservatives and progressives: it cuts less spending than the former would like, and has almost none of the tax increases the latter was angling for. This means there’s still a decent chance this deal won’t go through.

But either way, this debate has already done serious damage to the federal government of the United States, and to the people of the country. Besides costing US taxpayers some $1.7 billion, this legislative monkey business has done real damage to the reputation of America’s lawmakers. Weeks of bickering and failed talks fulfill the stereotype that Congress is a lumbering legislative lump of inefficacy (alliteration always strengthens an argument, right?). Recent polls have shown that as many as 80% of Americans are dissatisfied with the actions of their representatives in DC.

So who’s to blame? Who is the ringleader in this circus?

Us.

One (and “one” includes myself) could certainly make a case that the Tea Party movement in the GOP ranks is largely responsible for the crap Congress has been trudging through. If it weren’t for their posturing and political machinations, the raising of the debt ceiling would have been perfectly normal. Like it always has been (the debt ceiling was raised 7 times during George W. Bush’s presidency). Tea Party members of the fractured Republican “coalition” in the House have made ridiculous pledges that pay no attention the real state of the country or its economy. In fact, some Tea Partiers have made it clear they would be willing to run the country into default, just to prove that “it wouldn’t be so bad.”

But as much as I would like to blame the Tea Party for everything happening in Washington, the truth of the matter is ultimately that the ringleaders of this circus were put into place… by us. Back in November of last year, the US people showed their impatience with Democratic leaders by electing a flood of GOP Congressmen and -women. These men and women, many affiliated with the Tea Party, promised to cut spending and “big government” if elected, which is exactly what they’re trying to do (albeit in a highly illogical fashion). Who voted them into office? The American people. And while most of us certainly would’ve liked to see a more mature electorate running our country’s finances, those who put the monkeys in this circus (So to speak. Maybe.) in the first place have to share some of the blame.

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Clashing Dreams in the Middle East

As revolution rushes through the Middle East, radical Islam and democratic secularism will clash and confront one another. (Source: beforeitsnews.com)

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but his dream lives on. His was a dream of violence, bloodshed, and sectarianism, one in which a new Islamist caliphate could take power, and his repressive ideology would flourish.

Bin Laden also envisioned a Middle East that would be sympathetic to his ideas and ideals. And while most people are repulsed by his beliefs, there are a frightening number of people who hold the same bloodthirsty views as him. Many of these are already involved in al Qaeda, the Taliban, or other distinct terrorist entities. But this mindset can be found all throughout the Middle East and beyond. It is an idea that advocates the violent enforcement of one’s own beliefs, and is not only a grave danger to lives, but an offensive and woefully misguided interpretation of the otherwise peaceful and fairly welcoming religion of Islam.

Yet the Arab Spring, as it is now known, is seriously calling into question the efficacy and popularity of bin Laden’s violent Islamist vision for the Middle East. Unlike the religious revolution al Qaeda dreams of someday bringing about, the Arab Spring which brought down both Hosni Mubarak and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was almost exclusively secular, and motivated by secular desires and aspirations. It’s democracy that the Arab people seem bent on achieving, not an Islamic state or caliphate.

So there seem to be two conflicting viewpoints in the Middle East right now. On the one hand, Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and all who share their twisted views see a future in which their own beliefs about religion and society are paramount. On the other hand, a powerful new youth movement is swelling in the Middle East, a movement that, despite al Qaeda’s fondest wishes, is a secular one.

The stage seems set for yet more tension in the Middle East. Even as a new dream of freedom and democracy builds momentum in places that previously suffered under terribly repressive states, a different kind of repression, this time of a religious variety, is still in the arena. As these two dreams of the future, one of religious nationalism and the other of secular democracy, face off over the coming years, the people of the Middle East will have a choice. They must make it wisely.

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Filed under International Focus, Religion & Reason, Revolutions & Revolts, War & Peace

Should Everyone Vote?

This post was inspired by (and largely based on) an excellent Opinion piece on the CNN website by L. Z. Granderson. You can find it here.

In Western democracies, we’re accustomed to the idea that all people should vote, that all people should have a political voice and some measure of influence in how their federal, state, or local government is run, and in who is running those governments. And, in theory, this is a fantastic idea!

But how often do we really stop to think about it? The principle of voting rights seems to be sacrosanct in America and many other Western countries, and any challenge to it is usually treated with shock or outright horror. Most people see the right to vote as a sacred, God-given right, especially here in America; and I would agree, to a certain extent.

But reading the piece that I mentioned above gave me pause. True, all people have a right to participate in their political process, and people should exercise that right. But there’s a drawback and a danger to this as well. A disheartening number of people are painfully ignorant of their own political system. I don’t just mean the actual mechanisms of the system (how elections work, what Congress does, the significance of the Supreme Court), but also the policies and decisions under consideration by our government.

Allow me to throw a disclaimer in here. I am by no means equating ignorance to idiocy. I’m not calling into question the intelligence of the average American, but rather the average American’s commitment to being an involved and informed voter. People may be extremely passionate their pet politicians or policies, but so much of the time, they either limit their learning to one particular issue or simply don’t bother to be informed about any of the issues they may claim to care about so much. It’s easy to denounce Obamacare, talk about creating jobs, or express deep concern about the budget deficit. But if voters are not aware of the real costs, benefits, repercussions, and payoffs of such things, how can they be qualified to vote about them? If one does not really understand the principles of Obamacare, what it takes to create more jobs, or what the magnitude of our budget deficit is, how can they vote responsibly on these issues?

Think of it this way: If a person knows nothing about navigation or seamanship, would you ask them to help you sail the Atlantic? If a friend of yours doesn’t understand the first thing about chemistry and physics, would you invite him to run the LHC for a day? Note that the people in these examples are not stupid; they just haven’t been given the knowledge to do such things! So it is, I think, with voting. If people are not properly informed about the issues their country faces, how can they vote well? We spend a lot of time getting up in arms against our politicians, blaming them for our problems, and in some cases, they are at fault. But it seems that the bigger problem here lies with the people electing them. If we expect our politicians to fix our country, then we also have to be willing to do the work required to stay informed and updated about what needs to be fixed.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we form some erudite council of qualified voters (though this is almost what our republican political system is) to make our decisions for us, and disqualify all others from the political process. But what I am advocating is that we as voters have greater respect for the power of voting we’ve been given. While it may be a basic human right to have a fair government that operates under the consent of the governed, we are also under an obligation to treat that right with the respect it demands. And the most important way to do that is by getting informed.

So if the title of this post seems radical or provocative… it is. I’m still struggling with this question myself, but perhaps if people are not willing to do the legwork required to vote responsibly, they shouldn’t exercise that right at all. As Spiderman came to learn from his Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility. (That’s the extent of my superhero comic knowledge.) I’m not discouraging anyone from voting; in fact, I wish more people would. Instead, I’m encouraging people to go beyond simple sound bite politics and find out what they’re really voting for before they pick up the pencil and cast their ballot.

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Democracy Inc.

All too true...

America has always portrayed itself as the absolute pillar and picture of democracy, a claim that has gone largely unchallenged since its inception. But how much of a democracy do we really have? This is a question many people don’t ask, but one that needs to be asked, particularly in light of the liberation the Egyptian people have just experienced.

So is the United States really all it claims to be? My answer is no. While we may claim to be the city on the hill to the rest of the world for democracy, we’re far from that lofty title. The truth is, many of America’s political systems (and politicians) have become strangled marionettes, with corporate America pulling the strings.

You’re probably wondering what I mean by such an extreme statement! But I feel totally justified in saying this. If you take a good, hard, honest look at the American political system, it’s one that has become ruled by private interests, PACs, and organizations like the NRA. Simply put, it seems that money has become the primary motivator in our political system, rather than any real desire for progress, change, or strong democracy.

In essence, the United States has what I’ll call corporate democracy. Those people, organizations, and companies that hold the most monetary might are the ones with the most influence on the political system. The rich and powerful of the country are the real ones in control, calling for yet more tax breaks to preserve their already monumental amounts of wealth, while state politicians endlessly scrape away at social benefits to the most needy. Even in D.C., Republicans are making a concerted effort to destroy President Obama’s hard-won health care bill.

And at the end of the day, those at the bottom of the food chain, the poor, minorities, and the down-trodden, have more or less no political power. Sure, they can vote, but who holds the power of advertisement? Campaigning? Hopping around the country in a private jet? It certainly isn’t any “hero of the people.” Running for president typically costs between one and two hundred million dollars, a sum that “Joe the Plumber” wouldn’t be able to scrape together in a lifetime. Typically, the people who get into the highest offices are the ones that are the most heavily subsidized and supported by the American elite.

Sadly, there’s not a whole lot that can be done about this, at least in the short term. Having a capitalist society inherently makes money a leading factor in making decisions, including political ones. So in a way, this is the nature of our democratic beast. But at the same time, small steps can and must be taken to level the playing field for the poor and the oppressed.

One of these steps involves tightening restrictions on campaign financing by big business, corporations, and large-scale organizations. One of the biggest problems present in our corporate democracy is the huge amount of money given to political campaigns and politicians. This creates a sort of “rent-a-democracy,” where our elected officials are propped up by so many special and private interests that they can do nothing without approval from their sponsors. A perfect example is one I alluded to in another post on the blog. I would of course recommend reading that post as well (I’m so subtle), but what I allude to is the NRA’s monetary stranglehold on the issue of gun control. So many members of Congress have been subsidized and supported by the NRA, and now they’re exerting their will not only in the form of bought politicians, but in lobbying as well. In this other post, I discussed the fact that the NRA has managed to get almost all support for gun research done by the CDC pulled out from under their feet.

I think we also need something of a philosophical shift in thought as regards our political system. We must be willing to challenge our leaders on who’s funding them and whether their decisions are really being made in the best interest of their constituents, or in the best interest of their special interests. After what happened in Egypt, it’s time America really took a hard look at its own “democracy.”

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