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The New Banana Republics

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Used to be that the phrase "Banana Republic" was reserved for those Central and South American countries in which political discourse was stifled (if not censored) and human rights abuses were rampant. You know, countries in the '80s such as Guatemala, Nicaragua, Argentina, Peru, Chile, ad infinitum. But what those countries were infamous for has now come Stateside and is either found in or soon to be found in places such as Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire and South Dakota -- the new Banana Republics. You see, what those states have gleaned from those former dictatorships (many of which were supported by, well, the U.S.) is that the right to vote is no longer a right, but a privilege.

Let's take Chile as an example. In 1990, the Chilean people recoiled with a collective "no" to the Pinochet dictatorship, thus embarking on a journey of democratic rule (even though Salvador Allende was democratically elected and CIA dispatched) that has lasted for more two decades. One of the main reasons for that success is that voting has been encouraged and not discouraged. As a matter of fact, as recently December the Christian Science Monitor cited:

"The national congress approved the law to establish automatic inscription and the voluntary vote," President Sebastian Piñera said Wednesday. "This means that almost 5 million Chileans who didn't participate in our democracy will be citizens with the right to vote."

The Monitor went on to report,

With its new system, Chile jumps from being one of the most retrograde places for voter registration in the world to one of the most advanced. By the next presidential election, all Chileans, whether young or old, rich or poor, will be on the rolls. By taking out a major obstacle to voting, Chile moves closer to satisfying its people, who have been clamoring for a voice in public policy."

Wow. No more bananas for that republic. Now, as politically enlightened as we are in the U.S., one might think that we'd be emulating something like that. After all, we're the land of the free and home of the brave and that implies we're all free to vote for whomever we want.

Taking a cue from Argentina's "dirty war," the new Banana Republics' "official story" for implementing voter ID laws ostensibly has been to eliminate fraud at the polling place, but we all know that's a red herring. In an April 24 US News and World Report article,

"Tova Wang says instances of polling place fraud are extremely rare. Wang, a fellow at progressive think tanks Demos and the Century Foundation, is the author of a forthcoming book called The Politics of Voter Suppression: Defending and Expanding Americans' Right to Vote."

She goes on to state in the article that "what we can go by is the number of times that people have been prosecuted successfully for such crimes. And the number is ridiculously low. You have a better chance of being hit by lightning than discovering an incident of polling place fraud." She then goes on to state the real reason -- namely,

"I think there are a lot of political leaders who have perpetuated this myth for partisan purposes, and when you look at it superficially it's a believable argument. But they tend to conflate the different types of fraud that could occur in the election system and sort of mix together voter registration fraud, and voter absentee fraud, and other types of issues, and stir it all up in a pot, and come up with voter identification requirements that would do nothing to address the relatively minor problems that we have in the system."

So, these new Banana Republicitos (led by Banana Republicans), sensing a vulnerable incumbent who can be defeated based on economic conditions beyond anyone's control, believe that the combination of enormous political funds (promulgated by Citizens United for Banana Republics) and egregious voting restrictions (also promulgated by Banana Republicans for Repeal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965) would enable a lackluster and patently disingenuous Banana Republican to become President of the United States ensuring domestic tranquility and economic solvency regardless of the chaos associated with the world economy. But, of course, that notion is political persiflage that not only undermines the Constitution's Amendment XV (the noise you hear is Jefferson gagging on the parchment he's stuffed in his mouth), but, ironically, disenfranchises the U.S. from its rarefied position of being the model of world democracy to, well, a nation of tiny Banana Republics; however, since we don't really grow bananas in the U.S., perhaps we should become something more indigenous and, taking the Hawaiian lead, become more like a "Pineapple Republics." Regardless of the fruit of choice, none of it tastes very ripe.