Friday, September 14, 2012

i'm from the government, and i'm here to --

On Thursday, while Mexico was celebrating the patriotic myth of Dia de los Niños Heroes, a group of American expatriates were getting a concentrated dose of government spin.

The American embassy sent a couple of well-informed staffers to Morelia to brief Americans in the area about some of the embassy's services.

I did not expect much of the meeting. Over the decades I have attended (or participated in) similar meetings in several countries.  The embassy staff usually play variations on the old bureaucratic game of "that's not my job."

What I thought we were going to hear was a brief discussion on passport renewals and absentee ballot applications.  And nothing more.

I was pleasantly surprised.  The first staff member could have been the press officer for a political campaign.  Not only did he give an excellent briefing on  passport renewals, citizen services, the embassy's web page, and absentee voting, he fielded questions far outside of his job title. 

He could have been a candidate for office.  Except, he actually answered questions.  And he artfully deflected one right into the lap of a local volunteer.  It was a joy to see a professional at work.

The staff member in charge of federal benefits was not as skilled in the ways of political spin, but he knew his material.  Both of them offered helpful information.  To the degree that the embassy can be helpful in Mexico.

As so often happens in meeting of this nature, their audience was not as upbeat.  We older Americans can be a bit cranky and self-centered.

And we were.  Or, at least, a few members of the audience were.

Despite all the chirpiness of the staff members, the solipsists peppered them with questions about customs duties imposed by the Mexican government.  Concerns about border crossings -- by Mexican officials.  Very specific questions on visa denials, social security  benefits, address issues with absentee ballots, and the impact of Obamacare on Americans in Mexico.

Plus a few more.  All of the questions outside of the jobs of the embassy staff at the meeting.

But, we are Americans.  We had representatives of our government in the room, and we were going to milk out every last drop of interest and discontent in our concerned crania.

There are plenty of countries in this world that do not recognize the American belief that political rights and power arise from the people, not from the government.

The same morning I received news that the American ambassador and three other embassy staff were murdered by a Libyan mob upset over a video produced privately in America by an American citizen, I read a newspaper article with a similar spin concerning Red China.

Apparently, the Red Chinese government is pressuring the city council of Corvallis, Oregon to order a Taiwanese-born American businessman to remove a mural on his private property -- in Corvallis. 

The mural depicts the ironically named People's Liberation Army committing violence against Tibetans, and also depicts a scene of Taiwanese defiance against the communist regime in Beijing.  In a manner, according to the masters of the mainland Chinese that causes "strong resentment from the local Chinese community and Chinese students studying in the U.S."

We would call the mural a depiction of the news.  The Red Chinese consider it dangerous.  No need to put disruptive thoughts into the minds of Chinese students.

Commies hate criticism of their actions.  And they know how to deal with it.  In China, the aforesaid People's Liberation Army would liberate the wall of its mural and the businessmen of his liberty.

But Corvallis is not China.  We have a tradition (and a First Amendment) that lets us criticize our government -- and the governments of other nations -- as much as we like.

And that is how the Corvallis city council responded to the Red Chinese.  But, being a university town, the council did a polite kowtow to Beijing and sent off a letter to the businessman informing him of China's discontent.

To his credit, the businessman says the mural is staying right where it is.

What the Red Chinese -- along with their Egyptian and Libyan mobsters -- have trouble understanding is that Americans are not subjects of their government.  The government is subject to individual citizens.

And that baffles them.  It is why Egyptians and Libyans can act like spoiled children because their feelings are hurt.  And if an American somewhere hurt their feelings, the American government is at fault and must be punished.

I can understand why they may be confused.  Especially when the American president, who does not seem to be able to help himself, has a habit of apologizing for things that are none of the American government's responsibility -- or business.  I am surprised that he has not apologized to Mormons for the Broadway hit, The Book of Mormon.

It was a pleasure to sit in that room on Thursday and listen to a highly-spirited exchange of ideas between citizens who had concerns and the representatives of their country's representative in Mexico.

We may have had our selfish concerns.  But we had a right to let our servants know how we were feeling.


John Calypso said...

Thanks for going and the report - I have avoided similar events in Xalapa and Puerto. Better to get the report from you ;-)

Karen McGivney said...

I hope your going to vote

Karen McGivney said...

I hope your going to vote!

Al said...

I hadn't heard of the dust up in Corvallis.  The Oregonian didn't seem to cover it.  Strange that I had to hear of it via Mexico.  Your point comparing it to the mideast fiasco was well taken.

Steve Cotton said...

The best part of these meetings is finding out how my fellow expatriates react to life in Mexico.  We all seem to have different coping mechanisms.     

Steve Cotton said...

I read about the Corvallis story on the Kindle edition of The Oregonian.  To my surprise, I have discovered that the print edition does not always carry the same articles.

Steve Cotton said...

I have applied for an absentee ballot.  We will see how the postal service does in getting it to me -- and back to Nevada,  

Curtiselowe said...

Be so kind and point out to me, and probably others, instances which the POTUS has apologized to other countries.

Steve Cotton said...

My point, of course, is that I am happy to be a citizen of a country where people can be as cranky as they choose.

Steve Cotton said...

But I would gladly have a more detailed conversation with you off line if you choose. 

Kim G said...

Don't fool yourself. In the realm of taxation we most definitely are subjects of the government. In fact "subject" may be a kind way of putting it. "Milk cow" is more like it.

This was underscored in the flap over Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin's renunciation of his American citizenship prior to the IPO.  What did the government do? Why they got themselves into a complete lather about how outrageous it was that one of their more productive milk cows might escape before he could be fully milked.

You may still be able to say what you want in this country, but don't imagine that you aren't working first for the government, and at a far distant second or third your self or your employer.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we wonder where is the moral equivalency between making a movie and rioting, destroying property, and killing innocents. Seriously. Islam needs to grow up.

Steve Cotton said...

You succinctly describe the tension that exists between classic liberalism and libertarianism.  I have long liked David Friedman's work -- and that would put me squarely in the paradigm you describe.  But I tend to be nostalgically Lockean when it comes to my political sentiments.

But neither Friedman nor Locke would burn down anything because they  heard about an annoying, amateur video.

Shannon Casey said...

Not only are you lucky to have government representatives with actual concerns as to your welfare, but also to have an embassy. I think the only Canadian embassy left in Mexico is in DF.

Steve Cotton said...

The staff told us that the American mission to Mexico is the largest in the world.  That makes sense considering the number of visa applications (over 2000 a day) that the staff must process.  In addition, several federal agencies have fully-operating bureaus in Mexico.