Saturday, June 9, 2012

Unions United?

 As the first governor to win a recall vote, Scott Walker has made history. But is that really a good thing? First, the reasons behind it. Going into the initial election, Walker promised to revise the budget and bring Wisconsin back into economic prosperity. One of the largest things draining the state budget was the payrolls and pensions promised to state workers and union members back when the economy was bull. True to his word, Walker immediately passed legislation that stripped many workers of collective bargaining rights and public benefits with the rationale that these widespread cuts would prevent layoffs and save 37 million per year and a total 165 million in debt restructuring.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker put into place
labor restrictions to remove debt and restructure the
            But this motion was a particular jab at the unions in place in Wisconsin. Prior to these laws, all workers within Wisconsin in particular fields were automatically were made part of the unions. Legislation passed and rescinded this, far reducing the pull of the union both in resources and numbers. But the consequences were much farther reaching than that. The concept that a governor could so limit the power of unions to save his state—if allowed to continue—could spread to other states. In response, the unions put huge amounts of money into forming a petition for a recall vote that would remove Scott Walker and send a very clear message: “The unions have the power and attempts to take it away are not welcome”. Gathering over a million signatures and sending thousands of protestors, the recall vote was finalized. However, despite the massive push to oust Walker, this Tuesday, he was victorious. But what exactly does this mean? Those who oppose him claim that his narrow victory margin--53.2% to 46.3%--didn’t adequately represent the far greater economic clout he held over democratic opponent Tom Barrett: namely, raising 45.6 million as opposed to Barrett’s 17.9.
Protestors marched against Walker, but the majority
of the state still voted for him, implying a
conservative, anti-union sentiment.
            This battle is just a small-scale representation of the presidential war going on right now. As a focal point of the country right now, the fact that Walker—a republican candidate in a traditionally democratic state—was able to raise so much money (mainly from out of state wealthy donors) demonstrates a nationwide support for the Republicans and the new ideology that they seem to represent: breaking consolidated union power and revamping the economy by removing deals. The fact that President Obama did not visit Barrett did not go unnoticed either, as his presence associated with a democratic loss is not something that his campaign wants.
            Yet, while it is admirable that Walker stuck to his promises despite threats and protests, it is still to be seen whether his reforms make the desired impacts. The question is: are the unions a power that really needs to be stopped? It could be said that union density in countries nowadays really is having a negative impact on the economy. Take for instance, the majority of Europe which has a union density of around the 60 to 80% range. But while they’re fiscal difficulties are greater than the United States, that does not seem large enough to correlate to the discrepancy in union density of most European countries (around 70%) to the United States (12%). And China, who is in the midst of an economic boom has a union density of 90%. On the other hand, all of these unions are very different, Europe has a total union that is not specific to trade and has optional entry. The primary union in the United States, AFL-CIO, utilizes craft unionism and has had mandatory membership everywhere up until Scott Walker’s legislation.
AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. union, has strongly
opposed Walker's attack on its promised deals
and policies which are bankrupting Wisconsin.
            Reducing these benefits may not complete fix the system but it could be an important step. Diminishing union power may break the monopolies they hold and raise the wages of non-union workers elsewhere. Additionally, by ending such a inflated wage rate it could bring manufacturing and jobs back to the United States. The original purpose of unions was to protect non-skilled workers from being taken advantage of during the Industrial Revolution, the long-term consequences of their existence however have driven the United States into debt it cannot handle. With all the political backlash it implies, it seems that soon other states will follow suit in an action to reform their policies and who knows? Reducing the power of the union may be more beneficial for workers than the unions themselves ever were.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Divided in Sudan

Workers from the Ministry of Health seek to alleviate
suffering in Sudan
As the media beats its chest and weeps over the people killed and displaced in the recent Syria conflicts, they tend to forget another conflict that could prove to be vastly more dangerous: Sudan. Perhaps it is because it has been going on for years, or it is the media’s natural tendency to dismiss events that are older than 48 hours, but soon the dispute between the separated states of South Sudan and its northern counterpart will become to large to ignore.
            In July of 2011, the members of the South Sudanese leadership, took a vote in which there was a 98% affirmation in favor of a split of the country; a move which was made possible by conditions stated within the Comprehensive Peace Agreement drafted six years prior. Unfortunately, this separation was not one which the northern portion of the country took lightly, and violence began almost immediately. Over disputes between the constantly warring tribes, over oil boundaries and possession, over stolen cattle and pastoral grazing lands, millions of lives may once again be spent “resolving” the million-faceted dichotomy between north and south. Stemming from differences in culture, race and religion, the tensions that have already led to two civil wars and a death toll of two million people in Africa’s largest nation are the exposition of this latest conflict, and perhaps even the same war entirely, only with better distinguished boundaries.
Rebel leaders, like the above Khalil Ibrahim, divide
the countries between their warring factions.
            As push comes to shove, the disputes that have already claimed 1,100 lives and displaced roughly 20,000 people will escalate rapidly, with the catalysts of racism and rage unfettered by outside influence: military or humanitarian. The longer it continues; however, the less it appears the unified struggle of a people for their homeland and more like the individual scramble for safety at the cost of all else. In a time where these now separated nations should be consolidating and building up their newly effected economies and foreign relations, the result is nothing more than a further deterioration of political and social ties. Rebel groups battle, unite, and then fight again. The Sudan Liberation Army branch under Minni Minawi’s control remains separate from the Sudan Liberation Army’s branch under Abdul Wahid al-Nur’s control and these have even fractured into the SLA/Juba Unity, the SLA/Mother and the SLA/AW8; the Justic and Equality Movement and the Liberation and Justice Movement work together, but only to fed off the Sudan Armed Forces. Not to mention the conflict that has carved a region of Sudan into Central, Eastern, Western, Northern and Southern Darfur.
Conflict in Sudan has led Darfur, a large region,
to be further split into Central and East Darfur
            That is the mantra of the 21st century: individualism. As nationalism defined the conflicts in the past decades, so has the intolerance and pride lead to the battles of this era. The Arab Springs revolutions in the Middle East, Occupy Wall Street in the United States and the European Labor Party movement define the demands of the people today. Entitlement without compromise. Disregarding the different and working only for the mutual benefit of those who think like they do, doesn’t strengthen these movements, it weakens them and the mutual tolerance and unity that is necessary. Middle Eastern countries continue to struggle with equality and violence; the Occupy movement has long been in shambles; and Europe’s economy speaks for itself. If, after this split, the organizations of Sudan and South Sudan remain unwilling to consolidate and unify for the betterment of their countries and people, this will be the legacy of their dreams and ambitions as well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Democratic Terrorists

I think its safe to say that terrorism is bad. And I’m pretty sure that the America population would unanimously agree with that statement. For the past two decades, the emergence of terrorism as a principle military and political strategy has been a constant bane to the United States: both in foreign and domestic affairs. Our military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have been consistently antagonized by the Taliban, al Queda and other rogue insurgent groups determined to undermine our authority and hegemony through their attacks. And then a little closer to all of our hearts, the attack on the World Trade Center on 9-11. It seems that terrorism has consistently opposed core Western values like democracy and has worked to install government systems that rely on fear tactics and ignore human rights.

The United Nations has sent representatives to oversee
the conflict in Syria but even their influence has not
prevented terrorism from emerging as part of the
            But what if it worked for us? Persistent despite United Nations sanctions, the war in Syria continues to rage, with President Bahsar al-Assad deploying more forces and tanks to fight the opposition. This clash, however has produced some unexpected results. As conflict is extended and the battle becomes even more dangerous, rebelling civilians have felt the need to increase the severity of their attacks, specifically, with the use of terrorism. In the past few days, multiple incidents of both road-side and suicide bombings have occurred, targeting Syrian military forces. Granted, road-side bombings are not something unheard of in the Middle Eastern region, but these occurrence have a distinct twist to them. This terrorism is being used to support democracy and reform, a sharp contrast to the usual totalitarian regimes that it is usually the proponent of.
            This being considered, the United States will have to think strongly about their position on these actions. For one, they could allow it to continue and support these actions against the Assad regime. However, this is risky, as the military support of radical movements like these have given dictators like Saddam Hussein the ability to rise to power. On the other hand, working against these rebels would create an irresolvable disparity in foreign alliances. Working against both of these would be a waste of funds and with limits enforced by the U.S. and U.N., Syrian rebels could not maintain a viable military effort and Assad would presumably retain power—leaving one less stable foothold in the Middle East.
Security forces examine the after effects of a suicide
bombing in Damascus
            Once again the United States will be forced to choose between diplomacy and human rights. In this ongoing dilemma, our personal interests and those of the states in which we intervene will be pitted against each other. In this scenario, action or the lack thereof can both have serious consequences, and the decision the United States makes will set precedent for our policy in the future. The discrepancy between our ideals and our actions has never become more apparent and the stance we take regarding these acts of terrorism in our favor will influence our image at home, abroad, and throughout our entire future.

Monday, May 7, 2012

China doesn't own the U.S.

$15,673,229,738,379.13. Yep, that’s it. Every penny classified as the United States debt. Now when people see this number, they are often drawn to think about China. That’s been the scare for the last decade or so as its GDP steadily advances, but ultimately, we have to look at both sides of the “China owns half of the United States debate”. First off, that’s wrong, but not far off. This year, it is expected that our national debt will top our total GDP. Basically, the United States now costs more than it generates. In simple terms, we’re upside down. But, notwithstanding this, China still doesn’t hold the majority of this debt. Only about 8% in fact. That’s only about four states actually, maybe five if one of them was Wyoming. Regardless, it means that as far as debt has gone, the United States has played its cards right and hasn’t given any one country a huge portion of control over us. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Having the world’s superpower owe extravagant amounts of money is usually not a recipe for continued stability. Granted, the United States, has been in this position before—debt-wise—just following World War II. But debt quickly dwindled after that as the economy soared, and our puttering economy doesn’t demonstrate that that is the case currently.
China's rapid development in energy, military and economy
has become a major concern to those looking to forward U.S.
            The United States first gained its economic power about nine decades ago, with the end of World War I. The massive scale of the war resulted in spending that could only be financed by the United States. As a result, the economic center of the world shifted from London to New York. At this point, the United States still wasn’t considered the leading power, and it would take involvement in World War II and demonstration of military prowess to solidify that role. China only trails the United States by nine billion in terms of GDP, but given that currently we are indebted to them for about 1.2 billion and their economy flourishes while ours stagnates, it doesn’t seem so much of a stretch. Additionally, the second half of that equation is still relevant, and in the last decade, China has more than quadrupled its military spending to 114.3 billion dollars. Now is not the time to fall behind.
Social Security, Healthcare and other
programs make up the majority of U.S. debt
            Looking at these numbers, it’s easy to instinctively blame government extravagance and corruption, but pork and small favors are not what composes the majority of debt. In fact, the term debt refers to two entirely separate entities. The first of these refers to public debt, in which the government borrows money on the open market from foreign or domestic lenders. The other, and by far the larger, refers to intra-governmental debt, in which the government owes itself money for certain programs. And the largest component of this debt? Social security and healthcare. That’s it. That’s the problem. And it’s not even necessarily a problem. Just some perspective. While we remain critical of the government’s discretionary spending in areas like energy and military, its important to realize that the majority is drawn from mandatory spending fueled by our own misguided concept of entitlement. The danger of China is nothing compared to the individual’s demand for security. Like I said, healthcare and social security are not inherently bad, but as they continue to drain away America’s resources, we must ask ourselves not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Isolation Nation

Obama is drawing criticism for
failing to provide asylum to
Chen Guangchang
Right now, President Obama is taking quite the fall. Now, in all honesty, when is he not? Heck, when is any President not? But this time, I feel that it’s especially unfair. The main criticisms have come regarding the United States’ failure to provide asylum for Chen Guangcheng, the blind, self-taught human rights attorney that wishes to flee China to provide safety for himself and his family. Both Mitt Romney and John McCain have made statements critiquing Obama’s lack of human-rights activism within his role as President, referring to this as a “dark day for freedom” and “a day of shame”. Now, granted, there is nothing personally wrong with these statements, obviously Romney is going to take every chance he can to critique the incumbent and perhaps McCain is still a little bitter, but the real problem lies in the American thought process as a whole.
            Starting with the rise of communist fear in America, the United States enacted an extensive intervention program to combat the growing influence of the Soviet Union. NATO allied Western European countries with the United States and the Truman Doctrine promised military aid to struggling countries like Turkey and Greece to help them resist Soviet control. The strategy was a rational one, in that it effectively protected our economic and political policies. Allow the Soviet Union and countries under its influence to gain too much power and they could effectively dominate the United States, blocking trade and surrounding us with countries that had nuclear capabilities. Nearly five decades later, and the United States has stuck fast to the same actions, but without the rationale.
Strange picture. Acceptable policy.
            Now, given, the condition of Chen is something that can be sympathized with, but ultimately, isn’t the same true with every country’s plight? Kony2012 pushed the government to take action against Uganda’s Joseph Kony and the LRA to save abused children, and now, Obama is feeling pressure to intervene in Syria with military strength as well. As has been said previously, advocating for human rights is not a bad thing, but at this point in time, is this enough justification for U.S. action? Many would say no. This is doubly true when we consider a lot of what influences these decisions. With America’s youth surging into the new decade with a fierce dedication to activism. However despite, or perhaps because, of the production of new internet outlets for these political views—, for example—the problems with social networking participants stay the same, namely: easily distracted, poorly informed, and highly mercurial. Even as the promise to withdraw from Afghanistan is being fulfilled, more calls are being made to enter Syria. This dangerous combination of ignorance and indecision is becoming a deadly force in America and urges government into worthless pursuits.

China has continued to grow exponentially
in terms of GDP 
            This isn’t to say that all intervention is bad. As I’ve mentioned, it is something that is quite beneficial, provided it benefits the United States sufficiently. The situation in Bahrain right now, for example, is one that may require U.S. military. The success of revolutions in this small island country could overthrow the current Sunni government and spark revolutions in Saudi Arabia, causing us to lose the precious few stable footholds we have in the Middle East. This could directly affect our oil consumption and enhance Western-directed terrorist activities. That’s why we intervene. However, when it comes to internal revolutions in backwards African countries, the United States cannot afford to invest money into resources and military to remedy a problem that was never ours. Even within Syria, the United States already invests in the actions of the United Nations against Assad, and in China, to assume that the United States should invest time and money to remedy human rights and instigate reform in a country that is fast overtaking us in every area is preposterous.
            Its time for America to look inward, with such consuming problems in healthcare, immigration, energy, etc., and continuing this line of thought will only result in diminished power. Spreading ourselves thin any longer while China’s GDP grows an average of 9.7% for the last decade and a half will mean that we won’t have any interests left defend at home or abroad. Now is the time for the United States to regroup and regain the identity that fosters growth and innovation. Turning to a stricter isolationist policy is  a viable option that needs to be considered deeply by government right now. Ron Paul has been right all along, dang it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

India's Expansion

 The world is a stage, and while China and the U.S. are charismatic performers that dominate the stage, India is the lighting technician. All right, maybe that was a poor analogy, but it conveys India’s current position: important but vastly under-appreciated. Maybe not for long though.
            With a major part of the population that continues to live in squalor, India has always—at least subconsciously—been classified as a sub-developed country. Yet, in recent years, it has surged ahead and may lie poised at the brink of becoming one of the world’s leading powers.
India's rapid expansion could lead to benefits for
its people, many of whom live in squalor
            First comes money. With $4.463 trillion in purchasing power in GDP, India is fourth total in the world and with an annual growth of about .3 trillion, looks to continue its rise through the ranks. Second come guns. While still outpaced by global counterparts Russia, China, and the United States, India continues to heavily prioritize its military industry, funding it with 24.88 billion dollars annually by 2010 which incorporates 1.33 million in active-duty military, 4,117 tanks, 16 submarines and 691 combat aircraft. Not only this, but it is one of the few countries that has developed nuclear weaponry, and just a few weeks ago, proved that it has the ballistic capabilities to use it, through the successful launch of the Agni-V missile.
The Agni-V missile showed India's capability
to hit China with a nuclear missile
            More important than any of these carefully nurtured domestic aspects, however, is the political thought that is sweeping over the nation. Recent elections have shown a shift in perspective that has effectively ousted the ruling Congress Party from the assembly, leaving them with only 28 seats, while the others are occupied by regional caste-based representatives. This surge of nationalism demonstrates an internal resolve that will be essential for India to maintain and refine if they want to become a more prominent global figure—something that can’t be obtained through per capita GDP and nuclear missile count alone.
            Looking at all this, it’s easy to see potential, but where is the follow through if they have been in such a position for several decades? But several factors may contribute to India’s ability to surpass Russia, China and the United States in these areas. Its first important to note a shift in the balance of India and the U.S. For the past several decades, the continuous “brain drain” has drawn the brightest of India’s economic and business circles to pursue education in America, and then remain in the States and contribute to our economy. However as the United States lays entrenched in the recession, prices rise in college, and India develops more viable secondary education options, India may be able to retain its think tank. Additionally, the continuous outsourcing of positions to India leads to their adaptation and improvement on our products, effectively allowing another country to “inherent our technology and know how” says Fareed Zakaria in his Worldview on U.S. Manufacturing. Additionally, China’s extensive growth may prove to be just as detrimental. With such rapid expansion, economists have explained it as trying to fit centuries worth of growth into three decades, a strategy that provides no viable foundation and is susceptible to collapse. Finally, Russia’s recent political scene demonstrates that it is in no position to progress economically before it resolves itself politically.
Many fear that outsourcing production may benefit
other countries more than the United States
            Sure these are a lot of “if” scenarios, but the fact that India even has this opportunity at all demonstrates the progress that they have made. Maybe not in a year, or a decade, or two decades, but as they continue to progress, on the brink of rapid expansion, there’s no doubt that India will soon get its time in the spotlight. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why We Don't Need Pakistan

In a diplomatic cable sent September 23, 2009, Ambassador Patterson assessed U.S. policy regarding Pakistan. What he said, simply put, was not butterflies and rainbows. “There is no chance that Pakistan will view enhanced [U.S.] assistance levels in an field as sufficient compensation for abandoning support to [terrorist and extremist groups]. This cable was released as part of the Wikileaks stacks and it gave new light to the United States’ continuing struggles with this nation.
            Fast forward two and a half years, and the situation hasn’t improved markedly. As an ally of the United States, Pakistan continues to try to retain amiable relations, but is thwarted in this as it must continue to fund terrorist groups that remain an offensive barrier against India, its sworn enemy. Currently, relations with the former are dwindling. As Patterson states, they are not motivated by U.S. assistance and while the Bin Laden attacks may have been Obama’s trump card, it has not enhanced diplomacy between Pakistan and the U.S. This and other incidents, such as November’s  friendly fire occurrence that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead is being hailed as a “[violation] of all mutually agreed procedures”.
A faster route to Afghanistan cuts right through
            So why do we stay? Two reasons. Number one: terrorism. Despite their support of numerous terrorist organizations, Pakistan still helps the U.S.’ war on terror. Ordinarily, this hesitant show of “good faith” would be negligible, but the numbers stand. Out of all the Middle Eastern countries, Pakistan has been useful in bringing the single largest amount of terrorists down. Why would they do this when they fund a lot of these terrorists in the first place? Rule number one of Pakistan: everything is a contradiction. That question isn’t for this article. Secondly: money. As the United States has been actively invested in Afghanistan, it has been forced to ship countless supplies and soldiers to the country. Having Pakistan as an ally allows us to fly directly into Afghanistan. Halting relations with them, however, would force the United States to detour hundreds of miles to the east in order to avoid treading upon Iranian airspace.
            But do these things really still matter? This Tuesday, President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to negotiate the end of the United States’ military occupation by 2014. This agreement, finalized with Afghan president Hamid Karzai, still arranges, for continuing United States assistance for an additional decade. With this in mind, one positive aspect of the continuing struggle for beneficial relations with Pakistan is dropped. With no more need of their airspace, we can look to the terrorist issue. As President Obama’s visit coincided with the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s assassination, it hails back to the primal fear of the U.S.: al Qaeda. Since his assassination, bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has failed to move the organization in a meaningful direction and the factions have split into local regions and while operations in Yemen and North Africa are still powerful, those in Pakistan and Afghanistan are negligible.
Obama meets with Karzai, establishing terms of the end of
U.S. military occupation
            This being said, do we continue to retain costly relations with a belligerent country just to keep tabs on a few minor organizations that don’t pose real threats to the U.S. This possibility is especially dubious when we assume that Pakistan will continue to support them regardless of our continued support. When considering these factors and the possibility that our money might be better spent repressing more serious terrorist activities elsewhere, it is a strong vote to abandon Pakistan.
             It is never in our best interest to abandon an ally in such a turbulent region, but considering all the friction that exists so far, a peaceful separation shouldn’t cause any further damage. It will help with foreign relations, with our economy and we have nothing to lose, because truly when you have friends like Pakistan, who needs enemies?