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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THE OBAMA DILEMMA

13 07 2008

The Green Party has convened in Chicago, and selected Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente as its Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees, the first Presidential ticket in US history composed of two women of color. As always, most people will say this  is a bad time to be supporting a third party candidate in the Presidential race.  The Supreme Court hangs in the balance. (as if the Dims did anything to stop Bush’s fascist nominees!) The ecology and the economy hang in the balance.  The country hangs in the balance,  The planet hangs in the balance.  How could I be so stuck on my principles as to allow the possibility of an alte kaker like John McSame getting into the Presidency and running the country four more years down the road to ruin?

It’s true that a certain parallel can be drawn between this election and the 1932 Hoover-Roosevelt contest, with Obama as Roosevelt.  People look back with nostalgia on Roosevelt and say he saved this country, but let’s be honest–what he did was save capitalism from itself.  If Hoover had somehow gotten re-elected (using the modern Republican style, and cheating his ass off), his hands-off attitude towards the economy and social services, coupled with his ham-fisted attitude towards the poor, could easily have led to complete social chaos, and fostered a radical rearrangement of the country that would put us in a whole different context than the one we are now dealing with.  Roosevelt, instead, set us up for the mess we are in now, by smoothing over the inequities and giving people….hope…..you know, Obama’s stock in trade.

The junior Senator from Illinois has further complicated matters lately by staking out a number of conservative positions , initially on questions like late-term abortion and the death penalty, but now on the equally serious FISA bill.  He has apparently voted to give the administration a pass on seriously illegal activities,  He’s said it wasn’t the bill he really wanted, and he’s also said that, as President, he will be reviewing “the constitutionality of all the laws and executive orders passed while Republican President George W. Bush has been in office.”

And, as Keith Olberman points out in an otherwise blistering attack on Obama, the FISA law that was passed provides civil immunity for the telecoms and the Bush junta operatives who violated the law and the Constitution, but not criminal immunity.  In other words, if Obama’s Attorney General wants to investigate this odious episode and arrest the wrongdoers, he will be able to do so.  For that matter, current Attorney General Michael Mukasey could, but don’t hold your breath.

So–is Obama, in a calculated political move, waiting to get elected before dropping that shoe? He’s said he’s against impeachment because of the turmoil it would create.  Is he setting the stage for post-Presidential prosecution?  If that’s his plan, he certainly wouldn’t tip his hand, would he?

It should be clear by now that I am not clear about how to regard Sen. Obama.  I see a lot of red flags, but I also see somebody who is not playing poitics by the old rules, even as, by necessity, he plays with those who do.  I will almost certainly vote for Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney in November, if only to keep hammering away at Democratic resistance to the Green Party–if you Democrats would get on board about instant runoff voting, we wouldn’t have such bipolar politics in this country, y’know?  And I’m not certain that Obama is willing to tell the American public the awful truth about how far out of line we are here in America, let alone what we are going to have to cut loose of in order to get back in line.  It may be better, in the long run, for the country to go down in flames under McCain than to take Obama’s blue pills of hope.  But maybe not.

My expectation is that Obama will win in November, no matter what the Republicans try to throw at him.  Gonna be interesting times, folks.  Stay loose!

music:  Will Kimbrough, Brand New Song





(it’s always darkest before the) GREEN DAWN

12 11 2006

Well, the election results are in, and, as has often been the case in Tennessee, it wasn’t easy being Green. The best percentage of the vote received was the race run by Green fellow traveler Jon Davidson, who garnered 20% of the vote in State House District 52 against well known liberal Democrat Rob Briley—yeah, the family they named the parkway for. Talk about being part of the establishment…. Twenty percent! Over twenty-two hundred votes, nearly as many as statewide candidates Howard Switzer pulled in the governor’s race (2600) or Chris Lugo in the Senate race (2500). Well, at least the Dems can’t call us spoilers. Harold Ford lost it more or less fair and square, probably snowed under by the boobs who turned out to make their religion’s idea of marriage a part of the Tennessee Constitution. All these people so scared of homosexuality…you know, there have been tests done that show that the people who are most homophobic are the ones who are repressing the fact that they have those feelings…as the misadventures of Tom Foley and Ted Haggard have recently demonstrated. The queer tidal wave that all those people are afraid of is—them. The vote in Tennesee demonstrates that we are surrounded by a seething sea of repressed homosexuals! Well, as one of my teachers sarcastically commented, “If you can’t control yourself, control someone else!”

But, I digress….in U.S. House races, Katie Culver and Robert Smith also received better percentages than our statewide candidates, Katie with 1800 votes and Robert with 1,000—if Howard and Chris had done as well as either of them, they would have won about 18,000 votes, still not enough to change the election or even get our party name on the ballot, but I think it would have left them feeling more satisfied. I’m surprised they didn’t do better, especially Howard, since it was obvious Phil Bredesen was going to win in a walk. Howard campaigned intensively among those who have been dumped by Bredesen’s Tenncare purge. He should have done better.

Commenting on the election, Switzer said, “I think the main thing is we don’t have an extensive enough network to get the word out about our candidates. … We have to become more vocal advocates for who (we are) and what we want, pass the word and expand our networks. But, with (electronic voting machines) who knows what the vote tally really was? Our votes are counted in secret in an electronic box we are supposed to have unwavering faith in. “

The biggest kinda-Green vote getter in the state was Ginny Welsch, who won about 3600 votes in Nashville, where conservative Democrat Jim Cooper had no problem retaining his seat. Ginny explored running as an out-and-out Green but backed away when she discovered how much antipathy the label can ignite among ignorant, reactive Democrats, who are, after all, a major voting bloc that any serious candidate somehow needs to cultivate.

I talked with Jon Davidson, who was disappointed in his showing—a friend of his in the state legislature told him that just having his name on the ballot in an otherwise uncontested race should get him about a third of the votes. Jon tested this by spending “only about $100” and not doing any campaigning beyond putting up a website and getting a 45-minute interview from the Tennessean—which, alas, only appeared on their website. Neither Senate candidate Chris Lugo nor gubernatorial candidate Howard Switzer got even that much of a nod from Nashville’s newspaper of record.

Jon noted that his district, according to who votes in the primaries, is about 90% Democratic—he thinks a lot of people just voted the straight Democratic ticket—but he found it gratifying that, in the neighborhood he used to live in, he got 40% of the vote. “And I got 38% of the absentee vote,” he added–”but I don’t know if that was from my friends in the touring music community or from pissed-off Republican soldiers in Iraq.” Jon also noted that turnout in his district was no higher than it had been for the 2002 midterm elections, in spite of all the publicity about how crucial this election was going to be. Nationwide, the turnout was a disappointing 40%.

Some of the best news for Tennesseans was Steve Cohen’s easy win over Harold Ford’s cousin and a Republican for the U.S. House seat from Memphis. Steve has long been the most sensible person in the Tennessee Senate, and he will be sorely missed there, but I look forward to his influence at the national level.

Someone he won’t be seeing in Washington is Richard Pombo, head of the House Environmental Resources Committee, a California representative who went down to defeat. Pombo’s name had become synonymous with putting human greed ahead of the welfare of the planet. He has been replaced by wind turbine entrepreneur Jerry McNerney. Thank you, California.

Tammy Duckworth lost to a Republican. In case you don’t remember, the National Democratic Party literally moved her in from out of state to compete in a race where Christine Cegalis, a fairly radical anti-war candidate was already in place, because they didn’t think Ms. Cegalis could win. Maybe she wouldn’t have won, but neither did Ms. Duckworth. Did Rahm Emmanuel and the Democratic Campaign Committee learn anything from that? Somehow I doubt it.

And I’m not that upset about Harold Ford losing here in Tennessee. Unlike Ford, Bob Corker is honest enough to admit he’s a Republican. We didn’t need to advance the career of a so-called Democrat who wanted to privatize Social Security, who supported anti-environmentalists like Richard Pombo, and who voted for the Patriot Act and the Torture-is-not-torture (Military Commisions) Act. Hint to Harold: try taking Jesse Jackson for a role model instead of Colin Powell.

In general, as I look over national Green Party results, I see the same thing we find in Tennessee: the more local the race, the better the Green Party did. And, while I love tilting at windmills as much as the next old hippie, I think the lesson is clear: we need to follow our own philosophy and act as locally as we can. We need to be working on school boards, zoning boards, county commissions, and the like—we could see our long-term strategy as moving up to winning mayoral races and then state legislature positions. That’s the route individual politicians take, and I think there’s a reason for it: you have to prove your worth at a lower level of responsibility before people will trust you with a higher one. It’s slow, it’s not glamorous, and time is short; but I think it’s the path we have to follow. It’s all about taking care of the details.

That seems to be how the rest of the party sees it.

In a “campaign wrapup letter,” Chris Lugo said:

“Although my ultimate goal would be campaign finance reform,

in the meantime, the practical reality is that progressive candidates in Tennessee

are going to need to do fundraising to get their message out.  Even though we are

going to continue to lose in Tennessee for some time to come, we won't even

register in the eyes of most Tennesseans until we start doing some serious fundraising.

Regarding running Greens locally versus statewide, I think we need to continue to do

both.  In Knoxville (we) are running Greens locally and even though they are losing,

they are continuing to build, having received thirty five percent in one recent Knoxville

 election. I think running candidates for statewide office is very important though, because

that puts (our) voice into the election, which is ground (zero) for the body politic.  There

 is no time when people are more concerned about politics or what is happening in the

 country than during an election, and that is exactly when we need to make sure that we

are being included.”And, as I already said, Statehouse candidate Jon Davidson got 40% of the vote in a

neighborhood where he was known personally without doing any campaigning at all.

So that's what we as Greens will be working on:  networking, fundraising, and local,

 local issues.

The Democrats got themselves elected as part of a national spasm of revulsion.

 They have no coherent plan, and all too many of them have no clue either.

John Conyers, who waxed so eloquently about the sins of the Republican administration,

 now joins Nancy Pelosi in saying “impeachment is off the table.”

 Perhaps this is just a diplomatic move.  Perhaps impeachment will be on the table again

 in the Spring, if the White House sticks to its guns and starts stonewalling Congressional

 attempts at oversight.  But if the Dems stick to form and get all namby-pamby, I believe

the country will neither forgive them nor return to the Republican fold.  Winston Churchill

remarked that “America will always do the right thing, but not until they've tried everything

else.”  The Republicans haven't worked; the Democrats won't work.

There is a Green dawn glowing on the horizon.

(and I don't know why this bottom part got all funny looking!)

music: Leonard Cohen, “Democracy”




THE GANG THAT COULDN’T THINK STRAIGHT

10 05 2006

Our honesty in unlikely places award this month goes to three people, plus a runner up. The first-place winner is John Negroponte, “the butcher of Tegucigalpa, “ yes, the guy who saw no evil and heard no evil (but spoke plenty of it) to cover United States support of the terrorist Contras while they subverted the legally constituted government of Nicaragua. Mr. Negroponte, of course, is now America’s top spy, and he has been honest enough to say that he doesn’t think Iran is anywhere near having a nuclear weapon and doesn’t see what all the haste to whip up a war is about. For this honest assessment, he has been branded by some neocon pundits as “disloyal” to the administration. Remember, these are the guys who think they are superior to those of us in “the reality-based community.” Well, as the Queen of Hearts said, “A word means whatever I say it means, no more, no less.,” and our current head of state and his junta certainly are a Wonderland crowd.

Second prize for honesty in unlikely places goes to Iowa Senators Charles Grassley and Tom Harkin, who called for drug czar John Walters to be fired for paying too much attention to marihuana and not enough to methamphetamines. Colorado Senator Ken Salazar is our runner-up. He wasn’t willing to go so far as to say Walters should be fired, but he did criticize the czar for going to Colorado to campaign against a marihuana legalization initiative there. Walters defended his actions by saying “There is a general feeling that people who use marijuana are harmless and kind of funny, There are people coming into the criminal justice system for marijuana and some are engaged in violent crimes, It doesn’t just make you giggle.”

If you want to take the violent crime out of the drug trade, Johnny boy, legalize ’em all and watch the prices drop down too low for criminals to mess with. Rum running stopped when prohibition ended, y’know?

Now, for the dishonesty in likely places award: George W. Bush, hands down, no question.. Here’s his winning stunt:

Back when Valerie Plame was first outed as a CIA secret operative (keeping tabs on Iran’s attempts to create nuclear weapons, it turns out), Mr. Bush made a great show of being serious about finding the leaker. A Grand Jury was convened. The FBI shook down newsrooms. New York Times reporter Judith Miller went to jail to protect her sources.

But now, lo and behold! Mr. Bush says he quietly declassified the information that the grand jury and the FBI were investigating as if it were a stolen secret. Now he tells us. I wonder how Judith Miller feels about that? I wonder how the grand jury feels about that? If you or I were to allege that a crime had occurred, and a grand jury investigation ensued, and then we said, “ Oh—ha ha! just fooling! I did it myself!” we would not even get a jury trial. We would be jailed for contempt of court so fast it would make our heads spin.

Now our commander-in-chief has done just that. He has demonstrated, here and elsewhere, that he was completely disingenuous when he took an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of this country. If ever there was a candidate for impeachment, for massive street demonstrations that won’t go away until he does, it’s the man in the White House now.

But where are the Democrats on this? Mostly out to lunch. Where is the press on this? Eating out of W’s hand, or worse. If the Democrats were an opposition party worthy of the name, they’d be boycotting Congress and setting up barricades in the streets. What a lily-livered lot of slime balls they are, putting up effete, token resistance here and there but rolling over on so many big questions—from putting Mussalito on the Supreme Court to authorizing the war and the Patriot Act, from passing the no-escape-for-the poor bankruptcy bill to removing first amendment protections from the internet, the Democrats have demonstrated a remarkable talent for dropping the ball, bending over, and dropping their trousers—and I wish they were doing it to moon the man in charge, but alas that’s not their message. We need a great infusion of rowdy new faces in the halls of government if we are going to get our ship of state off the rocks that Bush, Cheney, et cal have run us onto.

We could know what’s going on in Iran if the gang that couldn’t think straight hadn’t exposed Valerie Plame for petty, political reasons. If the gang that couldn’t think straight hadn’t blown America’s wad on the war in Iraq , a war with as much moral justification as Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland, we would have enough money to achieve sustainable energy independence. We could have put our young people to work here in America creating the new infrastructure we will need to face the post-peak oil world. Instead, the gang has sent American youth overseas to be killed, maimed, and warped in the crucible of Iraq. We are destroying Iraq, and the long-range consequence of that will be our own destruction. I am incredibly sad and angry about this colossal waste of money and human energy. May we all live to see justice done. May there be enough honest judges left to put Libby, Rove, and their complicit bosses behind bars where they belong. May the liars and thieves in high places repent and spend their lives and fortunes making restitution for all the damage they have done. And, as they say, “May God have mercy on their souls.” I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes..

music: Nina Hagen, “Sarah”    (it’s not “sarah,” but it’s classic Nina Hagen)








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