Vox Populi, Vox Dei

7 05 2012

For the learning-impaired among you, the headline of this post is Latin, and means, “The voice of the people is the voice of god.” If this is true, then the deity in question is either bat-shit insane or mind-bogglingly stupid. Possibly both.

The voters have spoken in several countries recently, and the Voice of the People appears to belong to the village idiot. In Russia, voters inexplicably voted Vladimir Putin back into office, presumably because they were afraid he’d have them all dosed with polonium. Maybe it was the largely-unclad women waving his campaign signs that did the trick. Either way, the world’s only world leader with a legitimate claim to Bond-villain status is back. His flunkies are running off at the mouth with dire threats of “retribution” against the US and NATO if they don’t stop building missile defense systems. Putin is the last of the Cold War apparatchiks, and his minions seem to be trying to turn back the clock to the late 70’s and early 80’s, when people took Russian saber-rattling seriously. Like most such posturing, the bluster and chest-thumping coming from the upper echelons of the Russian power structure is largely for internal consumption. Putin’s primary voting demographic is the older folks who long for the security of the Soviet era. Bloefeld Putin needs to give the appearance of re-starting the Cold War to mollify these dotards while hoping desperately that no one with a modern military calls his bluff, since all he’s holding is a pair of threes.

Meanwhile, in darkest Europe, there are a couple of other elections with possibly deleterious results. The French government of President Sarkozy has fallen to a leftist party which is vowing to suspend its obligations under the Eurozone Bailout plan in favor of soaking the rich and expanding government services. Apparently Francois Hollande hasn’t been following the news from Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece over the past couple of years. There simply aren’t enough rich people in France to pay for the increasingly-aged French population. The Demographic Bomb has hit Europe hard, with declining native populations and a sub-culture of dissatisfied immigrants angry over being denied access to the European Dream (like the American Dream, but with strange accents and served with a baguette). While many of the northern European countries have been working on assimilating the immigrants into the economic system (but rarely into the political and social systems) in largely-successful attempts to minimize the damage, most of southern Europe- notably France, the second-largest economy in Europe- routinely treat second and third generation immigrants as foreigners. Instead of contributing to the economy, these disenfranchised and largely disillusioned youths are adding major strains to the already burdened social safety nets in southern Europe. Monsieur Hollande may in fact be aware of these facts, but his public statements show little sign of it. Adding to his political miseries is the fact that right-wing hard-liners are making political gains and forcing Hollande’s government to cater to the political preconceptions of their base demographic to avoid losing power.

Speaking of southern Europe, let us turn our eyes to Greece. After the last government was forced out by popular dissatisfaction over Eurozone-mandated austerity measures, the Greeks went to polls and voted in a conservative leader who vowed to re-negotiate the bail-out that is the only thing keeping their economy afloat. In an ominous turn of events, the Greek version of the Nazi party received more than double the votes they normally get. The “winner” of the election, Antonis Samaras, tried and failed to build a coalition government, so add long-term political instability and growing numbers of fascists to the lamentations of the Greeks. One would think that the Greek lesson in how to fuck up an economy would be useful to other southern European nations (looking at you, France) in trying to avoid the same mistakes, but the Voice of the People says otherwise.

Speaking of learning from others’ mistakes, we cross the Mediterranean to Egypt. Despite the “Arab Spring” and the resulting ouster of President-for-Life Mubarak, little has actually changed in Egypt. The military still holds all the aces- Hell, most of the face cards- and the voters are busy squabbling over the remains of the deck. Some talking heads in the US are wetting themselves over the fact that traditionally hard-line Islamist groups have largely taken over the new parliament. Non-muslims and non-majority muslim sects are more concerned with roving bands of extremists doing their best to eliminate anyone and anything which is even slightly different from their particular brand of Islam. They have reason to be concerned- even terrified. Political instability tends to allow troublemakers virtually free rein, which in turn contributes to more political instability. Unfortunately for Egypt, the fundamental causes of the original unrest against Mubarak are still present: A growing population with fewer jobs, political alienation, less money, and rising prices for staples fueled the Arab Spring, and those fires are still smoldering. It won’t take much for those embers to return to violent, furious life.

So what can we do about all of that? The best thing we can do is to keep our fat fingers out of it all. Despite our pretensions as a world power, the US cannot control events in every country on Earth- and it would be disastrous to try. If the Russians are happy with an ex-KGB thug as their President, that’s their choice. We’ll just have to deal with it (and not eat or drink anything at Russian State dinners). If the French want to recreate the Greek tragedy on a larger scale in their own country, we can only try to mitigate the worst effects of their economic immolation on our own economy. If the Greeks are willing to slit their own economic throats to spite their German creditors, our task should be to avoid getting splashed with the resulting splatter of appropriately red ink. If the Egyptians want to elect ultra-conservative theocrats to run their country into the ground at Warp 5, all we should be doing is quietly and quickly getting out of their way. Their country, their rules- and their problem. The best we could possibly achieve by trying to meddle in the internal problems of other countries would be to provide those countries with an external enemy upon which they could focus their anger. Aside from the problems this would cause us, it would also help prevent the people and governments in those countries from trying to fix their problems. Blaming an external boogeyman is so much more satisfying than admitting responsibility for your problems, but tends to delay or derail any attempt to deal with those problems rationally.

Make no mistake, the net result of the elections I’ve listed here is very likely to be a global economic headache. Greece dropping out of the Euro and defaulting on its debt has a fair chance of dragging several other Eurozone countries down the oubliette with them- most importantly and especially France. The shockwaves from that implosion may create a meltdown which would make the recent recession seem like the height of affluence by comparison. In my opinion, we have little or no possibility of changing the eventual outcome, so our best course of action would be to prepare ourselves for the aftereffects and try to avoid falling into the same traps. Such economic disasters have been known to cause wars. War, for those who haven’t been paying attention to history, is probably the worst possible way of getting out of a global depression. The last time humanity tried it, we ended up with most of Europe reduced to rubble, nuclear weapons dropped on Japanese cities, and better than 60 million people killed. Even if this was a guaranteed way to climb out of a global depression, I don’t think it will be worth it- especially since the devastated continent in the next war might be North America.

Current status: Concerned

Current music: Safety Dance by Men Without Hats