Shutdown: My call *to sense*

In 1992 the King of Thailand, although well-loved by the vast majority of Thais, handed over most of his power to a Parliamentary-style government. As you can well imagine, many Thai people still revere their King and take their directions about voting, and which party or candidate to support from him. This side tends to be rural and poor. There is also the *other* side of the political spectrum; modernists who reject his guidance and who tend to be concentrated in the *capitalist class*, largely in Bangkok, largely the new middle and upper classes, and still today in the minority.
In 2001, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire who made his fortune primarily in telecom, was elected Prime Minister. He implemented programs that helped the poor: village-managed microcredit development funds, low-interest agricultural loans, direct injections of cash into village development funds, infrastructure development, and a rural small and medium enterprise development program, for example. The rural poor loved this, and while the opposition party fought every *government handout*, they also began to protest in the streets of Bangkok, shutting down the ability of people to get to work or for the government to effectively function. Shortly after Thaksin was re-elected in 2006 the opposition managed to convince the military to stage a coup in order to force new elections. Thaksin was out of the country for a conference at the time, and other than a short visit in 2008, has remained in self-exile to avoid serving time for the crime of having *abnormal wealth* ever since. Thaksin’s party was banned, dissolved, and his assets (and the party’s which he largely funded) were frozen and eventually confiscated by the interim government. The opposition party, however, lost the elections of 2007 to the successor of Thaksin’s original Thai Rak Thai party, after which they began immediate protests and sit-ins. At one point they were so infuriated that they staged a 30-day sit-in at the international airport, shutting it down, and preventing most tourists from visiting Thailand. Tourism is Thailand’s number one source of money from outside the country; this action was extremely damaging to the Thai economy and thus, the people themselves. This affected those who worked directly in tourism, as well as having the *trickle down* effect of taking away business from all aspects of the economy as those without work had no money to spend. Their protests did however, force new elections in 2009, which they won by a slim margin. There was evidence that the poor, being so disgusted by the political manipulations and skullduggery, choose to basically boycott the election; fewer people voted in this election than ever before. As the now-opposition remnants of Thaksin’s party took over the role of protestors, their demonstrations in Bangkok from March to May 2010 became a scandalous, violent conflict during which more than 80 civilians and 6 soldiers were killed, including a photographer for Reuters New Service, and more than 2,100 injured before the military successfully cracked down on the protesters on 19 May. The government however did ultimately allow new, early elections, which they lost. The Prime Minister is now Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck.
Interesting, you are probably thinking, but what does that have to do with us? I point to the parallels with America today:
• One party, while in power, instituted programs to support the poor, in particular, one aimed at providing free or subsidized health care. The other party, resentful of having to pay taxes to fund this largess, has done everything it can think of to block or end the programs.
• The opposition party puts their own interests ahead of the majority of the citizens; shutting down government in order to force the other side to cave in to demands to end the public safety net.
• There is no concern evidenced for the effects on the country’s economy by a government shutdown, nor the effect that an increasing number of people without work will have ultimately on everyone’s income.
• America is not the only nation in which individuals self-fund their campaign for public office.
Hopefully we will get through this current American governmental dysfunction without the level of violence that brought an end, at least temporarily, to the strife in Thailand. And it is comforting to know that other nations have shown they can return to a functional state following these types of shenanigans. America has also endured government shutdowns before; always ugly, usually with trickle down effects that hurt those most vulnerable, but never enough to truly *crash* the system. It is truly unfortunate, though, that we find our cherished *democracy* being thrown under the bus in such a developing-world fashion; I thought we were better educated, and more moral and compassionate than that. May we see an end to this political charade before anyone is too badly hurt.

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