It happened during the Late Great Unpleasantness. I'm
not talking about Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln and the War Between
the States. I am referring to the legislative "battle" in
Madison, Wisconsin over collective-bargaining rights which continue
to be the subject of news headlines and media discussion. It is a
hotly contested issue with claims being asserted about rights being
violated, strong arm tactics being used, and government oppression.
Some are even drawing an analogy to the, seemingly
popular, uprisings across the Middle East, such as that in Egypt
which overthrew a US ally of 30 years and are yet to produce a new
government. For example, NBC News anchor, Brian Williams, likened
union members' actions to the populist revolts in the Middle East;
stating in his Feb. 18 opening segment, "From the Mideast to the
American Midwest tonight, people are rising up. Citizen uprisings are
changing the world." He went on to say Wisconsin's capitol,
Madison, "has been taken over by the people."
However, let's not forget that Egypt is of course the
birthplace of the Muslim Brotherhood the organization that
spiritually birthed radical Wahhabi Islam and Ayman Al-Zawahiri,
Osama bin Laden's chief lieutenant.
In considering the upheaval in the Middle East today,
some think back to the lost opportunity of 2009. The Green Revolution
swept Iran - students, shopkeepers, professionals, mothers,
dissidents and just plain ordinary people wanting to live free stood
up, spoke up and protested. They were ignored by the West,
unsupported by our President and left to the mercies of a madman
seeking nuclear weapons to be murderously suppressed, shot down and
sent home to continue to live in fear of their government.
Others look to the recent revolution in Tunisia. You can
also look at the various attempts at public protest for government
change in Bahrain, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. Much of our
focus however is now on Libya where the US is entering into our third
simultaneous military action.
It wasn't so long ago that the American people were
promised to be out of Iraq. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest
the United States has ever been involved in; yes, even longer than
Vietnam. And yet we've now opened up a third front of "kinetic
military action" in Libya.
What is the worthwhile goal - completely avoided as our
stated chief aim - the removal, exile, impoverishment and hopeful
execution of Col. Muammar Qaddafi? Admittedly nations don't often
call for the execution of a foreign leader, even a rogue one. It
tends to get a bounty placed on the head of democratically elected
officials such as our own president. I will confess that I didn't
vote for President Obama, but I don't want him dead, or harmed - he
is the President. I'm equally sure that my dreams of the end of
Col. Qaddafi are timid compared to those who have had to live under
What went on in the Middle East for the last 30 years
was the repression of people's dreams, desires and their very lives.
Whether the regime came to power after assassination (Anwar Sadat in
Egypt), Royal succession (Jordan & Saudi Arabia), military coup
(Iraq & Libya) or a religious revolution (Iran) repression of
individual, political, economic and electoral rights has been the
norm. Not once in 30 years were there free and fair elections, until
sponsored by the US in Iraq. When elections were held they were
a sham, corrupt, a farce.
The Middle East cauldrons have been brewing an almost
indescribable stew. The situation made more complicated by a
different recipe being used in each country with endless combinations
of students, enterprising shopkeepers, women, modernist, radical
Wahhabi's, corrupt political party members, police, militias,
secularists, imams, tribal leaders, and the professional military. The
simple truth: most of these groups were excluded from any free
Contrast that situation of the Middle East circumstances
with those of the American Midwest. Regular elections are held.
Governors are elected every four years. Most legislatures are elected
for two-year terms, with varying rules as to how the Senators are
elected for two or four-year terms. In America's Midwest
elections have meaning - power is transferred, political party's
fortunes wax and wane. No one is deprived of their rights!
Things did change with elections last year. The 2010
election forced a new direction on Republicans and Democrats in
Wisconsin. Under the previous governor a Democrat, and before him
four-term Republican Gov. Thompson, government grew in Wisconsin.
State budgets grew. Government spending increased. Worker payrolls
exceeded the private taxpayers' average take-home pay. Government
employees' pensions and benefits continued to climb.
Throughout most of that time period the economy cycled
from - okay, to pretty good, to splendid. Not anymore! Almost
everyone seems to realize it. Some sense it and try to protect all
they have and grab what they can get. Others know it's time for a
diet - to cut back on the goodies and pay down the credit cards. This
carries forth into their view of the government, as well.
The protests began. Power has again transferred, a
new regime is in place and it intends to constrain spending and cut
back government budgets. But there's just one problem, the constituents
of the old regime don't like that plan. In fact they despise it and
they're willing to tell everyone about it. So there ensue the
Wisconsin teachers' and government employees' labor union protests
and the occupation of the capital in Madison.
Unlike the Middle East there is no shooting, tear gas,
or actual rioting. Sure there was some pushing and shoving. Some
people called dirty names, vilified, subjected to harassment and
cursed at. The governor was portrayed as Adolf Hitler - something
that for months we've been told was utterly inappropriate when done
by the Tea Partiers. (Still waiting for Mainstream Mediato
comment on this.) Some senators ran away to prevent legislative
action. Others stayed to force the legislative action and face the
harassment. Some even endured death threats.
Again the contrast must be made: in the Middle East they
are killing people by the dozens, hundreds or thousands. In America,
power is transferred, people protest, some loudmouths shoot from a
lip and then we resort to more political means.
In Wisconsin, today, 16 different recall campaigns are
underway. Eight Democrats and eight Republicans are under assault by
means of legitimate political tools of grievance. A recall election
is one in which the constituents of an electoral district or the
entire state can basically call for a "redo vote". These
are obviously retaliatory measures.
People on one end or the other of this budget dispute
did not like how at least 16 people voted or failed to vote. In the
best hopes of the petitioners the incumbent officeholders will be
thrown out. At a minimum, they will know that their opponents are
watching, waiting and willing to strike when the opportunity presents
There is another contrast to be made between the Middle
East and America's Midwest. In the Middle East the problem that
persisted for decades has been the government defrauding the rights
of the people it governs. As I said earlier, in America, elections
have meaning. Agendas are either certified to be continued or
negated - by changing the persons who hold the levers of power.
In America, you don't have to like it when the agenda
changes. You can speak out or shout about it. One of the most famous
instances of that occurring was a comment by the late Peter Jennings,
Anchor of the ABC Evening News. When the 1994 midterm elections
elevated Newt Gingrich to Speaker of the House, Jennings snidely
remarked,"... The voters had a temper tantrum last week..."
With that Wisconsin change of agenda we did not see a
Middle Eastern styled government defrauding of the people. Change
occurred, drastic change according to some, but not fraud.
However there was a fraud perpetrated on the streets of
Madison. That fraud was captured by television cameras and can
be seen even now on YouTube. Employees of the government defrauded
the taxpayers by alleging to be sick while tramping around the state
capital in frigid temperatures. Sufficient numbers of teachers
"called in sick" that entire schools had to be closed for
days. Some went so far as to bring their students down to participate
in the protests they were staging while not working because of some
alleged malady they were suffering.
In the upcoming weeks I expect we will be treated to
many more instances of protest in America. In the Rust Belt in
Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania, as well as, the Sun Belt in
places like Alabama, South and North Carolina and Florida budgets are
under constraint. Governors and legislatures have tough decisions to
They don't have the luxury of printing money. They must
balance their budgets therefore they must make hard choices. Most
will understand, many will not like it, much protest will ensue and
some may even idiotically riot (let's sincerely pray and hope not).
But the real action will occur in Washington DC.
Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Democrats control the Senate.
Speaker John Boehner uneasily rules the House because of the split between his Tea
Party and old-line Republicans. And of course President Obama is
sticking by his submitted budget that has over a $1.4 trillion
deficit for next year.
The whole town is waiting for a donnybrook to bust out.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York recently told the media that he's
been instructed to refer to the Republicans as being
"extreme". Freshman Republicans are already making it
hard on their leaders to make compromises. The chattering class
remembers 1995 and is just drooling over the prospects while waiting
for a shutdown - stay tuned for your local news - film at 11:00!