Posted by: bkivey | 16 September 2010

Politicians Behaving Badly

Today marks the Bicentennial of Mexican Independence. On 16 September 1810 Roman Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla uttered the Grito de Delores, calling for independence from Spain. As one might expect, this is a big deal, and the anniversary of this event is marked by celebrations on par with the Fourth of July in the United States.

This anniversary would probably have gone unnoticed and unremarked were it not for the actions of the city government where I live. Today the city will sponsor a publically-funded festival to mark the occasion. This in itself is not a big deal; there are many publically-funded cultural events across the nation, the Chinese New Years Day Parade in San Francisco, the Columbus Day Parade in New York City, and Mardi Gras in New Orleans some prominent examples. Like many folks, I enjoy these celebrations of cultural roots because they’re fun, and allow a glimpse into the many cultures that form the American tapestry.

The controversy surrounding the city’s decision to use tax dollars to fund a Mexican Independence celebration comes from the fact that there wasn’t any similar allocation for Fourth of July festivities. The official explanation is that by funding this event the city demonstrates that it is inclusive and open to other cultures.

I had the opportunity to talk to one of our city councilors and express my view that if the city was going to spend public money on celebrations it should go to events that unite the community as Americans. If there’s money for cultural celebrations, that’s great, but American culture should take precedence.

In the interest of full disclosure I’ll say that the councilor I talked to is not one of my favorites on the City Council. I’ve had enough opportunity to watch them in action to know that they are closed-minded and, in my opinion, not all that smart. This person has specific views on things and if you disagree with them they will figuratively shout you down by responding to your concerns with one sentence statements, sometimes non sequiturs, and consider the subject closed.

In response to my concerns on the Bicentennial celebration the councilor responded that there were a number of Fourth of July celebrations. True, and not a one funded by the city. They also pointed out that Hispanics make up about 15% of the city’s population. Also true, but Asians make up a similar proportion and I haven’t seen any publically-funded celebrations of Tet or Chinese New Year. The councilor pointed out that they had attended a Tet celebration earlier in the year. Again, an event funded by members of the cultural community and not the public at large. 

The councilor then went on to say that the allocation for this event was inserted into legislation by the mayor without the knowledge of the Council and so members of the Council shouldn’t be held accountable. Say what? Haven’t we seen this movie before, like in Congress in March?

What this person was telling me was that they literally didn’t know what they were doing. This is an admission of incompetence, and they believed that they should be absolved of any repercussions because they weren’t accountable. Contrary to what this person may think, this argument doesn’t cast them in a positive light. I’d bet that most people would find themselves out of a job if they told their boss they routinely signed off on documents they didn’t read.

Whatever one may think of this particular allocation of public funds, it does illustrate a certain political underhandedness to advance a personal agenda. This mayor has made ‘inclusiveness’ a signature of his administration, and it is entirely in keeping with his character to slip an agenda item he knows will be politically unpopular into unrelated legislation. This allows him to use public funds for an event that is politically popular with a segment of the community population and advances his personal agenda while giving plausible deniability and political cover to the City Council. It’s win-win-win, unless you’re footing the bill.

And in Pakistan . . .

From New York Times article published 16 July 2010 we learn of the Great Degree Scandal in Pakistan. At one time it was law in Pakistan that anyone standing for election to Parliament hold a bachelor’s degree. The official explanation was to raise the quality of legislator although the law was widely seen as a way for one political party to maintain power at the expense of others.

Given this requirement, ambitious politicians did exactly what you’d expect; they faked their credentials. When the holders of the bogus degrees were exposed, rather than express contrition, they chose to attack their accusers.  Seeking a nomination in the Political Chutzpah category, and apparently with Humpty Dumpty in mind, this comment is typical of those involved:

“A degree is a degree,” said Nawab Aslam Raisani, the chief minister of Baluchistan Province and an ally of President Asif Ali Zardari. “Whether fake or genuine, it’s a degree. It makes no difference.”

Bill Clinton would be so proud.

Something A Little Different

If you want to listen to some music that may be off your normal playlist, check out the Africa Oh-Ye! show from 1400 – 1600 Pacific Time Thursdays on KBOO community radio out of Portland, OR. The program features music from various countries on the African continent and you might find something you like. Live audio is available from the website.

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