THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE

14 05 2017

The word “Resistance,” with a capital “R” and a hashtag, has become rather fashionable in America these days. Thousands of people are marching in the streets, turning out for town meetings, and generally letting it be known they are not pleased with our new administration’s presumption that its narrow technical victory in last November’s election constitutes a mandate for sweeping changes in the way our government is run and in the every-day lives of millions of people.

I’d like to take this opportunity to look at some popular movements around the world that have, to one degree or another, challenged the professional political class and returned government to the people, and examine how they were able to succeed, as well as ways in which they have failed. By learning from other peoples’ experiences, we can do a better job here in America.

My main examples will be Korea, Taiwan, Spain, Greece, and, to bring it down to the local level, the city of Montreal, in Quebec. That provides a spectrum. The Korean movement is just now in the process of achieving its initial aim. In Taiwan, the citizen’s movement has won its initial objectives and established mechanisms that, it hopes, will keep things from slipping backwards. In Spain, the “Podemos” movement is rising into power. Greece’s Syriza Party has won elections, but run smack into forces it cannot change, and is learning how to keep focused on its long-term goals while encountering short-term failures.  In Montreal, the political wing of the movement seems to have been absorbed into the mainstream, but has left significant changes in its wake.

As I write this, Koreans are celebrating the impeachment of President Park Geyun-he, who roused the ire of lawmakers and citizens alike by being too cozy with the country’s financial elite and by going along with US policies that have escalated tensions with North Korea. Her replacement, Moon Jae-in, the son of a North Korean refugee, was a student radical in the 70’s, and was jailed for his role in protesting the dictatorship of Ms. Park’s father. He went on to become a prominent human rights lawyer. On the basis of that, he was hired as Chief of Staff by the Korean Democratic Party’s previous elected President,  Roh Moo-hyun. He was the KDP’s candidate for President in 2012, when he narrowly lost to Ms. Park.

This is what democracy looks like!

This is what democracy looks like!

So, how did the Koreans do it? Massive street demonstrations were a major contributor. Some demonstrations turned out nearly two million people on the same day. Korea’s population is fifty million, so the equivalent in the US would be about thirteen million people all demonstrating against the government at the same time. The real key, though, was that Ms. Park’s party did not have a majority in the legislature (in which four political parties are represented, along with some independent members). Mr. Moon’s party had a plurality, but not a majority, and as the country became ungovernable due to the force of protest against Ms. Park, it was not that difficult to round up a majority to support impeaching her for her very real crimes. The Korean constitution calls for new elections when a President is impeached, and that created an opening for change. Read the rest of this entry »

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BETTER THAN THE STATES…BUT GOOD ENOUGH?

26 01 2008

from the Christian Science Monitor:

Can Europe cut carbon without cutting growth?

Radical goals for 2020 boost renewable energy and cut emissions sharply.
 

Europe unveiled a “road map” to a low-carbon future Wednesday – one of the most radical packages the European Union has ever produced – in an effort to position the bloc at the vanguard of global efforts on climate change.

A clump of legislative proposals and directives provided for steep increases in wind and solar power, improved energy efficiency, and higher costs for polluters to meet a challenge outlined last year and dubbed “triple 20.”

The aim is to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent, boost renewable energy to 20 percent of supply, and improve energy efficiency by 20 percent – all by 2020.





THE CRY OF THE MASSES

16 07 2005

In European news, the E.U is in self-described deep crisis. First, France and the Netherlands voted to reject the proposed European constitution, which has all but scuttled the nearly 500-page document, putting a halt to what had seemed like the increasingly inevitable complete political union of Europe. Second, the EU’s summit last week broke up without coming to any resolution of the ongoing controversy over agricultural subsidies.

Many people, mostly of the neoLiberal persuasion, are worried. They see this as a victory for reaction. I’d rather see it as a victory for that prime Green Party value, local control. Given a choice, people declined to live in a Federal Europe in which unelected bureaucrats could overrule popularly elected local officials and laws. We in America know what that looks like: The Supreme Court just gave the DEA permission to ignore local medical marihuana laws. Talk about mean-spirited…but I digress.

It’s also worth noting that these elections were one of the few times acceptance of the EU constitution has been put to a popular vote. The states that had already ratified the EU constitution—most of the rest of Europe—had mostly done so at the legislative level, and not given their people a chance to decide the question directly. That’s something else we’re familiar with in this country—legislative bodies that don’t follow the will of the people but instead cater to special interests—think of the gap between the overwhelming popularity of single-payer universal health care among the American people and the political impossibility of reigning in the medical/insurance establishment and doing something about it.

The main issue that crashed the EU’s most recent summit was agricultural subsidies, which means something very different in Europe from what it means here. The bulk of American agricultural subsidies are paid to industrial-scale farmers who grow for the industrial-international market. In Europe, agricultural subsidies largely support the current evolution of traditional peasant culture, farmers who grow food for the people of their own regions and countries. Those countries are looking at the increasing tenuousness of international trade and the rising price of the petroleum that moves it, and saying “no way are we gonna scuttle local production of our food and start trusting that it will keep on coming from a politically and ecologically unstable place thousands of miles away.”

Now, if only we’d gotten that smart here in America….that’s what the Green Party would like to see, but when push comes to shove the democans and republicrats are both pushers of NAFTA, CAFTA, and GATT, all of which are designed to internationalize agriculture. So, the ruckus in the EU is positive in two ways: the people spoke up for keeping more local control when they voted against the EU constitution, and their governments listened and stood up for them when the question of cutting farm subsidies—and destroying an important component of their national culture—was raised.  I’m not saying the EU is a bad thing. I’m impressed with the way borders have been opened and the need for military spending has been re-evaluated and refocussed. But I don’t want to see a homogenized, deculturalized Europe, any more than I enjoy seeing it happen in America. They stood up for themselves and won over there, and we can do it here.








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