Saturday, August 15, 2009

Iran – Honduras – Bolivia – Venezuela – Thailand - USA

Fascinating changes are happening in Iran, but first a little background. In 1954 a democratically elected leader named Mohamed Mossadegh was ousted in a CIA backed coup and replaced with our man, the Shah. As I recall Mossadegh was a leftist who had plans to nationalize the oil industry and when American corporate profits are threatened the CIA steps in. (If anyone is interested in learning more about how the CIA works I highly recommend a very lengthy book by Norman Mailer entitled Harlot’s Ghost. It’s a novel but it includes an extensive bibliography; it’ll scare the hell out of you.)

The Shah had his good points – he was a modernizer and increased the role of women in society – but he was cruel and heartless in maintaining his rule. I’ll never forget a picture taken after the Iranian revolution which showed a man, surrounded by a crowd of people, holding up a young child who had had his arms chopped off by the Shah’s secret police as a means of punishing his father. It doesn’t get any lower than that.

But dictatorships cannot last. Despots either die or are removed through revolution. If it’s by the latter there’s a good chance the country may turn in a radical direction as Iran did, and if the brutality wreaked on a country can be attributed to the actions of another country, in this case the US, it’s fair to assume a backlash against the offending nation.

Democracies, on the other hand, may have coups but never revolutions. It’s reasonable to make another assumption; that if America had just left Iran alone back in the fifties it might well now be a secular, modern and relatively prosperous country. I admit it’s a stretch to make 50 year assumptions, but it also seems entirely possible that Iran would have turned out very differently than today.

For one thing, the demographics of the country would have been very different. It’s axiomatic that modern, secular countries where educating and liberating women is undertaken brings lower birth rates. I would therefore argue that the Iranian revolution is experiencing blowback from its very high proportion of young people – 60% of the population is under 25 - produced as a direct result of the repression of women.

Iran’s educated urban people and especially the young are rebelling against the theocracy imposed upon them by aging, hard-line clerics. The semblance of democracy they are allowed has whet their appetites for more. The so called ‘reformers’ who lost the recent election are barely different from Ahmedinejad, but they offer a cause to rally around. Iran’s true rulers are the clerics who absolutely would not allow a true reformer to stand for election.

An essential fact pertaining to the recent Iranian election that you’re probably not aware of is that Ahmedinejad’s winning margin of greater than 60% closely confirmed opinion polls prior to the vote. He very likely won the election and did it with the votes of the rural poor – he’s a populist.

What baffles me about the whole affair is why his people felt such a strong need to commit fraud or act suspiciously like they were committing fraud (I won’t go into the details but take it from me, there was a lot of fishy stuff going on) when he had the vote sewed up. Maybe they anticipated the backlash from restive youth and the urban elite yearning for a more open, modern society and wanted to wrap it up very quickly.

Meanwhile their brutish, heavy handed response to the demonstrations and protests has turned a large segment of society as well as the international community against them. Furthermore it has exposed the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who is supposed to have a divine mandate, as a crass political hack. At this point his rule will be permanently tainted. When politics and religion mix, both are sullied.

The mark of a true democracy, or maybe I should say, an evolved democracy, is how well it treats its minorities. As long as the conservative clerics leave no room for the urbane, the educated, the youth to express themselves, unrest will develop. And in this case could well mean revolution. Iran has elections but it is not by any stretch a democracy.

Another factoid worthy of note in all the hoopla about Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, is that they have not instigated a war in 250 years. If they indeed want a nuke it’s only to protect themselves from Israel, which does have nukes and would have no compunctions about using them.

In Honduras, the elite staged a coup to depose an elected leader, Manuel Zelaya. They say (and it’s endlessly repeated in the media) because he was trying to engineer an unconstitutional third term for himself, but that’s total bullshit. He set up a referendum to establish a constitutional convention that wasn’t even going to convene till his term was nearly over, making it impossible for it to enable an additional term for him as president. No, his great crime was pushing through a minimum wage and fighting for other benefits for people on the lower rungs of society.

Bolivia and Venezuela are similar in having lighter-skinned middle class people implacably opposed to leaders elected by large majorities of voters. In the case on Bolivia, Evo Morales is the first president of indigenous descent in a nation that’s 2/3 indigenous. Hugo Chavez, though repeatedly referred to as a dictator by the American media and treated as such by the US government, including the Obama administration, has won three free and fair elections in six years by margins over 60%.

In Thailand’s case, Taksin Shinawatra, elected twice by a comfortable margin, was ousted in a coup generated by the urban elite who rightfully hated him because he was corrupt but who also never gave a minute’s thought to the needs of the majority rural poor. Whatever his underlying motivations were (some say crass political calculations) Taksin won the hearts of the people by, for example, providing medical care at a negligible cost and allocating money for rural development. When the people voted in a successor government of his party, the Bangkok elite also drove it from power. Now they want 2/3 of the legislature to be appointed because they think the masses are too dumb to be entrusted with electing a government.

The US had its coup when the Supreme Court installed Bush in power, but it is still continuing. The elite own the US government and the health care debate is a prime example. Obama was an advocate of single-payer, or Medicare for all, as a Senator and candidate, but now that he’s president neither he nor anybody in Congressional leadership is allowed to even mention the term as a possible alternative. Obama’s personal physician for the past 20 years was scheduled to appear on an ABC forum on health care. He was disinvited a day before the broadcast because he’s an advocate of single-payer. It now looks like the administration is willing to compromise on a public option, all to appease a rabid Republican Party.

And yet a recent poll showed 60% of Americans in favor of some form of direct government involvement in health care whether it be single-payer or a public option to private health insurance. If you further break down those numbers into political affiliation you see about 90% of Democrats in favor. Just who then are the Democrats representing?... Exactly. The Democrats lately have received more money from the health care industry than the Repugs. In fact, it looks like a single-payer bill, co-sponsored by 90 representatives, will come up for a vote in the House though it’s sure to lose since the leadership is totally opposed. Voters will get a chance to see where their representative’s true loyalties lie.

The minority in Iran is on the right side of history since it is seeking openness, freedom and true democracy. In all the other cases mentioned the minority is implacably opposed to any changes that might dilute their power. The well-being of their societies as a whole never enters their consciousnesses.

To understand how low down the discourse in America has gotten there’s no better example than seeing pensioners disrupting town hall meetings by yelling they don’t want the government to mess with their Medicare. It doesn’t get any dumber than that. Or realizing that a majority of Repugs think Obama is not an American citizen. Those people are so stupid they are dangerous.

As for me, if my personal life wasn’t so easy and enjoyable I’d be freakin’ end of the line cynical. If I had to live in the States I’d be positively livid. What’s most depressing to me about the situation in America is that the only people with the energy to protest are the wingnut idiots, while the left stands idly by as they witness the theft of the government and wholesale trashing of American values. America should have leaders like Chavez and Morales who are willing to fight to the bitter end for they believe in and for what they were elected to accomplish. They should be shutting down the government as the protestors did in Thailand. They should be as brave as the Iranian protestors who face brutal repression in the pursuit of their basic rights. Instead they settle for almost-as-bad-as-nothing and think it’s progress.